Indigenous history of the University of Melbourne project


This project will examine the relationship between Indigenous Australia and the University of Melbourne from its foundation in 1853 until the present. In the spirit of truth-telling, it will properly articulate the contested histories of the University of Melbourne - including its eugenics history and practices of scientific racism - and address the University’s ambitions with respect to Place, as committed to in our Advancing Melbourne strategy and Reconciliation Action Plan 2018-2022 (RAP 3).


This Project must be understood within a broader global movement around cultural recognition in the tertiary sector. Since the #RhodesMustFall movement at the University of Cape Town in March 2015, there has been considerable student activity aimed at dismantling the vestiges of violent, racist and problematic histories at universities. Across institutions in the USA, Canada, South Africa and the UK, students have demanded renaming of buildings, removal of monuments, and recognition of present and past racism on campus, with varying degrees of success.

While this movement has been strongest in North America, universities in Australia have attracted media coverage as student and staff activists have drawn attention to their institution’s history. At the University of Melbourne, press has focused on former academic staff involved with the eugenics movement: Richard Berry, Frank Tate, Baldwin Spencer, Wilfred Agar and John Medley. The Richard Berry Building, for example, was renamed in honour of Peter Hall in December 2016, following calls by Indigenous students, staff and activists for over 15 years for Berry’s name to be removed.

Beyond developing a strategic and principled approach to decision-making around renaming of features of the university’s campuses, RAP 3 sets targets for the University of Melbourne to lead a critical and scholarly conversation about the way that Indigenous cultures are represented in the built environment. This includes celebrating Indigenous knowledge and increasing the visibility of these Indigenous knowledge systems within our physical environment. These conversations will be incorporated into the significant capital works projects occurring at the University over the next 5 years across several campuses, thus embedding Indigenous knowledge into our place and creating opportunities for the University community to gain an understanding of the contemporary, historical and traditional knowledges, cultures and values of Indigenous Australians and the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

In support of this aspiration, in November 2019, the University held a Research Colloquium on Place and Indigenous Cultural Recognition. An outcome of the Colloquium was an acknowledgement that the University’s histories are contested and that we needed to formally acknowledge our institutional and colonial past and our complicity with respect to eugenics and scientific racism.

On this basis and in order to meet our Advancing Melbourne and RAP 3 commitments with respect to Place, the University has commissioned this Indigenous-led research project to properly articulate that contested history.

Watch the two videos below which discuss this Project in greater depth:

Truth-telling and Place: Contested Histories of the University of Melbourne

Indigenous Australia and the University of Melbourne: A truth-telling of our shared


This project is Indigenous-led with approximately 70 contributors from the University of Melbourne.


Strategy & Culture and Office of the Provost, Chancellery, The University of Melbourne


Project Editors are:

  • Dr Ross Jones, The University of Melbourne
  • Dr James Waghorne, The University of Melbourne
  • Professor Marcia Langton, MSPGH & Chancellery, The University of Melbourne


The first outcome of this Project will be a book published by Melbourne University Publishing (MUP) in mid-2023. A suite of additional outputs to supplement the book will include a website to promote critical and scholarly engagement with this history, a podcast series, training programs and teaching and learning opportunities (including informing curriculum) will be progressed.

More information

Dr Ross Jones, Melbourne CSHE, The University of Melbourne