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Gerard Crock

Gerard Crock

At the age of 34, Gerard Crock was appointed Australia’s first professor of ophthalmology, when the University of Melbourne established the Department of Ophthalmology at the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital in 1963. During his tenure, he introduced microsurgical techniques to the specialty of ophthalmology, invented ophthalmic instruments used around the world and carried out pioneering research.

Gerard graduated from the University of Melbourne medical school in 1953 and for the next ten years he undertook specialist training in ophthalmology in London and Baltimore. After his return to Melbourne to take up his professorial appointment, he specialised in retinal, corneal and glaucoma surgery.

At the same time Gerard was appointed Director of the Retina Unit at the Eye and Ear, a post he held until 1987. He established a registrar training program, and Melbourne soon became a leading centre for ophthalmology training in Australia.

The ophthalmoscope, an instrument used to examine the inside of the eye with a beam of light and a magnifying lens, was invented more than a decade before the Eye and Ear was founded. Over the years the ophthalmoscope gradually improved until 1965 when Gerard approached ophthalmic instrument designer, Don Schultz with a prototype of the world’s first spectacle-mounted, indirect ophthalmoscope.

Allowing surgeons to use an ophthalmoscope while keeping both hands free, the Schultz-Crock ophthalmoscope remained in production for the next 35 years and was sold around the world.

In 1972, Gerard and Don Schultz went on to develop an enhanced model of the ophthalmoscope, which incorporated Galilean telescopes to make retinal surgery easier.

Under the direction of Gerard, the Department of Ophthalmology carried out research into retinal angiography, an imaging technique used to detect damage to blood vessels at the back of the eye. He was a pioneer in this field, especially in the areas of stereo-photography, fluorescein angiography, cinematography and retinal laser photocoagulation.

Gerard’s research also embraced the field of microsurgery. One of Australia’s pioneering vascular microsurgeons, Bernard O’Brien introduced Gerard to the transplant properties of tendons in the leg that he went on to use in the treatment of complicated retinal detachment. And, in 1978, he and his team published a paper describing a new corneal cutting instrument they had developed over five years, which was used to transform the precision of corneal transplant surgery.

Despite running a busy ophthalmology practice and serving as Chairman of the Eye and Ear’s Senior Medical Staff from 1982–7, Gerard found time to share his knowledge and skills with the wider community.

He worked with Fred Hollows’ Indigenous Eye Care Program in Aboriginal communities and was the founding member of Project Orbis, in which experts from Australia and the US delivered training programs in China.

Closer to home, Gerard supported the new Department of Optometry, headed by Professor Barry Cole. Together they established the Low Vision Clinic for the Association for the Blind in 1972, which is now known as Vision Australia.

In 1985, Gerard’s enormous contributions to ophthalmology were recognised when he was made an officer of the Order of Australia (AO).