Victor Martin Trikojus 1902-1985

Written by J.W. Legge and F. Gibson.


With Trikojus' death in Melbourne on 27 January 1985, Australia lost another of the powerful figures who helped shape the structures of our science since the 1940s. Those fortunate enough to have been associated with him in a professional or personal capacity will remember him always with respect, a worthy opponent in debate yet equally generous whatever the outcome. To those in trouble he gave support and warmth of friendship beyond his usual reserve. He was, above all, a man of his times, reflecting its mores and enjoying its distinctions with conviction and modesty. Few of those who served under him would have wished to exchange him for any of the other departmental heads they saw about them, however irritating they may have found him from time to time.

Early years

Trikojus was born in Darlinghurst, Sydney, on 5 February 1902. His father, August Martin Trikojus, was born in 1857 in Tilsit, East Prussia and now part of the Soviet Union; his mother, Charlotte Josephine (née Thompson), was born in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, in 1880. His youth is best described in his own words, which we quote from a short account that – under considerable pressure – he agreed to dictate several years before his death:

My father died in August 1911, leaving my mother with three children, two boys and a girl, and limited funds. We continued his hairdressing business for some 2-3 years at 150 William Street, then moved to 10 Campbell Street, Milson's Point, an area now occupied by the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Here we ran a small guest house. I managed to supplement the income by odd jobs during school vacations and from the age of 12 to 16 I [ran] a newspaper stall at the old Milson's Point railway station, after school and at weekends, for the New South Wales Bookstall Company.

The loyalty and responsibility that Trikojus displayed throughout his life were thus evident quite early.

He owed his formal education to the State system, his primary schooling at the Darlinghurst Public School continuing at the William Street Public School and, after the move to the North Shore, at the Milson's Point Public School. His secondary education was received at the Sydney Technical High School, where he spent five years assisted by a special bursary from the New South Wales Department of Education. This school had been founded by the department in 1912 as 'a new adventure in technical furnish courses which would fit its trainees for the technical age to come...The teachers were culled from amongst the best in New South Wales...'.

'Trik' – as he was referred to, except on formal occasions, by most of his friends, by his colleagues and by his adult family – became head prefect and dux of what would certainly be regarded now as an elite school. He was in the first XV rugby union team and a member of the rowing eight. On occasion he spoke with gratitude about one or two of his teachers – now unfortunately nameless – and stated:

I have nothing but affection for this school...Here I learned (apart from Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, History and English), woodwork, metalwork and mechanical drawing – each for two years. The classics were not taught but French or German was compulsory. I took German.

He made good use of the practical skills in competing with the architects in the design of the new building he was later to occupy.

On leaving school, Trikojus spent three months in the Accounts Branch of the Department of Agriculture, and then, on receipt of a bursary, was able to take up a university course. By now the family circumstances had become somewhat easier, his mother having remarried; but just as he had kept on his newspaper stall for the first two years of his secondary schooling, he managed to supplement his bursary and the scholarships awarded him during his honours course by finding vacation work which returned a little more than £2 per week over four years.


Trik's university career was much as would be expected from a brilliant and all-round student. At this time Sydney was as strong in chemistry, particularly organic chemistry, as Melbourne was in physics and physical chemistry. He appears to have been attracted to chemistry by 'the brilliant lectures of Professor John Read, FRS' and then to organic chemistry by James Kenner, who succeeded Read at this time, as well as by the opportunity of working for a short time with H.G. Smith, no doubt on the essential oils of some Australian species. (It is of interest that he was awarded the H.G. Smith Memorial Medal by the Royal Australian Chemical Institute in 1945.) It is hard to judge now whether his later interest in plants and gardening started at home, or was stimulated by his studies of elementary botany at the university or by his early contact with a notable product chemist.

The interest in extra-curricular activities which Trik showed at school continued at the university. He was active in the Science Association, served on the Undergraduate Committee – comparable to our present S.R.C.s – and organised the first rowing eight for the Science Faculty, as well as the collection of 'sufficient funds mainly from staff members to purchase a set of oars for our crew'. It is likely that performances such as these, when added to his academic excellence, led to the suggestion from some of his fellow students that he might enter as a candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship. He chose otherwise and applied for an 1851 Exhibition science research scholarship, which was awarded him in 1925.

On Kenner's advice, Trik decided to study at Oxford under Professor William Henry Perkin, Jun., 'who, unfortunately, was no longer the outstanding inspiration he had been in his earlier years'. The younger Perkin had been appointed to the chair in 1913. He had worked for four years with Adolph von Baeyer and is believed to have introduced some of the latter's traditions at Oxford. Judging from Trik's DPhil thesis, 'The Introduction of the Methylenedioxy Group and of Similar Groups into the Aromatic Nucleus' (1927), one of these was to parcel out fragments of larger problems, in this case the starting point of one of the routes to an alkaloid synthesis, to his students. Trik also recalled his contacts with W.N. Haworth – later to effect the total synthesis of ascorbic acid – and with N.V. Sidgwick, one of the last of the great general chemists.

Trik's laboratory work did not stop him keeping in touch with other Australians at Oxford, or from rowing in the Queen's College eight. In 1927 he was awarded a third year of his '1851' and, again on Professor Kenner's advice, chose to spend the next nine months at the Laboratorium des Staates in Munich. The laboratory had been originally designed and occupied by Adolph von Baeyer after he had succeeded Liebig, and was now directed by Heinrich Wieland. Trik recalled that

I began work in a large laboratory with some twenty other postdoctoral fellows, my own bench space being some 5 ft x 2 ft 6 in., with a my neighbour. For the latter part of my stay in Munich I was privileged to work in Wieland's private laboratory, originally that of von Baeyer and connected by a covered way to the professorial residence. The scientific atmosphere was at that time excellent. Willstatter (the previous occupant of the chair) was still there although...closeted in his Ferment-laboratorium. Hans Fischer with his work on porphyrins headed the Organic Chemistry School of the Technische Hochschule. Sommerfeld was Professor of Physics and Fajans was the Head of Physical Chemistry. All of these, as well as Wieland, became Nobel Laureates. The seminars held once a week in the Horsall attracted well over a hundred senior chemists, including postdoctoral fellows. There were many visitors from other parts of Germany at the seminars and here I heard, for example, Debye, Haber, Meyer of macromolecular fame and many others.

