Sounds of Summer: Slip! Slop! Slap! and the history of anti-skin cancer campaigns in Australia

Photo by Sylvain Cleymans on Unsplash

Australians suffer and die from skin cancer more than citizens of any other country - a sad fact recognised since the 19th century. Skin cancer is intimately tied with our national values, characteristics, and behaviours: it has been called “Australia’s Cancer”. However, in spite of the causal connection with sun exposure being recognised by 1905, for much of the century, skin cancer was considered something Australians had to put up with - an unfortunate downside of our otherwise delightful climate, the necessary serpent at the BBQ of Eden. For much of the 20th century, educational efforts were, at best, patchy, and directed at cancers in general, rather than skin cancer specifically. That changed dramatically in 1980 with the Slip! Slop! Slap! Campaign. This presentation looks at the history of skin cancer educational efforts leading up to Slip! Slop! Slap! and the circumstances that lead to and shaped this first, national skin cancer prevention campaign. 

‘Sounds of Summer’ is part of an ongoing book project, entitled “A Sunburnt Country”, on the sun/skin cancer connection and public health communication efforts in 20th and 21st century Australia.

Laura Dawes is an award-winning historian, author and broadcaster, who is devoted to the vibrant communication of science and medicine through both non-fiction and fiction. Her speciality is the history of modern science and particularly the history of medicine and the law. Dr Dawes's first book, Childhood Obesity in America: Biography of an Epidemic, was published to wide acclaim in 2014. She holds a PhD from Harvard University in History of Science, a Masters degree from Oxford University and a Bachelors degree from Murdoch University in Western Australia where she also won the University Medal. Dr Dawes has received numerous awards, prizes and fellowships, including the Frank Knox Fellowship at Harvard, the Clarendon and Chevening Scholarships at Oxford, a Warren Center Research fellowship, Vice-Chancellor's Awards for Academic Excellence, the Frank Gillespie Prize, the Ronald Searcy Prize, the Parnell O'Connor Prize for creative writing and an award in the Wellcome Trust/Guardian Science Writing Prize. Her second book, Fighting Fit: The Wartime Battle for Britain's Health, was shortlisted for ACT Book of the Year.

Please note that the School of History seminars will run in-person only this semester.

Date & time

Wed 23 Aug 2023, 4.15–5.30pm


RSSS Auditorium, Ground Floor (Level 1), RSSS Building, ANU, 146 Ellery Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601


Dr. Laura Dawes


School of History


David Romney Smith


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