Out of Common Humanity: Humanitarianism, compassion and efforts in Australia to assist Jewish refugees in the 1930s

Monday, October 09, 2017 at 06:00 PM


Forum Theatre 153
Arts West
University of Melbourne, VIC 3010
Google map and directions

In June 1935, Edith Roll, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl from Vienna, wrote to her Australian pen-pal Jean Doig, aged 10 from Colac, Victoria. The correspondence was short-lived as Edith and her family were swept up in the violence of the Holocaust. Though Jean’s parents, Keith and Louise Doig, helped the Roll family apply to migrate to Australia, these efforts tragically failed. 

This free public lecture by Professor Joy Damousi is the Greg Dening Memorial Lecture for 2017. Professor Damousi considers why the attempt of one family in an Australian country town to assist another in Europe should be considered of broader relevance to the monumental events of the mid-twentieth century.

Unsuccessful efforts to evacuate refugees are cursorily dismissed. A different focus, however, would direct our attention to the motivations of people to act who were not otherwise politically engaged. We miss an opportunity to return to the past—as Greg Dening put it—its own present. From this perspective, the Doig family efforts are part of the complex story of Australian migration history. If we choose not to tell these stories, we cannot fully chart how a history of compassion, and more broadly humanitarianism, can be written.

Joy Damousi is Professor of History and ARC Kathleen Fitzpatrick Laureate Fellow at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of The Labour of Loss: Mourning, Memory and Wartime Bereavement in Australia; Freud in the Antipodes: A Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in Australia; Colonial Voices: A Cultural History of English in Australia 1840-1940 and Memory and Migration in the Shadow of War: Australia's Greek Immigrants after World War II and the Greek Civil War. She is currently working on a history of child refugees, humanitarianism and internationalism from 1920 to the present, and, with Philip Dwyer, is the general editor of a forthcoming four-volume World History of Violence.


Admission is free, but seating is limited.

Bookings are required, via: http://alumni.online.unimelb.edu.au/Dening2017


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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