In 1958, The Victorian Anaesthetic Group was established by Dr Robert "Bob" Gray who was at that time Deputy Director of Anaesthesia at the Alfred Hospital. He wanted to form a private anaesthetic group made up of colleagues with outstanding ability that would be the benchmark by which professional anaesthetists are measured. He was joined by Dr George "Robby" Robinson who would later became Director of Anaesthetics at Western General Hospital. Another colleague, John Lane, was a country GP who had distinguished himself when he undertook anaesthetic training at the Alfred Hospital. Finally the group was completed with Dr Bernie Dunn, who later became Director of Anaesthetics at Box Hill Hospital, and distinguished himself anaesthetising in third world countries.
By November 1958, Victorian Anaesthetic Group was registered as a business and the four commenced private anaesthetic practice. Although it is only fifty or so years ago, anaesthesia was a far cry from today's highly monitored specialty. Professionals relied on their skills and experience to give safe anaesthetics under conditions that would be unacceptable today, such as in hospitals that were converted suburban houses. All equipment had to be carried from place to place, including a portable anaesthetic machine, drugs, gas bottles, needles and so on. From all accounts however they enjoyed it, gaining the respect of the best surgeons of the day and forming lifelong associations.
As the practice developed, Dr Phil Armstrong was lured back from a prestigious job in London. An Dr Pat Mapleson was also persuaded to join, which added yet another director when he became the head of the department at The Mercy Hospital. It was no surprise that the group became known as" the director's group". Dr Reinhart "Reinhy" Rippert joined around that time. He was heavily involved with the cardiothoracic unit at the Alfred, which, at the time, was performing groundbreaking studies and procedures that we now take for granted.
Initially the office was in the Chelmer building in St Kilda Road, but eventually moved to 400 Albert St. East Melbourne. Despite its East Melbourne address, the group maintained strong links with the Alfred Hospital from where Dr Dick Connock and Dr Ken Sleeman were invited to join. This solid core of skilled and involved anaesthetists quickly became recognised as one of the best in Melbourne. As such, it continued to attract others who, as it does today, had distinguished themselves and shared the same ideas of excellence that Dr Bob Gray had espoused at its inception.
A more complete history would acknowledge all the members who have since joined, retired or sadly passed away. Dr Bob Gray had the pleasure of his son also joining the group before he retired. Dr George Robinson, Dr Pat Mapelson and Dr Reinhy Rippert are no longer with us, but they are well remembered for the fine men they were, their contributions to anaesthesia, and the countless anaesthetists they trained.
The Victorian Anaesthetic Group is proud of its involvement in anaesthesia at many levels. Apart from the contributions of the Directors, the majority of members have served the community in some way, be it holding federal or state office in the Australian Society of Anaesthetists, serving on council at The College of Anaesthetists, being an examiner or lecturer to anaesthetists in training, sitting on safety committees at several hospitals including the State Government run Morbidity and Mortality Council. Some have also published in peer reviewed anaesthetic journals and are involved in research.
Since those early days, the group has moved three times as it has grown and work demographics have evolved. It now comprises more than forty specialist anaesthetists with a wide variety of interests and skills. The rooms at 173 Burke Road serve as a well-resourced base to run the business efficiently, consult with patients as the need arises and provide educational facilities for its members.
Importantly it still upholds the vision Bob Gray had over fifty years ago.