The organic chemist

Chance now played a role in Trik's career. Kenner had left Sydney for the chair at the College of Technology at Manchester and had invited his younger protege to spend a period with him on organic chemical research on the completion of his term as 1851 Exhibition Scholar. Trik wrote: 'If I had accepted, perhaps I may never have returned to Australia but my mother became ill at the time and I felt obliged to return in the latter part of 1928, fortunately to a vacant position as Lecturer in the Department of Organic Chemistry at my old University'. His sister (Mrs Jean Hind), who was a child at the time, vividly recalled the family excitement generated by his return. In a recent letter (1985) she throws some light on an important side of his life which was rarely, if ever, revealed to his later associates:

After his years in Europe he found Australia, Australians and his own family, much as he loved them, very insular and as soon as he could he found his own flat at Kings Cross. He then joined the German Club and the Russian Club and soon had a wide selection of cosmopolitan friends. Soon he met Lisuscha Engels [a vivacious Russian emigrée] whom he married in 1932. Poor old mother found much in his new life style of which she did not approve but Vic's filial ties to his family remained and mother, dad and I were always included if Vic and a crowd of friends rented a cottage at Avalon, Dee Why and such places for a long weekend or a vacation.

After Vic and Lisuscha married they continued to live at Kings Cross and appeared to enjoy a good social life but as in most marriages there was much adjustment needed on both sides...

Trik remained in the Chemistry Department until 1932, when he took up a lectureship in medical organic chemistry in the Department of Medicine, then headed by Professor C.G. Lambie. The Department was now housed in the handsome 'New Medical School' built from funds provided by the Rockefeller Foundation. Trik was responsible for the chemical laboratories but maintained his connection with his old department by continuing to lecture on organic chemistry to the first and second year students in Medicine and Science. As he had no responsibility for the student practical work he was able to concentrate on developing a research programme in his new department.

Up to this point his interests might be described as those of the classical natural product chemist, namely the elucidation of the structures of hitherto unexplored compounds, with occasional diversions into the improvement of synthetic methods. He had now some nine papers to his credit. Most – perhaps reflecting his first research association with H.G. Smith – were on compounds found in Australian flora; a number were in collaboration with D.E. White, who later identified the oestrogens in some species of subterranean clover and thus explained infertility observed in ewes in certain regions of Western Australia. The only indication that Trik was then interested in the biological applications of his chemical skills appeared after he had joined the Department of Medicine when he published a review in the Proceedings of the Australian Chemical Institute on 'Some Synthetic and Natural Anti-Termitic Substances' .

The first sign of a significant shift in direction appeared about four years after his new appointment with a paper written with Professor Lambie on the preparation of the thyrotropic hormone in bovine pituitaries. This was the start of a long series of investigations that was to occupy much of his research time, as well as to introduce many younger workers to the compulsions of research disciplines.

In 1936, Trikojus was granted sabbatical leave, which he chose to spend with Professor A. Loeser at the Pharmakologisches Institut of the University of Freiburg im Breisgau. Several joint papers appeared on the effects of the thyrotropic hormone: its assay in blood, studies on methods for its isolation from this tissue and one on its effects on the ascorbic acid content of the adrenals and liver (a study to which he returned at intervals after his return to Australia). The period was also one in which his first papers relating the structure of thyroxine to its actions appeared. The ethers of thyroxine, diiodothyronine and diiodotyrosine were prepared and assayed, as was the activity of thyroxamine. By the canons of the time, these experiments were among the necessary first steps towards entry to the metabolic processes influenced by the hormone. Trik had been accompanied by Lisuscha on this visit to Europe and their stay in Germany was saddened by the loss of their first child from a respiratory infection.

On completion of the experimental work in Freiburg they went to London, where Trik spent some months with Professor Jack Drummond at University College. This gave him the opportunity of extending his contacts with endocrinologists, as well as getting to know one of the great figures in British nutrition. While in London he isolated carotene from a wood oil. A further opportunity to extend his experience came with a request from the Sydney University Cancer Research Committee to inquire into biochemical tests purported to be useful for the early diagnosis of cancer. This involved visits to several of the important schools of cancer research on the Continent and in Britain and, after his report had been circulated, to an invitation from the director of the new laboratories of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund at Mill Hill to spend 1940 there in a collaborative research into the possible relationships between hormones and cancer. The plan received the full support of both his department and the university but the outbreak of war caused its cancellation.

The travellers returned to Australia in 1937 at a time of mounting international tension. The rebel forces were making advances in Spain; Austria was to be incorporated in Greater Germany early in 1938. These events were not without influence in the scientific community. A number of distinguished physiologists and biochemists who had become persona non grata in Germany or Austria found their way to Australia and provided a welcome stimulus to medical research (1). As well, many of the 1851 Exhibition Scholars and others who had managed to gain overseas experience in the 1930s had returned with a deeper appreciation of the social responsibilities of the scientist, and at the 1939 ANZAAS conference – visited by H.G. Wells – made the first moves towards the foundation of an Australian Association of Scientific Workers, along the lines of the British society which had influenced them while overseas. The local body gained significant support in several States and during the decade of its existence initiated a number of activities which have left some mark. So far as Trik was concerned, the most important of these was the Drugs Subcommittee.

The approach of war

Few scientists at that time would have been unaware of the tense international situation. Those with a chemical training that included elements of history would certainly have been aware of the problems which German pre-eminence in the chemical industry had presented to the allied powers in the First World War. The first meeting of the Drugs Subcommittee took place within a month of the outbreak of war and considered the problems which might face Australia. By February 1940 the Association's subcommittees were considering the supply of essential drugs, the raw materials needed in industry and the possibility of producing these locally.

