There was great concern in Ballarat in 1970 about young women who had no means of support and who were considered to be in moral danger. These women were being sent off to large central institutions in Melbourne, and away from familiar surroundings. Gwen Heinz, Nan McCallum, Sr Rita Hayes and police woman, Janet Lowe, were among those who endeavoured to do something of a practical and humanitarian nature locally. The first meeting of the original Lisa Lodge Management committee was held in August 1970.

Clendinning House is one of the few services in Victoria that accommodates women who have no dependents. Clendinning House, part of the Lisa Lodge complex, has provided support and accommodation for about eighty homeless single [as in they don’t have children with them] women, each year since it opened in 1988. Lisa Lodge established Clendinning House in August 1988 a property in Armstrong Street was rented. Over the following years the program grew so that three Ministry of Housing properties were allocated for accommodation of single women who needed support. There are now several properties where women without dependents can be accommodated. The program is undoubtedly warranted and valuable as many of the women who seek accommodation have left serious family violence situations. 

Almost 100 years previously on 30 July 1867 around 26 women in Ballarat held a meeting to establish a Female Refuge as a place of accommodation for single women on the early Ballarat goldfields. Martha Clendinning was among the women on the Refuge committee. She was particularly concerned about the plight of the unmarried mothers in Ballarat who often found themselves jobless and homeless. The Benevolent Association sometimes provided these women with external relief, but only admitted them to the asylum when, in dire circumstances, it became inhumane to exclude them. 

On 4 September 1867, a suitable premises was purchased in Grant Street for the first female refuge on the Australian goldfields, at a cost of 160 pound. It was reported that in October 1867 the female refuge had opened and an 18 year old girl who was charged with no visible means of support and living in a brothel, was a case in which the Refuge Committee had assisted. In 1884 the Ballarat Female Refuge, a purpose built accommodation unit, was opened in Scott Parade, Ballarat East. The Alexandra Toddlers’ Home was established in 1909 alongside this institution, working in conjunction with both the Refuge and the Ballarat Orphanage in Victoria Street. The Canadian Rescue and Children’s Home (which had already incorporated the George Street Children’s Home into its complex at Butt’s Hill, Ballarat East, in 1916) was amalgamated with both the Scott Parade premises. In 1921 the operation of these institutions was taken over by The Ballarat Town and City Mission. The Refuge closed its doors to single women around 1940 but the Toddlers’ Home continued, being closed in 1973. 

The service now operating at Lisa Lodge was named after Martha Clendinning, who migrated to Australia from Ireland in 1852, with her husband George, and daughter Margaret. At the end of months of journeying they were shipwrecked just off Geelong. What a remarkable woman Martha was! She was left with her sister in law in Melbourne while their husbands proceeded to the Ballarat goldfields. The two women decided they would buy some stores, hire a dray, and make their way to the diggings to open a store. The usual mode of travel for women was high on the top of the dray, but Martha in 1853 walked to Ballarat from Melbourne, to join her husband and open a small store on the goldfields. She managed the store till the mid 1850s when she settled down to become ‘a doctor’s wife’. She then began her charity work. After working tirelessly in Ballarat for those who were less fortunate she later took up with the charity organisation society in Melbourne. Martha is buried with her husband George in a grave in the Ballaarat Old Cemetery. The grave is cracked and the silver lettering needs repairing. It would be fitting to repair her grave, erect a sign mentioning her marvellous work, and pay tribute to this worthy woman.

Lisa Lodge, The Courier (Ballarat)