In 1976, Professor Cyril Dixon, Head of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the University of Otago, handed me a Preventive Medicine Dissertation written in 1942 by a 5th year medical student. I was a twenty-one-year-old history honours student working on a dissertation on abortion in the 1930s. Donald McAllister’s dissertation provided a source I never imagined existed: an interview with a ‘backstreet’ abortionist. Here I learned of the desperation of the mainly married women who had abortions performed in the back of the abortionist’s car. He knew his anatomy and about sterilising his implements (a No. 8 gum elastic catheter, slightly modified) and how to protect his identity (by performing his services in the dark). I tracked down Dr McAllister who was happy to speak to me and I learned even more. I was fascinated by his insights into the murky, undercover world of backstreet abortion.