One move was the preparation, publication and distribution of 1200 copies of a list of generic names of drugs. This was not sufficient to soften the official Canberra attitude towards the other proposals of the Subcommittee and Adrien Albert, its chairman, recalled that the Minister had been advised by the Defence Department's Medical Equipment Control Committee that drugs should be continued to be imported for 'as long as the sea-lanes from Europe and America remained open' rather than putting any further strain on the underdeveloped local organic chemical industry (2). Attempts to get Federal support for the experimental work failed but, fortunately, the University of Sydney came to the rescue with grants to provide the senior workers with research assistants.

With one or two exceptions, the direction of practically all the investigations was left in Trik's hands. He coordinated the work on eleven different types of pharmaceuticals in scarce or problematical supply in four different laboratories. Some were brought from the information present in a raw patent to a stage where the process could confidently be handed over to industry; in other cases immediate shortages were met by Herculean continuation of pilot-scale preparations until factory production could be arranged from intermediates available in Australia. In one case an improved process was handed over to industry without consideration of royalties. In the three and a half years of operation Trik was assisted in this work by a succession of nine chemists, some seconded from industry or from State departments. Four were women. He recalled later that the most difficult of the investigations was that of the development of ascorbic acid synthesis to the stage where it could be handed over to the Colonial Sugar Refinery Pty. Ltd. for factory production. The most onerous was probably that involved in meeting the emergency demand for sulphaguanidine for the treatment of dysentery during a critical stage of the New Guinea campaign in 1942, when 45 kg of the drug were prepared in the large-scale laboratory in the Medical School. This occasion seems to have been the only one that brought Trik any personal gain. On his occupancy of the chair of biochemistry at Melbourne, he brought with him an 18-litre stainless steel beaker, often in demand in the large-scale laboratory. He sometimes referred to it as the memorial to the sulphaguanidine synthesis.

In January 1941, Trikojus was suddenly arrested. A conversation one of us (J.W.L.) had with his solicitor on the following day indicated that Trik had no clear notion of the reasons for this action. At a preliminary hearing, he was unable to satisfy the investigating body of his loyalty and was forthwith interned.

Members of the Australian Association of Scientific Workers as well as those of the Drugs Subcommittee were staggered and perplexed by this action and immediately took all steps within their power to secure a proper examination of the 'case' and, if possible, Trik's immediate release. Trik had certainly worked in Germany in the '20s, had joined both the German and the Russian Clubs, and had returned to research in Germany in the '30s. His comments on his return from Germany in 1937 (Age, 22 June 1937), while hardly as fulsome as those made at the time by the Attorney General, R.G. Menzies, were certainly sympathetic enough or, perhaps, naive enough to explain the view which emerged in some circles at the time that he favoured the Nazi regime. He was reported as being 'greatly impressed by the regeneration that Hitler has wrought in the nation', and further that 'any Jews who are useful to the Nazis are kept in their positions'. However, few knew that a number of members of Lisuscha's family were still living in Germany, and he may simply have been careful to avoid making any remarks that might conceivably affect them.

The views attributed to him were, of course, representative of much opinion of the time, by no means all of it conservative, but three years later he was chiefly concerned that the Allies were underestimating the support that he believed Hitler was receiving from the German people. But neither this opinion, nor those he had expressed three years earlier, seemed adequate to explain the government's action. The episode was not one that he was willing to discuss, but it is worth noting that thereafter he always lent a sympathetic ear to the plight of others where there was any suggestion that their security of employment might be at risk from procedures which appeared to skirt the canons of natural justice. There were several such occasions during the period of the cold war.

During Trikojus' enforced absence from the work on which he had been engaged he managed, in some way, to continue to advise on it. In the meantime the pressure which his colleagues and friends had built up, together, no doubt, with normal review procedures, resulted in his case being reconsidered. After thirteen weeks he was released, apparently no longer considered a danger to the war effort. In view of the trust soon to be placed on the man and the various missions he was asked to undertake, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that in this period the authorities acted first and considered the matter at their leisure. Trik was thus able to return to what must have been a full-time occupation on top of his lecturing load, as well as to his family who had loyally supported him during his internment. By early 1943, the efforts of Professor Eric Ashby (director of the newly-founded Scientific Liaison Bureau), of officials of the New South Wales Branch of the Australian Association of Scientific Workers, and of members of the Drugs Subcommittee, had at last led to a situation where the work described above received sufficient official and industrial support for the band of chemists to relinquish their emergency, pilot-scale efforts and to return to earlier stages in research into the drug supply. In the meantime, the supply routes from overseas were now sufficiently reliable for the import of drugs to be resumed.

With the war moving in the Allies' favour and the immediate pressure removed, Trik was able to give some thought to his own future and that of his family. At this point the chair in biochemistry at the University of Melbourne was advertised. Emphasis was placed on the chemical rather than the physiological or clinical attainments of applicants, and there would have been few with credentials as apt as those of Victor M. Trikojus. He was appointed, the youngest of the three full professors then to be found in biochemistry departments in Australia, in the wake of a predecessor, W.J. Young, who together with Harden had helped, forty years earlier, to transform chemical physiology into the new discipline of biochemistry. His own interests were a portent of a further specialisation, that into endocrinology.

Unlike the situation during the First World War, the University of Melbourne maintained a liberal tradition during the second and was able to discount Trik's internment as a bureaucratic aberration, particularly when offset by his tireless efforts on the behalf of the Drugs Subcommittee.

The professor of biochemistry

Trik had never experienced the difficulties of running a department and came to one in 1943 which was under considerable pressure. The medical course had been shortened from 6 to 5 years and the full-time teaching staff (one lecturer and two senior demonstrators), all of whom happened to be women appointed by Young during his incumbency, were running the department and dealing with the truncated courses as best they could. They were left with little time for research after coping with the teaching and the administration.

