Vale Professor Anthony Smith

Vale Professor Anthony Smith

HIV Australia | Vol. 11 No. 1 | March 2013

BILL WHITTAKER pays tribute to the life of Anthony Smith

Reflections about Anthony Smith (available on the AFAO blog)

Many people have been saddened by the recent death of our colleague and friend, Professor Anthony Smith.

Anthony was widely known both in Australia and internationally for his work as an outstanding researcher, and also for his passion as an HIV activist spanning some 25 years.

In addition, so many others will remember Anthony as a thoroughly decent, dignified, thoughtful, talented, optimistic, likeable and supportive friend and colleague. I will certainly remember Anthony this way and with great fondness.

I first met Anthony in 1988, soon after he started involvement with the Northern Territory response to HIV.

Up to this point, his professional life had been as a researcher in zoology culminating in being conferred with a PhD by the ANU in 1988. However, by the late 1980s, Anthony had also begun to get involved in HIV-related research, including through the Menzies School of Research in Darwin.

Community advocacy

Anthony’s interest in HIV soon not only encompassed HIV research but also community advocacy. At this time, the Australian community response to HIV was building quickly, but it also remained fragile in many areas, with homophobia and AIDS-phobia all too common in many parts of the country. Governmental and media responses in the Northern Territory and Queensland were often at the extreme end of the scale and HIV organisations were particularly vulnerable.

It was in this environment that Anthony joined the board of the Northern Territory AIDS Council (NTAC) in 1988 and soon after that took up the role of President. Dino Hodge, who was on the NTAC board at the time, remembers Anthony becoming President, ‘when no-one else in the community was prepared to take it on. It was still a period of widespread public fear and panic about HIV and a time of incredibly poor relations between the Northern Territory (NT) Government and the communities most directly affected at that time by HIV. Anthony took on the leadership role and met the demands of it admirably’.

Anthony moved to establish links with the NT Government and the Commonwealth Health Department and his leadership saw the NTAC secure funding and resources for urgently needed community-based HIV prevention and care programs.

Again, as Dino Hodge recollects: ‘I recall being incredibly impressed with the way that Anthony was able to represent the community and to convey the issues to the Government, which at that time was being non-receptive. It was a challenging thing for him to have done, to stand up and take on that role. At the time, it was truly courageous.’

In his role as President of NTAC, Anthony also represented the NT community-based HIV response at the national level through the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO). I was on the board of AFAO at the time and Anthony added a lot of value to the work of the Federation, ably representing the NT perspective, but always within a context of what might best support an effective national response as well.

It was also around this time that the ‘courtship’ of Anthony and Dennis Altman began. It caused much amusement within AFAO, probably because we saw a romantic (almost) side of Dennis not seen too often – given his daunting reputation as an iconic activist. Yes, Dennis is hardly a shrinking violet, but Anthony seemed more than a match for him (and I think Dennis really liked that!). Soon after, Anthony moved from the NT to live with Dennis in Clifton Hill in Melbourne.

Anthony and I served as Vice-President and President of AFAO respectively, so I worked closely with him at AFAO in the early 1990s.

These were very difficult years, with few HIV treatments and rising rates of HIV illness and death. At the same time, AFAO led ambitious programs for reform of clinical trials, drug approval and funding mechanisms.

Anthony was incredibly supportive of my work as President and during this time he made many important contributions to legal reform efforts, anti-discrimination, prevention, research and of course the policy and advocacy agenda of AFAO itself.

Anthony joined La Trobe University in 1993 as part of the Centre for the Study of STDs (which later became The Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society [ARCSHS]), where he worked for nearly 20 years. Anthony secured a chair in the Centre in 2007 and worked as a Deputy Director until his illness last year. As Anthony’s professional colleagues at ARCSHS have written:

‘Anthony was one of the pre-eminent scholars in sexuality research on both the national and international stage. He carried out research which was both rigorous and ethical, and emphasised these values in his teaching and mentoring of others. He leaves an enormous legacy having held numerous nationally competitive grants, published over 300 journal articles, co-edited a book and collaborated with around 65 other academics on his various research projects. His work has been cited more than 3,000 times by researchers all over the world.’ 1

I last spoke with Anthony just a few weeks before his death. He was cheerful and optimistic and I am so glad I had the chance to chat to him. His main concern was for his partner, Dennis, not for himself. I found that very typical of Anthony.

It is a cliché, but an apt one – a great many people will miss Anthony, but also celebrate the fact we’ve been privileged to have been part of his life.


1 Vale Professor Anthony Smith. Tribute published by the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM).

Bill Whittaker is a former President of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO).

For further reflections on Anthony’s life, visit the AFAO blog.