Our history

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Our six-decade story starts here...


1959 - First days of the Heart Foundation

In 1959, a group of doctors, lawyers and businessmen resolved to form the Heart Foundation, a national foundation with divisions in each state and territory, to coordinate efforts to prevent and treat diseases of the heart.

Jump Rope for Heart kids


1961 - Fundraising begins

Operation Heartbeat, on Sunday 28 October 1961, was the Heart Foundation's first coordinated fundraising appeal. We approached hundreds of companies and enlisted 100,000 volunteers to knock on doors around Australia, raising $1.8 million to help fund heart disease research.



1962 - Pacemakers transform lives

We've funded researchers like Dr Graeme Sloman, who played an important role in developing the artificial pacemaker. In 1962 Dr Sloman helped implant the first permanent pacemaker in Australia. Over the years, pacemakers have given thousands of heart patients the chance to enjoy a better lifestyle.


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1964 - Cardiac rehabilitation

In the 1960s there were no cardiac rehabilitation services. We launched five patient service programs between 1961 and 1964, which demonstrated the importance of rehabilitation in getting people back on their feet. Today, cardiac rehabilitation is available in hospitals around Australia, and it is recognised as an important part of recovery after a heart event.

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1968 - Heart transplants

We organised a conference in 1968 with Dr Christian Barnard (who conducted the first heart transplant in 1967 in South Africa) to educate Australian cardiac surgeons about this pioneering operation. Australia's first heart transplant occurred that same year. Research funded by the Heart Foundation has also helped improve surgery and medications to reduce complications and improve the long-term survival rate.

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1969 - First coronary care ambulance

In 1962 we supported the introduction of coronary care units, and in 1969 we sponsored Australia's first coronary care ambulance. Both of these dedicated services are now commonplace throughout Australia. These units, along with better medications and improved diagnosis and treatment of heart attack, have significantly reduced the number of people dying from heart attack.


1973 - Effective treatment

Treating high blood pressure helps reduce the risk of heart disease, but this wasn't understood until the 1970s. In 1973 our Director, Dr Ralph Reader, helped establish a landmark study investigating the use of medication for high blood pressure. This had a dramatic impact on medical practice.


1970s - Free emergency service line

After years of negotiation in the 1970s, we persuaded Telecom Australia (now Telstra) to make Triple Zero (000) a free call for emergencies. We were also instrumental in getting emergency resuscitation information put into phone books.


1983 - Kids get skipping

In 1983 we launched our Jump Rope for Heart school skipping program. Since then this flagship program has attracted the participation of generations of Australians - more than 8 million children, from over 90% of Australian schools.

Jump Rope for Heart kids

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1985 - The dangers of smoking

In 1985 we were one of the first organisations to alert the Australian public to the risks of passive smoking with our 'So you think you're a non-smoker' campaign. The relationship between smoking and heart disease had been confirmed in the 1979 US surgeon General's report.

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1989 - Healthier food choices

In 1989 we launched the Heart Foundation Tick to help people choose a healthier option in the supermarket, and challenge Australian food manufacturers to improve their products. For a quarter of a century the Tick was the most recognised food labelling system in Australia and led the way on things like the display of nutrition information panels and the reduction of trans fats in Australian margarines.

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1995 - Getting Australians walking

Over the past 21 years, Heart Foundation Walking has helped more than 85,000 Australians become more active. Since becoming a national program in 2007, it now boasts more than 26,000 active walkers and 1,300 free groups all over the country.

ATSI family walking

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1997 - Cholesterol medication

We managed a major study into the benefits of cholesterol-lowering medication and launched the results in 1997. The Long-term Intervention with Pravastatin in Ischaemic Disease (LIPID) clearly demonstrated that the cholesterol-lowering medication Pravastatin could significantly reduce coronary events, stroke and overall death rates.

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1998 - Support for all Australians

In 1998 we launched our dedicated Health Information Service telephone line. For the cost of a local call, Australians can dial 1300 36 27 87 and speak to a trained professional about heart health issues. We now receive 30,000 calls for help every year, and in 2014 this vital service received its 500,000th call.

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2006 - Indigenous heart disease

Indigenous Australians are more than five times more likely than non-Indigenous Australians to die from rheumatic heart disease. We launched Australia's first national, evidence-based review in partnership with The Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand to improve the diagnosis and management of this life-threatening condition.

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2009 - Warning signs campaign

Launched in 2009, our hard-hitting 'Warning signs of a Heart Attack' campaign raised awareness of the signs of a heart attack and the importance of acting quickly by calling Triple Zero (000).

Warning signs

2011 - Plain packaging legislation

We were instrumental in the fight to see all tobacco products sold in Australia wrapped in drab brown packaging with clear health warnings and generic branding. This world-first legislation announced in 2011 put an end to the tobacco industry’s ability to use cigarette packs as advertising billboards to promote smoking to children and adults.

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2012 - A new direction for research

Following intensive consultation and review, we introduced a new research funding strategy to build the future of cardiovascular research in Australia. The new strategy focused on supporting early and mid-career researchers and fostering collaboration to achieve more, together. We also launched a number of new research awards, including Australian Indigenous Scholarships and Future Leader Fellowships.

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2014 - Measuring heart disease risk

We led the development of a systematic approach to measure a person's overall risk of developing heart disease. The approach measures combined risk factors to create an estimate of a person’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke within the next five years. Known as known as absolute cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, this approach means health professionals can make decisions about how to best care for their patients. It provides a quick and effective way to identify people most at risk and those who can benefit the most from intensive management.

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Today, tomorrow and the future

We continue to lead the fight against cardiovascular disease in Australia, and strive to improve the heart health of us all. Right now, there are 1.4 million Australians living with heart disease, and we’re out to change that by funding vital research, developing guidelines for health professionals, supporting patient care, and helping Australians to live healthier lifestyles.

What we do