Kiernan “Skipper” Dorney, CBE, DSO, AM, MID, MBBS, Bsc, MS, FRACS, FAMA was born in 1912 in Melbourne.
He went to high school at St. Kevin’s Christian Brother’s College before attending Melbourne University. He initially studied engineering before switching to medicine, which he completed in 1937. He was one of Australia’s most qualified surgeons.
While at University he was active in the University Blacks Australian Rules football team and also won awards in swimming events. His cousin Peter Kiernan described him as “a star in a strong vintage” and he played alongside Alan le Fontaine.
Kiernan was in Hobart when he enlisted for the Second World War on 4 December 1939. Kiernan was assigned to the 2/2 Field Ambulance and served in Libya, Greece, Crete, El Alamein, New Guinea and Borneo. He was captured in Crete and spent six months in a prisoner of war camp there before escaping with a fellow surgeon, Arnold Gourevitch. They lived in caves and shepherds huts providing medical care for Allied fugitives and Cretans.
In April 1942 they were contacted by a Special Operations Executive who arranged for them to be picked up and taken to Bardia in Libya.
Following a battle in New Guinea from November 20 to 29 1943 Kiernan was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for ‘personal gallantry and great devotion to duty’. The recommendation for his award states the following ‘....For five days the area was cut off, during which period Dorney tended the wounded without sleep day or night, on many occasions personally assisting to pick up and bring in wounded men under fire. He was an inspiration to his own men, while hisexample helped to keep up morale among the personnel of the battalion...’
These exploits were also detailed in a cartoon in the 18 August 1945 issue of the Argus.
Kiernan married his wife, Joan Callinan in Melbourne in 1943 after a three and a half- year engagement.
Immediately after the war, Kiernan worked in Ballarat as a GP while studying for his surgery fellowship exams.
Following the completion of his exams he moved to Tasmania and was surgeon superintendent at Mersey General Hospital at Latrobe, near Devonport. After three years in Hobart he moved to Townsville, where he took up a position as superintendent of the Townsville General Hospital. He was superintendent there for three years before spending a brief spell in Korea as chief surgeon in the Australian hospital, upon returning to Townsville he set up a private practice.
During this period Kiernan and Joan had seven children, Joanne, born 1946, Kiernan Damien in 1947, Adrienne in 1949, Sean in 1951, Stuart in 1952, Gerard in 1954 and Martin in 1958. In 1971 he worked as chief surgeon at the Australian hospital in Bien-Hua in Vietnam for a while. He retired from practise in 1982 and moved to Buderim, on the Sunshine Coast.
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