Irish-Sydney in Transition.

Newspaper advertisement for the Irish Australian Welfare Bureau and Resource Centre Annual General Meeting – found in a pile of documents I’m cataloguing and digitising for this project.

A short way up from the corner of Devonshire and Randle St, right next to Central Station in the metropolitan heart of Sydney, sits the Irish National Associations building, the Irish Cultural Centre. Most know this building for the Gaelic Club. However, at the back of the club room, through a little door, sits the office of a perhaps lesser-known organisation, the Irish Support Agency (ISA).

The ISA was established in 1995 by Frank O’Donoghue under the name of the Irish Australian Welfare Bureau & Resource Centre NSW Inc. Today, the ISA, rebranded in 2015, is a registered charity responsible for a series of public-facing community wellbeing initiatives and events. Current service initiatives include things as diverse as men’s mental health walks, wellbeing seminars for mothers, visa information evenings, book clubs, and much more, giving a sense of the diversity in their work. The ISA also directly supports individual Irish and Irish-Australian community members, supporting people through crisis, unemployment, immigration, housing and accommodation, funeral, and repatriation.

As with Irish and Australian society at large, since 1995, the ISA has undergone unprecedented change. It is in understanding the nature of this change that my project sits. With increased community demand and funding, notably in 2005 with financial assistance from the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade, the ISA has grown from an entirely volunteer organisation to now employing two Outreach Workers and a Project Officer. In addition, with the organisation’s 2025 thirtieth anniversary approaching, the ISA has felt the need to understand better how they have developed over the years. Accordingly, the ISA has identified their desire to record a much-needed oral history, presented in video format, for their anniversary commemoration.

I will work closely with the ISA team to develop a clear outline of the organisation’s early years, including key personnel, service developments, and achievements. Through this project, by establishing a more transparent, more objective understanding of the ISA’s early history, we can look toward the planning and execution of interviews with early members of the organisation.

These interviews are critical to the ISA and offer the opportunity to shed light on the history of Irish Sydney at the turn of the millennia. One of the strengths of oral history is the ability to capture the stories and reflections of the past still in living memory. As many members within the Irish community here closely associated with the ISA start to age, there is a growing urgency to capture these stories. The stories attached to these members also hold the potential to not only tell the story of the ISA but also shed light on the motivation and experience of Irish immigration in the second half of the twentieth century, more generally.

My interest in the organisation stems from my ongoing interest in Irish history throughout my degree. I felt like it was time to give back to the Irish community in Sydney, those whose history has already given me so much. With my initial engagement and work to date, I’ve been met with great enthusiasm from the ISA team.

I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead.

Port Macquarie’s Best-Kept Secret: Douglas Vale Historic Homestead and Vineyard

On the highway into Port Macquarie—a beautiful seaside town on the Mid North Coast—there’s a sign reading “Douglas Vale Historic Homestead and Vineyard”. Behind that sign lies a menagerie of wonders, including the oldest timber dwelling in the region. Despite this, barely anyone knows about Douglas Vale’s historical treasures… even the volunteers call it “Port Macquarie’s best-kept secret”.

Photograph of the Francis family at the homestead in 1884, currently held at Douglas Vale.

Douglas Vale’s History

When I finally visited a few weeks ago, I couldn’t believe that such a compelling history has missed out on the public spotlight for so long. Douglas Vale’s story as a homestead and vineyard stretches back to 1859, when English mariner George Francis bought 20 acres to grow Black Isabella grapes on. As the site’s curator, Ian Cupit, told me, wine was one of the region’s leading industries after the closure of the Port Macquarie penal settlement in 1832. Of course, the rich red soil that made for such a flourishing wine industry speaks to an even older history of Port Macquarie—the local Birpai people have cared for the region’s coastal environment for thousands of years before George Francis arrived.

The Douglas Vale homestead today.
Margaret Francis’s chair in the homestead.

