Our History

We have stood the test of time by adapting and evolving

The Y movement was established to service the community nearly 200 years ago, and has evolved in response to changing community needs. Originally the YMCA, the Y movement first reached Australia in 1850 with an emphasis on youth work, youth clubs, physical development, leadership training, education and welfare. Over the years we have adapted and evolved to respond to community needs. We supported our communities through two world wars; we navigated our way through the key crises of our times – the great Depression, the Global Financial Crisis, and the COVID-19 global pandemic – and we evolved from lessons learned through the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.

The Y was founded in 1844 during the Industrial Revolution in England, a time of great despair and poverty. George Williams, a drapery merchant, decided that something had to be done. He gathered together a few friends to form a society that met regularly to support each other and gain renewed strength in body, mind and spirit. The group called itself the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

From its inception, through to the early 1900s, the focus was on the welfare of young men, and related social concerns. In 1851, after first reaching America, the Y further spread its wings to Adelaide, Australia, on the back of the gold rush. From the mid 1930s to the early 1960s, the Y was forced by depression and world war to revert to the original foundations of social and community concern. The emphasis was on youth work, youth clubs, physical development, leadership training, education and welfare.

Y associations, facilities, programs and services can now be found all over the world. The Y is a community not-for-profit and the oldest youth organisation in the world, and services in Australia now include: children’s services (early learning, kindergarten and OSHC), recreation (swimming, gyms, gymnastics), camping, youth programs and disability services.


*The Y was deeply saddened recently by the passing of our Y Historian and Life Governor, John Bindon.  John was instrumental in coordinating the ongoing task of managing the Y’s valuable archives. Without his dedication to preserving our history, this information would be lost to future generations. 

Read more about John’s dedication to the Y’s history here.


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