John Papadimitriou interview, 8 February 2013

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John Papadimitriou interview, 8 February 2013




Emeritus Professor John Papadimitriou speaks of his extensive career at UWA and his interest in scientific research in the field of pathology. John was Head of the Department of Pathology for two terms in 1978 and 1982. He was a student at the university, graduating with a distinction in medicine and surgery in 1962. He completed an MD in 1969 and PhD in 1976 and received a prestigious CJ Martin travelling fellowship.
During the interview John talks of his varied connections at UWA firstly as a student in the 1960s, as a member of staff and as a student again in the 1980s. He completed a BA in ancient Greek and Roman history in 1982. By discussing the changes that he has seen at the university Papadimitriou gives a clear understanding of the University’s change in focus and direction and its reputation on a world scale. With a career that has seen him work in England, Europe and China, he is able to compare the university’s growth and facilities with other academic institutions around the world.

He speaks of the QEII Hospital and the research programmes that have developed at the training facility. He discusses the past support for research that he has experienced and seen change over the years and talks of his hopes for ongoing support for research in WA. John Papadimitriou outlines some of his work in pathology research including his work with Reovirus 3 and work with the Research Centre for Medical Engineering. He also talks of some of the many prominent people he has worked with over the course of his career.

John has been involved with many community boards and academic and research committees. He was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his services to medical research and the community.


Papadimitriou, John


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


John Bannister


John Papadimitriou


Perth, W.A.


Interview 1: 53 minutes, 53 seconds
Interview 2: 51 minutes, 31 seconds
Interview 3: 30 minutes, 50 seconds
Total: 2 hours, 16 minutes, 14 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Track 1
00:00:00 Introduction and background information. Coming to Australia the best place to go. Kalgoorlie and the finding of gold. Schooling and secondary school education. Intrigued how living things must obey the laws of chemistry and physics. Medicine. Scholarship. Stimulated by Bayliss and Waring. Neville Oscar Professor of Classics. University and the beautiful surroundings.
00:05:42 Couldn’t afford St George’s College or Thomas More. Staying at the men’s hostel. Glen Store, Hugh Tyndale Biscoe, Bill Barker, Nell Mare. The sense of community. Ron Hutchins on ethics and morals. Ted O’Keefe. People from different disciples interacted. Sitting on the lawns and discussing issues at meals in the refectory. Michael Small ancient Greek scholar lives next door.
00:10:40 At the University 9-5 absorbing what the other disciplines have to offer. Easy to mix with other faculties. Great learning atmosphere. People stimulate young eager minds. Privileged to be at university. 1956 could not stay in WA. Collection of money from the local area for the building of the medical school. Fred Maslen. Eager support from the community. People want for a medical school. Great reputation of the university in the community. Mature age students.
00:16:19 Experience of going to Adelaide: a formal place, run on Germanic lines. Discipline at the University of Adelaide. Professor Abbey. Sir Stanton Hicks. Mark Mitchell. Peter Nostell was the trigger to go into research.
00:20:50 Welcomed back from Adelaide as prodigal sons and daughters. People wanted to teach students in the teaching wards. Pathology starts to impress. The clinicians and the wards at the Royal Perth Hospital. Memories of the Royal Perth Hospital experience. Clinical expositor to the students. Students assist with surgical procedures. Memories of the Thoractomy. Numbers affect the teaching of students. Ian Thorburn who worked unpaid.
00:27:50 Memories of Eric Saint, Dick Lefroy and Hurst. Cecil Lewis bends six inch nails and tears telephone books. Gwyn Brockis. Theories of playing music in the surgery. The patients of the professor. Memories of Rolf Ten Seldam. John Little and Max Walters. Max was a bridge between staff and students.
00:33:40 Connection between staff and students. The culture that existed at UWA. Microbiology and Neville Stanley. Rolf ten Seldam and introduction to electron microscopy. Playing around with viruses. Research studies crystallize.
00:37:30 Reovirus 3 and Neville Stanley. Playing cricket with Neville Stanley. Community and camaraderie. Graduating in 1962 with distinction prize in pathology. Surgical skills. Alec Dawkins and orthopaedics. Thesis 1969 Neuro infection with Reovirus 3. Explanation of the action of the Reovirus. Insights into the way virus infect tissues. Published in the American Journal of Pathology.
00:43:41 Children and the Reovirus infection and insight into the human condition. Electron microscopy, histochemistry , enzymology developing in the 1960s.
00:44:55 Research fellow in 1964. Research assistance. Securing national health grants. CJ Martin Fellowship overseas. Experiences of travel and the Fellowship experience. Knowledge gleaned from travel and conferences. Numbers were small. Reputation of UWA nationally. Medical school developing reputation in Medicine, Surgery and Pathology and microbiology. Biochemistry and Ivan Oliver. Liver development. George Yeoh and the damaged liver. Established research programs. Allan Morgan achieves a CJ Martin Scholarship. Stanley and others were supported by NHMRC grants being awarded to people only ten years after the school opened. Competing favourably with the rest of Australia.
00:50:35 Personal career development. Keen interest in research. Overseas experience at the Rijk University in Leiden. Chemist Van Duyne. Chemistry at a cellular level was very reliable. Freiberg and Professor San Ritter. Studying the rejuvenation of body tissue to injury. Liking the approach in England and Holland.