Plus, it’s important to note that the history of Douglas Vale also continued long after George Francis. Following his death in 1898, his daughter Margaret Wilson took up the reins, becoming one of Australia’s first female winemakers and growers. By all accounts, Margaret was a very powerful and admirable woman—indeed, one of the museum’s artefacts is the very chair she died on, with the signage reading that even “after death she still sat upright”. 

After Margaret’s death in 1932, her relatives operated the property until its last resident—an eccentric barefoot gravedigger known as Patsy Dick—passed away in 1993. After this, the site fell into disrepair until some passionate locals formed the Douglas Vale Conservation Group in 1995 to preserve its heritage. 

Douglas Vale’s Volunteers

Since then, an extraordinary community of volunteers have tended to the site, operating Douglas Vale as a museum and Australia’s only volunteer-run vineyard and cellar door. These volunteers (who now number at over 80) harvest the grapes, look after the gardens and veggie patch, run tours, repair the buildings and provide wine tastings… among countless other jobs. They have done a tremendous job caring for Douglas Vale and honestly, barely need the help of a young, city-living historian like me. 

However, every volunteer I’ve spoken to told me they’re struggling to get more young people, locals and historians through the doors of “Port Macquarie’s best-kept secret”. Boosting visitation numbers is especially pertinent given funding for regional community organisations is often unreliable or insufficient.

Our Project

My project will seek to address this issue by broadcasting why Douglas Vale is worthy of visiting: its artefacts and its volunteers. I don’t believe I could do a project that focused on one or the other, because without the volunteers there’d be no collection to look at, no homestead to tour and certainly no delicious wine to taste.

At this stage, I’m proposing we upload some of the site’s most fascinating artefacts to an online database—including what I call Douglas Vale’s “living artefacts”, like its original Black Isabella grape vines and 1860s bamboo entrance. Alongside the artefacts, I’d like to attach videos of the volunteers speaking about what the artefacts and Douglas Vale mean to them. In doing so, I hope that more people will be let in on the secret of Douglas Vale and enjoy the wonders of community-led storytelling, wine-growing and place-making for years to come.

Original Black Isabella grape vines at the property.
Bamboo entrance to Douglas Vale, planted in the 1860s.

Outloud: The RESPECT Program

Outloud is a social impact arts organisation which facilitates meaningful creative and performing arts opportunities and experiences for culturally and linguistically diverse young people in Western Sydney. Many of Outloud’s programs serve as early intervention harm reduction projects that target issues affecting young people in the Canterbury-Bankstown community. My project will focus on the history of RESPECT, a music program which educates boys in Years 5 and 6 about gender equality and family violence in a school setting.

In September, I visited Outloud for the first time to meet with Craig Taunton and Van Nguyen who both work on the RESPECT Program. Outloud is based at the Bankstown Arts Centre, and entering the premises, you very clearly get the sense that it is part of a thriving, interconnected hub of artistic activity. The night before we met was the first Tuesday of the month, and so the famous Bankstown Poetry Slam had taken place downstairs. Craig was pleased to inform me that an alumnus of the RESPECT Program had taken up the mantle of timekeeper for the night.

We quickly fell into a discussion about some of the most recent music videos uploaded to Outloud’s YouTube channel, including some very impressive fast rapping in Punchbowl Public School’s “A Good Foundation”. Craig and Van then guided me through some of the framed pictures on the opposite wall of rap performances that had taken place at Bankstown Shopping Centre during pre-pandemic years, explaining that hundreds of boys would usually take part.

Check out “A Good Foundation” below. I hope you appreciate the green screen backgrounds as much as I did— my personal favourite is the Bankstown Sports Club!

“A Good Foundation” – Punchbowl Public School (2022)

After visiting Outloud, meeting Craig and Van, and watching past musical performances, the community impact of this incredibly special program was undeniable. The sheer amount of young people that Outloud has supported to engage with the arts is such a meaningful feat to begin with. RESPECT goes above and beyond even this.

