In the 50 years since the first edition of this journal, operative paediatric surgery has undergone radical change. Many of the most common instruments are unchanged, both as a testament to their utility and in recognition of past surgeons remembered eponymously. Surrounding that basic core of instruments, theatre has changed radically as new tools and techniques have arisen. Surgeons have come down from their pedestals, recognising surgery as a team sport rather than a solo performance. More than half of the current paediatric surgical trainees are women, a higher proportion than in any other craft group of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. The appearance, and rapid development, of laparoscopy is to many observers the most notable change in surgery over the last 50 years. Placed in its context though, it is simply the most prominent example of a frameshift in surgical thinking. The patient as a whole is now the focus, rather than just the disease. Recent developments are as much about minimising harm to normal tissues as they are about extirpating pathology. As a surgical maxim, ‘Primum non nocere’ is even more in evidence in 2015 than it was in 1965.