1883 February 9
On his way home after work WM Forster encounters three ‘street boys’ and invites into his home at 21 Canterbury Road, Toorak, to play draughts with his sons. The following week he invited them to come back with their friends, beginning a self-help movement that quickly garnered support from politicians and wealthy donors across Melbourne. He called it the ‘Try Society’.
Forster’s simple message was assuring them of what they could accomplish if they were prepared to ‘try’. Initially was a ‘club’ where boys could find recreational activities. Forster soon introduced educational activities; music lessons, lectures in topics as diverse as health and chemistry and lessons in subjects such as boot repair and shorthand.
Alongside the idea of self-help was a guiding principle of social equality: the Try Society was an egalitarian ‘society’ that opened its doors to the underprivileged children of the community as well as children from more privileged backgrounds.
Forster based his work on a famous London philanthropist Quintin Hogg. Not only self-help but self-government was at the heart of the movement. The boys elected their own representatives to the organisation’s committee. There was to be no patronisation and no ‘pauperisation’: every boy and girl was expected to make some contribution to the cause according to their means, no matter how little.