20 Years of Karinya – 1997 to 2017

20 years anniversary

For 20 years, Karinya House has been providing a crucial service for vulnerable or at risk pregnant and parenting women of Canberra and the surrounding region.

It is with immense pleasure we announce this year marks the 20 Year anniversary of Karinya House. Karinya has provided support to mothers and babies of the Canberra and surrounding regional areas for last two decades. To celebrate this milestone we are collating and sharing with you some of the stories and people that make Karinya House what it is.

“Karinya House started out over 20 years ago, when a small and dynamic team of people made an amazing commitment to establish Karinya by raising seed funding for the project, securing a premise and establishing Karinya House as a dynamic, professional and much loved charity in the Canberra community.  Karinya’s success, sustainability and vitality is due to the vision, energy and passion of this team and many women (and men) who have created and grown Karinya over the last 20 years to what is now a major, home grown, grass roots, Canberra charity.” (Marie-Louise Corkhill, Executive Director)

Our focus is, and always has been the women. Everyone here at Karinya House has a strong passion for supporting women. All women have the right to bring their child into the world, in a safe environment. The women and their families have been our priority since day one. We provide supported accommodation, transitional housing, casework support and an overall outreach service both during and after pregnancy. We aim to support each woman in crisis every step of the way.

‘Karinya’ is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘peaceful home’ – which is exactly what we aim to create for the women who walk with us.

By looking at the last 20 years, we bring you some of the stories Karinya has seen and experienced and show you many of the amazing and inspiring women we have met along the way. We will be talking to some of our dear Karinya community members to reflect on these last two decades and explore what the next twenty years may have in store.

In reflecting on the 20 years of service at our recent anniversary dinner Executive Director Marie-Louise said:    “Over these 20 years I have witnessed some of the saddest and tragic human stories and yet I have worked with some of the most remarkable, heroic and courageous women you would ever meet.”

With the donated services of Ben Wade (Missing Bits Productions), we captured some of these moments in a 20 year anniversary video which you can watch here.

Pregnant and parenting women living in crisis will always need a safe and caring environment to turn to and we would like to continue to be the ones there with them – offering that secure network for the next 20 years – each step of the way.

Watch this space for more on the history, present and future of Karinya House and don’t forget to join Karinya House on this journey by following us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.


From Karinya House’s first employee 20 years ago, to our Executive Director, Marie-Louise Corkhill has often been referred to as the heart of Karinya House.  You will immediately hear Marie-Louise dispute this, as she considers the women of Karinya to actually be at its heart. Marie-Louise is also often heard to speak of the Committee, Staff and Volunteer team that make Karinya work so well. Marie-Louise also often acknowledges the amazing founders of Karinya House, whose enacted vision is now a vital part of the Canberra Region’s support services for pregnant and early parenting women.

For two decades now, with Marie-Louise at the operational helm, Karinya House has offered vulnerable pregnant and parenting women of Canberra and the surrounding regions support and safe haven as they journey through life’s challenges, with their children by their side.  In recognition of the work of  Karinya House and Marie-Louise’s time at the helm, Marie-Louise was awarded 2017’s ACT Woman of the Year on International Women’s Day this year.

Reflecting on the incredible achievements of Karinya House, Marie-Louise remains committed to where the focus should lay. “I was incredibly humbled but very embarrassed about this”, as she pointed to the award hanging in her office. “It was just incredible to accept this award on behalf of the entire team but what it really said to me was ‘Karinya has arrived’ and is now recognised in the Canberra community for making such a difference to the lives of people.”

So how did this longstanding partnership between Marie-Louise and Karinya House begin? It all began when she saw an advertisement in the Canberra Times for a coordinator role for this new service called ‘Karinya House’.

“I probably looked at it because I wanted to do something specifically with women and children; I had been doing more general social work before that. Karinya was starting out and I thought I would prefer to be involved with something from scratch rather than something that was already established.”

Fortunately for Karinya House and the thousands of lives touched and changed by the services of Karinya, Marie-Louise did exactly that. Working from a kitchen table with a single chair, Marie-Louise began her journey with Karinya House.

Marie-Louise tells the story of how it all began over  20 years ago in the early 1990’s, when the original founding group, with the vision and energy of Margaret O’Donovan, who remains on the Committee today, raised $250,000 seed funding through car raffles and other fundraising events to establish the first Karinya House. With the seed funding raised through the generosity of many within our community, the first step toward getting to where we are today was made. Filled with second hand furniture, the three bed-room home, with attached flat (for staff) was leased from the ACT government, and Karinya House opened its doors in September 1997, with capacity for three residents.

