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The birth of IRT

Retirement Living Stories

At IRT we are celebrating our 50th anniversary and are sharing our residents’ and customers’ stories from 5o years ago.

15 November 2019
(Left to right) Noel Howard, Mr Paton and Dr Diment with a donation cheque for $1000 from Coles Store, July 1970.
(Left to right) Noel Howard, Mr Paton and Dr Diment with a donation cheque for $1000 from Coles Store, July 1970.

Corrimal medical practitioner and Bulli Hospital Honorary Medical Superintendent Dr Max Diment MBE wanted older Australians to have their dignity and wellbeing ensured in safe, supportive environments. His vision was realised by a core group of men and women who dedicated themselves to laying the foundations for an organisation that has become one of Australia’s largest community-owned providers of aged care centres, retirement villages and home care services.

It began with a vision . . .

In 1968 Dr Diment shared his concerns about the lack of care and support for his elderly patients with his friend, local businessman Sid Wearne. Both men were passionate about the plight of elderly people and decided to enlist the help of other people with common goals.

At the same time the Lions Club at Austinmer was striving to find a way to develop land near Bulli Hospital to build an aged care centre. Likewise, the Illawarra Masters and Wardens Association was investigating ways to provide care for its ageing members.

Representatives of both groups – including Noel Howard OAM, the then president of the Illawarra Masters and Wardens Association, and John Garland, its secretary – were invited to a meeting at Bulli Hospital on 19 April 1968 to talk about pooling resources and working towards a shared vision.

A consensus was reached to form an interim committee and Dr Diment was elected Chairman, Ray Oakes Secretary, Ron Gordon Treasurer and Michael Paul Publicity and Legal Officer. Noel Howard, who went on to become IRT’s first and longest-serving CEO, and John Garland were appointed leaders of the fundraising committee.

Over several months a plan was drawn up to look for suitable building sites and explore the means of funding the purchase of a block of land. At this point the committee was considering building on land at Tarrawanna and the group elected to call themselves Tarrawanna Garden Village.

Dr Max Diment
Dr Max Diment

The first fundraiser, a bowling day at Towradgi Bowling Club, took place and Tarrawanna Garden Village became solvent with the proceeds of $48.

By December 1968 the enthusiasm and energy of the group spurred others into action. The Illawarra Masters and Wardens Association donated $1000 to establish a financial base for the project. Then Wollongong City Council, a great supporter of IRT, offered to donate land on Staff Street. The committee decided the land was too small for an aged care centre but ideal for housing. The Tarrawanna site was kept in mind for an aged care centre.

At that time, a consultancy group commissioned to undertake a study of the feasibility of the project recommended a name change – to reflect the organisation’s aims and goals. It was the Bank of New South Wales local branch manager, Jack Nind, who came up with the new name, Illawarra Retirement Trust. When Dr Diment and Noel Howard visited the bank to open an account for the organisation, Jack convinced them to be ambitious when naming it.

“What if we call the account the Wollongong Retirement Trust?” asked Dr Diment.

“I’m thinking Illawarra,” Jack Nind replied.

There was a flurry of fundraising and promotional activities in early 1969 to help make the Staff Street project, which became IRT Diment Towers, a reality.

IRT’s first incoming resident, George Perrot, made a deposit of $2000 in April 1969 – the same month an organisational constitution was established.

Then on 14 November 1969 IRT became a registered company.

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