Victoria’s AIDS Memorial Quilt gets official heritage listing

victoria melbourne aids memorial quilt thorne harbour health aids crisis
Image: courtesy of Thorne Harbour Health

The Melbourne AIDS Memorial Quilt, which commemorates hundreds of Victorians who died during the AIDS crisis, has received official heritage listing in the state in an Australian first.

In total, the Melbourne AIDS Memorial Quilt consists of 27 quilts (one is pictured above). The local project followed the AIDS Memorial Quilt movement in the United States in the 1980s.

In Melbourne, volunteers at Fairfield Hospital first coordinated the quilt in 1988. Today, it consists of 209 panels, each one made by loved ones as well as volunteers working with community groups.

Every panel is handmade and individually designed to commemorate a person or group of people who died from an AIDS-related condition.

This month, the Heritage Council of Victoria included the quilt in the Victorian Heritage Register (VHR). The listing legally recognises and formally protects the quilt alongside 2,400 other sites, objects, and collections also on the register.

Doris Beecher was the former convener of the Melbourne AIDS Memorial Quilt. One of the panels features her son, Stephen.

“On behalf of our family, I’m absolutely delighted by this listing to ensure the AIDS Quilt is recognised and protected,” she said.

“Stephen would be humbled and touched by this legacy.”

Cheryl Olver’s son Darren also appears on the quilt. She says the listing will preserve the legacies of those lost during the AIDS epidemic.

“I’m relieved as now the AIDS Quilt will be there for posterity and not forgotten,” Olver said.

“My son Darren would be thrilled to be immortalised in this way. Because we loved him, and he loved us.

“The protection of the quilt in this way, reflects and protects our love for each other. [That love] will always be there for everyone to see and understand.”

Cultural significance of AIDS Memorial Quilt ‘undeniable’

Thorne Harbour Health – formerly known as the Victorian AIDS Council – has acted as custodian of the Melbourne AIDS Memorial Quilt for several years.

“Every year we put a number of the quilts on display for World AIDS Day. The cultural significance is undeniable,” CEO Simon Ruth said.

“They are an incredibly moving piece of our history and a tribute to those who we’ve lost to the epidemic.

“Being added to the Victorian Heritage Register is an important step in ensuring the quilts are here for future generations.”

Heritage Council of Victoria chair Prof Philip Goad also agreed the quilt is an important Victorian Heritage Register inclusion.

“The Quilt is one of the most important objects associated with the AIDS crisis in Victoria,” Prof Goad said.

“[It] promotes a compassionate and educational dialogue about HIV/AIDS. It’s an important example of community and activist art and also highlights the impact of the AIDS epidemic.”

Prof Goad said the Council strives to “protect cultural heritage which is significant to the history and development of Victoria, and also reflects diverse community narratives and experiences.”

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