Home' The Leader Newspaper : The Leader 19/11/14 Contents “The Leader”, Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - 19
The life of Dr Robert Cotton, former doctor at Mount Pleasant
Dr Robert (Bob) Tilney Cotton
Born: November 25, 1935 – Unley
Died: October 26, 2014 – Mount Pleasant
Robert Tilney Cotton was born in the Unley Private
Hospital on November 25, 1935 to Dr James Murray and
His parents both hailed from the West Coast of South
Australia. His mum was a Drever from a property called
“Clifton” near Calca. The Drevers originally came to Australia
from the Orkney Isles in Scotland.
The Cotton side of his family were from London and took
up land in Swansea near Hobart and were heavily involved
in establishing a Quaker Society and school in Tasmania
in the early 1800’s.
Accompanying them on their journey was Dr George
Fordyce Storey, a doctor of medicine and great, life-long
friend of the Cottons. Dr Storey lived with the Cottons,
and passed on much of his medical knowledge to one of the
Cotton boys in particular, Tilney Cotton.
Eventually Tilney Cotton branched out on his own as
a farmer and took up land near Streaky Bay, Pantoulbie
station, where he was known locally as “Doc” Cotton because
of the knowledge he had learned from Dr Storey, and applied
to the locals when there was no doctor in the district.
Robert’s father, Dr James Murray Cotton, was Tilney
Cotton’s grandson. Murray was a much loved and by all
accounts a very astute and talented doctor, who also had a
licentiate in surgery from Edinburgh in Scotland and was
probably influenced by his grandfather Tilney.
Robert, along with all of Murray’s children, very clearly
idolised his father, who practised for many years as a General
Practitioner at Streaky Bay.
Dr Murray Cotton, however, did not hang up his
stethoscope officially until he was 86, which at the time
made him one of the oldest practising doctors in SA.
As Robert progressed though schooling his father employed
him to work on a farm he had purchased out at Cungena.
He revelled in this environment and worked hard on this
farm. This gave him a love for farming, the west coast and
the land generally.
At the end of Robert’s schooling at St Peter’s College, he
applied for and was accepted to study Medicine at Adelaide
University life was very different to what he had known
and with the many distractions on offer he had to repeat
first year Medicine. After that he achieved a distinction in
every subsequent year of Medicine, and graduated with the
sixth top distinction in the state.
Once graduating from Medicine he did locums in country
Victoria and other areas around Adelaide, including one
for his own father who had now moved to Adelaide from
Streaky Bay and had a busy general practice at Walkerville.
Robert married Margaret Rollison, whose father, Dr John
Rollison, was Director General for Medical Services for South
Australia. He and Margaret moved to Mildura where he
underwent a very steep learning curve in general practice
from some great country doctors. They included Dr Ivan
Kaehne and in particular a talented young surgeon called
John Scobie, who had a major influence on him and helped
instil confidence in him by immediately appointing him as
the honorary anaesthetist at the Mildura Base Hospital,
which helped develop his anaesthetic as well as ultimately
his basic surgical skills.
After their first child was stillborn they returned to
Adelaide to be closer to their families, and Robert (now
known to many as Bob) took up busy practices in the fledgling
northern suburbs at Brahma Lodge and Para Hills, and
was also a casualty doctor at the Lyell McEwin Hospital.
His passion for obstetrics flourished over this time and
in one year alone he delivered more than 300 babies. He
diarised every single birth and could prove it to any doubting
Thomas. In all he delivered over 1,700 babies.
His own two sons, Richard and Christopher, came along
next, but being a popular and hence very busy doctor started
to take its toll on family life. He recalled his record was
seeing 100 patients in one day and closing the doors at
In 1975 Bob and Margaret separated and he moved to
Mount Pleasant to a practice he purchased from Dr Audrey
Fox. His love of obstetrics continued at Mount Pleasant for
the next few years until medico-legal insurance premiums
made obstetrics in his country practice untenable.
At Mount Pleasant his reputation for being a cautious,
thorough and caring GP spread around the district. He soon
had to take in a partner, and Dr P. J. Kuruvilla joined him
and the pair worked together for the next 12 years.
In 1981 Dr Roger Sexton joined the practice and then
Dr Ken Sieben joined in 1989. This was a golden era for
Mount Pleasant’s medical providers. Their sphere of influence
went far and wide, taking in Swan Reach, Nildottie, Cambrai,
Sanderston, Sedan, Springton, Eden Valley, Birdwood, Mount
Torrens, Tungkillo and Cromer – not to mention a lot of Bob’s
old patients from Brahma Lodge who continued to stay with
him once he had moved to Mount Pleasant.
In 1981 he married Anne Kidd (nee Saunders), who was
a superb registered nurse, and they moved from the old
traditional doctor’s residence, Ryecroft in Mount Pleasant,
to “Yucanta”, Bob’s last property, and a daughter, Elizabeth
Anne (named after Bob’s maternal grandmother) was born
Retirement didn’t last
Bob retired from general practice at Mount Pleasant in
2006 as he felt he had done enough “on-call” over 30 years
at Mount Pleasant, and much more again when one counts
his northern suburbs time.
His retirement lasted six weeks and he ultimately ended
up being recruited for a practice where he did not have to
maintain an on-call commitment, run by GP Solutions at
Hackham, where he was once again immediately popular, as
well as providing GP care to the Fullarton Private Hospital
and more recently again a surgery in Woodside.
Dr Bob insisted on the very highest of standards with
his nursing and reception staff.
One incident often recalled is when a nurse at the Mount
Pleasant Hospital was writing up notes in the nurse’s station
and the phone was ringing and she wasn’t answering it.
