Melbourne’s AIDS Memorial Quilt receives heritage protection

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

The powerful piece of history joins 2,400 objects, collections and sites recognised by the Heritage Council of Victoria and the Victorian Heritage Register (VHR).

Beginning in the USA, AIDS Memorial Quilts have been a hallmark of the effects of the HIV/AIDS crisis on LGBTQIA+ communities, with panels being created by family members, loved ones and community groups memorialising those lost of AIDS-related illnesses.

Melbourne’s AIDS Memorial Quilt began its life in Fairfield Hospital in 1988, coordinated by volunteers.

Thorne Harbour Health (then the Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Men’s Health Centre) accepted custodianship of the Quilts several years ago and currently maintain the collection.

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

Doris Beecher was the former convener of the Melbourne AIDS Memorial Quilt and her son, Stephen, is included in one of the panels.

“On behalf of our family, I’m absolutely delighted by this listing to ensure the AIDS Quilt is recognised and protected. Stephen would be humbled and touched by this legacy,” Doris said.

Cheryl Oliver’s son Darren is also featured on the Quilt and the heritage listing is welcome 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 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 which will always be there for everyone to see and understand.”

The Chair of the Heritage Council of Victoria, Prof Philip Goad spoke to the Council’s decision to include the Melbourne AIDS Memorial Quilt in the Victorian Heritage Register.

“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,” Prof. Goad added.

“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.”

Image: AIDS Memorial Quilt viewing in Tucson, Arizona

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