Our History

A 132 year history of innovation in client care

The poor health and living conditions of disadvantaged sick persons in Melbourne prompted a group of concerned citizens to meet on the 17th February, 1885 to begin the organisation now known as RDNS.

Dr Caffyn and Reverend Charles Strong, two of the participants, were familiar with the working of the district nurses in Scotland. They briefed the meeting on their work, and the outcome of the meeting was the formation of the Melbourne District Nursing Society, to look after the sick and poor in their own homes. Later that year Nurse Ferguson, the first nurse to be employed, started visiting the homes of the sick and poor in Collingwood and Fitzroy

Ever growing demand for home nursing propelled a culture of innovation and change at RDNS, some milestones in RDNS’ growth and development include:

  • 1892 – A midwifery service was established
  • 1917 – The Society helped in the establishment of welfare baby clinics.
  • 1919 – Client numbers leapt from 1,104 to 3,992 due to the influenza epidemic, necessitating the purchase of the nurses’ first car
  • 1934 – The Melbourne District Nursing Society Women’s Welfare Clinic commenced offering advice on family planning and birth control.
  • 1957 – The Hospitals and Charities Commission, separate Boards of Management for the After Care Hospital and the District Nursing Society. The Society changes its name Melbourne District Nursing Service
  • 1962- A formalised education program specifically for district nurses is established
  • 1964 – Decentralisation of nursing operations represented a major organisational change for RDNS. Over the coming years Centres were opened throughout metropolitan Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsular
  • 1966 – The ‘Royal’ prefix was granted by charter and the name was changed to Royal District Nursing Service
  • 1974 – First research project: An Inquiry into Poverty undertaken on behalf of the Commonwealth Government
  • 1984 – 24 hour care is introduced
  • 1985- Home nursing for HIV/AIDS program is established
  • 1988 – Homeless Persons Program is established
  • 1996 – RDNS moves to a new Head Office Building at 31 Alma Road St Kilda
  • 2006 -Endorsement for an RDNS Nurse Practitioner in Palliative Care, one of only eight in Victoria, was achieved.
  • 2010 – RDNS celebrated 125 years of service to the Community with an official launch by Governor-General Quentin Bryce at the Eureka Tower
  • 2012 – A new telehealth project, The Broadband Enabled Innovation Program (BIEP) using video conferencing technology to assist clients with medication management is implemented.
  • 2013 – A new subsidiary company, RDNS HomeCare, is officially opened. With a new Head Office in Sydney and branches in Adelaide, Brisbane, Townsville, Hobart, Devonport, Melbourne, Perth and Port Macquarie RDNS HomeCare was operating as the largest DVA provider in Australia by the end or 2012.
  • 2016 – RDNS and RSL Care join together to provide a full suite of aged care services across the country.


Throughout our long and illustrious history, RDNS has put the needs of our clients first, this will continue well into the future with the merging of RDNS and RSL Care. Working together, RDNS and RSL Care will be able to provide a true continuum of care from nursing and care at home, through to retirement living, residential care and more.

If you would like to learn more about RDNS and our history, contact our librarian

If you would like to learn more about RDNS + RSL Care’s excting future together click here