The new professor had no assistants to continue his research while he was becoming familiar with the many duties of his position. Nor was he entirely comfortable with the way in which some of his views were questioned by the full-time staff members who had managed during the interregnum. The only male members of the academic staff were two part-time appointees who demonstrated to the clinical sections of the medical classes, namely Dr L.A.I. Maxwell, a distinguished physician, and Dr A.B. Corkill, Director of the Baker Institute. Maxwell was a wise and gentle man and his book, Clinical Biochemistry, went through many editions. He had completed degrees in both agricultural science and science before he had commenced the study of medicine. He was one of the few at the time whose judgements about clinical teaching and other questions were accepted by Trik and there is no doubt that he was of great help to the new incumbent of the chair. In 1958, the largest teaching laboratory in the new Russell Grimwade School of Biochemistry (v.i.) was named the 'Maxwell Laboratory'.

As soon as he had been able to assess the situation, Trik threw himself into the task of rectifying what he saw to be the deficiencies of his new establishment. In a succinct memorandum he set out the class sizes and the areas available for teaching, for class preparation, for the balance room and for the professor, lecturer and demonstrators. The total came to 600m² (excluding a shared lecture threatre and a laboratory equipped with the classical belt-driven kymographs, shared with physiology students) to serve about 360 students, spread over the week. The medical students, who made up the majority, had to be divided into three groups, exchanging with the other preclinical departments and attending on different days. Bench space was crowded, plaster and calcimine occasionally fell from the ceiling and the primitive sinks were readily blocked and more than once flooded the Medical Laboratory situated beneath. Lectures and practical courses – initiated by Professor Osborne in physiology and continued in biochemistry – were carried out in a small unheated room in which some of the animals were housed.

The immediate requests were for more space and equipment, particularly for research, and for an increase in staff by advertising a new senior lectureship and for a lecturer in Food Analysis and Nutrition, while keeping all the old positions on the establishment. So far as the staffing was concerned, Trik drew attention to the fact that the position at Melbourne compared unfavourably with that in other universities, including Sydney, and he was empowered to take the necessary steps for the new appointments. One was filled from within the department while other positions were filled by appointees from outside, primarily on the basis of proven research capacity.

The question of increased accommodation was not solved immediately. The new Chemistry School had been completed some years earlier and a good part of the area vacated – including the large first-year laboratory – taken over by the anthropologist Dr Donald Thomson for the storage of a vast accumulation of aboriginal artefacts which he had brought back from his travels in Arnhem Land. By the time Trik was appointed the first steps to constrict Thomson's museum had been taken by 'force majeure', in that space had been allocated to a unit established by the Ministry of Munitions to carry out research into the physiological aspects of chemical warfare. Trik was finally able to generate enough pressure to further compress Thomson's collection into a distant corner of the old Chemistry School, and by 1949 most of his staff had moved into the building bordering Tin Alley and were in possession of a suitable laboratory for third-year studies. These moves soured official relationships between Anthropology and Biochemistry for a period. There is, however, an interesting sequel showing that neither Trik nor Thomson allowed such personal difficulties to stand in the way of principle. Thomson was offered a useful grant with certain strings attached which he felt placed improper restrictions on his academic freedom. Sir Robert Menzies was Chancellor at this time (1967-72) and, with Trik's support, Thomson explained to him that he was unable to accept the grant. So persuasive were the arguments that the Chancellor managed to arrange for Thomson's support without the offending restrictions. Thereafter, the Chancellor and Trik held each other in great respect.

A little more than a year after taking up the chair, Trik's many initiatives, and probably also his earlier efforts in assisting the local manufacture of drugs, brought a welcome bonus. Late in 1944, W. Russell Grimwade, a director of the important Victorian firm of manufacturing chemists, Felton, Grimwade and Duerdins Pty. Ltd., who had recently served as the University's Deputy-Chancellor (1941-43), made it a handsome gift. This was accepted as contributing towards the cost of a new building for the Department of Biochemistry. There was already a bequest in the coffers from Nicholas Pty. Ltd., which had resulted from the efforts of Professor Osborne to establish proper courses in nutrition and dietetics in the University. Trik's dream of a newly housed, modem department thus came closer to realisation.

A short period of leave in 1946-47 enabled Trik to visit laboratories in the United States and England, inspecting their design and enlarging his circle of friends, all as addenda to membership of one of the technical missions to post-war Germany on behalf of the Commonwealth Government. His fellow members were Dr J.A. Broben and Dr J.J. Graydon of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, their task being the investigation of the 'Preparation of Biological Products in Selected Targets in Germany'. Trik's command of the German language was invaluable.

Architect and builder

It was at this time that the fascination of building took hold, only to be frustrated by circumstances beyond the control of any professor of biochemistry. Student intake was swelled by many entrants supported by the Commonwealth Reconstruction and Training Scheme.

Trik was not the only departmental head who wanted a new building to cope with the unexpected post-war expansion of their discipline. But the lifting of war-time restrictions on building now led to competition for materials and the beginnings of an inflation that was to erode the value of investments. Further Commonwealth money had to be sought, but this was in short supply. The Chifley Government had finalised payment of the residual Lend-Lease debt and as well as facing the cost of post-war reconstruction was deeply committed to the growing demands of the Australian National University.

A further, and unexpected, delay then emerged in the shape of the new professor of architecture, Brian Lewis, who persuaded the administration that the University needed a grand plan for its future building programme. Such a plan was not finally achieved until 1970, but the original notion led to the scrapping of the first set of plans of the new Biochemistry building. By the time a site had been agreed on and new plans considered, inflation had further eroded the original funds.

The result of these frustrations was not wholly bad. Few laboratories have been designed and redesigned so many times, or subjected to so much criticism by its potential users. Little of this criticism was accepted by the arch-designer, who spent seemingly endless hours, day and night, annotating the architects' dyelines and meticulously drafting his own amendments. The most serious consequence of the delays was that the building had to be constructed in two stages, so increasing the final cost and further postponing the time when the staff would all be under the same roof.

The basement and first floor were occupied in 1958 and the remainder in 1961. The many long years that Trik lovingly spent on the plans – on top of his activities in other directions – have stood up well to user trials by more than twenty thousand undergraduates and hundreds of postgraduates.

Years after his predecessor, earlier associates, the Department' s benefactors and those who had participated in the official opening of the building had been appropriately recognised, Trik's turn came. It was an unforgettable occasion, and perhaps his last public appearance, when, surrounded by well-wishers, staff and many ex-members of the department, he spoke after witnessing the naming of the large lecture theatre in a building to which he had devoted so many design-hours, and in which he had shared his knowledge with so many, as the 'V.M. Trikojus Theatre'.

