50 years of medical education in the triradiate

The triradiate medical school building has been the home of medical education at the University of Melbourne for the past 50 years, and a place of many memories for medical alumni.


The Australian Universities Commission recommends
a capital grant of 3.1 million pounds for the University of Melbourne to construct an enlarged Medical School building on the south-western corner of the Parkville campus to accommodate the departments of Anatomy, Pathology, Physiology and Pharmacology, and for Medical Administration.


Work commences on the construction of the triradiate medical building, designed by Mockridge, Stahle & Mitchell, to provide for expansion in first-year medical student enrolments from 180 to 240 on completion.


The occupation of the building is complete, with the design dividing the medical departments into three wings — Physiology in the north, Anatomy in the east, and Pathology, Experimental Neurology and Faculty Administration in the west.


Works commence to provide new mortuary facilities in the triradiate medical building.


Ernst Fries’ Progress of medicine enamel is purchased for the foyer of the medical triradiate building, its backing made of marble panels that were the original tops of the tables in the old anatomy dissecting room in Swanston Street. The use of the marble was initially opposed on the grounds of possible health dangers but, ultimately, the installation went ahead and remains at the Grattan Street entrance to the building.


The two main lecture theatres are named the Sunderland Theatre, in honour of Professor Emeritus Sir Sydney Sunderland (MBBS 1935, DSc 1945, MD 1946, LLD 1975), Dean of Medicine 1953-1971, and the Wright Theatre,
in honour of Professor Emeritus Sir Roy Douglas Wright AK (MBBS 1929, MS 1932, DSc 1941, LLD 1980 ), Dean of Medicine 1946-1947; 1951-1952, University Chancellor 1980–1989.


Planning commences for additional floors on the top of the existing triradiate medical building for the relocation of the Department of Pharmacology, at an estimated cost of $11 million.


Construction is completed on floors eight and nine of  the building, across all three wings.


The University’s anatomy and pathology museums are amalgamated, with the Harry Brookes Allen (MBBS 1876, MD 1878) Museum of Anatomy and Pathology catering for the teaching of approximately 3000 medical and science students each year.


Dr Richard Grills (MBBS 1991)

“I remember sitting in the Sunderland Theatre in an introductory lecture, 1st day, 1st week of 1st year. Associate Professor Norm Eizenberg (MBBS 1973, PhD 1992) was welcoming us and explaining to us that, statistically, by the end of our six-year course, one or two of us would be dead, five would be pregnant, 15 would not finish, 10 would fail at least one year and 20 of us would marry each other either before we obtained our MBBS or within a year after.

“It was the last statistic I found the least believable. I was sitting in the second row and I remember looking all around and behind me, and did not see anyone that looked at all likely to do that.  Three children and 25 years later, I am still married to the girl that was sitting two seats down from me.”

“It was March 1977, the last day of the Centennial Test match between England and Australia and we were scheduled for an organic chemistry prac, making an elaborate multi-stage concoction, salicylate perhaps. Half the class turned up to the lab – the rest mysteriously absent – with the TV (as well as a transistor or two) focused on the MCG coverage. Australia were bowling and needed several English wickets to fall to win; the scene in the lab was anything but calm and scientific.

“As wickets fell, a few more of the class disappeared to join their friends at the ‘G’, and those of us who remained gradually drifted to the TV in the lab. Flasks and test tubes were abandoned and lab manuals left idle, cheers went up as the Poms went down . . . I feel that chanting broke out at one point. Even the supervisors had joined us at the TV by the end, so electric was the atmosphere.

“Sadly, chemistry went out the window, so to speak. I recall eventually throwing out the (purple) supernatant rather than the clear distillate, or perhaps it was the opposite, I can’t recall – failing the two-week experiment."

“But we had something to celebrate. And celebrate we did.”

Dr Marianne Cannon (MBBS 1982)
Dr Pauline Schokman (MBBS 1981)

“The Medical School was fresh, appealing, in its brown brick brightness, quite a cry from the ageing lecture halls and lab rooms of the Redmond Barry. We’d snake our way down, all 200 of us, past Wilson Hall and across South Lawn, past the Baillieu and the Brownless Libraries, and there it was, looming large as the promised land of greater knowledge, to be fully inhabited once the tribulations of negotiating mere science, and first year, were over. Here, we had seen no pithing of toads, we’d had time instead to ponder our skeletons and attempt anatomical drawings of the upper end of the femur, foramina, trabeculae.”

“The triradiate building is in our blood. It’s in our DNA. We were the first year to go through the building. The anatomy dissection room was a new, big room, which was a very social place. We used to go to the anatomy museum and the pathology museum for tutorials, and lectures were in the huge Sunderland Lecture Theatre. The students’ common room had a pool table in the basement and everyone spent a lot of time playing pool and cards. There was an inverse relationship between how good you were at pool and how well you did in class. It was much harder to be good at pool, really.  For medicine, you just needed a good memory. Across the road, there was the Mayfair hotel. It was where the Doherty is now. Everyone would head over the road after lectures and tutes.”

Professor Andrew Kaye AM (MBBS 1973, MD 1989)

We look forward to uncovering more of these stories through our documentary on the triradiate building and the past 50 years of medical education at Parkville and beyond. The documentary will premiere at the Melbourne Medical School Reunion Weekend on Friday 23 November, 2018.