It was with a great deal of anticipation, excitement and yes, probably pride that I awaited the start of university life in 1952. Undoubtedly, I had stayed at school too long, having turned 18 in October, 1951. The restrictions, pettiness and class structure in Leaving Honours I had found suffocating. The masters and many of my fellow students I found pompous and full of their own importance and I felt more than ready to move on.
Why had I chosen Medicine? Sometime in Leaving, or perhaps it was earlier in Intermediate, I had purchased a copy of the University Calender. I was captivated by its contents. It laid out all the courses and prerequisites for being accepted into those courses. I carefully studied each course and eliminated all except Medicine which I found had instant appeal with subjects, exciting subjects, I thought I could handle. I doubted my capacity to handle the gore and blood especially as I had demonstrated a morbid fear of such things and even ran away from our dog fighting with other dogs. Nevertheless, other aspects appealed, the worthwhileness, the importance of such a job in the community and the excitement of working in a hospital I found appealing.
I returned to that calendar again and again and looked forward to starting with eager anticipation. I told nobody of my plans, not my parents, not my siblings and not my friends. I think my plans probably stimulated my work ethic just sufficiently to pass the prerequisite subjects in Intermediate, including Latin, and then again in Leaving (year 11) which in those days was matriculation for university entrance. Year 12 (Leaving Honours) in those days was equivalent to first year university.
My announcement after I left school, that I was planning to enrol for Medicine the following year, was greeted with some considerable surprise but no dissuasion by my family and friends. My close local friends at Woodville had veered towards engineering and agricultural college but in my class at school I found some half a dozen had decided on Medicine, all smarter than me and with better exam results.
By way of explanation, entry into university in the post war era of the 1950s was not difficult. One had only to achieve a solid pass in the Matriculation Exam to obtain a Commonwealth Scholarship which paid all university fees except Union dues and allowed one to enter any course of his or her choice without limitation on numbers for any particular course nor were there any cut-off marks. How privileged we were in that era.
My father pictured himself shelling out large sums for the next six years at least, as well as having to pay me an allowance, and he was clearly amazed and checked with me several times that my tuition would be paid. My most recent exam results in Leaving Honours had not filled him with overflowing confidence. My sister, Lesley, was a Registered Nurse, and whether she had any influence on my decision I do not know. Perhaps, but as such, she and I had never discussed the possibility.
March 1952 saw me embark on what was to be the most exciting and enjoyable six years of my life. The first year was purely academic and we were all part of the university proper. Physics, chemistry, botany, zoology and organic chemistry with study in the Barr Smith Library and lunch in the refectory. No uniform, no discipline. That suited me just fine. The lecturers delivered their hour-long lectures to the 120 students and then disappeared apparently neither caring nor interested in whether we attended or even whether we listened to their deliverances. I was fortunate in that my school colleagues were all better students than me and conscientiously took down in long hand every word every lecturer spoke, and so I copied the practice of checking bits missed after each lecture, and each night checking that I understood the work. It was mostly pure rote learning except for the physics and chemistry and not difficult, but I had learned my lesson at school the hard way and was determined to succeed whatever the cost. I think my peers, and even I, had some doubts as to whether I had the capacity to succeed, so there was considerable pressure in those early years.
Our fellow students were an interesting lot. We had probably some 20 ‘new Australians’ from the middle European countries, the Baltic States, and Yugoslavia. There were some 15 or so Colombo Plan students from Malaysia including three Sikhs with turbans. We had several returned service men from WWII including Charlie Butler from the USA. These men were somewhat older and more mature than the rest of us. There were about 20 girls in the group. I shared a botany microscope with a pretty girl from somewhere around Latvia or Estonia, much to the envy of my male friends. However, clearly her diet was strange as her breath was offensive in close contact over a microscope, so the matter went no further. She dropped out after a year or two.
It was strange being classmates with students from St Peters College as many of us had been fierce competitors on the sporting field in cricket and football for many years. I found myself friendly with David Muecke, Tim Murrell and Colin Bungey, all of whom had represented St Peters College against us on the Adelaide Oval the year before. There were many boys from the Catholic Colleges and High Schools and we all became life-long friends.
From the beginning our year melded and we all helped each other, with everyone committed fully to the task in hand. Well, almost everyone. There were three or four who decided early on it was not for them so they spent their first, and only year, in the refectory, in carousing and in generally living it up, before failing and moving on to other pastures. Bill Boucaut, Ian Brand and Sandy Sylow come to mind in that category.
The lunchtime refectory entertainments organised by the SRC (Student Representatives Committee) were stimulating and included debates by the permanent law students with much audience heckling. All the usual suspects fronted up including the evangelist Methodist revivalist preacher Allan Walker (later Sir Allan) from Sydney. He was thrown to the lions among the aggressively (at least for the occasion) atheist lawyers, Burgan, Anne Levy, Scott and Co. All great entertainment as we munched on our pies and sipped our coffee. Yes, of course we all said we were atheists as we gave the SCM (Student Christian Movement) a bad time. The refectory hall was thick with cigarette smoke as part of the student image of the 50s was a cigarette in hand. Everyone smoked, all my school friends without one exception. Strangely, I did not take it up, having abandoned the practice at the age of eight when Murray Stevens and I used to steal cigarettes from his next-door neighbour’s coffee table.
Liaisons materialised on the refectory lawns, some became permanent, but most were affectations to create an air of desirability and popularity, and to demonstrate contemptuous disdain for the necessity to study. The University Prosh came and went with huge painted footprints appearing beside the Bonython Hall and then following up the wall and onto the roof of that hallowed building. The floats in the parade were outrageous and profane, and the public lined North Terrace in curious amusement. The University Football team achieved notoriety by winning the A1 Premiership in Amateur League, but I doggedly stuck to the task in hand and refused to be tempted.
There were a couple of medical student traditions we encountered in first year. The AMSS, Adelaide Medical Students Society, was a strong organisation to which every medical student belonged. Evening meetings were held every month or so and the attendance was strong. The President was a nominated doyen of the senior Medical Staff of the Royal Adelaide Hospital and he chaired each meeting and directed proceedings. Medical papers were prepared and presented by students of any year.
At our first AMSS meeting we were obliged to each swear the Hippocratic Oath. From memory, I think we recited it as a group and then individually took the oath. It was delivered solemnly, and we all took it seriously with full intentions of keeping it throughout our lives. It is worth reproducing, having been written by Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, in the 4th century BC, probably on the Isle of Cos:
I swear by Apollo, the healer, Asclepius, Hygieia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgement, the following Oath and agreement:
To consider dear to me, as to my parents, him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and, if necessary, to share my goods with him; To look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art.
I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgement and never do harm to anyone.
I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause abortion.
But I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts.
I will not cut for stone, even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.
In every house where I come I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or with men, be they free or slaves.
All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and never reveal.
If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all men and in all times; but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my lot.
The second medical students’ tradition which we encountered was less wholesome. It was the custom for the senior students to hold an initiation ceremony for first year students, with the accompaniment of large amounts of amber fluid. With the influx of ex-servicemen in this post war period the ceremony had taken on a particularly violent trend.
In 1949, three years earlier, it had been decided by the senior students that freshers for that year would be thrown into the Torrens River in the dark! As expected, the drink flowed among the senior students and things got out of hand. First years were thrown in willy nilly, regardless as to whether they could swim or not. The inevitable happened and one poor embryo doctor was drowned. If I remember correctly his mother was widowed. A coroner’s case was held and those responsible were indicted and medical students were not the flavour of the month.
Three years later, when our turn came to be initiated, the function was no longer held, wiser heads having prevailed.
In first year I probably over compensated and worked extremely hard, even forgoing any sporting involvement until I felt I had the measure of my course and gained confidence. There was to be no further failure. The days were enjoyable and the work interesting and challenging. We were the small fry and looked up to and respected our seniors.
There were several traditional days. One was the inter-year football carnival played on the University Oval followed by the Medical Dinner.
Disaster struck Sixth Year when they played First Year on the Graduates’ Oval. A fresher, commissioned to report on the fray, wrote:– ‘There is an obvious lack of talent among our Sixth Years …the Freshmen allowed the venerables to kick a few paltry goals.’ What happened is not obvious. Keith Le Page [halfback for Norwood league team] and Garry Kneebone played well, but when Spiro Manea lost his glasses the side collapsed and were overwhelmed by such players as Ellis, Greg Smith, Johnson and Mestrov. No flowers by request.
I did not play football in First Year, focussing all my efforts on academia, as that was where my number one priority lay. Nor did I indulge in any social life apart from fraternising with the Woodville gang on weekends. A dull year it was, but the course I enjoyed, and found university exciting and stimulating. I felt some responsibility and pressure as no-one from either side of my family had ever gone to university, nor, to my knowledge, had anyone ever matriculated.
I had never done biology at school and found that and zoology the most enjoyable subjects. We dissected frogs and had to mount the skeleton of a rabbit. I remember skinning it and putting it on an ant hill to get rid of all the flesh. My mother was impressed. In fact, she became the consultant for all the medical problems (and there were plenty) of the Cooneyites as her son was a medical student. Presumably she acquired such knowledge by osmosis or alternatively she could look anything up in his books. She revelled in the prestige of her new role and asked me many questions.
I enjoyed botany even though we failed to see any relevance to Medicine. Physics was medically orientated with optics and radiation, and was surprisingly enjoyable.
The end of the year brought exams – a far cry from the previous year as I found them all straight forward and not too demanding. What a difference proper preparation makes! A number of students failed as only one hundred or just over could be accommodated in the Medical School for Second Year. My father said nothing but he increased my allowance to ten shillings a week (one dollar). He too was quietly enjoying bathing in the prestige of his son doing Medicine, although he would never admit such a thing.
How we all enjoyed the summer holidays. They extended from mid-November to March. We all applied for jobs in all manner of areas. Some as posties, some driving trucks at the salt lakes at Lochiel, some fruit picking. I had a job in the Myers Bulkstore in King William Street chasing up parcels which had been put on layby. Not very strenuous.
Second year was a big jump. We left the university precincts for good and became resident in the Medical School on Frome Road, each with his own locker. We now felt that the medical course had started in earnest. As subjects we had anatomy, physiology, histology, embryology – all genuine medical subjects that we could get our teeth into. We suddenly felt superior to those mortals on the other side of Frome Road as we were adjacent to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, although still not part of its day-to-day functioning, and longing, yet apprehensive, about becoming involved in its mysteries.
In second-year we were joined by some fifteen or so students from Western Australia as the Medical School in that state had not yet been formed. The WA Medical course began when we finished fifth year and our Western Australian friends went back to do their final year in Perth and become the first Medical Graduates from the University of Western Australia.
How would we cope with dissecting real bodies? We found out soon enough – on day one. We had already purchased the required dissecting tools from McNeils in Rundle Street and nonchalantly brandished our scalpels and forceps around the house trying to create the impression that we were one step away from general practice. But underneath we were very immature and apprehensive.
We donned our white coats and were ushered nervously into the dissecting room with its overpowering smell of formalin. We had already formed into our own groups of ten, the number allocated to each body, and purchased our three volumes of Cunninghams Dissecting Manuals. We were given brief instruction on how to proceed and then left to follow the manual starting with the arm. Our group consisted of four St. Peters old scholars, four PAC old scholars and two ‘New Australians,’ Marion Filipic and Nic Medianic, both recently from central Europe. Marion was brilliant. He had no relatives in Australia, had no scholarship like the rest of us, and worked as a cleaner every night to pay his way and keep himself in food and lodging. Despite his handicaps he knew his work better than any of us and was happy and good company. He never divulged his background and after graduation we lost touch but in later years learned that he had become the foremost eye pathologist in Australia.
