Ballarat at Home: Restoring an old women's refuge

THE Scott Parade house which served as a women’s and babies’ refuge is now home to Dinah McCance and Terry Baker.

When the couple bought the house in 2000, they had been looking for an older property in Ballarat and, coming from Melbourne, had missed out on a few they were interested in.

The couple were looking for something with a bit of history, but were never expecting to uncover so much and have such a large project ahead of them.

The purpose-built women’s refuge had been neglected when they took it on, with no kitchen, no water, no electricity and no gas.

The couple camped in the dining room, where they cooked over an open fire.

“When you walk through the house, anything you see that looks clean and working, we did,” Ms McCance said.

“Water from the bathroom upstairs had come down through the ceiling and taken the cornices off.”

Ms McCance said they had learned a lot about the property since moving in, delving into its complex history.

“The home was founded in 1867 by 26 Protestant women, when Martha Glendenning applied for a grant to open a women’s refuge,” Ms McCance said.

The building was finished in 1884, with women moving in from January 1885 from the temporary Grant Street premises.

“There were 14 rooms upstairs and one bathroom for the women, and nine longdrops out the back,” Ms McCance said.

She said the women would come to the refuge, work in the laundry, have their baby and often the women left and the babies stayed.

“It was surrounded by a great eight-foot wall,” she said.

In 1897, a room was built out the back as the maternity hospital.

“It was thought it would be embarrassing if a woman were to give birth on the side of the street as she had to walk to the Queen Elizabeth Centre in labour,” Ms McCance said.

In 1907, another building (now a neighbouring property) was linked to the refuge by a walkway to become the Alexandra Toddlers’ Home.

The nursery was also was moved next door and later moved back to the refuge, but the toddlers remained next door.

“In 1942, women stopped coming here and the laundry became a commercial laundry, but it remained a toddler and babies’ home,” she said.

“In 1973, policy changed and they were moved to cottage-style accommodation.”

They in turn became special accommodation homes.

The matron’s room at the refuge has been converted into a bathroom beside the main bedroom.

“We had a nurse come back to visit who was here in 1953, and she was quite interested in seeing what was in there,” Ms McCance said.

“No one would have been allowed inside the matron’s room.”

Ms McCance and Mr Baker said they had met so many people who had told them about the house, but there were still missing pieces to the puzzle.

"We would like to meet a woman who gave birth here and hear her story"

“We would like to meet a woman who gave birth here and hear her story,” Ms McCance said.

“And we’re running out of time.

“There wouldn’t be too many left.”

They are also in search of a picture of Martha Glendenning, the woman who originally wrote to the government to request money to set up the refuge.

The couple have purposely working things into their restoration in acknowledgement of the house’s history.

A wall was knocked down between small bedrooms where the women slept upstairs, to make it more functional, but the extra door can still be seen from the hallway.

“Preserving this place is about preserving history for the many children that lived here,” Ms McCance said.

In their yard is a paved figure eight in the grass, where children would have learnt to ride their tricycles.

“We’re still working on it, bits and pieces around the house. It’s not finished yet,” she said.

“After 10 years things generally need maintenance, so we’re now back maintaining the things we did a decade ago.”

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