Andrew Abbie was born in Kent, United Kingdom, of Scottish Huguenot descent, the son of the first engineer officer in the Royal Navy to be commissioned from below deck. When his father retired the family moved briefly to New Zealand, his mother's birthplace, and then to New South Wales where he attended the University of Sydney. Except for the first term, his entire course of studies was paid for by himself with the help of bursaries and he graduated with distinctions in each year. After two years' work as RMO at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital he was awarded the Walter and Eliza Hall Travelling Medical Research Fellowship under which he worked mainly with the anatomist Sir Grafton Elliot Smith at University College Hospital. Sir Grafton became his life long friend and influenced his future career. He played little sport, preferring to spend his leisure hours reading, and over the years he acquired a fine library. He was one of few who have been awarded three doctorates by thesis.
After returning from the United Kingdom he joined the University of University as senior lecturer in anatomy in 1935. He was an excellent teacher, noted for his willingness to listen and explain. His lectures were illustrated by superb drawings. He was born left handed but learned to use his right hand: he had the amazing ability to draw with his right hand and name the objects drawn with his left hand simultaneously. Whilst in Sydney he published two text books, The Principles of Anatomy: An Introduction to Human Biology (1940) and Human Physiology (1941). His great loves were neuroanatomy and comparative anatomy. His research areas were monotremes and marsupials, the corpus callosum and the blood supply to the basal ganglia. He first defined the territory supplied by the anterior choroidal artery, and his work was the basis of Cooper's operation of therapeutic infarction of the globus pallidus for Parkinson's disease by clipping this artery.
During World War II he served as a major in the AIF, including service in New Guinea; his important contribution was made when he was chemical warfare physiologist. He was released from the army in 1945 to become the sixth elder professor of anatomy, University of Adelaide, a chair that he held for twenty-six years. There, as Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, he played a major part in the construction of the new medical school and he established the chair of medicine, first occupied by HN Robson. In addition to running his short staffed department, he was appointed to many committees and continued his research on the promammalia. A summary of this research was outlined in the Rennie Memorial Lecture mentioned below.
His second major interest was anthropology. He led seven major expeditions to study aborigines. He was ahead of his time in his respect for the dignity of aboriginal culture and aspirations. He championed the concept of the equality of all races of mankind. His book The Original Australians is one of the most readable studies of aboriginal social anthropology published. In all, he published 43 papers and was part author of a further 50, many of them dealing with aborigines.
His wide interest in many spheres left him little time for clinical work. His international eminence in his chosen fields led to his election to fellowship in 1951. Amongst many lectures delivered here and overseas, he gave the Rennie Memorial Lecture, RACP, in Adelaide in 1966 entitled 'Glorious uncertainty of mind'. Andrew was a shy man but did not appear to be embarrassed by a facial tic. He was a good conversationalist among his intellectual colleagues but less so with casual social acquaintances. He was not without ambition both for himself and his better students, many of whom he set on the road to fame.
In 1934, he married Freida Ruth Heighway and they had three daughters. They led a happy life together until Ruth died in 1963. In 1967, he married Audrey Katherine Allen Simpson. Audrey gave him great support in his courageous fight with malignant melanoma from which he died aged seventy-one years. He is commemorated at the University of Adelaide by the Abbie Memorial Lecture, endowed by his widow and awarded to promote studies in neuroanatomy and related fields. These lectures, first delivered in 1979, have paid tribute to Abbie's exceptional breadth of achievement as an anatomist and anthropologist.
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