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Our history

The 1970s

Prevention wins

A lot of good things happened in the 1970s. We did unexpectedly well in the field of cancer prevention. In 1977 for the first time total lung cancer deaths stopped increasing. The change was even more marked in the most susceptible age groups. 

The second big development in preventive medicine was the decrease in death rates from cancer of the cervix, which appeared in Victoria within a decade of the introduction of the Victorian Cytology Service in 1965.

Taking on tobacco

In 1971 the Cancer Council decided to develop TV ads to undermine the glamourisation of cigarette smoking - the subject of massive TV advertising by cigarette companies.

Warren Mitchell in an anti-smoking ad The Education Committee was convinced that fear and horror would be counter-productive in combating the 'tough, grown-up or sophisticated' image projected in advertisements for cigarettes. The Committee was keen on a 'send-up' approach. A budget of $50,000 ($310,000) was allocated.

Three actors volunteered to help. Two were well-known English actors from popular TV series, Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett and Miriam Karlin from The Rag Trade. Fred Parslow was popular in Australian theatre and TV. The Alf Garnett TV spot proved a winner - humorous but biting. Fred Parslow did a wonderful send-up of the Marlboro Man but the channels refused to show it, ostensibly because it publicly attacked a well-known brand, but practically because they were the recipients of large advertising revenues from the cigarette manufacturers. The Australian Broadcasting Control Board rejected the Cancer Council's appeal against the censoring.

View Warren Mitchell

View Cancer Country video with Fred Parslow

‘Australia's greatest biologist' Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet, Nobel Prize winner, appeared in advertisements on behalf of the Cancer Council requesting a ban on tobacco advertising on television.

View Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet video

Breast screening pilot

In 1972, the Cancer Council conducted a pilot breast screening program. Metropolitan and country television stations provided free air-time for a film and a 30 second advertisement. Nearly 400 GPs co-operated in the study by keeping records of the numbers of patients consulting them about breast problems. Publicity began in the Melbourne metropolitan area and Gippsland through the co-operation of Channel 7, Channel 9, and Channel 10. Publicity was withheld from other selected areas for 17 weeks and then the remaining Victorian commercial TV stations also showed the films. The purpose of this plan was to create a 'control' population to provide an assessment of the publicity.

The results were extremely interesting. About 1600 patients consulted the doctors involved in the study about breast probelms over the period. Fifty-three per cent of these patients had breast lumps and 7.2% of these lumps were cancerous (a total of 62). The results indicated that the publicity had encouraged earlier reporting of breast lumps, that a significant number of women had found lumps which otherwise would not have been discovered until later, and also, that no cancer neurosis had arisen since the percentage of unconfirmed breast problems seen in the 'control' group was the same as that seen in the women exposed to publicity.

The long-term objective of the pilot project was to encourage a large number of women to conduct breast self-examination every month.


From the 1974 Annual Report:

"During the year considerable attention has been focused on the welfare needs of cancer patients. In the coming year we hope to be able to phase out meeting treatment needs and, instead, move towards a more welfare-orientated program with the emphasis on family reconstruction.
"One particular interest is patients and their families whose financial stability is threatened during the transition period from wage-earning to statutory income, or in instances where a cancer patient in the family has necessitated the change from a two-wage to a one-wage family income. In addition, with inflation, many families in the lower income groups have just not been able to cope with the added expenditure caused by a cancer patient in the family. "  

The Quit Club

In 1975 'persuasion and help' became available to smokers through 2 projects initiated during the year. Melbourne Sun columnist, Mr Keith Dunstan (a member of the Appeals Committee), conceived and launched the Quit Club. People wanting to give up smoking joined by donating to the Cancer Council the equivalent of two weeks' smoking costs. In return they received a badge and printed material to help them. Artist Peter Russell-Clarke generously designed publicity material.

In a different approach designed for those smokers needing more sustained support through the difficulties of giving up, a pilot Stop Smoking Program based on group techniques devised by the American Cancer Society was undertaken in conjunction with the Council for Adult Education (CAE).

