Lives of the fellows

Robin Archibald Burston

b.28 June 1921 d.9 April 2008
MB BS Adelaide (1943) MRACP(1949) MRCP Edin(1950) MRCP Lond(1950) FRACP(1960) FRCP Edin(1962) FRCP Lond(1974)

Robin Archibald (Bob) Burston was born in Adelaide, into a family with medical and military traditions. He, like his father, Major General Sir Samuel Roy (‘Ginger’) Burston, embodied both.

Roy Burston, was himself the son of an distinguished army man, Major General James Burston, who had joined the Victorian Volunteers in 1873 when he was 17. Roy served as a boy bugler in the army from his very early teens, suggesting that his enthusiasm for matters military perhaps may even have exceeded his father’s. Circumstances however apparently precluded a full time army career. After completing his medical studies in Melbourne, the young graduate went to Adelaide, where he met, and in 1913 married, Helen Elizabeth Culross, the daughter of William Culross, barrister.

Bob was the youngest of Roy and Helen Burston’s three children. His brother, Samuel Gerald Wood, had been born in Adelaide in 1915, a couple of months before his father’s departure for Egypt and Gallipoli. Bob’s mother later travelled to London, where she remained for the duration of the war. Bob’s sister, another Helen Elizabeth, was born there in 1917. There was then a four year gap until the birth of Robin Archibald in 1921. His parents had returned to Adelaide in 1919.

Throughout his childhood, Bob must have been very much aware of his father’s parallel pursuit of careers both in medicine and in the army. After World War I, Roy Burston established himself in private medical practice, and held appointments as Honorary Assistant Physician at Royal Adelaide Hospital, and Deputy Director of Medical Services, 4th Military District. He remained in the latter role until being recalled to the AIF at the outbreak of the second world war. In 1935 he had joined the senior staff at RAH as Honorary Physician.

Bob attended Queen’s School in Adelaide, and then Saint Peter’s College up to leaving honours. In his first year of medicine at the University of Adelaide in 1939, he was awarded the Elder Prize. At the conclusion of the shortened five year wartime course in 1943 he graduated with distinction. After his intern year, he served with the AAMC from January 1945 to 1947, first in Morotai and Dutch New Guinea, then for eighteen months in Japan with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force.

He decided to follow the family tradition, and pursue a career in internal medicine, becoming a medical registrar at Royal Adelaide (RAH) in 1947 and 1948. He attained his MRACP in 1949. His next three years were spent in the UK further developing his interest in diabetes. Much of his time was spent in London, with six months in Oxford, and a profitable twelve months in Edinburgh. Here the emphasis of Professor Derrick Dunlop on the critical need for perceptive and effective two way communication between patient and doctor planted the seeds for Bob’s valuable input into the newly formed Diabetic Association in 1953, shortly after his return to Adelaide.

Following a period as Assistant Medical Superintendent RAH in 1952 and 1953, he entered consultant practice, and was appointed Honorary Assistant Physician to the Diabetic Clinic at the Royal Adelaide, and Honorary Outpatient Physician. Other hospital appointments around this time were as Honorary Physician to the Queen Victoria Maternity Hospital, and Visiting Physician to the Repatriation Hospital, Daw Park, South Australia.

His marriage to Royal Adelaide Hospital nurse Jennifer Lucy Anne, daughter of Sir Leonard Charles Edward Lindon, senior neurosurgeon there, was celebrated on 7th February 1953.

She was the youngest of the Lindon children, and ten years her husband’s junior. Bob and Jenny’s six children (Mary, Anne, Helen, Josephine, Jim and John) were born between 1954 and 1968. Rather than being drawn into the dominant family traditions of medicine or the army, most displayed interest either in teaching or in related areas of personal guidance and management. Jim became project manager for an engineering firm. Sadly, they were to lose their second daughter, Anne, in her teens.

In 1958 Bob began his long and close association, over nearly 30 years, with what was then Adelaide’s newest teaching hospital, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital (TQEH), at Woodville. The foundation honorary medical staff, of whom he was one, welcomed new blood and accepted change to a degree that had been unusual on the local scene. The major medical and surgical divisions all included academic departments, and younger graduates adept in newly developing areas were encouraged. Bob Burston played his part in promoting such attitudes. He was assiduous in his dedication to all aspects of a teaching hospital physician’s responsibilities, over the many years. He had experienced the final years of the honorary system, and its replacement by the institution of sessional payment of senior visiting staff from 1971 onwards.

In the early 1960s he established the Diabetic Clinic at TQEH. 1982 saw the opening of the diabetic education centre, which occupied a separate, easily accessible building on the hospital’s perimeter, and provided dedicated nursing and paramedical expertise and instruction to both patients and general practitioners. Special arrangements were also developed for more timely and effective management of ophthalmological complications of diabetes. He retired from the hospital in 1987. Bob was an honoured guest of Diabetes South Australia when they celebrated their 50th Anniversary in 2003, and became an Honorary Life Member of the Australian Diabetes Society. He served on the Medical Board of South Australia for seven years from 1967, and was made an AMA (South Australia) Life Member.

His concern with medical education at all levels was exemplified by appointment to the Adelaide University Council in 1969, and as Chairman of the South Australian Postgraduate Medical Association in 1976. Earlier, he had been Secretary of the Australian Postgraduate Federation in Medicine, and Chairman of the Postgraduate Committee in Medicine of the University of Adelaide. He was later made a Fellow of the Australian Postgraduate Federation in Medicine in recognition of his services.

Throughout, he maintained his army involvement, transferring to the RAAMC, CMF from 1948 onwards. In 1955, he was promoted LtCol, and in 1962 to Colonel. He was appointed Deputy Director of Medical Services, Headquarters, Central Command, from February 1967 to Sept 1970, interrupted by four months full time service in Vietnam as Physician 1 Aust Fd Hosp. He was made Consultant Physician to Army HQ in 1970, and Honorary Physician to the Governor General of Australia in 1971. At the end of June 1978 he was transferred to the retired list, and in 1980 appointed Honorary Colonel RAAMC, in South Australia, for four years. He ceased all appointments in March 1984.

Bob Burston’s recreational enthusiasms tended to echo those of his forebears. Like his father Roy, he was a keen surfer and tennis player, and his adoption of cycling, even extending to long distance racing, in his latter years, is reminiscent of his grandfather’s brother, George William Burston, co-founder of the Melbourne Bicycle Club in 1878. Skiing continued to be another of Bob’s passions through to, and beyond, his retirement. And over and above all these, he himself cited ‘farming’ as his most enduring recreation. Clearly his property ‘Cut Hill’, off the Victor Harbor road, was a source of great joy and satisfaction over very many years.

Those close to him agreed that he was a ‘real gentleman of the old school’, not given to complaining, and always displaying consideration of, and courtesy to, others. With his fair complexion and sandy hair, he might well have earned the nickname ‘Ginger’ had his father not forestalled him. His upright bearing, and proclivity to change step to match whoever was walking alongside, proclaimed a proud military background. His professional juniors were inspired by his personal example, and deeply appreciated his support and encouragement.

S Milazzo

Reproduced, with permission, from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians’ College Roll.

(Volume XII, page web)

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