Dannevirke: Multi-tusking required to X-ray baby elephant

By Christine McKay

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X-raying Bimbo the elephant, Colin Mildon, Ian McQuarrie, sole charge in the hospital's X-Ray Department at the time and vet Frank Beckett (in white shirt). The three other men were the circus elephant handlers. Photo / Dannevirke Evening News
X-raying Bimbo the elephant, Colin Mildon, Ian McQuarrie, sole charge in the hospital's X-Ray Department at the time and vet Frank Beckett (in white shirt). The three other men were the circus elephant handlers. Photo / Dannevirke Evening News

A rather large Bimbo is featuring in a former vet's book about his time in Dannevirke.

Frank Beckett spent 45 years as a vet, 10 years of that time working at the Bush and Southern Hawke's Bay Vet Clinic in Dannevirke.

His book features some funny incidents, but a rather large patient was the most exotic.

Mr Beckett, 87, recalls one afternoon in February 1965 when he was called about an elephant needing help.

On Thursday, February 11, Ian McQuarrie, the radiologist at the old Dannevirke Hospital, was faced with his most unusual patient ever.

Bimbo the baby elephant had been the star at the Dannevirke A&P Show, but came into the hospital suffering from an unusual growth on one of its hind legs.

Vets at Hunterville and Levin had failed to remove the growth and Mr Beckett decided an X-ray was in order to find out if there was an underlying bone disorder.

"Bimbo didn't like his injections," he said. "They say an elephant remembers, but I hope he didn't."

Circus elephant handler Charlie Bridgeman had pulled his truck up at the hospital grounds and Bimbo walked out with his leg heavily bandaged.

"Everyone was there to see him," Mr Beckett said.

Mr McQuarrie wheeled out his X-ray camera, a spike was driven into the hospital lawn and Bimbo was chained to it. Pyjama-clad children watched wide-eyed as the baby elephant swayed from side-to-side.

In 10 minutes it was all over and Bimbo was back on the truck, but a few minutes later he was back out for a further set of X-rays - the power had not been switched on.

Unfortunately, the X-rays did not reveal the cause of the growth but Bimbo had been a star turn at the hospital for nurses, doctors and patients who had gathered outside the children's ward at the hospital.

And Mr Beckett's reaction?

"I had a job to do."

Mr Beckett and his wife Mae were just passing through Dannevirke in 1962, not intending to stay.

"The job at the vet club was just a job on the way, but it was such a pleasant town, we never left," he said.

During his time with the vet club Mr Beckett treated mainly farm animals but there was also a special deal for cats.

"As a service we'd just charge seven shillings and sixpence for them," he said.

It was a period of tough times for the vet club which had been set up in 1944 to attract vets to rural centres, initially established by small dairy companies. "The clinic was just six foot by 10 foot and you had to be careful when swinging a cat," Mr Beckett said.

"The whole place smelt of tomcat pee and ether."

Now a high-tech, state-of-the-art $2 million clinic stands on Dannevirke's High St, built by the vet club members for Vet Services Dannevirke.

And Mr Beckett's book will be a snapshot of a time in our rural history.

"This book could take a while though, it's a matter of one-finger on the word processor," he said. Also featuring in Mr Beckett's book will be Alex Sturrock.

"He was the chap, along with Don Sargent, who helped me make the vet club tick," Mr Beckett said.

This is the second book written by Mr Beckett, the first was on his life growing up and both are published "informally".

After leaving the vet club Mr Beckett worked with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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