We settled into our routine, one dissecting under the direction of another reading the manual while the others watched, gave advice or generally gossiped about the pretty physiotherapy girls who were doing as we were on the other side of the room.
Our subject was a wizened up old man with a fixed flexion deformity of his forearm and this made our dissecting of that part difficult. When we had completed a section in the manual we arranged to have a test with our supervisor and had to pass it before being allowed to proceed to the next section. Our supervisor was an embryo surgeon, as many were, as it helped them prepare for their surgical exams. His name was Allan Campbell and he was an ex-Commander in the RAN during the war. A charming gentle man who could be persuaded to do our dissecting and rarely failed us (we passed or failed as a group). ‘Ag’ Campbell as he was known became a prominent Adelaide surgeon who was even better known throughout Australia as a rose grower and developer of new species.
As we became more familiar with our dissecting tasks a certain blăseness crept in. The dissecting room was at the front of the Medical School on the first floor. On one occasion there were workmen beneath us digging up the footpath. One of our number, Allan Limmer, was heard to call through the window, ‘Hey, would you chaps down there like a hand?’ and when they replied in the affirmative a human hand was tossed out the window and into their trench.
Generally, the bodies were handled with respect. I am sure we must have received instruction in this regard but I cannot recall any. By and large it was enjoyable but difficult at times, as the various structures are always much more difficult to dissect and identify in a cadaver than in the living. Our group showed varying interest. One of our number, Bill Hobbs, whose father was a surgeon would spend hours meticulously following the path of a nerve, whilst another, Ian Leonard, would regularly announce at 2.00 pm as we were due to start our afternoon dissecting, ‘Well chaps, I’m off up to Rundle Street to the Curzon, I’ve seen “La Ronde” but now they’re screening that Swedish film “One Summer of Happiness.” I just have to see it to sort out my surface anatomy.’
Formal lectures were in the Stirling Lecture Theatre at the Medical School. Physiology practicals were on rabbits which were anaesthetised for us, if I remember correctly, and we had to monitor the effects of various stimuli to the vagus nerve which we dissected out. Practical and interesting. Franz Lippett and Sir Stanton Hicks ran the physiology department and both gave entertaining lectures. The lectures in physiology were held synchronously in theatres alongside each other for second and third years and these lecturers vied with each other to see who could get the most laughs and disturb the other’s lectures’ most through the dividing partition. Great entertainment for us.
With growing confidence that I was able to scholastically cope, second year saw a return to playing football. I began in the Uni ‘C’ team and enjoyed the Saturday game playing at centre half forward with the many characters that graced that level of football. After a few games I was elevated to the ‘B’ team, captain coached by Jim Whittle of battleship proportions. I must have had a modicum of success as come the selection of the team to represent Adelaide at the Intervarsity Carnival in Sydney I was told that I had been included. This of course I realised was because many, perhaps even most, of the regular ‘A’ team either could not spare the time or could not afford the fare. I was excited and very keen to go, but was entirely reliant on my father to fund the trip. He was reluctant, being of the view that at 19 I would get into bad company and be led astray with drinking and womanising. This was certainly the impression that these teams liked to create, especially with the opposing teams, but the reality was that they were all nice young men from good homes and with serious intent. My father relented and I accepted the invitation.
It was a thrilling week as I was rubbing shoulders with the heroes of the club who had not only won the A1 Premiership the year before but were also holders of the Intervarsity Championship which had been held in Adelaide the year before and I had witnessed their victory over Melbourne University.
We travelled by train to Sydney, a long haul, changing trains in Melbourne and again at Albury, as Victoria and New South Wales had different gauges until 1962. Of course we travelled the cheapest way, in dog boxes sitting up the whole way. I well remember the trip – I shared the compartment with Peter Tunbridge, a sixth-year medical student and immaculate left foot kick who came from Western Australia. He and other senior students, all established ‘A’ graders, played bridge all night, whilst I climbed into the elevated luggage rack and managed quite a comfortable night’s sleep. The train stopped regularly for pies and tea or beer.
Inter-Varsity Carnival, Sydney, 1953
After two days we arrived in Sydney, somewhat the worse for wear, and took a bus into Sydney to our hotel in Hay Street, Haymarket – not very salubrious but dirt cheap. The room for three of us was furnished with a double bed and a single bed. I shared the double bed with Peter Polomka, whilst ‘Bubsy’ Spain was the lucky one with the single bed. We were so exhausted that being able to sleep, stretched out, under any circumstances was welcome.
The next morning, I ventured down to the male communal showers. On entering I was confronted by a man casually shaving in his singlet but with a pistol in a shoulder holster under his raised right arm. I bid him a polite ‘Good morning’ and beat a hasty retreat, forgoing a shower for that day as did my room mates.
Sydney in May is much warmer than Adelaide, and Sydney University we found attractive with the carnival on the pleasant Sydney University Oval. The usual format for Australian Rules carnival games was for New South Wales and Tasmania to field weak teams, Western Australia significantly stronger, but the championship was generally between Melbourne and Adelaide with Melbourne being favoured as they had two teams, a Blue and a Black team in the Victorian A1 Amateur League. On this occasion Western Australia did not send a team as the distance was too great.
Life is full of chance happenings. I believe I was probably the last choice in the team, or chosen when someone was unable to make the trip. At all events, I expected to get perhaps one game for the week. As it turned out I was picked as an emergency for the first game against Tasmania as the selectors reserved our better players to play against the stronger teams later in the week. In the last quarter I was given a run. The opposition, weak anyway, had slowed to a walk in the last quarter. I managed to get many touches and played well above myself as occasionally happens.
The next match was against Sydney a couple of days later and again I was 20th man. The same thing happened and come the third quarter on I went, and with everyone slowing to a walk, again I played well above myself, in fact happened to look quite speedy.
I was conscious of plaudits coming my way from the senior players in the team and felt quite chuffed with myself. The final game was the big one, against Melbourne University. The best team was selected and I was astonished to find I was selected as 19th or 20th man. It was a hard game but in the last quarter the late nights and beer was starting to take its toll, and one or two of our team had to retire. I was put on the wing, and yet again gave a good account of myself coming on fresh with plenty of run in my legs.
The team reboarded the train for the slow journey back to Adelaide. On return to training, I found I had been elevated to train with the ‘A’ team, which I found hard to adjust to, as it included such luminaries as Dick Bennett and Gus Elix, both in sixth year medicine, and previous academic and sporting heroes at Prince Alfred College, when I was in year eight. Gus in his final year was captain of the school and Dick Bennett dux of the school. Gus played centre and was captain of the university team but had elected not to go to the Sydney intervarsity. George Tilley was in his third year as coach of the ‘A’ team having won premierships in his first two. He was a notorious Sturt and state footballer, renowned for his rough play. John Lawrence, Rhodes Scholar, was centre halfback, with brother Jim, a final year medical student, alongside on a halfback flank. All very intimidating, especially as I felt that luck had played a huge part in my sudden elevation and that the whole dream would be short lived.
I cannot recall how many ‘A’ grade games I played that year but I did not play in the finals when University was defeated by Exeter. I do recall however that my first A1 game was against Exeter on the old Exeter Oval. There was a large hostile crowd as the University team was never popular on that side of town especially as they were usually successful. I played on the wing and at some stage before halftime I was involved in a skirmish. Our ruckrover was John Walsh, a wiry short tempered sixth year medical student. His opponent for Exeter was Jimmy Harvey, a notoriously dirty player and well known to our team. However, he was skilful and had been selected in an All Australian team. Jimmy Harvey aimed a punch at John Walsh just as I ran between them and directly in front of the best A grade umpire Bill Henderson. I collected the full force and was knocked unconscious to the ground. As I recovered, I was aware of a free for all with Jimmy Harvey being sent off the ground by Bill Henderson. The Exeter crowd of course went berserk and as we left for halftime Bill had to be protected.
I played out the second half, but was very confused and remember having to ask my team mates which way we were kicking and what the score was as I was unable to focus on the scoreboard.
After the game Bill Henderson came into our change room and told me I had to front up to Football House on the next Monday evening to be a witness in his case to get Jimmy Harvey suspended.
By the Monday I had recovered from my concussion and duly fronted up at Football House and seated myself opposite Bill Henderson and Jimmy Harvey, the latter resplendently decked out in his green All Australian blazer. When I was called in to give my evidence, I was asked awkward questions such as ‘Were you next to the ball or was there a ring of players between you and the ball?’ Of course, I had amnesia having been KO’d but being only 19-years of age I had no understanding and thought I should know so I guessed but guessed the wrong way and ruined Bill Henderson’s case. Instead of getting three matches Jimmy got off and I could see how disappointed Bill Henderson was but he said nothing.
Some 40 years later when I was a practising surgeon who should front up to me in my consulting rooms but Bill Henderson. He had gone on to become one of the leading SANFL umpires taking charge of a number of finals matches if my memory is correct. At the end of the consultation I said to him;
‘Bill, do you remember that match on the Exeter Oval in 1953?’
‘Yes, I remember it well.’
‘Did I ruin your case?’
‘Yes you did.’
‘Well, I had amnesia and did not appreciate at the time that I had no recollection.
‘Never mind, I knew Jimmy Harvey well and in fact did all my umpire training on Exeter Oval. I used to see him practising kicking heads and shins and knew only too well the sort of player he was. I saw this as an opportunity to pull him into line. He’s dead now so it doesn’t matter does it!’
One other game I remember in 1953 was against my old school, Prince Alfred College, played on the school front oval with which I was very familiar. Many of my contemporaries were present either in the team or on the boundary. I was very proud of the professionalism of the university team and the professionalism of the coaching by George Tilley and it was with no small measure of satisfaction to me when we trounced them soundly and I managed a to get few kicks.
Part of my emancipation in second year was to acquire a girl-friend. Never particularly suave or sophisticated, and always awkward in the presence of girls, I had not previously pursued the opposite sex preferring only to admire them from afar. The rest of the Woodville gang were way ahead of me in this regard and in fact this particular girl was a good friend of Murray Steven’s girl-friend Jill. Her name was Betty Storer and she was the personal secretary of Sir Douglas Mawson who was the Professor of Geology at the time. In latter years Douglas Mawson has become a hero of mine and I have devoured tales of his Antarctic exploits avidly. In my view, he was the greatest of all the Antarctic explorers, way above Scott and probably Shackleton also, although perhaps not Amundsen. How I kick myself that I did not avail myself of the opportunity to meet the great man and shake the hand that he used to claw his way out of the crevice in Antarctica when his sled went through the ice after his companions Ninnis and Mertz had died.
On looking back, I was trying to punch well above my weight as Betty was very sophisticated and adult with all the right patter compared with my immature clumsiness. Nevertheless, it was someone to be able to ask out when invitations came my way and I thought at the time she was nice. It was a somewhat platonic friendship with the occasional lunchtime sandwich on the banks of the Torrens. On one occasion after the pictures, I took her home to our house but my mother made sure she was in bed, and I knew my father would be, so I didn’t tell him. I made her a cup of coffee and then took her home – I’m sure she must have thought I came from a strange home although she didn’t say as much.
