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Religion : Social welfare

'My parents were prayerful people who put their prayer into action by having refugees in their home, billeting soldiers during the war and visiting people in prison…South Australia has a proud tradition of open mindedness and compassion.'
Sister Janet Mead

Since colonial days, the South Australian government has always been the largest provider of direct welfare in the state. However, this has also been greatly supplemented by dedicated individuals and organisations. When the Destitute Board was established in 1849 to oversee care of the destitute, sick and aged, it was not unusual that four prominent churchmen were invited to be members: the Rev. James Farrell (Anglican), Fr. Michael Ryan (Catholic), the Rev. Robert Haining (Presbyterian) and William Giles (Congregationalist).

Church groups were responsible for many of the earliest shelters and homes. Several churches combined in 1856 to establish the Protestant Female Refuge (a women's shelter) at Norwood. In 1860 South Australian Anglicans established Australia's first denominational charity, the Orphan Home, which operated for many years in Carrington Street, Adelaide. From the 1860s the Catholic Church opened various orphanages and shelters around the city, most of them run by religious communities.

The letters and diaries of prominent 19th century church women record a range of charitable work being undertaken by both local parishes and individuals. Grace Marryat's diary records a round of visits to the sick and the poor. Isabella Short describes the women of her family sewing clothes for orphans and other recipients of Julia Farr's charities, and teaching the children of the poor in church Sunday Schools.

lifeline 

The interdenominational Adelaide City Mission (1867) - now part of Mission Australia - and Adelaide Central Methodist Mission (1901) - now UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide - were founded on the pattern of similar institutions in London and Sydney. Like the early Salvation Army, their aim was specifically to convert members of the working classes to Christianity. However, they progressively moved away from evangelism and towards social work. Today they continue to function with such diverse works as telephone counselling services, addiction rehabilitation programmes, services to migrants and Aboriginal people and a support service for Gay men and women.

The Commonwealth Old Age Pension instituted in 1908, and the Aged Persons' Home Act of 1954 allowed expansion of the struggling work of the mostly church-run nursing homes. In 1868 Sister Mary MacKillop's nuns begged in the streets to support the first aged care facility in Adelaide, their 'House of Providence'. The Catholic laypeople's 'Knights of the Southern Cross' established Southern Cross Homes in 1968 and is now the largest provider of aged care in the state. Resthaven homes was founded in 1932 by the Methodist minister, the Rev. CE Schafer.

In recent decades, state and commonwealth governments have developed pro-active social welfare policies which continue to rely on the skills and dedication of volunteer agencies with firm ethical foundations - often church-based organisations. Despite the separation of church and state, close co-operation exists between governments and religious bodies in the provision of social welfare. At a time when it is generally accepted that up to 25% of the population of Adelaide are suffering economic and other hardship, the work of religious organisations in advocacy and service provision to struggling individuals and families continues to be vital.

Dickey, Brian. Rations, residence, resources: a history of social welfare in South Australia since 1836, Netley: Wakefield Press, 1986

Mead, Sister Janet. 'South Australian of the year: Sr. Janet Mead', Adelaide voices, Feb/March 2005, p. 12

(Image: Lifeline Adelaide. Lifeline listens, [197-?], Ephemera Collection)

Adelaide Benevolent & Strangers' Friend
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Adelaide Day Centre for Homeless Persons
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Catholic Female Refuge
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Clearing land at Kuitpo Colony
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Daughters of Charity chapel
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Female Refuge at Norwood
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Grand soiree for the Orphan Home
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Lifeline telephone counselling service
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Mrs Kennion's book
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Newsletter of the Theosophical Society
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Prisoners' Aid Association
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Servants' Home
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