History of The Diversional Therapy Association of Australia from 1976 - 1996

This history was presented at the 18th Annual Convention of the Diversional Therapy Association of Australia Hosted by New South Wales 18th and 19th May 1996.


The Australian Red Cross selected students and trained them in handcraft as a diversional therapy activity under the direction of Miss Leila Bloore. The courses ran from 1945 until 1976.

The mid 1960’s saw a greater awareness of the need to improve the quality of care of the increasing aged population. Part of this care included craft, recreation and social activities. New teaching positions were created in day care and community centres, nursing homes and hospitals, and the Royal Blind Society, etc.

It was then recognised that diversional activities were far broader than handcraft alone, and that those offering this service should have the skills and expertise to adapt, modify and instruct a client in the performance of many and varied activities, thus assuring a greater interest and more participation for all clients.

In 1967 diversional therapy was introduced into nursing homes at the time the New South Wales State Government was looking to transfer psychiatric patients from the large Schedule V institutions, to the community.
To soften the impact and to prepare nursing homes for this event, a pilot study was conducted, aiming to improve the quality of life for patients in these facilities. the study involved every member of the staff in some way, with a programme consisting of reality orientation, games, singing, handcraft and exercises. Although the study was completed in three months, the programmes continued because of its proven value to both the residents and the education of all staff members.

Seven students undertaking the last Handcraft Instructors Course offered by the New South Wales Red Cross Society formed the Diversional Therapy Association in 1976. The first meeting was held on the 8th September 1976 at Red Cross House in Sydney.

The first newsletters were printed and distributed to members in 1977; at this time there were 30 members. The first newsletter editor was Elizabeth McPherson, followed by Jeannette Black and the present editor Jennifer Dreise.

The Association published three journals between 1985 and 1986; the editor was Barbara Nash.

From 1979 to 1984 the Association, with approximately 560 members completing three courses, conducted twelve In-Service Courses.
Participants included members from New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand who travelled to Sydney for the courses.

The Association has held an annual convention since 1979 and until 1992 all conventions had been held in New South Wales, with then in Sydney, and four in country areas: Albury 1984 - Dubbo 1987 - Tamworth 1989 - Wagga Wagga 1991. Since the formation of the DTAA National Council Steering Committee in 1991 the conventions have been held in New South Wales in 1992 - Queensland 1993 - Victoria 1994 and Tasmania 1995. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Association, the 18th convention was held in Sydney in 1996.

In 1981 the first groups of the Association were formed and began holding regular meetings. There are now 26 groups in New South Wales and Incorporated Diversional Therapy Associations in the six states.

In 1989 a code of ethics and a basic statement of duties for diversional therapists was worked on at length by members of the DTA committee and a small working party, this incorporated a broad aspect of ideas from diversional therapists employed in a variety of settings. A Mission Statement, and the revised Philosophy and Code of Ethics were adopted in 1995.

1985 was the year the Associate Diploma of Applied Science (Diversional Therapy) commenced at Cumberland College of Health Sciences, as a two year, full time course. In 1990 the College became affiliated with the University of Sydney. This course was upgraded to a degree in 1995 - Bachelor of Applied Science (Diversional Therapy) Commencing in 1995, Charles Sturt University offered a Bachelor of Health Science (Leisure & Health) and Associate Diploma of Health Science (Leisure & Health) via distance education.

A Bachelor of Applied Science (Diversional Therapy) was established in 1996 at the University of Western Sydney, Macarthur. This has subsequently become Bachelor of Applied Science (Therapeutic Recreation).

The first New South Wales State Conference was held in Sydney in 1993. The proceedings of this and the 1994 and 1995 conference have been published, providing a valuable resource of literature for anyone working in the field of diversional therapy or undertaking related studies.

The Association organised two mission statement meetings in Sydney in 1990. The primary objective was determined: to ensure that the structure of the Association is responsive to the needs of its members’ and one further objective being to ‘ develop a national /state structure for the Diversional Therapy Association of Australia.’ The DTAA National Council Steering Committee was formed at a meeting in 1991 at Wagga Wagga, preceding the annual convention.

After a period of negotiations between the State Associations, The Diversional Therapy Association of Australia National Council became a formal Company Limited by Guarantee in 1995, with five State members - New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. To become part of National Council a major decision had to be made by members in New South Wales to change the name from DTAA to ‘The DTA of New South Wales Inc.’

The Diversional Therapy Association of Western Australia was registered as an incorporated body and became a member of the Diversional Therapy Association of Australia National Council in 1996.

Western Australia has a long history of networking and support groups for people working in the field of leisure and recreation for frail aged and disabled clients, however without any formal structure these groups often had difficulties surviving over the long term.

In August 1995 Wendy Butler and Margaret Stephens held a workshop ‘Never too Old to Learn’ in South Perth attracting 124 people. Due to everyone’s enthusiastic response to the workshop a group of those attending with encouragement and financial support from Wendy and Margaret started on the journey of forming The Diversional Therapy Association of Western Australia Inc.

From that first workshop in 1994 the association went from strength to strength. We now hosts a Seminar in August, two half day and one full day hands on workshops each year, publish a bi monthly a newsletter, provide education through guest speakers at monthly meetings, support members through continuing professional development, provide a forum for networking and the sharing of ideas and actively promote diversional therapy education and practice to members and the wider community.

As one of the smaller state associations we are proud to have hosted two very successful Diversional Therapy Association of Australia National Council Annual Conventions:
1999Embracing Change: Diversional Therapy Beyond 2000
2005 Diversional Therapy:

The Sky’s The Limit” Presidents of the Association since 1995 - 2005

  • Colleen Leggoe
  • Margaret Ranson
  • Sr Paula McAdam
  • Sandy Mills
  • Ruth Wilson
  • Sarah Thomas

Recent Years

In September 2009 all financial members voted in favour of winding up each state association. In October 2009 the application for change of registration name was accepted from the Diversional Therapy Association of Australia National Council to Diversional Therapy Australia.

2010 saw the development of the national office, expansion of the office team and development of the national database of members. Diversional Therapy Australia held the National Conference in Sydney and began delivery of workshops across Australia.