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Hill, Arthur Machen (1903–1979)

by Hilery Belton

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Arthur Machen Hill (1903-1979), gynaecologist and obstetrician, was born on 22 October 1903 at Castlemaine, Victoria, third child of Arthur Machen Hill, medical practitioner, and his wife Emily Maude, née Johnson, both Victorian born. Arthur was educated at Castlemaine South State and Castlemaine High schools, Wesley College and the University of Melbourne (B.M., B.S., 1927; M.D., 1931). After graduating he worked as a resident medical officer (1927-32) at the Alfred, (Royal) Children's and (Royal) Women's hospitals, completed a diploma of gynaecology and obstetrics (1933), and became a lecturer and examiner in those subjects at the university.

Hill was superintendent (1933-35) of the Women's Hospital. There he began his research on post-abortion gas gangrene septicaemia cases, often the result of unsterile termination of pregnancies by unqualified abortionists. Working with the microbiologist Hildred Butler, he established the nature and types of Clostridium welchii abortional infections, and developed expertise in diagnosing the severity of the infection and the best application of treatment—hysterectomy surgery or drug therapy. He continued to collaborate with Butler on haemolytic streptococcal infections that followed childbirth.

In 1935 Hill travelled to England and became a member (fellow 1945) of the (Royal) College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Next year he was made a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh, and the British Medical Association awarded him the Katherine Bishop Harman prize in obstetrics for his clinical study, 'Post Abortal and Puerperal Gas Gangrene, a report of 30 cases', published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the British Empire (1936). He returned to Melbourne and to the Women's as honorary gynaecological and obstetrical surgeon in 1938.

Appointed flight lieutenant, Medical Branch Reserve, in February 1942, Hill was a part-time consultant with the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II. On 23 October 1951 at the office of the government statist, Melbourne, he married Helen (Ilona) Semark, née Krames, a Hungarian-born divorcee. In 1951-63 he was senior gynaecological surgeon to in-patients at the R.W.H. With Kevin McCaul and Graham Godfrey, he demonstrated the acceptability of the Wertheim operation as treatment of uterine cervical cancer. As a lecturer he was notoriously unpunctual: once, having missed an 11 a.m. lecture, he arrived at 1 o'clock next morning and summoned the students to the labour ward in their pyjamas. Such aberrations were forgiven because he was 'a superb lecturer when he did come'.

Regarded as 'a legend in his own lifetime' and as something of an eccentric, 'Bung' Hill was 'impeccably dressed, with an alert and twinkling eye, a soft voice and a pervasive personality'. It has been suggested that his nickname derived from his childhood when he called out 'bung, bung' while playing with a popgun. One of his many qualities was his great understanding of human nature. His recreations were his family, tennis, listening to classical music, and reading medical, historical, biographical and viticultural literature. He was a dab hand at composing poetry for speeches and birthdays. In April 1953 he displayed his talents as raconteur by delivering a notable speech on the aims and principles of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' Australian regional council at the Arthur Wilson Memorial Foundation fund-raising dinner. A bon vivant and a connoisseur of wine, he was granted membership (1964) of the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, France. He also belonged to the Viticultural Society of Victoria.

When he retired from the R.W.H. in 1963, Hill was appointed honorary consulting surgeon. Colleagues maintained that his exacting standards had influenced the quality of medicine and the tone and manner of medical life in Melbourne. On his election as fellow of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons in 1974, he was described as 'an outstanding figure' who had published at least thirty papers of merit. The subjects of his articles were diverse, ranging from pelvic lymphadenectomy, through intra-uterine contraceptive device to post-menopausal bleeding. In 1976 Hill was appointed O.B.E. Survived by his wife, daughter and son, he died on 20 January 1979 at Mount Eliza and was buried in St Kilda cemetery. A sculpture of his hands, cast by Alan Martin, is held by the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Hewat, The Florey (Syd, 1990)
  • Royal Women's Hospital (Melbourne), Bulletin, 12, no 1, Feb 1979
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 14 July 1979
  • Age (Melbourne), 23, 25 Jan 1979.

Citation details

Hilery Belton, 'Hill, Arthur Machen (1903–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hill-arthur-machen-10501/text18633, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 14 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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