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Fatal Contact
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Fatal Contact: Introduced Epidemics Among Australia’s Colonial First Nations

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria is delighted that Peter Dowling has accepted our invitation to speak on this very topical issue.

This talk explores the devastating infectious diseases introduced into the Indigenous populations of Australia after the arrival of the British colonists in 1788. Epidemics of smallpox, tuberculosis, influenza, measles and sexually transmitted diseases swept through the indigenous populations of the continent well into the twentieth century.

Many historians have acknowledged that introduced diseases caused much sickness and mortality and were part of the extreme population decline following colonisation. But few writers have elaborated further and much of this history is still missing, even after more than 200 years. Most accounts begin with the 1789 smallpox epidemic at the Sydney settlement and go no further. Our knowledge and understanding of the biological and social consequences surrounding the meeting and contact of these two cultures has not yet been fully investigated. It was, and still is, the greatest human tragedy that Australia has ever experienced.

Peter Dowling is the author of Fatal Contact. How Epidemics Nearly Wiped Out Australia’s First Peoples, (Monash University Publishing, 2021). He holds a PhD in archaeology and biological anthropology from the Australian National University. Dr Dowling has written and lectured on Australian history, archaeology, Indigenous and European biological contact history and Australian cultural heritage assessment. He dabbles in military history and has organised and led local, national, and overseas tours in history, archaeology and heritage. In a previous life Dr Dowling spent twenty years in signals intelligence with the Royal Australian Navy. He now lives quietly but busily in retirement with his wife and visiting bird families in the Tuggeranong Valley of Canberra.

Like all RHSV lectures, this event will be offered both in person at the RHSV’s Drill Hall home at 239 A’Beckett St, Melbourne and via ZOOM.

For those attending in person, refreshments will be served from 5:30pm until 6pm when the lecture starts. The Zoom coverage will start at 6pm too.

All those who register will be sent an automatic confirmation email of your ticket purchase – if you don’t receive this please check your Spam or Junk Mail folders. The ZOOM details will be sent to those attending via ZOOM 24 hours before the lecture.

Featured image for WinterWild event with Inala Cooper. Image is a photo of a recently burnt Australian forest with the text Walking on Country overlayed in black, yellow and red colours
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WinterWild: Walking on Country

Join a panel of Indigenous leaders including Associate Professor Dr. Michael-Shawn Fletcher, a Wiradjuri man, paleo-ecologist and biogeographer; Dr. Jack Pascoe, a Yuin man, ecologist and Research Manager at the Conservation Ecology Centre at Cape Otway and Inala Cooper, a Yawuru woman, Indigenous rights advocate, and Director of Murrup Barak, the Melbourne Institute for Indigenous Development at Melbourne University. They will challenge us to open our hearts and minds and genuinely share this business of reconciliation and healing country. Facilitated by Richard Cornish.

Includes morning tea.