It is quite an apposite time for the appearance of Nick Cook’s Fighting for Our Lives: The history of a community response to AIDS, when the world is dealing with the impact of another deadly virus. There are always lessons to be learned: where better to start than from historical experience.
It was nearly four decades ago, in November 1982, that the first case of HIV/AIDS was diagnosed in Sydney, heralding the onset of an epidemic that terrified the country. Part of the reason for the fear and paranoia it engendered was that it was utterly unexpected. Even though Sydneysiders had survived many epidemics in the past – from smallpox in 1789 to the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918–20, all of which affected thousands of people, some with immense death rates – a range of medical developments over the twentieth century, such as inoculations and vaccinations on top of existing strict quarantine regulations, had led to a belief that medical science had finally got ‘disease’ under control. Since World War II, new generations of Australians had grown up secure in the belief that epidemics were a thing of the past: they would not have to face something that had been almost commonplace in their grandparents’ times.