Colin Laverty

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Dr Colin Robert Andrew Laverty (26 May 1937 — 9 February 2013)[1] was an Australian medical practitioner and was the first to confirm (using electronmicroscopy) that the human papillomavirus was much more common in the cervix than previously thought and in 1978 he suggested that this virus be considered as possibly involved in the causation of cervical cancer.[2] He was also a prolific art collector.[3]

Early life[edit]

Laverty was born in Sydney, New South Wales, the son of medical practitioners Dr. Colin (Tas) Laverty and Dr. Beryl Laverty. He attended Newington College (1949-1953)[4] and then the University of Sydney. He had the qualifications MB,BS; BSc(Med); DCP(Syd); FRCPA; Dip.Cytopath (FRCPA). He graduated BSc(Med) with honours in 1959, Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery in 1962 and Diploma in Clinical Pathology in 1969 [5] and subsequently obtained by examination Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia and a Diploma in Cytology from the same college. While at Sydney University he was awarded a Blue for Rowing.

Medical career[edit]

Dr Laverty graduated in medicine from Sydney University and then trained in pathology at Royal Prince Alfred and King George V Hospitals in Sydney, as well at St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, in the United Kingdom. He specialised early in gynaecological cytology and histopathology and became a Staff Specialist Pathologist at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne and later at King George V Hospital for Mothers and Babies in Sydney.

He co-authored more than 50 scientific articles and was a frequent and often invited speaker at medical conferences in Australia and internationally. During his career Dr Laverty was for many years a member of the Advisory Committee to the Australian National Cervical Screening Program, multiple New South Wales Cancer Council Committees, the Committee of the Australian Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology and the Continuing Education, Quality Assurance and Evolving Technologies Committees of the International Academy of Cytology.

In the mid-1970s, while working as a Specialist Gynaecological Pathologist at King George V Hospital in Sydney, Dr Laverty developed a special interest in the recognition in the Papanicolaou smear of various female genital tract infections, in particular those due to agents difficult or impossible to culture. In the early 1970s it was thought that genital tract warts or condylomas were quite uncommon, usually vulval and merely sometimes cosmetically distressing lesions.

Dr Laverty recognised that cellular abnormalities known as koilocytosis and koilocytotic or “warty” atypia (first reported in the 1950s by Koss and associated with genital warts) were much more common in Pap smears than generally realised and that, surprisingly, in the great majority of cases clinical warts or condylomas were absent, even on careful clinical examination of the entire female genital tract. This raised the possibility that genital infections due to wart or papilloma virus were much commoner than previously thought, frequently cervical in location and very uncommonly of recognisable warty contour or configuration.

A researcher was employed and an electron microscopic technique was then devised which confirmed the suspicion that human papillomavirus (HPV) particles were present in these abnormal cells, in both cytologic and histologic preparations (Pap smears and cervical biopsies). In 1978, Dr Laverty was the first in the world to publish this finding.

Thus it was proven that atypical, potentially premalignant cells in cervical cytologic and histopathologic preparations in women without actual genital warts were in fact virus infected and that this virus had the electron microscopic appearances of papillomavirus.

At that time, electron microscopic demonstration of the virus particles within the nucleus of the cell was the only available way of confirming papillomavirus infection. In contradistinction to other viruses affecting the genital tract (e.g. herpes), confirmation by culture was not possible (and still is not possible) by conventional virological methods. Nor could the diagnosis be confirmed by immunoperoxidase testing or by HPV DNA and RNA hybridisation techniques (the latter subsequently widely used), which at that time had not yet been developed.

Subsequently the histologic features and colposcopic recognition and characterisation of this sub-clinical or non-condylomatous HPV infection of the cervix were established.

Recognition of the frequent and close association of these noncondylomatous HPV-induced changes with high grade cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) - which was and is accepted as preceding life-threatening invasive cancer - led Dr Laverty to also suggest in 1978 the investigation of the possible role of HPV in genital tract carcinogenesis.

