Firm in their belief that everyone deserves the chance to live their best possible life, UnitingCare’s founders were determined to achieve the vision they shared.
In the spirit of true pioneers, the community services provided by the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches came together to reach people who needed their support.
Their courage shaped and still inspires the fantastic work we do today.
What started in the early 20th century as a collection of small, localised community services is now one of Australia’s largest non-profit health, aged care, disability and community service providers. Through our hospitals and well-known brands, we are there for people from all walks of life, in more than 460 locations throughout Queensland.
Every service, every community and every period of time in our history tells the story of lives changed for the better — by the wisdom, compassion and skill of UnitingCare’s people.
Some highlights are recounted here. We believe the best remains to be written.
Early 20th century — Churches commence community outreach
Community outreach through the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches in Queensland really began at the end of World War I — with the first services to support former prisoners and to provide food, clothing, blankets, and medical and health care to desperately poor people.
1930s — Great Depression hits hard
In the Great Depression, the churches persevered to help the growing number of people losing their jobs, as well as their families and orphaned or homeless children.
1940s — Hospitals provide healing care
Purchasing hospitals cemented our place in history as the first formal organisation in Queensland to both champion care for sick people, and to heal them.
St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church bought a local hospital in Maryborough, then later in Hervey Bay. The Methodist Church purchased St Helen’s Hospital in South Brisbane, which later became The Wesley Hospital in Auchenflower.
In the late 40s, the Presbyterian Church opened St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital and in the 2000s, we purchased Buderim Private Hospital.
1950s — Blue Care comes into being
Two inspired acts of compassion triggered a remarkable chain of events that led to the formation of Blue Care.
The Blue Nursing Service started when just one nurse, Olive Smith from the West End Methodist Mission in Brisbane, took a tram to visit a patient in their own home.
Around the same time, the first independent living cottages for elderly people were built in Chelmer — part of the Presbyterian Church’s growing portfolio in aged care.
These services, started with William Robert Black’s donation of two homes to the Presbyterian Church, became part of the Blue Nursing Service.
Aged care facilities grew rapidly from the 1960s to the 1980s. Facilities were filled as soon as they were built – eventually becoming part of what is now Blue Care.
Early 1960s — Lifeline offers support in crisis
Taking a call from a distressed man who later took his own life, made the late Rev Dr. Sir Alan Walker determined not to let it happen again. So he started Lifeline, a 24-hour crisis support line.
Soon, the first Lifeline service in Queensland was opened by the Rev Ivan Alcorn, Director of Young People’s Department in the Methodist Church.
Mid- to late-1960s — Institutions are left behind
When state-funded orphanages, children’s homes and asylums closed, we offered new services to care for the most vulnerable people in our communities.
Our family group homes allowed children in need to be looked after by house parents, usually a married couple, so that as far as possible they were able to live as a family.
As well, the Methodist Church helped people to leave institutions by establishing an early residential care ministry for people with intellectual disability.
1970s — The Uniting Church is born
With demand for their services growing, the Methodist Church of Australasia, the Presbyterian Church of Australia and the Congregational Union of Australia merged in 1977 under the Basis of Union to become the Uniting Church in Australia. In Queensland, that paved the way for the Synod to draw their many and varied community services together under one banner.
1980s — A time of expansion
Keeping up with growing local needs meant we had to expand — quickly.
More children were at risk of abuse and/or neglect and made providing child protection services more complicated.
People with disability needed new models of care, with the emphasis on building their capability. So we provided options such as community living, with the right supports.
With the projected increase in the population aged 65 and over, new initiatives were introduced to encourage alternatives to nursing homes and hostels — such as home care and respite care.
Following the Black Hawk helicopter disaster, the Lifeline Community Recovery Program emerged in the 1990s, offering crisis support, child and family programs and disability services throughout Queensland.
At the same time, our hospitals were carving out a reputation for first-class facilities and clinical excellence. In 2000, with growing demand, the hospitals then owned and operated by the Uniting Church in Australia, came together as UnitingCare Health.
Early 1990s — Lifeline consolidates
The 1980s and early 1990s saw demand for Lifeline’s services go through the roof.
Drought was biting hard and for various reasons, people in rural and metropolitan Queensland were struggling. In response, the Uniting Church Queensland Synod brought in a Lifeline State Director to consolidate and expand their operations.
By 2002 all Queensland Lifeline centres had merged to become Lifeline Community Care Queensland, which later, with the addition of disability, child and family services and Lifeline shops (Qld), became UnitingCare Community.
Late 1990s and 2000s — New name, new opportunities
In 1999, the church renamed its community services arm, which was made up of Blue Care, UnitingCare Community and UnitingCare Health, and established UnitingCare Queensland, resulting in a single point of accountability — the UnitingCare Queensland board.
Unencumbered, with a simpler structure, we set out to harness opportunities and make a real and lasting difference for our customers.
2010s — Reaching out far and wide
Never losing sight of our purpose, we reached in to isolated and remote communities to help those most in need.
UnitingCare, now the largest Queensland provider of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services and services to regional and rural communities, has a footprint that reaches from Thursday Island in the Torres Strait down to the New South Wales border and as far west as Mt Isa.
Bringing Australian Regional and Remote Community Services (ARRCS) into the family in 2014 has put us on the ground alongside local service providers, government representatives, health services and local GPs, right across the Northern Territory.
Together, we’re providing responsive and flexible services to care for people’s needs both now and as they change.
Lifeline marked the 50th anniversary and Blue Care celebrated its 60th birthday of delivering services to Australians in their times of need.
At the same time, we have steadily built the portfolio and infrastructure needed to support our work — now and in the future.
Every day, we are reminded of the pioneering spirit at the heart of UnitingCare’s success that drives us daily to stand alongside, support and provide the best possible care for people from all walks of life, no matter whom they are or where they live.