In the end she asked me to a function and then later asked someone else. Of course, I did not take too kindly to this and invited her for coffee in King William Street and in a somewhat shaky voice told her what I thought of that behaviour and gave her her marching orders. To my astonishment she retorted that her opinion of me in that instant had suddenly gone up! Well, there may be some truth in the aphorism ‘treat ‘em mean to keep ‘em keen!’ Nevertheless, there was no going back and that was the end of that!!
Exams at the end of second year were rather low key as the anatomy course extended over five terms with the major exams at the end of the second term in third year and in the last term of third year we moved into our clinical years in the hospital, an event which we looked forward to with great expectation. Exam time came and went in second year, and I don’t think there were many failures.
At the end of second year we had an extended vacation so that three months of compulsory National Service Training could be fitted into our university courses. Most of us had already done cadet training at school so were familiar with army service, drill, firing .303 rifles, and the general discipline involved.
We were transported to Woodside Army Barracks, fitted out with uniforms and allocated to platoons in alphabetical order. We lived in steel unlined huts, about twenty to a hut in a dormitory like arrangement with some half a metre between the beds. Reveille at 6.00 am, cold communal showers, mess parades, queuing for meals with our own mess gear, out on the parade ground practising marching in formation, lectures by permanent army personnel all itching for another war, out on the firing range, learning to dissemble and reassemble a Bren Gun, route marches and guard duty. And so, our three months passed. Most of us buckled down in survival mode, but the boys from Broken Hill were notorious for their resistance to army discipline. They initially answered back to our Regular Army superiors, refused orders and generally created chaos. However, after a few weeks they came to the realisation that the army had been in the discipline business for many generations and had developed effective measures for rebels. If jogging around the parade ground with a rifle above the head in the blazing sun (it was mid-summer) did not work there was always the guard house, and the ‘provos’ (military police, stasi style). The system was watertight.
On our last night at Woodside the word went around that someone was to organise a beer keg outside the precincts of the camp. We all duly paid our £10 and at the allotted time on a pitch-black night made our way individually out of the camp to the keg. I was creeping along a ditch on the side of the road when I heard a voice, ‘Psst, soldier this way.’ I followed the person in the dark and was invited to join some 50 young men in a clearing under the guard of the provos. Eventually when the numbers had doubled we were told to form up on the road and were marched back to camp to be confronted by the commanding officer and given our due punishment, the nature of which I cannot remember.
After our initial training we were all allocated to regional part time regimental units and had to attend Wednesday night parades and annual camps for the next three years. Those from university were allocated to the University Regiment which was run by university undergraduates and graduates and was generally more congenial than Woodside. Our CO was Brigadier Blackburn VC, at that stage of his distinguished career a staff member in the Law School. Of interest he had been the officer in charge of the Black Force prisoner group in Java which included 300 seamen from the sinking of the Perth among whom was my brother-in-law, Jock McDonough.
Our three years part-time military training was not as harsh as our basic training and we were allowed to enter specialist training groups during this period. My friend Bill Mann and I decided that the Intelligence Branch of the army would be the most desirable for our indolent needs, as indeed it turned out to be. Our officer in charge was one Ian Cook, an old school mate from the Woodville area, only a year older than ourselves, and well attuned to indolence himself. Intelligence work itself was quite interesting, compass work, map reading and so forth. Our annual camps were almost enjoyable, democratic too, as we were able to debate Cooky’s orders from the ranks and eventually he would march us off into the mulga where we would settle down and play poker for several hours before marching back into camp having been, to all intents and purposes, on an ‘intelligence’ exercise.
The normal custom on route marches was for the Intelligence Section to ride in the back of army trucks. On one particular route march the temperature rose to 40 degrees Celsius and some carrying rifles succumbed to the heat. The officer in charge made the decision that the intelligence personnel, comfortably ensconced in the rear of the trucks, would remove themselves and interchange with those marching and suffering from heat exhaustion. Our indignation was unbounded!
One of the benefits of National Service was that we were paid to do our training and as poor students any income was very welcome.
1954 Third year Medical Students.
Our feelings in third year were that at last we were climbing up the ladder or at least we were off the bottom rungs with two junior years beneath us. It was an exhilarating feeling and well worth the hard work we had put in. We were conscious that the end of second term would bring major exams so after returning from National Service at Woodside most of us applied ourselves.
An added incentive was our attachment to a sixth-year student who acted as our mentor. This was on a one-to-one basis and for an hour or two each week we would go with our mentor into the wards of the Royal Adelaide Hospital with our white coats and stethoscopes and think we were Christmas. We even donned gowns and masks and went into theatre to see operations. What utter bliss. My mentor was Peng Teh, a charming Chinese Malaysian who remained in Adelaide in general practice with a friend of mine from our year, Lennie Valente.
Our dissecting continued, third year being devoted to the head and neck; the rest – upper limb, lower limb and abdomen, having been completed in second year.
Should I play football in such an important year with exams coming around in August, September, the same time as football finals? I was grateful that my family never had any input to my decision making. Even my father was not even party to the fact that such a decision had to be made. The year before had been my most successful and enjoyable ever, so that I was unable to resist the temptation! As it turned out it was the right decision, although it did make for a tiring week. Football practice on the university oval Tuesdays and Thursdays finished about 6.30 pm and then I would have to catch the Cheltenham tram home to Woodville arriving about 7.30, followed by tea kept hot on a pot, and settle down to study from about 9.00 pm till midnight.
My football skills had improved, and also my confidence, and I managed to retain a regular place on the wing in the A1 side captained by another hero of mine, ‘Wimpy’ McLeod, a semi-permanent mining engineering student. Wimpy was a giant of a man who was that year named as captain of the All Australian Amateur team to play against the Queensland and Tasmanian League teams for the right to play in Division I of the Australian Carnival. He had a personal relationship with every member of his team and we would do anything for him; a natural leader of men. He had a great sense of humour, and could smile even after Clarrie Christenson’s mother clouted him on the nose with her furled umbrella as he walked off the Rosewater Oval at half-time.
The May holidays saw us off to Melbourne for the Intervarsity Carnival. We stayed at Ormond College which was a huge jump from the Hay Street Hotel in Sydney. Melbourne University was unbeatable in their home town as their team was a combined team from their two clubs in A1, the Blues and the Blacks. We comfortably beat Tasmania and Sydney and then prepared ourselves for the main match.
Come 1.30 pm, as we congregated in the change room prior to the match, our champion back pocket player, Bob Koehne, arrived ‘drunk as a skunk.’ What were we to do? We stripped him and sat him under a cold shower for some minutes, during which time he recovered to some degree. He was due to stand the champion Melbourne rover Dave Yoffa who went on to play VFL. Sitting under his cold shower bob was heard to mutter in a very slurred voice, ‘Dave Yoffarrr … won’t get a kick.’
We all ran on to the oval, including Bob Koehne, who by this time had recovered almost full control of his faculties. Although, predictably, we lost the game, Bob played a champion game on Yoffa, whom he held scoreless.
Melbourne also had a champion full forward in Geoff Dahlenburg who kicked many goals that day. Come the end of carnival dinner that evening Bob turned up drunk again, as was Geoff Dahlenburg, and they stole the evening, dancing with each other, the tall lithe Dahlenburg and short stocky Bob, to the strains of;
‘Oh Dahlenburg, Oh Dahlenburg, Oh, where have you been,
Have you been out in the whackernack in your limousine!’
It was a good night and Dahlenburg, some years later, took the post of Dean of the Adelaide Medical School.
The university team in 1954 was very strong and by halfway through the season had lost only one match. My form had been good but I was astounded when I was selected for the State squad to practice, yes, at Prince Alfred College on Tuesdays and Thursdays! I have often wondered how this came about. One of the state selectors was a Hugh Millard who had been appointed secretary of the SA Amateur League in 1922 when he was aged 17. He continued in that role for the next 33 years and became the backbone of the league. He was close friends with my father’s best friend, Howard Daw, and it was about that time that my father started to take an interest in my football and attend the odd match. Was there a connection? Nobody will ever know, but I got to know Hugh very well and respected him as a person of the highest integrity.
There were 33 selected in the state squad, seven from the university team. We practised under coach George Tilley on Tuesdays and Thursdays at PAC. Being a new chum on the block I was content to just be in the squad, and fully expected not to be selected in the final team. Imagine my absolute astonishment when the team was announced after practice on Thursday June 10, and I found myself selected in the team to play Victoria the following Queen’s Birthday holiday Monday, at St Kilda’s home ground, Moorabin Oval. Don Davies, an ex-Norwood league player, was also in the team, at that stage playing for Prince Alfred Old Collegians, and he too questioned me regarding playing for PAC old scholars. All seven University members of the squad made the final team so one third of the team came from University.
When I arrived home and announced I would be off to Melbourne for the weekend to play for the state against the Vics, all expenses paid, it aroused no great emotional response beyond, ‘That’s nice dear, don’t get hurt,’ and later ‘How much money will you need.’
Come Saturday we boarded the Melbourne express at Adelaide Railway Station and set off in the sitting up class. We were amateurs after all, although one or two had been white-washed from the professional ranks, certainly Don Davies. My recollection of the trip over as a very young and immature 20 year-old was firstly, the discomfort of the trip with pie and tea at Murray Bridge and again at Serviceton, and secondly, the antics of our coach, the notorious George Tilley. The suave George, probably 45 and married, set us a great example by manipulating his seat alongside an attractive blond, chatting her up and spending the night with her under her rug!! However, on the positive side I made many good friends in the team which included Leon Gregory, Australian 440-yard champion and future Olympic 400-metres relay silver medallist, Merv Natt from Semi Centrals, Brian Edwards from the strong Walkerville team captained by Don Brebner, Don Fletcher, white washed from the Port Adelaide league premiership team, Claude Gross from Walkerville, Jimmy Sawford, the Port Adelaide rover, Claude Jarrat, also from Walkerville, and Don Davies, ex-Norwood league team.
We arrived by bus down at the St Kilda Cricket ground and I was surprised to find several thousand spectators already there, the reason being that our match was preceded by a lightning carnival involving a number of teams from the Victorian Amateur League
A brief official report of the match described it as follows:
S.A. kicked with the aid of a strong breeze in the first quarter and its inaccuracy in this quarter probably cost it the match. Even then a seven-goal third quarter had SA in the lead by nearly four goals at the beginning of the last quarter. However, a late four-goal burst by crack Victorian full forward Duncan Anderson stole the match in the dying stages.
1Q 2Q 3Q Final
Victoria 0.0 5.9 6.10 12.14 (86)
S.A. 1.11 2.12 9.15 10.15 (75)
I well remember my devastation halfway through the last quarter. By that time the wind had picked up to a howling gale toward the Victorian goals and Duncan Anderson ran riot. He was the full forward for Melbourne University so was well known to our contingent. He had all the attributes, tall, fast leading, a good mark and an accurate kick.
SA Amateur Football Team at St Kilda Oval, 1954.
In July that year the SA team was scheduled to travel to Perth to play against WA. I was approached by the selectors to make the trip. However, our big third-year exams in anatomy and physiology were due a month later in August, the results of which determined whether or not we moved into the clinical years. I thought long and hard, but in the end reluctantly declined the invitation.
Somehow, I managed to pass the third-year exams in August, my only recollection being that one of the major anatomy questions was on the pancreas. One of the characters of our year, Jagdev Singh, a Sikh from Malaysia, boasted that he had been fortunate enough to revise the pancreas whilst he sat on the toilet that morning at St Marks College and thereafter it was known that, ‘Jag sat on the toilet and passed anatomy!’
