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HomemifeatureReflecting on Half a Century at The University of Melbourne

Reflecting on Half a Century at The University of Melbourne

Class of 1975

While the year of festivities organised by The University of Melbourne proudly celebrates the half century milestone, the origins of optometry training offered by the institution actually stretch back further.

In 1941, The University of Melbourne offered subjects for the then Licentiate of Optometric Science (LOSc) course. This became a degree course from 1961. However, it was only in 1973 that a dedicated optometry department – the Department of Optometry – was created. In the mid-1990s, the name expanded to the Department of Optometry and Vision Sciences (DOVS) to better reflect its strong research culture.


Over this period, the Department shifted its home several times. Originally co-located off-campus within the then Victorian College of Optometry (now the Australian College of Optometry), it spent several years in the Alice Hoy building, in the centre of campus. Today, DOVS is part of the largest biomedical precinct in the southern hemisphere – the University’s Biomedical Precinct in Berkley St, Carlton.

Similarly, the Department’s home within the University’s academic structure has also changed, moving from the Faculty of Science to the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry, and Health Sciences. Assoc Prof Anderson said the shift allowed DOVS to “collaborate even more closely with professional partners within the health care system and increase our opportunities for inter-professional teaching for our Optometry Doctorate (OD) degree”.

“It has been wonderful to see photographs of the various graduating classes over the year, and to hear their reflections on the things that stood out during their times at The University of Melbourne”


One focus of the celebrations has been the Department’s #50yearsin50weeks social media campaign.

Primarily rolled out over Facebook and X (Twitter), campaign posts have highlighted a different graduating class each week, starting with the Class of 1973, as well as research highlights.

“It has been wonderful to see photographs of the various graduating classes over the year, and to hear their reflections on the things that stood out during their times at The University of Melbourne,” Assoc Prof Anderson said.

“Among the themes of friendship and camaraderie, a common item of reflection was the lecture in which Dr David Cockburn OAM – a highly respected optometrist alumnus who taught into the ocular disease component of the course for several generations – would suddenly drop to the floor, only to then rise before the startled students to announce that was what they would expect to see if one of their patients suffered a ‘drop attack’, such as might occur in vertebrobasilar insufficiency.”

Assoc Prof Anderson said there were actually fewer graduating classes than the Department’s 50 years, reflecting the fact that there were no graduates in 2005, when the undergraduate course transitioned from a four to five-year program.

“The additional year was added to accommodate the increased therapeutic prescribing content required to allow students to have therapeutic endorsement immediately upon graduation.

“Another large change was the shifting of optometry from an undergraduate degree to a postgraduate Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree, similar to that offered within North America,” he said.

The first graduates from the OD course appeared in 2014.


Over the past 50 years, DOVS has trained many hundreds of optometrists. It has also continued to strengthen its contribution to research, by addressing research questions important to optometry, as well as through training the next generation of optometric researchers and educators through its Master of Optometry and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs.

“In our ‘50 Years in 50 Weeks’ campaign, we’ve also been celebrating the achievements of our graduate researchers,” Assoc Prof Andrews said.

Graduate Researchers undertake research studies, typically through a Master of Optometry, a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) or PhD program.

“Our Graduate Researchers are in many ways the backbone of research within the Department; undertaking research to advance the optometric profession and science more broadly and developing the skills to become the next generation of researchers and academics.”

He said there has been a huge diversity of research areas explored over the years: from basic science investigations on how the eye and visual system develop and function, through applied questions about the visibility of road signs and the impact of colour vision deficiencies, through to explorations of the fundamental mechanisms driving the development of myopia and various eye diseases and how the insights from such explorations can be translated into clinical practice.


For several years, DOVS has been running a regular lecture series for alumni. This year the lectures, under the theme of ‘Seeing Beyond’ have focussed on the Golden Jubilee.

In March, the first lecture featured distinguished alumni Helen Robbins, Associate Professors Mitchell Anjou AM and Mark Roth OAM, and Dr Carol Lakkis.

They shared insights into the tight historical relationship between the Victorian College of Optometry and DOVS, the achieving of various therapeutic milestones such as the gaining of therapeutic prescribing rights for optometry, and the worldwide impact of the Department’s research program over the years.

The July ‘Seeing Beyond’ lecture was a more forward-looking session entitled ‘A Vision to the Future’ with the Department’s Professor Bang Bui outlining how the Department’s research shapes questions relating to the eye but also how it impacts areas well beyond the eye. Associate Professors Anthea Cochrane and Michael Pianta spoke about the future of optometric education, and Optometry Australia Chief Executive Officer Skye Cappuccio spoke about her vision for Australian optometry’s future.


