16 July 2019

Honouring the Late Dr John Sweaney AM

In 1975 the chiropractic profession was fragmented – some may say fractured – around political issues, much of which centred on education.
The United Chiropractors Association of Australasia (UCAA) allied to the Sydney College of Chiropractic (SCC) and the Australian Chiropractors Association (ACA) allied to the Preston Institute of Technology (PIT) in Victoria, represented two distinct camps.

Dr John Sweaney AM became an executive member of the NSW branch of the ACA in 1969 and served as its Vice President from 1979 to 1980. He served as the Federal President of the ACA from 1979 to 1981 and as the Executive Director of the ACA from 1985 to 1990.

These were tense and perhaps tumultuous years for the chiropractic profession in Australia. There were many early negotiations in an attempt to create unification between the two associations and on 10 March 1979 many representatives of both associations met along with representatives from their respective teaching institutions to discuss a way forward. John was the Federal President of the ACA and was heavily involved at the time.

The report which emerged from this meeting in October 1979 recommended that the UCAA (Federal) and the ACA (New South Wales) amalgamate to form a new association and incorporate as the Australian Chiropractors Association Ltd. The committee’s key point for education was the integration of the SCC into the tertiary education system via PIT in Victoria.

John had been involved in the formation of the International College of Chiropractic (ICC) in Melbourne and served as a member of its Academic Board from 1976 to 1980, and a member of the Council of the ICC from 1979 to 1997. Indeed, he was still active at RMIT on the Course Advisory Committee on Chiropractic (a follow-on from the ICC) until 2003.

The eventual proposals in relation to the amalgamation of PIT/SCC/ICC would have meant the eventual closure of the Sydney College of Chiropractic. Recommendations were forwarded to the decision-making bodies of both associations. The UCAA and the SCC resolved that the recommendations were unacceptable.

A meeting was held on the 19 January 1980 in Sydney to develop a protocol for the unification of the profession within Australia. The meeting was jointly chaired by Dr Devereaux for the UCAA and Dr Sweaney for the ACA. Chiropractic education in NSW remained a stumbling block.

On 13 June 1980 the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) and the Advanced Education Council (AEC) called for a joint statement on chiropractic education from the UCAA and the ACA National, before funds could be made available for a chiropractic course at PIT in Victoria.

Two weeks later, a meeting took place in Brisbane between Dr Devereaux and Dr Sweaney to establish the mechanics of the production of a joint submission on chiropractic education for the TEC. Many members of both associations were present.

The full executive of both associations met again in Brisbane on 10 August 1980 to prepare the joint statement. On 7 September 1980 the UCAA and the ACA representatives met with the TEC and the AEC officials in Canberra to discuss the joint statement and its ramifications.

On 10 October 1980 the TEC made funds available to PIT for an annual intake of 50 students to be run from 1981 and students enrolling in the new course at Preston in 1982 would be eligible to apply for assistance under the Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme.

John must have been jubilant at this announcement.

Meanwhile the SCC achieved accreditation of its Graduate Diploma in Chiropractic retrospective from 1 January 1982.

Throughout this period of professional conflict, John was at the heart of what was evolving. No doubt there were moments when discussions between the two bodies were heated and I would like to think that John’s cool head and carefully chosen words served as a balm when necessary.

However, who would have guessed what was about to happen?

Dr Sweaney joined the Sydney College of Chiropractic Council in 1986 where he served as a Council member until 1997. Clearly his influence was straddling both educational institutions at the same time.

Merger discussions between the Sydney College of Chiropractic and Macquarie University took place in January 1989. In a letter from Dr John Sweaney – as the ACA Executive Director – dated 6 November 1989 he stated that “the Australian Chiropractors Association wishes to extend formal support to the Sydney College of Chiropractic …. The ACA reiterates its policy of support for the integration of the Sydney College of Chiropractic into a University setting. The ACA will also wholeheartedly support and assist in conveying the profession’s concerns to Canberra should negotiations on an academic level fail to resolve the current impasse.”

For the first time in my memory, the ACA, the UCAA and the SCC were pushing in the same direction.

The agreement of amalgamation between the SCC and the Macquarie University was signed on 31 July 1990. An Advisory Board was formed and initially consisted of members of the SCC Council. The inaugural meeting was held on 8 August 1990 and John Sweaney was a member of the Advisory Board at that meeting.

It was also in 1990 that the unification of the UCAA and the ACA eventually took place and resulted in the formation of the Chiropractors’ Association of Australia (CAA). In the same year John was listed on the SCC Council Appeals Committee where he was to serve for another seven years.

In August 1996 Dr Devereaux became the eighth chairman of the SCC Council. Both Dr Sweaney and his wife Dr Inger Villadsen also served on that Council. A photograph of all council members appears on page 318 of the book written by Dr Brian O’Reilly, Dr John Cice and Dr Ed Devereaux titled, History of The Sydney College of Chiropractic, Pathway to a Profession which has served as the major source document for the work I have prepared here. It is worth noting that there are no less than 15 references to Dr John Sweaney in the index pages of this text.

This is a wonderful photograph and deservedly sits towards the end of the book as a pictorial representation of how the process of unification had been truly achieved. But this narrow window of John Sweaney’s life does not end here. From so much diversity and at times animosity – unity had finally arrived.

In 2008 the SCC Council under the chairmanship of Dr Anthony O’Reilly was informed that funding may be available from the NSW Chiropractors Registration Board for a research chair at Macquarie University. Drs O’Reilly and Sonia Fogarty embarked upon a series of meetings with the University’s fundraising staff and sought the expertise of Dr John Sweaney to develop a case to be put to the NSW Chiropractors Registration Board. Unfortunately this was ultimately unsuccessful– but the efforts of all three individuals did not go unnoticed.

On 30 April 2016 Dr John de Voy (the then president of the CAANSW) convened a meeting at the Pullman Resort on the Central Coast of NSW to discuss the restructuring process of the CAA to a single national entity to be rebadged as the ACA. Along with members of the CAA NSW executive, I was delighted to be invited to attend, along with Dr Ed Devereaux and Dr John Sweaney, who had been called upon for their experience in all matters political over the last 46 years. This was to be my last direct interaction with John Sweaney and he presented with the same well-prepared manner, a consciously selected narrative and thoroughly considered opinion which he placed before the meeting for its due consideration. Here were two grandmasters demonstrating that they were now once again batting on the same team.

My social interactions with John were few and far between, occurring mostly at conferences over the last 40 years and discussing very little else other than chiropractic. I remember him providing clear opinion, with well-considered arguments presented in an un-emotive fashion. I could never ignore his opinion and I imagine that very few ever did.

I have not touched on John’s involvement of the World Federation of Chiropractic or of his contribution to the Chiropractic program at Murdoch University or his work with the Australasian Council on Chiropractic Education or the Council on Chiropractic Education Australasia or the Council on Chiropractic Education International. Others I know have mentioned his contribution in these areas.

However, John Sweaney’s legacy is not held within these words or any piece written about him. It resides within the individuals of his family and the structure of the profession he leaves behind – better for him having been a member of it.

– Dr John Kelly

The John Sweaney Chiropractor of the Year Award

ACA is pleased to announce the Chiropractor of the Year Award has been named in honour of Dr John Sweaney AM.