The teacher

As noted earlier, Trikojus' own formative years were in the period when biochemistry was in the long process of separating from physiology. Teich (3) places the commencement of this in Germany in 1879, during the controversy between Pfluger and Hoppe-Seyler over the latter's foundation of the Zeitschrift für Physiologische Chemie. The contending factions might be broadly described as, on the one hand, those whose initial training was chemical and for whom the living world offered a set of fascinating and unresolved structures; and on the other, those whose initial training was in medicine or one of the other sciences concerned with organisms and for whom chemistry or physics offered little more than useful techniques for the study of their functioning. The decade before Trik was appointed to the Melbourne chair was one in which the seminal studies underlying the structure of the present discipline were being appreciated: the formation and function of adenosine triphosphate, rediscovery of ribose nucleic acid in animal cells and recognition of its probable role, Astbury's 'piled coin' model for deoxyribonucleic acid structure, low-resolution X-ray analysis of haemoglobin, the process of transamination, the elucidation of the tricarboxylic acid cycle, and, finally, the demonstration of the biosynthesis of starch and glycogen.

If Trik was not familiar with the details of some of these advances when he started lecturing in Melbourne, it was not long before he picked them up: the traditional introduction to amino acid biochemistry via their organic synthesis soon shrank in significance. His early appointments showed the wide range of interest which was apparent throughout his chairmanship. That of W.A. Rawlinson brought a man who had worked with H.F. Holden and Alfred Gottschalk, equally familiar with the intricacies of haemoglobin biochemistry and the Pasteur effect in yeast, a skilled instrumentalist commanding magneto-chemistry and spectroscopy, and with uncanny ability to crystallise proteins. The arrival of J.W.H. Lugg brought a master of amino acid analysis, whose data for the composition of leaf proteins, obtained in the mid-'30s, was only equalled by modern methods in the early '60s. These accessions balanced, to some extent, the losses of some experienced teachers.

We are fortunate in finding a record of the impression made by Trik, five years after his appointment, in the memories of one of his early students:

Biochemistry II was under the guidance of a man who was in the process of becoming one of the most significant influences on the development of Biochemistry in Australia, Victor M. Trikojus...I shall never forget our first lecture. We were a tiny class of eight students studying what was called Advanced Biochemistry. We sat at the appointed time in the small Physiology theatre near the entrance to the old Medical School on Swanston Street. A tall, spare man with a very long, pristine, white laboratory coat and long fingers with beautifully manicured filbert finger-nails came through the door and commenced to lecture us on the chemistry of nitrogen in biochemistry. We hadn't the faintest idea who he was, but knew he must be very important. When he left, we swapped notes and determined to find out his name. We found that out alright, but not much more. It took years to know Trik; he was one of the last great God-Professors (4).

Possessed of such a presence, his lectures were never disturbed by the paper dart and rarely by late arrivals.

In the earliest years of his incumbency, Trik felt obliged to accept a heavy lecturing load although, in retrospect, his occasional reference to two hundred or more lectures per year may have been a trifle exaggerated. If he took in a folder of notes, it was generally left unopened on the rostrum. Later, when staff and student numbers had increased, he allowed himself to be gracefully elbowed out of a number of topics and to retire to a more civilised lecture load. By this time he had accumulated a collection of critically important reprints. These were used to refresh his enviably retentive memory and were generally topped up by his weekly reading. Those who sought his company between 8 and 9 a.m. will remember the pile of journals he was going through: ticking each inconspicuously, noting those articles he wished to secure as reprints and occasionally making a note for his colleagues or for his current lectures.

Trik was never frightened of accepting responsibility and his qualities were recognised by his professorial peers who lost no opportunity in making use of them. So far as the department was concerned, his total command over the thyroid and much of the rest of the endocrine literature, coupled with his awesome capacity in debate, tended to isolate him from any broader discussion on these subjects with those in the department with other interests.

In the earlier years he added to his burdens by insisting on the correction of drafts of all the papers which emerged from the department. Of necessity, this surveillance was later relaxed. Once a lecturer was appointed – after considerable discussion with his senior colleagues – it was rare for there to be any interference with the style of lecturing or the way in which agreed topics were to be dealt with.

There is little doubt that Trik looked towards a future department which would be recognised more for its research productivity than for the excellence of its undergraduate teaching. The enormous effort he put into the new building was matched by his wish that research would never lack adequate equipment and sufficient technical help. In the earlier days he was secretive about the sources of departmental funds. They were generally disposed in an equitable fashion, although never without a hint of magnanimity. New equipment was generously shared and megalomania checked. As the department grew and some of the senior workers managed to secure separate funding for their own projects, the purchase of major items became open to more general discussion. This was usually amicable, although a good deal of heat was generated over the disposal of the income available for the running of practical classes.

The Professor had never been greatly interested in the practical classes, particularly in the more elementary ones. He was, however, aware of the importance of his senior classes as fields from which research talent could be harvested. He had therefore developed a habit of diverting some fraction of the income derived from the second-year teaching to supplement the needs of the smaller, more advanced classes as well as those of the graduate students.

Opposition to such decisions gradually grew, no doubt fuelled by the knowledge that the Physiology Department had replaced their classical smoked kymographs by electronic equipment, as well as by the recognition of the need to give even elementary students some hands-on experience of the practices behind the theories given in the lectures as well as an introduction to the fascination of more advanced studies. In the end, questions of equity proved to be decisive – a tribute to the democratic tradition of the University and its acceptance in the Department – and relative justice was done. The junior classes began to receive their share of new equipment.

The fate of nutrition teaching

The practical value of a broad knowledge of nutrition became apparent in two world wars. Trik was well aware of this, having spent a short period with Drummond – one of the principal advisors to the British government in both – as well as having himself directed the work which brought ascorbic acid synthesis to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in order to help the Australian Forces in the second.

