Sunday, March 29, 2015


I have explained all about Soroptimism, how it came to Australia and New Zealand and how it developed over thirty one years up to the time mum wrote her memoirs, and its history.  I will now continue with other organisations with which mum was involved and hope you will find some interest in her continuing story.  This new organisation was founded in 1951 when I was 19).  Please, if you do drop in to check out this story, would you take time just to let me know you did as I am not sure if I should continue or not.  I know not everyone wants to bother leaving a comment but just a word or two to say you visited would be welcome.  Thank you.

Excerpt from 'THE CLOCK OF TIME' by Gertrude Ruston.  (pp 145-148)

Formation of the Committee for the Improvement of Mentally Retarded Children: and Slow Learning Children's Group:

Mrs Rischbieth, O.B.E, J.P., President of the Women's Service Guilds, was asked by a member of the community to pay a visit to Claremont Mental Asylum (now known as Graylands Hospital .. see picture below) in order to survey conditions there, as many people felt that special provision was needed urgently for the children placed there, many of whom shared wards with adults.

After Mrs Rischbieth had looked into the matter she felt there was a definite need for some action to be taken.  The Guild then formed a committee called "The Committee for the Improvement of Mentally Retarded Children". of which I was made Convenor, and interested and important people were invited to become members, including Mr J.A.McCall, Dr Wyatt and Dr McCluskie.

After consideration and further investigation it was agreed that the Guilds would call a public meeting to which representation of organisations and parents of retarded children were invited.

The meeting was held at Cecil Building, Sherwood Court, Perth, but unfortunately the only people who attended were representatives of organisations already dedicated and confirmed in the belief that action on behalf of the children was long overdue.  At this time Mrs Rischbieth had retired from the Presidency of the Guilds and her place was taken by Mrs Dorothea Bulford, a woman of great personal charm.  During her period of office she and I were close colleagues and developed a complete understanding.  (Cecil Building, 6 Sherwood Court, Perth):

Mrs Bulford had a great knowledge of the problem connected with mentally retarded children, as, for a short time, she had been in charge of a small group of these children attending a class as the University of Western Australia - a sort of guinea pig group - which could be observed by psychology students through a screen without the knowledge of the children.  No attempt had been made to classify those in the class as to age or type, nor had they been provided with suitable equipment, and the parents of the children were very dissatisfied.

Mr McCall of our Committee, who had been in charge of the Guidance Branch of the Education Department, and later became Director of Child Welfare, received an application from the parents of this group of children for equipment, and he sent them along to the Guilds so that we could endeavour to use them to interest other parents in our efforts to improve the lot of all mentally retarded children.  It was a case of persuading them to find others needing help in order to help themselves.

At this time we were deeply grieved to learn that Mrs Bulford's second husband had died suddenly and, as State Secretary, the work of the Guilds then fell entirely on my shoulders.

It was decided to call another meeting to which all parents known to us were invited. I chaired this as Convenor because the President could not attend.  Miss Irene Glasson, one of the Guild's officers who had been active in this field in South Australia, assisted me to draw up a suitable agenda including resolutions.  We were convinced that it was essential to form an organisation of parents willing to come out into the open and fight for assistance.  Many of these parents had a guilt complex and some hid their children in back rooms and back gardens and needed sympathy and encouragement.

Speakers were chosen carefully to stress the fact that mental and physical illness were allied, and that there was no more reason to be ashamed of one than the other.  The second meeting, also at Cecil Building, was attended mostly by parents, who passed the resolutions, decided to form an organisation and arranged for a further meeting with that in view.

At this next meeting the Slow Learning Children's Group of W.A, was formed and I was elected as State President, Mrs Hope Rankin of the Guilds and Mr Priest became Vice-Presidents; Mrs Gladys Newton, Hon Secretary; and Mr M. Arthur, Hon Treasurer; the three last mentioned being parents of disabled children.

Our fist need of course, was to raise money, and I suggested that we apply for permission to hold a street appeal.  I told the meeting we had to raise £1,000 (one thousand pounds) and they all laughed as they thought it an impossibility.  However, we asked for and received publicity, we coined the phrase "Look for the Yellow Label", our parents and friends helped to collect and we obtained our £1,000.

Next we gained permission to collect at the Speedway by taking blankets around just inside the ring.  People willingly threw in coins and we received another £100 towards our funds.

One of the parents, Mr Dave McGillivray, obtained a game of chance which we operated at the Royal Show and other country shows for some time until games of chance were forbidden by law and superseded by games of skill.  Ours had been an honest game of chance.  We had twenty horses on a large drum which were wound up to circulate;  We sold twenty bats at a shilling each which were numbered liked the horses, 1 to 20.  The person who had the bat with the number of the winning horse received a prize which they chose from a worthwhile selection.

We used to leave by truck very early in the morning to set up for a Show, and return late at night very weary but gratified that we were adding more to the badly needed funds. It is to the early officers and parents that credit is due for the successful development of the Group as it is today.

The Churches of Christ had vacated their building in Victoria Park and it was for sale at a price which we could afford; the church approved our aims and objects and the purchase was completed.