“I lived there, in the attached bedsit for 3 months until Karinya House got established. I used to go off for the weekends. I ‘clocked in’ on Sunday afternoon and ‘clocked off’ on Friday afternoon (remaining on call throughout), and this roster was on repeat for quite some time.  The weekend casual relief , being the wonderful Judith Sykes at the time, was also critical to the Karinya operation model of 24/7 support, every day.

Together with the Committee and others, Marie-Louise considers it a privilege to have worked toward the expansion of Karinya House, passionately advocating throughout the seven year campaign, from 2009, to create a purpose-built facility designed specifically to support best practice and respectful  casework management for vulnerable and at risk pregnant and early parenting women.

Working at Karinya House is a role that is not for everyone. The work of Karinya House is beyond the many presumptions and generalisations that are made about pregnant and parenting women in crisis. And the provision of respectful service that recognises the learnings and wisdoms of every individual can be challenging and at times heartbreaking.  Here at Karinya, the staff and volunteers are all so passionate about women in crisis, and for all different reasons.

“I think I have come from a situation in my life where I have been greatly loved and blessed. I have been gifted with an amazing birth family, a very supportive husband, and lots of wonderful friends and people who love and care about me – and that has been the story of my life,” said Marie-Louise. “The women we work with often have no one, absolutely no one.”

“That is the reason I am still here today. If I didn’t have that motivating care and passion I would not be here.  I don’t know what it is; a great desire I suppose, to make a difference, or to actually be present in people’s lives and give back, because I have been given so much.”

As the Executive Director, Marie-Louise doesn’t stray far from the action here. “It is important to me, rather than completely focusing on all the high level demands, to have regular contact with the women we are supporting and also with our staff team and volunteers. I also deal with issues when they occur and tricky situations as they arise!”

Inevitably, the nature of the work here at Karinya means that it is a place filled with emotion. While Karinya House sees truly inspiring stories come out of these women, it also sees a lot of heart break and traumatic situations.

Marie-Louise says that she can juggle the constant exposure to the harsh realities of some of these situations by doing things she loves like listening to classical music, cooking, gardening and trying to keep fit!  Very grateful for having people to talk to and the support system she has, Marie-Louise thanks her Karinya team, dear family, friends and loving husband.

She also puts it down to her calm nature, “I am a very resilient person. I have had a lot of challenges here at times, as well as my fair share of personal challenges.”

Marie-Louise recognises that she is in no way alone in her efforts here at Karinya House. Karinya House would not and could not be where it is today without the amazing team of women (and some few good men) here, each doing their part to support women and their families in need.

“As the Executive Director here, I always say the most important job is to look after your staff and volunteers first – people always look at me when I say that but if we do not look after each other how can we look after the women and their children?”

So many women walk through our door, seeking an opportunity for a better life, for themselves and their child. They are inspiring and courageous women, often disenfranchised from the community.  They are women who make heroic choices for themselves and their child.  Karinya needs qualified, passionate and committed people to really help these inspiring women with life’s challenges and meeting their goals and potential.  That is what we strive to achieve – helping these women in the absolute best way that we can.

Marie-Louise, and the rest of the team here at Karinya House, have a great appreciation for the role the Canberra Community has played in the work we do. From community and corporate donors and friends to government, there is a range of valuable stakeholders here at Karinya – all of whom support Karinya’s women and children in different and incredible ways.  “It is essential for Karinya House, and for the women we support, that our community play their part.  Friends and Champions of Karinya, of the women of Karinya, are vital and they really do share our purpose of supporting vulnerable and at risk pregnant and parenting women in our local community.  This community support makes such a difference and reinforces the message to the women we support that they are valued.”

Jo became part of the Karinya House community not long after the doors opened in 1997, volunteering to take on the bookkeeping role as it developed. From day one, Karinya’s roots have not stopped finding their way into Jo’s life.

Jo, a Chartered Accountant, started volunteering (doing the ‘books’) at Karinya in 1998. After moving to Newcastle in 2008, and transitioning the Karinya bookkeeping progressively to an external bookkeeping service provider, Jo continued to be a part of the Karinya community and took up a position on the Committee. Jo also continued providing advice over the phone and strategic oversight of the finance and business operations. Jo moved back to Canberra in 2015, and took up a vacant position with Karinya in a finance and business role to oversee the business operations transition to the new complex.

