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Our history

Historical picture of nurses standing outside with babies in cots

Established in 1877 as the Victorian Infant Asylum, Berry Street’s core activity has always been protecting children in need and strengthening families.

In the early days, our greatest challenges were high infant mortality and poverty. Our primary aims were to support unwed, isolated or rejected mothers and their children.


Historical picture of nurses with babies

Our story began when a group of women from Melbourne voiced their concerns for pregnant women experiencing disadvantage. With the assistance of Lady Bowen, the wife of the governor of the time, the women decided to raise funds and establish the Victorian Infant Asylum which operated from a house in Fitzroy.

Historical picture of lady sitting with six children

Changes in our name gives insight into the evolving role of our organisation and the development of societal attitudes. The word ‘asylum’ came to have negative connotations and was dropped. The word ‘foundling’ came and went too. Then in 1881, a site on the corner of Vale and Berry Street in East Melbourne led to the Berry Street Babies Home and Hospital.

The training of mothercraft nurses in the specialised care of babies played an important role at Berry Street. In 1907, Berry Street implemented a formalised training program that later became the Mothercraft Nurses Training Program which continued until 1975. At this time, the adoption agency was closed.

By 1992, Berry Street had expanded into the youth and family services area and, in 1994, amalgamated with Sutherland Homes for Children.

Historical picture of nurses attending to babies in bassinets

The founder of Sutherland Homes, Selina Sutherland was known as ‘New Zealand's Florence Nightingale’ and in 1888 became Victoria's first licensed ‘child rescuer'. In 1909 Selina Sutherland founded the Sutherland Homes for Neglected Children.

The following year, her dream of creating a permanent home for children was realised when another compassionate woman, Auguste Meglin donated her 40-acre property in Diamond Creek to Sutherland Homes. For nearly 90 years, Sutherland Homes was home to thousands of children.

Berry Street merged with Lisa Lodge in July 2012 to strengthen the services being provided in the Grampians Region. Lisa Lodge was established in 1970 by an admirable group of female probation officers. They had identified the need to provide local accommodation and support for young women appearing before the courts and being sent to institutions away from Ballarat.

Restoring Trust and Hope

Berry Street had its 140th anniversary in 2017, and we published a book to commemorate our past. The book charts the history of Berry Street across 3 centuries from its beginning as Melbourne’s Berry Street Babies’ Home in 1877, to its current status as Victoria’s largest independent child and family services organisation.

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Berry Street 140 years Restoring Trust and Hope book

Apologies

We acknowledge that we were part of a broader child welfare system that sought to break up Aboriginal families and communities by removing their children. We now understand that a system of institutional care caused many children to suffer further abuse and deprivation.

For this we deeply and most sincerely apologise.

View our apologies to those who suffered harm in our care

Our focus today

For over 140 years, Berry Street has adapted to a changing world, and we will continue to adapt to achieve our vision and purpose. Our key focus today is ensuring that the child and family system points towards early intervention and prevention.

We will work with others to reimagine service systems and shape a new future. This includes a future where children, young people and families are safe, thriving and hopeful.

Find out more about our goals in the Strategic Plan 2019-2022

Learn more about us