What is significant?
The health of mothers and infants became of increasing concern in the first decades of the twentieth century. The early baby health movement was driven by committed volunteers frustrated at government inaction. Dr Isabella Younger Ross (1887-1956) who had studied infant health in England helped set up Victoria?s first baby health clinic in Richmond in 1917. By 1918 the voluntary Victorian Baby Health Centres Association (VBHCA) was formed to oversee the growing number of centres. Financial support also came from local councils and in 1926 the State government formed the Infant Welfare Section of the Public Health Department and appointed Dr Vera Scantlebury Brown as the first Director.
Kew Council opened the municipality's first baby health centre at the Kew Town Hall on 5 November 1920. Some other councils, such as Coburg, were also opening temporary centres around this time apparently prompted by the pneumonic influenza epidemic. The centre built at Kew East is one of the first permanent baby health premises in Victoria. It was opened by the Countess of Stradbroke in December 1925. It was designed by the Kew City Building Surveyor, Mr R. Chipperfield, and built by Messrs Murphy and Pearce at a cost of £1200. The roughcast rendered Californian Bungalow style building has some English Cottage or Arts and Crafts associations and is set in garden surroundings. With its tiled roof, boxed double-hung windows, louvred sliding shutters, heavy piers supporting a large 'L'-shaped verandah, tall chimneys and masonry flower boxes, it exemplifies the trend of early centres to mirror popular domestic architecture.
How is it significant?
The East Kew Maternal and Child Health Centre is of historical, architectural and social significance to the State of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
The East Kew Maternal and Child Health Centre, as one of the earliest purpose-built baby health centres in Victoria, is of historical significance for its associations with the history of maternal and infant welfare in Victoria. It is the oldest known centre surviving in an intact state, and demonstrates the strength of community concern about infant and maternal welfare prior to official government involvement. The building retains its original purpose and function to this day.
The East Kew Maternal and Child Health Centre is of architectural significance as an intact example of an early baby health care centre. As a building constructed in the Californian Bungalow style, it is important for its high degree of external integrity, in particular for its unpainted roughcast rendered exterior and stylistic detailing. Importantly, the building is representative of many subsequent baby health centres of the inter-war period built in the domestic style, a style which demonstrates a philosophical association between early baby health centre designs and the ideal suburban house, both traditionally perceived as the domain of women and children. The building is of further interest for demonstrating a concern for the health of babies by incorporating into its design good floor ventilation, flyscreens on doors and windows, a spacious verandah, and sliding, louvred window shutters.
The East Kew Maternal and Child Health Centre is of social significance for its enduring civic value to the community. As a baby health centre, the building is socially and culturally important for marking phases in the lives of mothers and infants. Designed to resemble a typical middle class suburban house in a garden setting, the purpose-built centre remains a symbol of domesticity and stability. The building of a permanent baby health centre was also symbolic of a culturally progressive caring society, a place associated with new scientific ideas, and professionally designed programs designed to improve the health education of women raising families in the suburbs.