Our history

We have a long and proud history of working to achieve a fair go for all people with disability.

Dedicated to our vision of a world where people with disability are equal citizens, we have played an active role in improving public awareness and progressing the nature of disability support in Australia.

Our mission is clear: to actively support people with disabilities, their families and carers, in all their diversity, to live the life they choose.

Establishment

Our story starts in 1918.

It all began with one woman who was determined to make a difference to the lives of others.

Miss Evangeline Ireland (Sister Faith) found a child with disability penned inside a chicken coop, a young girl who had been left there while her parents were at work. Like many working class parents, the child’s mother and father had no access to welfare or support services. Back then times were different; the Education Department didn’t cater for children with disability.

Moved and distressed by the little girl’s circumstances, Miss Ireland established a free kindergarten in inner-suburban Melbourne for children with disability. The kindergarten was named “Yooralla” - an Aboriginal word meaning "place of love".

The Great Depression

During the Depression in the 1930s subscriptions and donations to Yooralla declined, causing Yooralla to seek the help of The Argus, then Melbourne’s major daily newspaper.

With the help of the Argus Appeal, an initial amount of seventy-two pounds was raised. Hearing of Yooralla’s plight, The Rotary Club of Melbourne also offered their support, donating and maintaining a horse ambulance, a vehicle used to take children to and from school each day. 

Times were tough, but Yooralla was determined to push through. 

WWII

Early in the 20th century government support for people with disability was still scarce. And though the Commonwealth introduced the Invalid Pension in 1908, it wasn’t until the early 1940s that the government rapidly expanded disability support services, in response to the large number of casualties suffered during WWII.

The current version of this benefit is the Disability Support Pension and, to a lesser extent, the Sickness Allowance.

The threat of war in Australia was high during the early 1940s, and Yooralla felt it would be unwise to continue running a school in metropolitan Melbourne, where bombing was expected.

And so, to ensure the safety of those under their care, Yooralla relocated to the Golf House at Macedon in 1942 for the remainder of the conflict.

Post-war

During the war and in the time after, Yooralla continued on in its mission, expanding and specialising in support for children.

After the war the school returned to Melbourne, purchasing ‘Windsor Lodge’ in Balwyn and converting it into hostel accommodation, as well as a school for children with disability.

By now times were changing, and Yooralla were determined to make use of new technologies to further their cause. And so in 1959, with the advent of television, the first Yooralla Telethon ran with GTV 9, raising money for a medical treatment block. The telethon ran for 20 years, contributing greatly to the services and infrastructure developed in that time.

During the 1960s and 70s the Commonwealth increased funding to help organisations like Yooralla to provide accommodation, employment and other support services.

It was during these years that the Balwyn Special School was opened, along with a school in Glenroy, broadening support to children of the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne.

Winds of change

The 70s was a powerful time in the journey towards equality. The 1970s saw the beginning of the move away from a medical model of support, towards a more social model. At last, there was a shift away from segregation and towards inclusion.

During this time, Yooralla merged with the Victorian Society for Crippled Children & Adults, to become The Yooralla Society of Victoria.

The shift broadened Yooralla’s support network to include adults as well as children, allowing us to reach out to more people in more places.

United Nations

In the 1980s the disability movement took force, initiating talks about the rights of people with disability to be protected from neglect and abuse.

This was an important time for people with disability, as well as for their families and carers. The movement influenced policy, changing the way services were provided in Australia.

One of the biggest reforms to come from this time was the ‘deinstitutionalisation’ of people with intellectual disabilities. An amendment that symbolised Australia’s evolving attitudes toward disability.

During this time, funding was also re-directed into community-based supports and the Australian Government began a review of services for people with disabilities, leading to the establishment of the Disability Services Act 1986 (Cwlth).

The United Nations also played a key role in raising awareness about the rights of people with disability, culminating in The Decade of Disabled Persons (1982 – 1993).

Deinstitutionalisation

Yooralla began the transition with the sale of its Balwyn site and facilities in 1993, re-locating to newly built community-residential housing in the suburb of Box Hill.

Throughout the 1990s, the remaining facilities were sold and a new social model service approach was formed, along with new community based accommodation and services.

Each change made further strengthened Yooralla’s ability to help others.

The past decade

At the turn of the century Yooralla continued to progress the disability rights movement, with its strong passion, practicality and purpose.

We achieved this progress by investing in and developing services for people with disability, by consulting those with disability themselves.

During this past decade, we are proud of the progress we have made. Our quality services now include: employment, education, training, and self-advocacy development programs.

Most importantly, each of our services is designed with the same goal in mind: to empower individuals to live the life they choose.

Where we are now

As Victoria’s largest disability services organisation, we’ve worked hard to help make the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) a reality, and are excited to be a part of the largest, most significant social reform in Australia over the past 30 years.

Today we are officially known as ‘Yooralla’, and are proud of our long history in the disability sector.

We’ve travelled a long way to get to where we are today, by providing quality, sustainable and flexible services that uphold all human rights.

The road ahead

On our journey through the evolution of disability support, we shifted our focus from ‘helping people’ to ‘supporting people’. Now our goal is crystal clear, to ‘empower people’ to live the life they choose.

As we transition to the NDIS, we continue to drive innovation and deliver progressive quality services and safeguards for all people with disability.

We look forward to continuing on our journey with you, driven by the vision of a world where people with disability are equal citizens.

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