By Roger French, Health Director NHS
We’ve done it! We have reached a whopping 60 years – pretty good for a not-for-profit organisation pushing healthy
lifestyle and the self-discipline that goes with it.
We are the longest-established lifestyle teaching organisation in Australia, as well as having no political or religious
affiliations and definitely not beholden to any vested interests.
The Society was founded in 1960, but well prior to that year, the story of Natural Health in Australia was already well
The Early History of Natural Health in Australia
Natural Health was developed in Australia by Mr Leslie Owen Bailey, one of Australia’s great philanthropists. He was
assisted by Mrs Madge Cockburn, BEM, who worked with him for 40 years until his death in 1964.
In 1941, with World War II well under way and a growing problem of ‘fatherless’ children, he opened a children’s
home, ‘Belhaven’ at Bellevue Hill in Sydney. Altogether, Mr Bailey took in 260 pregnant women, who were cared for
by employed nurses through their pregnancy, childbirth and lactation.
To be the umbrella organisation for his youth and health philanthropic activities, he founded the registered charity the
Youth Welfare Association of Australia – later renamed the Australian Youth and Health Foundation.
Mr Bailey accepted the guardianship of 85 of these infants, and, assisted by Madge Cockburn, raised them at
‘Hopewood House’ at Bowral, south of Sydney. They soon became known as the ‘Hopewood Children’.
The children’s meals were vegetarian, which led to the Child Welfare Department officials carrying out nutrient tests.
The Department found that all essential nutrients were present, and that was the end of government interference.
World dental record
In 1947 the Institute of Dental Research in Sydney, impressed by the absence of refined foods, studied the children’s
teeth and reported that the extremely low level of decay was “Little short of miraculous” and was, in fact, a world
Hopewood Health Centre and the Natural Health Society
To establish ‘Natural Health’ in Australia, in mid-1960 the Youth Welfare Association founded the Hopewood Health
Centre as a clinic at Rawson Place in Sydney, and later the live-in centre at Wallacia, west of Sydney.
On 27 th September 1960, Mr Bailey and Mrs Cockburn founded the ‘Natural Health Society of NSW’ to provide health
education to the wider community. Following the inaugural meeting, the first regular monthly meeting was held on 29 th
November 1960 at 149 Castlereagh Street, Sydney.
The first President and Vice-President were, as would be expected, L O Bailey and Madge Cockburn. Among the 14
other members of the inaugural committee was Mr Eric Storm, the subject of my book, How a Man Lived in Three
In 1962 Mr Bailey and Mrs Cockburn organised a conference on ‘The Drug Menace’ in the Sydney Town Hall. It
attracted an audience of 2,000 and greatly enhanced the public awareness of the embryonic organisations.
In November 1963 they formed a youth club for the Hopewood children and other interested young people. The club
was named ‘Hopewood Youth Development Association’, or ‘HYDA’. It was very strong and active for 18 years, but
finally as interest waned, the club was wound up. On 16 th September 1964 Mr Bailey died. He was almost 74 years of age, a remarkable achievement considering his
doctor had said he would be unlikely to live beyond 50. Madge Cockburn accepted the presidencies of Youth Welfare
Association, Hopewood Health Centre and the Natural Health Society.
In response to increased interest in branches, the Society was formed into a federation on 22 nd October 1979, and
then on 7 th April 1982, for the purpose of protecting its members, the Society became a limited-liability company with
the name ‘Natural Health Society of Australia Limited’. Much later, in June 1997, in order to minimise the paperwork, it
re-registered as an incorporated association under the NSW Office of Fair Trading, which still fully protects the
committee and members. Hence its current name, ‘The Natural Health Society of Australia (NSW) Incorporated’.
In February 1983 the Foundation commenced regular grants to the Society for the purpose of employing myself,
Roger French, as its first Executive Director (I was Manager of Hopewood at the time). Apart from a brief interruption
between 1996 and 1999 for personal reasons, I am still in this position, now entitled ‘Health Director’.
