Saturday, 24 January 2015

Bush Children's Health Scheme

The Royal Queensland Bush Children’s Health Scheme was set up in 1935 to help children in need of medical help, particularly in communities where medical or surgical facilities were lacking.
Alderman Joan Innes Reid and nurse R. Wandell opening the Bush Children's Appeal of 1968, Townsville.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Early efforts to boost the health of western Queensland children began in 1931 when members of Townsville’s Toc ‘H’ group arranged to bring twenty-five children from the Richmond and Cloncurry districts to Townsville, to spend part of their summer holidays by the sea.  The international Toc ‘H’ movement started during World War I, with benevolent aims that sought to “ease the burdens of others through service”.

The endeavours of Toc ‘H’ in Queensland were taken one step further in 1935, when Sir Leslie Orme Wilson, then Governor of Queensland, called together a group of eminent medical professionals, with a view to establishing a State-wide scheme that addressed the health needs of children in remote and regional Queensland centres.  The group included, among others, Dr Raphael Cilento, Director-General of Health and Medical Services and Dr Alfred Jefferis Turner, Medical Officer to the Child Welfare Department.

The main object of the Scheme was to seek out and assist all children living in the far west, or elsewhere in Queensland, who were in need of medical or surgical treatment, which was not available in their own communities.  Children were considered eligible for assistance if they were aged between five and thirteen years, and if their parents were unable to afford the cost of the specialist care required. 

Children were recommended to the Scheme by bush nurses, school health Sisters, church missionaries, the Flying Doctors, school Headmasters, police officers and others.

In Townsville in 1946, the Rotary Club secured a group of huts in Rowes Bay that had been used by the Army during World War II for the purposes of establishing a Home in Townsville that could be used by the Bush Children’s Scheme.  Within six years, a modern dental clinic and a surgery were also part of the complex.
An aerial view of the Bush Children's Home at Rowes Bay, 1970.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection

The Scheme covered the cost of transporting the children to the most suitable place of treatment, using chaperones, called escorts, many of whom were volunteers from the Red Cross.  The usual length of stay was six weeks, but many children requiring specialist treatment might stay up to two years, all at no cost to the child’s parents.

Diseases and complaints treated under the scheme included ear, throat and eye trouble, osteomyelitis, heart defects, acute malnutrition, rheumatic fever, cleft palates and hare lips, muscular dystrophy, foot deformities, spastic paralysis and others.  The Scheme also provided for dental care, speech pathology and hearing aids.  Malnutrition was one of the most prevalent ailments.

In his 1952 annual report, Dr J. Breinl, the Scheme’s Chairman, felt that it was a “sad commentary on their way of life that many people who lived and worked in the outback, more often than not under extremely trying conditions, raised their children lacking regular medical and dental care and found extreme difficulty in providing proper food”.

Dr Breinl considered the work of the Bush Children’s Health Scheme to be of national importance and he hoped it would always continue to receive the support that it had enjoyed in the past from all sections of the community.


  1. Hi i was one of the children at Rowes Bay. I am trying to find out if you would remember the children that went from Normanton Qld round about 1970-1980.

  2. Hi, I'm sorry but I don't have any information on that particular period. My research was really only on the early beginnings of the scheme. Sorry I couldn't be of further help.

    1. HI Trisha, I appreciate that you may not have information for the late 70's and early 80's, however, I was hoping that you may be able to assist in how I and the anonymous person may be able to obtain more information or possible contacts ? David.

    2. Hi David,

      You could try the organisation Bushkids at
      This is the modern-day organisation that Royal Queensland Bush Children's Health Scheme morphed into. They should be able to tell you where you can access any records from that time period.
      The telephone number is 07 3870 7288.

      Another option would be to contact Queensland State Archives, Telephone: (07) 3131 7777.
      They have records pertaining to the Bush Children's Health Scheme, however, these are likely to have access restrictions on them, which may or may not prove difficult for you. They are very helpful there though and will do their best to help you. If you want to access records that are restricted they'll let you know how to go about acquiring permission.

      All the best!

  3. The RQBCHS also provede services to assist with the mental health and behavioural needs of children. I know thisbecause I was the first Psychologist employed by the organisation in 1992. Regards Vanessa Krause

  4. My friend Mary Jane Forte,from the Philippines, worked there as a nursing sister 1973/74. Does anyone know if she is still in Queensland or else where in Australia? From an old friend in USA

  5. Hi my name is Ivy and I was one of the children at Rowe's bay and I have been hoping to find information about when I was in Rowe's bay from the 1970s if any one had photos or story's they remember..