Lives of the fellows

Arthur Culton Schwieger

b.29 October 1919 d.3 November 2010
MB BS Melb(1942) MD(1948) FRACP(1948) FRCP(1976)

Arthur Culton Schwieger was a neurologist in Melbourne. He was born in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick, the only child of Rev Charles Percy and Mary Schwieger. His father, the vicar of St Catherine’s Church in neighbouring Caulfield, subsequently moved with his small family to the Melbourne parishes of All Saints’ in Sandringham and Holy Trinity in Surrey Hills.

From his early years Arthur passionately loved music and first studied piano. When attending Melbourne Grammar School he also began organ tuition with Alfred Ernest Floyd of Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral, celebrated for his long-running Australian Broadcasting Commission’s broadcasts. Eventually, for a time, Arthur became his father’s organist at Holy Trinity. He developed close friendships with both Floyd and his son (and Arthur’s schoolmate) John, later a well-known Melbourne ENT surgeon.

Post-Depression economic conditions may have partly influenced Arthur’s choice of medicine over music. On his matriculating in 1936, he enrolled in Melbourne University’s medical course, graduating in 1942 with honours in medicine and surgery. Following Royal Melbourne Hospital resident medical officer appointments, he enlisted in 1943 as an RAAF medical officer, and was posted to Nos 20 and 42 Catalina Squadrons in Australia’s Northern Territory. He was discharged in 1946 as a flight lieutenant. Later, as a neurologist, he served in the RAAF Specialist Medical Reserve for more than 20 years.

From 1946 to 1948, Arthur was an assistant pathologist at Royal Melbourne Hospital and during this period gained his MD degree and membership of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Then, like many post-war Australian physicians, he went to London. Through close associations of the Floyd, McKie and Schwieger families, Floyd had arranged Arthur’s introduction to the Australian-born William McKie (later Sir William), the renowned organist and choirmaster at Westminster Abbey. Soon after arriving in the UK, Arthur attended evensong at the Abbey, sending his card up to McKie. The organist enthusiastically greeted him: in the organ loft’s dim light he had misread Arthur’s name as ‘Dr Albert Schweitzer’. Following Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, Arthur would treasure Sir William's gift of his personally signed recording of the music from the service.

Arthur began a long association with another Melbourne ex-serviceman medical officer Harry Garlick [Munk’s Roll, Vol.IX, p.192], with whom he prepared for his MRCP examination. Becoming enthralled by MRCP neurology demonstrations at the (then) National Hospital for Nervous Diseases at Queen Square, Arthur discovered his specialty. In 1951 he began his training with a year at Queen Square as an honorary physician with Arnold Carmichael [Munk’s Roll, VII, p.91], the hospital's first full-time director of clinical research, and Sir Charles Symonds [Munk’s Roll, Vol. VII, p.563], Arthur's neurological exemplar. Both shared his aviation medical interests, having held senior wartime RAF commissions. He then followed compatriots Graeme Robertson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VI, p.392] and John Game as Queen Square’s resident medical officer.

In addition, earlier at Queen Square, he had begun a lifelong friendship with a young English neurologist named John Walton. As one of Britain’s most illustrious neurologists, he would become Lord Walton of Detchant. Furthermore, in Lady Walton, also a fine amateur organist, Arthur would find a kindred music spirit.

In August 1953 he returned to Australia, barely two years after eight pioneering members had founded the fledgeling Australian Association of Neurologists. The year concluded momentously: he became Graeme Robertson’s assistant at Royal Melbourne Hospital; he gained senior appointments as the first honorary neurologist at (then) Prince Henry’s Hospital and as a consultant neurologist at the Repatriation General Hospital Heidelberg; and he commenced 40 years of private practice. For good measure, in the Melbourne Grammar chapel, with John Floyd as his best man and A E Floyd as their organist, he married the charming biochemist Dorothy Bain. In 1948 he had driven her home from Royal Melbourne Hospital during a tram strike and they had advanced their acquaintance when she visited London.

Arthur quickly became known as a splendid clinician and teacher. At Prince Henry’s Hospital he joined his good friend Harry Garlick on the senior medical staff. Among many happy senior colleague relationships, that with his counterpart neurosurgeon, John Curtis, became legendary. Additional senior appointments followed at Box Hill Hospital and the (then) Victorian Mental Hygiene Department. His neurological interests included Parkinson’s disease therapies and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathies. He became absorbed in following laevodopa’s effect on his Parkinsonian patients’ quality of life.

Of modest disposition, he was generously supportive of junior and senior colleagues alike, and unfailingly courteous and caring toward his patients. His teaching was singularly stylish – tall and lithe, with balletic poise, his bedside demonstration of visual field testing was an embodiment of elegance. And with style there truly was substance. He drew at least two new generations of aspirant and qualified neurologists and neurosurgeons to Prince Henry’s Hospital. Until Australia’s neurological training facilities were soundly established, he arranged overseas placements for several protégés, either at Queen Square or Newcastle upon Tyne. From the latter, Lord Walton recounts Peter Hudgson’s [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web] special expertise in electron microscopy and histochemistry of neuromuscular diseases, and subsequent distinguished, but tragically shortened, British career as a consultant neurologist.

As well as future neurologists and neurosurgeons, at Prince Henry’s Hospital Arthur befriended trainee radiologist Harold Fabrikant, an exceptionally accomplished keyboard musician. Although later completing neuroradiological training at Queen Square, Harold is now an internationally distinguished performer on piano, harpsichord and organ.

At home, Arthur’s musical pursuits included accompanying his daughters to their music lessons and examinations; and, as their dinner guest, Harold Fabrikant sometimes entertained Arthur and Dorothy on Arthur’s Blüthner grand piano and Johannus organ. Arhtur’s various other interests included travelling and rose growing with Dorothy, and playing tennis, golf and snooker. Notably, at their beach house at Mornington, which had been designed by Arthur, his family shared his infectious enthusiasm for sailing. He served for two years as commodore of the Mornington Yacht Club.

Arthur Schwieger died peacefully at his home in Kew in Melbourne five days after his 91st birthday, after slowly declining health. For Dorothy, their daughters, and their grandchildren, and for his host of friends, he has left countless cherished memories. Lord Walton paid an eloquently simple personal tribute: ‘A great friend and a fine neurologist’.

J Barrie Morley

(Volume XII, page web)

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