Also, if cervical cancer proved to be due to, or required a virus infection for its genesis, then prevention by immunisation was theoretically possible.

The suspicion and subsequent confirmation by Dr Laverty that papillomavirus infection was much more common than formerly realised, that most infections were clinically invisible and at that time unknown to colposcopists, proved to be of profound clinical significance.[citation needed] It changed the interpretation of Pap smears, cervical biopsies and colposcopic appearances and therefore the management of women with abnormal Pap smears.

It led to later research by others which resulted in the confirmation that this virus was required for the genesis of cervical cancer (and how the virus acts to do this). This led ultimately to the development of a vaccine or vaccines which theoretically can eradicate the second most common female cancer worldwide.[citation needed]

Articles on quality assurance in cytology published by Dr Laverty and his team concerned the importance of targeted sampling of the transformation zone (where most precancer and cancer occurs), sampling implement choice, reporting terminology and management recommendations.

He was also interested in the cytologic recognition of cervical adenocarcinoma in situ (an important subset of cervical cancer precursors) and demonstrated a place for HPV in this form of cervical cancer also.

Dr. Laverty also evaluated new slide making and reading technologies, leading to improved Pap smear reporting accuracy and published some of the very first trials of ThinPrep and CytoRich, technologies which are now widely used throughout the world.

In 1982, he founded Dr Colin Laverty and Associates, a private pathology practice which provided specialised services in gynaecological cytology and histopathology. Approximately 200,000 Pap smears were processed annually.

The practice provided referring general practitioners and gynaecologists with a great deal of educational material (newsletters, feedback on smear quality etc.) aimed at improving standards in cytology.

The practice employed a statistician and much clinical research was carried out in private practice (which is most unusual), with regular publications in Australian and prestigious overseas medical journals.[citation needed]

Over many years, Laverty lectured widely (often as an invited speaker) in Australia and overseas on the significance of HPV infection and on a range of gynaecological cytology and Pap smear screening issues.

In August 1998, his practice was sold to Health Care of Australia (HCoA). Laverty was initially Medical Director of "Mayne Health – Laverty Pathology" in New South Wales. The practice was renamed "Symbion Laverty Pathology" [6] and subsequently onsold to Primary Health Care, a very large, statewide, general pathology practice which still bears Dr Laverty's name.

Art activities[edit]

Dr. Laverty retired from practicing medicine in the mid-2001 and with his wife Elizabeth managed their contemporary art collection, one of Australia’s best known.[3] From their collection, works are regularly lent to the Australian national and state art galleries. In particular, Aboriginal works are regularly sought for exhibition by prestigious International art museums. During his lifetime Laverty authored a book and published a number of articles on Australian Art.

Over decades Colin & Elizabeth Laverty have been major art collectors and supporters of young, mid-career and established Australian artists, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. They have taken every opportunity to promote Australian art, both in Australia and overseas.

The Lavertys have been substantial donors of artworks under the Cultural Gifts Program. Since 2000 131 paintings have been donated to the Newcastle, Geelong, Benalla and Gold Coast regional galleries, the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of NSW and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. 53 of these have been works by 41 different Indigenous artists and 78 have been by 35 different non-Indigenous artists.

They have been financial supporters and members of the Foundation of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, for many years and in 2006 were awarded Life Membership “in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the Museum’s development”. They are also members of the Contemporary Collection Benefactors groups at the Art Gallery of NSW and the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Aboriginal Collection Benefactors at the Art Gallery of NSW and the Friends of Indigenous art at the National Gallery of Victoria.

The Lavertys have been regular lenders to exhibitions at major Australian public art galleries. Currently between 80 - 130 paintings per year are being lent, by request, to various public galleries and in total more than 400 (469) paintings have been lent to some 65 different institutions in all states, the ACT and the Northern Territory. Paintings have been lent for exhibitions at the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra and the state galleries in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia and the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

Dr. Laverty actively promoted Australian art overseas and has spoken by invitation about Australian art, especially Aboriginal art, at the Chicago Arts Club – a leading Arts Institution and in June 2006 gave a keynote presentation at the opening of an exhibition of works by Australian Women Aboriginal Painters in Washington D.C. He engaged in discussions with Gallery Directors in both Europe and the U.S.A. about the presentation of contemporary Aboriginal art.

