Robin Leslie Cripps FRACS
Orthopaedic Trauma Surgeon
6 February 1944 - 6 October 2020


Many thousands of Northern Territorians owe their ongoing function, mobility and wellbeing to the life and tireless work of orthopaedic trauma surgeon, Robin Cripps FRACS.

Robin was born in Biggenden, near Maryborough in regional Queensland. The youngest of four children, his family’s life was shattered when Robin was four years old and his father died from the effects of a snake bite. Due to severe financial difficulty, Robin became a ward of the state, while still being allowed to live with the family. Life was constrained and difficult. Robin developed an early interest in electronics and mechanics while working in his brother’s auto electrical business. This continued as an abiding and satisfying hobby throughout his life. Despite his circumstances, Robin’s intelligence, drive and ability led to a scholarship and entry into medical school at the University of Queensland.

Upon graduation in 1969, he undertook residency years in Maryborough and Rockhampton. He was greatly appreciated as a young doctor of significant ability, across multiple areas but especially in the surgical arena. He was noted to be energetic, kind, especially to the elderly, and a man to depend on in a crisis or difficulty. Robin was self-effacing and shy but encouraged confidence and calm as he carefully and logically worked through clinical problems and complex scenarios.

It was in Rockhampton that Robin met his future wife, Erna, and after marrying in 1975, the couple formed a powerful team for the next 45 years. That year the young couple went to England for further clinical experience and spent a memorable 18 months at Northallerton in the Mowbray Valley in north Yorkshire. Robin’s time was consumed with satisfying work serving the population as a surgical registrar with only a little time to enjoy the beautiful ‘Herriot’ countryside.

Upon returning to Australia, Robin undertook several jobs in Queensland and then Launceston, Tasmania but was frustrated that his procedural skills could not be fully utilised. He applied for positions in the Northern Territory and in 1979 was appointed Medical Superintendent to the isolated town of Tennant Creek in the Barkly district. He transferred to Darwin at the end of 1981 and thus began his role as anchor-man for orthopaedic trauma in the Top End of the Territory.

At that time Steve Baddeley was the recently appointed, sole orthopaedic surgeon in the whole of the Territory. The trauma load was - and continues to be - very onerous and Robin was soon assigned to support Steve with this work. Robin’s surgical experience along with his natural and acquired dexterity and mechanical genius was a natural fit for the challenges of reconstructing shattered limbs with the newest techniques of osteosynthesis and internal fixation. He rapidly became the focus for traumatic orthopaedics in the Top End of the Northern Territory. He subsequently undertook sponsored AO workshops in Switzerland and impressed the instructors and the other course participants and observers with his effective, out of the box solutions to difficult reconstructive problems.

During the 1980s and 1990s Robin was the backbone of the orthopaedic trauma service at the Royal Darwin Hospital. At times he was the service. During those years Robin was constantly on call and spent most nights and days serving the people of the NT. In recognition of his pivotal role in providing the orthopaedic trauma service for the Top End Robin was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons in 1996.

The gradual arrival of more colleagues during the 1990s and 2000s gradually eased the load, but he remained central to the emergency service until his retirement in 2008.

Robin’s highly significant contribution to the wellbeing of the people of the Northern Territory is more remarkable in the light of his recurrent struggle with a depressive illness. His ability to continue to serve others while struggling with the effects of this common, but often hidden, affliction is inspiring.

Robins retirement was marred by ill health, which he accepted stoically. He found refuge in his workshop and the ongoing love of his wife Erna, who survives him.

Robin’s incredible hard work and service to the people of the Northern Territory will be long appreciated by the thousands who benefited from his vocation.


This obituary was prepared by Phill Carson FRACS, October 2020.