Jo commutes three days a week from Boorowa, where she lives with her wife, Belinda.  As is the way of Karinya, Belinda also now provides volunteer hours for Karinya! Boorowa is located just over an hour from Canberra and the region is very supportive of the work of Karinya. The annual Mercy Walk for Women, from Boorowa to Galong, raises funds for Karinya House. And this year, Karinya House was also supported by the Boorowa Rugby Club – Ladies Day. Working the remainder of the week from home, Jo describes Boorowa and their home there as a place of respite from the fast paced society we live in; she can go home, breathe, put the phone in the cupboard and appreciate life.

Jo’s role at Karinya, with collaborative and critical support from the small administration team, Marie-Louise and Committee Treasurer Kathleen Buckley, involves donor and funding partner liaison and management, planning, communications, liaising with IT and finance providers, social media, budgeting… the list goes on. “Everyone at Karinya does a lot of different things”, she explained.

What do you believe makes Karinya House so important?

“Services like Karinya, sadly, will always have a role in many communities. Karinya House itself is not about getting bigger, going global or Australia wide. It is about the Canberra and regional community and supporting that community. It is about supporting a particular group of people with respect and recognition. People who are often quite marginalised or minimised. The work that Karinya does is about walking alongside women, supporting them to use the knowledge, wisdom and lived experience they have in this challenging society in which we live.”

What do you believe is key for the future of Karinya House?

“I think the sustainability of Karinya House is really connected to the Canberra and regional community. Financial Friends of Karinya are a critical key. Members of our community investing a little each week, or each month in the lives and futures of some very significant members of our community.  It is important that we bring the community along with us, in everything that we do. For the next 20 years, just as they’ve been with us for the last.”

What stands out to you most from the work that goes on at Karinya House?

“The stand out is the women. I hear glimpses of many of the stories. I am constantly inspired by the women at Karinya. Whilst some of the stories are quite challenging, I think overall, we all just feel so privileged to share in a woman’s life the way we do. I think it is really important for the people who support us to share in that as well.”

What do you believe makes a strong woman?

“The strong women i know and look up to, I think I could point to them and say, they are strong because they have such a strong sense for the other.”

  Jo (right) with Belinda at the 2017 Dirt De Femme, representing Karinya House as the Charity Partner for this event.

Moving to a new city is daunting. Having your first baby is beyond it. Try combining the two.  Seeking a fresh start, one woman did exactly that. Heavily pregnant with her first child and on her way to a new city, Rachel* was determined to do everything in her power to bring her child into a safe, supporting and loving home.

Through this determination Rachel recognised she was not in the best environment to bring up a baby, having just a small caravan for her family. Rachel was in a challenging living situation which she knew was making it difficult for her to be the mother she wanted to be. A safe environment and helping hand was what she needed.

This is when Rachel discovered Karinya House and through her time there, she was able to recognise how capable she was. She learnt new skills and gained confidence in herself. Karinya House found bravery in Rachel. The support of Karinya House enabled Rachel to leave an abusive relationship and take the steps to protect herself and her baby.

As Rachel’s confidence grew, she reconnected with past family relationships and her parents were eager to be a part of their child and grandchild’s life. When Rachel left Karinya House she was proud to have cooked her family a meal, from a recipe learnt at Karinya House.

Every woman has a different story. The past 20 years have not seen two women the same. This month we will continue to share with you the stories of the people of Karinya House.

* Names and situations have been changed and merged. Stock images purchased from a third party have been used. Any similarity to a person is therefore coincidental, as the stories here will represent aspects of stories of many women who have found some time and space through their Karinya experience.

At just 15 years old no one can imagine being prepared to take on the world alone, set up a home and care for a baby.

Like many of the women passing through Karinya, one of our young mothers did just that. When we meet young women like this, the innate resilience that can be discovered through just a helping hand and a safe and supportive environment, never ceases to amaze us. Ella had made the tough decision to remove herself from her family home due to prevalent violence and drug abuse, ultimately doing what was best for herself and her baby.

Ella was seeking the confidence needed to care for a baby. Through determination, perseverance and the support of Karinya house she began to thrive as a mother. Attending a range of educational groups, therapeutic playgroups and learning from the mothers around her, Ella’s self-confidence gradually grew.

At just 16, Karinya supported Ella and her baby in the big move to their own home. Ella did everything to support herself and her baby. At just 17, Ella was proud of the home she had made, enjoyed the visits from caseworkers and friends. This young mother thrives from the love and support she has established around her little family.

Ella is a true hero in our eyes.

Every woman has a different story. The past 20 years have not seen two women the same.

These are the stories of the people of Karinya House.

* Names and situations have been changed and merged. Stock images purchased from a third party have been used. Any similarity to a person is therefore coincidental, as the stories here will represent aspects of stories of many women who have found some time and space through their Karinya experience.