At the beginning of March 1943, war-time Brisbane was a garrison city overflowing with an influx of servicemen from Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, amongst others, gathered here as a staging point for northern operations in the South Pacific.
Food and clothing were partly rationed, as was petrol, and at night the city was subject to a brown-out with multiple search lights criss-crossing the night sky.
Many vantage points across the city, including the bridges, were guarded. In this environment, the university found itself placed centrally in the city, adjacent to Old Government House and alongside Parliament House. The construction of university buildings at St Lucia had been suspended because of the war, and the buildings that were available were occupied by staff of the Headquarters of the Australian Military Forces, under the control of General Sir Thomas Blamey.
On the first day of lectures for the first term of 1943, I was one of forty students who entered the Faculty of Medicine. The university, at the time, had an academic year of three terms, with annual examinations held each November at ‘Jacaranda time’. A passing grade for the year allowed the candidate to advance to the following year.
After annual and final examinations were held in November, results were announced in early December and degrees were conferred the following year, generally before May at the annual Commemoration Ceremony and followed by the Commemoration Ball that night. The one exception was the Faculty of Medicine, where students who received their final results in early December had an almost immediate graduation ceremony; this was so that they could be registered with the Medical Board to start practise as interns almost immediately at the beginning of January, and to staff the hospitals.
The then six-year medical course had its basic science subjects taught at the university in George Street in the first year of the course. In years two and three, Physiology continued to be taught at the Sir William MacGregor School in George Street, whilst Anatomy moved to the Medical School at Herston, and in years four to six, all teaching was conducted at the Herston complex.
Interestingly, the 1948 graduating class was the first medical course, since its establishment in 1936, to grant first and second class honours. In those halcyon days, graduation certificates were of artistic merit with handwritten and drawn scrolls and copper plate writing—a great contrast to the modern simple printed white sheet without decoration (see picture).
For a couple of months leading up to Commemoration, there were weekly dances held on Saturday nights at the university, with dancing on the lawn in front of Government House, and the orchestra, the Varsity Five, playing on the adjacent veranda. Dancing always finished before midnight in order to allow attendees to catch the last trams and buses.
Up until the 1950s, residential colleges were scattered around the city, and thereafter they moved to their present sites on the riverbank at St Lucia. St Johns and Kings occupied buildings at the southern end of River Terrace on Kangaroo Point, and the Women’s College was situated in Shafston Avenue, also on Kangaroo Point, whilst St Leos and Emmanuel occupied buildings on Wickham Terrace in the city.
Every morning during the week, groups of students on Kangaroo Point walked the full length of the Point to reach the Storey Bridge, where they turned down to the River to board the Eagle Street Ferry and then walked up through the Gardens to their lectures; they returned again in groups after the day’s lectures by the same route. Very few students had cars at that time.
My association with the university, after six years as a student, began again in 1951 when I was a Resident at the Brisbane Hospital. I was appointed Teaching Registrar and Chief Tutor in Surgery for two years under Professor Neville Sutton. At the end of that period, I travelled to England for postgraduate studies, returning at the beginning of 1955.
In April of that year, I was appointed Lecturer in Surgical Anatomy and Operative Surgery within the Faculty of Medicine, a position I held for eleven years. During that time, and right up until 1985, I was a university tutor in the Faculty whilst also being a Consultant Surgeon at the Princess Alexandra Hospital. It is an interesting commentary on changes in administration that until recent times all consultants at Teaching Hospitals were designated by the university simply as “tutors” at a nominal salary, but now all senior staff are appointed as various grades of lecturer or professor, and the number of such titled teachers has multiplied.
After retirement from clinical practice, I returned to part-time teaching within the School of Biomedical Sciences in the Department of Anatomy and only ceased that earlier this year (2016).
Over many of these years, like other surgical colleagues, I participated in a succession of courses at the Anatomy School at St Lucia for the benefit of Advanced Surgical Trainees, conducted pro-bono by Fellows of the College to refresh the detailed Anatomy course, which would be included in the final Fellowship examinations. These courses were the forerunners of the current intensive six week programmes conducted on behalf of the College for Advanced Surgical Trainees.
It has been an enormous privilege to have been associated with the School of Medicine and with the university itself. There have been many changes within the faculty, most significantly the change 20 years ago from an undergraduate to a postgraduate course. This is now a standard throughout the country, but again it has undergone changes and after next year, students in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Queensland will graduate MD, not MBBS.
Remarkable and almost incredible changes in medical and scientific discoveries in the past decades have resulted in frequent alterations to the teaching curriculum; I have watched somewhat sadly the diminution in teaching, especially of Anatomy in a practical way to students in their early years. The university, however, has blossomed and is now a large, internationally recognised organisation with multiple new departments and enormous unthought-of-earlier research institutes within its compass, and it is linked to many international bodies for collaborative research and reciprocal teaching. Its diverse structures on the imposing St Lucia site are a source of increasing wonder and pleasure to all alumni, and although universities throughout the country have had to encourage and increase numbers of international students to bolster their financial position, the mixture has certainly been beneficial.
After so many years of involvement with the university and a succession of superb teachers, and with students both undergraduate and postgraduate, I remain a proud alumnus of the University of Queensland.
Honorary Professor Sam Mellick CBE. FRCS, FRACS, FACS, FRCSI (Hon)