It is all the more surprising, therefore, that Trik proved less than enthusiastic about the fraction of nutrition teaching that he had inherited on taking office. By the time sufficient funding had been accumulated for a start to be made on the new Biochemistry building, inflation and the delays referred to above had eroded the funding for nutrition to the point where it could command no more than one-tenth or less of the floor space: this it shared with the animal accommodation and sufficed for the lecturer's office and adjoining laboratory as well as a student laboratory where some small-scale experiments in food preparation could be carried out.

This can only have been a disappointment to those engaged in giving dietetic and nutritional advice to the public and in the more specialised hospital area and who had, some years earlier, succeeded in getting the Victorian Parliament to enact legislation setting up a board to register those capable of giving appropriate advice. In this they had been supported throughout by Osborne's efforts, which will no doubt receive fuller recognition in histories of nutrition and dietetics teaching which are in preparation.

Problems then arose in academia about the appropriate teaching in the Science Faculty. Some were anxious to support specialised teaching for nutritionists and dieticians throughout the course while others believed that a rigorous introduction to fundamental science must be given priority. Trik, like others for whom academic rigour held no fears, was unhesitating in his support for the latter. When the initial post-war intake of students to the course slackened it passed to the control of a newly established faculty, that of Applied Science. In view of Trik's later support in the Australian Academy of Science for its Science and Industry Forum, it is perhaps surprising that he showed little enthusiasm for the new Faculty. He lost whatever interest he had in the teachings of dieticians, and as the intake further slackened in competition with other courses, it was abandoned. Trik never relinquished the position of a Lecturer in Nutrition on the department's establishment,and he encouraged postgraduate work, but any specific contribution the department was making to the training of dieticians came to an end.


Trik brought to the Department the unwavering belief that its stature would ultimately be judged by the contribution it made to research. Teaching, about which he rarely expressed an opinion, could presumably come naturally to a staff selected for research potential.

The Department enjoyed membership in a number of faculties (Agricultural Science, Applied Science, Dental Science, Medicine, Science and Veterinary Science). It was, therefore, not difficult for him to seek funding from a variety of sources, particularly as he had no wish to head an enterprise devoted to a single goal set by its leader. His efforts to get adequate support for individuals were often pursued to the detriment of his own research efforts. On occasion he shared some of the support due to his position, or ostensibly gained for his own projects, with other workers.

Trik's contribution to his major area of interest, namely thyroid research, is likely to have been the resultant of the usual mixture, with chance and one's perception of one's own capabilities governing the choice of the major field. Continuation of his work on drug chemistry would have perhaps been his choice if the chair were one associated with medical chemistry and its pharmacological connections; but the continuation of his thyroid research was an appropriate one. He had been initiated into a number of the appropriate skills; it was also a subject with results which could contribute to the lessening of human suffering, and the Department would be recognised by the student population as being concerned with this. As well, the field presented many scientific challenges and was of some clinical importance, a factor which might engender interest among medical students as well as offer access to a significant source of research funding, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (ANHMRC).

A number of the themes that occupied Trikojus for most of the time he spent in office were touched on in the George Adlington Syme Oration that he gave to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 1944. After speaking of the way in which knowledge of the processes behind the functioning of the thyroid gland had led to applications in medical practice, he went on: 'Biologist, clinician, microanalyst, chemist and, latterly, the atomic physicists have all become attracted by the mysteries of iodine metabolism, and it is probable that only through such combinations of specialised interests will the aetiologies of thyroid dysfunction become clarified'.

This review had the virtue of giving some insight into Trik's plans in the period when, besides reorganising his department and planning for a new building as well as arranging for its financing, he was envisaging experiments that would test these plans and attracting associates who would help carry them out. As might be expected, his approaches to the baffling problems presented by aberrant thyroid function were in the first place chemical: as Hopkins had predicted, decades earlier, the analytical data would prove decisive in the solution to many medical problems. At that time the Department housed, in the person of J.W.H. Lugg, one of the great amino acid analysts of the period. The new technique of paper chromatography had just been developed and was immediately recognised as a method of virtually unbounded power, simplicity and economy – perhaps an indication that it belonged to the string-and-sealing wax era in Great Britain. Finally, most of the Melbourne graduates had received, from the Chemistry School's Gustav Ampt, one of the best introductions to classical analytical chemistry available anywhere.

The new work undertaken in Trik's first decade in office started with approaches to the isolation, separation, identification and quantitative analysis of thyroxine and its precursors and products. This was essential for the improvement of diagnostic procedures as well as for any more detailed research into the formation of the hormone, controls over its production and the way in which both of these were influenced in naturally disordered states and after various of the conventional treatments had commenced.

Several reports dealt with the artefactual errors to be avoided in these analyses. One of his research associates, Dora Winikoff, was encouraged to move from the field of nutrition to that of organically bound iodine. Until methods of greater sensitivity and specificity were developed, she was one of the central figures in determining the concentration of the thyroid hormones bound to the carrier proteins in plasma for the clinical endocrinologists .

Another report described observations made with F.J.R. Hird – who was later to succeed him in the chair – in which they suggested that an unknown spot on a chromatogram of iodo-amino acids might well be tri-iodothyronine. This was the first time this compound had been observed, and had they carried out an appropriate bio-assay they would have been able to announce its greater potency as a hormone. Unfortunately, they trusted the figure for the biological activity for the mixture that they had received from the donor. The finding was drawn personally to the attention of other workers who later reported the discovery of tri-iodothyronine, but was overlooked in their announcement.

This period also saw the start of what was to become the major interest of Trik and his close colleagues. This was the nature of the protease that split thyroxine and the iodotyrosines from the parent thyroglobulin. As usually prepared from fresh glands, thyroglobulin could be shown to be associated with some proteolytic activity. Careful attention to the conditions under which thyroglobulin was usually prepared showed that fractions enriched with the enzyme and correspondingly impoverished in iodoprotein could be isolated, making it unlikely that the capacity to liberate thyroxine was a property of the major protein of the colloid moiety of the gland. This was supported by the finding that glycerol extracts of the gland with one-eighth of the iodine content could be shown to be ten times as active in splitting the peptide bonds in the protein used. The protease certainly liberated thyroxine from labelled thyroglobulin, had an acid pH optimum, and was resistant to inactivation by trypsin. Nor was it activated by preparations of thyrotrophic hormone, a number of metal ions or sulphydryl compounds.

