The first Syme Oration was delivered by Charles H. Fagge FRCS in Wilson Hall at the University of Melbourne on 17 February 1932, in conjunction with the presentation of the Great Mace. The oration is now delivered in conjunction with convocation at the Annual Scientific Congress.

Sir George Adlington Syme

Sir George Adlington Syme (1859-1929) was one of the founders, and first President, of the College. He was born at Nottingham and came to Australia as a young child. He gained his medical qualifications from the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1881. After a year at the Melbourne Hospital he went to England for postgraduate study, worked at King's College with Sir Joseph Lister and gained his Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) in 1885.

Back in Australia he returned to the Melbourne Hospital and also held honorary posts at St Vincent's and the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women. A capable administrator, he ultimately became President of the Melbourne Hospital. He was President of the Victoria Branch of the BMA in 1908 and 1919. During World War I he served as chief of surgical staff in the 1st AGH and was present at Gallipoli aboard the hospital ship Gascon. He retired from active practice in 1924 and received a knighthood in that year.

It was Syme's reputation and standing within the profession that secured the support for the foundation of a College of Surgeons. With Hamilton Russell and Hugh Devine, he signed the "Foundation Letter" of 19 November 1925, and in 1926 was given the authority to proceed with setting up the constitutional machinery for the organisation. At the Australasian Medical Congress in Dunedin in February 1927, he was unanimously elected President of the College of Surgeons of Australasia.

Sir George Syme died in office on 19 April 1929 and was buried in the Brighton Cemetery. His widow, Mabel, provided the College with a sum of money, the interest from which was to provide the funds for an annual oration to perpetuate his memory.

George Adlington Syme Orators

2021 - Professor Brendan Murphy – Medical Leadership. COVID-19 and beyond
2019 - Sir Malcolm John Grant, CBE, FAcSS - Doctoring in an Age of Date - The Future for Medical Practice
2018 - Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono, Director USA Defense Health Agency - Surgical Advances in Wartime: Integrating Military and Civilian Medicine
2017 - His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le, Governor of South Australia - Delivering health services to a modern Australian society

