Since its establishment in 1890, the overarching purpose of Cottage by the Sea is to provide a happy and healthy childhood for all children

Throughout its long history, the Cottage has provided short term care within a holiday environment for children in need. Over time, the circumstances of the children attending the Cottage has varied, from convalescing children, children affected by war, fire, flood, or disadvantaged in key life areas.

The lifeblood of the Cottage has always been its community of dedicated volunteers and supporters whose unerring commitment has helped it endure and grow to meet increased demands.

This timeline serves to recognise the rich history of the Cottage and the many people involved over its 130 year journey.

Early Days

The foundations of Cottage by the Sea begin with Elizabeth Calder and Annie Hitchcock in 1890, who were inspired by the Countess of Meath (England) to form a Ministering Children’s League (MCL) in Victoria. 

The early work of the MCL involved tireless fundraising and travelling throughout Victoria and interstate, to encourage the formation of branches.

In 1895, the original 11 room Cottage, designed by architect Beverley Ussher of Melbourne and built by J.C Taylor of Geelong, was completed. Initially, the Cottage provided care for twelve children in need and was a place to which they came for restoration and health.

The early 1900s saw the Cottage primarily used as a recovery centre for children with typhoid fever, rheumatic fever, diphtheria, pneumonia, spinal disease and hip disease.

The Calder Memorial Wing was built in 1912, adding a much-needed 4 bed ward and nurse’s room. This played a vital role in 1919, when it was used as an emergency ward during the influenza epidemic.

New and improved

1935 – In operation for 40 years, the original, timber Cottage reached a point of serious deterioration. A Building Appeal was launched to fund its replacement, and £10,000 was consequently raised. In 1936, the Cottage was demolished, and a new brick Cottage was designed by P. Scott Williams.

Construction was completed in 1938. However, the new establishment was only occupied for five months before the Defence Department took it over as a World War II military hospital in 1939, displaying the Red Cross on the roof and sides of the building to alert enemy planes.

It wasn’t until 1943 that the ownership of the Cottage was returned to the MCL, allowing camps of up to 40 children to run. In the summer of 1945 – as WWII ended – the Cottage reserved its camps for children of POWs – selected by the AIF Women’s Association.

1956 – The Calder Ward was rebuilt as a modern brick playroom attached to the Cottage.

The 1960s saw a large proportion of migrant and indigenous children staying at the Cottage.

Cottage by the Sea promotional video from the 1960s.

Modernising the Cottage

The Cottage continued to cater for 40 disadvantaged children, staying for approximately one month each. Common activities in the 1970s included many outings to the beach, visits to the Fort, Lighthouse, as well as ferry trips to Sorrento. A yearly visit from Father Christmas in a bright red Queenscliff Fire Brigade Cart was a highlight for the children.

The Cottage continued its development in the 1980s, including construction of the Activity Hut, the Marine Room, a new three vehicle carport to house a new Cottage bus, and the new playground was opened.

In 1984, government funding ceased. With no funding, the Cottage had to re-evaluate and improve its methods. It signalled the transition to a completely non-profit and non-government funded children’s charity, a first for the region. Additional fundraising and in-kind support from Branch members, service clubs, and a generous public ensured the ongoing viability of the Cottage. In 1985, the annual cost to run and maintain the Cottage and its programs was $178,388.

The Cottage Centenary Year was celebrated in 1990 at Princess Park, Queenscliff.

1993 – Reconstruction of the Cottage kitchen took place.

1995 – The Ministering Children’s League in England closed and made a generous donation of £10,000 to the Cottage.

The Cottage committed to a restructure of Board functions in 1996, and introduced smaller, shorter camps, which were deemed more beneficial to children and families.

In 1998, the name formally changed from Ministering Children’s League Inc. to Cottage by the Sea, Queenscliff Inc and a Constitution was created. The annual cost to run the Cottage was $532,495.


The turn of the century saw a range of new energised programs introduced at Cottage by the Sea, designed and implemented by qualified staff and generously supported in many areas by a band of donors and dedicated volunteers.

The mission to provide fun and opportunity to children continued, with a focus on the children being accepted as individuals with different needs, expectations and responses, as well as enjoying life’s simple pleasures, learning new skills, and making new friends.

The Cottage appointed its first full time General Manager, Tony Featherston, who had the responsibility of securing funding to resource the updated programs. These resources, along with staff recruitment and training, have allowed the Cottage to become self-sufficient in the programs we offer.

The programs and activities have expanded and developed and have been enhanced by the Cottage’s fleet of three buses, four trailers, and a boat.

In 2003, Cathy Freeman was appointed Cottage Patron, a position she held for 12 years before stepping aside to concentrate on her own foundation.

2006 – The Cottage purchased the adjoining Riptide property, providing flexibility to run smaller camp sizes.

By the end of the decade, annual camp attendee numbers eclipsed 1,000 children.

Sending the Cottage into the future

2008-15 – The programs that are synonymous with the contemporary Cottage were introduced. The REEF Program, which works with students in Years 6-7; and the Mentor Program, an ongoing program for REEF graduates. As well as the introduction of the National Program, providing a committed service to our Patron Cathy Freeman Foundation’s “Horizons” Program.

2010 – The Cottage celebrates 120 years of service by becoming debt free.

2011 – The Cottage by the Sea Foundation is established to help secure the financial future of the Cottage and its ability to keep offering children a very special holiday.

2014Frank Costa, entrepreneur and philanthropist, is named Cottage by the Sea Patron.

2014-15 – The Cottage moves into the world of social media and undergoes a major rebranding and our motto is formed “Providing disadvantaged young people with inspiration, fun and opportunity”

2016 – Access Audit and a Safety Audit commissioned finds the Main Cottage in need of improvement.

2016 – 2019 – Fundraising efforts provide sufficient funds to undertake Capital Works to propel the 80 year old Cottage into the 21st century.

2019 – Adam Wake is appointed CEO of Cottage by the Sea.

2020 – Cottage by the Sea embarks on major renovation works. The installation of a lift, ambulant facilities and a number of other improvements makes the Cottage accessible to children of all abilities.

2021 – Cottage by the Sea mourns the loss, and honours the memory, of patron Frank Costa AO

As the Cottage moves into the future, we continue to operate as a not-for-profit, self-funded children’s charity that receives no government funding. As a result, we rely entirely upon the generous support of our donors, branches, volunteers, businesses and community groups, trusts and foundations.

2022 – Media personality Rebecca Maddern is named Cottage by the Sea Patron.

Everything we do at Cottage
by the Sea reflects our values: