FORBES, John Allan OA (1920-1989),

Modified on Thu, 11 Oct 2018 10:48 by Con — Categorized as: Biography - All, Biography - Collegians in the News 1911-1960, Biography - Students, Geelong College, Biography of Law, Medicine, Medical Research and Academia, Biography of War - World War II

FORBES, Dr John Allan OA (1920-1989)

John Forbes, 1937 (Prefects).

John Forbes, 1937 (Prefects).

John Forbes, epidemiologist and infectious diseases physician led the Fairfield Hospital, Melbourne from its post-war status as a receiving centre for isolated cases of dangerous infection to that of a major teaching and research establishment with an international reputation.

He was appointed as Medical Superintendent of Fairfield in 1961 and forged a role for Fairfield in the belief that infections were becoming more serious due to their increasing drug resistance. This was in contrast to the political thinking of the time that assumed the widespread use of antibiotics had reduced the need for institutions like Fairfield. He was awarded Membership of the Order of Australia in January, 1976 for his extensive services to medicine.

John Forbes was the only son of three children born at Lismore to parents Rev Ernest Albert Forbes and Florence Eliza nee Bristow. He first attended Lismore Primary School before becoming a boarder at Geelong College in 1933 where he was to become a respected leader and a talented sportsman. Early awards included the E R Sparrow Cup in 1933 for winning the Under 14 Athletics Championship. He was later to become a member of the 1st Football XVIII from 1935 to 1938, 1st Rowing VIII from 1936 to 1938, the Athletics Team in 1933, 1934 and 1938, Cadet Corps Sergeant, House Captain of Warrinn in 1938 and Head Prefect in 1937 and 1938.

As a footballer he was described by fellow medical student David Watson as a ‘ slow-moving tireless ruckman, implacable and non-stoppable. He had long arms and an indifferent kick’. Ian McDonald recalled that 'Forbes crowned himself with glory, by being a member of the first crew from Geelong College to win the Head of the River in 1936. He rowed in seat 5 and there was a near calamity when the crewman in seat 6 put his foot through the thin shell of the brand new racing boat just as they were about to embark for the start of the race. They were competing against Scotch College who had waited at the start while the boatbuilder, who fortunately was present, inserted a sleeve into the deficiency. Having waited for an hour, Scotch could have claimed the race on default but, being brothers under the skin, they did not, and returned again to the start. The race was held and Geelong College, for the first time in its history, won' .

He entered Ormond College and Melbourne Universiy in 1939 to commence studying medicine and continued rowing winning the inter-varsity championship that year in Sydney. The outbreak of war however was to interrupt his studies and he enlisted on 15 July 1940 and commenced service as lieutenant with the 112th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment. He embarked on the 'Mauretania' to Haifa in Palestine before being transferred to Alexandria and then to Tobruk where they were besieged for 5 months as the ‘Rats of Tobruk’.

He was then posted to Intelligence and returned to Australia and a posting to one of the wartime camps on the Alligator River near Darwin. During Leave in 1942 he met a wartime AWAS driver, Peggy Nicholson and married at Scots Church, Melbourne in January 1943. John returned to studying medicine in 1945 and graduated in 1948 and subsequently took up postings at Royal Melbourne Hospital and tutoring in Pathology at Melbourne University. He contracted pulmonary tuberculosis at about this time and this became a pivotal event as he was admitted to Fairfield and met Dr Sandy McClorrinan then Superintendent of Fairfield. John was appointed Deputy Superintendent in 1954. Sister Vivien Bulwinkle was matron at the Hospital under his superintendence and he, David Watson, and ‘Weary Dunlop’ also worked in Vietnam in civilian hospitals. In a lifetime of dedication to medicine he received many honours including Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians but of particular note was the establishment of the Forbes Fellowship at Fairfield Hospital. John died at his property on French Island and was survived by his wife and four children.

Sources: Eulogy by Ian A McDonald, presented at Scots Church, 1989; 'Geelong Collegians at the Second World War and Subsequent Conflicts' compiled by J. Affleck p.