Celebrating 60 years of Cancer Council NSW

Bruce-Hodgkinson 60 Years at Cancer Council

This year, Cancer Council NSW celebrates 60 years of growth, of achievement, and of commitment to beating cancer. I am proud to be able to share with you some of our history and achievements.

In 1955, Robert Menzies was the Prime Minister, J.J. Cahill was the Premier of NSW, cricketer Alan Border was born and England won the ashes 3-1. ‘Hold My Hand’ and ‘Rock Around the Clock’ were top of the charts, it was the height of the baby boom. The entire Australian population of 9.2 million was sustainably less than half of what it is today. Smoking was commonplace, the sun was considered by all to be a benefit of living in this great country, we knew little about our genes, and cancer was continuing its advance moving from the 7th greatest killer to 2nd – only behind heart disease.

With only two acceptable treatments – surgery and irradiation – and little understanding of cancer, there was a great need to learn and discover more.

The NSW Government established the Cancer Council as an incorporated entity by passing The New South Wales State Cancer Council Act, 1955. This provided for the appointment of seven members to the council. Chaired by Vice Chancellor of Sydney University, Emeritus Professor Stephen H Roberts, the council met at the University of Sydney and with the commitment to discover what causes cancer and what we can do to beat it, one of the first initiatives was to establish cancer research as a priority, focussing on the fields of chemistry, hormone therapy, and the use of viruses.

In 1957, we funded fifteen research grants totalling £24,500 (the equivalent of $710,000 today). One of our earliest grants of £1,000 went to Dr Lancaster at the University of Sydney’s Department of Preventative Medicine for “Statistical investigations into smoking and lung cancer, purgatives and cancer of the colon, and leukaemia and x-rays during pregnancy”.

Today, we are proud to be the largest non-government funder of cancer research in Australia, investing over $14 million into conducting and funding world-class research each year. This knowledge is then used to grow and develop programs and services in cancer prevention, information and support and advocacy.

Our first Board also recognised that we needed to enlist public interest and support for our work, and aimed to launch a public education campaign emphasising the need for early diagnosis. This connection and commitment to our community has remained steadfast throughout our 60 years, and we have continued to broaden the depth and breadth of our work.

In 1976, we opened our first regional office in Newcastle, recognising that greater access to our support and services was needed. Today our regional networks cover every one of the 152 local government areas in the state.

Over the past 60 years we have continued to expand our work into communities, and to grow the programs that support those affected by cancer, and help prevent those cancers for which we know the cause.

Our Slip Slop Slap Seek and Slide campaigns, and our SunSmart programs have helped transform understanding about skin cancer prevention.

Our commitment to and campaigning around cancer screening programs, such as cervical, bowel and breast, mean that cancer can be caught while it is still early enough to treat.

We introduced free transport to treatment for cancer patients and carers, and today we help nearly 6,000 people travel over 709,000 kilometres to treatment each year.

We campaigned for increased smoke-free areas, and it is now an offence to smoke in cars with children, in pubs and clubs, and in many public outdoor areas.

We introduced a telephone support service, and today our 13 11 20 Information and Support line helps 16,000 people each year.

And today we can proudly state that we are the only cancer charity that works across the entire cancer journey.

We have not been able to do this on our own. We have called on the community to join us in this fight. We brought together the community through volunteering, through our grass-roots advocacy, and through our network of offices across the state. We are proud that our community got behind us, demonstrating their support and helping us fund our research and programs, and today we are 97% community-funded.

Since our seven founding members started the fight in 1955, Cancer Council NSW has seen great success, and we have created great change. And we continue to believe – like they did – that we can only do this with the support of the community. We believe that together we will beat cancer.

Thank you to everyone who has shown such support for Cancer Council NSW over the past 60 years, and please join us as we celebrate our 60th birthday throughout 2015.

Bruce Hodgkinson SC