Student Affairs

A Medley of Evil – A Dark History of Our Student Union Library

Photo Credit: Robert Staunton

In 1970, a large number of recreational books and records were bequeathed to the University of Melbourne in the name of John Medley. As the University of Melbourne had already maintained a recreational library, the resources were hence donated to Monash and the John Medley Library was established as the first library of our student union. Managed by the Monash Student Association, the library is run off the work of a few staff members who are either students or past students, and a team of dedicated student volunteers. Grace Trist, the library coordinator, mentioned that the original purpose of the library in 1970 is still very relevant today. She acknowledged that a lot of the feedback she gets from students now is similar to back when the library was first established. It is a “refuge for students, away from the chaos of academic life” she says.

John Medley Library, 1970s

Over the past few years, there has been debate over the names of particular buildings at the University of Melbourne. The Richard Berry building has recently had its name changed to the Peter Hall building late last year. This was due to the fact that Berry, a strong proponent of eugenics, had collected some 400 Aboriginal corpses. The remains were re-discovered on the campus in 2003, arguably making the name change several years overdue. There has been a similar push for other buildings at Melbourne University carrying the names of detestable individuals to also be changed. One relevant example to Monash as well as Melbourne university is John Medley. Both staff and students at Monash and Melbourne University have expressed their concern over the name of buildings carrying his name.

John Medley has a particularly shameful history involving the unethical use of eugenics, specifically aimed at Aboriginal people amongst many others. Furthermore, Medley was a member of the Eugenics Society of Victoria. The society was known for advocating for the use of sterilisation, segregation, and lethal chambers against Aboriginal people, homosexuals, people with disabilities and other groups of people that were deemed ‘inferior’ by members of the society. The practise of eugenics informed much of the belief system of Nazism. Following in a similar mould to the research developed in the United States, particularly California, eugenics gained prominence in Germany prior to the Nazis gaining power. However, once Hitler consolidated power there was a much larger emphasis placed on the expansion of its research. This expansion ultimately led to the removal of people who were generally considered weak in the chain of heredity: including people with cognitive and physical disabilities, mental illness and homosexuals. The idea was that the removal of ‘rotten heredity’ would result in a genetically superior master race. The Holocaust was a consequence of this belief system.

For a university campus to still have buildings named in commemoration of people whose actions aided the oppression of marginalised groups, suggests that the honoree should still be celebrated. Eugenics and the racist practices of the members of the Eugenics Society of Victoria are nothing to be celebrated. Instead, we should be celebrating Indigenous achievement. The struggle that Indigenous Australians have faced in trying to gain access to education and  equal opportunities is still ongoing. With this in mind the 2017 MSA Indigenous department is in the process of renaming the building after a prominent Indigenous Monash graduate. By doing so, we would not only have a library named after a person relevant to our university, but it could play an additional role in reversing the image impacted by John Medley.  Enforcing the notion that we should honour Indigenous Australians, rather than a person who denigrated them. If the plan to rename is successful, the student union library would better reflect the values here at Monash University.

Bryda Nichols, MSA Indigenous Affairs Officer


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