Jean Macnamara

Annie Jean Connor (1899-1968), medical scientist, was born on 1 April 1899 at Beechworth, Victoria, second daughter of Anne (born Fraser) and John Macnamara, clerk of courts. The family moved to Melbourne in 1907 where Jean attended the Presbyterian Ladies' College and the University of Melbourne, graduating MB BS in 1922. She became resident medical officer at the (Royal) Melbourne and the (Royal) Children's hospitals. Graduating MD in 1925, she next year became clinical assistant to the Children's outpatients' physician and entered private practice with a special emphasis on poliomyelitis. In 1925-31 she was consultant and medical officer responsible to the Poliomyelitis Committee of Victoria led by Dr John Dale and in 1930-31 honorary adviser on polio to three other States. In 1928-51 she was honorary medical officer to the Yooralla Hospital School for Crippled Children.

The 1925 polio epidemic prompted Dr Macnamara to test the use of immune serum in the treatment of patients at the pre-paralytic stage. Convinced of the value of the method, she published and defended her results in Australian and British journals in 1927-35. The therapy, difficult to administer properly, was damned by the discouraging findings of W. H. Park in New York, even though Jean was quick to pin- point vital weaknesses in his procedures. The efficacy of the treatment was in fact never disproved and although its general adoption was 'wrecked', she believed, 'on the rocks of carelessness' in America, she continued to use it privately. Her discovery, in collaboration with Macfarlane Burnet, of the existence of more than one strain of polio virus (reported in 1931 in the British Journal of Experimental Pathology) has, however, been acknowledged as an early step towards the development of the Salk vaccine.

In 1931-33 Dr Macnamara travelled in England and North America on a Rockefeller fellowship. Conflict with 'John Dale and his crew' over the development of immune serum therapy confirmed a resolve to concentrate on orthopaedics. Although research still appealed, and she worked part- time at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne in 1933-37 on serum and psittacosis, her special field remained conservative orthopaedics. While overseas she ordered Australia's first artificial respirator, and armed herself with new ideas for splinting and rehabilitation.

On 19 November 1934, at the Presbyterian Church, Gardenvale, Jean married Joseph Ivan Connor, a dermatologist. They had two daughters. Jean was appointed DBE in 1935. Moving from Collins St to larger premises at Spring St, she often worked through weekends and without fee. During the 1937-38 polio epidemic she supervised patient care at both the Children's and Fairfield hospitals. Her remarkable ability to inspire confidence in her patients, mostly children, filled her clinics with families prepared to wait hours for her attention.

Her method was to splint the paralysed part of the body until the damaged nerve had recovered and patiently re-educate the muscles. She spent much time with her splint-maker, devising ingenious re-straining devices. She organised a system of itinerant physiotherapists and almoners and a volunteer chauffeur service; in 1938 she established a clinic at Carlton where 30 children were treated daily. Dame Jean also conducted country clinics and administered the Arthur Marsden Whiting Sympathy Fund. She served on the Queensland royal commission which investigated Sister Elizabeth Kenny's (q.v.) treatment and supported the establishment of an experimental Kenny treatment centre at Brighton (Hampton). Her work extended to victims of lead poisoning and cerebral palsy and to healthy people with poor posture. The first centre for spastic children in Australia was opened on her recommendation at the Children's Hospital.

In 1933, learning of experiments at Princeton University to combat myxomatosis in rabbits, she thought of deploying myxomatosis to eradicate Australia's rabbits. When the virus sample she dispatched to Melbourne was destroyed, she elicited the support of S. M. Bruce in London and arranged that tests for the safety of domestic animals be carried out in Cambridge. In Australia the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research ran a series of field trials on rabbits between 1937 and 1944 but the virus failed to spread.

Convinced that the experiments had been abandoned prematurely, Dame Jean revived the cause in 1949, conducting a heated newspaper exchange with other scientists. She lobbied producers' organisations and secured the resumption of testing in 1950 in a more favourable location, initially without success. Then, by chance, the virus became epizootic. In 1952-53 'myxo' was reputed to have augmented the wool cheque by at least 30 million pounds - the 'conspicuous gadfly' had been vindicated. The woolgrowers gave her 800 pounds and a clock.

With her husband, who died in 1955, Jean had a hobby farm in the Romsey district. She belonged to the Compost Society and fought against indiscriminate use of pesticides. The University of Melbourne awarded her an honorary LLD in 1966. She continued to treat victims of paralysis until her death on 13 October 1968.

Ann G. Smith

D. Zwar The Dame 1984.