David Bowler was the son of Harold Bowler, a journalist. He was born in London and educated at Emanuel School before entering the University of London to study medicine. He undertook his clinicals at the Westminster Hospital and in his last year he was sent, as one of a party of final year medical students, to Belsen on 28 April 1945. As the Allies advanced there were insufficient medical personnel available for relief work in the concentration camps and some medical schools volunteered to send their final year students. David confided that it was an experience which significantly altered his life and a memory he could never erase.
He later became a house physician at the Westminster and then joined the RAMC as staff specialist in medicine from 1951-53. He completed his training at Brighton, in 1953, as senior registrar. That same year he married Stella Mafalda Griffith (Sally), the daughter of a radio engineer. There were three children of the marriage, a son and two daughters.
David took up his first appointment as consultant physician in Penang, Malaya, from 1956-61, where he was responsible for setting up the maternal and child health programmes. As the colonial medical service came to an end, he spent a short period in private practice from 1961-63 and subsequently took up a post as director of maternal and child health services in Papua New Guinea, from 1963-70. He succeeded Joan Refshauge and expanded the service into community health services, focusing on the three basic principles of child health: education, prevention and cure. He was responsible for these services at a time of great expansion; there was relatively generous Australian funding and a whole new range of local trainees were beginning to be trained and deployed.
The service he took over had rudimentary child health services, established in several key centres and in several rural areas. He built it into a comprehensive service for child health throughout the whole country; mobile infant welfare patrols were extended into most rural areas and specialized paediatric services established in all major centres. In 1970, a short time prior to his leaving Papua New Guinea, he was appointed to head the new Community Health Service which embraced many of the preventive services: maternal and child health, leprosy, tuberculosis and malarial controls. He was very energetic and highly respected and these two periods were probably the happiest and most productive parts of his life.
As independence approached, he left Papua New Guinea to take up the position of medical superintendent and paediatrician at the Townsville Base Hospital, 1970-74, and then became superintendent of the Royal Children’s Hospital, Brisbane, 1974-76. He was an outstanding administrator but remained a clinician at heart and left for a more clinical role in Adelaide, as director of the Mothers’ and Babies’ Health Association until this voluntary association was incorporated into the health service.
Alter a bewildering separation from Sally and a second marriage, he spent some time on the Thai border working for an international organization before finally moving to Broken Hill as medical superintendent, 1981-86. He was also chief medical officer of the Flying Doctor Service in Broken Hill during 1986 and 1987. After resigning, due to pressure of work, he continued to provide a medical service for the children of Wilcannia, a small outback town about 200km from Broken Hill. This was on a volunatry basis with visits every six weeks; his main area of interest being the care of aboriginal children in the small community. He was awarded the Advance Australia Award for his work.
David Bowler was a quiet, unassuming man with a passion to help, compassionate and caring, to whom thousands owed a debt. He was a delightful colleague and always good company. His cheerful, busy personality effectively protected him from too much intimacy but it also concealed a highly sensitive man who had suffered repeated disappointments as major parts of his life’s work in Malaya, Papua New Guinea and Adelaide, were taken over by changing health systems.
S C Latham