Shortly after our exams came our football finals. The team finished top of the A1 Premiership Table and beat Semaphore Centrals in the semifinal by two points and then Rosewater in the grand final 19.11 to 10.4 to win the third flag in four years, although only my first.
The final windup dinner was a surprise as I was awarded the C.B.Sangster Gold Medal for the most improved player in the A team.
Third year had been busy with many activities competing with anatomy – the Medical Ball, the Med golf day and Medical Football carnival followed by the Medical Dinner – so it was with considerable relief that fourth year had arrived.
We had all been looking forward with eager anticipation to moving into the clinical years and at last we had reached our goal.Our feelings were that once one reached this stage eventually we would graduate, maybe not in the specified span of time, but it was becoming less likely that we would be thrown out of the course, as many had been up until that time.
The centre of our activities now became Arcadia which replaced the Medical School on Frome Road. This was a separate structure in the grounds of the Royal Adelaide Hospital, set aside purely for the use of medical students. It was there that we had our lockers for our white coats and stethoscopes, together with a large room furnished with chairs and tables for lunch and other recreational activities. Those students living at the colleges, St Marks, Aquinas, Lincoln or St Anns went back for lunch but the rest of us went to Arcadia or its surrounding lawns. There the custom was to play poker, but when exam time was approaching in the third term and things were getting serious, the poker was exchanged for bridge. During the clinical years one became very proficient in these card games and a considerable amount of money changed hands.
On Wednesday afternoons Des Patching would regularly go up the Gawler Race Meeting. If he had a good day he would come back to Arcadia in the late afternoon, and gamble his winnings in the poker school. Not being a good poker player himself, his table would rapidly fill as everyone knew there was easy money to be made. Another constant player was Phil Schwarz who was married early on in his student days, either by design or accident, and had several children. He became a very skilled poker player and spent many hours each day at the tables. It was said that he kept his wife and children on his poker winnings from Arcadia.
1954 Premiers S.A. A1 Amateur Football league.
At any time of the day and well into the night there would always be one or two tables of poker to be found in Arcadia, which was never locked.
The third term of third year was always looked upon as the most enjoyable term of the medical course as it did not culminate in the usual sweat of exams. We may have had some minor exams but nothing to impede our progress into fourth year.
Fourth year was exciting as we moved into a whole new world of clinical medicine and started doing what our careers would follow, dealing with patients. Patients came into a teaching hospital and received free treatment on the firm understanding that medical student teaching was part of the hospital charter and that they would make themselves accessible to examinations by these novices. By and large this worked very well and most patients were only too willing to pass their dreary days in a hospital bed by discussing their ills with a ready listener.
We had regular lectures in the Verco Theatre of the Royal Adelaide Hospital attended by all years and rotated over a three-year cycle. We attended ward rounds, being allocated to a medical or surgical unit each term, occasionally interspersed with gynaecology or specialty units such as eyes, ENT and orthpaedics. At other times we would be attached to the Childrens Hospital.
We had about ten students attached to each clinic, retaining the same group for the whole three clinical years. Our group included several Western Australians, Bill Dawson, Trevor Nicholls and Bill Finucane and over the course of three years we all became close friends.
Every patient on a ward was allocated to a student and that student had to obtain a full case history and examine the patient fully, and be familiar with the daily investigations and treatment. Furthermore, that student was expected to research the disease process of his or her patient and be ready to present that case to the full ward round and answer questions put by the honorary consultant. A good discipline for the students, who felt very much part of the unit to which they were attached, but somewhat of a dreary waste of time for the registrars and interns. This system persisted until the 1980s when the author was involved in changing the system at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital so that one senior clinician took the students on a ward round while another clinician did a working ward round with the registrars and interns and taught on a more advanced level.
The first clinical attachment in a hospital is always remembered. Our first attachment was to an Honorary Physician, K. Stuart Hetzel, better known as ‘Smoky’ Joe because of his repeated emphasis on putting the patient’s urine in a urine jar and observing whether or not it looked smoky, an indication of nephritis. Ward rounds were held twice each week and lasted the whole morning, Hetzel’s male ward being Light Ward run by an ex-army nurse Jess Clifford, a legend of the RAH. The usual complement of patients was about 30, two rows of 15 facing each other down the length of the ward. On take days the number could double with black beds brought up from the basement and stacked down the middle until there was barely room to move between them. As students, we were rostered two at a time to follow the interns and registrars as they admitted and treated patients admitted on a 24-hour take. It was an education in itself to see Jess Clifford organising her ward like a general on a battle field as the patients kept rolling in from the Casualty Department. Always fully in command of a situation, which to the uninitiated appeared complete chaos; a great clinical assessor of a patient’s condition, she would marshal her interns to take blood here or administer drugs there, whilst on the side she would issue instructions to her nurses. The likes of a Jess Clifford will never be seen again. Not only did she control everything inside her ward, but at mealtimes, when the meal trolleys came in, she would don an apron and serve a meal for every patient in her ward according to each patient’s needs, which she knew precisely. She was held in awe, even by the honorary physicians. Ward rounds in her ward were run with military precision. The beds were all in line and the sheets straight and tidy. Silence reigned among the 30, or at times 50, patients in the ward. Woe betide any patient who ventured a comment uninvited, as the honorary, in typical ‘Doctor in the House’ style, moved methodically from bed to bed. The student, who had been on take, gave the history and examination findings, and was then questioned on his provisional diagnosis and suggested treatment. The honorary would then confirm what he had been told by the student with his registrars, and authorise further investigations and treatment. There could be some two dozen personnel crowded around each patient listening to, and learning from the great man. As novices we were struck by the formality of these occasions and the impersonal nature of the patient contact – in those days they were very much viewed as so much clinical material rather than persons, and always addressed by their surname without the courtesy of any title such as ‘Mr.’ The patients accepted all this in a humble fashion, as that was how the hierarchical system was in those days. Treatment was free, and the honorary gave of his time to the public system without any remuneration, so he was beholden to no-one.
However, in exchange for his free time the ward sister laid on a huge spread for morning tea with sandwiches, cakes, and scones in her side room. We lesser mortals were told to go away for a half hour break. We would be pleased to be free of the tension for a while and usually adjourned to the kiosk alongside North Terrace where we consumed coffee and beautiful freshly baked fairy cakes with jam and cream, and engaged in light hearted banter on the stage performance we had just witnessed, or more commonly what antics we had been up to on the previous week-end.
We had regular tutorials on how to take a history and how to examine a patient, and as a small tutorial group were shown and examined patients with cardiac murmurs and lung consolidation, and other exotic conditions that only the Adelaide Hospital could produce. They were full and exciting days.
With autumn came the resumption of football which had now become a major part of my life. George Tilley was again coach and I had a good relationship with him. We had lost some good players in Bill Laurie, John Walsh, Jerry Martin (to rove for Sturt) and Dick Law-Smith, as they had graduated and graduates at that stage were barred from playing any longer. Poor John Walsh, who was now an intern at the RAH, was not aware of the rule and fronted up all keen and set to play at the beginning of the season, only to be told of the rule and sent on his way.
By mid-season we were again firmly on the top of the premiership ladder, and in fact lost only one home and away game for the whole season, and that was against Semaphore Centrals, our traditional rivals. In our matches against them we exchanged trophies for the best player on each side.
The May vacation was taken up with the intervarsity trip to Tasmania which was most enjoyable, but not successful. Perhaps the tone was set by ‘Moses’ Tuckwell, who only brought two left shoes with him which he wore the whole week. If my memory serves me, I think we were beaten by Tasmania in the wet, as well as by our arch rivals, Melbourne University. My leisure time on that trip was spent in the company of ‘Moses Tuckwell’, Frank Altmann and Pat Pak Poy, the latter a great all round sport going back to his days at Rostrevor College, where I first came across him.
Come June and a return match against the Victorian side was scheduled. I was again lucky and was chosen to play on the wing. We had only four representatives from university on this occasion. The following report of the match is from the History of the SAAFL:
The Victorians arrived by train on the Saturday morning and practised at Kings College where they were entertained at lunch. Races and League football were on the agenda for the afternoon, then the Walkerville Football Club’s cabaret that evening. Sunday was spent at Hugh Millard’s birthplace Victor Harbor.
After all this excitement the players had to switch on for the big match on Monday afternoon under the direction of central umpire Fred Russell. The Alberton Oval turf was very heavy, and the Vics were on top in the first quarter. Things got a bit rough in the second quarter [my opponent on the wing was the 440 yards hurdleschampion of Victoria, and he ran past me as if I were standing still – fortunately our centre man Georgie Clarke from Riverside saw my plight and put him on the sidelines on a stretcher], and captain Don Fletcher got a kick in the eye courtesy of McLaughlin, the Victorian captain. This and other incidents resulted in words between the players as they went off at half time, particularly between Fletcher and the ruckman O’Brien. [Fletcher of course had been the Port Adelaide League ruck-rover and intimidator for many years before being white-washed back to amateur league status. He knew all the tricks.]
1955 SA Amateur Football League State Team.
Despite his badly injured eye, Fletcher insisted on returning to the fray (with vengeance in mind), telling follower Peter Ardill to win the first tap and reserve Len Atkins to be ready to come straight on. Ardill won the tap, Fletcher cleaned up O’Brien then ran straight off the ground, Atkins ran to the forward pocket, took a mark, and kicked a goal [the match reporter fails to record the pre-arranged general melee that took place at the beginning of the third quarter with punches being thrown in all areas of the ground which quite upset the Victorians]. From then on S.A. got on top kicking four goals to one in the third quarter, and with Geoff Krieger providing a safe avenue through centre half forward and George Clarke starring in the pivot, finished strongly to record its sixth win against Victoria in 23 matches. Umpire’s coach Casey Cooper credited the win to Don Fletcher.
1Q 2Q 3Q 4Q
S.A. 2.0 5.3 9.7 13.7
Victoria 5.3 7.4 8.6 12.10
Goalkickers: Krieger 4, Ardill 3, Gross 2, Irvine 2, Fletcher, Johnson
Best Players: Clarke, Krieger, Ardill, Natt, Simmons, Powell
As expected, University easily won its Semi Final against Walkerville 17.14 to 8.9. The surprise was in the other match where Semaphore was expected to beat co-tenants Exeter who had played poorly the week before in losing to Woodville by nearly five goals. However, with skipper Merv Natt in great form at half back and George Lidstone winning the rucks, Exeter won 12.14 to 9.7. The Final was played at Alberton Oval and again Exeter defied the critics by beating the minor premier University 15.8 to 12.9, but it was asking a lot of it to front up again the following week in the Challenge Final at Alberton Oval and inflict successive defeats on the strong Uni team. The Challenge match was hard and rugged and the University rucks held sway. Despite losing five-goal full forward Charlie Akkermans after half time, the Blacks deadly accuracy and fresher legs saw them run out easy victors 18.5 to 7.7. Best for the blacks were Ketley, McLeod and Tuckwell. This was Varsity’s fourth premiership in five seasons.
It had been a good season with a Premiership and a win against the Vics and everyone was in good spirits at the end of season dinner. It had been my best football season ever but I was very surprised to come away with the coveted Gunning Medal for best and fairest for the season in the A team.
Of interest, this was the last year of the challenge system for the minor premiers, as it was considered to be too heavily weighted in favour of the top team.
