OBITUARY: Dr Donald Lang, 1922-2015

Dr Donald Lang. Pic: Supplied
Dr Donald Lang. Pic: Supplied

A   LIFE of service to community, family and country came to an end recently when Cessnock general practitioner, war veteran and volunteer  Donald Lang died on September 4 after a short illness. He was 92-years-old. 

Dr Lang was appreciated by the Cessnock district as an active, generous and engaged resident from the time he moved with his family to the town in 1961. 

Donald Aylmer Campbell Lang was born in rural Queensland on December 28, 1922. He was to speak fondly of a childhood spent moving around a series of country towns because of his father’s work for the state government. He attended high school at Toowoomba Grammar, where he was a very gifted student. It was in this time that he met his future wife, Ethel Jean Hornsby. In his final high school exams Donald was ranked seventh in the state, and he then began studying medicine at the University of Queensland. 

With the outbreak of World War II, young Donald paused his studies and signed up for the Australian Navy. As a sailor he was posted to the HMAS Cessnock. Service on the ship allowed him to visit many new places in Asia. It was from the deck of the Cessnock that he witnessed the Japanese surrender in 1945. 

After the war ended, Donald returned to Australia to finish his studies. Upon graduation he worked first in Brisbane, then in the United Kingdom, and afterwards in Canada, a country that he very much liked. His time in Canada would prove very rewarding. He completed further medical training in anaesthetics at McGill University, and then moved out to work in a remote hospital in the prairies. It was in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan that he married Ethel and they had their first two children. Another child came when Don and Ethel were living briefly in Montreal, and then the growing family moved back to Australia, settling in Cessnock after which three more children were born.  

Dr Lang described his and Ethel’s initial decision to move to Cessnock as a practical one. He was looking to set up a medical practice and ideally wanted to find an existing surgery with a house attached. There were few examples of such a place in NSW, but the couple found one on busy Wollombi Road. And so it was that Don and Ethel made Cessnock their home for the rest of their lives. 

He got straight to work, an exemplary country doctor in the days when such a practitioner would treat all the members of a family for generations, and make house calls in the afternoons. Back then, local doctors would do it all, including delivering babies in small hospitals and various types of surgery. Dr Lang was also involved in the development of the University of Newcastle School of Medicine. He was  active in the local branches of St Vincent de Paul, Lions Club, the Australian American Society, Historical Society, Labor Party and other organisations. 

Dr Lang  took a great interest in the politics of the local area and the  nation, being honoured with a lifetime membership of the NSW Labor Party. His volunteer work assisting the disadvantaged members of the community was very important to him, and he continued his service with St Vincent de Paul in Cessnock past his 90th birthday. He was also active in the local sub-branch of the RSL, honouring the commitment of those who, like him, had served in the armed forces to defend Australia. He was a skilled hobby painter who set up a studio at home in which he spent many pleasant hours. 

Upon finishing full-time work in Cessnock, Dr Lang travelled around Australia treating patients in rural towns, and also spent a year practising with Sacred Heart Missionaries in New Ireland, in the north-east of Papua New Guinea. Afterwards, Dr Lang worked part-time at the former Allandale Hospital. His eldest daughter, Dr Isobel Lang, took his place in the medical practice in Cessnock in 1988.  

In retirement Don and Ethel Lang continued to be well-known identities in the local community. They had travelled the world, but were very happy and at home in Cessnock, where they knew the names and stories of nearly every family in town. They now had more time for their busy schedules of volunteering in Cessnock and surrounds, travelling to Sydney to see performances at the Sydney Opera House, attending  Mass at St Joseph’s Church and enjoying time at home with their children, grandchildren and many friends. Ethel Lang died in 2009. 

In the final act of his life, Dr Lang enjoyed time at his home on Wollombi Road, which was filled with souvenirs and treasures from his many travels and adventures. He tended to his enormous garden, read mountains of books and had all his radios tuned to ABC Classic FM for 24hours a day. He enjoyed using his time to expand his extraordinary knowledge of the world, and asked family members to bring him books about all kinds of disparate topics and historical events. 

It was in these years that his family heard many more stories about his life, as this thoughtful and diligent man increasingly enjoyed sharing his experiences. For his grandchildren he was a curious and interesting grandfather who always had plenty of unusual facts at hand to share with a bright and witty sense of humour. His distinguished intelligence, generosity and dedication to the service of others ensured his place as a valued community member, and made him all the more beloved.  

Dr Donald Lang was farewelled with a funeral Mass at St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Cessnock on Saturday, September 12. Members of the Cessnock RSL sub-branch performed a tribute to his military service. 

He is survived by six children and six grandchildren.