This was in the days when the hospital took all the local
ambulance calls and dispatched the local ambulance.
After a while Bob came over to the nurse’s station and
said to the nurse in a stern voice “answer that phone now!
The person calling could be having a heart attack!” He also
made this assertion to his surgery reception staff.
His nurses and receptionists said that once Dr Bob had
trained them his way, they all got along fine.
Every Christmas Day Richard, Christopher and later
Elizabeth would have to accompany Dr Bob to the hospital
and visit every single patient there and wish them
Merry Christmas. This yearly ritual was something he
always looked forward to.
Dr Bob always admired and was very fond of his nursing
and reception staff. He spoke very highly of them all.
In the early days at Mount Pleasant he had a great
admiration for Liz Forrest, Lyn Molinaro, Jenny Barrett,
Katrina Butler and Eleanor Irrgang – whom he was so fond
of he ultimately ended up marrying in 2001, and they were
companions right up to when he passed away.
Dr Bob’s other activities
In his early days at Mount Pleasant Dr Bob did lots of
teaching of the fledgling volunteer St John Ambulance
He joined the Torrens Valley Lions Club and very much
enjoyed working on local projects with his local friends. He
served as president of the Lions Club, was a Freemason
and also an AMA representative for South Australia, and
chaired a committee of enquiry into over-servicing by GP’s
for many years.
Bob’s other interests included his love of race horses, and
a local garage in Mount Pleasant that he purchased and
converted into a secondhand and antique shop that is still
run by his oldest son, Richard.
Memorable medical cases captured in a book
Earlier in 2014 Dr Bob released a book that he published
privately via Blurb, an online book company, entitled
“A Country Doctor’s Diary”. In it he details memorable cases
from his more than 50 years of general practice that helped
shape him as a competent, well-loved country doctor.
The book gives a great insight into the life of a busy
GP, some very interesting cases, as well as his own final
thoughts on the future direction of Medicine. It is suitable
for general reading as well as for young doctors considering
a career in rural practice.
The book can be purchased online from the Blurb website.
Bob’s children have decided to donate all profits from the
book to the Friends of the Mount Pleasant Hospital so the
hospital infrastructure and comforts can be maintained.
Mount Pleasant Hospital
One of Dr Bob’s single biggest missions over his time
working at Mount Pleasant was to maintain vigilance to
ensure that emergency and acute care services at Mount
Pleasant Hospital were maintained during and after he
retired from Mount Pleasant.
He maintained that local hospitals with acute care
capacity allowed patients and their families, who may not
be confident to drive to Adelaide, an opportunity to have their
care administered locally – or at least once an emergency is
over. This is something Dr Bob fought so passionately about.
He maintained the hospital he loved so dearly is a vital
community asset in Mount Pleasant, part of its identity
and a big psychological key in promoting resilience and
confidence for people living in a rural community such as his.
Final thoughts from Dr Bob on Medicine,
patients and family
Dr Bob was a passionate crusader for rural general
practice and for young doctors to take up the challenge
and opportunities rural general practice offers, but from his
own experiences he recognised that he would reprioritise
some things if he had his time again.
He confided that his dedication and commitment was
to a considerable extent at the expense of his marital
relationships. If he had his time again, he would tether his
commitment to Medicine so that his personal relationships
garnered more of his time.
He believed that younger, upcoming doctors seemed to
have a better sense of how to balance life and work than his
generation did, although he maintained right up to the end
that country doctor’s still needed to have the commitment
to get up in the middle of the night and attend to patients
at the hospital who needed urgent attention, as this is an
important part of the life-saving role doctors play in country
Apart from his family, Dr Bob’s patients were his other
great passion. He never wanted to let his patients down.
His selfless attitude, uncanny diagnostic ability, cautious
and thorough approach and his devotion to his patients are
what many believe made him so popular. He saved many
lives and regularly received letters of gratitude from them.
The community at Mount Pleasant and his patients
elsewhere knew when he stopped working they had lost a
very talented doctor.
Testament to his popularity is the nearly 400 people who
attended his funeral on October 31 at the Mount Pleasant
Soldier’s Memorial Hall to honour a humble man; a great
man and a much-loved doctor.
Last Tuesday night Nuriootpa High School SRC members,
Adam Robinson and Emma Cheers were toured around State
Parliament by local MP, Mr Stephen Knoll. This gave students
the opportunity to discuss local issues in the Barossa Valley,
while learning about the State Government and the role that
Mr Knoll occupies.
Parliament House visit Sandy Creek Uniting Church
celebrates 110th Anniversary
Sandy Creek Uniting Church will celebrate
its 110th Anniversary with a special service this
Sunday November 23 at 10:30am followed by a
The church first started in the home of Mrs
Maria Annie Moore.
In May 1904 the Gawler Congregational
minister, the Reverend A. H . Austin, visited the
district with the view to commencing a mission
In June 1904 Mr J. Sim of “Balmoral” donated
land for the church and with plans drawn up by
Mr B. E. Deland work commenced on August
28 using stones instead of cement for the
Mrs A. H. Austin laid the foundation stone on
September 21 and the first service was held on
November 23, 1904.
Building work took less than three months
at a cost of £300 and the debt was paid off in
about 12 months.
Many men of the district donated their labour,
carting the stone, planting the pine trees, erecting
the fence in front and “promising to water the
Throughout the history of the church there has
been warm fellowship and a friendly greeting to
Members give thanks to the pioneer members
who worked so hard with their hands and prayers,
to provide Sandy Creek with that little church
nestled amongst the pine trees. It is with pride
and dedication that they are celebrating over
110 years of christian service in the community.
All are welcome to join members for this
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