Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Van Grafhorst, Eve (1982–1993)

by N. T. McLennan

This article was published online in 2017

Eve Van Grafhorst (1982–1993), HIV-AIDS child activist, was born on 17 July 1982 at St Leonards, Sydney, daughter of Dutch-born John Van Grafhorst, nurseryman and later painter, and his New Zealand-born wife Gloria Ann, née Taylor. Eve was born prematurely and required several blood transfusions. Her family would later learn that one was contaminated with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Following three months in hospital she joined her parents and older half-sister, Dana, at their home on the New South Wales central coast.

In February 1985 Eve began attending the Michael Burns Child Care Centre at Kincumber. Soon after, she was diagnosed as HIV positive. She was excluded from the centre in June, and her condition became public knowledge. In late September the New South Wales Department of Health provided assurances that Eve’s attendance presented ‘no excessive risk’ to other children (Javes 1985, 9) and she was permitted to return. Many parents remained unconvinced and boycotted the centre. In October she was expelled after biting another child.

Wanting their daughter to have the opportunity to play with her peers, Eve’s parents rejected an offer from the Council of the City of Gosford to pay for alternative care. The stand-off attracted huge media interest. At a time when little was known about the virus and how it was transmitted, fear of infection led to extreme reactions: the family were evicted from their rented home, a neighbour erected a high dividing fence, and some locals crossed the street to avoid Eve. One commentator would reflect that ‘the Van Grafhorsts’ fight to have Eve accepted in the community (waged through television and newspapers as much as directly with the locals) generated almost as much ill-will as Eve’s illness’ (Whelan 1990, 70).

In April 1986 the journalist Robert Stockdill launched an appeal, entitled ‘A Life For Eve,’ that raised funds to help relocate the family to New Zealand. They left Sydney in June and moved to Gloria’s childhood home of Hastings on the North Island. Eve attended St Aubyn Street Preschool and then the local Rudolf Steiner School. By the end of that year her parents had separated and John had returned to Australia. When aged six, she developed acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). The development of the condition was played out in the public eye; birthdays, hospital visits, and holidays appeared in the news. In mid-1991 journalists reported on her trip to Disneyland (California, United States of America) which was a gift from lottery winners who had read that Eve’s condition was deteriorating. After a new drug, dideoxyinosine (DDI), failed to be effective, she was given a cocktail of antiviral medications to help suppress the disease.

Diminutive in size, wide-eyed, bubbly, and occasionally feisty, Eve confounded stereotypical images of the AIDS victim. Dubbed a ‘small teacher’ (Sydney Morning Herald 1993, 3), she spoke to schools and community groups, helped to found the Kiwi Kids with AIDS trust, and ‘sold’ hugs and kisses in Napier to promote better understanding of the disease. She was acutely aware of her mortality and tried to pack life’s experiences into her final years. In 1992 she dressed as a flight attendant and served passengers on an Air New Zealand fundraising flight to Wellington for the trust. At her tenth birthday party she was married in a mock wedding. In 1992 she was presented with a New Zealand Variety Club Heart award.

Survived by her mother, father, stepfather, two half-sisters, and two half-brothers, she died on 20 November 1993 at her Havelock North home and was cremated. More than six hundred people attended her funeral at St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Hastings. Later that month the Angel Eve House trust was established to raise money to provide a hospice for children suffering from serious illnesses. She was the subject of two television documentaries that screened in 1994, Eve—Gloria’s Story and All about Eve, and a patio rose was named after her.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Bailey, Paul. ‘The Gosford Dilemma.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 12 October 1985, Good Weekend 10–14
  • Dekker, Diana. ‘Life After Eve.’ Evening Post (Wellington, NZ), 19 February 1994, 13–14
  • Hunt, Tom. ‘Remembering Eve: From Hurt to Hugs.’ Dominion Post, 23 November 2013, 21
  • Javes, Sue. ‘AIDS Girl Eve Just Wants to Have Fun.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 29 September 1985, 9
  • Lichtenstein, Bronwen. ‘Creating Icons of AIDS: The Media and Popular Culture.’ In Intimate Details & Vital Statistics: AIDS, Sexuality and the Social Order in New Zealand, edited by Peter Davis, 66–80. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1996
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Shame and Grief Mark the Death of a Small Teacher.’ 22 November 1993, 3
  • Whelan, Judith. ‘Eve Turns 8 Against the Odds.’ Sydney Morning Herald, 14 July 1990, 70

Additional Resources

Citation details

N. T. McLennan, 'Van Grafhorst, Eve (1982–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/van-grafhorst-eve-27059/text34532, published online 2017, accessed online 12 December 2017.

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