Eugenics in Australia



Dr Irene Rogers, PhD, Adjunct Senior Lecturer CQU, RN

Irene’s research interests are in the history of medicine during war and in the history and philosophy of science. She has published many articles and presented academic papers at conferences in London, Spain and across Australia.


Irene has also worked extensively in humanitarian nursing in areas of conflict as a clinician and educator and also in remote Australian indigenous communities. Before the pandemic, she travelled each year to places such as Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe to work as a volunteer health educator and clinician. She has also been a guest lecturer on a river cruise on the Ganges exploring the hidden story of the women of the Raj.


Summary of the talk

The war on the weak: the history of the eugenics movement

The term eugenics comes from the Greek word “eugenes“, meaning “well-born”. Eugenics seeks to engineer through “science” a better human race by purposefully selecting good traits and eliminating bad ones. This is very common aim when breeding “non-humans” such as livestock and pets.

Over the years, eugenics had many proponents, from some of the greatest and most admired thinkers in ancient civilisation such as Plato to the most abhorrent and well known example in modern times, Adolph Hitler.

In this talk, we will explore the popularity of these ideas across the world during the early to mid-20th century and how laws were passed by various governments to further the aims of human improvement through better breeding. Australia was one of those countries.

The horror of the way in which Nazis took Eugenics to unimagined extremes, ensured that after the Second World War the movement largely disappeared from public view.  But have we given up on the struggle for human perfection?

Posted in Friday Talks.