Graeme Robertson was born in Victoria in 1903, a second generation Australian of Scottish and Cornish ancestry, and was educated at Scotch College in Melbourne. After graduating from Melbourne University with honours in 1927, he became a resident and then a registrar at the Melbourne Hospital where he came under the influence of Dr Sydney Sewell, a distinguished physician with a particular interest in neurology. After obtaining his MD degree in 1930, Graeme Robertson moved to London where he was appointed to the staff of the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square. There he perfected the arts of clinical neurology and case demonstration for which Queen Square was famous under the tutelage of Gordon Holmes and George Riddoch, and became friends with many neurologists who were to become outstanding in this golden era of the clinical approach. His friendship with Derek Denny-Brown led to collaboration in an important study of the physiology of micturition.
Watch Dr Robertson's short film during his tenure at Queen Square Hospital.
He was later appointed as consultant to St Bartholomew's Hospital and the Hammersmith Hospital, being enticed back to Australia in 1934 by the hope that the position of honorary neurologist would be created at the Melbourne Hospital. However, he remained a general physician for nearly 10 years before this hope came to fruition, with the creation of the department of neurology and neurosurgery at the new Royal Melbourne Hospital in 1944. He was then appointed honorary neurologist to the Royal Children's Hospital and later to the Royal Women's Hospital, the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, the Repatriation Hospital at Heidelberg, the Royal Australian Navy and the Tasmanian Government.
Although he published papers on clinical subjects such as photogenic epilepsy and cerebral aneurysm, he is most noted for his work on pneumoencephalography which continued from his first monograph in 1941 to his classic volume of 1967. He wrote a summary of this subject for the Handbook of Clinical Neurology which was published shortly before his death, after a long illness, on 25 December 1975.
Graeme Robertson became a foundation member of the Australian Association of Neurologists in 1950 and was president from 1962 to 1966. In 1964 he was responsible for the waratah being chosen as the insigne of the Association because of its link with early Australian medical history. The plate of the waratah in A Specimen of the Botany of New Holland, printed in London in 1773, was based on drawings by John White, the first surgeon general of the Colony of New South Wales. Graeme Robertson started the annual volume, Proceedings of the Australian Association of Neurologists (now Clinical and Experimental Neurology) in 1963 and became its first editor. He played an important part in organising the Second Asian and Oceanian Congress of Neurology in Melbourne in 1967, of which he was president. He served as vice-president of the World Federation of Neurology and was elected vice-president of The Royal Australasian College of Physicians in 1962.
Quite apart from his professional and academic attainments, Graeme Robertson contributed to the cultural heritage of Australia by his study of ornamental cast iron which was published in a series of eleven volumes, illustrated by his incomparable photographs. In 1935 he married Jane Duce. His son Denis carried on the medical tradition while his daughter Joan collaborated with him on his later architectural books.
Graeme Robertson was one of the founders of neurology in Australia, a gentle and cultivated man who attained international eminence for his own research while encouraging the development of the specialty as a whole.
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