The Portsea Camp

Camp History

From the Mallee to the sea – Lord Mayor’s Childrens’ Camp 1946

In the mid 1940’s it became apparent to the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Sir Thomas Nettlefold, that children in the bush needed a break. Fathers had died at war, there were terrible droughts in the Mallee and there was no universal health care system. The Lord Mayor’s Childrens’ Camp for Country Children was established as a registered charity and the site was handed over as a temporary venue for children’s camps.

The camps were a great success with many businesses, wealthy private citizens, service clubs, unions and the RSL and Country Women’s Association providing volunteers and financial assistance.

Within a few short years, however, the Commonwealth attempted to regain use of the site and move the camp on. Much lobbying and fundraising by those involved ensured that sufficient money was raised to buy the property and this never eventuated.

In the early years, children were transported to Melbourne free of charge by the railways. They travelled on to the camp in buses. Up to 300 children were at the site at any one time.

A medical centre and 24 hour medical support teams ensured that all children were given thorough checks. Eyes were tested by volunteers from Coles and Garrard, ears were checked in the soundproof bunkers, and the occasional X-ray was performed. Teeth were examined and referrals made. Out of 10 to 12 days at camp perhaps 2 days were taken up by medical checks.

The Portsea Camp today and tomorrow – 1995 and beyond

In 1995 the City of Melbourne had decided to focus on services to residents of the CBD, rather than investing the considerable sums of money required to keep the camp a going concern. The camp was handed over to an independent Board of Directors. The Board included members of the former management body and interested others. Together they united to ensure the camp’s survival, became incorporated as a Company Limited by Guarantee and changed the name to The Portsea Camp.

Rotary International became a principal supporter, raised significant funds and gave considerable in-kind support to ensure the camp’s survival. Without this support the camp would no longer exist.

The camp’s Mission is to provide quality and affordable holidays for special needs and disadvantaged children. The camp is a registered charity with all profits from general rentals being used to improve the site and sponsor disadvantaged children to come to camp for a ‘holiday of a lifetime’.

A wide range of groups now stay at the site – from older adults to young children, from sporting to craft to artistic groups, from primary schools to conference groups. The appeal of the site is wide ranging and the board is intent on making the space as desirable as possible to as wide a range of user groups as it can.

An extended history of the Lord Mayor’s Camp from 1944 to 1979 was written by Mr Leslie Moorhead. You can access the article here.

L. Moorhead Part 1    L. Moorhead Part 2

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