Improvements and renovations were needed and our parents turned up willingly at weekends to repair and paint.  One essential item required was a properly erected ablution block, the cost of which was to be about £2,000.  We asked for and were granted an interview with the then premier of W.A., Mr A.R.G. Hawke, and the other officers and I waited on him to ask for a grant to cover the cost of the ablution block at the new centre, which we had named "Minbalup" (this is an aboriginal word meaning "Happy Place").  The Premier was most sympathetic and gave us the required grant.
When later, we rented a building in Irwin Street from the Anglican Church for our headquarters, Mr Hawke occasionally called in after hours when I was working late, in order to find out how the organisation was progressing.  He would walk down from Parliament House for recreation.

The Education Department agreed to support the centre and Miss Alice Myers was placed in charge.  Nobody could have been more dedicated than she was, and I an still visualise her with her sleeves rolled up helping to clean windows in readiness for the opening ceremony, which was performed by Sir Charles Gairdner, Governor of Western Australia.

The night before the opening ceremony we were all there putting the final spit and polish to everything.  It was a very hot night and some of the older retarded boys, who were using electric polishers, were feeling the heat.  Somebody suggested going over the road for ice creams and, of course, the boys stopped work immediately.  Somebody had dropped a polisher behind where I was standing cleaning a table, and when I stepped back I fell over it and broke a bone in my right elbow.  The doctor could not do anything until after the weekend so I attended the opening with my right arm in a sling, apologising to Sir Charles for having to greet him with my right hand."

(I well remember mum hurting her arm and it was found that although a small piece of bone had been chipped from her elbow, it was fortunate that there was a small amount of soft tissue still attached so that the fracture did eventually mend.  It was difficult for a time though as mum was right handed but we pulled together at home and managed quite well overall.  It is so true that you can't put a good woman down!!  I have to get my act together as I have photographs of the opening of Minbalup and in one mum is shown with her arm in a sling and I'd love to have shown it on here.  Really, Margaret, you are slipping!!!!

I attended the opening ceremony and was extremely proud that my mother had been initially responsible for getting this organisation up and running.  She spent so many hours working hard for the SLCG and it is now a huge organisation with the well known name the Activ Foundation.


  1. Sadly, people still differentiate (and discriminate) between physical and mental illness. And we still have a long way to go in assistance for the families of people (particularly children) with mental illness/delay.

    1. Yesterday I couldn't reply and now I can. One can't help wondering what forces are at work that control these things.
      What you say is so true but back in the back old days when 'mentally retarded' children were placed in mental asylums or hidden in back rooms and back gardens I feel is a thing of the past. For that we must at least give many thanks.

  2. I'm still reading and finding it fascinating. Thank you for providing so much history of the development of Perth.

    1. Hi Tez and thank you for visiting my blog and I am glad you are finding it interesting.
      I feel very proud of the good things my mother achieved during her lifetime most of which continue on to this day.

  3. I'm still reading too, although I missed yesterday's post and will read it after this. Saturday's are joining my Tuesday's in time-out land.
    I'm very pleased that your mum was involved with helping mentally retarded children, not enough people do and so many fall through the cracks. Especially poorer people. My older sister was a slow learner, suffering a little brain damage at birth.

    1. Thanks River for your constant support. It is very much appreciated.
      I think it is wonderful that back in the 1950s someone at last realised those people needed to brought into the 20th century and so many lives were changed for the better because of the SLCG (now Activ). I had a girlfriend with a mongoloid sister and she blossomed once she began attending school etc. and lived on for many happy years.

  4. Hari OM need to mention I am reading!!! &*<> I just hope it doesn't seem like I am hogging your comments box - but I am genuinely intersted; not least because we so often hear and read of organisations, but have none of the background as to how and why they got going. This is a very fine example you've shared with us today. Interesting, too, how the terminology alters as society attempts more integrative speech...yet they remain 'labels'... YAM xx

    1. No my darling Yam your comments could never hog my comments box as they are so valuable to me and your insight into life itself tells me so much that I myself didn't know.
      I am glad I am able to at least provide a small insight into how some organisations 'got off the ground' and began to do good for so many deserving people.
      Terminology certainly has changed as people became more conversant with 'what's what', which they had no knowledge of previously. xx

  5. You must be very proud of your mother. The things she did really make her corner of the world a better place.

    1. Thank you for visiting Susan and for your comments.
      Mum certainly made a difference in many ways and there is yet more to come in future posts.
      Not only did she do all this social work she made my life pretty wonderful as well.

  6. What an amazing lady your mother was Mimsie. I can see I have a lot of catching up to do. I am back to posting now and visiting. Sure enjoyed reading this post, thank you so much for sharing it.

    1. Hi Denise and glad to have you visit my blog. So glad you are back to posting and I must catch up with you as well.
      I do hope you perhaps will go back to previous posts 'cos, as I've said before, I'm rather proud of my mum and her achievements and altho' I was here when it all happened she never fails to amaze me the way she often took control and just made things happen.