Shining a light on volunteer heroes of HIV/AIDS response

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

A University of Adelaide researcher is attempting to contact the many volunteers who helped Australia to overcome the HIV/AIDS epidemic sweeping the world during the 1980s and '90s.

"Australia’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic is widely considered to be among the world's best, but an important part of that time in the nation's recent history – the contribution of volunteers – has yet to be fully acknowledged," says Associate Professor Paul Sendziuk, Head of the Department of History at the University of Adelaide.

Associate Professor Sendziuk is involved in a national project analysing responses to HIV/AIDS in Australia, and the unique role played by volunteers in that work. The project is being conducted in collaboration with Dr Shirleene Robinson and Associate Professor Robert Reynolds, both from Macquarie University.

"Volunteer work is a crucial resource for many non-profit organisations. This study will shed light on the role volunteers play in times of crisis and how they can be best supported," Associate Professor Sendziuk says.

"We're looking to hear first-hand from individuals who volunteered in HIV/AIDS-related capacities in the 1980s and early 1990s, so that we can help to determine the full extent and significance of the volunteer contribution during this national crisis.

"We'll be aiming to piece together who the volunteers were, what motivated them, and explore the emotional impact of the epidemic on them."

Associate Professor Sendziuk says volunteers came from diverse backgrounds: "In addition to many members of the broader community, there were gay men and members of the lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, people living with HIV/AIDS, people living with Hepatitis C, people with haemophilia, intravenous drug users, and sex workers.

"All of these volunteers grouped together to answer phones, conduct community outreach, care for and nurse sick people, and offer administrative and business skills to AIDS organisations, such as the AIDS Councils which were a crucial part of the response in each state and territory."

Associate Professor Sendziuk says many Australians are justifiably proud of volunteerism and helping others to get through hard times, which is central to Australia's national identity.

"This research project situates the volunteering activities of gay men, drug users, and sex workers – individuals who have traditionally been reviled and criminalised in Australia's history – within a narrative about Australian volunteerism.

"Therefore, our project has the potential to radically recast the way in which gay men, drug users, and sex workers are viewed in society, and histories of the nation are written," he says.

Associate Professor Sendziuk is keen to speak with anyone who volunteered with AIDS organisations during the 1980s and '90s.

More information about the project – and to register your interest in participating – can be found at:

This research has been supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC).


Contact Details

Associate Professor Paul Sendziuk
School of History
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 7562
Mobile: 0481 323 405

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762