In Craig’s words, while Outloud as a community arts organisation is constantly cultivating artists in the Bankstown area, for this particular program, “art is a tool for engagement”. Over the course of 12 weeks, the boys learn from facilitators and family violence counsellors in a school setting, and write an original song which distils what they have learned. Not all the young boys will be transformed into career musicians (although their rapping is beyond impressive!). Most significantly, 98% of the boys come away from the program having developed a vital understanding of the harms of family violence and the characteristics of healthy relationships. Former participants have overwhelmingly expressed that promoting gender equality and preventing family violence are matters that are important to them.

In November of 2021, Outloud launched UNITY, a sibling program to RESPECT for girls and gender diverse students. This is a testament to the success of the RESPECT Program, as well as Outloud’s ongoing commitment to educating young people about healthy relationships and consent. With the launch of the UNITY Program, Outloud will continue to empower young people in Western Sydney by amplifying their voices in their community through art.

“I Want To Be Treated Equally” – The UNITY Pilot (2018)
“Stand Up and Make a Change” – Georges Hall Public School (2022)

Thredbo Alpine Club – a student initiative

The Early Days

Thredbo in 1957 was not much more than an idea, road access through the valley from Jindabyne having only opened in 1956 thanks to the requirements of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme. Thredbo Alpine Club (www.tac.org.au) was one of the first lodges built in the fledgeling resort and was the initiative of a group of Sydney University students who spotted an opportunity and had the enthusiasm and commitment to turn it into a reality.

Between September 1957 and June 1958 this hard-working group managed to secure a site, found a club, raise finance, and design and build a lodge that could accommodate up to twenty-eight people (eight double bunk rooms to sleep sixteen and six double bunk beds in the hallway spaces under the stairs as overflow space for twelve). Most of the original one hundred and fifty members came from the Sydney University Ski Club, the Faculties of Law and Architecture and the residential colleges.

Thredbo Alpine Club in 1958
The more things change….

In the sixty-five years since then, much has changed. Like the resort itself, the club has grown and now has a membership of four hundred and fifty, among them many second-generation families of original members. The building has undergone one major and several minor renovations and now provides accommodation for thirty-two people in sixteen twin bedrooms. What began as a ski club mainly focussed on winter in the mountains is now one that aims at promoting all alpine sports both winter and summer.

Thredbo Alpine Club after the renovation in the 1980s (the original stone wall is still visible at the base of the building)
…the more things stay the same.

While there have been many changes, there remain some constants that speak to the culture at the heart of the club. Just as they did when the club opened, the members share a love of the mountains and the alpine outdoors, and this shared interest forms the basis of the club’s collegiate and connected community. The club was built with the blood sweat and tears of a volunteer workforce and continues to be run on a purely volunteer basis by a committee of its members. And probably most importantly, the opening party in 1958 set the benchmark for the continued importance of inclusive sociability in club life.

The Mountain
Where to next?

How a group of uni students came to be involved in creating a ski club and building a lodge in the very early stages of the establishment of what has become one of Australia’s major ski resorts is, to me, an intriguing story. That the club’s story continues to be vibrant sixty-five years later is equally interesting and I hope to be able to trace the arc of that history through old documents and photos so as to pinpoint the major moments that make up the Thredbo Alpine Club timeline.

The Jessie Street National Women’s Library

Esther Whitehead

For my history project I am working with the Jessie Street National Women’s Library. Hidden away amidst the lively Ultimo community centre, between a very competitive table tennis club and a childcare centre. 

The library is fully run by volunteers, many of them retirees who are more than willing to tell you stories of their involvement with feminism, the early women’s movements and the history of the library. So long as you’re generous with the cups of tea these women are generous with their stories. 

Many spoke of the history of the library. The library is named after Jessie Street an early Australian feminist, women’s rights campaigner and an inspiration that many of the volunteers hold dear. A photo of her in black a white is printed on a large canvas frame, the only woman at a conference table of men. 