The feature event for the year was the Golden Anniversary Gala Dinner, held in September. The evening featured short talks from two previous Heads of Departments – Professor Algis Vingrys and Professor Allison McKendrick – and current Head, Associate Professor Andrew Metha. “A bit like A Christmas Carol, with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future,” joked Assoc Prof Andrews.

Assoc Prof Metha was himself a graduate of the Class of ’89, one of the first to join the Bachelor of Science in Optometry program at the University of Melbourne as a postgraduate following an undergraduate degree. Described as “part of the furniture” ever since joining DOVS as a lecturer in 2000, he said at the gala that he was “excited by (the) longevity” of DOVS “as we tread – gingerly, bravely, and proudly – into the future”. Assoc Prof Metha paid tribute in his speech to the original Head and founder of the Department, the late Emeritus Professor Barry Cole AO.

“It was Barry, alongside other luminaries of the time… who insisted that for optometry to grow as a profession and retain relevance, it had to evolve according to the best scientific evidence available – that it had to contribute to the gathering, curating, and useful dissemination of that scientific evidence. This is what we now call ‘deep and positive impact’. Evidence-based practice really is ‘baked into’ our deep history,” Assoc Prof Metha said.

He said that deep history both grounded the Department and provided a guide to its future.

“We continue to do all these amazing things – research, service, teach – breaking new ground along the way… I applaud our researchers, who are right there at the forefront of discovery.

“Together with the constant and tireless support of professional staff who keep the Department going, our teaching specialists in lectures, pracs, preclinic, and the clinic, are continually improving the way we engage with students, and interact with patients and other professions, to re-shape healthcare delivery in Australia. And of course, our clinician partners in optometry practices all over Australia generously take in our students and guide them on their journey. You are all wonderful,” Assoc Prof Metha said.

“It has been an amazing past 50 years, and I’m sure we have the right ingredients and momentum to keep making a difference, in a positive way.

“We had a very tight-knit year, and many colleagues from the University have remained my dearest friends. I have wonderful memories of lectures in the Amies Theatre at the ACO, chicken and champagne breakfasts on the very scary roundabout next to the cemetery, and many, many, many afternoons at the Clyde Hotel after lectures! Many of us were fortunate to travel for our externships in our final year, and I had an amazing experience on the Phelophepa Red Cross train in South Africa… our cohort spread far and wide after graduation, and is doing amazing things.”

– Associate Professor Lauren Ayton, Centre for Eye Research Australia, Class of 2004.




“There are lots of great memories from our university years – mad dashes across campus to get from Pharmacology to the clinic at the VCO, hours of playing 500 in the student room, Eye Balls, champagne breakfasts, trivia nights, and a very eventful whole class trip to the Sola factory in Adelaide. A few of us still treasure our Sola rulers as mementos.”

– Susan Kelly, Optometry Council of Australia and New Zealand, Class of 2000.




“I have numerous happy memories of my time studying optometry. Now that I am a ‘mid-career’ optometrist, it strangely feels like just the other day, but also a lifetime ago. “I remember Algis Vingrys wandering around a lecture theatre with a long stick (used for illustrating key points on his slides, but also to nudge a student if they fell asleep), and a contact lens lecture sitting on the grass at South Lawn with Allison McKendrick because ‘it was a nice day to go outside’… our time at Uni allowed us to learn all the skills necessary to be optometrists, and along the journey we made life-long friendships, which I treasure.”

– Tim Martin, The University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Eyecare Clinic, Class of 2007.






“We were lucky – the class of 1993. Yes, our first year came with the introduction of mandatory university fees, but did that mean that we were a little more eager and earnest than the groups that came before us? Maybe? “Yes, this was 1993, the year optometry nearly lost Medicare in the federal budget – the profession faxed so many letters of protest to the treasurer that year that their faxes jammed! Yes, it worked, it was 1993, and that was how you protested back then – we helped! “I remember the hours of pracs and lectures, and those exams! But what really stays with me are the hours of fun we had… it was a great group to learn with.”

– Clare Campitelli, Vision on Koorong by Daniel and Clare, Class of 1993.



“In 2001 we were an intimate cohort of around 30 students. Our days were long and the amount of study seemed to never end. Yet, my memories are full of all the fun times we had between lectures and practicals. “Interestingly, in our Year Book, I am quoted saying, ‘I won’t be an optometrist in 10 years’: I got that wrong! Our Year Book is full of nostalgia and funny quotes that I’ll have to keep private among the Class of 2001. Fun times…”

– Theo Charalambous, Optometry Australia, Class of 2001.