To the Editor:
I would like to congratulate Edwards and Waisel1 on their excellent article about the failed experiment at 49 Mathoura Road and to comment on the editorial by Schwartz and Schroeder,2 which accompanies it. I cannot attest to Geoffrey Kaye’s character or to his affability, but there are other factors to be considered. Earlier in his career, Kaye had enough charisma to edit the first textbook on anesthesia in Australia. Published in 1932, this was a collaboration between seven physicians, with an interest in anesthesia, and one surgeon.3 It was an amazing achievement for the 29-yr-old Kaye. Equally admirable is his role in the founding of the Australian Society of Anaesthetists (ASA); he was one of the seven founding members, its first treasurer, and the person largely responsible for the organization in its fledgling years.
Unfortunately, the commencement of the war coincided with those early years of the ASA and brought the developments to a sudden halt. Kaye returned from the war re-energized and determined to make the ASA a success; 49 Mathoura Road was a part of his new vision for the organization. But time and geography were against him. Those who had returned fell into two groups: (1) those who discovered that too much had changed in their absence and felt their skills were insufficient to continue in anesthetic practice and (2) those who were just starting out and had families and careers to consider. Neither of these groups were in a position to contribute to Kaye’s experiment; it was simply too soon. Also, Australia was a young nation; very few people were engaged solely in the practice of anesthesia, and the population was spread thinly over enormous distances.
But probably Kaye’s most important error was to retain ownership of the building, and to a large extent, the project. Successful leaders know that to engage the team, you need to give them some ownership of your vision. Kaye invested his private wealth in the building; he lived there and provided the facilities, which he maintained. Australian anesthesia was in its adolescence in the 1950s. Kaye had no children, so he did not know how to deal with teenagers—on the cusp of adulthood but still happy to let someone else do everything for them if that person is foolish enough to offer. He gave them too much, foisted his own expectations on them, and, like a frustrated parent, ultimately threw them out of home. He failed to engage them at the outset, did not provide consequences early on, and, so when the rift came, it was irreparable. Maybe that is the real reason he failed as a leader in this project, and the important lesson of history provided by Edwards and Waisel is that good leaders need the same skills as good parents—setting clear boundaries, providing immediate consequences and rewards, but stepping back to allow others to make and learn from their mistakes.
The good news is that after the failure of 49 Mathoura Road, the museum collection was handed over to the Faculty of Anaesthetists at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. In September 2014, the now independent Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists opened a new learning facility at its headquarters in Melbourne. This facility includes a renovated library and study area for the Fellows of the College, but importantly, a newly developed display area for the Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History. This state-of-the-art museum stands with the wonderful Wood Library-Museum as an enduring legacy of both Geoffrey Kaye and Paul Wood.
Dr. Ball has been the honorary curator of the Geoffrey Kaye Museum of Anaesthetic History for 25 yr.