Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Arnott, Alwyn James (1899–1973)

by N. D. Martin

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Alwyn James Arnott (1899-1973), professor of dentistry, was born on 20 December 1899 at Paddington, Sydney, son of George Arnott, a bank clerk from Scotland, and his English-born wife Jane Annie, née Rounsevell. Educated at Fort Street Boys' High School, 'Gil' studied dentistry at the University of Sydney (B.D.Sc., 1922; D.D.Sc., 1929). With two other members of the dental undergraduates' society, in 1921 he set up the university's Dental Research Trust Fund.

On 2 January 1924 he married Adeline Agnes Sitz with Presbyterian forms in her father's house at Toowoomba, Queensland. That year Arnott became superintendent of the United Dental Hospital, Sydney. He played a central part in founding a research scholarship in 1932—funded jointly by the Australian Dental Association (New South Wales branch) and the Walter and Eliza Hall Trust—and in establishing a research laboratory at the hospital two years later.

In 1935 Arnott was appointed McCaughey professor of dentistry at the University of Sydney and was made dean of the faculty. Concerned at the inadequacies of the dental hospital, he went abroad that year with its chairman Sir Harry Moxham to study hospital design and teaching facilities. In 1939 a new, six-storey building was completed in Chalmers Street, Sydney, and the Institute of Dental Research was to be established at this hospital in 1946. Having been elected secretary (1928) of the newly constituted A.D.A. (New South Wales branch), Arnott did much to conciliate vigorous opponents of the amalgamation of the two pre-existing societies. He was president of the State branch of the A.D.A. in 1934 and federal vice-president in 1935-37.

In November 1939 Arnott was transferred from the Reserve of Officers to the Australian Army Medical Corps (Dental Service) with the rank of temporary major. Seconded to the Australian Imperial Force, on 25 June 1941 he embarked for England where he served as a facio-maxillary dentist. Returning to Sydney in April 1942, he was allotted in July to No.1 facio-maxillary and plastic surgery unit, 113th Australian General Hospital. In March 1944 he was appointed consulting dental surgeon with the rank of lieutenant colonel at Land Headquarters. Working with (Sir) Kenneth Starr, he made a distinguished contribution to the treatment of facial war-injuries. He was placed on the reserve in December 1945.

Reverting to his university posts of professor and dean, Arnott incorporated new knowledge and concepts into dental education and practice. Under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, enrolments in first-year dentistry increased from about fifty to three hundred. Arnott arranged further extensions to the dental hospital; he also began planning to double its size and to provide expanded, modern accommodation for the Institute of Dental Research. In 1947 he was the founding chairman of the postgraduate committee in dental service. He supported the proposal to introduce a graduate diploma in public-health dentistry and, with his faculty colleagues, convinced the university of the need for a full-time master of dentistry degree. In 1952 he was active in setting up a department of preventive dentistry in the hospital. As a fellow (1952-61) of the university senate, he succeeded in 1955 in gaining three associate chairs for his faculty. In June 1957 the recently completed dental hospital was opened by the premier J. J. Cahill.

Eloquent, determined and persuasive, Arnott was the A.D.A.'s representative on the National Health and Medical Research Council; he chaired its dental advisory committee which, in 1952, resolved that fluoride should be added to public water supplies. He was a member (1935-64) of the Dental Board of New South Wales and a foundation councillor of the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons. A recognized authority on oral surgery and pathology, he was a consultant to major hospitals and to the Royal Australian Navy. He also became a fellow of the American College of Dentists (1932) and of the International College of Dentists (1933), and a fellow in dental surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons, England (1948). In 1956 he won the Fairfax Reading prize for his service and contribution to dental science. Appointed C.B.E. in 1964, he retired that year from the university.

Essentially a family man, Arnott enjoyed spending more time with his children and grandchildren. He was a Freemason and belonged to the Australian Jockey Club. A sociable and generous host to his friends, he enjoyed bridge and, when younger, had played tennis and golf. He died on 5 January 1973 at Camperdown, Sydney, and was cremated; his wife, son and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. W. Halliday, A History of Dentistry in New South Wales 1788 to 1945, A. O. Watson ed (Syd, 1977)
  • University of Sydney, Gazette, June 1951
  • Australian Dental Association (New South Wales Branch), Newsletter, 30 Jan 1973
  • Australian Dental Journal, Feb 1973
  • Dental Outlook, no 37, Mar 1973
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 10 Oct 1934, 16 Apr 1940, 30 Dec 1950, 16 Mar 1964, 8 Jan 1973
  • private information.

Citation details

N. D. Martin, 'Arnott, Alwyn James (1899–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/arnott-alwyn-james-9387/text16493, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 16 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018