Melbourne Newsboys Club
One night on his way home from posting a letter, William Mark Forster came upon several boys, dirty, tired and barefoot. He took them to his home, fed them, helped them with clothing and boots, and best of all, talked to them of their immediate prospects for making a decent living.
He asked them to return the following week and bring a friend. From this beginning the Try Boys Society sprang. That name came from Mark Forster’s belief that if a boy continued to try, he could succeed in whatever he attempted.
The society prospered and developed. Mark Forster began what would be known as the Newsboys Try Society. In fact, there had been several stops and starts before the Newsboys Try Society, operating with a separate committee, got firmly established. By 1895 it was well under way with William Mark Forster as founder, manager and leader. The Newsboys Try Society established a club for Newsboys in Melbourne. The activities consisted of teaching the three R’s, providing a meeting place, clothing and very cheap meals – a penny or less.
In 1897 Miss Edith Onians first became interested in the work and offered her services in an honorary capacity. Miss Onians took over the school teaching and generally helped with the work amongst the boys until 1900 when she went on an extended trip to England. In 1901, owing to ill health and pressure of his private business, Mr. Forster was reluctantly obliged to give up the management of the Newsboys, though he still carried on his work at South Yarra. A separate Committee of Management was elected to carry on the Newsboys as a separate Society, and they, with a Mr. Gray as Manager and Misses L.E.Dickens and C.M. Reid as Honorary Secretaries carried on the work.
In 1903, Miss Edith Onians became the Honorary Secretary of the City Newsboys Society (the new organisation) and moved to premises at 20 Coromandel Place, off 130 Little Collins Street.
In 1923 the Club moved to 109-117 Little Collins Street, demolishing the old Adam and Eve Hotel built in 1854. Here it built a sizeable club centre which was substantially updated twice.
It was also in 1923 that a young man named Norman Craig joined Miss Onians in her work. Between them they built up an extensive network of welfare services, including family counselling, extension of education, instruction in technical skills – then not available elsewhere – free medical and dental services, camping at their property at Millgrove, advice on dealing with newsagents, their legal rights and requirements, free meals and clothing, extra food for needy brothers and sisters.
Both Miss Onians and Mr. Craig were very active in pushing through legislation aimed at the care and protection of working children in Victoria and were members of the Street Traders Board, which met at the Club headquarters.
The Club at 109-117 Little Collins Street had a swimming pool, two gymnasiums, a hairdressing shop, dental and medical surgery, craft and technical skills rooms, a library and a canteen providing hot meals – in fact, a complete youth service which was altogether quite unique in its breadth of personal contacts, administrative skills and one which has to date not been equaled.
Miss Onians died in 1954, aged 89 years, and her work was carried on by Norman Craig who was joined by Miss Monie Harris in 1956.
Newsboys Foundation and the Melbourne Newsboys Club Trust
In 1973 the Committee of the day made a memorable decision which led to the formation of the Newsboys Foundation (formally known as Melbourne Newsboys Club Foundation), and later the Trust. The aims of both were the same, to support, help and benefit young people, preferably in the age group of the members of the original Melbourne Newsboys Club.
The Foundation and the Trust have been able to support a large number of young people through financial assistance to many projects.
The work of the Melbourne Newsboys Club has changed, adapting to altered conditions and needs, and no doubt there may be more changes to come. But the original spirit of caring for young people in the community engendered by our pioneering colleagues remains.