History of Tamworth Women’s Refuge

Tamworth Women’s Refuge was officially opened on March 1st 1978, after unofficially opening it’s doors in January of that year. This date was only three years after the first Women’s Refuge “Elsie” opened in Sydney. Tamworth was the first Women’s Refuge in the New England region.

The people who had the foresight and vision to turn this in to reality were members of the Tamworth District Social Services Council (T.D.S.S.C.). This group was established in 1972 to provide an umbrella organisation for all community and social welfare services in Tamworth. It gave the members an opportunity to discuss matters of mutual concern, exchange information and identify gaps in the welfare system.

The Tamworth Women’s Refuge had it’s beginnings in the 1970’s, with discussions taking place at meetings of the T.D.S.S.C about the need to have a multi-purpose facility for people requiring emergency accommodation. Out of this idea emerged the vision of creating a crisis accommodation service for women and children who were needing to escape from domestic violence.

In 1976 President of the T.D.S.S.C., Laurie Beattie, attended a conference in Newcastle where he met Sue Vardon and spoke to her about the T.D.S.S.C.’s interest in a multi-purpose facility. A short time later, Sue was appointed as a Community Program Officer with the Department of Youth and Community Affairs (previously Department of Community Services (DoCS), now Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS)). Included in her portfolio was the funding of Women’s Refuges.

In early July 1977, Sue phoned Laurie and told him that she had some unexpected funds available for a Women’s Refuge. The Department of Youth and Community Affairs was looking to establish two Women’s Refuges in country NSW and Sue thought Tamworth would be ideal for one of them. A submission needed to be sent in by Friday of the next week.

The following Tuesday, several members of the T.D.S.S.C met and worked late into the night to complete the submission. A short time later came the news from Sue that the T.D.S.S.C. submission had been successful and $39,264 had been approved in the 1977/78 financial year to establish and operate Tamworth’s first Women’s Refuge.

There was now a huge amount of work ahead of them. A suitable house had to be found, a manageress, volunteers, furniture, equipment, etc. The T.D.S.S.C.’s aim was to get the Refuge up and running as soon as possible, and they achieved this in three months.

Solicitor Ken Byfield, played a key role in finding a house which could be used as a refuge. Mr and Mrs Webster, clients of Ken Byfield, offered the use of a house they owned. The house was located at 60 Fitzroy Street and became the premises of the first women’s refuge in Tamworth.

The position of live-in manageress was advertised and Leonie Trives, aged 24 was appointed in December 1977. She resigned in September 1978. The extent of the pressure placed on a live-in manageress was realised after Leonie’s resignation and it was decided that additional paid staff and a roster of volunteers was needed to make the running of the Refuge more workable.

Before the open day, the name of the Refuge was discussed. Although it did not eventuate, there was strong support for the Refuge to be named “Alma Trimmer House” because of Alma’s contribution to welfare work in Tamworth.

Some of the names considered are following:

  • Weeroona - resting place.
  • Allawah - stay here.
  • Carinya - a peaceful home.
  • Gwandalan - quiet or peace
  • Marwarra - a pleasant place
  • Numba – a sleeping place
  • Woolway – a sheltered place
  • Canara – welcome

During the first half of 1980, 60 Fitzroy Street had to be sold. A new location was found at 4 Darling Street. The move was made on 18th August 1980 and the Refuge operated at this address for the next twelve years.

On July 1st 1981, the T.D.S.S.C. officially handed over the management of the Refuge to an autonomous Management Committee and it became officially known as the Tamworth Women and Children’s Refuge.

In the early days, the Refuge’s address and phone number were not publicised, and women were referred by Lifeline, Youth and Community Services or the Police. However, late in 1982, staff decided to put the Refuge’s phone number in the telephone book to provide better access for women needing to contact the Refuge. Currently the address is still not publicised in an attempt to maximise the security of the women and children who stay in the Refuge.

During 1989, with the Darling Street address becoming increasingly costly to repair and maintain, the staff began to lobby the government for a new Refuge. After looking at dozens of possible premises, it was decided that a purpose built refuge was needed, and a Department of Housing block of land in South Tamworth was finally chosen as the location for the new Refuge. Then began the process of negotiating and renegotiating design after design with the Department of Housing representatives and various other people. The refuge was moved to this new address in July 1992.

After the Refuge was moved to this address, the old Darling Street Refuge was used as medium term accommodation. Not long after this, the Refuge took over management of two units in Oxley Vale which were used for this purpose. These provided women with medium term housing while securing permanent accommodation.