The late Georgia Blain, Dr James Muecke AM, and Prof George Murrell recognised as Distinguished Collegians

The late novelist Georgia Blain, the current Australian of the Year Dr James Muecke AM, and distinguished orthopaedic surgeon Professor George Murrell have been recognised by the College Board as Distinguished Collegians.

Since 2007, the College has from time to time recognised a small number of old Collegians of particular distinction (academic or non-academic) as Distinguished Collegians. Their names are recorded – along with Honorary Fellows, significant donors, and major College office-holders – on honour boards in the entry to Downer House.

Georgia Blain (1964-2016) was a celebrated novelist and one of the first women to attend the College in 1982. Already a prize-winning poet when she entered St Mark’s, Georgia went on to be, in the words of one writer, “acclaimed as a novelist, short story writer and essayist who transformed the everyday into works of extraordinary beauty and clarity”.

After completing her Arts degree at the University of Adelaide, Georgia finished her Law degree at the University of Sydney.  Working first as a journalist and then as a copyright lawyer (who continued to write on copyright issues for many years), in the mid-1990s she turned to writing full-time, and her award-winning debut novel, Closed for Winter, set in seaside Adelaide, appeared in 1998. Her several subsequent books include the novels Candelo (1999), The Blind Eye (2001), Names for Nothingness (2004), Too Close to Home (2011), and Between a Wolf and a Dog (2016), the young adult novels Darkwater (2010) and Special (2016), and the short story collection The Secret Lives of Men (2013). Her Births, Deaths and Marriages: True Tales (2008) was published as she undertook a PhD in creative writing at the University of Western Sydney, and she continued with other writing, including regular columns for The Saturday Paper as she battled against brain cancer in 2015-16.

Several of Georgia’s books were shortlisted for major literary awards, and Between a Wolf and a Dog was awarded the 2017 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction and the 2016 Queensland Literary Award for Fiction.  Closed for Winter was adapted for film in 2009, starring Natalie Imbruglia and filmed in Adelaide, and The Museum of Words: a memoir of language, writing, and mortality, was published posthumously in 2017.

On her death in December 2016, just days before the death of her mother, the journalist Anne Deveson, Georgia Blain was described by one obituarist as “one of Australia’s finest writers”. “There is”, the obituarist wrote, “no better way of remembering Georgia than reading her work.” Georgia Blain is remembered at St Mark’s with warm admiration, now officially as a Distinguished Collegian.

Dr James Muecke AM, who was a resident student at St Mark’s throughout his medical studies at the University of Adelaide (1982-87), was named Australian of the Year for 2020 in recognition of his outstanding leadership in blindness prevention.

While at St Mark’s, James secured brilliant academic results and was also a superb sportsman, representing the College in swimming, soccer, football, basketball, athletics, tennis, and volley ball, and serving as Sports Secretary in 1986 (amongst other leadership roles).

The official announcement of James’s award as Australian of the Year says:

“Since starting his medical career in Kenya, 56-year-old Dr James Muecke AM has been passionate about fighting blindness. His focus now is the leading cause of blindness in adults – type 2 diabetes – a spiralling epidemic that’s impacting nearly one-in-ten Australians. It’s the fastest growing cause of vision loss in Aboriginal people and the sixth-biggest killer in this country. James wants to challenge our perception of sugar and the impact it has in the development of type 2 diabetes.

“Previously, James co-founded Vision Myanmar at the South Australian Institute of Ophthalmology in 2000. The $1 million program has developed and operated eye health and blindness initiatives in Myanmar. Inspired by this program’s success, James also co-founded Sight For All, a social impact organisation aiming to create a world where everyone can see. With 80% of world blindness avoidable – and almost 90% in poor countries – James treats blindness as a human rights issue.”

In 2012, James was made a Member of the Order of Australia “for service to ophthalmic medicine, to the provision of eye health services and rehabilitation programs for Indigenous and South East Asian communities, and to professional organisations”.

St Mark’s has been delighted to be the venue for fundraising events for Sight for All, and has warmly congratulated James on his appointment as Australian of the Year – and now on his fitting recognition as a Distinguished Collegian.

For our news story about James’s appointment as Australian of the Year, including more details of his years in College, click here.

Professor George Murrell is a distinguished orthopaedic surgeon and Director of the Orthopaedic Research Institute at St George Hospital, Sydney, and Professor at the University of New South Wales.

George was a resident student at St Mark’s from 1978 to 1983 (except in 1981), and – as well as securing excellent academic results – was a champion athlete, served as Sports Secretary, and (amongst other awards) was awarded the Collegians Prize for most outstanding contribution to the College in only his second year in College.

The 1984 Rhodes Scholar for South Australia, George earned a Doctorate in Philosophy and university blues in athletics in Oxford, and was awarded the Royal College of Surgeons Arris and Gale medal. After a year in Cambridge teaching and rowing, he completed his orthopaedic training at Duke University in the United States. During a two-year fellowship in sports medicine, shoulder surgery and research at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, he gained a National Institutes of Health First Award, and an American Orthopaedic Association North American Travelling Fellowship.

George’s research has focused on the understanding, diagnosis, and management of disorders of the shoulder, and as a practising surgeon, he specialises in shoulder surgery and has a special interest in arthroscopic methods to repair and restore damaged ligaments and tendons.

George’s extensive work in orthopaedic research has been recognised with awards in a number of countries, and his co-authored volume on Research in Medicine, first published in 1990, is now in its third edition with Cambridge University Press. George serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, Shoulder and Elbow, and Techniques in Shoulder and Elbow Surgery. His team has won over 30 awards for their work and his fellowship program attracts surgeons from around the world.

George (who has been followed at St Mark’s in recent years by his son, Alexander) has described his five years at St Mark’s as “wonderful and special”, and the College is proud to recognise him as a Distinguished Collegian.

When the current pandemic recedes, an event will be held at the College to honour Georgia Blain, James Muecke AM, and George Murrell. Details will be advertised on the Events page of the website, and all will be welcome!

Photographs: The late Georgia Blain, Dr James Muecke AM, and Professor George Murrell