Membership and the number of branches grew steadily, and by 1990 there were 4,200 members and 19 branches. In
2020 membership has dwindled to around 1,000 as healthy lifestyle is now widely promoted in the community. All the
branches gradually closed as television and the internet took over.
In 2002 the NHS released its own book, written by myself, entitled, The Man Who Lived in Three Centuries. It
describes the remarkable recovery from a near-fatal heart attack of foundation member, Eric Storm, and elaborates
the principles and practices of Natural Health. In mid-2010 the fully revised and updated 50 th Anniversary Second Edition was released with the modified title, How a Man Lived in Three Centuries – The complete guide to Natural Health.
The Society’s progress over its 60 years has been possible thanks to the much appreciated ongoing support of the
Australian Youth and Health Foundation and also to a great amount of dedicated effort by a solid core of people, many
of whom have benefited personally through the Natural Health.
One of the greatest disappointments for Society members was the closure of Hopewood in mid-2015. After 54 years of live-in service, this was a huge and sad blow for a lot of people, especially those who depended on Hopewood to regularly detox and restore their health.
A Lot Has Happened in 60 Years
Sixty years is a long time for a not-for-profit organisation to survive, and a lot has happened in that time.
The magazine. This has been and still is the primary medium for disseminating Natural Health. From roneoed foolscap
stapled sheets in the 1960s (which left the Secretary and volunteers with ink all over their hands), the magazine
evolved step by step into the full-colour, 80-page Natural Health and Vegetarian Life, and now the full-colour 48-page
format as it is today.
While vegetarian and vegan eating are still fundamental Society principles, as a result of a Sanitarium survey in 2011,
which found that the community perceive the words, ‘vegetarian’ and ‘diet’, as weak and negative, we now refer to
‘plant-based eating’ in the magazine wherever possible.
The NHS bookshop. We have hand-picked a vast number of health books over the years, and have also stocked a
number of health products, including some still available, namely, juicers, detox foot patches, pH test kits and the In
Lieu toilet squatting footrest. As another sign of the times, book purchases have so dwindled, that we now stock only a
handful of books.
Society branches. In the early years, there were just two branches – Wollongong and Canberra. Over the years, 30
branches altogether were formed. But as television took over people’s evenings and natural therapies began to catch
on in the wider community, attendance at meetings dwindled until all eventually closed.
During the eighties and nineties, branch representatives assembled in Branch Dynamics Days to coordinate branches
and plan ways to expand the Society.
Conventions, seminars, courses. The first ‘convention’ was held in 1974 at Vision Valley, Arcadia, just to the north-
west of Sydney. Conventions continued to be held every spring at Vision Valley until 1992. Due to their popularity,
conventions were also commenced in autumn 1986 at Stanwell Tops Conference Centre, south of Sydney. These
weekend events ran at both venues until people told us that they could no longer spare an entire weekend for a
convention. Instead, the Society began presenting one-day ‘seminars’ in autumn each year at the North Ryde Golf Club, where
they are still held, although the 2020 seminar had to be cancelled due to coronavirus government restrictions. In 2016
to 2018, we also held Spring Seminars in Penrith, Mortdale and Kingsgrove.
The 2014 Autumn Seminar produced a record attendance for North Ryde of 120 people, due to the widespread
publicity that had been given to the world-record marathon runners, Janette Murray-Wakelin and Alan Murray.
In 1985 we ran a nine-day, live-in Nutrition and Food Preparation course at Stanwell Tops, attended by 23 women.
Members’ events. During the 1980s, Elizabeth French ran four children’s camps in New South Wales. They attracted
a large number of children and were hugely successful.
Social dinners have been held periodically, mostly in the Sydney region. (We have apologised to members in other
States that we haven’t been able to cater for them also.) Venues have included Penrith, South Penrith, Mt Druitt TAFE
A ‘Dedication Dinner’ was held in April 2018 to acknowledge my 50 years of membership of the Society and HYDA.
This was a great honour.
