Barnes, Graeme AO

  • Graeme BarnesQualifications


    Training at RCH

    Graeme came to RCH in 1970 from his home town of Dunedin, NZ, for “overseas” training in Paediatrics.  He and Mark Hoby (now Adelaide) had been the first to sit the MRACP in NZ in Paediatrics rather than Adult Medicine.   A year as registrar began with a rotation to St Vincent’s Hospital, where Consultant John MacNamara visited once per week, and where the registrar had to verify cross-matching for the whole hospital during the nights.  He enjoyed a medical term with Tom Maddison and Norman Wettenhall (with sandwiches provided mid-ward-rounds!), and Haematology/Oncology in the year that Henry Ekert returned to join John Colebatch.  The Haem/Onc attachment was memorable for (a) somewhat different consultant approaches to transfusion for children with thalassaemia (“You must not transfuse a child with fever”  versus “The temperature won’t come down until they are transfused” – tricky over Christmas when consultants attended alternate days), and (b) for all procedures being done by the one registrar (there was no JRMO), completing JHC’s clinic on a Friday, then doing the ensuing IV’s and LP’s, and also being Admitting Officer from 5.00 pm!


    RCH Research Fellowship

    Graeme met Director of Gastroenterology Rudge Townley, who was keen to do something about gastroenteritis.  An RCH Scholarship, and later emp[oyment by Vernon Collins enabled him to investigate the possible causes with Rudge and Gastroenterology Research Microbiologist Ruth Bishop.  Rudge’s expertise and adaptation of the small bowel biopsy capsule (with the help of Murray Schillinglaw in Biomedical Engineering), enabled recognition of the small intestine as the site of severe damage.  A comprehensive search for suspected infectious agents by Ruth, using conventional microbiological techniques, proved unrewarding.  In 1973 after a Heinz Travelling Fellowship in UK, Graeme returned “permanently” to NZ.  Geoff Davidson followed him as Gastroenterology Research Fellow.  Geoff did several more duodenal biopsies, after Ruth enlisted Ian Holmes at Melbourne University, to help using the new technology of electron-microscopy.   Bingo, Rotavirus was discovered.


    Back to Melbourne

    After Rudge Townley resigned in 1975, Graeme returned to RCH as Director of Gastroenterology.  This second move to Melbourne was harder, knowing it would be permanent, with implications for Margaret and their young family.  Soon they had sworn allegiance to the Queen of Australia and become citizens! 

    He and Ruth Bishop continued Rotavirus research.  They tested a strain found in newborn babies at the RWH by Don Cameron - the next Gastro Fellow.  Bill Kitchen had invited the team to investigate diarrhoea in the Special Care Nursery.  Rotavirus did not appear to be responsible, but serendipitously many healthy neonates nearby were found to be excreting a unique Rotavirus strain which caused no symptoms, but which stimulated protective immunity.  That strain is now the RV3.BB Rotavirus Vaccine, which is being tested in clinical trials in Indonesia by Julie Bines and her team.   

    After observing the success of oral rehydration in Indonesia, Graeme encouraged Angela McKenzie to conduct a trial of ORS at RCH.  The results changed the culture of treatment at RCH, away from automatic use of intravenous fluids.  This was pioneering work in the developed world. 

    In the 1980’s, with Dick Smallwood’s help, Graeme introduced gastro-duodenoscopy to replace small bowel biopsy, and Keith Stokes trained in colonoscopy.  These skills became important as the Inflammatory Bowel Disease epidemic in children emerged, and they were refined by Don Cameron when he returned from London.  Arnold Smith also returned, took over the Hepatology service from David Danks, and developed it within the Gastro Department.


    Research Leadership

    After 20 years, Graeme resigned in 1995 from his position as Director of Gastroenterology (he had said he would give it a go for 5 years!), and was succeeded by Tony Catto-Smith.  Changes in the RCH Research Foundation led to an invitation to become its Scientific Director in 1996.  He led a review of its purpose and role, facilitated by Dr Norman Swan and Prof Fiona Stanley.  The conclusions led to a change of name from Foundation to Institute, then discussions with the Murdoch Institute.  In 2000 with Bob Williamson’s strong support, the two Institutes merged to form the MCRI.   A conference room in the MCRI is named after Graeme to recognise some of the history of the RCH Research Institute’s co-partnership with the Murdoch Institute, in forming the MCRI.

    He chaired and served on committees which reviewed the Child Health Research Organisations in WA, SA, NSW and Qld.  He chaired the RCH Research Ethics Committee for 2 years, and was an Advisor to the WHO Rotavirus Program .


    Other Stuff

    Like many of his peers, there were many opportunities at RCH to enjoy contributing in other ways.  Collaboration in 1978 with Dr Yati Soenarto re childhood diarrhoea in Yogyakarta led to strong continuing relationships between RCH and Gadjah Mada University in many branches of child health.  Based on this trust, phone contact with Prof Soenarto the day after the 2004 tsunami led to several years of disaster recovery collaboration between RCH, Melbourne University and World Vision with GMU.  

    Being an independent mentor to more than 150 RCH Campus Paediatric PhD students he said was one of the most enjoyable things he did.  The enthusiasm and commitment of so many of them was inspiring.  And in his clinical specialty an international cohort of ex-Gastroenterology Fellows still spreads the RCH word.  

    He was appointed an Officer in The General Division of the Order of Australia (AO) in the Queen's Birthday Honours in June 2020. Other awards include the RCH Gold Medal (2000), The Vernon Collins Oration Medals (2008 and 2011) and The Howard Williams Oration Medal (2008).  He enjoyed assisting Henry Ekert to foster establishment of the Elizabeth Turner Award, and was delighted to Chair the Committee to establish the RCH Wadja Indigenous Health service.   

    His early association with paediatrician John Erlich in Alice Springs gave him a taste for the desert, partly compensating for missing the NZ Southern Alps.  He and Margaret enjoy escaping to a bush block at Venus Bay, and try to get their van north and/or west whenever possible.  

    Graeme currently holds appointments as SPRF at MCRI, Hon Emeritus Gastroenterologist at RCH and Hon Professorial Fellow, University of Melbourne.