Pioneering women proved their point

By Kimberley Price

WHEN the paddlesteamers weren’t just a tourist attraction but a trading vessel and the Echuca-Moama bridge was under construction, a group of women decided the town needed an organisation to help those less fortunate.

Over four meetings held on July 30 and August 5, 13 and 19 in 1878, the Echuca Ladies Benevolent Society was formed.

“When the young town of Echuca was just 25 years old, the river trade was at its height, with much of the land on both sides of the river opened up for selection,” Nancy Bremner, author of the history of Echuca Benevolent Society from 1878 to 1990, wrote.

“Travellers often arrived in Echuca, to find for various reasons peculiar to that time in our history, perhaps a husband became ill, or boats tied up because of a low river – or sickness: there were often cases of real hardship confronting these people and their families.

“Echuca was a very busy port at the time, often this and other industries tended to have problems connected with it, necessitating some form of assistance for the unfortunate people.

“In 1878 some of the prominent ladies of the town felt there was a great need for some group which could help these people, mainly the women and children.

“With the help of the clergymen of the town, announcing from their pulpits that a meeting to this end, would be held in the Town Hall on Tuesday, July 30, 1878 for the purpose of forming a Benevolent Society.”

Echuca Ladies Benevolent Society is one of the oldest yet arguably one of the least known community groups in our town.

With its desire to serve the community the Echuca Ladies Benevolent Society sourced a crown allotment on the corner of Francis and Leichardt streets. This became the site where shelters were erected essentially for the homeless people of that time.

During the 1950s and ’60s units were built on this site and became known as “Illoura Village”.

Today there are 25 brick units — the first 11 units were built in 2002 and the second stage of the extra 14 units was completed in 2014 and is now a fully occupied and thriving retirement village.

In 1965, after 87 years of operation, the society admitted men to its membership and the name was changed to Echuca Benevolent Society.

In 1972 Engelbert Lodge was established as an aged care hostel on the site on the corner of Haverfield and Leichardt streets and this grew to be a 60 bed hostel. By the turn of the 21st century the board realised two things — the demand for aged care facilities was going to increase and an aged care facility on its own would struggle for financial viability.

In a bold and forward thinking move the board purchased a 3.8ha site on Mount Terrick Road. Echuca Community for the Aged consists of multiple options for retirees. Wharparilla Lodge is a 92 bed residential aged care facility supporting residents with both low and high care needs and includes a dementia support unit. Cunningham Downs Village is a retirement village with 89 completed units and 10 under construction. Brolga Apartments is an assisted living apartment complex with 14 single bedroom units, and Ibis Apartments will be an assisted living complex with a further 13 units.

With demand for retirement living increasing rapidly, the board has recently announced the purchase of an additional 4.03ha site immediately to the east of Cunningham Downs Village. Further land is also available for expansion on the western side of the village thanks to a generous donation from Peter McSwain and his family.

On Monday August 20, the residents of Wharparilla Lodge shared a 140th birthday cake to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of the Echuca Benevolent Society and the boards.

A dedicated group of past and present board members of the Society, led by past president Alan James, has almost completed an updated of the history of the Society to fill in the gap from 1990.

Mr James will be the guest speaker at an information evening to be held in the Cunningham Downs Community Hall on October 3. Echuca Benevolent Society will launch the latest edition of their book at the event.

All members of the community are welcome to attend but reservations will need to be made by telephoning 54805000 or by email to [email protected]