100 years of Travellers Aid

THE more than 25 years’ association I’ve had with Travellers Aid (TA) started through need when I first noticed the Spencer Street subway location. After leaving school on crutches, I needed to sit or lie down for a few hours to recover. I well remember one of the ladies there on my first visit – Mrs Lark. At the time, I was coming down from the country to Melbourne on a semi-regular basis to study network marketing and used the TA facilities as necessary.

When you are a person with a disability, you have to promote and sell yourself as a person of interest so that you can engage others and get them to look at or see you as a person rather than a situation needing support.

TA has had people entering its doors for 100 years. Started by women from the YWCA and other female-led organisations, they supported those in crisis, down on their luck, or affected by war through loss of family members or notably bread winners. In its early days TA mainly supported women. An example was when billeted accommodation had to be found for a young girl or family; TA would source options.

Travellers Aid buggy in Melbourne
Travellers Aid buggy with passengers in Melbourne

People in wheelchairs arrived seeking assistance at the Collins and Swanston Street venues because the Herald Sun and its sub-agencies’ employees were out on the street as early as 6:30am. These workers were scattered around the city centre – I know because I was one of them. TA gave accessible facilities with caring attendants.

TA obtained Department of Human Services’ funding to provide disabled toilet facilities. A family member who went for a TA canteen job was asked if she minded assisting others to go to the toilet – this was in the job description. The interviewer, Mrs Shelley, said: “I hope you don’t think this is strange, but this is what we need”. TA remains flexible in meeting the otherwise unmet needs of the community. If it were not for those then on the TA Board, we would not have such support centres.

We have had programs assisting people to get back on their feet after a personal crisis or to return home or get to a safe environment. Although funding has been cut in some areas, for every person entering TA these same principles are followed. This year we celebrate our 100th anniversary.

Apart from its two Melbourne centres and one in Seymour, TA runs a Travel Training Program and has an active Medical Companion Program in Melbourne to assist regional and metropolitan patients to get to appointments smoothly. There is a buggy service available at Southern Cross and Seymour stations to meet people and escort them as required and if details are provided, they will be met upon their return. TA also has mobility scooters and wheelchairs (both electric and manual) for hire.

Bryan Porter
Return to Bulletin #141