Aged Care

An enderly citizen of the nineteenth century (AOT, PH30/1/4440)

Aged Care in early colonial times was often a government responsibility, as traditional sources such as family networks, churches and philanthropists were limited in a migrant society. Outdoor relief was available in the form of charitable rations and occasional clothing, and some chronically ill aged people were cared for in the Hobart and Launceston hospitals.

The population trebled to over 45,000 during Lt-Governor Arthur's rule, including many dependent on charitable aid – emancipist invalids, pauper immigrants, and commuted pensioners (old soldiers who had exchanged pensions for land in the colony). In 1827 a hospital opened at New Norfolk for sick, invalid and mentally ill patients of both sexes. It was soon overcrowded, and in 1855 aged women were transferred to the Hobart Colonial Hospital and men to Impression Bay, leaving the insane at New Norfolk.

In 1856, the newly independent colony had a proportionately large destitute population and run-down imperial services. Poverty, it was commonly held, resulted from character defects such as 'idleness, improvidence and intemperance', and aged-care provision discouraged self-reliance. Government relief for the aged was wholly indoor – at the Impression Bay Imperial Depot and the hospitals in Hobart and Launceston. After the opening of Brickfields Invalid Depot in 1859 failed to meet the demand, the Launceston Invalid Depot for men was opened in 1868 and women were allocated to part of the gaol. Other institutions used to house the aged were the Cascades Invalid Depot (1869) and the New Town Charitable Institution (1874, later becoming St John's Park and in 1994, Rosary Gardens). Accommodation peaked in 1879 with 897 invalids throughout the colony, and pressure was continuous, forcing many to sleep on the floor. Daily routines and diet were monotonous, privacy was non-existent and married couples were separated. In 1879, small private almshouses opened in Launceston for aged poor from the 'higher classes'.

Conditions for the aged improved from the 1880s, when outdoor relief became economically more efficient for government than institutionalisation, enabling many to remain in the community. Affecting all classes, the 1890s Depression shattered the illusion that social problems resulted from moral weakness and led to attitudinal changes regarding the poor. Independence and personal dignity ensued from the federal Old Age Pension in 1909 and the Invalid Pension in 1910. A second government home for aged invalids was opened in 1913, the Invalid Depot in Launceston.

Some private facilities were opened in the 1920s, such as Barbara Barnett's Rest Home in Bellerive (1922, eventually St Ann's, Hobart, a Baptist home), a Lindisfarne home for returned nurses (1925), and some small homes, such as Sister Bennie's St Helena Rest Home in Bellerive (1920s–1940), which catered for a dozen elderly residents. With medical advances, life expectancy rose. Post-war demand for accommodation saw government construction of Cosgrove Park in Launceston (1954), which replaced the Home for Invalids. Major non-government instutitions included Glenview Home, Glenorchy (1948, Anglican); Freemasons Home, Lindisfarne (1952); and Lillian Martin Home, Warrane (1952, Uniting Church, now Eastside Care).

In 1954 the Aged Persons Homes Act provided for commonwealth funding for capital projects, to assist religious and charitable organisations to provide accommodation for the elderly. Many homes were established, such as Queen Victoria Home, Lindisfarne (c 1955, developed from a convalescent home); Strathaven, Glenorchy (1957, Methodist) and Mary's Grange (1957, Catholic). In Launceston, homes included Launceston Presbyterian Homes for the Aged and the Salvation Army (both 1957), Aldersgate (Methodists, 1959), the Fred French Masonic Home (1962), and Ainslie House Association units for the aged (1967). Since then many private institutions have opened, and some smaller ones have closed.

At first government funding was for building only, but from the 1970s both commonwealth and state governments provided funding for beds in aged care homes, which were subject to increasingly strict regulation. The 1990s were a crisis time for many homes, as methods of management and care had to conform to government standards, which often meant major change from earlier practices. Several homes which could not reach these standards were forced to close. Another change was that from the 1980s government encouraged aged people to remain in their own homes for as long as posssible, providing a range of services such as home nursing, personal care, respite accommodation, housekeeping, transport and delivered food services. Those who did enter aged care homes were on average older and less mobile than in earlier times.

In 2004 both high and low level accommodation is available at approximately seventy commonwealth-accredited aged care facilities throughout the state. With an increasing aged population, Tasmania faces major challenges in waiting lists, the viability of service providers and staffing levels. (See also Adards Nursing Home.)

Further reading: A Alexander, The eastern shore, Rosny Park, 2003; J Brown, “Poverty is not a crime”, Hobart, 1972; Mercury, 8 March 2004; A Piper, 'Admission to charitable institutions in colonial Tasmania', THS 9, 2004; B Valentine, 'Nelumie Flats', The Archive, newsletter of LGH Historical Committee 12, 1997.

Wendy Rimon