In this section
MB ChB MD FRACP
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!
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.
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
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
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 .
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