In October 1997 Julie Tongs resigned from the Board and took six months leave without pay to work at Winnunga as an administrator. At that time the organisation employed 5 staff members. Ms Tongs’ first task was to secure the full amount of funding for Winnunga that was coming as a specific purpose grant from the Commonwealth through the ACT Department of Health who deducted the salary of the ALO at The Canberra Hospital from this budget. She was also given the task of getting the service relocated as the Griffin centre was inadequate in terms of space and general conditions with a physical separation of the clinical and administrative work (Moore St).
The clinic entrance was at the back of the building – from a small concrete veranda about a metre wide with a mesh and barbed wire fence around it that fenced off the Total Care car park. It was not uncommon to find used syringes lying on the veranda or stuck in the fence. The fenced off car park was also used as a dumping ground for used syringes. Many times staff and clients were confronted by someone ready to self-inject within a metre of the clinic entrance. The clinic comprised four rooms – a reception area, a waiting room, a tiny office off the waiting room (for counselling and administration) and a doctor’s room. The toilets and shower were down a dark stairway. The service had two telephone lines and a one-page photocopier. There were three vehicles including a small bus for pick-ups.
The administrator borrowed a lap top computer from ATSIC, bought a fax machine and worked as a health worker by day and an administrator by night to progress the service. The Chairperson at that time was Judy Harris and she and Julie worked through many nights to ensure that the service was given the priority it deserved and the health needs of Aboriginal peoples in the ACT and region were being addressed. In March 1998, following negotiations with ACT Health both the clinical services and the administrative staff relocated to Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie. In July 1999 Winnunga received funding directly from the Commonwealth Government.
The year 1999-2000 was a tumultuous time for Winnunga as there was a very public takeover bid for the service. A small group set up a ghost Board that resulted in Letters of Offer not being able to be signed off and an action in the Supreme Court. The judge dissolved both Boards leaving the CEO and appointing an accountant. The CEO and the accountant were finally able to sign off on the Letters of Offer. The membership was opened up and a special AGM was held to elect a new Board. 101 Aboriginal people turned up to vote at the special AGM and 80 voted for the members of the initial Winnunga Board.
In 1999, Winnunga developed its first Strategic Plan. An infrastructure review of Aboriginal community controlled health services (ACCHSs) was conducted by Ove Arup for OATSIH at around the same time. This review concluded that Winnunga had significant infrastructure needs even though at the time there were only 7 staff members.
In March 2000 Winnunga and ACT Corrections developed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and medical visits to Belconnen Remand Centre commenced. In July 2000 clinics at Goulburn Jail commenced. In this same year a number of other programs commenced.
A Health Promotion Officer position was established; a psychiatrist was employed and a consortium comprising Winnunga, Katungal Aboriginal Corporation (Narooma) and Riverina Medical and Dental Aboriginal Cooperative (Wagga Wagga) was established as the Regional Centre on Social and Emotional Health.
Negotiations for the establishment of an outreach service to Queanbeyan began in 2000. The proposal was that Winnunga staff would deliver a clinical service based at Queanbeyan Hospital. A section of the Queanbeyan community vigorously opposed this proposal through a petition and the service never eventuated.
In January 2001 Winnunga employed a fulltime finance officer and the Midwifery Program commenced. In May 2002 an Opiate Program in partnership with the ACT Division of General Practice (ACTDGP) and funded by ACT Health commenced.
In 2004 Winnunga moved to its current premises at Boolimba Cres in Narrabundah. Winnunga has grown into a major health service resource for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of the ACT and surrounding region, and delivers a wide range of holistic health care services.
Winnunga celebrated its 30th anniversary in May 2018, and continues to go from strength to strength – providing responsive, appropriate services, tailored to the needs of the local Aboriginal community.
In 2018, Winnunga provided services to 4,723 individual clients and over 55,700 episodes of care (excluding transport, groups and administrative services). In 2019 more than 80 staff are employed by the service.