John Samuel Robert Heath

Father: Robert (Bert) Willson Heath
Mother: Zöe Colvin Ferris Elliott
Born: 18/10/1893 3am Dudley St Geelong
Died: 5/7/1970 ashes sprinkled in the Port Phillip Heads by son Peter
Married: 14/04/1927 Eileen Wynne Kirk St Georges Pres Geelong
Children: 16/06/1928 John Robert Heath
16/12/1932 Peter Wallace Heath
28/11/1937 Michael Maxwell Heath

Photo Album

Curriculum Vitae

John Samuel Robert Heath (Sam) was born in 1893 in Geelong. He was an amazing character, at once artist, sportsman, philosopher, dentist and epicurean.

Raised a Plymouth Brethren, he studied Applied Mechanics at Gordon Technical College in Geelong, passing with credit. He won many scholarships and distinctions in sport, and an entrance scholarship to "Central College" in Geelong, where he was dux and matriculated with honours. He went for a time to be a "Roebuck Dentist" before he started studying for teaching, and earned 1st and 2nd class teaching certificates (1st class in 16 subjects, honours in most), but then spent a year studying dentistry before making a break to earn money to continue. He was given charge of "model school" at Flinders, and worked at various country schools before being on staff at Caulfield Grammar School and intended going back to University but war broke out.

During this time he was a swim training partner of the great Frank Beaurepaire (who set world records that lasted for decades!) but could not afford to put in the time to reach Olympic standard, though he doubtless had the capability. In 1911, he made possibly the first surfboard constructed in Australia which he surfed at Torquay. This was several years before Duke Kahanamoku visited Australia to demonstrate the sport at Beaurepaire's invitation.

When the Great War broke out, having been raised a pacifist, he enlisted in the medical corps (6th Brigade 23rd Battalion 6th Field Ambulance). He sailed 8 June 1915 and served at Gallipoli (was mentioned in dispatches for bravery by General Birdwood), and was evacuated two days before the troops. Assisting the field dentists in Alexandria, he later saw service in France, and was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Cross.

He recommenced studying dentistry two weeks after the Armistice at the Royal Dental Hospital in Leicester Square, London, where over three years he was very successful, winning several scholarships, and also won a "blue" swimming for London University, and was presented with his diploma by Mrs Lloyd George. He departed for Australias on 5 Oct 1922 (SS Euripides) and set up practise in Melbourne. He was later the first private Australian to own an X-Ray machine, which he used to up-end the old-school dental establishment as president of the Australian Dental Association.

In 1926 he was driving his Austin Seven with three passengers when a tyre came off the front wheel as they approached a bridge at Jan Juc. The car plunged 9 metres into the creek and his uncle (married to his mother's sister), farmer Alexander Brown of Cressey, was killed instantly. John and his mother both suffered injuries, and only Eileen Kirk, was unscathed. This accident was written up in newspapers from Adelaide to Brisbane.

After marrying Eileen in 1927, they were living above the fire station at 18 Collins St Melbourne. Since the only good roads were in the busy city centre, the only opportunity to "open it up" was when the fire engines had cleared the road. He (and later with Eileen) would hear the bells sound downstairs, and would race downstairs, fire up the Austin and follow the fire trucks down the main street.

A later rollover accident around 1930 landed he and his wife in hospital. The car left the road near Pakenham and was heading for a fallen tree. Eileen threw the bassinet from the car before it glanced off the tree and rolled over. She spent 4 months in a coma with almost every bone broken. John was hurt and unable to work for six weeks with several broken bones, but the baby, John Robert Heath, was unhurt. Even this accident did not dampen his enthusiasm for driving, but his son John was a careful driver throughout his life, a trait not shared by the younger brothers! He later raced sports cars (by Bugatti, Fraser, Jowett and others) at Phillip Island and the 1950's Albert Park circuit, as well as many rallies in the Colac ranges. The family cars from 1930 were a succession of Rolls-Royce saloons, notably one during WW2 that had a gas producer that was used to cook the Christmas Dinner en route to the picnic at Seaford. They used to holiday with extended family at Torquay. In one incident there, the rising tide bogged the Rolls Royce on the ocean beach, from where it was rescued just in the nick of time by a hastily-fetched team of draught horses. The family lived for a few years at Fairmont Avenue, Camberwell (the so-called Golf Links Estate - by then the Riversdale golf club had relocated to Mt Waverley), when his first son John started school at Camberwell Grammar. Though unable to enter, he was a flag marshall at the 1933 Grand Prix at Philip Island.

In 1933 he bought an Oakleigh church to turn into a home, which had the first all-electric kitchen in Melbourne. He was a founding member of the Melbourne Wine&Food Society, whom he entertained in the great room known as "The Studio". A Freemason but a free thinker and fiercely iconoclastic, he associated with a bohemian group at Monsalvat who read Nietsche and Santayana.

He was challenged to paint a portrait by fellow dentist Julian Basser, and joined Max Meldrum's "tonal school" of painting, producing many works, mainly portraits and still lifes. He exhibited his own works and submitted eight times to the Archibald competition.

In later life he was a special magistrate in the Caulfield Children's court, a role also played by his wife Eileen, who was a force of nature.

He died at Point Lonsdale in 1970, two years after being crushed almost to death in his Volkswagen after a W class tram ran into it on Victoria Parade East Melbourne, and his ashes were sprinkled in Port Phillip Heads by his son Peter, according to his wishes.