Long before he was the Federal Opposition Leader or Australia’s Ambassador to the United States, The Honourable Kim Beazley AC was a small five year old boy who contracted polio.

“I remember myself with a fever and not being able to move, and an ambulance coming and me being stretchered out and put in the ambulance. All the neighbourhood kids on the bikes were watching and standing around the ambulance, so it was a bit confronting,” recalls Mr Beazley.

Mr Beazley went to Graylands, the facility in Peth that took polio victims and quarantined them.

“I was a little fellow, I was in there for a few months, I think. I remember being put into a little khaki uniform and sandals. I think I was very lucky. I remember standing outside talking to all the fellows, who were enormously courageous, with iron lungs and all sorts of forms of really very confronting care machines. And I think my mother came out a bit too at the time to see me. I was away for I think a good couple of months I was told, I don’t how long but it was a long time.”

It was around the time Queen Elizabeth II planned to visit Perth and there was such panic that the Queen would be exposed to the disease and that her visit was nearly cancelled. In the end the visit took place but she was not allowed to eat or drink anything that wasn’t prepared on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

“I consider that my first act of republicanism,” jokes Beazley.

When he got home from Graylands he remembers a few ongoing effects of the disease.

“Well, it was not a huge effect but very some nice things happened. Don Bradman, whose son had polio, sent my father unsolicited a letter about all the exercises that he’d given his son. One of which I remember was scrunching up tea towels, so you scrunch up tea towels under your toes for your calves. His son became a hurdles champion in Adelaide. So I used to have to do that exercise morning and night whenever I had time.”

He also recalls year round swimming at Claremont Baths on the Swan River to help his recovery as a child because his parents were told that swimming was very good for polio.

“In those days you didn’t have indoor heating pools so almost all seasons, 2 or 3 times a week, I had to get up at 6 and head down to the baths to swim before school. There are other exercises as well, but the details of which I can’t remember. It was a tough thing to carry but I knew other kids had it much worse than me.”

Unlike many polio survivors Mr Beazley doesn’t think polio has affected him adversely as an adult.

“I’m not sure if I suffer the effects now but when I went to the States as Ambassador in the first few days I slipped down twice on black ice, which I was unfamiliar with, and I snapped the Popliteus behind my kneecaps. I went into town, into Sydney hospital, and after the operation, the orthopod said ‘what’s wrong with you, I hardly had anything to work on, something happened to your tendons?’ I said ‘yes I had polio as a child’. And he said ‘yes that would explain it, but don’t do this again, I doubt there would be enough tendons to sew back up.‘

Throughout his lifetime Mr Beazley has encountered many fellow polio survivors both here and in his travels.

“I spent a small amount of time in India, firstly before I went to university and then subsequently, I did Indian history as my undergraduate major. I went back to India to write a thesis, and there are a lot of people in India who show the effects of polio. We had a senior public servant in Australia, very admirable and affective, who had been afflicted by it, much worse than me. He bore his afflictions magnificently I thought. “

Why does he support the One Last Push Campaign to end polio once and for all and urge the parliament to end polio to act?

“I’m very impressed with the One Last Push campaign that you and others have put up over the years to eliminate it. I have to say that the eradication of polio has been one of the more impressive campaigns globally because it has largely succeeded. “
“If we can get it done, and get all this gone, it seems as though here, this is a terrible afflicting disease which could disappear from the earth. This could be an extinction program that we all can joyfully adopt. It would be magnificent for the community, as a certainty, that you’ve rendered such a confronting disease, null and void. It would be a superb achievement to be able to say that.”