For several generations the Mothers’ and Babies’ Health Association (MBHA) and its successors have been a highly respected source of support and reassurance to South Australian families with young children. The MBHA developed from the Adelaide School for Mothers, which was established in 1909 by Dr Helen Mayo and Miss Harriet Stirling. Like similar bodies formed elsewhere then, its aim was to reduce infant mortality by providing expert advice to mothers. Such a politically non-contentious strategy, which deflected attention away from evidence that health and illness were largely socially and economically determined, was attractive to governments, health professionals and mothers, and allowed the MBHA to flourish, readily attracting voluntary support and government funding. As its services proliferated, infant mortality rates fell and the MBHA regularly claimed, though it could never demonstrate, a simple, causal connection between the two developments.

While some of its program, including the mothercraft hospital and training school Torrens House, was run from its Adelaide headquarters on South Terrace, for most clients the MBHA was the local baby health centre where MBHA sisters monitored babies’ growth and dispensed advice on feeding and management routines. In the organisation’s heyday, MBHA staff were in contact with the overwhelming majority of young families in rural areas as well as suburban Adelaide and from the 1930s to the 1950s three Baby Health Trains took clinics to small, isolated communities.

By the 1960s the MBHA philosophy and practice were being challenged by the needs of a more complex community, and parents were in time recognised as active participants in its programs rather than passive recipients of standard advice. Name changes to Child, Adolescent and Family Health Services (1980), Child and Youth Health (1995) and Child and Family Health Service (2011) within the Women’s and Children’s Health Network reflected two important developments: the incorporation of a formerly private venture into the South Australian Government’s health services system, and the growth of broader and more sophisticated understandings of the determinants of infant well-being.

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Hi Kerry,
I'll pass your details through to our acquisition team if you are interested in donating those documents. They'll probably ask you for a photo of the documents and a bit more background.

Re. Adelaide from Broken Hill, it was fairly common for people to come to Adelaide for anything major, and since Adelaide is closer than Sydney most people crossed the boarder for anything they couldn't do in Broken Hill. It may also have been for completely unrelated reasons, there's a history of Broken Hill miners all coming to holiday at West Beach in Adelaide for example, so there may have been a reason your family was here already and then the health care was at the closest location.

I'd start with State Records for your search and they can probably help with other possible sources of information.

Kerry's picture
Kerry says:


I have a red "Mother's Card" with my own details from the age of one to three months in 1955.
- would that be of interest for your collections?
- are there any archives I could access to find more details of our time in Adelaide (Largs Bay)? I'm curious as we lived in Broken Hill, which is where I was born. Why Adelaide for at least a couple of months - better health care with the MBHA?

Susan Benham Page's picture
Susan Benham Page says:

Is it possible to find a list of the nursing sisters who worked on the Baby Health Trains please? I am trying to track my great aunt who, I was always told when I was a child, had "travelled around South Australia on trains looking after new mothers"
Thank you

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Hi Terry,
I can pass on your details to our curators if you're interested in donating them to a museum. They would look at what you've got and either go through the donation process with you or recommend somewhere you could take the books. If you want to sell them you'd need to go through a private dealer or organisation that deals in that sort of thing.

Terry Fullston's picture
Terry Fullston says:

I have been clearing out some of my late mother-in-laws personal affects and come across a couple of books 1 - Preparation for Motherhood published in 1955 and another one called Vi-Lactogen & Lactogen the 34 edition o Mother Book. Just wondering if there is anyone collecting theses and if so if they are interested in them. My father in a law is now in a nursing home so we are trying to sell a much as we can for him. Just a question as not sure where to look

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Hi Lyn, that's not something we have on file here. You could refer to Judith Raftey's more detailed essay in: Bernard O’Neil, Judith Raftery & Kerrie Round eds, 'Playford’s South Australia: Essays on the history of South Australia, 1933-1968' (Adelaide: Association of Professional Historians, 1996). Otherwise I think the best place to start would be State Records. I'll see if staff here have any other ideas.

Lyn's picture
Lyn says:

I am looking for information about the Family Health Program that enrolled nurses did in 1981. I was in the first group and would like to access details of the program.
If you can assist Id be grateful

Catherine Manning's picture
Catherine Manning says:

Thanks Judith,
I'll pass your details onto our collections managers and they'll be in touch.

Judith Langdon's picture
Judith Langdon says:

I have a couple of "The Australian Mothercraft Society Truby King System" Baby records that you may like to have for your history purposes!

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Mothers’ and Babies’ Health Association, Annual Reports

Mayo, Helen, ‘Some aspects of the history of infant welfare in South Australia’, Medical Journal of Australia, 18 June 1960

Raftery, Judith, ‘“Mainly a Question of Motherhood”: Professional advice-giving and infant welfare’, Journal of Australian Studies, 45, 1995

Raftery, Judith, ‘Saving South Australia’s babies: the Mothers’ and Babies’ Health Association’, in Bernard O’Neil, Judith Raftery & Kerrie Round eds, Playford’s South Australia: Essays on the history of South Australia, 1933-1968 (Adelaide: Association of Professional Historians, 1996)