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Our history

The 1950s


In the early 1950s our Executive Committee set about funding cancer research and several experimental projects were approved:

  • Donald MetcalfDr R Motteram, a pathologist at the Austin Hospital, was sent overseas to study transmissible tumours in animals.
  • A grant was given to a Professor Trikojus to carry out research into radioactive iodine, with particular reference to thyroid carcinoma.
  • Dr Kaye Scott was funded to study the therapeutic efficacy of radioactive iodine, radioactive phosphorus and nitrogen mustard at the Royal Melbourne and Austin Hospitals.
  • In 1954 Donald Metcalf began his research work as the Carden Fellow, his salary financed out of the accumulated income of the Carden Bequest.

In 1955 Dr TE Lowe was appointed Chairman of the Medical and Scientific Committee and his experience in formulating research policy became invaluable.

The Cancer Registry 

During its early years, the Cancer Registry was located in the Spring St offices of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Case records outgrew the space available and in 1956 a property at 410 Albert St, East Melbourne was leased.

Several grants were made available during the 1950s to send Registry staff overseas to study. Cynthia McCall spent 6 months in the US and UK and reported that our scheme compared favourably with overseas practice. Throughout the 1950s our Registry was the only cancer Registry in the Commonwealth.

Editorial publications 

Two surgeon members of the Medical and Scientific Committee, Thomas Ackland and Victor Stone, formed our first 'editorial committee' in 1951. Three education pamphlets – 2 on cancer facts and one on common warning signs – were produced. The material was distributed to medical practitioners, hospitals, the Red Cross and public bodies. The aim was to improve the treatment of cancer by bringing home to Victorians the danger in delaying treatment.

The Executive Committee took over direction of education in 1955 and a subcommittee was developed with W Allan Dick appointed chair. He and the subcommittee directed education programs until disbanded in 1983 when responsibility was transferred to the Director, Dr Nigel Gray.

Smoking targeted 

In 1957 the American Surgeon-General, Leroy E Burney, declared the US Public Health Service's official position was that evidence pointed to a causal relationship between tobacco and lung cancer. From this time, smoking became a central focus for the Cancer Council.


In 1957 the Executive Committee started planning a major appeal. The Appeals Committee was reconstituted and set itself the goal of raising £500,000. W J Kilpatrick was named Chairman. Special gifts, industry, house-to-house door knocks and functions subcommittees were organised. Committees were proposed for separate country districts comprising a medical person, 3 leading businessmen, a bank manager, one woman and the local president of the Returned Servicemen's League. A separate publicity committee comprising representatives of press and radio was also formed.

The theme of the appeal ' One more river to cross' played on the fact that the medical profession had conquered the major diseases that plagued mankind except for cancer.

The door knock campaign, which initiated this form of fundraising in Australia, was organised into 136 postal districts each directed by a District Chairman. It was structured with 1,250 captains, 5,640 lieutenants and more than 40,000 cancer callers.

The response by Melbourne citizens was phenomenal with just 5 out of every 100 homes choosing not to contribute! More than £300,000 ($5.4 million) was raised.

The Industry and Commerce section of the appeal raised about £270,000 ($5 million). Pay deductions and contributory schemes were wholeheartedly supported by unions, societies and social clubs. Twelve major groups organised their respective segments of industry covering private enterprise and government departments. The liquor industry, supported by a sportsmen's committee under the chairmanship of Walter Lindrum raised money through its own registered charity 'Patronage' and contributed in excess of £100,000 ($1.8 million). This money was later transferred as a supplement to the Carden Bequest.

One of the most significant and unique contributions to the appeal came from the British Australasian Tobacco Co. The appeal came around the same time as the Cancer Council began its long fight against tobacco and cigarette smoking. W J Kilpatrick made arrangements to see the chairman of BATC in the hope of inducing them to support the appeal unconditionally. The final donation amounted to £3000 ($54,000) in each of 2 years to support the program of research in the Pathology Department at the University of Melbourne. It's believed this was the first and only donation the Cancer Council accepted from a company in the tobacco industry.

The total amount raised officially by the appeal was £1,350,000 (about $24 million in today's terms) but after closure of the appeal in 1958 money continued to be received. A further £60,000 ($1 million) was never attributed to the appeal.

Allocating the funds 

Plans for spending the money were well advanced before the appeal ended. It was decided that 75% would be spent on research, 12.5% on education of the public and medical profession, and 12.5% on aid to cancer sufferers.

The 1959 Annual Report states: "Research grants approved for 1959 totalled approximately 102,000 as compared with 25,000 in 1958 and 12,000 in 1957. These figures speak for themselves, and show that there are many able and enthusiastic investigators in Melbourne anxious to work in the field of cancer, provided funds are available for this purpose."

By the end of 1959 the Cancer Council was supporting 26 research projects in universities, hospitals and medical research institutes. The studies covered a wide range of subjects, from basic research on the nature of cell growth to clinical studies in treating leukaemia.

A policy on medical research was drafted and it was decided that financial support could be given in three forms: grants-in-aid, fellowships and travel grants.

Patient services

The 1958 Annual Report states:

' One of the problems which has faced the Council since its inception has been the lack of adequate facilities for care of cancer sufferers whom treatment has failed to cure, and who are incapacitated in the terminal stages of the disease.'

It was decided to spend some of the funds on providing financial help for the care of such patients in their own homes, or in nursing homes, when beds weren't available in public hospitals. Additional hospital beds for cancer patients would also be funded.

The Cancer Council also gave £50,000 to Caritas Christi Hospice for the Dying for a new extension to make room for more beds for terminal cancer patients.

' Experience has shown that these measures have provided the answer to this pressing problem and that now no cancer patient in Victoria need suffer because of lack of proper provision for medical and nursing care.'

In 1959 the Cancer Council provided 8,000 to the Royal Women's Hospital to fund a visit by Professor Wied from the University of Chicago – an eminent authority on cytological diagnosis.

The Cancer Council recognised that new detection methods of ' cancer in the uterus' were particularly useful and agreed that Victorian pathologists should learn the latest methods and implement a service by which every patient attending the Hospital would be examined by this means to determine whether unsuspected cancer might be present.

Professor Wied conducted a month-long course in cytological diagnosis in May 1959 at the Royal Women's Hospital. Pathologists and technicians from the Peter MacCallum Clinic and Queen Victoria Hospital also attended the course.