In April and then in October 1975 Cathi Moore flew to Perth.
Her mission, to establish the Western Australian branch of Shelter as part of a year-long secondment to establish a new national housing body. Funding to carry out this work came from the Commonwealth Whitlam Government and it is important to understand the reasons behind the funding supply and subsequent push for a national body.
At that time, the Commonwealth was facilitating a series of urban regeneration projects in Sydney focusing on three inner city neighbourhoods: Waterloo, Glebe and Woolloomooloo. As the projects progressed a multitude of interest groups appeared. In Dr Tony Gilmour’s book Champions of change: Shelter NSW, community activism and transforming NSW’s housing system there is a passage which highlights the amount of community interest from various housing fields.
Dr Gilmour references a 1975 edition of the National Housing Action newsletter which outlines the interest shown in setting up a housing organisation in NSW. “Those present included people from tenancy groups, resident groups, people involved in emergency accommodation projects, special groups (the handicapped, single parents and the aged), service organisations and trade unions,” notes Dr Gilmour.
With a multitude of groups and the Commonwealth having a key role through their funding power negotiated through the Commonwealth State Housing Agreements (CSHA) a national housing lobby organisation was considered a necessity.
Several activists approached the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) for help to establish a national organisation. ACOSS put in a bid and was successful the result being a $50,000 grant. It fell to 21-year-old Cathi Moore to start the movement and she would only have a year to do it however she would not have to start from scratch.
ACOSS where she was employed, had a strong housing policy interest and a designated staff member was assigned to deal with housing issues. Being an incorporated body ACOSS acted as the umbrella organisation for Shelters initial funding. And with state and territory COSS’s providing a supportive base locally.
Shelter started to form along the east coast first as Cathi built networks around localised state-based policy issues before flying to Perth in April 1975. Having grown up on a farm in Pemberton in the southwest corner of the state and then studying at the Western Australian Institute of Technology (WAIT) meant she would have local knowledge on her side. The Western Australian Council of Social Service (WACOSS) was very supportive with early facilitatory work carried out by Sue Ash.
Consulting her diary, it appears this first visit to WA was short. “It looks like I arrived on a Thursday and then left on a Saturday,” Cathi said. In that time, she met with representatives from the WA Planning Commission, University of Western Australia, WAIT and the Catholic Family Welfare Bureau.
“We were probably just trying to gather information from various services,” Cathi said. “Student housing was one of the big issues in that time that we were setting up Shelter WA.”
Cathi also either rang or visited Fremantle City Council to do with refugees, the Aboriginal Housing Committee, the Department of Social Inquiry at Murdoch University and both Craig Smith and Peter Liddell from the Housing Research Information Centre at the University of Western Australia. Craig Smith in fact would end up being Shelter WA’s first ever spokesperson thanks to Cathi who saw his University role as giving him an air of independence when speaking to the media.
On the second visit back to Perth six months later in October Cathi jumped on a midnight flight according to her dairy to attend a “WA Shelter Public Meeting”. The meeting on 22 October 1975 at 52 Mount Street was a location used as a health and welfare centre by the Anglican Church. “Shelter WA was in existence by October … we sort of set them up even if they didn’t exist, we said they did,” Cathi says with a smile.
But it was not enough just to get people together you had to get the issues up, this was crucial to keep the interest in a Shelter body going. A month after Shelter WA’s first meeting the Fraser Government would win a landslide election and with the Commonwealth’s drive for financial austerity the state Shelters set up by Cathi would continue to grow through a collective voice of concern over cutbacks to housing.
After the money ran out on her one-year secondment Cathi would continue to push for Shelter to be established, particularly in the nation’s capital, where she joined the ACT Shelter committee in a voluntary capacity.
On looking back on what the Shelters have collectively become today Cathi is amazed the organisation has survived.
“It has had its ups and downs and some of that is politically motivated, some governments don’t like an independent voice on housing issues. But now you also have bodies like the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute doing significant research but Shelter generally is still at the forefront on housing issues.”
She puts the overall success down to three things. The original Commonwealth Government funding, the key support from ACOSS and WACOSS and the many passionate people from architects, low-income tenants through to student activists who so eagerly became involved in those early years and would do anything to get the place off the ground.