2016 - Clare Marx - Communication through attitudes, words and deeds
2015 - Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffrey - Save the soil to save the planet
2014 - Kanwaljit Soin - Surgery and self actualisation
2013 - Sir Peter Gluckman - The challenge of scientific knowns and unknowns: perceiving risk and setting policy
2012 - Datuk Paul Low Seng Kuan - Corruption, integrity and us
2011 - Hon. Alexander Downer - World leadership and the next half century
2010 - Professor Jorg Imberger - Death of the environment, social icons and personal connectivity: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance
2009 - Noel Pearson - Exile on Wall Street: Revisiting John Ralston Saul's Thesis in "Voltaire's Bastards" on the Tyranny of Reason in a Time of Financial Collapse
2008 - Donald Tsang - The Challenge of Future Healthcare Delivery in Hong Kong
2007 - Professor Paul Callaghan - Horizon Science and the Human Implications
2006 - Xanana Gusmao - The Price of Commitment to Conscience
2005 - Judge Kate O'Brien - Crime and Punishment: A View from the Bench
2004 - Professor A.K.C. Li - Lessons from SARS
2003 - R. Strong - The Future is not What It Used to Be
2002 - Sir Peter Morris - PRCSE Leadership in Surgery
2001 - Sir David Carter - Surgery at the Crossroads
2000 - Sir Ninian Stephen
1999 - J. Belich - A Tasman History
1998 - M. Brennan - The Surgeon as Leader in Cancer Care
1997 - J. Strong - People, Potential and Management
1996 - Averil Mansfield - Surgery: A Suitable Career for Women
1995 - Sir Ronald Wilson - The Year of Tolerance: Its Challenge to Australia
1994 - Professor Adrienne Clarke - Science, Technology and Australia's Future
1993 - Professor D. Penington - A Clever Country or a Wise Country?
1992 - P. Ellyard - Preparing Australia for the New Millennium
1991 - A. Donovan - The Practice Guideline Initiative
1990 - G.C. Liggins - Winds of Change
1989 - Reverend Peter Hollingworth - There are our Children - Eradicating Child Poverty
1988 - Professor G. Blainey - How Far Have We Travelled?
1987 - G.C. Bolton - Hartigan's Syndrome
1986 - D.A. Cooley - A Medical History of Texas during the past 150 Years
1985 - C.R. Hanlon - Surgery as a Humane and Learned Profession
1984 - Sir Gustav Nossal - Medical Research and Medical Practice: New Perspectives on the "Town" versus "Gown" Dilemma
1983 - Hon. Sir Edward Younde - The City which Cares
1982 - Hon. Sir David Beattie - Athlete and Accident
1981 - F.J. Gillingham - - The Quality of Life
1979 - Sir Reginald Murley - The Ethics and Economics of Excellence
1978 - D.H. Onn - Regional Co-operation
1977 - Sir Rodney Smith - Privileges and Responsibilities of Royal Colleges
1976 - Sir Benjamin Rank - Syme and the Surgeon's Image
1975 - Margaret Dalziel - About Suffering They Were Never Wrong, the Old Masters
1974 - J.E. Dunphy - What Puts the Surge in Surgery?
1973 - Rt Hon. Lee Kwan Yew - Trigger-happy and Circumspect Types
1972 - Sir Stanley Burbury - The Surgeon and the Law
1971 - Sir John McEwen - The Impact of International Trade on National Relationships
1970 - Professor Z. Cowen - The Privy Council - Towards the End of the Chapter
1969 - Hon. R.D. Muldoon - Little Brother or Nation?
1968 - K.C.O. Shann - Our Indonesian Neighbours
1967 - J.T. Gunther - Australia and the White Man's Burden
1966 - Sir John Bruce - Leadership in Surgery: a Commonwealth Inheritance
1965 - Rt Hon. Sir Garfield Barwick - Tasks for Australians
1964 - Sir Archibald Grenfell Price - The Importance of Disease in History from the Geographical Viewpoint
1963 - Rt Hon. Sir Robert Menzies - Speech and Speakers
1962 - E.G. Sayers - Some Problems in Medical Education
1961 - H. Atkins - A Small Library
1960 - J.R. Darling - The Education of a Civilized Man
1959 - Sir Alexander Murphy - Barbers, Surgeons and Tradition
1958 - Hon. Paul Hasluck - Telling the Truth in a Democracy
1957 - Sir Owen Dixon - Jesting Pilate
1956 - J. Cairney - On Reason and Belief
1955 - Sir Ian Clunies-Ross - The Response of Science to the Challenge of the Australian Environment
1954 - Sir James Learmonth - On Making Inaugural Orations
1953 - Rt Hon. Sir John Latham - Work and Leisure and Pleasure - and Law
1951 - Sir Reginald Watson-Jones - Rehabilitation and Resettlement. Fifty Years of Progress in Surgical Principles
1950 - Professor Sir John Medley - Medicine and the Humanities
1949 - Professor J.T.A. Burke - The Age of Reason
1948 - Sir Hugh Cairns - The Progress of Surgery, with Special Reference to Intracranial Surgery
1947 - Sir Gordon Gordon-Taylor - The Debt of Surgical Science to Australasia
1946 - J.H.L. Cumpston - The Culture of Human Life
1945 - Professor J.D.G. Medley - The University and the Medical Profession
1944 - V.M. Trikojus - Recent Investigations Concerning the Biochemistry of the Thyroid Gland
1939 - Sir Alfred Webb-Johnson - Surgery in England in the Making
1938 - W.A. Osborne - Surgical Teaching in Germany
1937 - C.E. Hercus - Some Prevention and Research Aspects of Surgery
1936 - L. Cowlishaw - The First Fifty Years of Surgery in Australia
1935 - Professor F. Wood Jones - The Master Surgeon
1933 - F. G. Bell - Hospital Problems and Surgical Education
1932 - C.H. Fagge - The George Adlington Syme Oration