Growth in the activities of the Cancer Council, particularly in regard to the new donor program staffed by a large number of volunteers, necessitated additional office space which was leased next door in Albert St during the early 1970s. This soon proved inadequate and in 1975, a property at 86-94 Jolimont St, East Melbourne, was purchased for $672,000 ($2.5m). The Albert St property was sold in 1976 for $277,000 ($0.9m).  

A decrease in the death rate from cancer of the cervix manifested itself by the mid-1970s. This was about a decade after the establishment, as a result of the Cancer Council's efforts, of the Victorian Cytology Service and after the commencement of the Cancer Council's education program to encourage women to have a regular Pap test.


From the 1976 Annual Report:

"One of the most interesting developments seen for many years is the publication of data which suggest that patients with early breast cancer can be effectively treated with anti-cancer drugs. So far patients treated in this manner have been followed only for short periods and therefore, decisions on treatment policy have to be made on the basis of criteria such as 'disease free remission periods' rather than more absolute measures such as survival. Nevertheless, the technique looks promising..."

Dr John Colebatch was the first Secretary of our Victorian Cooperative Oncology Group (now referred to as our Clinical Network).  Dr John Colebatch

During 1976 the Victorian Country Women's Association committed itself to a deep involvement in the Cancer Council's public education campaign. The plan, which the Association accepted, was a year's calendar of activities for CWA branches to follow. Branches were supplied with a folio containing guidelines and samples of educational material to be used to provide a service to the local community.

In February 1976 a representative of each CWA branch was asked to visit a local school to show them the range of educational material available to them from the Cancer Council. In other months they visited doctors, hospitals, chemists, libraries etc where the appropriate samples were shown and orders were taken. From time to time press releases were put in local newspapers.

Another community organisation particularly involved with the Cancer Council was Lions International. Although more involved in raising funds for cancer research, some of the clubs included education programs in their work.

From the 1976 Annual Report:

" The Cancer Council used funds supplied by the National Warning Against Smoking to conduct an experiment in the creative use of media advertising against cigarette smoking aimed at adolescents.
"A large Victorian town with its own television station was selected as the test area and extensive preliminary research done before developing an advertising theme referred to as 'Jack The Dancer' (idiomatic term for cancer). The heart of this campaign was a song around which was built a 3-minute animated television advertisement. This advertisement portrayed the non-smoker as the dynamic and successful character and the smoker as rather pathetic and hopeless.
"A 45 r.p.m record was made of the song "Jack The Dancer" and this was sold though normal retail channels in the test area during the five month campaign. It was also played regularly on the local radio station. Preliminary indications were that the campaign was generally very well received by the target audience but rather soundly rejected by the parent generation. "


In 1977 a multicultural education program was established.

Access Radio in Melbourne was used to transmit foreign language broadcasts and a foreign language version of an illustrated brochure on breast cancer was released. Various major ethnic groups were involved in the dissemination of this material.

A leaflet listing results of tests by the Government Analyst on sunscreen products was issued to chemists and the public early in summer. A survey of pharmcists showed the information to be of considerable value.

From the 1977 Annual Report:

"The Cancer Registry has finally come through the tedious and time-consuming process of establishing its records on the computer and within a few months we will be in a position to produce more sophisticated analyses and arrange regular updating of information with significantly less administrative effort."


The Victorian Chemotherapy Co-operative Group was established by the Cancer Council in 1976 to co-ordinate and simplify the drug treatment regimes used in Melbourne hospitals. A long-term objective was the development of more scientific controlled clinical trials.  

The 1979 Annual Report states:

"During the year the Victorian Chemotherapy Co-operative Group (VCCG) has made further heartening advances on several fronts. The medical staffs of major teaching hospitals in Melbourne are now collaborating to an extent not previously obtained in Australia. This is particularly so for clinical trials of the treatment of breast cancer, the commonest cancer in women. There are still some doctors resistant to the pooling of resources and material for such trials, even in teaching institutions, but generally the hospitals are collaborating splendidly."