Monday, 1 September 2014

Special Collections Fossickings 41: Unsung healer, Ernst Kjellberg

Have you ever visited a chiropractor? Perhaps next time you visit you might ask what they know of the Kjellberg chiropractic system.  It is strange how Townsville acknowledges with quiet pride the therapeutic treatment developed by Sr. Elizabeth Kenny, yet knows little of the work of Ernst Kjellberg, who some regard as a kindred spirit and whose work in the north extended for nearly 50 years.

Beachview staff  1938 (the Kjellbergs seated, 2nd row centre), E.R (Bob) Hayles Album, NQ Photographic Collection, ID 3727.

Swedish-born Kjellberg (pronounced “Schellbay”) arrived in Australia in 1900, aged twenty. In 1906 he took his new Australian wife, Louise, from Brisbane to Sydney, where both studied nursing at the Wahroonga  Sanitorium. After graduation he opened a private clinic, attracting a large clientele, but when war began life became difficult for Ernst with his German-sounding surname and pacifist views. Hoping that a healthier environment would alleviate his wife’s epilepsy, they made the long journey to the then remote Atherton Tableland. Helped by local Aborigines, some of whom became life-long employees, he cleared a 160-acre selection outside Millaa Millaa, opening his extensive Beachview clinic in 1920. By the 1930s large numbers of patients were receiving Kjellberg’s manipulative therapy, often with remarkable results.  Many patients lived on site, sometimes accompanied by family members who helped with general tasks in lieu of payment. A number of ancillary buildings, including a gymnasium, were constructed, while rows of huts and tents accommodated staff, patients and their families.

Beachview main building with staff, ca 1940, Eacham Historical Society Album, NQ Photographic Collection, ID 14339.

Tragedy struck with the accidental death of the Kjellbergs’ 16 year old son, followed twelve years
later by the loss of the adopted daughter who had come into their care as an infant. Yet the Kjellbergs’ dedication to their work was unremitting, matched only by the gratitude of patients and their families. Spinal and other injuries resulting from accident, and paralysis from stroke, brought many to Kjellberg’s door but increasingly he was sought out by the parents of polio victims, beyond the help of conventional treatment.

Beachview in the making, ca 1937. Showing rows of accommodation huts. Eacham Historical Society Album, NQ Photographic Collection, ID 14340.
Beachview closed in 1950 but by then a clinic had been operating for ten years in Townsville and another had opened in Cairns. In 1940 Kjellberg purchased the Rooney family property at 42 Sturt Street in Townsville, though within a year it had been taken over by Australian defence forces. Now known as Federation Place, this stately Victorian building is listed on national and state heritage registers although sadly the Kjellberg connection is ignored on the exterior wall plaque and in the historical interior display. The wartime acquisition forced the move to another Rooney property at 8 The Avenue in Hermit Park but even here the clinic was temporarily displaced by the arrival of American forces. Special Collections contains three books about Kjellberg’s life and work, the most comprehensive being Kevin Somerfield’s Healing Hands.

42 Sturt Street today. Kjellberg purchased this building for his Townsville clinic in 1940.
Ernst Kjellberg died in 1968 and was buried in the Belgian Gardens cemetery together with his wife and one of his loyal Aboriginal employees. The City Council is to be commended for carrying out restoration work on this grave, after correspondence with a West End resident, but perhaps it is time our city gave him and his work more public recognition?

The headstone on Kjellberg’s grave in Belgian Gardens cemetery, Townsville.

Story by Miniata


Allison McGaw said...

I was very pleased to read this Blog posting about Mr Ernst Kjellberg. My mother is a Townsville girl and grew up hearing about the amazing results Mr Kjellberg achieved at Beachview and his other health homes. My father was the West End resident you mentioned who was instrumental in having the grave marker for the Kjellberg's and Matcho created and I was very pleased to be able to share with my mother over the phone tonight this Blog entry. We were fortunate enough to live close by the retirement home of Mrs Krellberg's younger sister, also a therapist, and was able to seek her out for adjustment and treatment of our various aches and pains. Sadly she passed away several years ago and the first hand knowledge of the Kjellberg methodology is becoming rarer and rarer.

Could I also add that all my life I have heard of Mr Shellbay only to learn that it is properly spelt Kjellberg, being Swedish.

Bob Ellis said...

My name is Robert Ellis I was born in August 1946 with Spina Bifida I am the second oldest in Australia.Doctor Tim Cotter in Innisfail where I was born saved my life.When I was 8 in 1954 I went to Ernst Kjellbergs Beachview clinic on the Atherton Tablelands.
Thanks to him I was made able to walk and am 70 in August 2016 and can still walk.I will never ever forget the work he did on me also in the Cairns and Townsville clinice he had .He was a great man

Anonymous said...

I too owe my very life to Ernst Kjellberg in that my mother at 19 was told she would never walk again after a boating accident. After 18 months she was taken to Mr Kjellberg (Shellbay, yes) and regained her walking ability. She went on to marry and have children, one of which is me.

I am currently writing my third book - a novel, based on the life of this strange but wonderful genius of a man. I would be very keen to hear from you Bob Ellis and Allison McGraw, as I have not heard your story before. You can contact me on
nancyknudsen [at]

Also I would love to hear from Bronwyn who is the author of this blog and anyone else who can fill in some of the gaps in his life.

Many thanks
Nancy Knudsen