Works have been loaned on request to overseas exhibitions in 15 different countries. Overall 167 works by 57 different Indigenous artists and 10 different non-Indigenous artists have been lent to exhibitions of both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australian art in St Petersburg, Russia; Basel, Switzerland; Hannover, Düsseldorf, Herford and Cologne, Germany; Oslo, Norway; London, England; Marseilles, France; Odense and Humlebaek, Denmark; Washington D.C. and New Hampshire, U.S.A.; Dunedin, Christchurch and New Plymouth, New Zealand; Osaka and Tokyo, Japan; and Ghent, Belgium. In 2011, five 1971–72 Papunya boards were lent to the National Gallery of Victoria for the exhibition Tjukurrtjanu: Origins of Western Desert Art, and these paintings are currently on loan at Musée du Quai Branly in Paris.

Dr. Laverty wrote, upom invitation, an article on collecting Australian Aboriginal art for the November 2003 issue of the prestigious magazine Arts of Asia, produced in Hong Kong. The rest of this issue of the magazine was devoted to Australian public museums’ collections of Asian art. This was an opportunity to promote Australian Aboriginal art widely as the magazine has a substantial worldwide circulation. The article, titled ‘Diversity and Strength - Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art: A Private Collection’ surveyed the long term history and the recent development and success of contemporary Aboriginal art. It discussed the major art producing communities and illustrated the work of 23 of the best known artists.

In 1996 the Laverty Collection was highlighted in an article in Art and Australia. This article written by Anne Loxley appeared in a special issue of Art and Australia devoted to the art of collecting.

From 20 June - 23 August 1998, selected works from the Laverty Collection were exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney at the request of the then co-directors Bernice Murphy and Leon Paroissien. This exhibition titled ‘The Laverty Collection’, curated by Sue Cramer, had an associated program of seminars and public education activities in which Dr Laverty participated. Paintings, sculptures, carvings and ceramics by 12 non-Indigenous artists and 19 Indigenous artists were exhibited.

Works from the Laverty Collection by the Aboriginal artists Mick Namarari Tjapaltjarri and John Mawurndjul were shown in the 2000 Sydney Biennale, and a painting by Dorothy Napangardi in the 2012 Sydney Biennale. Paintings by Michael Harrison and Michael Stevenson were included in the 2004 Sydney Biennale, and a painting by Richard Larter was included in the 2008 Sydney Biennale.

Dr. Laverty has been an invited speaker to gallery friends, volunteers, collection benefactors and society members at the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA), the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) and the Power Institute at Sydney University and the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) He has been an invited panellist at discussions on Australian art at the Art Gallery of NSW (AGNSW) and at the Melbourne Art Fair.

‘Beyond Sacred: Recent painting from Australia’s remote Aboriginal communities’ a book compiled by Colin Laverty and designed by Jane Kleimeyer was published in May 2008. It featured 280 paintings by 141 Indigenous artists from more than 20 different communities. A second edition of this award-winning book was published in 2011, after the first edition had sold out.

Apart from his active involvement in the promotion of contemporary art, Dr Laverty was a foremost authority, researcher and writer on Australian colonial sporting art.

