Pedal-Driven Dental drill

John Jankaus Collection

Source: National Museum of Australia

This dental drill has been used in three different countries – first in the coastal city of Ventspils, Latvia, then in a number of Displaced Persons camps in post-war Germany, and finally in the small inland capital city of Australia, Canberra.

Its owner, dentist Lilja Kokle, was one of 170,000 Displaced Persons resettled in Australia between 1947 and 1953 as part of an agreement with the International Refugee Organisation.

Many non-British professionals found that their qualifications were not recognised in Australia. This was the case for Lilja, and she instead found work as a cleaner in a hospital. Once her English had improved she made further enquiries and found that she could work as a dentist as long as no injections were given.

She set up a dental practice in her home and worked there for the rest of her career, using this pedal-driven drill for slow drilling work, and an electric drill for high-speed drilling.

Most of her patients were fellow European migrants who were used to dental treatment without anaesthetic, but if they needed a tooth removed she would send them to an Australian dentist. John Jankaus was her patient for many years, and later donated her equipment to the National Museum of Australia.

Lilja’s drill can help us to think about different cultures of health care, and the importance of language, trust, and choice for patients of all backgrounds.