The Orthoptic Association of Australia (now Orthoptics Australia) was inaugurated on 25 September 1944. From the outset the founders (Janet Arnold, Patricia Chalmers, Lena Gilchrist, Margaret Gillespie, Irene Gluckman, Lilian Ives, Ethel D’Dombrain, Patricia Lance (later awarded an MBE for services to orthoptics), Diana Mann, Emmie Russell, Ivy Martyn and Lucy Willoughby) agreed that the Association would be a federal organisation with state representation; made up of ordinary members who were holders of the orthoptic qualification; honorary membership conferred on distinguished ophthalmologists and overseas orthoptists, and associate membership for orthoptists no longer in the workforce.
The original objects of the Association were: to advance the study of orthoptics; to provide a medium for scientific exchange by holding annual scientific conferences; to deal with ethical issues outside the remit of the registration body, the Australian Orthoptic Board; to uphold the professional practice standards of orthoptists; to co-operate with international orthoptic and ophthalmic international organisations, and to produce an annual scientific journal.
The formation of a professional orthoptic association was a significant milestone. It was established 11 years after the British Orthoptic Society and six months after the American Association of Certified Orthoptists had been formed, making it the third oldest orthoptic association in the world. Emmie Russell was the first President. The Emmie Russell Prize, awarded to a young researcher for the best scientific paper presented at the national conference, is named in her honour. It continues to be the most prestigious research prize the Association awards.
Left: Emmie Russell ca. 1940s
The first orthoptic scientific meeting was convened in 1944 in Sydney and has continued to be held yearly. Transactions of the annual scientific conferences were issued until the Association published the Australian Orthoptic Journal (AOJ) in 1959. The Association has published AOJ annually to this day.
Great Britain - where orthoptics began - granted reciprocity of practice to Australia in 1947 enabling English-trained orthoptists to practice in Australia and vice versa. It was a considerable landmark. It validated the high standard of Australian training and offered more opportunities for the exchange of scientific knowledge in an era before the instant communications of today.
In 1967, at the instigation of the British Orthoptic Society, the International Orthoptic Association (IOA) was established. The founding member organisations were: Australia; Brazil; France; Holland and Great Britain. Today there are 24 member countries. Patricia Lance was Australia’s inaugural representative on the IOA Council. Shayne Brown was the first (to date) the only Australia President of the IOA (1983-87). Australia hosted the 10th International Orthoptic Congress in 2004. Australia continues to make significant contributions to the scientific and managerial activities of the IOA.
In the late 1960s the Association commenced negotiations with the federal government to incorporate orthoptic training into the Advanced Colleges of Education which was achieved by the early 1970s. In Sydney it was the NSW College of Paramedical Studies (later Cumberland College of Health Sciences) and in Melbourne, Lincoln Institute of Health Sciences. In the mid-1980s the Association again worked with the federal government and the education bodies and by 1991 orthoptic education was at degree level at the University of Sydney and La Trobe University in Melbourne. In 2014 the training program in Sydney moved to the Graduate School of Health at the University of Technology.
In 1986, Orthoptics Australia (OA) was incorporated under the NSW Associations Incorporation Act 1984. In 2016 OA adopted a new constitution under the NSW Incorporation Act 2009 to reflect a growing Association. With activities across Australia and a desire to expand further the Association undertook a governance review in 2019 and voted to amend its legal structure to an association incorporated under the Commonwealth Corporations Act 2001 and adopted a new constitution to comply with that. In 2020 OA became a company limited by guarantee – Orthoptics Australia Ltd.
When the Association was established in 1944 it had fewer than 20 members. Membership, as a percentage of the working orthoptists, has always been high and continues to grow annually. Today there are over 500 members.