These observations were the start of a long and painstaking series of researches into the proteolytic activity associated with the biologically functional protein of the gland. As fast as new methods for protein purification were published, they were tried: only to meet with the further barrier that other enzymes, or at least further enzymic activities, were identified and carefully examined. In passing, it should be recalled that these activities gave Trik an opportunity to exhibit his old skills in organic synthesis, as in the preparation of five cysteinyl peptides. In this phase of his work, as in that associated with the investigation of goitrogenic substances in Australian pastures, it was a pleasure to see him enjoying the challenge of crystallising some intractable derivative.

By 1957 his group was convinced that there were two carboxypeptidases active at pH 3.5 present in the thyroid gland, as well as a protease. Significant changes in the activity of some of these enzymes were observed in extracts from the glands of animals treated with the thyroid stimulating hormone or, alternatively, with 2-thiouracil, an agent which inhibited thyroid activity. At this point they were giving much thought to the relations between the enzymic activities they were observing and the functioning of the gland in various states. Some investigations had been directed towards the fate of the trophic hormones responsible for the central control of their target organs. The group then compared the effects of the proteolytic enzymes they had been isolating from the thyroid gland, as well as found by similar methods in the adrenal gland, on the trophic hormones which had been shown to stimulate each gland. In both cases the latter hormones were shown to retain their activity after incubation with the acid proteinases deriving from their respective target glands. It was unlikely, therefore, that the function of the thyroid proteases or peptidases was connected with the inactivation of the trophic hormones.

Further work helped to delineate the specificity of the cysteinyltyrosinase and demonstrated that its activity was lost after dialysis in the presence of a zinc chelator and partly restored if zinc ions were present. However, the enzyme was unable to liberate any iodo-amino acids or iodo-thyronines from labelled rat thyroglobulin, unlike the acid protease they had obtained. The specificity of the latter enzyme was then further examined using the A and B chains of oxidised insulin as substrates and determining the points of cleavage by end-group analyses. It was shown to resemble the acid proteases present in lung, spleen and adrenal glands at pH 3.5 but at pH 5.3 unable to cleave the oxidised A chain. This was, perhaps, a disappointing finding as it suggested that the protease might be associated with some more general function than the liberation of the active hormone. The thyroid group, by this time experienced in such studies with proteolytic enzymes, then moved on to investigate the intracellular distribution of the latter in pig and rat thyroids. As they had suspected, their results pointed strongly to a lysosomal compartmentation of their two peptidases and the acid proteinase. However, by this time, a careful and well-advised study of pig thyroglobulin structure by end-group analysis which Trik had carried out in 1963-64 failed to confirm earlier reports that di-iodotyrosine and thyroxine were demonstrable at the N-termini of the chains by the method they had used, and found instead aspartyl, asparaginyl and glycyl residues as first on the rank. The ratios approximated to 2 moles of (Asp + Asn) to 1 mole of Gly per mole thyroglobulin of 650,000 Daltons. This finding made it likely that a number of residues had to be removed before the active hormones were released from the parent protein. Taken in conjunction with the difficulties the group had experienced in separating proteases from thyroglobulin and the evidence that the acid protease was distributed as were lysosomes, it confirmed their views as to the complicated nature of the processes involved in the secretion of the hormone.

Passing reference has been made earlier to Trik's work on goitrogens in Australian pasture plants. It was, perhaps, disappointing that no new and potent agent could be so isolated, but as a consolation they observed that an unexpected rearrangement took place when the aglycone of one of the goitrogenic thioglucosides, gluxocheirolin which had been isolated from the Queensland turnip weed, Rapistrum rugosum, was incubated in rumen fluid. The researches were profitable in showing the need for epidemiological inferences to be checked by careful laboratory studies.

By this time Trik was becoming much more heavily involved in the committee work which falls to the senior academic, both within the University and outside it. This took much of his attention and as the time for retirement from the chair approached, the direction of the work on the thyroid gland fell to other capable hands that he had helped to train. Apart from one report on work in which he participated in one of the laboratories to which he was invited during his retirement, he now remained in touch with work from his old laboratory only as a critic and contributor to the occasional conference paper.

It is unlikely that there are many scientists who have not looked back on their own past performance and made some judgement on the missed opportunity or the odd success. The more outgoing are quite willing to discuss this at morning tea. While Trik may have discussed his strategies with his closest associates or with friends such as Pehr Edman, who spent some years at St. Vincent's Hospital, his conclusions were never made public within the Department.

We are left with some unanswered questions. How far did Trik anticipate the difficulties that emerged at each step in his researches on the thyroid? Many of the problems addressed remain unresolved almost two decades after he left the field. The complicated nature and possible heterogeneity of the complex carbohydrate groups attached to thyroglobulin was still being unravelled two years before his death. This fact would have compounded the difficulties accompanying the purification procedures which the group used for their key protein. There is no evidence that methods of the highest resolving power, such as the variants of gel electrophoresis, were used to check the homogeneity of thyroglobulin or the various proteases and peptidases used to attack it, although at times there were members of staff who were skilled in the appropriate methods.

The adviser

The fact that Trikojus' department was concerned with nutrition teaching led to his service on the Food Standards Committee of the State of Victoria from his appointment in 1943. He also served on the Commonwealth Nutrition Committee and the Commonwealth Food Additives Committee. In 1946 he was one of the members of the Natural Sciences Section of the Australian Advisory Committee of UNESCO and was chairman for several years. He also spent seven years as a member of the Medical Research Advisory Committee of the ANHMRC, some of it during the period of construction of his new building. No sooner had he served his turn on some of these committees – or perhaps become tired of them – than he found others wanting him. He was never a passive committee member; his quick mind generally enabled him to digest the previous minutes and to make up his mind on issues to come before any meeting he was attending.

