Surgical reflections from the twentieth century: a personal memoir

Living through the most technologically innovative period in medical history, Ross Johnson shares his experiences and observations on the rapid evolution of surgery in the 20th century.



Maria Volkonsky: A Russian vignette

Travelling from an Australian summer to the winter spectacle of Siberia was breathtaking in itself. But what was impossible to shake off on this 21st century journey was the image of a young Russian noblewoman who, in 1826, chose exile and hardship over the wealth and comfort of urban St Petersburg; who left behind a child for the sake of her husband’s politics and paid for his role in the very first Russian revolution. The Decembrist Uprising of 1825 caused barely a murmur outside Europe and certainly seemed irrelevant to an emerging antipodean nation. For Ross Johnson, visiting Siberia was an entree to the story of Maria Volkonsky and the events which would lead to a new world order.

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Golf: Poetry in motion

He watches me hit some balls and says,

‘We have to throw off the shackles.’

He gets me to loosen my grip

and to let go through the swing,

not trying so hard

to do everything right.

I chortle with amazement

as the 7-iron connects,

and the ball, shot after shot,

follows its long, high arc

down the fairway…



From ancient times, the act of hitting a small ball into a distant hole has fascinated and infuriated mankind. On any given day, golfers might view their sport as a science, religion, philosophy or a waste of time. It inspires and infuriates, leads to deep friendships and vicious animosities. In this essay, golf is a game that has been a constant across one man’s lifetime.


The Poetry of sailing

 I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking… 

John mansfield

Like the poet John Masefield, Albert Einstein was a teenager when he fell in love with sailing. Masefield was inspired by his maritime adventures, as was Einstein, although he failed to master the task; by the end of his days barely able to make headway in his little boat Tinef – Yiddish for ‘little bit of junk’. Conversely, Ross Johnson learned to be quite a good sailor over his decades on the water and claims no major contributions to literature or science. Essays are always personal and this is no exception. To quote another writer, E.M. Forster, ‘How do I know what I think until I see what I say?’ We hope you enjoy Ross’s recollections from his time on (and sometimes in) the water.



A Working Man’s Credo: Intimations on immortality

ODE: Intimations on immortality

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness
And not in utter nakedness
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy.

WILLIAM wordsworth

Retired surgeon Ross Johnson applies the physician’s method over a decade-long quest to find the answers to life’s Big Questions: Why are we here? How did we come to be? And, where are we going?

Science, philosophy and theology collide in this extended essay designed to stimulate thought and discussion.



Eight Pioneering Australians: The Beginnings in Australia of the Thornhills, Rileys, Johnsons, Youngs and Seals, 1835-1852

This anthology follows the life stories of the author’s eight great grandparents, each of whom arrived separately in Australia from England, Scotland and Ireland between 1835 and 1852. None of these hazardous journeys was undertaken lightly. Even if one survived, they were unlikely to ever return to home and loved ones – a daunting prospect and challenging reality.



Sentenced to cross the raging sea: The Story of Sam Johnson, victim of Oldham’s Bankside Riot of 1834

Winner of the 2005 New South Wales Writers Centre ‘Wild and Woolley’ Prize for Best History

In many northern England towns, such as Manchester and Oldham, violence was never far from the surface. The disturbance of the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century pitted cotton mill owners against operatives – and operative against operative.

Sam Johnson was a young cotton spinner, just 16 years old, apprenticed to his father at Greenbank Mill, when three over-zealous Oldham constables raided a union meeting and arrested two union men.

The end result was a huge riot, involving thousands of Oldham workers – and a partly successful attempt to demolish the Bankside Mill and adjacent workers’ houses. One onlooker was shot dead.

The subsequent random arrests when the military arrived and regained control resulted in five of the rioters, including Sam Johnson, being sentenced to be hanged. These sentences were commuted to transportation for life.

This thoroughly-researched true story details the journey of convict no. 13841 from the Chatham hulks to Botany Bay and the Hyde Park barracks, his life indentured to a Scottish grazier and post-sentence as a free man.


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