The Brotherhood of St. Laurence celebrates 90 years of working towards an Australia free of poverty

8 December 2020

The Brotherhood of St. Laurence (BSL) is commemorating its 90th anniversary today, Tuesday 8 December 2020, kicking off a year-long celebration.

BSL today launched a history microsite online and is calling for stories from people in the community about their connection to the organisation.

Co-founded in 1930 by Father Gerard Kennedy Tucker, an Anglican priest, social reformer and activist, BSL has grown into one of Australia’s leading social justice organisations.

BSL relocated from NSW to Fitzroy in 1933 at the invitation of Melbourne's Archbishop, to take charge of St Mary's Mission.

Fitzroy, where BSL’s headquarters remain today, was then one of Melbourne’s most depressed neighbourhoods and the organisation was actively involved in helping the unemployed and the poor.

BSL appointed its first social research officer in 1943 and today has the largest and oldest social policy research centre in a non-government welfare organisation in Australia, underpinned by a strong partnership with the University of Melbourne.

“Today and over the course of 2021, we will be marking BSL’s 90th anniversary by reflecting on our rich history and looking towards the future - an Australia free of poverty,” says BSL Executive Director, Conny Lenneberg.

“BSL was born in the midst of the Great Depression and, today, our work to address poverty and disadvantage is even more important than ever as we deal with the economic crisis sparked by COVID-19.”

BSL is a unique organisation that focusses on creating real, long-term solutions by addressing the fundamental causes of poverty in our community, through its evidence-based approach to services, research and campaigns.

BSL’s rich history of social innovation and “firsts” includes:

  • The first BSL “op shop” opened in 1938 in Fitzroy's now hip Gertrude Street to sell second-hand clothing and goods to the poor of the district. There are now 23 BSL op shops across Melbourne and Greater Geelong.
  • In 1946, BSL opened the first drop-in centre for elderly men – the Coolibah Centre, which served as a model for today’s elderly citizens' clubs.
  • The first Alcoholics Anonymous group in Melbourne was formed in 1946 under the auspices of BSL to fight the alcoholism problem that was developing in society.
  • A free milk scheme set up by BSL in 1948 at Fitzroy’s George Street Primary School was later rolled out nationally to primary schools under the Menzies Government.
  • One of Australia's first free legal aid services was set up through BSL in 1952 by the Faculty of Law at Melbourne University.
  • Fr Tucker’s Food for Peace campaign in the 1950s grew into Community Aid Abroad, known today as Oxfam Australia, a leading international development agency.
  • In Fitzroy in 1956, BSL supported the establishment of Australia’s first generalist migrant settlement support service – the Ecumenical Migration Centre.
  • Australia's first large-scale recycled clothing operation, The Salvage Division, was set up in 1957 in Westgarth Street, Fitzroy, collecting goods from across Melbourne.
  • In 1964, BSL established the Hanover Centre - one of the first centres to provide specialised services for homeless people.
  • Victoria’s first successful family planning clinic was established in 1967, in Fitzroy as a three-month pilot project for low-income families.
  • BSL pioneered Brotherhood Bins in 1970 – one of the first charity collection bins in Australia.
  • Australia’s largest and longest-running financial education and matched savings program, Saver Plus, was established in partnership with ANZ in 2003, supporting families and to develop lasting savings habits.
  • In 2009, BSL partnered with three other leading charities to create Goodstart Early Learning one of Australia’s largest not-for-profit social enterprises, to give children the best possible start in life.
  • Australia’s first online second-hand charitable bookstore, Brotherhood Books, was established in 2010 and now has 60,000 books including rare and collectable titles.

Named after the patron saint of the poor, St. Laurence, BSL was founded in the Anglican parish of St. Stephen in Adamstown, NSW, by Fr Tucker, together with theological students, Guy Coleman Cox and Michael Clarke.

Fr Tucker’s vision was to serve the community and help Australians affected by disadvantage and poverty. The founding convictions for a transformed and just society, remain core to BSL’s mission into the 21st century.

“BSL has contributed so much to the community and helped address poverty in Australia, but after 90 years, we still have to fight for fairness, justice and compassion – it’s a fight we’re determined to win,” Ms Lenneberg said.

Many activities and events will take place during 2021 to celebrate BSL’s 90th Anniversary.

BSL would like to share stories from the wonderful BSL community. Stories of hope. Stories of resilience. Stories of commitment to creating lasting change.
We invite you to share your BSL story .