Jessie was forward thinking for her time and campaigned for the rights of all women. She advocated against discrimination of Aboriginal People. She was involved in gathering signatures for petitions for the 1967 referendum. Before theories of intersectionality existed, even in academic circles, Jessie Street fought for the most marginalised, an inclusive campaigner for peace, for women, for Aboriginal People, for everyone.

The library was opened in 1989, to commemorate the life of Jessie Street almost 20 years after her death. This is an interesting part of the library’s history, it was built to commemorate an individual, but has grown to be so much more than that. It is now a specialist library that holds many rare books, as well the collections from defunct women’s organisations that have sadly lost funding and collapsed over the decades. 

The library holds material related to the kind of women’s history that Jessie Street was involed with, Australian feminist activism and the women’s liberation movement. However it is a broad collection including records on women in the Church and diaries from female migrants to Australia. The shelves are home to many forms of written work from a cookbook from a home economics teacher to government reports into the gender imbalance of Parliament. The remit of the library is anything that aids in telling the story of women, all women, no matter how ordinary their lives. However it only receives material based upon donations so it is not an all encompassing collection, it has blindspots and gaps. Most large donations come from feminists’ personal collections, which are left to the library in their will. So there are things that people don’t think to keep around, or more often, items that the children of these collectors don’t see as worthy of donation. 

One of my favourite parts of the collection is the tapestry collection. These are short pieces of writing by women about their everyday lives. One powerful recount is the story of Antonina Komarowski who lived in Russia throughout Stalin’s rule. She recounts moving to Leningrad for University just before war broke out. 

Some of my favourite artefacts are the serials, these include newsletters, zine and self published literature by feminism activists from 1960’s to 1970’s, the peak of second wave feminism. Multiple zines from the 1970’s contain titlesd like, What Every Woman Should Know About Sex. Followed 

by pages of anatomy diagrams and information on contraception. Access to the knowledge I was taught in year 7 was once radical. We have come so far that the knowledge these women once fought to disseminate is now a mandatory part of the curriculum.

The library’s collection consists of more than just written works, it also has posters, pamphlets and banners. These were the tools activists used to campaign for many of the rights and privileges I enjoy today. From the sign of these posters you can imagine the marches, hear the protest chants and the anger and conviction. But some of the library’s artefacts tell stories of how progress is not linear, and in many ways women are losing the battle.

The wall opposite the entrance to the library is covered in posters, duplicates of those the library already has in its archive. One morning as I was waiting to be buzzed in, looking over these posters and one stood out. It was bright purple and read, “Repeal all abortion laws,” there was no date, but the top stated it was from International Women’s year. 

So I googled it, thinking it would be recent, from the past decade or so, with abortion being such a controversial issue.

1975.

47 years ago. Women have been fighting for control over their own bodies. 

Roe v. Wade was just overturned.

Maybe we need to remember these women of the past. So we can continue their fight.

Fairfield City Museum & Gallery

Fairfield City Museum & Gallery (FCMG) is an organisation that celebrates Fairfield’s past, heritage, arts and cultural scene and the local, diverse community. Founded in 1983, it is the largest exhibition space in Fairfield City. FCMG has three distinct sections; the 1913 Museum building, the Stein Gallery and the Vintage Village. Throughout the year, within the first two spaces, FCMG has a rotating program that focuses on contemporary art, social history, and community-based projects and exhibitions. Occupying the Stein Gallery is the current exhibition, re-member, which features eight artists from South-West Asia and North Africa celebrating their heritage through commissioned artworks.

Joanna Kambourian, Ancestral Threads II (Sun God) 2022. Image by Mia Zapata

In comparison to the contemporary focus of the 1913 Museum building and Stein Gallery, the Vintage Village aims for nostalgia. Here, the space recreates past historical moments and places within Fairfield for visitors to conduct both guided and self-guided tours. Visitors can visit the ‘Hay Shed’, symbolic of the rural industries that were prevalent in Fairfield until the 1960s, the heritage-listed 1880s Slab Hut and other historically-significant buildings to Fairfield.

