Expert on urinary tracts to eucalypts


ROBERT Zacharin, an eminent gynaecological surgeon with an international reputation, has died at an aged care facility at Highett. He was 87.

Zacharin, who was appointed senior consultant gynaecologist to The Alfred in 1985, worked with general surgeons on research and general surgical problems.

After years of careful dissections, he described the intricate anatomy of the female pubourethral ligament and an operation to cure urinary stress incontinence in women. He was the founder of urogynaecological surgery in Australia.

Zacharin variously served the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists as a member of council, vice-president and chairman of the board of management of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

His medical research and publications resulted in awards of the postgraduate degrees doctor of medicine, and master of obstetrics and gynaecology by Melbourne University.

His professional reputation led to overseas lectureships and memberships of the societies of both pelvic surgeons, and gynaecological surgeons in the United States.

With his wife, Tricia (nee Williamson), Zacharin made frequent visits to Ethiopia, where they worked with the doctors Reg and Catherine Hamlin at their Fistula Hospital, and were responsible for fund-raising for the hospital.

His book, Obstetric Fistula, was written after his experiences in Ethiopia. Other medical books he wrote were Stress Incontinence and Pelvic Floor Anatomy and the Surgery of Pulsion Enterocoele.

He was born in Melbourne, where his Russian father, who had arrived in Melbourne at the age of 15, developed a successful timber business. His mother, Sarah, was of Scottish descent his middle name, Fyfe, was her maiden name.

He attended Elwood State School, and then Wesley College, from where he matriculated. He was a champion gymnast at Wesley, where he formed many lifelong friendships.

Zacharin went on to medical school at Melbourne University, where he topped his final year with the exhibition in obstetrics and gynaecology, and shared the exhibition in surgery with Robert Marshall. The two men remained close friends, and were enthusiastic anatomists and surgical colleagues.

Zacharin completed his internship at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, where he met his future wife, Tricia, who was nursing at the hospital. They married in 1952.

At the RMH, Zacharin was mentored by the gynaecologist Leslie Gleadell, and went on to study in Britain where he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

When he returned to Melbourne, he entered private practice, as well as his Alfred Hospital work. And on the home front, his family grew with the arrival of Duppy, Jane, Will and Robert.

Zacharin and Tricia travelled extensively overseas, and he was intrigued by the presence of eucalypt trees in many other countries. With typical thoroughness he explored, photographed and researched how, when and why this Australian native tree reached foreign shores.

He wrote Emigrant Eucalyptus (Melbourne University Press, 1978), a book acclaimed by the public and botanists as a scientifically valuable work. It received a C. J. Dennis literary award.

In retirement, for more than 20 years he and Tricia grew proteas and other flowers commercially on 1.6 hectares of their much larger property at Cape Schanck, where they also raised cattle. Zacharin also enjoyed skiing in Australia and overseas tennis, squash and other summer holiday sports. He also nurtured a wide circle of friends and enjoyed sharing "simple things", such as a Chinese meal, with them.

His was an extraordinary life, and his medical and other achievements will long be remembered, as well as his great sense of humour.

Zacharin was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for "services to obstetrics and gynaecology and to the health and welfare of women in developing countries".

He is survived by his wife, Tricia, four children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Dr Keith Layton and Professor Norman Beischer, AO, were friends and colleagues of Robert Zacharin.

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