One fateful day in early 1976 two veterinary surgeons, Mrs. Judith Grieve and Mrs. Betty Hall, were deep in conversation while performing a caesarian section on a pregnant ewe. The topic of conversation was the need for appropriate support services to assist women in crisis. They had both been approached by women in need and were appalled by the lack of services available. As the operation progressed the two vets decided to take action to ensure that the problem was rectified. They conducted research into the numbers of women seeking assistance and the type of assistance available to them around Armidale.
Having explored the extent of the problem, Betty Hall and Judith Grieve made a presentation to the Armidale ZONTA Club, which was seeking a community enhancement project to undertake. The meeting concurred that there was a serious need for a crisis service for women in Armidale. The Methodist Church, at the time, was negotiating to establish a small men’s shelter and ZONTA decided to work towards establishing a women’s shelter. A survey conducted, at the time, amongst Community Agencies and Government Departments revealed overwhelming support for the project from this sector.
“ZONTA” undertook a number of fund raising activities and together with donations from the Armidale Country Women’s Association, the New England Hospital and several other groups they raised over $60,000 within a six-month period. Local music teacher and ZONTA member, Ms.Ruth Sainsbury, took a year off from her job as music teacher at the Armidale Teacher’s College, to undertake the role of “Coordinator of Works”, overseeing the development of the project and managing the finances.
A vacant house belonging to the Government Real Estate Office was located and a submission was made to the Housing Commission to purchase or rent the property. This submission was rejected in spite of a letter of support from the then NSW Premier, Mr Neville Wran. Subsequently a second house, held in trust by the Armidale City Council, was investigated but this application was blocked by a Council rescission motion despite strong community support.
A small group of community workers formed the “Women’s Shelter Organisation” and began gathering information from the few other women’s refuges that were springing up in other parts of the country, at this time.
In July 1977 the Women’s Shelter Organisation became aware that a house in town had been purchased by the local Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, and was marked for demolition or removal. This house was deemed suitable for the project and, following negotiations, ZONTA was able to purchase the cottage for $1.00. Local surveyor, Mr Jim Bradley, located and surveyed lot of Crown Land and reccommended to Council that this be made available. Armidale City Council agreed to the proposal and, from the first July 1978 for a period often years, the land was rented to the Women’s Shelter Organisation at the peppercorn rate of $1.00 per week.
Service club members demolished the chimneys and fences, Council donated bricks and other materials, students from the T.A.F.E. college set out and laid the foundations, and $3,000.00 later the “Kentucky Fried Chicken House” became the Women’s Shelter. During the period of renovations the business of the new association was conducted in a building loaned by the University of New England. All work on the project was carried out by volunteers and ZONTA negotiated a bank loan, for which a number of its members “went guarantor”, to assist with project costs.
In September 1977 a packed community meeting held in Council Chambers, voted to establish the Women’s Shelter Armidale Association. The inaugural meeting of the new association was held, in October of that year, and the first Management Committee was elected.
In November 1977 after much lobbying by NSW Labour Member, the Hon Bill McCarthy, and his wife Mrs Thelma McCarthy, a $25,000 capital grant was received from the NSW and Commonwealth Governments to cover set-up costs. Ruth Sainsbury continued to oversee the renovations on behalf of the new Womens Shelter Armidale association and the ZONTA club. Much of the labour for kitchen and bathroom extensions was provided by the Commonwealth Employment Service, through unemployment relief schemes, and several trades-persons provided free goods and labour. During this time members of the community continued to offer donations of furniture, clothing, equipment and labour and, in June 1978, the first residents were able to move in. On the 27th July 1978 the Women’s Shelter Armidale, the second women’s shelter to be founded in NSW, was officially opened by NSW Premier, Mr Neville Wran.
In 1978 an additional grant was received, from the State and Federal Governments, through the “NSW Women’s Refuge Program”, for salaries and operating costs and in September 1978 the first paid workers were employed. Paid staff were assisted by a daily roster of volunteers. A further capital grant was received in 1979 which enabled final improvements to the house, and on-going salaries.
In 1990 the Women’s Shelter moved into larger premises whose location is not disclosed for safety reasons and, since 2001, has maintained a second suit of offices in the Armidale CBD.
WSA currently provides a comprehensive range of support services to women and children in the New England region. WSA services are available to all women and children in the community who are in need of support, including those who have experienced domestic violence and homelessness.
Women’s Shelter Armidale continues to be funded by both Commonwealth and NSW Governments. Funding for WSA’s “Women’s and Children’s Support Services” program is provided by recurrent, tied, grants from both Commonwealth and NSW Governments and is administered through FaCS, Comminuty Services, under the Specialist Housing Serices (SHS) program. Recurrent funding for our New England Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (“NEWDVCAS”) is provided by NSW Legal Aid, and is administered under the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program(“WDVCAP”).