John Newnham interview, 16 October 2012

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John Newnham interview, 16 October 2012




A graduate of UWA in 1976, John Newnham was appointed Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (Maternal Foetal Medicine) and Head of the School of Women’s and Infants’ Health of UWA, and remains in that position. In 2008 he was appointed as Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences of The University of Western Australia. In 1989, he was initiator and principal investigator of a major cohort study of 2,900 Western Australian children followed from 16 weeks gestation to adulthood, designed to investigate the developmental origins of health and disease. This Study, known as the Raine Study, is the largest and most complete of its type in the world. The children in the study are now 20 to 22 years of age and retention remains at nearly 70%. He heads the Australian arm of a major international research collaboration investigating novel methods of enhancing foetal maturation and preventing preterm birth; these collaborative studies are now in their 22nd year and have contributed to world-wide changes in clinical practice. He discusses the University of Western Australia and its reputation on a global scale and outlines his career in the field of obstetrics.


Newnham, 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 Newnham


Perth, W.A.


Interview 1: 52 minutes, 51 seconds
Interview 2:48 minutes, 1 second
Interview 3: 39 minutes, 4 seconds
Total: 2 hours, 19 minutes, 56 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Track 1
00:00:00 Introduction. John Phillipps Newnham was born in St John’s Subiaco in 1952. Background information. Father was a General Practitioner. Delivered by the head nun and surviving obstetrics. Father William Arthur Newnham was a big influence. Father went to Perth Modern School and UWA. Wishes to serve in WWII. Father is thrown out of the army. Father works day and night and instils an interest in a career in medicine.
00:06:13 The road to UWA. Memories of schooling at Christchurch and going to University. The quota hurdle for 2nd year was vicious. Competitive experience and getting into second year. The brightest guy in WA. Dom Spagnolo is now a pathologist at Sir Charles Gairdner. People hide books at the library. The pressures of studying. Unfortunate policy of quota system.
00:11:27 Not as engaged at UWA as students today. The importance of University. Arrival at university was an anxious experience. Passive recipient of information. Arriving at Royal Perth Hospital. Life begins. Clinicians are the heroes. Memories of the University experience. Regretting not being able to get involved at the University as a student.
00:16:05 Further thoughts of University. Wanting to get to the hospitals. Interests in foetal medicine and advice received. Cut when you are young, talk when you are old.
00:20:30 Memories of Hugh Callaher. Development of career, Royal Perth and Stan Reid at King Edward. Proactive recruiting. Advice given. Basic training and going overseas. Defined by where you are sent. America and Tom McCarthy Australia’s first specialist. Wanting to go to Africa.
00:25:18 Zulu Hospital in Edendale. Cyril van Hildren. Going to England and fellowship in California. Life’s work foetal medicine, caring for sick women. Memories of South Africa. Child dies first night on call. Challenges experienced. Cord prolapsed experience. John Miller.
00:35:32 Life-changing experiences. No talk about the new-born baby. The spiritual aspect of the job of obstetrics. Gold Medal from the Royal College of Obstetricians in London. Studying hard and achievements.
00:40:40 Research at UCLA. Working on sheep. Sport science meetings. Camaraderie, challenge, excitement of getting new data. Interaction, interdepartmental collaboration. Catheterised sheep. Los Angeles. Coming back to Perth to do more sheep work. Murdoch and sheep work. Agriculture and sheep foetus. Ultrasound. Sheerer help with ultrasound work on pregnant sheep. Alan Joe. Taking over the market in sheep research.

Track 2
00:00:00 The Raine Study. The development of ultrasound. The wave sound and measure of placenta function. Funding from the MRC. Improving outcomes of childbirth. The Raine Foundation. Origins of disease in humans. Fiona Stanley has a future in the field.
00:06:00 Further memories of the Raine Study. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren. Tracing health and disease over a long period. DOHAD.
00:11:00 Internationalisation of UWA, Alan Robson, progress. Successful in isolation in 1984. Memories of parliamentary enquiry and interview panel. Cohort study in isolation. Medical sheep research. Success of Raine and sheep study.
00:16:40 Isolation and success. Benign dictatorship and the Alan Robson show. Support of Alan and thoughts of internationalisation. The story of China. The Confucius Institute. Learning Chinese. Experience of visiting China and giving lecture, giving a speech in Chinese. The Chinese were impressed.
00:24:23 Doing ward round in Kungming and Beijing. Chinese and pre-term birth. Rates of pre-term birth. Nanjing and work on 2.9% Chinese preterm death. Westernisation of Chinese women increases as a result of modernisation. Honorary Professor of Obstetrics Nanjing, Adjunct Professor Peking University. Thanks for the University of WA.
00:29:30 Reputation of UWA in 1981. Memories of Louis Landau. Early life studies. Memories of Fiona Stanley and Neville Stanley. Neville Stanley microbiology.
00:34:00 1999 story of construction of sheep research facility on campus UWA Perth, Shenton Park bush. Animal ethics community and no sheds. Costs of construction. Surgical training on sheep and laparoscopic work. Combining funds and the surgical training at the cricket nets. Great success story of sheep and surgical study.
00:40:35 Head of School of Woman’s Health. School reviews and best international standard. Formula for recruiting people. Tailoring jobs for the individual. The Department’s achievements and research foundation. King Edward Memorial Hospital Research Fund.
00:45:23 Competition with Fiona Stanley. Costing and recruiting KEMHRF. Volunteer and profit for research and building up the department. Research foundation, The University Department and building the School.

Track 3
00:00:00 Gordon King – first Dean of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Stanley Prescott and Gordon King. Gordon King’s wartime story. Escape north from Hong Kong, continued teaching Chongqing. Training recognised by Britain. Hong Kong restored medical system. Justice Kennedy. Gordon King scholarship.
00:07:19 Memories of Professor John Martin. Origins and Con Michael. Standing in the footsteps of Gordon King. Internationalisation. David Barker hypothesis and research. DOHAD. Dean Steven Schwartz. Chronic adult disease and the Raine Study. International Council for the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease. 5th World Congress 2007 at UWA.
00:16:06 Midwives become sub-dean. Mark McKenna and Sandra Carr. Midwifery want to be independent. UWA and the community. Notre Dame and UWA teaching and research. Value of university. Comparisons between UWA and Notre Dame. Marketing. Research and teaching. Somerville Auditorium. Community perceptions.
00:22:30 International reputation has grown. International students add to the university. Good promotion of UWA. Curtin and Murdoch improving. WA in the top 20% worldwide. Future research changing over time. Predictions for life before birth. Epigenetic signatures leave messages over thousands of years. Tiny glimpse and price of doing genome. Early development studies. Future health developments in genetic knowledge.
00:30:17 Technology benefits and detriment. Human life experience. The team and the University as a whole. Breaking down the barriers. Conferences. More memories of Stan Reid. Ultrasound pioneer. Stan Reid and Alan Bond and the America’s Cup. Looking at old diggers from World War One as motivation. Understudy for the dean. Born lucky. Final words.



Newnham, John, “John Newnham interview, 16 October 2012,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,