On the road: Stawell, Victoria

By June 5, 2018News

Looking back at the past to see the possibilities of the NDIS

Last month SCA travelled to Stawell to deliver 3 days of Support Coordination training to some Support Coordinators from the Partners in Recovery program. The journey gave us pause to think about how many changes there have been for Australians with disability and reflect again about how important the NDIS is.

Ararat and Stawell in regional Victoria are part of the beautiful Grampians region. Both these towns also housed the first institutions in Australia for people with disabilities. Aradale, located in Ararat was an institution opened in 1865 and later expanded to include J Ward, a forensic hospital. At its peak it was home to 900 people and had 500 staff. Aradale had 2 sister institutions: Kew Cottages (which opened in 1887 and housed both children and adults) and Beechworth Hospital which opened in 1867.

These institutions were designed and built to be self-contained. They had their own market gardens, orchards, vineyards and piggeries, with other stock also kept on the grounds. People who lived in these institutions were completely segregated from their town’s community life.
Thankfully, attitudes began to gradually change. Disability had traditionally been viewed through a medical lens that focused on deficits. However, in the 1970s a social model of disability emerged, and challenged the way people with disability were housed and treated by the wider community.

The Disability Rights movement gained momentum. The International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 was a call to action that demanded people with disability be supported to have equal opportunity.

Progress was being made in how services were funded and administered by governments. By the 1990s institutional care began to lose favour around the country. In Ararat and Stawell this meant the closing the institutions and supporting former residents to live in their community.

This piece is not intended as a history lesson of disability in Australia. There are people and families with lived experience who are far more qualified than us to talk about how things were, and the slow journey towards change.

However, spending time in this historic part of Victoria prompted us at SCA to think how much opportunity and possibility the NDIS presents.

There are plenty of flaws, gaps and challenges as the NDIS rapidly rolls out around Australia, and Support Coordinators experience these every day as they work to empower participants. Sometimes it’s worth stepping back to remember that the fundamentals of the NDIS are sound: a large increase in funding to address unmet needs, and an emphasis on empowering participants to choose where and how they access services.

Improving the NDIS will take a lot of collective effort from people with disability, carers, friends, people in the community, mainstream and disability service providers, advocacy organisations, peak body organisations, and all levels of government. In making this effort it’s worth remembering that there is a role for everyone, and together we are all changing Australian society.

Driving through Ararat on that quiet Sunday afternoon brought to mind the words of C.S. Lewis: “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different?”

For more information about the history of the disability movement in Australia please visit:

For more information about what an institution is like including interviews with people who lived there, their families and the staff visit: http://www.kewcottageshistory.com.au/

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