The reader may be excused for thinking life revolved around the football season, but that would probably be true. The smell of liniment in the change rooms before a match, the tension, the excitement, the challenge, and the roar of a crowd at the physical clashes was very addictive.
1955 Premiers A1 SA Amateur League
It had been a good season with a Premiership and a win against the Vics and everyone was in good spirits at the end of season dinner. It had been my best football season ever but I was very surprised to come away with the coveted Gunning Medal for the best and fairest in the A1 team for the season.
Football was not without its mishaps, and the Medical School Interyear Football Carnival was always a dangerous occasion, as we always co-opted a number of rugby union players to make up the team. The responses and reactions of rugby union players are always unpredictable, and they do the unexpected in Aussie Rules games. In the 1955 carnival I had the misfortune to have my nose flattened between the back of Bill Finucane’s skull coming upwards and the front of another rugby player’s head coming downwards at a boundary throw-in. My nose, always somewhat prominent like that of my father and mother, was severely fractured.
I was given priority treatment being a medical student and was put on the end of an ENT surgeon’s list, a Mr Plummer. Come my turn at the end of the day and I was wheeled in to the operating theatre and put on the table where he squirted some lignocaine up my nostrils, shoved some metal spatulas up and gave my nose a good push with resultant palpable crunching. He was clearly tired at the end of his list, and my presence was another hurdle between the end of the day’s work and his pre-dinner drink. I was given an outpatient appointment and sent on my way home on the bus and tram.
When I fronted up to his outpatients a week or so later, I told him my nose was clearly bent out of shape and not at all an attractive feature. He was not sympathetic and told me to go out into the corridor and examine all his other patients’ noses and report back on any straight ones I happened to find. I was not at all impressed but there was nothing I could do so I went on my way.
As recorded in chapter one, 1955 was the year we shifted from Woodville to Toorak Gardens. Economic times were not good and there was considerable delay in obtaining a buyer. The size of the 9 roomed freestone house with 40 cm thick walls and grounds (just over one town acre) discouraged potential purchasers and perhaps also the price being asked (£10,000 – bought for £1,000 in 1939). Eventually a sale was negotiated and it was sold as a school for retarded children. Regrettably the beautifully manicured grounds, expansive lawns, and huge old gum trees were replaced with temporary class rooms and the lawn tennis court was made into an asphalt surfaced parking lot.
My father delegated my mother and Gretta to look for a house and he designated an area in the Burnside, Toorak Gardens vicinity in order that, as we were to discover afterwards, he could be adjacent to his lady friend Alice Hunt! They selected 146 Watson Avenue Toorak Gardens, and we moved there in 1955, with some building alterations to be carried out by a builder, John McDonough, who happened to be my sister Gretta’s father-in-law.
Shifting house caused some disruption to my medical studies, but fortunately fourth year was not the hardest year. The end of fourth year brought exams of a relatively minor nature, things like pharmacy and the like. One interesting diversion during fourth year was a four-week residency at the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital, during which time we were taught to deliver babies, having to deliver 12 ourselves in competition with the trainee midwives. The obstetricians I found a particularly uninspiring lot, and in fact I believe obstetrics was just emerging from the dark ages in Adelaide, helped by the appointment of the first Director of Obstetrics in Les Poidevin, an ex-prisoner of war with the Japanese, and member of the Davis Cup tennis squad. My fellow residents were a particularly dull collection with Kotha Pillai, May Foong, two Colombo Plan students from Malaysia, a good friend Trevor Pickering, who was involved in a heavy romance with his future wife and whom we therefore saw rarely, and Johnny Williams from Western Australia. Johnny and I went across to the races at Victoria Park once or twice, but otherwise it was a month of lost opportunities. I decided there and then that obstetrics, where the action seemed to occur predominantly at night, was not for me. What particularly galled me was the rule that we had to make a cup of tea for our patient after her delivery, losing out on yet more sleep!
On return from the May vacation our group was allocated to a surgical ward under the leadership of Mr Ian ‘Shorty’ Hamilton who was so short he had to operate on a stool as the theatre tables could not be wound down low enough. Our group report from ‘Shorty’ at the end of that stent read as follows: ‘None of these students has any above average qualities but all attend diligently to their work and have made reasonable progress.’
In the final term we were allocated to the Professorial Medical Unit under Hugh Robson, a charming Scot from Edinburgh who had recently been appointed as the inaugural Professor of Medicine at Adelaide University. That was an enjoyable stint and we were recorded as being – ‘Average.’
The main subject in fourth and fifth year was pathology which included lectures and practicals where we examined and had explained to us the microscopic appearances of diseased tissue specimens. I felt this was the basis on which we placed our medical knowledge and could never understand the rationale in eliminating pathology from the medical course in later years. We regularly attended post mortem examinations, where the deceased’s history and illness progress was read out, before a complete autopsy was carried out in front of the onlooking medical students. The focus was on the diseased organs which were displayed in front of us and samples were sent for microscopic examination. Everything was displayed including the brain which was removed after the mortuary assistant sawed off the top of the skull with an electric saw. The post mortems were usually performed by pathology registrars who were recent graduates and embryo physicians and included Ian Forbes, Sol Posen and Jim Lawrence. They were only three or four years ahead of us but all bright boys. I had played football in the Uni A’s with Jim and it was disconcerting when he singled me out with ‘What does that look like to you Ripper?’
On one occasion in 1955 we were all surprised and shocked when the deceased being autopsied was the famous Hadyn Bunton senior, probably Australia’s most decorated and famous footballer of all time, unsurpassed winner of three Brownlow Medals and three WA Sandover Medals during the 1930s. He, together with Don Bradman and Phar Lap, was credited with relieving the populace of the misery of The Great Depression in the early 1930s. He had been killed in a car crash near Eudunda, so of course it was a Coroner’s autopsy. He was in his 40’s and, we noted, still strong and muscular. I had seen him play in his last year in 1945 when he played briefly for Port Adelaide before taking up umpiring with the SANFL. The pathos of the twists of fate that sees even the rich and famous suddenly on a marble slab, even in their prime, was forcibly struck home to us.
On another occasion in 1956 who should appear on the slab but ‘Longun’ Wilson, our long time and dearly loved trainer at for the Uni Football club. Jim Lawrence who had to perform the autopsy was clearly shaken, as were the others of us who knew him well. He had rubbed the legs of Jim and me, and many hundreds of Adelaide Uni graduates, having started as trainer at the club in 1928. He had been deservedly accorded the rare distinction of being made an honorary life member of the club in 1953. Vāle Longun!
The year 1955 I classed as being very successful. Academically I was entirely satisfied with a pass, and exhilarated by the football successes, which, in retrospect, I think I considered of greater priority at the time.
Several doors away from our new residence in Watson Avenue lived a Mr Pitman who was a recruiting agent for the Norwood Football Club. His son Brian, some six or seven years older than me, had been a school captain at PAC, and subsequently a Norwood footballer and state cricketer. Mr Pitman, a pleasant friendly man, made himself known and of course the conversation got around to my football credentials. He invited me to come out to do the preseason with Norwood Football Club starting after Christmas. I felt I had nothing to lose, and that the experience would be enjoyable, so I accepted.
Come January I found myself down at Norwood Oval in the company of Jack Oatey, as coach at the time, and such luminaries as Magarey medallist and dentist John Marriott, Dougy Olds, state halfback Bob Williams who by coincidence was employed painting our house at the time. Others included Doug Young, a beautiful left foot half forward, Peter Koerner, Pongo Sawley and Bob Edwards. Jack made me feel very welcome and gave me the name ‘Rossi’ Johnson. None of my contemporaries were at Norwood so my lifelong nickname of ‘Ripper’ was left behind.
I enjoyed the experience immensely. At one stage Jack Oatey thought the accuracy of my drop kick passing was suspect so he delegated Bob Edwards to take me to a corner of the oval and work on it. However, Bob reported back to Jack that he could find no problem. I recall with amusement that on another occasion Jack had us on our backs and supporting our legs in the air doing vigorous cycling movements. He went from one person to the next adjusting their techniques and when he came to me he made the comment, ‘Nice pair of legs Rossi!’ I was chuffed and inwardly glowed at the compliment of this great man as he passed by.
There was a disruption at training during this time with a players revolt led by that rabble rouser Pongo Sawley who played centre half forward. I cannot recall the cause of the outbreak, whether it was match payments or coach dissatisfaction, but at all events it became quite ugly with nasty words being exchanged between players and management after training. I was not involved and was purely a new chum onlooker. However, it did seem to get sorted out and simmer down.
As the preseason went on it was made apparent to me that I would be in the team on a wing for the season 1956 with Doug Olds on the other wing. I applied myself with greater enthusiasm and did well in the preseason trial games. The Adelaide evening newspaper, ‘The News,’ sent their photographer out to take pictures of the 25 players up for selection and this duly appeared in the press. My sister Elvia made the comment that she had never appreciated what criminal features her brother had with eyes close together and low-slung ears!
Two or three weeks before the 1956 season was due to open Mr Pitman came around for me to fill in the necessary forms for SANFL registration. ‘Had I lived in the Norwood district for two or three years?’ I had to state that we had shifted from the West Torrens district the previous year. Oh, that meant I had to apply for a clearance from West Torrens Football Club in order to play for Norwood.
In due course a letter came from West Torrens Football Club. They would only consider my application for clearance if I trained with them at Thebarton Oval. I complied and went out with the Lindsay Heads and Bob Hanks of this world, fully expecting, as promised, that a clearance would be forthcoming. However, such was not the case, and heavy pressure was applied to me to join their club. But I felt I had been duped and deceived. They wrote to me offering to pick me up from the university, and take me home after every practice. I steadfastly refused and the situation reached a stalemate.
Jack Oatey was sympathetic, and I was devastated, but agreed to his suggestion to return to the University Club until such time as it could be sorted out. It never was.
As it turned our it was Jack’s last year with Norwood, and he left under somewhat acrimonious circumstances, before going on to coach Sturt in a glorious era in which he is credited with changing the face of Australian Rules Football by the increased use of aggressive handball. Such is life, but I have never been one to die wondering when opportunities arise and this lost opportunity has been one of the regrets of my life.
The long Christmas vacation was usually spent in employment. One year it was at the Myer Bulk Store in King William Street where items were put aside on lay- by, and it was my job to retrieve items stored in stacks for the customers who had completed payment. It was hot in the bulk store but easy work.
For the 1955 vacation I applied for work with Cottees Drinks on Payneham Road. This branch of Cottees was run by Bob Stevens, ex Australian Amateur Golf Champion of 1952 and Australian Eisenhower Cup player, who possessed one of the silkiest golf swings in the country, although he never turned professional. He, in company with Peter Toogood, Doug Bachli, and Bruce Devlin, won the inaugural Eisenhower Cup competition at St Andrews for world amateur team play, in 1958. USA was runner up. Bob was the nicest boss anyone could hope for.
My job was to reconcile the cash the drivers brought in from their rounds which included cash for full crates and payments made for empty bottle returns. I spent hours reconciling down to the last penny, and suggested to Bob it would be better and quicker to do it approximately. Bob agreed with this young medical student, whom he thought must be intelligent to get to fourth year, so my new system was introduced. Complete chaos ensued, so after a couple days Bob politely suggested that we return to the old tedious system, and I readily agreed. Regrettably, Bob later developed lymphoma and died, but I had lost touch with him.
