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College history - Practice histories

Wingrove Medical Centre, Victoria

Rob Currie

Leslie Thomas Currie was born in Sydney on 2 May 1895. He enlisted in the 1st AIF, was wounded in France, and invalided. Leslie attended Sydney University, graduated with an MBChM in 1923 and served his internship at Royal Sydney Hospital. In 1924 Leslie went to the Royal Prince Henry Homeopathic Hospital in Melbourne where he met and married Ellen Maud Gandini, a nurse at the hospital.

In the mid 1920s Leslie and Ellen purchased a house at 278 Wingrove Street, Fairfield, in Melbourne - strategically placed opposite the Fairfield railway station - and set up a ‘lodge’ medical practice in the front rooms of the house.

Five children were born to Leslie and Ellen, my parents, and we lived in the back of the building, eventually housed in an increasing number of bungalows at the rear of the building.

Lodge patients paid their dues to a ‘friendly society’, and the doctor was paid by the number of patients on his books. There were no other fees paid, but grateful patients would sometimes bring a gift of potatoes, eggs or other homegrown produce. There were the occasional private patients who could afford the half-guinea fee. Such patients were ushered into the front lounge room and seen on a priority basis.

There was no appointment system and patients would wait their turn on the rather firm benches in the waiting room, sometimes entertained by the antics of the psychotic next-door neighbour, whose language was frequently loud and fruity!

House calls and obstetric deliveries were routine, and anaesthetics (usually ether) and surgical procedures were part of the GP’s duties. The doctor was on call 24/7.

There were no antibiotics and local infections were treated with poultices to bring them to a ‘head’ and lanced when required (a bread poultice was a common home treatment and substances such as magnoplasm were believed to have ‘drawing properties’). Sterilisation was by boiling, flaming (methylated spirits), and alcohol swab or alcohol immersion.

There was digitalis for heart disease and mercurial diuretic injections for cardiac failure, and in severe intractable dropsy, Southey’s tubes could be inserted into the oedematous limb.

Pain management involved salicylates (Bex) and opiates (Laudanum) or local liniments or salves (Goanna Oil was a well-known propriety brand). Cupping could be used to draw out bruises or body poisons. Cupping resulted in an approximately 5 cm disc of petechial haemorrhages - visible proof that the treatment worked!

Dermatology used a range of local applications, often tar or sulphur based, and the Rawleigh’s man contributed with a large variety of patent medications. One of my father’s more successful treatments was unsalted mutton fat!

Respiratory conditions had a number of inhalations and mixtures. A favourite, still sometimes used, was senega and ammonia.

Psychotic patients were managed with bromide, phenobarbital, restraint or ECT; and there were tonics (tincture glycerophosco was generally favoured by the senior ladies rather than the nonalcoholic syrup).

In the late 1940s, the introduction of sulphonamides, and later penicillin, changed the face of medical practice; as did the arrival of largactil which revolutionised the treatment of psychotic patients and ended the practice of locked wards and padded cells.

Dr Currie Snr had struggled on over the war years as a solo GP with the assistance of his faithful practice nurse, Sister Ann Purdon. At the end of World War II hostilities he was joined by Dr John Johnston (who later left to start his own practice). In the early 1950s he was succeeded by Dr Kenneth Madden.

In 1947 I had completed my matriculation at St Kevin’s College and entered the medical faculty at University of Melbourne. My first year of study was undertaken at Mildura on the old air force base that had been converted into a university campus to cope with the sudden influx of both school leavers and returned service entrants into several of the university’s faculties.

In 1955, after completing a residency at Royal Hobart Hospital, I joined the practice where I became ‘young’ Dr Currie, a title I retained until well into my ‘60s!

More areas of the 278 Wingrove Street building were taken over as consulting rooms as my siblings left home and an additional branch surgery was established in Darebin Road, Thornbury, approximately 3 kilometres away from the main rooms.

My father, Dr Currie Snr continued to practise, and in that era when GPs were still multiskilled he and I would, on occasions, be either the surgeon or the anaesthetist for each other’s patients.

In 1961, Dr Currie Snr, now widowed, retired and moved to a cottage just across the railway line from the surgery; he lived there until his death in 1975.

On his retirement, Ken Maddden and I purchased premises two doors down from the original surgery and erected a purpose-built surgery and closed the branch surgery. The new premises has been altered and extended over the years, but remains the site of the Wingrove Medical Centre - 270 Wingrove Street, Fairfield. (The original surgery at 278 Wingrove Street has been through several reincarnations and is currently a dermatology clinic.)

In 1963, Dr Maurice Clark, who had taken over Dr Sinclair’s practice around the corner from Wingrove Medical in Station Street, amalgamated the two practices and moved his operation to the Wingrove site. These three partners continued the practice until 1983 when Dr Clarke retired and sold his share to Dr Dan Anderson. Dan had a private pilot’s licence and his own plane and spent much of his time practising in remote areas. As a consequence he employed Dr Paul O’Halloran as a locum on several occasions and eventually sold his share to him in 1986.

Paul remains a principal in the practice, and in 1989 Dr Debbie Moors joined us. Debbie took over Dr Madden’s practice on his retirement in 1992 and remains a principal in the practice.

Dr Andrew Donald joined Wingrove Medical in 1998 and is a full time assistant.

Dr Mel Clark - no relationship to the original Maurice Clarke – joined us as a part-time assistant in 2001 and more recently we have Dr Barbara Oldmeadow and Dr Jenny Newstead in part-time practice.

I resigned as a principal in 2007 but remain in part-time work as an accredited mental health provider at this practice.

So in 2010, Wingrove Medical continues with seven GPs and five nurses in an ever-evolving medical community. It is a practice that has treated all social levels, from Squizzy Taylor to High Court judges, and has managed multiple migrant waves.

The district

Fairfield is wedged in a corner between Northcote and Heidelberg and has in turn, been part of both these municipalities. It was originally a working class suburb - now much gentrified - except for a small area south of Heidelberg Road where many blocks had frontages on the Yarra River. There is still, on the banks of the river, Fairfield Boat House [formerly Rudder Grange] where boats can be hired and functions held. Fairfield still retains a significant industrial component, of which the Paper Mill was a large part. It housed the Infectious Diseases Hospital at Yarra Bend Park and for a while, Fairley Women’s Prison (which I occasionally attended as a visiting medical officer). It is now the Thomas Embling Hospital. The district has been the staging post for many of the migrant waves and I recall the questioning of the Greek community and the attempted bargaining of the Italians - all of which has made it a richly interesting and rewarding practice over the years.

Rob Currie (‘Dr Currie Jnr’) passed away 24 December 2010

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