Herstory

1980-1985

Blue Mountains Women’s Health Centre was originally conceived by a collective of local women including Leigh Cupitt, Jo Carroll, Chloe Beardsley and Gloria Noon in 1980. The group believed that women of the Blue Mountains needed a health centre of their own that would reflect women’s values. They were helped by local doctors as well as women from the Liverpool and Leichhardt Women’s Health Centres.

In July 1981 they obtained a grant from the Department of Youth and Community Services for a research study to assess women’s health needs in the Blue Mountains community.

In November 1981 the service opened every Wednesday at the Mountain Women’s Resource Centre. Every worker was a volunteer.

In 1982 the service was unable to expand further to meet demand, as the Health Department refused funding.

By early 1983, the long-term workers were tired and understandably stressed and discouraged by the lack of funding. It was clear that the local women living within the Blue Mountains community needed this service. It was therefore decided that the collective would concentrate their energies on raising money as well as finding new premises. Around this time the then newly elected Hawke Labor Government had implemented various job creation programs and the Centre received a small one-off grant to enable it to establish its own premises. This funding also provided paid employment for a number of part-time workers, however, the Centre was still heavily reliant on women volunteering their time.

A new home was found at 198 Great Western Highway, Wentworth Falls and was officially opened on 24 February 1984. The Centre was officially open five days a week and this was to be their home for more than three years.

After many years of lobbying of our then local State MP, Bob Debus, the Centre finally received recurrent funding from NSW Health in May 1984. The Centre continues to operate on this funding with the addition of donations, fees for services and other small grants.

1986-2000

By the winter of 1986, the workers at the Centre felt that it was time to look for a new home. The Centre at Wentworth Falls was bursting at the seams with women. The service offered all-day childcare four days a week, massage and acupuncture three days a week, a doctor’s surgery and paramedical services. There was also a host of groups on offer, including Stop Smoking, PMS Support groups, AA, and Al-Anon. The Centre was now a major employer of women in the Blue Mountains.

In early 1987, some members of the Collective, along with supportive women from the community, set up a separate company in order to purchase independent premises for the Health Centre. The Centre itself could not legally apply for a building loan, so the independent company, the Blue Mountains Land Foundation, took on this task.

Vivien Clear, a worker at the time, was given the job of finding new premises. After much work and lots of searching a new home was found at 124 Lurline St, Katoomba. Months of organising, paint scraping, talking, phoning, debating, getting quotes, negotiating with Council, getting rid of rubbish and thousands of other tasks finally ended on 30 July 1987. The official opening on 23 October 1987 saw a useful and comfortable space that all were proud of.

In recognition of the changing role of the Women’s Health Centre, in 1988 the Centre changed its name from the Women’s Community Health Centre of the Blue Mountains Inc to Blue Mountains Women’s Health Centre Inc. to reflect its changing role as a more consolidated and accessible service.

2001-2004

In March 2001, the collective decided to move towards a community-based management structure due to increasing demands on their small group to manage staff, uphold management structures and administration and fulfill the accountability requirements of funding bodies. Following the November 2002 AGM the Women’s Health Centre established a community management committee comprised of eight community members and a job-shared management / administration team (Centre Manager and Program Co-ordinator positions). Management staff and an additional staff representative attended the management committee meetings as non-voting members.

Sue Hardwick, Naomi Parry, Toni Hackett, Maggie Lawson, Meredith Osborne, Judy Day, Gloria Tejos, Tania Peita and Suzie van Opdorp constituted the first Management Committee under this new structure.

Following the resignation of long term collective and staff member, and the first Centre Manager, Marcia Gold, in October 2003, the structure was reviewed and the Centre Manager position was combined with the Projects Coordinator position and new roles were created for an office administrator and a contracted bookkeeper.

2005-2009

Since the restructure of the organisation commencing in 2001, the Centre has undergone a complete change and re-visioning of its role and the services it provides. The Centre used to concentrate on one to one direct client work and had little interaction with the broader community or community sector to represent and lobby for the rights of women. It has now truly embraced a social view of women’s health and acknowledges that health is more than bio-medical, encompassing the emotional, social, cultural, economic and environmental aspects of a woman’s life.

The service continues to provide high quality individual services and treatments but also provides extensive group work programs, events and activities that focus on issues of importance to women. We also conduct health promotion and community development activities. We lobby on key issues that affect women in the Blue Mountains.

Since 2004 we have developed a comprehensive early intervention strategy with young women providing a free drop in clinic, counselling, group work and other young women’s programs.

In 2007 the Mountain Women’s Resource Centre in Katoomba closed its doors. BMWHC engaged in active lobbying to have this service re-established. By late 2008 BMWHC was informed that BMWHC was the successful applicant for the re-establishment of this service. A focus for 2009 is to re-establish the Mountain Women’s Resource Centre and provide counselling, referral and information services, a women’s group work program, free childcare and outreach services.

Over the last 12 months we have integrated the services of BMWHC with those of the Mountain Women’s Resource Centre. We have changed our name to reflect this growth and are now known as the Blue Mountains Women’s Health and Resource Centre. We will continue to look for opportunities to provide services and activities that promote women’s access and empowerment.

This is only a brief account of the herstory of the Blue Mountains Women’s Health Centre.

There is no way of possibly acknowledging all the hard work and dedication that women have contributed to this Centre over the years. The Centre has maintained its original objectives which were to provide low-cost health services for women, to share and develop preventative health skills, to empower the workers and other women through developing an awareness of women’s bodies and to provide an alternative range of health services for women.