The history of the Sydney School of Public Health

19 May 2020
Tackling global health challenges for over 90 years
Founded in 1930, Sydney School of Public Health is Australia’s first and leading school of public health. Each day, we are tackling the greatest health challenges the world faces by providing quality education, conducting high-impact research and translating knowledge into action.

Our history

  • 1930s

    1930: Following agreement between the University of Sydney and the Commonwealth, the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine officially opened – the first if its kind in Australia. The building is now named after Sir Edward Ford, a distinguished public health figure and former professor.

    1930s: School of Public Health introduced the concept of school health and drove implementation of nutrition and physical activity programs in NSW public schools.

    1930s: The Diploma of Public Health and the Diploma of Tropical Medicine were established. Students enrolling in these courses had to be medically qualified.

  • 1940s

    1939-1945: During World War II, the academic staff provided invaluable assistance to the Allied military forces in the Southwest Pacific as teachers and researchers in tropical health. Sir Edward Ford, Director in 1947–68, ran the wartime Malaria Control Service which played a significant part in reducing the impact of endemic malaria on the fitness of Australian troops.

  • 1950s

    1950s: Professor Oliver Lancaster leads seminal work on cancer epidemiology in Australia – including world-leading studies on melanoma – that continues to be an area of expertise in the School of Public Health to this day.

  • 1960s

    1960s: Specially-built climatic chamber allows School to lead cutting-edge research into heat stress and responses to cold that advance research into environmental health and support Australia’s Antarctic Mission.

  • 1970s

    1978: The first Master of Public Health in Australia launched, and students enrolled were no longer necessarily medical graduates.

  • 1980s

    1984: Professor Charles Kerr chaired the Expert Committee on the Review of Data on Atmosphere Fallout Arising from British Nuclear Tests in Australia in 1984. This report formed the basis of the Australian government’s decision to establish the Royal Commission on British Nuclear Tests in Australia.

    1980s: School of Public Health leads early work to trace the impact of asbestos in Australia through the Australian Mesothelioma Surveillance Program.

    1987: School of Public Health researchers lead the 1987 Amendment to the National Health Act which completely reformed pharmaceutical policy in Australia so that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee need consider the therapeutic and economic evidence of a prescribed medicine to be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

  • 1990s

    1990: The very first public health student enrolled in the PhD. The school now has over 200 PhD students.

    1996: In response to the Port Arthur gun massacre, the Edward Ford building became temporary host to the Coalition for Gun Control, an affiliation of individuals and organisations advocating for tighter gun control in Australia. The Coalition for Gun Control became the leading group supporting the Government’s planned legislation banning private ownership of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns and introducing gun regulation, by counteracting gun lobby propaganda and organising public rallies which attracted tens of thousands all over Australia. Over 640,000 guns were surrendered in the world’s largest gun buyback.

    1998: The first Graduate Diploma in Indigenous Health Promotion launched. More than 200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students have graduated from this degree and gone on to work in healthcare roles across the country.

  • International Public Health lab class


    2000: The Master of International Public Health launched

    2007: Professor Simon Chapman was part of a research team working on a three-year NHMRC grant examining various options for ‘the future of tobacco control’. Professor Chapman lobbied the Government to impose plain packaging legislation. The Minister of Health accepted and implemented this strategy, and since 1 December 2012 all tobacco products sold in Australia have been required to be sold in standard ‘plain’ packs.

    2017: The Sydney School of Public Health ranked first in the Asia-Pacific and eighteenth in the world for public health in the 2017 Academic Ranking of World Universities.

    2020: A number of Sydney School of Public Health alumni play leading roles in the Australian COVID response - two Deputy Chief Medical Officers: Paul Kelly (PhD SPH) and Nick Coatsworth (MIPH SPH); and NSW Health’s Jeremy McAnulty (MPH)