There were other vacation jobs. On one occasion I was employed by the fruit fly eradication task force, moving from suburb to suburb, stripping fruit from the trees, and setting traps for the flies. Not too strenuous and not stimulating, as it was with Adelaide’s itinerant unemployed.
We returned to fifth year in February 1956 and our group found themselves allotted to the surgical honorary Alastair ‘Moee’ McEachern. He was a tedious, humourless teacher, slower than a wet week as a surgeon, and boring to boot. The only recollection I have from his ward rounds is a question from one of our group, ‘Rigor’ Mortess, about whom it was said that all his medical knowledge was obtained from the Readers Digest. He confirmed this fact to me in later years. His question to ‘Moee’ was,
‘Sir, do you think a linear accelerator would be helpful in this man’s cancer treatment?’
Ian Mortess was way ahead of his time with this question and ‘Moee’ was dumbfounded. He turned to his senior registrar, Lou Opit, a smart Jewish boy with bad breath and blepheritis, and he just shook his head and the unit moved on to the next patient.
Our end of term report from ‘Moee’ read:
Insufficient attention to clinical work. Group: The reason for the general inattentiveness to clinical work was not clear but Mr Pellew and the tutors commented similarly. Their general application could best be described as extremely erratic and this applied to all aspects of their work including casetaking.
Part of our duties as dressers, as we were called in the old British tradition, was to go on surgical ‘take’ once or twice a week and see the surgical admissions as they were admitted, take their histories, examine them and assist at their operations, retracting organs so the surgeon could see what he was doing and cutting sutures. We would go to casualty on these occasions, and practice putting in sutures ourselves.
On the subsequent ward rounds it was then our task to present these admissions to the whole group, and answer questions put to us by the honorary.
Clearly, we did not impress Mr McEachern, but then we were fresh back from vacation, the poker games were in full swing in Arcadia, summer was still with us, and exams were far away. We were starting to feel our oats as fifth year medical students, young men about town, and of course inevitably as we became bored during the long ward rounds our eyes strayed to the young nurses flitting from patient to patient.
May brought the Lister prize, a practical exam in surgery, in which I was recorded as having ‘Passed with credit,’ an amazing fluke, and the only occasion during my whole academic career where I achieved more than a simple ‘Pass.’
The 1956 uni football season began with an air of excitement about the Club following two consecutive Premierships, and with the Inter-varsity Carnival to be hosted by Adelaide in the May vacation. George Tilley was again coach in what was to be his last year before moving on to coach Sturt in the SANFL. I approached the season with some disappointment at not being able to get a clearance to Norwood, but with the realisation that I could be more focussed on fifth year with its tough exams at the end.
The season saw university again finish top of the ladder but then lost to Semaphore centrals in the Grand Final having played in six successive Grand Finals winning four.
1956 Inter-Varsity Team
During the May vacation Adelaide hosted the intervarsity and I played centre that week instead of on the wing.
A strong following turned up to witness the final game against Melbourne University and, as always, beating any team emanating from Victoria, gave a measure of satisfaction unsurpassed.
Our triumph in the local press.
That year 1956 was a State Amateur League carnival year and it was decided to play a state trial against a combined team from Adelaide and Melbourne universities. I had the option of playing in either side but decided I could not afford further time off to go to Tasmania so made myself available to play for the Combined Universities. The match was played at Woodville Oval in front of a large crowd of around 1,000 spectators, and the scores were as follows:
1Q 2Q 3Q Final
SAAFL 3.3 4.6 10.6 13.10
Comb. Univ. 6.3 6.7 10.10 12.11
SA Goalkickers: Wundke 4, Barrows 2, Gross 2, Heinrich 2, Atkins, Barker, Jarman
Uni Goalkickers: Akkermans 3, Altmann 3, Clancy 2, McAuliffe 2, Froomes, Pak-Poy
SA Best Players: Fletcher, Christenson, Wundke, Kinnear, Belton, Wortmeyer
Uni Best Players: Wilson, Hayes, Krieger, Altmann, Johnson, McLeod
It had been a busy football season and I was recorded as failing a B.M.A. Prize exam in Medicine in July. It did not count for year assessment so I was not too concerned.
June 1956 found us doing a three month stint at the Adelaide Childrens Hospital under the watchful eye of some trained paediatricians such as Henry Rischbeith and Eric Sims, but others were visiting General Practitioners who had an interest in paediatrics, and no special training. The latter included Wally Jolly, who was still stone deaf even with his hearing aids. He ran a general practice, and fancied himself as a surgeon, even embarking on one occasion on trying to restore a poor kid, who had suffered a skull and brain injury, which, even as students, we could easily see was way beyond the range of his competence. Fortunately, the end of the era of these improperly trained visiting doctors was coming to an end, but the Childrens Hospital was probably the last bastion to change its old traditions. We did ward rounds, attended outpatients and operating sessions and it was all rather low key and good fun – and the nurses were very pretty.
We had a lively bunch of students which included several wild boys from St Marks College, Bill Dawson and Chun Hui, whilst others were more devoted to the student life like Trevor Nicholls and John Allen.
One particularly striking nurse in the outpatient department caught my eye, one Josie Cox from Waikerie whose brother went to PAC. I plucked up courage and asked her out. She accepted and we had a good relationship for some six months or so. In fact, I was quite smitten and tried to persuade her to come to our football matches. This invitation she declined, which puzzled me at the time, but later it became clear when I found out that other members of the team were on her dating list. The most memorable occasion, during the course of this dalliance, occurred when I was returning her to the Childrens Hospital Nurses quarters after a pleasant evening at about half past eleven. It was a warm balmy evening and suddenly she said, ‘Let’s go for a swim.’ Well, that caught me somewhat by surprise, but never one to look a gift horse in the mouth I said, ‘What a good idea.’
Without sufficient thought I drove down to Grange Beach by the jetty. Insufficient thought because the beach was well lit by street lights along the foreshore. However, undaunted, we took ourselves down the waters edge which of course at that time of night with low tide was at least 100 yards further out than normal. There she unselfconsciously stripped naked and headed for the water. I found myself in a cleft stick – damn those lights – but this opportunity may never come again – I followed suit but rather more slowly as this was a dramatically new experience for me. Much easier to face a Victorian football team in full flight! Maybe there are sharks out there and it would take a bit of explaining to my parents if I were to be taken!
In the meantime Josie was well out to sea and swimming well. She told me she and her brother regularly swam across the Murray and back at Waikerie. ‘Come on in, it’s great’ she insisted, and so slowly I waded out to about waist level but no further as I kept an eagle out for any police cars along the foreshore or stingrays underfoot. The place was deserted.
We emerged and dressed but my ego was dented and I had been found wanting. Instead of that scene in ‘From Here to Eternity’ set in Pearl Harbour, with Burt Lancaster and Debra Kerr as surf-swept lovers, it turned out to be a Peter Sellers comedy farce.
Ah well, everything happens for the best. Or does it! I was unfocussed during that time at the Childrens Hospital. In the end it sorted itself out when I was invited to her 21st at the Mt Osmond Golf Club. I thought I was to be her partner but I found her evening was devoted to Bruce Higgins, two years ahead of me in the medical course, and Chris Ketley, also older, and my respected half back flanker in the Uni A team.
Yes, there were other dalliances during those three months at the Childrens. Lin Elsegood was one that Trevor Nicholls and I shared for a while. Another nurse in outpatients whose name I have forgotten, also caught my eye, but on that occasion I thought it prudent to change identity, so I borrowed Trevor Pickering’s name tag and introduced myself as Trevor Pickering, an old Saint’s boy, as I invited her to the Annual Black’s Ball. She accepted, but when I went to pick her up from the Nurse Home on the Saturday night the girl on the desk told me she was in the nurses’ sick bay with suspected glandular fever. I was ushered down the corridor and into the nurses’ sick bay where I was given a very apologetic welcome. She didn’t have my telephone number to ring me, she said.
All this I could handle, but then more visitors came in to see her among whom was a Dr Brian Jeanes, who in later years became superintendent of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital where I was working. Brian came in with his wife who happened to be this girl’s sister.
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘I’d like you to meet Trevor Pickering. He was going to take me to the Black’s Ball this evening.’
‘Who? That’s not Trevor Pickering,’ said Brian, ‘That’s Ripper Johnson!’
I slunk out of the sick bay and went across King William Road to St Marks College to look up my mates over there, and console myself. Bill Dawson enjoyed the joke immensely, and we spent a pleasant evening at St Marks playing poker and drinking into the small hours.
The final term in 1956 was devoted to gynaecology with Harry Pellew, Dudley Byrne and other misfits. The Adelaide Hospital could be described as primitive in those bygone days. Da Costa Ward was the gynae ward, and the most common admission was for miscarriage. As medical students we had to be trained to give an anaesthetic. Every afternoon, in a poky little theatre at the end of Da Costa Ward, the dilatation and curettage procedures were carried out, so it was an ideal setting for us young bucks to hone our anaesthetic skills – we had to record a dozen or so. All very primitive, ethyl chloride and ether on a Schimmelbusch mask, not even pentothal for induction. As I recall, we did not lose too many patients as most of them were young and fit.
Gynae outpatients with Dudley Byrne was memorable. It was conducted in a long hall. As we entered with Dudley we were confronted with about 10 women in a row, side by side on examination tables, with their legs up in stirrups, all set to be examined. We never saw their faces, only their nether regions. Dudley would read us a brief history of their problem, and then we would be asked to do an examination per vaginum, about four of us to each patient.
‘What about gloves, Sir?’
‘We don’t waste money on gloves here son, go and put some soap under your finger nails, and get on with it. Use some lubricant though.’
Neither patients nor students argued with these gynaecological demi-gods.
‘What would you do for that woman son?’ said Dudley.
‘I would do a hysterectomy, Sir.’
‘Well, so would I if the tyres on my car were getting worn, but normally I would send her home!’
This conversation was in full hearing of the patient.
Towards the end of our gynae term Harry Pellew gave us a lecture on contraception, unusually well attended. He entered the Hone Lecture Theatre with a kit bag full of his tricks. One by one he went through the various forms of contraception, the diaphragms and the condoms, and then finished up with a rusty old chain and padlock and a large key.
‘This’ he pronounced ‘is what you use on your wife when you go away on holidays, and you leave her behind.’
Prolonged laughter resulted in him breaking into a slow grin, as he picked up his kit bag and walked out.
In those days venereal disease was still rife. It was in the early days of penicillin which was first used as a life-saving drug during WWII and it was only after WWII finished in 1945 that the drug was used commercially. Procaine penicillin came in large 10ml syringes which were injected deep into the buttocks, and it was quite a painful experience. Nevertheless, in the community at large there was still a large pool of syphilis and gonorrhoea. Syphilis was a life-long disease, passing from the primary chancre lasting a few weeks to the secondary rash lasting a year or so, before settling into the tertiary stage which progressed over many years and entered many organs of the body, primarily in the brain as cerebral syphilis (Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston’s father) or the thoracic aorta with an aneurysm which sometimes ruptured (Sam Johnson, the author’s great grandfather). Only in its first year is the disease infectious.
During my time as a student every patient admitted had a routine Wassermann test for syphilis as the disease was a great mimicker of other disease processes. However, the word syphilis was never mentioned during a teaching ward round but was euphemistically referred to as ‘Luis disease.’
