In an Australian first, Melbourne AIDS Memorial Quilt has been granted heritage recognition and protection. 

Earlier this month, the Heritage Council of Victoria decided to include the Melbourne AIDS  Memorial Quilt in the Victorian Heritage Register (VHR). The historic quilt joins 2,400 other sites, objects,  and collections that have been legally recognised and protected by the register.  

Thorne Harbour Health (previously the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre), which had accepted the custodianship of the quilt and maintains the collection, has called the heritage status a “landmark moment in the history of the AIDS Memorial Quilt movement.”

‘Quilts Are Here For Future Generations’

Melbourne AIDS Memorial Quilt. Image: Thorne Harbour Health

“Every year we put a number of the Quilts on display for World  AIDS Day and the cultural significance is undeniable. 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,” Thorne Harbour CEO Simon Ruth said in a statement. 

“The Heritage Council of Victoria is very pleased to include the Melbourne AIDS Memorial Quilt in the  Victorian Heritage Register. The Quilt is one of the most important objects associated with the AIDS crisis  in Victoria, and promotes a compassionate and educational dialogue about HIV/AIDS,” said Prof Philip Goad,  Chair of the Heritage Council of Victoria. 

“It is an important example of community and activist art and highlights the impact of the AIDS epidemic.  The decision to include the Quilt illustrates at a broader level the Council’s wish to protect cultural heritage  which is significant to the history and development of Victoria, and reflects diverse community narratives  and experiences,” added Prof Goad. 

Quilt Made By Family Members, Loved Ones, Volunteers

Melbourne AIDS Memorial Quilt. Image: Thorne Harbour Health

The Melbourne AIDS Memorial  Quilt, inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt movement in the United States, was originally coordinated by volunteers out of Fairfield Hospital in 1988. Quilt panels were made by family members, loved ones or volunteers who worked with community groups. 

The Quilt today comprises 209 panels, “each handmade and individually designed to commemorate a person or group of  people who died from an AIDS-related condition.”

For family members, the heritage listing means that the memories of their loved ones will live on. “On behalf of our family, I’m absolutely delighted by this listing to ensure the AIDS Quilt is recognised and  protected,” said Doris Beecher, a former convener of the Melbourne AIDS Memorial Quilt. Doris’ son Stephen is included in one of the panels. “Stephen would be humbled and touched by this legacy,” said Doris. 

Cheryl Olver, whose son Darren is also featured on the quilt, welcomed the news. “I’m relieved by the Heritage Victoria listing as now the AIDS Quilt will be there for posterity and not  forgotten,” Cheryl said. 

“My some 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 which will always  be there for everyone to see and understand,” added Cheryl.  


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