Annual Appeal 2024

Celebrating 45 years

This year, Odyssey House Victoria celebrates its 45th anniversary. Our humble beginning arose from the love and concern of one parent with a drive to ensure that anyone struggling with addiction could access the best treatment and support possible.

Over the last 45 years, we have never strayed from this vision. If anything, we’ve expanded our expectations of achieving this vision, increasing the number of programs we operate, building up our presence in regional Victoria, and doing more for the families and carers of those facing addiction wherever possible.

History shows that we’re not an organisation that rests on its laurels. We’re continually looking for new ways to give clients hope that change is possible, reducing alcohol and drug use, improving mental health, and rebuilding connection to families and the community.


Odyssey House is established in Melbourne

Odyssey House was established in New York in 1966 as a treatment facility that did not use drugs to treat addiction. Instead, it believed that people with a lived experience of addiction could play an active role in their own recovery, alongside medical professionals. At the time this was considered experimental, as there was no documented evidence base to support this type of therapeutic treatment.

Odyssey was brought to Sydney and then to Melbourne largely driven by Walter McGrath and Nigel Dick (pictured left), who, as fathers, had both experienced the pain and distress of having a child with an addiction. 

A permanent home was established in 1980 with the opening of the Lower Plenty therapeutic community residential program.


Addiction doesn’t discriminate

Prison remained the favoured approach to “rehabilitate” people who were caught using drugs, despite growing evidence that a health and social approach was more effective and cheaper. 

Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, shared his story of his own daughter’s struggle with addiction, highlighting that addiction affects all sectors of the community.

A national summit on drug abuse heralded a new era in drug and alcohol treatment with three central themes: harm minimisation, demand reduction and supply reduction.


Developing new treatment models

Odyssey had been providing some non-residential counselling services in Greville Street for young people and adults. These Community Counselling and Support Services became the model on which other community services were based on and expanded in the coming years. 

Their success demonstrated that Odyssey in Victoria was capable of being far more than just a therapeutic community. 


Going it alone

The mid-1990s were years of significant change for Odyssey in Australia. Like other Odyssey programs across North America and New Zealand, Odyssey in New South Wales and Victoria enhanced their independence to ensure that each organisation could adapt to local needs.

The introduction of compulsory competitive tendering opened up new opportunities for programs that had not previously been funded. This resulted in Odyssey House Victoria being successful in tendering for a range of new youth and family services.


Research, advocacy and training

Plans were underway to establish the Odyssey Institute of Studies, which was officially launched the following year. The Institute enabled Odyssey to conduct more research, support advocacy, and deliver nationally accredited training. 

The Odyssey Institute piloted and developed programs including Kids in Focus, Counting the Kids, various employment and financial counselling services. The Institute is now a Registered Training Organisation and is one of Australia’s largest, industry-based and specialist providers of Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) training programs.


Excellence and innovation

Odyssey House was fast becoming known for its excellence and innovation in developing and delivering targeted programs. 

One example was the national award winning Nobody’s Clients Project, a program developed to support the children of clients aged 4-13. It included a range of prevention and early intervention responses, in-home family support and counselling specific to the needs of children whose parents were undergoing AOD treatment.

The success of the program, led to ongoing government funding in each state and territory, and our current Kids in Focus service.


The politics of funding

A new facility, Circuit Breaker, opened at Molyullah near Benalla, in 2005. It offered an intensive, six-week live-in rehabilitation program. The Federal Government provided pilot funding with the expectation that the State would then fund it.

In it’s first two years Circuit Breaker closed twice due to lack of funding despite receiving an award from the Australasian Therapeutic Communities Association (ATCA) for its success and innovation, competing with others across Australia and New Zealand. It’s completing rate of more than 80%, was well above the worldwide benchmark of 30%-40%. 

Finally, an ongoing funding commitment was provided by the Federal Government and the program expanded from 8 to 15 beds.


Growth and partnerships

As part of a sector reform, our AOD community services were substantially expanded following successful tenders in partnership with Uniting Care ReGen, across Inner North, North, North West and South West parts of Melbourne. Other partnerships enabled expansion into South Eastern Melbourne and the Goulburn-Valley, Hume, and Barwon regions of Victoria.

These services include intake and assessment, catchment-based planning, care and recovery coordination, counselling and non-residential withdrawal, as well as expanded statewide residential rehabilitation services and numerous other AOD treatment and education services. 

During this time, our commitment to supporting Australia’s First Nations Peoples also grows through our Reconciliation Action Plan.


Equality and respect for all

The people who use our services are at the centre of everything we do. People must feel safe, respected, and valued as individuals. Our Diversity and Inclusion Statement outlines our commitment to achieving a culture of inclusion. In recent years we’ve adopted other initiatives such as: 

  • Rainbow Tick accreditation
  • Workplace Gender Equity

The building of a third residential facility, the Hope Centre, located near Bairnsdale had commenced. Led and championed by the local community, the 58-bed centre opened the following year. Planning to expand our Circuit Breaker program near Benalla to 35 beds is also underway, as is advocacy for government investment in new residential programs for Warrnambool, Mildura, and for Victorian workers.



Today, we are one of the largest providers of AOD services in Australia, working within 14 municipalities across Victoria and in a wide variety of settings including schools, courts, prisons, community and mental health services, and local government.

We partner with more than 100 organisations to deliver our services and support around 17,000 people each year.

We train new AOD workers and contribute to the evidence base for AOD treatment, having commissioned and/or contributed to 34 pieces of research in the past 17 years, with 8 research projects currently in progress. 

Despite our success in changing the lives of tens of thousands of Victorians over this 45-year journey, the need for our services is greater than ever. So, we’re calling on you as a valued and loyal donor, once again, to support us by donating $90 or $450. That’s $2 or $10 for each year that we have been supporting those who need us. Your support will help fill the funding gap between what we’re funded to do, and what we actually do. Changing lives and saving lives.

Gone are the fundraising days of the legendary Lillian Frank, where she would invite affluent women to attend afternoon teas, lunches and dinners in exchange for donations. Today, we’re competing with thousands of other charities who don’t share the stigma of addiction, for a shrinking pool of fundraising dollars. 

Most of us know someone who has struggled with drug or alcohol problems. Imagine how hard that journey of recovery would be without Odyssey House Victoria there to provide care, understanding and support.

Our journey as an organisation could not have happened without your support, and the support of those who came before you. All of you understood that care and compassion would lead to better outcomes than imprisonment. For this we thank you. 

To help commemorate our 45-year anniversary and support our ongoing work, please consider donating today.

Kind Regards

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Odyssey House Victoria respects the privacy of all those accessing our services. Client faces have been de-identified in photography. Thank you for understanding.