Part of our roster in those days included what was known as the ‘Night Clinic.’ This was for those members of the population who had contracted or thought they had been exposed to syphilis or gonorrhoea. I was never quite sure of the origin of the term ‘Night Clinic’ which was certainly nicer than ‘Venereal Diseases Clinic.’ Was it so-named because it was held at 6.00 pm when these patients could be assured of privacy as the rest of outpatients had finished, or did it refer to the ‘ladies of the night’ and the dangers of such contacts?
Patients could be forcibly admitted to the old RAH in those days and a special ward, Torrens Ward, was set aside for that purpose, each ‘cell’ having its own steel gate and padlock. On one occasion a very rare chancre of the penis turned up at the night clinic. This is a fungating ulcer which is the primary manifestation of syphilis and crawling with the little spirochaetes or syphilitic organisms. This unfortunate man was quickly hustled under the guard of a couple of porters in to a cell in Torrens Ward.
Naturally the word went around the medical students that here was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see such a clinical rarity. I remember wending my way down to Torrens Ward which was run not by the usual Sister-in-charge, but by a burly porter with a bunch of keys. Medical students were treated with respect by all the staff at the RAH, so my request to view the ulcer was readily complied with, and I was taken to the cell in question which was unlocked, and the ‘prisoner’ was commanded by the porter to drop his strides and display the area in question. He did this without uttering a word as a hundred or so students had probably preceded me. This unique picture remains with me today, as the porter and I retreated and the iron gate was slammed shut and repadlocked. My memory of the padlocked cells in Torrens ward was confirmed recently by my sister Lesley who did her nursing training at the RAH during WWII. She recalled having an alcoholic patient in her ward in 1942, the relatives of whom were supplying her with alcohol whilst she was in hospital. Inevitably she developed delerium tremens (or DT’s) and Lesley had to take her to one of the lockup cells in Torrens Ward where she was given intramuscular paraldehyde and locked up, with the porter supervising her progress. Paraldehyde was standard (and effective) treatment in those days. A day or two later Lesley retrieved her from the cell and, quiet as a lamb, she returned with Lesley to her original ward.
The above incident occurred 54 years ago and I am reminded of how medicine has changed since the 19th century. As old ‘Grandpa’ Marr was approaching his 100th birthday in the 1970s, he reminisced with me, one day, about accidentally shooting himself in the lower leg at the age of 14 when he was living with his parents on a farm at Nantawarra in the mid north of South Australia. They put him on a steam train to Adelaide
and he was taken by horse cab the Royal Adelaide Hospital where, upon arrival, he was admitted and placed in a balcony bed on the first floor in Bice Ward. Amazingly, in my day 80 years later, these balcony beds were still functioning with the canvass blinds let down when it was hot or raining. He went on to tell me the surgeon came around to see him and pulled his scalpel out of his waistcoat pocket and lanced his leg. No sterility, just as it was before Lord Joseph Lister, who around the 1880s, made his momentous discovery on the germ theory, antisepsis, and the carbolic spray. The surgeon, he told me, then wiped the blade and put it back in his waistcoat pocket.
During the year I continued to be disappointed at my poor old broken nose, and persuaded Plummer to refer me to someone else. That someone else was Russell Barbour, a well-known and highly respected orthopaedic surgeon who had taught us anatomy in third year. His consultation in outpatients was far more sympathetic, and he suggested I be referred to a plastic surgeon in Melbourne by the name of Wakefield, a partner of the famed Benny Rank, father of plastic surgery in Australia. There were no plastic surgeons in Adelaide at the time. Photographs were taken by the hospital photographer, and these, together with a letter of referral, were sent to Wakefield in Melbourne, who worked mainly at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital. The reply came back agreeing that a surgical correction was appropriate, so I was booked into the Heidelberg Hospital for February of the Christmas vacation.
Towards the end of fifth year my good friend and confidant Bill Dawson decided that he and I needed a night out. His real reason, I think, was that he had asked out a stunningly beautiful sister from the Adelaide Hospital, who was a year or two older than us and more mature , and he needed moral support for the evening. As my partner, he asked a gynae sister, Mary Mellowship, whose father was a C.of E. Minister. This was not the first daughter of a man of the cloth that I had partnered, having previously escorted Airlie Reed, daughter of the Bishop of Adelaide, to a function. I am unable to recall how that came about, but it was not repeated. The evening was a great success and we all had a lot of fun. However, exams were looming so we did not follow it up.
November came and with it, exams. Pathology was the main subject with written papers, specimen pots to comment on in a viva, and microscopic slides to diagnose. Professor Robertson was in charge with Phil Hodge as his helper. I recently learned that Mr Rogers, Professor Robertson’s laboratory assistant, was given the task of putting out the formalin jars of pathology specimens for the exams. For a small indulgence he was in the habit of divulging the identity and diagnosis of the specimens to those students in sufficient funds. If he had done it in my time, I am sure it would have eventually become common knowledge.
Somehow, I had acquired sufficient knowledge from Boyd’s Pathology text book to pass and move into sixth year. It had been an eventful and interesting year.
My good friend Bill Mann had a girl-friend in Sydney, Pam White, whom he visited every Christmas holidays. He had cousins on his mother’s side there, with whom he stayed. At the end of fifth year, he suggested I might like to go with him and enjoy a month in Sydney. As luck would have it my sister Lesley was working at Crown Street Maternity Hospital at the time and had a flat in Darley Street, Darlinghurst. I negotiated to stay with her and look after the flat rent free, when she came home to Adelaide for Christmas.
Bill’s parents had given him a brand new Holden so we set off in this vehicle accompanied by his cousin Colin Woodley, with whose family he was to stay. En route we spent a night at a country town, I forget which, and to fill in the evening went to the local country dance. Rock and roll was all the rage and we had a great night with the local girls, throwing them over our shoulders and carrying on. We shared the petrol and the driving on the trip, but nothing could suppress our exhilaration at having passed our exams and moved into final year. We were out for a good time, and regularly stopped at pubs along the way, as we were men of the world for a couple of months, weren’t we? No longer did we consider ourselves students. Colin was an engineering student destined to go into the family business in Sydney. The era of course was pre- breathalyser, so we had no need to worry about drinking and driving.
I had a nice time with my sister before she left for Adelaide and her flat was ideal. We fell into a routine whereby Bill would pick me up every morning at Darlinghurst, and we would travel across the bridge to Lindfield on the Pacific Highway, where his girl, Pam, lived. Mrs White would prepare scrumptious ham and tomato rolls and the three of us would head off for the Newport Hotel beer garden, where we would have our rolls washed down with the biggest beers – ‘cruisers’ they were known as then, holding probably 500 mls.
Somewhat the worse for wear we would then move on to Palm Beach and spend the day swimming and lazing on the sand. Somehow, I never felt as though I were intruding on the party. Perhaps my role was chaperon, but at the time I never gave it a thought.
Blissful, carefree, hedonistic days they were, which I hoped would never end. These days were interspersed with parties at night, sometimes at the Woodleys where Bill was staying and on one occasion in my flat. Bill’s uncle and auntie had conveniently gone interstate leaving only Bill and his cousins in the house.
I remember one night we had an all-night poker game at the Woodleys, consuming large quantities of whisky from the Woodley drinks cupboard. It was a lesson for me as I had to adjourn to the front verandah to be violently sick just as the sun was rising. Later that day I went out to clean up and was mortified to find that my bile vomit had dissolved much of the grouting between the tiles. I kept this discovery to myself.
The party at our flat was a big success with card playing and drinking. One of the invitees was a Noel ‘Lofty’ Lindblom of national service days who at the time was working as a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald. A great comedian.
I was loathe to depart this unaccustomed and carefree lifestyle but at the end of the holidays I had a hospital appointment with a Mr. A.R.Wakefield, plastic surgeon, at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital, to refashion my broken crooked nose. I rang my parents to let them know where I was heading, as I had omitted to tell them before I left home, and caught the train to Melbourne, again sitting up all the way.
The procedure was straight forward and the result definitely an improvement, although Mr Wakefield was conspicuously disappointed by my less than ecstatic reaction when he removed the plaster cast and had me looking in mirrors, front on and side on, in his rooms a week or so later. I guess he was used to the social ladies going into raptures over that little bit of extra tilt at the tip. He didn’t realise that I was quite stunned to see my new facial feature. Being a medical student, I received no bills either from the anaesthetist or the surgeon, so belatedly bought an expensive Parker pen and posted it to him.
I returned home to Adelaide and my recollection is that no-one really noticed any difference although my girl-friend at the time said she didn’t like me any more with a new nose. My fellow student, our six-foot seven ruckman Tom Mestrov, had a similar deformity, resulting from an opposition ruckman’s ill directed punch, and he showed the most interest but did not follow it up.
Sixth year found me, sadly, less enthusiastic as a student. The novelty of regular study had worn off, and I had fallen into bad habits in Sydney. Our roster took us to the outpatient department where I came across ‘Big Bob’ Magarey, known as the ‘Prince of Tutors.’ He certainly had a zest for teaching with well organised classifications, and we learnt a lot. By coincidence he was President of the Medical Students’ Society for that year, and I was nominated by my fellow-students to organise the Annual Medical Dinner, no mean undertaking with some 600 or so medical students from all years, and invitations to all the honoraries, who were our teachers. This meant I had a close working relationship that year with Bob Magarey, who hosted the dinner, and this relationship stood me in good stead during my evolving medical career over the next 30 years.
The guests of honour were those honoraries who were retiring that year and in 1957 there was a plethora – Sir Stanton Hicks, Professor of Physiology, ‘Shorty’ Hamilton, K. Stuart Hetzel and Gar ‘Poppa’ Hone. Prima donnas all. When Sir Stanton realised he was not to be the lone guest of honour he refused to attend, ‘Poppa’ Hone likewise. Well, this made organisation significantly easier with the farewell speeches reduced by half.
The dinner was held in the Myer Apollo Dining Room, one of the few available venues able to house the numbers. The custom of the day was that every honorary was sent an invitation with the understanding that they would donate to the occasion, even if they did not attend, and most declined. Usually, the donations covered the cost of the dinner. Nevertheless, this involved a huge amount of paper work and postage and time that I could ill afford, with the social lifestyle I had developed and football commitments on top. In addition, the books for the occasion had to be balanced.
The dinner, as usual, followed the medical football carnival on the university oval with a nucleus of us regular footballers carrying the team. To my relief, the dinner was a huge success with large amounts of beer consumed and hilarious speeches. That renowned surgeon, ‘Shorty’ Hamilton, was prevailed upon to stand on the table to deliver his retirement speech so everyone could see him. He normally operated standing on a platform so he could be at patient height, but nevertheless he remains one of the most dexterous surgeons I have ever been privileged to witness.
My close football colleague, Bob Koehne, turned up drunk again after the football that afternoon, even before the dinner started. Bob by this time had slipped back to fifth year, having started the medical course well ahead of us. He was captain of the victorious fifth year team, and as such had to make an acceptance speech following presentation of the cup by ‘Shorty.’ Rotund Bob, also short, followed ‘Shorty’ and climbed up on to the table with difficulty, this performance in itself promoting much mirth. His father was a fire and brimstone Lutheran pastor and Bob had inherited his father’s tub-thumping delivery style. The theme of his speech was ‘either you’re going to make it or you’re going to break it.’ All absolute piffle, but delivered with such conviction and power, and with his recurring theme, he brought the house down. At the end he fell from the table to thunderous applause. I happened to be sitting next to one of the senior honoraries in my hosting capacity. At the end Bob’s rendition he turned to me and said,
‘What’s that fellow’s name Johnson?’
