Our history

70 years ago Sir Peter MacCallum and Dr Rutherford Kaye-Scott convinced the Victorian Government to set up Victoria’s first dedicated cancer centre.

Sir Peter MacCallum with the Victorian Minister for Health, Ewen Paul Cameron MP, at the opening of the first Linear Accelerator. 1956.
Sir Peter MacCallum with the Victorian Minister for Health, Ewen Paul Cameron MP, at the opening of the first Linear Accelerator. 1956.

It had humble beginnings, starting in just one room of the then Queen Victoria Hospital in Melbourne.

The inaugural meeting of the board was held on 27 April 1949, with the first outpatient clinic named in Sir Peter’s honour in 1950.

By 1986, when its name changed from the ‘Cancer Institute’ to the ‘Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute’, it occupied 11 different sites across Melbourne. These locations were consolidated in 1990 on the site of the former St Andrews Hospital in East Melbourne.

In June 2016, Peter Mac moved into its new home within the $1 billion purpose-built Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre building, located at the entrance to Melbourne’s Parkville bio-medical precinct.

Find out more about the Top 10 historical events of Peter Mac.

About Sir Peter MacCallum

Sir Peter MacCallum was born on 14 July 1885 in Glasgow, Scotland, the son of a master grocer. His family immigrated to    New Zealand in 1886, where Peter later won scholarships to Christ’s College and then Canterbury College (BSc, NZ, 1907; MSc, 1908; MA, 1909).

Peter’s ambition was to study medicine. Using money saved from part-time teaching, Peter travelled to England in 1910    where he entered the University of Edinburgh (MB, ChB, 1914), obtaining first-class honours in most subjects.

Away from his schooling, Peter was also a champion runner and good at rugby - he almost played for Scotland.

Peter worked in general practice for six months before being called up for service in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He served as a medic on the Western Front during World War I, for which he won the Military Cross and was twice mentioned in dispatches.

In 1918 Peter returned home after being badly gassed on the frontline. Poor health was probably the reason he began focusing on pathology and research rather than direct patient care.

Peter married and was soon appointed clinical pathologist at the Royal Infirmary. He undertook research at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, of which he was elected a member (1934) and fellow (1953). He also taught at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow, and earned a diploma of public health in 1923.

Peter and his wife Bella had three daughters, but sadly Bella died giving birth to their third. He later married Ursula, a friend from his university days, and together they had a son.

In 1924 Peter was offered the chair of pathology at the University of Melbourne, a role his predecessor had occupied for 42 years. Determined to bring about change, Peter supported the proposal for a new medical school, leading to the Royal Melbourne Hospital being relocated closer to the university. Peter was dean (1939–43 and 1947–50) of the Faculty of Medicine, chair (1944–46) of the Professorial Board and a member (1931–50 and 1953–61) of Council. He also chaired the Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria from 1946 to 1963.

In 1953 Peter was knighted for his contributions to health and education.

Reserved and reticent at times, Sir Peter MacCallum was admired by his students for his probity, kindness and generosity. Colleagues and friends who knew him more intimately enjoyed his sense of fun and respected his compassion, tolerance and staunch principles. He had a reputation for sound judgement and, consequently, for his capacity to influence people.

Sir Peter passed away in 1974 at the age of 88, his legacy a world-leading cancer centre where humanity, care and research are valued equally. Sir Peter MacCallum believed that nothing but the best was good enough in cancer care.

70 years after our establishment, this sense of purpose and commitment to making life better for people affected by cancer continues at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre today.