The Vintage Village. Image by FCMG

In addition to these physical spaces, FCMG also has a thriving online presence (https://heritagecollection.fairfieldcity.nsw.gov.au/). They have a rich, cool digital repository that is open to the public to browse through different objects, images, and archives. The team at FCMG go out and collect all kinds of sources from local groups and individuals to add to their collection. 

Ultimately, FCMG values and respects Fairfield’s history and the local community. They prioritise community engagement through various initiatives such as immersive educational programmes for Year 1 and 2 students and the wider public to learn about Fairfield’s past. They also cater to nostalgia by offering a guided and interactive group tour for Seniors that, unlike other tours, allows visitors to handle objects from FCMG’s historical collection.

I actually went to FCMG when I was in Year 2 for an excursion. In hindsight, it was my first experience with history and the arts. I don’t remember everything clearly but I do recall seeing so many Indigenous artworks and artefacts during an exhibit. I also remember going inside the 1880s Slab Hut and feeling super down because everything was dark and gloomy. This experience ended up being the biggest reason why I wanted to do my volunteer work at FCMG. Maybe it’s because I like nostalgia or maybe it’s because Y2K is trendy now. I wanted to go back in time and see what has changed in the 15+ years since I first came to FCMG.

My volunteering won’t start until November during STUVAC (sorry Michael!). But right now the plan for my project is to help out with a new acquisition. Recently, a local netball association closed its doors so the team at FCMG have gone out and conducted oral histories with members and collected photographs, documents and other memorabilia. I will help accession these artefacts into the museum’s physical and digital collection, scanning and preserving the sources using some high-tech scanners and equipment. A little nerve-wracking since I suck at technology but I am very excited to help out with preserving and sharing this unfamiliar local history.

Millers Point United: The History of the Millers Point Resident Community Action Group

For this major project, I am working with the Millers Point Resident Community Action Group. Located around Sydney Harbor, this group encompasses the suburbs of Millers Point, Dawes Point, Walsh Bay and The Rocks as well as Barangaroo. With over 50 years of history, the Millers Point Resident Community Action Group aims at advocating on behalf or residents within Sydney Harbor, particularly around the preservation of these suburbs as well as improve the safety and amenities within this area.

I first discovered this group on my weekly drives with my family around the city, where we would pass through The Rocks and the community center that this organization uses, the Abraham Mott Hall. My interest in the group started from a sign placed in front of this hall with the statement “Don’t Block the Rocks.” Further research through a Change.org page online would lead me to discover this group. Having some basic understanding of the kind of activism that took place within the 1970s around the preservation of The Rocks and surrounding suburbs, I was interested in delving into the history of the organizations behind this and reached out to the Millers Point Resident Community Action Group.

The Abraham Mott Hall, Argyle Pl, Millers Point, taken by Dallas Rogers of The Conversation.


After contacting the organization’s secretary, I was invited one of the organizations meeting, where NSW government officials presented a proposal to construct an additional seating area for on of the finger wharfs in Walsh Bay. After the meeting concluded, I was able to meet with individuals of the organization, which included one of the oldest members of the group (in terms of membership) as well as the president. After explaining this project to them, I feel that they certainly did express interest in the project, however discussions on what project should be done are still in discussion.

However, for this project I have come up with some ideas. One of the main ideas I have is a video that discusses the history of the organization. In this idea, I plan on interviewing members of the organization as well as exploring the organization’s archives for additional information. I feel that by using oral history, I can bring light to individual experiences of members, particularly through a video as opposed to just plain text.

From this project, I feel that a historical research project may be of great benefit for the organization. Primarily, I feel that it will help bring to light some of the history that this organization offers in shaping the landscape of the Millers Point area. After looking through the organization’s website, there is a limited emphasis on its history, despite its influence in preserving the heritage of the suburbs around Millers Point. As well as this, I feel that a video would present its history in an engaging manner.