Expos. From 1990 we began having stands at Mind-Body-Spirit Expos at Darling Harbour in Sydney. These were
good for promoting our magazines to the public and gaining subscriptions, but the stand fees were too expensive and
we discontinued them in 2005. Not a bad run, though!
Between 2005 and 2009, we manned stands at Organic Expos, Natural Health and Natural Therapies Expos, Gluten
Free and Allergy Expos and one Women’s Health Expo.
Radio and TV appearances. There have been hundreds of these over the years, the most extensive being with Brian
Wilshire of 2GB having myself as guest for one hour a month during three years, 1997, 1998 and 1999 and on an
irregular basis during following years.Other radio stations that engaged us for regular appearances were 2SER-FM in Sydney, ABC Mid-North Coast, ABC
Riverina, ABC 891 South Australia and 3AK in Melbourne. In each case, these appearances ended when the
particular presenters moved on from the station.
At the NBN TV station in Newcastle, the presenter and producer, were such keen enthusiasts of Natural Health that
they invited me onto their ‘Today Extra’ program for seven presentations a year from 1998 to 2006 when the show
had run its course.
Magazines and newspapers. Many of our articles have been published in Wellbeing magazine and newspapers such
as Penrith Star and Penrith Press.
Talks to groups. Hundreds of talks have been given to a large number of organisations and other groups over the
years. Some of them are:
Greg Fitzgerald’s seminar, University of the Third Age in Springwood, 150 staff of Sydney Water, Cancer
Information and Support Society, Rotary Clubs, Sustain Expo at Fox Studios, Novo Rail Alliance (on heart attack),
Sydney Rail staff at Burwood,
Carlingford Seniors, Leukaemia Foundation at Westmead Hospital, Wollongong City Council staff (10 separate talks to
196 staff), Nepean Volunteers Group in Penrith, Marilyn Bodnar’s Wellness evenings, Frank Vickery Retirement
Village at Sylvania, Gigi Neophytou’s Yoga Seminar at Bowral and Kenthurst Uniting Church.
In 2013, we met with Mike Baird, the NSW State Treasurer, to present to him the scientific case against fluoridation.
Quite a vast range of audiences, but we were getting the Society’s message ‘out there’.
Talks at Hopewood Health Retreat. Power Point presentations were given to guests almost every week from 1975 to
2015 when Hopewood closed. Elizabeth French led laughter Workshops on many occasions.
Since the closure, subscriptions and sales of our magazines and our book have plunged, which has been quite a loss
for the Society.
Government submissions. We have made submissions to government bodies on topics that included fluoridation,
vaccination, the federal government’s 2020 Summit, irradiated cat food, genetically-modified crops, GM food labeling
and recently a letter to every federal MP asking them to investigate the additives in vaccines. In June 2019 we sent a
submission to the Medical Board of Australia opposing their proposal to ban doctors from using natural therapies in
Website and e newsletters. Conscious that the electronic media is the way of the future, we have established a website
under the guidance of Past-President, Richard Stepniewski, and have e newsletters being produced by Margaret
Committee meetings. The many voluntary committees have held regular committee meetings over the 60 years, with
the paid staff also in attendance.
Thanks to the Committee members and staff. The Society could not function without our Committee members, and to
them we have a debt of gratitude for the considerable voluntary time, effort and initiative that many Committee
members have given over the 60 years. We have also had excellent, unselfish service carried out by the Society’s
secretaries, and, in particular, our current Administration Officer, Tracey Priest, who is well known to many members.
And where do we stand today? Even though we are rewarded with constant appreciation from members and other readers of our magazine, the Society’s financial viability has been a constant challenge. As Mrs Cockburn once declared, “It’s difficult to make money out of Natural Health”, and this statement has proven all too true over the 60 years. The fact that we are still financial in 2020 is due largely to the continuing generosity of the Australian Youth and Health Foundation as well as the generosity of a number of members who have left bequests or made donations to support our work.
By Roger French, Health Director NHS