The Kew Historical Society was founded in 1958, and is one of the oldest continuing historical societies in Melbourne. For over 60 years, the Society has worked with local government and other organisations within Kew to stimulate interest in our history and heritage. The Society is affiliated with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria and the Australian Museums and Galleries Association. It co-operates with other historical societies and groups across the City of Boroondara through the Boroondara Historical Societies Association.

The Society acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the ancestral homelands upon which our premises are situated. We respect their Elders, past, present and future and recognise their continuous connection to Country.


Lee-Ann Monk & David Henderson

Opened in 1887, Kew Cottages was Australia’s first purpose-built institution for people with intellectual disabilities. Its establishment was a pivotal moment in the history of intellectual disability. Following overseas models of care, it challenged the prevailing idea that intellectual disability was a malady beyond the hope of any amelioration. Contemporaries considered it ‘a distinct advance on anything yet done for the feeble-minded children in Australia’.
Five decades later, the institution had become the subject of almost universal condemnation. In the words of well-known journalist Rohan Rivett, the cottages had become ‘a hillside of sadness’, where residents eked out a bare existence in an institution which lacked even the most basic amenities.
This lecture will explore how an institution which opened with such optimistic intent was allowed to fall into the dreadful state of dereliction Rivett described, before considering subsequent efforts to resurrect it, focusing particularly on the Herald newspaper’s 1952 Tipping Appeal. The Appeal, which raised almost £50,000 (roughly equivalent to $500,000 today), is remembered now as one of the most significant events in the Cottages’ history. It brought together government, media and community on behalf of the residents, kick starting a new era.
Wednesday 13 March, 7.30 for 8.00pm
Just Theatre, Kew Court House
188 High Street, Kew, 3101
Tickets $20