In 1980 he authored a volume entitled Australian Colonial Sporting Painters: Frederick Woodhouse and Sons, about the Woodhouse family of animal and sporting artists active in Australia in the second half of the 19th century. The Woodhouses are the best known of quite a number of artists working in this field in the times before and just after the introduction of photography. His work in researching the lives on the artists and of their patrons who commissioned the works added significantly to the history of the development of rural Australia. Many champion horses, cattle, sheep and other animals had their portraits commissioned by enterprising rural pioneers in the time before photography, forming a really historically important resource, especially when these patrons and their country estates were also depicted. In 1983/84 Dr Laverty conceived, curated and wrote the catalogue for a touring exhibition of the work of 21 artists active in this field of animal and sporting painting in colonial times in Australia. Titled ‘Pastures and Pastimes’ this was presented by the Victorian Ministry for the Arts and shown at the Victorian Artists Society Gallery, Melbourne; the Geelong Art Gallery and the S.H. Ervin National Trust Gallery, Sydney. He was also a contributor of biographical details on the colonial artists Thomas Balcombe, Joseph Fowles, S S Knights, Thomas Lyttleton, Edward Winstanley and Frederick Woodhouse to the Dictionary of Australian Artists, edited by Professor Joan Kerr and published by Oxford University Press in 1992. These artists were principally involved, but not exclusively, with sporting and animal painting.

Dr Laverty has been a staunch supporter of charitable causes associated with Indigenous art. He was a Committee member of the very successful Western Desert Dialysis Appeal held in 2000 in conjunction with auctioneers Sotheby’s Australia at the Art Gallery of NSW. The more than one million dollars raised at this auction has enabled renal dialysis to occur at very remote Kintore (Walungurru) in the Western desert in the south of the Northern Territory. The money raised also supports social workers, interpreters and health care liaison staff both in remote communities and in association with the renal unit in Alice Springs.

The Lavertys have travelled repeatedly over the last 25 years to central and northern Australia and have had a long association with the community-owned art centres at more than 20 remote Aboriginal communities. They have been involved in bringing the need for youth social workers in these very disadvantaged communities to federal authorities.

Colin and Elizabeth were supporters of the Swimming Pool Appeal auction held in 2005 at the Art Gallery of NSW to raise money for pools at Maningrida and Kintore (Walungurru). Approximately $850,000 was raised for this cause, as pool use has been convincingly associated with improved health and education in Aboriginal children. The Lavertys were donors of artwork for auction at both the Western Desert Dialysis Appeal and at the more recent Swimming Pool Appeal.

Colin and Elizabeth Laverty have made major contributions to Australian art in researching, writing, speaking about and promoting both colonial and contemporary art, particularly Aboriginal art, in Australia and overseas. They have been generous donors and major lenders of artworks from the Laverty Collection when requested to do so by Public Institutions.


  • Medal of the Order of Australia - 26 January 2008 (for service to medicine in the fields of gynaecological cytology and histopathology, particularly through the advancement of cervical screening services in Australia and through developments in establishing the role of the human papillomavirus in the genesis of cervical cancer; and to art, particularly Indigenous art both in Australia and overseas.)[7]

Publications (books/catalogues)[edit]

  • Australian Colonial Sporting Painters: Frederick Woodhouse and Sons (Sydney, 1980) The David Ell Press, ISBN 0-908197-19-5
  • Pastures and Pastimes: An exhibition of Australian Racing, Sporting and Animal Pictures of the 19th Century, Victorian Ministry for the Arts (Melbourne 1983) Catalogue, ISBN 0-7241-5392-6, 1983
  • Beyond Sacred: Recent Painting from Australia's remote Aboriginal communities, Hardie Grant Books (Melbourne 2008), ISBN 978-1-74066-570-4 (hbk)
  • Beyond Sacred: Australian Aboriginal Art, Kleimeyer Industries (Melbourne 2011), ISBN 978-0-646-54490-8 (hbk.)


  1. ^ Colin LAVERTY Notice, Sydney Moring Herald, 11 February 2013
  2. ^ Sydney Morning Herald 26–27 January 2008 Honours Liftout pp 3
  3. ^ a b Sydney collector of indigenous art,, 12 February 2013
  4. ^ Newington College Register of Past Students 1863-1998 (Syd, 1999) pp113
  5. ^ Alumni Sydneienses
  6. ^ Symbion Laverty Pathology
  7. ^ It's an Honour