In 2015, KU Children’s Services celebrated 120 years since the organisation was founded and early education in Australia was born. Since its establishment in 1895, KU has gone on to become one of Australia’s leading community based, not for profit providers of early education, enriching the lives of more than 14,500 children and families each year, through over 140 early education services and programs.
From humble beginnings
In 1895 education for young children was virtually non existent in Australia. In response to community need, a group of kindergarten enthusiasts led by feminist reformer Maybanke Anderson, established the Kindergarten Union of NSW, an organisation aimed at providing education to the community’s most disadvantaged children.
At its establishment, the objectives of the Kindergarten Union were:
1. To set forth kindergarten principles.
2. To endeavour to get those principles introduced into every school in NSW.
3. To open free kindergartens wherever possible in poor neighbourhoods.
In 1896, with only £50 to its name, the Kindergarten Union successfully opened the first free kindergarten in Australia in the Sussex Street Mission Hall, Sydney with only three children attending. With few families in the area, and the poor conditions of the property severely hindering enrolments, the centre closed its doors shortly after, relocating to Charles Street, Woolloomooloo. Although enrolments amplified, the conditions of the new premises were also deemed inadequate, and the kindergarten finally moved to Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo, where it remained for 21 years. By 1911, the Kindergarten Union had successfully opened eight free kindergartens across Sydney. While the era signified a time of much adversity, ridicule and a general lack of funding for the fledgling Kindergarten Union, the founders’ continued persistence, courage and determination saw the birth of early education in Australia.