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Gosztola, Béla (1909–1988)

by Attila Urmenyhazi

Béla Gosztola, n.d.

Béla Gosztola, n.d.

photo supplied by family

Béla Gosztola was born on 17 April 1909 in Hungary, when the country was part of the dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in the town of Felszopor, Sopron county, in the North-West near the Austrian border. He grew up in the city of Sopron and completed his secondary education at the Lutheran college there. Continuing his studies at the Budapest Pázmány Péter University’s Faculty of Medical Science, he obtained his medical degree in 1935.

To obtain hospital experience in his years as medical student, he served in the military sanatorium at Budakeszi near Budapest, where he spent another seven months following graduation. He then worked in the surgery department of the Erzsébet Korház (Elizabeth Hospital) of Sopron as assistant surgeon, occasionally carrying out surgical operations alone. At the Budai Irgalmasrendi Korház (Budapest Polyclinic), he was preparing for the examinations leading to Specialist in Women's Health when he was called for military service in the Army’s Medical Corps.

At the outbreak of WWII, USSR forces attempted to invade Finland after the Finns rejected their territorial demands. Hungary, in solidarity with their Finnish ethnic cousins, had sent a military combat company to Finland, consisting of volunteer officers and soldiers. Gosztola was one of the unit’s officer-surgeons, and later received high recognition with his Finnish "Order of the White Star". From 1942 to the end of WWII he served as lieutenant medical officer in the Hungarian Army, receiving the National Defence Cross as well as numerous citations and decorations for high diligence and valour.

Following the establishment of the communist regime in Hungary after the war, Gosztola arranged to migrate to Australia in 1949. From Austria he made his way to Naples to board the migrant ship that brought him to Australia. Termed officially a 'Displaced Person', he arrived in Australia, and was sent to the Bonegilla migrant hostel/refugee camp. He worked in the G. M. Holden’s car assembly plant in Melbourne for several years, as an assembly line worker, whilst trying to master the English language so that he could pursue a professional career.

In 1952 he married Livia Illés; their son, Paul, was born a year later. As his Hungarian medical qualifications were not recognised by the medical registration board, Gosztola decided to follow a medical career in Papua-New Guinea—then administered as an external territory of Australia—where there was a severe shortage of medical professionals. His application, in 1957, for a position in the Department of Public Health was accepted and he served his first two years in Buin, Bougainville Island. The doctor quickly earned the respect and trust of the region’s mainly tribal people. He, in turn, appreciated their customs and lifestyle in close communion with the environment.

The acute need for medical service, coupled with his vocational calling, saw Gosztola serving in Manus Island, Lerengau, The Trobriands, Sakari and for many years in Kandria, Solomon Islands, where a large district hospital had been built. Despite endemic shortages and difficulties, and at times as acting chief surgeon, he performed onerous surgeries of all kinds and often sat through nights with patients when he deemed his presence necessary. He had at his disposal at all times, a Land Rover, a motorboat with native drivers, a row boat, and carriers as needed, depending on the nature of calls for medical help from villages, some of them remote and scattered far and wide in rugged volcanic landscapes.

Wearing his District Medical Officer’s hat, a khaki tropical outfit and enclosed sandals, Gosztola frequently set off with his helpers on foot to trail blaze through endless bogs, cross wild rivers balancing on wobbly single rope footbridges, or traverse long craggy terrain to deliver urgently needed help. His professional station required an ability to cope with physical endurance demands. He had the right predisposition and was well fitted for the job. When passing through religious mission areas he was treated as a most welcomed guest and accommodated like a prince. Evenings were spent discussing issues of the day in bonhomie before he retreated under mosquito netting for rest and sleep.

His isolation from the world at large was occasionally broken by visiting field study researchers and newly arrived government officers to whom he always extended a warm welcome, hospitality and guidance. When stationed in Manus Island he met and became part of the close circle of friends of the world famous anthropologist, Margaret Meade, who, on a few occasions, sought Gosztola's help, medical or otherwise. The Nippon Television Network of Japan also thanked him for his generosity in accommodating their visiting team and for his help in making the TV report, "Bougainville Today", which introduced to the public Gosztola's work, family life and Bougainville Island.

Dr. Gosztola was highly regarded by the departments which he dealt with in the Territorial Administration. In 1968 the Papua-New Guinea Medical Association and the registration board recognized his Hungarian medical qualifications. After fifteen years serving the people of Papua New Guinea, he retired in 1972. He moved to Adelaide where he enjoyed his golden years among family and fellow countrymen, dying there in 1988.

Citation details

Attila Urmenyhazi, 'Gosztola, Béla (1909–1988)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/gosztola-bela-14129/text25139, accessed 24 November 2017.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2017

Béla Gosztola, n.d.

Béla Gosztola, n.d.

photo supplied by family

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Gosztola, Bela
Birth

17 April 1909
Felszopor, Sopron, Hungary

Death

1988
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation
Key Places
Workplaces