On Thursday 7 November 2019, the domestic violence sector, elected members, survivors and advocates came together in solidarity to celebrate an important milestone as Orana House refuge were honoured with their 30th anniversary celebration.
The night was a show of force and camaraderie within the sector as the voices advocating for women’s rights refused to be silenced. There were nearly 100 people in attendance, including the Orana Management Committee, staff, volunteers, clients and ex-clients, community/church groups, women’s refuges, Women’s Council for Domestic and Family Violence Services, Starting Over Support, WA Police, Department of Communities, Child Protection and Family Support, Soroptimists International, Sexual Assault Resource Centre, Mettle Women, Foundation Housing, Essentials for Women, EAST, Stopping Family Violence, ISHAR Multi-cultural Women’s Health Services, The Den, Nutrimetics, Synergy and the Empowerment Centre.
Lisa Baker MLA, Member for Maylands said domestic violence has a devastating effect on our communities and it is an issue which affects families across the entire State, not just locally.
“We need to keep having these difficult conversations. Conversations that matter are very complex, hard to start, but so important to have,” she said.
Orana House Chairperson Claire painstakingly announced during her address, that Orana was currently working with family number 12,110.
“In the 30 years since Orana have been incorporated, this number was truly astounding to us that we could help so many women, but also awful that we have had to, and this is the size of the problem we are facing in our community,” she said.
Orana House General Manager Mel Rowe said it was an exceptionally hard thing for a woman to do to leave her family home and come to the refuge.
“It’s really hard and really scary for the families, and when you’ve got issues such as coercive control, child support agencies and court orders in place, we can’t underestimate the difficulty involved.”Mel Rowe
“We know that it goes on for a long time for women, and leaving the refuge isn’t where their journey ends. We understood this need and we decided to fill the gap in care for women leaving the refuge, through our outreach with the SWitCH program (Supporting Women in the Community Holistically).”
Over the past 12 months, there has been a 50 per cent increase in need for the SWitCH program, which signifies the immediate need for women escaping violence. The Program aims to develop an outreach service and increase transitional housing capacity, as well as expanding women’s domestic violence education, self-esteem groups and child-focused programs in the community.
Mel said there had been many changes for Orana recently and she was excited to see where they would be going next.
“The most exciting thing for us over the past 30 years has been increasing our understanding of FDV and what we can do to support and advocate for women and children, while increasing our knowledge and professionalism in this space. Into the future, we plan to expand SWitCH and our community education and awareness programs to make Bayswater a safer place,” she said.
Where are we now?
To reach this momentous milestone of servitude and care, it’s important to acknowledge some of the history behind the decades, as Orana became an independent refuge for women and children seeking shelter from family and domestic violence (FDV).
The work of Orana was and is inspired by inclusion, welcoming and acceptance – and the namesake even indicates that. The word ‘Orana’ is an Aboriginal word that means ‘welcome’, and that is precisely what the refuge does for the women and children in need.
Orana has been providing services to women and children in the local community for over 40 years, initially under the umbrella of the Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Alcoholic and Homeless Men (A.C.R.A.H.) who identified that there was a gap in services for women and set up the initial Women’s Refuge. In 1989, Orana Women’s Refuge decided that it needed more self-determination, and so broke away from A.C.R.A.H. and became an Incorporated Organisation with its own Constitution and Management Committee. Moving into their new premises in March 1990, they formally became Orana House Incorporated. In 2000, it moved again into its current location; this time into an almost new, purpose-built building for women and children. From here, Orana House flourished and progressed from strength to strength for the following 19 years to where they are today, firmly rooted in their community after serving more than 12,000 families in need.
It has taken close to 50 years to bring the private into the public arena and educate the community of the damaging impact of FDV, not only for the individuals who experience violence, but also on the long-term costs to our whole society.
Celebrating this milestone would not be possible without extending sincere thanks to all friends of Orana House and its avid and passionate supporters over the years – all who have volunteered their time, donated much-needed and timely resources, and those who made it their life’s work to empower and encourage all who seek to break free from the chains of FDV and its crippling effects.
Words by Jacqui O’Leary