‘Bob Koehne Sir.’
‘Well, he might be spending a long time as a medical student.’
I failed to enlighten him that Bob had already spent seven years in that capacity and had two more to go as a minimum!
At the end of the dinner I felt duty bound to at least assist those honoraries in need of assistance to their cars in the Myer car park. I remember having to help a clinical assistant surgeon, Len Pellew, to his car and point him in the right direction. These days a taxi would be the order of the day, but in 1957 it was a matter of pride to struggle home along the road somehow. In fact, it was around this time that Bill Ackland-Horman, a prominent anaesthetist and 1949 Australian Amateur golf champion, had had his usual excessive intake at the Royal Adelaide golf club, and struck and killed a cyclist on his way home. He failed to stop, and the subsequent humiliation of the case almost led to his professional and personal demise.
Regarding our sixth-year medical attachments I have but vague memories. Our initial attachment was with Dr Verco, a gynaecologist, an attachment which reinforced my allergy to O and G, Obstetrics and Gynaecology. We then spent a term attending various outpatient clinics, eyes, ENT and suchlike. Next followed a medical clinic attachment to a physician, Mel Chinner, a homely, fatherly, unintimidating figure from whom we learned a good deal. In June six of us did a two-week refresher course in obstetrics at the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Woodville, living in the new nurses wing. The Maternity wing had opened one month before we arrived. Across the quadrangle from the nurses quarters the general hospital was under construction and we watched the huge prefabricated concrete slabs being swung into place by crane. Originally the intention had been to construct it all with bricks, as was the maternity wing, but the money ran short.
Our group of six on this occasion was more lively than at the Queen Victoria, and included the inimitable Bob Koehne (how he was with us I do not know as he was still doing fifth year), John May and Malcolm Symonds. The latter two were bespoken for but Bob and I were free spirits and confreres on the football field, so the scene was set for an enjoyable two weeks which indeed it turned out to be. We occupied the fourth floor of the nurses’ home with nurses on the third and fifth floors. Bob made a huge mistake and bit off more than he could chew by befriending one, a Sister Seekamp from Renmark, and entertaining her in our spacious sitting room from whence she declined to remove herself. Bob at that stage was still drinking excessively, and somehow managed to get himself into the lift without a stitch on. When the lift reached the ground floor and the doors opened, who should be waiting to catch the lift up to her apartment on the top floor – none other than Heather Ross, the Medical Superintendent of the Maternity Section. Being a kindly, middle-aged spinster, Heather made allowances for medical students, so fortunately Bob heard no more of the incident.
My tastes extended to a pretty Tasmanian trainee midwife named Margaret Brothers, whose father was a psychiatrist on the Apple Isle. That affliction lasted a couple of terms, until I realised she was looking to make it a permanent fixture, which was definitely not on my agenda.
Our view, from the Nurses Wing, of the Maternity Section and GeneralHospital, the latter still under construction in 1957.
Meanwhile the football season was in full swing, and University again finished Minor Premiers, but come the finals six key players were out injured, and we were beaten by Rosewater in the preliminary final, a disappointing end to my football career. My form for the year on the wing in the A1s was disappointing. Partly, I felt, it was due to George Tilley’s departure to coach Sturt in the SANFL, and his replacement by Jack Giles, with whom I did not strike a ready rapport. The intervarsity was held in Sydney but, having already attended one intervarsity in Sydney four years earlier, and in addition, falling behind in my studies as usual, I opted not to go.
Extract from 75th Anniversary 1906-1981, Adelaide University Football Club.
The final term started in September and things were getting desperate in the academic realm. Our final attachment was with a surgeon of renown, Sydney Krantz. He was a gruff, forthright man of Jewish ancestry, who had won fame during his four years of captivity with the Japanese on the Burma Thailand Railway performing surgery under almost impossible conditions. We respected him and learned from his dogmatic teaching style. On one occasion he methodically went through Trendelenburg’s test for varicose veins, a quite complicated manoeuvre. I was at the back of our group of students not paying much attention. At the end he asked if we understood what he said, and we all nodded wisely. Then he asked me at the back to repeat what he had just said, and, to my embarrassment, I was unable to oblige. Well, that was another lesson not learnt, as had I gone home and looked it up and digested it, I would not have failed surgery at the end of the year, as that was one of my three clinical cases, two of which I failed, necessitating the powers that be to award me a supplementary exam in surgery.
Notwithstanding, my report from Syd Krantz at the end of his term stated ‘Good worker.’ For the group as a whole, ‘Polite, attentive, and moderately enthusiastic group.’
November brought the final exams which are always a marathon, and which inevitably find the weak points in one’s knowledge. I had found surgery logical and straightforward, which perhaps accounted for my not purchasing Bailey and Love, the recommended text book, which clearly set out Trendelenburg’s test. I relied on my inadequate lecture notes, and paid the price by having to do a supplementary exam the following May. This galled me, to say the least, and was a bitter pill to swallow after not having failed any subject in the previous five years.
An additional humiliation was the custom of recent graduates doing GP locums between graduation and starting their intern year at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. As with the rest of the year, I had booked a locum, but had to withdraw at the last moment. Instead, I drove taxis for the next three months, after sitting for my taxi licence exam which consisted of learning the quickest routes between various Council Chambers and assorted sporting ovals.
None of life’s varied experiences go astray and a couple come to mind from my time as a taxi driver. On one occasion a young girl hailed me for a fare at the end of which she confessed to me that she had no money, but in lieu suggested she could pay me ‘in kind’!
On another occasion I was called to the Queen Adelaide Club on North Terrace where I had to help one of Adelaide’s dowager dames into the back seat helped by her two assistant dowagers. I delivered her to her safely to her destination but then a putrid odour led me to the discovery that she had fouled my back seat. What to do? I drove the cab back to my home in Watson Avenue and helped my mother to restore my back seat to a useable condition with various antiseptics!
Late in the evening when the picture crowds emerge in the city there were plenty of fares to be had. On one occasion I had two elderly women in my back seat and was speeding along king William Road when a motor cycle cop came alongside my elbow on the driver’s side door, unbeknown to me, until he turned on his siren. I was so shocked that I jammed my foot on the brakes causing the two old girls to rocket out of their seats (no seat belts in those days) into the front seat. The officer took my details and I continued on my way. Next morning, when I went to pick up my cab at the taxi base, I was surprised to see the same policeman talking to my boss with money changing hands. I heard no more about my indiscretion.
Yet, there were quiet days with few fares. On those days I worked out that if one went to the top end of Kensington Road and slowly followed the bus route to the city, one could negotiate a price with the clients at each bus stop and could fill one’s cab with four passengers at a cost to each of them very much the same as their bus fare – a win-win situation. It was only later I learnt that this practice was strictly illegal.
In a way, it was rather a déjà vu reflecting my disastrous final year at school, and my departure in ill humour from that institution. This was far worse, as it separated me from my colleagues of many years, and I felt particularly bitter, as normally supps were held in February, whereas we had to wait until the following May. I was in good company as six of us had surgery to repeat, Marzi Urban, Jack Alwyn, Merv Fails, and the rest I do not remember.
At the beginning of 1958 I purchased the recommended surgical text book, ‘Bailey and Love,’ and duly set about reading its 1300 pages from cover to cover. We attended surgical outpatients from February to April and were thoroughly bored by the time the supp came up in May. Everyone duly passed as the exam was not difficult. My Commonwealth Scholarship was suspended as a result of my failure so I was responsible for my fees. To cover this cost, I sold my microscope and one or two other effects, as I was loathe to approach my father (or probably too proud and independent at age 24). When he realised I had off loaded the microscope which he had purchased through his Ford client at Fauldings Pharmaceuticals he was less than unimpressed, and said so.
I was still an angry young man as we went for our interview with the Superintendent of the Royal Adelaide Hospital, Dr Bernard Nicholson, to be allocated our roster for the rest of 1958. I knew the hospital was desperately short of interns, so thought I had some bargaining power. When he offered me three months casualty, three months eyes, and ENT, I said I would like a better roster than that, as those specialties were not my interests.
‘Oh,’ said Bernard, ‘I don’t think you are in a position to ask for anything better, as your colleagues who are already here have precedence.’
‘Well, if that’s all you can offer me, I don’t think I want to come to the RAH.’
‘Entirely your decision young man, but it’s take it or leave it.’
I had clearly overplayed my hand, and banked on at least some bargaining, but he had dug his heels in.
‘Well then, Sir, I’ll leave it and seek a job somewhere else.’
‘Just as you wish.’
On leaving his office, even in my angry frame of mind, I was stunned. What had I done! The Royal Adelaide Hospital was a world class hospital with an international reputation, and I had given my medical career another crunch. Where would I go to get a job – there were no others in South Australia. I could swallow my pride and go back to Bernard with cap in hand, but my frame of mind was not of that ilk and I barely entertained it.
Over the next few days, I looked at the medical advertisements in the local paper. I did not relate my interview to my parents, only to my close friends. Several days later I spotted a tiny advertisement in The Advertiser.
I had never heard of Wanganui and had some difficulty finding it on a map. I considered the situation for a day or so, and may have talked to one or two people. I had never been out of Australia. New Zealand was popular with South Australian graduates and several of our year were already there – Trevor Pickering, Colin Bailey and Ernie Urban. Why not, I thought. I was annoyed with the medical fraternity in Adelaide anyway and badly needed a change of environment. I quickly applied, was accepted, and received permission to book an airfare to Wellington via Christchurch.
Fortunately, I had the foresight to carefully preserve the above advertisement as, when I applied to the Wanganui Hospital Administrator for my return fare on completion of my 12 months, he initially denied that such an offer had been made, and it was only when I produced the advertisement that he paid my dues.
Reflecting on these events some sixty years later, I feel confident to say that the New Zealand experience made me a far more experienced and confident doctor than I would have been by staying in Australia.
As a final word in this saga I would like to pay homage to my parents and siblings for their unwavering support of me during these long years. It would have been difficult through the many occasions when I took them all for granted – the many times when their tolerance and forbearance I did not appreciate, and lived as though the world revolved around my life and its activities; taking food, shelter, clothing and finances as my natural expectation of life. Not appreciating the privilege that had been given to me and the sacrifices others were making on my behalf.
My parents worked hard and long for their family, having children at home to feed for forty continuous years, through two world wars and a depression, from 1918 until 1958 when I graduated and finally flew the coop.
 Reproduced by kind permission from Folio Bibloteca Vaticana.
 The Review, AMSS Magazine No 2 August, 1952, p. 58.
 In that era an All Australian Amateur team played in Division 2 of Australian Football Carnivals against the secondary states, ACT, Queensland, Tasmania.
 Bloch, Fred, A History of the South Australian Amateur Football League, 1911-1994, 1995, p. 125.
 Bloch, Fred, A History of the South Australian Football League 1911-1994, D.K.West P/L, Keswick, SA, p. 129.
 Block, Fred, A History of the South Australian Amateur Football League, D.K.West P/L, Keswick, SA, 1995, p. 127-8.
 Ken Mansell, Hadyn Bunton –Legend and Myth, 2001-2006.
 Hadyn Bunton’s Rudolf Valentino good looks made him a sex symbol in his heyday. He had played in a NSW Country cricket team with Don Bradman and was said to be of potential Test standard.
 Ross Johnson, Sentenced to Cross the Raging Sea, Openbook Publishers, 2004, p. 250-1.