Australian Dictionary of Biography

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

Bedbrook, Sir George Montario (1921–1991)

by Philippa Martyr

This article was published online in 2014

George Montario Bedbrook (1921-1991), surgeon, was born on 8 November 1921 in Melbourne, twin son of English-born Arthur Ernest Bedbrook, gardener, and his wife Ethel Norah, née Prince. Arthur served as a driver in World War I and died in 1932 from a war-related illness. George attended Coburg State and University High schools before studying medicine at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1944). The recipient of two scholarships—the General (Paul) Pau scholarship for children of deceased soldiers, and the J. P. Ryan scholarship in surgery—he received further assistance under the Repatriation Commission’s educational scheme.

While still at university, on 8 October 1941 Bedbrook enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces. He served with the Melbourne University Rifles and in 1944 was promoted to honorary captain, Australian Army Medical Corps. Appointed as a surgeon lieutenant in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve on 20 November 1944, he was not mobilised and his service ended in November 1946.

On 22 February 1946 at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, Bedbrook had married Jessie Page, a trained nurse, with Church of England rites; they were to have five children. From 1946 he lectured in anatomy at the University of Melbourne. He was awarded an MS and became a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1950. It was during this period that Bedbrook decided on his future specialisation: ‘I knew then that I wanted to go into orthopaedics . . . I didn’t want to just be, you know, a cutting surgeon’ (Martyr 2009, 168). He travelled to Britain in 1950, becoming a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons (1951) and working for the National Health Service.

Bedbrook returned to Melbourne late in 1953, but could not find satisfactory employment. A Perth orthopaedic surgeon, Reginald McKellar Hall, invited Bedbrook to work with him for one hundred pounds per month, including sessions at Royal Perth Hospital (RPH), and Bedbrook accepted. In early 1954, while on rounds with a surgeon, Alec Dawkins, at the RPH, Bedbrook encountered a patient who had been left paraplegic at T-5 (breast level). Dawkins asked him what he knew about paraplegia. ‘Well, I don’t know much,’ Bedbrook replied, ‘but I know a bit more about it than most people round here.’ ‘Right,’ Dawkins said, ‘You look after them’ (Martyr 2009, 115).

In 1954 the RPH set up a paraplegic unit under Bedbrook’s control in its run-down infectious diseases branch at Shenton Park. Oswald Corr had already begun working with paralysed war veterans at the Repatriation General Hospital, Hollywood, Perth, but this was a new initiative: Bedbrook’s unit was the first in Australia to combine medical rehabilitation with vocational training for patients with spinal paraplegia, based on methods developed by (Sir) Ludwig Guttmann’s centre at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Britain.

By 1960 forty former patients had been placed in full employment through the unit’s associated programs, and staff had also helped to set up similar units at the Austin Hospital in Melbourne and at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. Guttmann visited Bedbrook’s unit in 1957 and suggested that five of its patients take part in the Paralympics at Stoke Mandeville the following year. In 1962 Bedbrook helped to organise Perth’s Paralympics, held in conjunction with the Commonwealth Games.

Bedbrook’s plan to create an independent rehabilitation hospital on the Shenton Park site caused ongoing conflict with the RPH, notably with Dr Alfred Burnford and a hospital administrator, Victor Driscoll. In March 1972 Bedbrook lost his neurology and rheumatology student rotation to the new Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, and he resigned as head of the department of paraplegia, but remained as senior surgeon. Some colleagues found him difficult to work with but McKeller Hall enjoyed their long personal and professional relationship.

From 1949 to 1991 Bedbrook authored or co-authored nearly seventy scholarly and professional journal articles. Appointed OBE in 1965, he was knighted in 1978. The International Medical Society for Paraplegia awarded him a medal in 1978, and he served as their president (1981-84). In 1981, the International Year of Disabled Persons, he again publicly supported moves to make the Shenton Park hospital independent. This led to his official retirement.

Sir George continued to work in private practice and published several textbooks on paraplegia, but his physical health was failing. Predeceased by his wife, he suffered a cerebrovascular accident and died on 6 October 1991 at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Nedlands, Perth. Over five hundred people attended his funeral at St George’s Anglican Cathedral. His twin brother, Rev. Canon Frederick Bedbrook, preached at the ceremony. Bedbrook Place, behind the RPH’s Shenton Park campus, was named after him. In 2011 Sir George was inducted into the Paralympic Hall of Fame.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Argus (Melbourne). ‘Medical Student Wins Pau Scholarship.’ 14 February 1941, 5
  • Argus (Melbourne). ‘Surgery Scholarships.’ 13 March 1944, 12
  • Argus (Melbourne). ‘Approaching Marriages.’ 23 February 1946, 12
  • Martyr, Phillipa. West of Subiaco: A History of the Shenton Park Campus. Perth: Department of Health, 2009
  • McPhee, Bruce. ‘Second Sir George Montario Bedbrook Oration – 1999: Some Milestones in the Life of George Bedbrook.’ New Zealand Journal of Surgery 73, no. 8 (2003): 650-59
  • National Archives of Australia. B884, V158069
  •  National Archives of Australia. A6769, Bedbrook, G. M.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Philippa Martyr, 'Bedbrook, Sir George Montario (1921–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bedbrook-sir-george-montario-14608/text25737, published online 2014, accessed online 16 November 2018.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018