Track 2
00:00:00 Return home in 1971, teaching facilities compared to overseas. Research facilities not up to scratch at UWA. Pathology department in Perth. Support from UWA and NH&MRC. Electron microscopes installed – research facilities pick up. Getting trained international quality people. Instilling German principles. Increase in facilities. Good time for resources. Research programmes. How the body heals self.
00:06:00 Looking at diseased tissues. Building up research facilities and techniques in the diagnostic area in WA. Concerns. Applying international principles. Histochemical and ultra-structural techniques. Dawkins brings expertise to WA. Kakulas brings international attention. Growth of Neurological depts. Royal Perth QE2. Parochial view and the growth of international focus – international conferences. Academic community in WA in 1971. Hong Kong and national attention.
00:12:30 Senior lecturer in 1971. Changes. Instilling information and the question mind. Small classes and personal connection. The human element. Connection between staff and student. Technology and the numbers of students. Sustainable learning. Being inspired by a human or a Mac computer or online site. Virtual online course. Blend of technology and human interaction.
00:16:25 Community and geography and interaction with the medical school. Drawbacks and the campus versus medical school relationship. Development of the training hospitals. Max Walters fuses resources into one huge department. Envy of other departments on campus and nationally. Pathology a much more productive department. Loss of resource and people weakens effort achieved.
00:20:36 Support from national and medical research council, UWA and health grants resource and encouragement in the 1970s. Positions scientific and academic for research and teaching. Support diminishes during the 1980s and 1990s. John Dawkins’ policy. Memories of the John Dawkins era. Becoming a business and getting funds. Inheriting problematic situations. Bureaucratic demands of business models. Strengthening and weakening the departments. Department at the coal face of teaching drawing students to the department. Failing to hook talented graduates.
00:25:25 Aims of personal teaching. Concepts of disease – fine details. A paradigm of what disease is all about. Molecular biology. Evolution of disease. Formulating hypotheses. Past students experiment as practitioners. Advice. The social aspect of UWA academics. Cohesion disappears. Emails and achievements. Body language and communication.
00:31:15 Associate Professor. The devaluation of position today. Firing enthusiasm of medicine and science and research. Students seduced by money. Enthusiastic students. Research funding tougher to find. The Telethon Foundation, National Heart Foundation, Cancer Council that support. Committee and research funding.
00:36:40 Strategic partnership with industry and research training schemes. National resources and collaboration with other departments. Engineering. Anakusal. International people are attracted. Moshe Wolmen. Professor Spector, Willerby, Kakulas. Lazarides, Skellor. Impressed by the potential. Improving as a result of visits by the leading lights. Imaging unit fluorescent cell sorter.
00:42:42 Money and personnel is a constant problem. Development of technology. Physical sciences and biological sciences. Outbreak of SARS and discovery of other virus. Technical expertise lost. Costs of equipment.
00:45:11 Medical illustrations unit. Gem of the medical school. Harry Ubencis. Images produced for study and informative. Development of personal career. Chair in pathology. Resources and theoretical approaches to research. Eyes of Australia and molecular biology. John Mattick contributes to study. Molecular analysis of disease. Need physicists to be involved more.

Track 3
00:00:00 Internationalisation of UWA. Exchange students in Sun Yet Sen University in China. Chinese and Australia connections. Reputation of Australia and UWA. Reputation and the international standing. International standing international students. Alan Robson and Paul Johnson. Collaboration.
00:06:00 Imitate and emulate the better universities. The universe and Particle physics and modern biology. Biology at the forefront at University. Developments. Major discoveries and the last frontier. Understand the hard nuts of research. Marshall and Warren and the problems associated with contracts. The flexibility of failure. Examples of Nobel prize war and emigration.
00:10:14 Development of career – becoming head of department. Work and scientific aspects. Opportunity to experiment. Deputy Chairman of the Australian research centre of medical engineering. Detecting and killing brain tumours experimentation. Money and funding and support. Involved on committees. Experiences of the Lotteries Commission.
00:15:00 Academic committees and the current scholastic situation. Insight from the PhD committee. UWA PhD students compare favourably with world standards. Positive signs for the university. Improvements and catching up. W.A. will gain as will UWA. Maintaining a strong academic research focus. Bureaucratisation and positive directions. Administration and leading.
00:20:22 Personal involvements in community organisations. The St John Ambulance Brigade. Member of the ethics committee of the Coroner’s Court of WA. Teaching the community and learning from St John Ambulance Brigade. Tony Kierath. Hypocrates plane tree. Community’s response to UWA. People come to UWA festival. Culture and the arts.
00:23:12 Boorhave Research professor. The Perth group and the HIV sceptic group in Perth WA. Asking questions about HIV. Rethinking theories and strengthening approach. Going back to study Ancient History in UWA. Brian Bosworth, John Jory, Mervyn Austin. Insight into historians minds. John Melville Jones. Looking back and looking forward. Talent and resource and the Singapore University example. Excitement of University study and career. The history of Pathology in 50 units.



Papadimitriou, John, “John Papadimitriou interview, 8 February 2013,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,