In 1918, Evangeline Ireland (Sister Faith) found a child with disability penned inside a chicken coop. The young girl had been left there while her parents were at work. Like many working class parents, they had no access to welfare or any support services. And at the time, the Education Department didn’t cater for children with disability.
Miss Ireland found the situation so distressing that she established a free kindergarten in inner-suburban Melbourne for children with disability. The kindergarten was named 'Yooralla' - an Aboriginal word meaning "place of love".
Yooralla was moved to Drummond Street, Carlton before settling in Pelham Street, where its services grew to include a school, the first in Victoria for children with non-sensory physical disability. This was reflected with a name change to the Yooralla Hospital School and Free Kindergarten. It was kept financially afloat through public and private benefactors.
Subscriptions and donations declined as a result of the Depression, causing the Yooralla Committee to seek the help of the Argus, then Melbourne's major daily newspaper. An initial amount of seventy-two pounds was raised through the Argus Appeal.
The Rotary Club of Melbourne also donated and maintained a horse ambulance, which was used to take children to and from school each day.
With Malaya rapidly deteriorating into war, Yooralla believed it unwise to run a school in a metropolitan area where enemy bombings could be expected. As a result, Yooralla relocated the children to the Golf House at Macedon for the rest of the conflict.
Yooralla purchased a two-storey home known as Windsor Lodge, situated on the corner of Belmore and Balwyn Roads in Balwyn. Converting it into hostel accommodation for children with disability.
On the advice of Yooralla, the Education Department also purchased the adjoining property, for the future construction of a special school.
GTV 9 presented the first 25-hour Yooralla Telethon. Raising money for the proposed new medical treatment block to support children at the new Balwyn special school.
The telethon was so successful that Yooralla was able to complete the entire project, which comprised a new hostel, nurses' home, kitchen, dining hall and treatment facility.
The telethon ran almost every year until 1979, and was also responsible for launching several successful celebrity careers.
The Balwyn special school opened, with Yooralla providing daily therapy, attendant care and accommodation support. For history on the Balwyn special school, visit the Facebook page for anyone who attended or worked at the school.
Yooralla built and opened its own training centre and special school in Glenroy for children in Melbourne’s northern and western suburbs. Included under three acres of roof and a further seven acres of carefully landscaped natural environment, was provision for a pre-school centre. It marked a return to the original concept of the "kindergarten for handicapped children" started by Sister Faith so many years before.
Yooralla merged with the Victorian Society for Crippled Children and Adults to become the Yooralla Society of Victoria. In turn, offering more services to more people at more locations across Victoria.
Yooralla began the move towards de-institutionalisation with the sale of its Balwyn site and facilities. While therapy staff remained working at the Balwyn school, residents and care staff moved into newly built community-residential housing in Box Hill.
Yooralla sold its South Melbourne premises. Employment services moved to Footscray, the Independent Living Centre moved to Brooklyn and Head Office moved to Flinders Street.
Yooralla completed the sale of two remaining accommodation facilities in Armadale, moving residents into newly built residential housing in nearby suburbs.
2006 - Yooralla today
Now officially known as Yooralla, the organisation has become a multi-faceted, community based disability service provider. Operating out of numerous houses, kindergartens, schools, and other facilities in community locations across Victoria.