My initial visit to Melbourne was in March 1973. I was a Senior Registrar in Dundee, Scotland, doing some basic research on the shrinkage artefacts in the cornea induced by fixatives used for histological preparation (examination under the microscope) and was using the then new Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) to obtain surface views of the cornea. The University of Dundee did not have one and this necessitated a drive of two hours each way to Glasgow to use the nearest instrument. The driving time left insufficient research time in a session. There was a SEM in Boston and I was offered a place on their Overseas Fellows programme which promised clinical experience as well as plentiful research time. But race relations problems supervened and their Overseas Fellows program was temporarily suspended.
Enquiry showed the only other microscope of this sort had been installed,in the Melbourne University Ophthalmology Department and I wrote to Prof Crock. He had heard me talk about my work at a joint meeting of the Verhoeff Society and the OSUK, and was willing to take me if I could raise the requisite funds. An application to the Medical Research Council resulted in a generous travel award (the Alexander Piggott Werner travel scholarship) and I arrived in Melbourne on a wet Friday in March (23rd) 1973.
Professor Crock made it clear I was not to abandon clinical work and I was stimulated by the different patterns of ophthalmic pathology presenting to the Department and by the bio-engineering lab run by Jean-Marie Parel and Ljubomir Pericic. I set up and ran a full scale clinical trial of a Japanese “anti cataract” drug. The Cambridge SEM, the prior reason for my being there, was of low reliability. Fortunately its electronics used largely domestic television set techniques with which I was familiar from a hobby interest and from helping a friend who ran a repair shop. Most of my research time went on electronic diagnosis and repair. My initial year’s Fellowship was extended to a further year before my returning to Dundee.
Some months later I had a phone call from the University of Melbourne asking about my possible interest in the newly created post of First Assistant in Ophthalmology. I decided to apply, was appointed and returned to Melbourne in April 1976. I found lots of scope for my clinical interests, particularly in liaising with RVEEH clinical committees in Infection control and pharmaceutical matters. I did extensive quality control investigation for the Therapeutic Goods Administration. My interest in working with visually impaired kids was intensified by an appointment to a Health Department clinic examining children reported as being blind or visually impaired to confirm they were (nearly a half were not) and to recommend extra teaching exposure. There I met an impressive teacher of such kids called Jill Keeffe whom I was able to persuade over a decade later to do a PhD under my supervision. That in itself required the then Dean, Prof Graeme Ryan, to grant special permission for my supervision as I did not have a PhD myself. I believe Jill’s subsequent career has given Graeme ample justification for his decision.
Teaching medical students and general practitioners was a rather neglected area of ophthalmology which I took over when the redoubtable Dr John Colvin retired and I covered most State centres for the Victorian Medical Post Graduate Foundation. I had a three year stint as acting head of Department after Professor Crock retired but didn’t enjoy the experience. I was happy when Professor Taylor became head.
I retired officially from the Department when I reached 65 and was invited by one of my previous MMed (Ophthalmology) supervisees (Dr Kevin Foo) to use his private rooms for a small continuing part time select private practice. I was diagnosed as having Parkinson’s Disease in 2003 and colo-rectal cancer in 2010 and retired completely in June 2010.
Hector’s advice to young researchers starting at CERA?
Be enthusiastic about the good things in life and make your research the most important of these, surpassed only by honest friendships.