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Our History

Tresillian’s Centenary in 2018 celebrated one hundred years of history as Australia’s leading child and family health service. Established as The Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies, Tresillian has supported generations of parents during the early days of their baby’s life, providing reassurance and building confidence.

Founded at the Sydney Town Hall, on 4th November, 1918, the Society was a NSW government initiative sparked by soaring infant mortality rates and a desperate shortage of health services for new mothers.

The need for intervention was exacerbated by the First World War, which left many young mothers widowed. In the same period around 60,000 babies lost their lives through poverty, disease and lack of hygiene. The Society’s primary aim back then was to make a difference to the high mortality rate of children under the age of five. In 1919 the Society was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in New South Wales. Then in 1921, Queen Mary became the Patron of the Society, until her death in March 1953. On 4th August 1954 Queen Elizabeth II, who had just visited Australia, became the Patron of the organisation.
The Society initially responded to the problems at home with a community education program for parents of small children.

The Society initially responded to the problems at home with a community education program for parents of small children. Other aims as outlined in the 1920-21 Annual Report, were:

  • To Save Life.
  • To co-ordinate all agencies dealing with mothers and babies.
  • To ensure proper Nursing Conditions to every mother prior and subsequent to Childbirth
  • To establish Welfare Centres and Committees in the metropolis and country
  • To establish rest Homes for Mothers
  • To establish a Corps of Mothers’ Aids
  • To care for and bring under supervision all children up to school age
  • To provide certified and humanised milk, and ice.

In 1921, Dr Margaret Harper, the first Medical Director led the establishment of an Infant Welfare Training School at 2 Shaw Street, Petersham. It was, in fact a post-graduate training school for nurses wanting to specialise in mothercraft and a home where difficult infant feeding cases could be cared for, and breastfeeding established, where possible. Nurses came from all over Australia to attend.

A baby clinic for parents also opened where mothers could bring their baby to be assessed and checked. The clinic at Petersham had been named “Tresillian” by the previous owners who originated from the village of the same name in Cornwall, England and from then on, the Royal Society for the Welfare of Mothers and Babies became affectionately known as “Tresillian”. When the Willoughby Centre was purchased in 1927 the name was retained and this Centre became known as Tresillian North.

By the mid-1920’s the infant mortality rate had fallen to 3% from a peak of over 10% just a few years earlier. As times changed, Tresillian’s scope adapted and broadened with specialised nursing, medical and psychological support available on site and across mediums such as the internet and on the telephone.

As times changed, Tresillian’s scope and services adapted and broadened with specialised nursing, medical and psychological support to parents.  More Family Care Centres were opened across Sydney at Vaucluse (1934 – closed in 1969), Wollstonecraft (1940) and Nepean (1992).  However, by far the most significant period of growth was between 2015 to 2021 when Tresillian expanded into regional areas with Centres at Albury Wodonga (2015), Lismore (2015), Wagga Wagga (2016) and Queanbeyan, Coffs Harbour, Broken Hill, Taree and Dubbo in 2018.  In 2019 Tresillian was appointed Service Provider of the QEII Family Centre in the ACT and in 2021, Tresillian Macksville opened.  It is Australia’s only residential Parents & Babies Unit.  Todays, parents also have easy access to Tresillian’s well-resourced website and social media channels, a baby Sleep App, telehealth consultations and parenting programs and more.

The primary goal of Tresillian remains unchanged:  that of securing the best possible life and future for young Australians.

With over 100 years of invaluable service to generations of young families Tresillian has played an important and unique role in the history of New South Wales and continues to offer a range of services including parenting programs, counselling and one on one advice, designed to provide professional support for families with a baby, toddler or pre-schooler.

We invite you to celebrate the diverse history and heritage of Tresillian. Our interactive timeline will also provide you with a wonderful insight in to Tresillian’s past, present and future.

Share Your Story

You’re an important part of our history and we’d love you to share your ‘Tresillian’ story with us.
You may have called on Tresillian for help with one of your children or you may be a past or current staff member or student? We want to hear about your experiences.

Share your story
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