Biala commenced in 1969 as Biala Special School. The school was initiated by retired teachers who saw a need within their neighbourhood. Teaching commenced in the homes of the teachers before moving to the old Lighthouse Beach Surf Club. The demand for specialised education increased across the area and a group of dedicated and inspired community members called a public meeting to gather support and funds to construct a purpose build Special School in Ballina. A committee was formed and The Ballina Byron Branch of the Challenge Foundation was formed. With funds raised and crown land provided the school was build and doors opened in 1972 at 78 Fox Street Ballina. The school and organisation continues at this site.
In the early 1990’s the Board of Management were foresighted to further progress and develop the organisation by offering services for adults with special needs, Strikers Disabled Bowling League and North Coast Fun Club commenced. The Board also recognised the need for a casual short term respite facility in Ballina and the development of Melaleuca Respite House was initiated. During the same period the Board of the Ballina Byron Branch of the Challenge Foundation were informed that the Challenge Foundation was ceasing its country branches and that each branch would need to incorporate within their own right to continue to operate. The Board then made the decision to incorporate and the legal entity then became Biala Support Services Incorporated.
Building on from previous success, an Adult Community Participation Day Program was launched in 2016.
Looking to the future
The certainty that there will be significant change imposed on our sector is coupled with the uncertainty about the full impact that these changes will have on people with a disability, families and organisations.
What is clear and positive about the changes is that service planning and delivery will be more responsive to the identified needs of each individual. Biala Support Services is ready for these positive changes and we look forward with enthusiasm to supporting those with disabilities and their carers in moving into a world where they can lead the life of their choice.
Biala – The Early Years
The Mayor of Ballina, Mr Ray O’Neill called a public meeting on the 11th July, 1969. This meeting was to hold open public discussion on the establishment of a school for handicapped children in Ballina. By October of that year the Ballina Branch of the Richmond Valley Sub-normal Children’s Welfare Association was formed.
A Ladies Auxiliary was formed in May 1970 and fundraising began in earnest. The general public responded with enthusiasm, and many organisations offered their help.
On 30th May 1970 Biala Special School opened in temporary premises at the Ballina Surf Club House at Lighthouse Beach. There were six pupils and one teacher, Mrs Sue Woods. Conditions were rugged as the building was not suitable to the children’s needs. With marvellous cooperation by Ballina Council, land was granted by the Lands Department. Sufficient money had now been raised to attract a Government subsidy, so Mr. Ray Petersen drew up plans, and a contract let for a school building costing $30,500. On February 3rd, 1973 the Right Honourable J.D. Anthony, Member for Richmond, officially opened the building. It was furnished and ready for occupation by the children at this date.
By August 1973, building, equipment and furniture were completely free of debt, a wonderful tribute to the generosity of the people of the Ballina District, and to the hard work and dedication of the Committee and Ladies Auxiliary.
In February 1973, Ballina Branch of the Sub-normal Children’s Welfare Association was given its Charter as a separate branch, no longer sponsored by the Richmond Valley Branch. At this time there were ten children aged from seven to fifteen years of age, in the care of one teacher and one teacher’s aide. Many voluntary helpers assisted the school for specific subjects – music, craft, reading, swimming, gymnastics, physical education, self-development, and excursions. The staff of Ballina Community Health Centre provided social workers, physiotherapist, and speech therapists and also organised craft classes and monthly social evenings which the senior pupils attended. Without the help of these people the school could not cover the wide range of activities which are necessary for the full development of the children.
Meals on Wheels were provided by the Committee for some undernourished children from disadvantaged homes. Under the guidance of the then teacher, Mrs. Maureen Taylor, a three year structure integration program had become an exciting adventure. In the first year a new concept of an open school was established. Visitors were welcomed; excursions organised, and inter-school activities were arranged with the local Primary and High Schools. The children learned to share each other’s experiences. In the second year the children became involved in work – field situations, assisting in hairdressing salons, frock salons, grocery stores and attending classes in woodwork, basketry and pottery at the Community Centre.
The final year of the three year program (1978) was designed to make efficient craftsman. New crafts such as leatherwork, macramé and dressmaking had been introduced. The highlights of the year had been the making of a patchwork quilt, which was exhibited at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, and the entry of a painting in the Southern Cross Arts Festival. This painting, the work of brother and sister, George and Alice Cameron, was highly commended by the judges. The senior pupils especially enjoyed an exciting trip to Sydney to see their rug on display.
With this coming and going between children and community, has come a welding together for mutual good for all. Basic skills of literacy and numeracy have increased, personalities have blossomed, craft skills developed and the children well prepared to take their place in the community.