Death, disease and pandemics

Tuesday, March 12, 2019 at 06:00 PM


Old Treasury Building
20 Spring St
East Melbourne, Victoria 3002
Google map and directions

Event contact

Margaret Birtley

0418 814 957

This year marks the centenary in Australia of the ‘pneumonic influenza’ pandemic, popularly known as the 'Spanish flu'. Advances in chemistry, laboratory techniques, and equipment revolutionised medicine in the nineteenth century. Old ideas of infectious disease were gradually replaced by improved understanding of bacteriology and germ theory, leading to a new era of "scientific medicine” and a confidence in disease managed. Yet the challenges for "scientific medicine” were not over in the twentieth century, since pandemics and epidemics were still to take their toll on communities.

The panel of historians at this seminar will share their insights into three major health crises that affected Victorians during the twentieth century: Spanish flu, Polio and AIDS.

Bookings for this free event are now open.  To reserve your seat, click on the button at the foot of this page.
If the button says 'Sorry, this event is sold out', please email [email protected] to join the wait-list.

'Spanish flu: mother of all infections' - Mary Sheehan, Living Histories

Mary Sheehan is a member of the Living Histories team. She is a professional historian with 30 years’ experience in heritage, oral and commissioned histories, and is now a PhD candidate focusing on the 1919 Spanish influenza pandemic in Melbourne. 

'The terror of polio' - Professor Janet McCalman, The University of Melbourne

Janet McCalman AC is the author of three award-winning books: Struggletown, Journeyings and Sex and Suffering and for eight years she wrote a fortnightly column in The Age. In recent years she has been working on cradle-to-grave studies of historical cohorts: first, babies born in Melbourne’s Women’s Hospital 1857-1900; second, Aboriginal Victorians 1840-1985; third on convicts transported to Tasmania 1803-1852 (Founders and Survivors); and currently on men who returned to Australia after serving in World War I (Diggers to Veterans).

She is working on a book about the former convicts who settled in Victoria—a hidden story of secrets and lies. She is a Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor at the University of Melbourne.

'Community activism and the AIDS crisis in Victoria' - Lucy Bracey, Way Back When Consulting Historians

Lucy Bracey is a historian with Way Back When Consulting Historians and co-author of several commissioned histories including ‘Under the Red Ribbon: Thirty Years of the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre’.

The seminar will be chaired by Professor Alistair Thomson, Monash University.


Children with polio having a school lesson on the sundeck of the Frankston Children's Hospital, Jackson's Road, Mt. Eliza

Children with polio having a school lesson on the sundeck of the Frankston Children's Hospital, Jackson's Road, Mt. Eliza
Photographer: Lyle Fowler (1891-1969), Commercial Photographic Co.
Image credit: State Library Victoria,


With thanks to the series sponsors, Monash University Publishing and the Monash University History Program:

Monash University Publishing - some current titles   Monash University History Program 

and to the organising partners:

Old Treasury Building     Monash University History Program      HCV

The seminar is part of an ongoing series, Making Public Histories, that is offered jointly by the Monash University History Program, the History Council of Victoria and the Old Treasury Building. Each seminar aims to explore issues and approaches in making public histories. The seminars are open, free of charge, to anyone interested in the creation and impact of history in contemporary society. Click HERE to learn about other events in the series.

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The History Council of Victoria Incorporated (HCV) is the peak body for history in the Australian state of Victoria. Its vision is to connect Victorians with history and to inspire engagement with the past, their identity and the world today. The HCV champions the work of historians and the value of history. It recognises that history can be written about any place, any person, any period. The HCV advocates why history matters.

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The HCV was formed as an advisory body in 2001 and incorporated in 2003. It comprises representatives from cultural and educational institutions and heritage bodies; history teachers and curriculum advisors; academic and professional historians; and local, Indigenous, community and specialist history organisations.

As the peak body for history, the HCV has both ‘outward-looking’ roles (including advocacy and representation to government and the wider community, consultation, community education, and networking with allied interest groups) and ‘inward-looking’ roles (including member support, information dissemination, and networking between members).



The History Council of Victoria acknowledges the State Library of Victoria and the Public Record Office Victoria for supply of the archival images that appear on this website.

We acknowledge the National Film and Sound Archive for the right to use of the video footage on the home page, titled "Melbourne: Life in Australia (1966)".

Image credits

  • Italian sailors on ship at Port Melbourne 1938, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria
  • Chinese procession in Collins near Elizabeth Street 1901, Harvie & Sutcliffe, photographers, State Library of Victoria
  • People’s homes, Aboriginal station Coranderrk 1878, Fred Kruger Photographer, State Library of Victoria
  • Chinese nurses at Children’s Hospital under scholarship 1947, Argus Newspaper Collection of Photographs, State Library of Victoria
  • Ladies physical culture class VRI Melbourne c1931, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12903/P0001, 011/02
  • Melbourne Cup, Derby and Oaks Day, Flemington Racecourse 1936, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12903/P0001/4802, 372/30
  • Flinders Street viaduct at foot of Market Street with advertisement for McRobertson’s Chocolate on bridge, Public Record Office Victoria VPRS 12800/P0003, ADV 1342