Intended for healthcare professionals


John William Powles

BMJ 2019; 366 doi: (Published 15 July 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;366:l4681
  1. Hebe Naomi Gouda,
  2. Adela Sanz,
  3. Rebecca Powles,
  4. Carol Brayne

It is with great sadness that we write of the recent passing of a brilliant academic and a devoted public health educator, our colleague John William Powles. Born in 1943, John grew up in rural Australia, in the Riverina region of New South Wales (NSW), where his father had numerous business interest and his mother worked as a nurse. After briefly considering a career in the seminary, John studied medicine at the University of Sydney.

Even as a young student, his calling to work on social issues was evident. At university, John was a keen advocate for social justice. He founded the Sydney University Humanist Society, which was involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In 1965 he was the vice president of the group Student Action for Aborigines (SAFA), led by Charlie Perkins, the first aboriginal student to graduate from Sydney University. The group organised the “SAFA bus tour,” also known as the “Freedom Ride,” around regional New South Wales, modelled on civil rights actions in the US. The Freedom Riders drew national and international media attention to the issue of racial segregation in Australia, helping to prompt public debate on racism that led eventually to the 1967 referendum and the transfer of aboriginal affairs from state to federal government, making it possible to include aboriginal people in national censuses. In 1966 John’s interest in global cultures took him on a study tour to China in the midst of the Cultural Revolution …

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