I think one major challenge for this project will be the consideration of time. While this should be completed by the 25th of November, I feel that the time needed to gather the history from members, as well as dedicating time to researching the archives and actual filming and editing pose a significant challenge.

Link to Millers Point Resident Community Action Group website:
https://www.millerspoint.org.au/our-mission

Link to image:

https://theconversation.com/let-it-rip-barangaroo-a-masterclass-in-planning-as-deal-making-188434

Arts & Cultural Exchange

I’ve grown up and lived the majority of my life in Western Sydney, and during much of that time I saw my area as being essentially barren when it came to the arts and any related opportunities. It often seemed to me that the disadvantages of the west were immutable and unscaleable. I was wrong, very wrong in fact, but it’s a pretty pervasive mentality out west. Deadset on proving people like young-me wrong are institutions like the Arts and Cultural Exchange (ACE – https://ice.org.au ) in Parramatta.

I first became aware of ACE by its former name ICE (Information & Cultural Exchange) through a band mate who facilitated workshops with Neurodivergent musicians – and it was quite eye-opening to find an organisation with the kind of facilities and programs that it does snuggled right in the heart of my West. I later had the pleasure of using one of its recording studios (for a later abandoned project, alas), and attending a night of First Nation punk bands performing in their space.

ACE’s audio suite

ACE has gone through several name changes and shifts in the methodology of its mission since its inception in 1984 – so much so that the arts and creativity were not strictly involved when it was founded as a van providing information to disadvantaged communities – but combating social injustice and embracing cultural diversity has always been at its core. Access to technology and information has also always been an important part of ACEs aims.

The venue, which can be reconfigured as a performance space

Today, ACE runs five program streams – First Nations, Youth Engagement, Multicultural Women, Neurodivergent Artists and Aged Care, and Screen Media – all of which produce interdisciplinary, intergenerational projects designed and run in collaboration with the communities in question. Many of these projects harken back to ACE’s origins when it aimed to provide information, but significantly expanded to include access to technology, skills training and creative, entrepreneurial experience. These projects are often groundbreaking in their approach and life-changing for the communities who participate. So my project idea is to profile individuals who have significantly interacted with ACE, and explore the ways the organisation has impacted their lives. Something that came up in my meeting with ACE was the feedback they’d received of how much love for the organisation and its programs there was amongst participants. It’d be great to tap into that love, and find out why it’s touched people so deeply for so long. These profiles can then hopefully be paired with ACE’s new website they’re designing to coincide with their recent rebrand.

Custodians of Memory – The Sydney Jewish Museum

History is a craft of respecting, preserving and transmitting memories of the past – but who takes the responsibility for this craft-making process when the very sources of memory begin to fade? From its establishment in 1992, the Sydney Jewish Museum has been a leader in preserving the memories of Holocaust survivors who have found refuge in Australia, ensuring that their histories remain alive and that dynamic conversations surrounding its horrors and legacies flourish into future generations. The Museum itself has been a cultural focal point and meeting place for the Sydney Jewish community, housing an impressive collection of personal objects and original memorabilia related to the Holocaust, Judacia and Australian Jewish history. The extensive range of permanent and feature exhibitions is almost entirely composed of personal donations and artefacts from the Sydney Jewish community, such as identification cards, letters and uniforms; and importantly, completely void of any display of Nazi iconography or infrastructure. This reflects the Museum’s objective to convey the Holocaust history specifically through the personal testimonial narratives of individual, Jewish experiences, not from the voices of the oppressors. These stories are particularly valued for their delicacy, as the Museum foremost acknowledges that survivors relive their memories in retelling them and inviting their audiences to harbour the legacy. 

