The University of Newcastle, Australia

History of disease more relevant than ever

Janet Copley was a tireless political activist and campaigner for social justice in Newcastle and her legacy lives on through the University of Newcastle. She left a generous bequest to support women studying at university, and this has been used in part to establish a doctoral scholarship in her honour. The Janet Copley Doctoral Scholarship is preferentially awarded to women applicants who submit a proposal for a high-quality research project in areas related to: history; autobiography and biography; memoir and historical fiction; labour relations and labour histories; or aspects of Newcastle’s history, society and culture.

The first research area to be supported through the scholarship couldn’t be more topical. What began as an interesting research question for PhD candidate Heather Lyle has become critical this year amid a global pandemic.


Heather’s area of interest is the social history of disease in Australia. Heather says malaria, that many may not realise was a significant feature in the Australian context, offers a perfect lens to examine how the idea of an 'Australian' community has operated in the past and explore how historical events can inform how we approach and resolve current events.

“The seismic disruption to work and social life caused by COVID-19 requires a total rethink of what community means,” said Heather. “My thesis will study the historical impact of malaria in Australia and Papua New Guinea between 1843 and 1939 and I hope to offer some insight into how communities define and redefine themselves in challenging and changing circumstances by tracking their discussion of issues important to them.”

After studying full time through my undergraduate degree and honours, I simply would not have been able to continue into a PhD without this support.

Heather Lyle 
Bachelor of Arts (Honours), 2018; Diploma of Languages, 2017 
Janet Copley Doctoral Scholarship Recipient

Supporting Women in Research 

Janet understood that studying can be expensive and challenging, and sometimes some extra support can make all the difference. 
As students and academics, women often need to balance competing demands of family life, carer responsibilities, gaps in career and study opportunities, as well as other barriers to success. 
It is a privilege to be able to honour Janet’s wishes.

Professor Catharine Coleborne 
Head of School of Humanities and Social Science