Toodyay dental surgeon hangs up his drill
By Mark Roy
BROWSING the certificates that line the Toodyay Dental Clinic halls (right), one comes across a most unusual item: a Z Force Shield.
This rarely awarded accolade speaks volumes on the singular history of its recipient, Dr Michael Francis McGuinness AM.
Presented to the dentist by Z Force veterans in 2013, the Shield bears testament to his ongoing support for returned servicepeople.
“It is a pleasure to find an individual and professional service provider who is prepared to support this body of people who have given so much to our wonderful country,” the citation reads. “The warmth, dignity and respect shown by you is most admirable.”
A decade on from that award presentation and Dr McGuinness is reflecting on his upcoming retirement.Read more
And while the Z Force Shield is just one in a string of awards and achievements he has accumulated over his long and illustrious career, it is clear this is a memento the doctor holds dear to his heart.
It was early in his career, in his formative years as a final-year undergrad at the UWA in 1977, that he volunteered to operate on Australian soldiers severely injured in Vietnam.
Later he helped provide free dental services to Vietnam vets through a Veterans Affairs program, maintaining his commitment to the returned soldiers even after scaling down his private practice to take on other roles.
Former Toodyay RSL Secretary-Treasurer Lou Kidd says Dr McGuinness has been a great supporter and friend of the local RSL.
“Not only with our scholarship program, but also with helping us find a home of our own here in Toodyay,” Mr Kidd said.
“We started the Sandakan Scholarship for Children in 2008, with the first students going to Borneo in 2009. That was prior to Michael becoming Chair of the Bendigo Bank in Toodyay.”
The bank has also been a great supporter of the scholarship, he says.
“But Michael supported the program for 10 years with his own money, sending two kids every year – right up until Covid.”
The RSL scholarship memorialises and educates younger generations on the World War II Sandakan Death Marches in Borneo, which resulted in the deaths of 2434 Allied prisoners-of-war. Only six Australians survived, four of whom were from Toodyay.
Dr McGuinness established his dental practice in Toodyay in 2005, after he and his wife Alison bought a farm in Nunile in 2002.
He opened additional rooms in Goomalling in 2008, building a clientele of nearly 5000 patients from as far afield as Perth, Esperance, Albany, and Margaret River.
The 1870 building that houses his Toodyay clinic was the site of Toodyay’s first school, run by the Sisters of Mercy from 1884 until 1902.
As it happens, Dr McGuinness is no stranger to founding and running schools himself.
He was instrumental in establishing the Oral Health Centre of Western Australia (OHCWA), a $30 million partnership between UWA and the State Government.
Prior to the OHCWA being built, Dr McGuinness headed up the State Dental School from 1998-2000.
At the time, the dental school was a rabbit-warren of rooms in a red brick, inter-war building on Wellington Street.
One Friday afternoon Dr McGuinness was invited to see UWA Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Alan Robson, who told him the existing school was to be closed down.
“Our graduates would have to go to the University of South Australia to finish their degrees,” Dr McGuinness recalls. “It was important to me that we had our own dental school to train undergraduates for our state.”
When he asked Prof. Robson what could be done, the answer came back: “You’ve got to raise $30 million.”
Dr McGuinness says what followed was “one of the highlights of my life”.
“I was lucky enough to be, at the time, a friend of Richard Court,” he explains.
“It was just before an election that I went to him and said ‘I need $15 million dollars’.
“That was on a Friday afternoon, at his offices in Nedlands. On the Saturday morning he arrived at my house, where I was cutting roses, and said ‘I’ve got something for you’.”
Having secured the government funding, the university had to match it, and the deal was done: $30 million to build a state-of-the-art centre for excellence in oral health.
After Deputy Vice Chancellor asked him to be the director of the project, Dr McGuinness oversaw its inception over the next two years.
Heady heights for a someone who started out as a dental technician.
Many may not realise the tools of dentistry and prosthodontics are similar to those used in jewellery making, and the craftsmanship appealed to Dr McGuinness’s artistic side.
“I’m lucky, I like art, do a lot of drawing myself, and can apply those skills and techniques to dentistry in terms of recreating peoples’ aesthetic presentation,” he reflects. “It ties together science and art.”
After weaving his technical artistry as a dentist for 46 years, Toodyay’s long-serving, one-and-only dentist will see his last patients next month before hanging up his drill.
“I will be staying in Toodyay, but not doing dentistry in general practice,” he explains.
It’s what he calls a “partial” retirement: working two days a week at Yongah Hill
Immigration Detention Centre in Northam as consultant dentist on a one-year contract.
“I’m 76, and by the time I finish there I will be 78, and that’s old enough,” he says.
So can we expect him to retire thereafter to the quiet vicissitudes of rural recumbence at Yandee Homestead?
“I was shearing sheep out there yesterday at six in the morning,” he says with a hearty laugh.
The Toodyay couple are running sheep and bringing in hay (their neighbour also crops canola and wheat on the property) after the pair originally bought Yandee Homestead as a weekender.
“One of the dumbest things you could ever do,” Dr McGuinness admits with a chuckle.
“We fell in love with it and we’ve been decorating and rebuilding it since 2002.
“We liked how close it was to Perth, we liked the broadacre farming, and the hilly area gives beautiful views.
“Since that time we have bought another two 100-acre adjacent lots … so it will be a forever thing until I fall off the perch.
“We love Toodyay and we like the sort of people that it attracts.”
With such a distinguished career it could be said Dr McGuinness is outstanding in his field.
And as of next year that may be where we will find him: out standing in his field.
Or perhaps treading the boards of his beloved shearing shed.
Either way, we wish Dr McGuinness all the best in his retirement – well, partial retirement.