The day four women from Cairns decided to create an emergency shelter for domestic violence victims, they never thought it would be permanent.
This is because they never imagined that domestic violence would become such a big problem in their community or that the shelter would become a vital resource in the city.
The women had no idea and considered the shelter to be a short term collaboration until domestic violence rates went down.
Ruth Thomas, Jean Bleyerveld, Pat O’Hara and Joan Trewern are the four women who started the shelter by hosting fundraisers and bringing a formal proposal to the local council.
Fundraisers included sausage sizzles, bush dances and selling baked goods. At that time, it was necessary for the women to also provide some of their own money to the cause.
Federal and state resources provided the rest of the money needed. In 1977, they were able to open Ruth’s Women’s Shelter. At first it was located in Earlville, but later was located in a Cairns North hilltop Queenslander.
The shelter was put to use on the very first day. Since they had no employees, Ruth Thomas decided to move into the facility herself.
According to Lynelle, the shelter’s first days were quite dissimilar to how things are done now.
These days, the shelter is equipped with cameras, alarms, and a security system, but in the beginning, the staff had to go outside to bring in new residents and the shelter’s location was well-known.
In 1986, Lynelle applied to work at the shelter when was in her late 20’s. She was already a skilled nurse with a young child.
The shelter was able to pay Lynelle thanks to sales from Ruth’s Bookshelf. It was opened in 1980 and the store was provided by Rusty Rees. Lynelle says the people of Cairns have been incredibly supportive.
Shelter residents who have nothing and have to restart their lives greatly appreciate the donations. It can be easier for some of the women to completely start over than attempt to retrieve their property from the homes they’ve left.
Even the little things, such as toiletries are appreciated. There is one individual in Cairns who prepares gift boxes for residents and the shelter has a large room full of donated clothing for everyone from infants to elderly women.
The shelter is frequently the first place abused women are able to freely discuss their issues. Some have been shunned by their relatives, live in a new city or are reliant on their spouses.