Monash University Publishing: Advancing knowledge

The Market in Babies: Stories of Australian Adoption

By Marian Quartly, Shurlee Swain and Denise Cuthbert


Book Launch

The Market in Babies: Stories of Australian Adoption, by Marian Quartly, Shurlee Swain and Denise Cuthbert, was launched by Professor The Honourable Nahum Mushin on 28 November 2013 at RMIT University.
Read Professor Mushin's launch speech.

The Market in Babies: Stories of Australian Adoption tells the history of adoption in Australia from its beginnings in the nineteenth century to its decline at the beginning of the twenty-first. The authors find that a market in babies has long existed. In the early years supply outstripped demand; needy babies were hard to place. Mid-twentieth century demand and supply grew together with adoption presented as the perfect solution to two social problems: infertility and illegitimacy. Supply declined in the 1970s and demand turned to new global markets. Now these markets are closing, but technology provides new opportunities and Australians are acquiring babies through the surrogacy markets of India and the United States.

As the rate of adoptions in Australia falls to a historic low, and parliaments across the country are apologising to parents and babies for the pain caused by past practices, this book identifies an historical continuum between the past and the present and challenges the view that the best interests of the child can ever be protected in an environment where the market for babies is allowed to flourish.

This book comes out of a national research project investigating the history of adoption in Australia. The project examined the distinctive ways in which adoption has reflected and shaped family ideals within Australian settler society. It sought to bring into history the stories of people whose lives have been changed by adoption, in order to acknowledge that experience and to read it against policy change. Those interested in reading more about the history of Australian adoption, primary and secondary, will find a comprehensive listing on the Monash History of Adoption project website at:

About the Authors

The authors of The Market in Babies are long-established scholars expert in the history of the family, welfare history and the making of public policy in Australia.

Marian Quartly

Marian Quartly holds the position of Professor Emerita at the Monash School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies. Her research is well-regarded in the fields of Australian family history and gender relations. Her long-term research concern is the history of family in late twentieth century Australia. She has published extensively on the history of adoption in Australia, with particular reference to the politics of adoption and the role of social work in making policy and practice.

Shurlee Swain

Shurlee Swain is a Professor at Australian Catholic University. She has published widely in the history of women and children, with a particular interest in the impact of welfare on individual lives. Her publications in this area include Single Mothers and Their Children: Disposal, Punishment and Survival in Australia, Confronting Cruelty, Child, Nation, Race and Empire and Born in Hope: A History of the Early Years of the Family Court of Australia. Currently Professor Swain is the historian chief investigator on the National Find & Connect Web Resource project.

Denise Cuthbert

Denise Cuthbert is currently Dean of the School of Graduate Research at RMIT. She has a long-standing interest in adoption and family formation and has published on the experiences of non-Aboriginal women who adopted and fostered Aboriginal children. In her recent work on the history of adoption in Australia, Denise has published widely on the politics and philosophy of adoption policy. In 2009, she co-edited with Ceridwen Spark, Other People’s Children: Adoption in Australia (Melbourne: Scholarly Publishing). 

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