In some of these activities his involvement was quite disinterested, in others he had his own axe to grind. This was never a personal one but perhaps related to the possibility of uncorking a new avenue of funding for some project or for preparing the ground for a position to which a member of staff or one of the doctoral students might consider applying. The same comment could well apply to his visits as an external examiner to universities in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Trik was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in the year of its establishment. He served on the National Committee for Biochemistry, was its chairman for some time, and was later elected to the Council of the International Union of Biochemistry. He was one of those who supported the initiation of the Academy's Science and Industry Forum. Trik almost invariably either encouraged or turned a blind eye to the extra-territorial activities of his staff or graduate students. The closest of these were their associations with members of the Physiology Department and a number of researchers benefited from their collaboration. This was never impaired by the occasional shadow-sparring between Trikojus and the professor of physiology, R.D. Wright, over some minor issues. Both were powerful figures in the University, but in spite of their differences in character, they shared a common love for its wellbeing and a considerable respect for each other.

Fruitful associations were maintained with many other University departments as well as with laboratories outside it. One of the earliest of these was with the group of scientists engaged in CSIR's Biochemistry Unit of the Division of Applied Chemistry, headed by Dr F.G. Lennox. It was then situated in quarters in Flinders Lane, as cramped as and far more dangerous than those in the Biochemistry Department. It was later to become the CSIRO's Division of Protein Chemistry with headquarters in Parkville. Staff from the Biochemistry Department began by joining CSIRO staff in informal seminars: the Biochemistry Group of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute emerged from these, to melt into the Australian Biochemical Society which Trik helped to found. He was later to become one of its first Honorary Members.

By the early 1960s, with his new building and its occupants well established, Trik took up more university responsibilities. In 1963 he became the first professorial Dean of Graduate Studies. This must have satisfied in some way his deep commitment to the encouragement of research, for he spent a second year in the post during which he no doubt mastered the minutiae of research funding with the same facility that he showed with any new challenge. By this time the Federal government had digested the recommendations of the 1957 Murray Report into the Australian universities. Methods for funding tertiary education were radically revised, in particular, that feeding into research. Trik was selected to be one of the foundation members of the Australian Resarch Grants Committee, on which he served 1965-66. We have no record of his considered opinion about this appointment but from his optimistic remarks within the Department he may well have hoped for a radical change in research funding which would benefit the university traditions he so respected, as well as other spheres where he felt help was needed. His experience in this committee may have been one of the reasons why he was happy to be elected chairman of the Professorial Board in 1967. This he considered one of his most important responsibilities.

Apart from his success in seeing that no-one in the Department was prevented from carrying on with their research as a result of inadequate funding, his staff were generally left in ignorance of his activities in the high echelons of university government. On one occasion it was recalled that he was pleased that he played some role in ensuring that the new headquarters of the University Rifles was built off-campus, rather than on the site chosen for the Beaurepaire Sports Centre. It is quite likely that he spoke of some principle in support of his decision. In this case it was perhaps the belief that universities have no place for militarism. This was a move he often made in debate, casting his opponents into some confusion while they thought up some equally weighty principle to support their case.


Trik's last years were marred by the insidious development of Parkinson's Disease which did not readily respond to treatment and severely restricted his mobility. He was annoyed by this but never showed any signs of self-pity. He was always glad to see his old colleagues and remained interested in the Department and in the progress of biochemistry to his death, which came shortly after that of his wife.

He will be remembered in many ways. To his undergraduate classes he remained austere and impenetrable, a professor who obviously knew a great deal. Only the more astute of those who had the misfortune to be called up for an oral examination – whether for their lamentable performance or for judgement of fitness for the award of honours – will have realised that he was among the softest of any of their examiners. Within the Department he was obviously its Head, reserved and polite. For most of his reign he knew every member by name – a sign of consideration which is still remembered. He relaxed his reserve with those of his colleagues who had been with him for a long time and could be drawn into reminiscences about individuals or laboratories he had visited, but generally stopped short of any but the most innocuous comment on his colleagues in the professoriate or the administration. He was, however, provoked to disagree with a pronouncement by Sir Macfarlane Burnet that all the discoveries in biological science worth making had already been made.

Trik was kindness itself to any in the Department, and often elsewhere, who were in some sort of trouble, illness or death in the family, political or occasionally financial. Besides his family, his main love was his department and his discipline. He proved an astute politician when these impersonal goals were to be served: some in administration occasionally wished that he had taken a broader interest in the more general affairs of the University, but he remained attached to his earlier loves.

In this perhaps he was wise. Australian science, and particularly Australian biochemistry, has much to thank him for.

About this memoir

This memoir was originally published in Historical Records of Australian Science, vol.6, no.4, 1987. It was written by:

  • J.W. Legge, formerly Reader in Biochemistry, University of Melbourne.
  • F. Gibson, Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry, John Curtin School of Medical Research, Australian National University.


We are grateful for help given by members of Professor Trikojus's farnily, his daughter (Mrs R.O. Davies), his son Sasha, his sister, Mrs Jean Hind, and his many colleagues and friends, among them Miss Muriel Crabtree, Dr Kathleen Law, Mrs Audrey Cahn, the late Professor Emeritus E.S. Hills FRS FAA, Professor F.J.R. Hird, Max Marginson, Bob Goullet, Dr L.R. Finch, Miss Nancy Hosking, Dr Mary McQuillan, Dr Pamela Todd and Professor Emeritus Sir Douglas Wright.


  • (1) R.D. Wright, Proceedings of the Australian Physiological and Pharmacological Society, 14 (1983), 22-27.
  • (2) J. Moran, 'Scientists in the Political and Public Arena: A Social-Intellectual History of the Australian Association of Scientific Workers, 1939-1949'. MPhil, thesis, Griffith University, 1982, p.93, and: Anon., Aust. J. Sci., 7 (1944), 75-79.
  • (3) M. Teich, 'The Historical Foundation of Modern Biochemistry', in The Chemistry of Life: Lectures on the History of Biochemistry, ed. J. Needham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971).
  • (4) Max Marginson, in More Memories of the University of Melbourne, ed. Hume Dow (Melbourne: Hutchinson, 1985).

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