One of the factors that led me to write The Edward Street Baby Farm was the unexpected backgrounds of the three main characters. I found them intriguing. Alice Mitchell, the ‘baby farmer’, was related to some of the most influential families in Western Australia. Irish-born Harriet Lenihan made her living as a music teacher before she became Perth’s first female health inspector. And Dr Ned Officer was one of Victoria’s top footballers before he graduated from medical school.
Edward Albert (Ned) Officer was born in Tower Hill, Victoria in 1869. He began playing football for Essendon while he was a medical student , when the team was still part of the Victorian Football Association. Between 1891 and 1894 he played in four VFA premierships , helping the team to win in consecutive years. He played his last premiership with Essendon after the team moved into the VFL in 1897 (which they also won).
Football friends described Ned Officer as a big, broad-chested man, who on first appearance looked unfit. But on the ground he was fast, strong and intelligent, capable of a high mark and a long kick. As a full back, he wasn’t afraid to come through the opposition ‘like an avalanche‘. One commentator described him as ‘the terror of the opposing forwards‘. At the time of his death, thirty years after his last game, he was still remembered as one of the VFL’s best players of all time.
After moving to Perth in 1901, Dr Officer set up as a specialist in child health. He became a key witness in the baby farming trial in 1907, due to the fact that his name appeared on the majority of the death certificates provided to Alice Mitchell. The prosecution questioned why he had done nothing to notify the authorities about the alarming death rate among children in Mitchell’s care.
But apart from this unwelcome publicity, ‘the genial doc’ was known as a generous citizen, respected by his colleagues and loved by his patients and fellow sportsmen. His funeral in 1927 was one of the biggest the state had ever seen.