The faithful preservation of memory and authentic Jewish voice has been ever-paramount in the face of the dwindling generation of Holocaust survivors. The custodianship of Holocaust memory has been gradually transitioned from the generation of survivors and their immediate relationship with the past, to their succeeding generations of descendants who grapple with a mediated one. The Museum has therefore successfully incorporated digital technologies to keep survivor voices alive with evolving mediums of history-making – most notably, through the Dimensions in Testimony project, where six Sydney-based Holocaust survivors and their biographies have been preserved using artificial intelligence (AI) and language processing technologies. These new digital projects are also accompanied by the continuously evolving range of online events offered by the Museum, such as historian panellist discussions, blog posts which document historiographical and curatorial discussions, representational mediums such as book launches and film screenings, and virtual workshops and tours, which ensure the longevity of survivor voices. 

The Museum also aims to explicate the lessons of the Holocaust through a more universal, intercultural framework. The humanitarian dimensions of the Holocaust and survivor narratives – particularly how it embodies the nadir of humanity, the consequences of prejudice, and the importance of celebrating (rather than annhilating) religious and cultural diversity – are extracted to further and more contemporary issues of morality and human rights. The Museum’s pivotal vision for the intergenerational and intercultural transmission of Holocaust memory is therefore encapsulated by its most recent permanent exhibition, The Holocaust and Human Rights – ensuring that the Holocaust reveals the necessity to lead with empathy in championing the rights of Refugees and Asylum Seekers, People with Disabilities, First Australians and the LGBTQI community. Though I do not identify as belonging to the Jewish community, my sense of connection to this Museum derives from the similar desire for belonging as a person of colour in Australia – reflecting upon what it means to be an ethnic-Other in a hegemonic, Eurocentric landscape which denies my culture (in inconspicuous ways); and writing history as a means to articulate this longing and keep the voices of the past alive.

Autism Spectrum Australia – Who are they and what do they do?

Autism Spectrum Australia (Aspect) is a non-for-profit organisation that provides services for people living on the autism spectrum and support to their families/carers. Aspect was first established in 1966 as Autistic Children’s Association of NSW by a group of parents on the North Shore of Sydney. The absence of early intervention programs propelled these parents to set up initiatives and facilities for their children and other autistic children across NSW. In 1971, Aspect’s first school opened on 3.4 acres of government granted land in Forestville, known as Aspect Vern Barnett School. Today, the organisation has 9 schools in NSW operating from 72 locations in NSW and South Australia and supports for more than 1,185 students. It is also the largest autism-specific education provider in the world. 

Aspect Vern Barnett School

A fundamental division of Autism Spectrum Australia is it’s Aspect Research Centre for Autism Practice. Using evidence-based research in partnership with the Autistic community , Aspect utilises strategies that are respectful, person-centred, family-focused and customer-driven. Aspects other activities include information services, early intervention, diagnostic and assessment services, transitions services for school-aged children to non-autism specific environments and therapy services/behavioural support for people on the autism spectrum. Parental guidance and career support services are also provided by Aspect. Aspect’s services are driven by the purpose to understand, engage and celebrate the strengths, interests and aspirations of people on the autism spectrum. 

My current project with Aspect will be a podcast with members of the organisation and autism community to discuss its history and progress from 1966 to today. While interviewing the valued members of Aspect I will uncover and document how the organisation has achieved its remarkable progress and the various challenges it had to face across the years. 

Aspect has been an organisation that I’ve known about since I was barely walking and talking. My older brother, Harrison, has autism spectrum and an intellectual disability. He attended Aspect Vern Barnett School in primary school and my parents were subsequently involved with the organisation. From a young age, Harry’s autism was just an everyday element of our family. However as I’ve grown older, the work my parents have done for Harry and our family have shown me the impact that care and support can have on us as individuals. A focus that is also witnessed within Aspect as an organisation. Aspect ensures no individuals with autism spectrum or family/carer is left unsupported or alone throughout all stages of their life.

12 year old me speaking at Aspect’s Comedy Night in 2013
Harry (My brother) and I at 2022 Melbourne Grand Prix