SIR PETER MACCALLUM

ONCOLOGIST AND PATHOLOGIST, PETER MACCALLUM CANCER CENTRE

Sir Peter MacCallum always wanted to study medicine.

Born in Scotland in 1885, he grew up in New Zealand, where he left school at just 12 to work in an ironmonger’s store. His health suffered as a result of the work, and on medical advice he returned to his studies. Peter went on to win a scholarship to university where he earned his Master’s Degree before packing up everything he owned, boarding a ship and working his passage to England.

He was accepted to study Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, but on completion only worked in general practice for six months before being called up for service in the Royal Army Medical Service. Sir Peter served as a medic on the Western Front during World War I, for which he won the Military Cross.

Then, in 1918, he was gassed and evacuated to England where he eventually shifted the focus of his career to pathology and research.

In 1924 Sir Peter was offered two positions: chairs of pathology at Johannesburg, South Africa, and at the University of Melbourne.

He chose Melbourne.

Here, he was welcomed by a medical establishment ready to embrace the change he represented. And Sir Peter delivered with energy and commitment.

He supported the proposal for a new medical school, leading to the Royal Melbourne Hospital being relocated closer to the university. He was dean of the Faculty of Medicine, chair of the Professorial Board and a member of Council.

He was also instrumental in setting up Victoria’s first cancer centre in 1949. The ‘cancer institute’ had humble beginnings – just one room of the Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne – but it has flourished.

Sir Peter MacCallum was an influential leader, known for his compassion, generosity and staunch principles. In 1953 he was knighted for his contributions to health and education.

In 1986 the Cancer Institute changed its name to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in honour of Sir Peter’s legacy.

Today, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre is the only public hospital in Australia solely dedicated to cancer research, treatment and care. It is housed in the purpose-built $1 billion Victorian Comprehensive Cancer building in Parkville, where Sir Peter MacCallum’s commitment to humanity, care and research lives on.

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Illustrated by Antra Svarcs