Our story began in 1924 when Dr Lorna Hodgkinson, a remarkable Australian of great dedication and vision, established the Sunshine Institute. Lorna was the first woman to receive a Doctorate at the prestigious Harvard University, USA. As a teacher herself, Lorna was passionate in her belief that people with an intellectual disability should be supported to lead meaningful lives.
To find out more about our incredible journey, click on the decades in the timeline below.
Where Are We Now
Today, rebranded as Unisson Disability, we continue to deliver services to more than 700 people across Sydney, the Central Coast and Hunter regions. We are proud of our history not because it means we are old, but because it means we have nostalgic and inspiring beginnings to lean on. We continue to be inspired by Lorna’s mission of aspiring for a great life for those we support.
Read more about our Vision, Purpose & Values.
Timeline of Events
In 1924 Lorna Hodgkinson establishes the Sunshine Institute. Lorna is the first woman to receive a doctorate at the prestigious Harvard University, USA. As a teacher herself, Lorna is passionate in her belief that people with an intellectual disability should be supported to learn and lead meaningful lives and not be locked up in hospitals for the mentally ill. This is in direct conflict with the policy of the government at the time, and also with the broader social norms of the day. Taking norms into her own hands, Lorna leases (and later purchases) a large house and land at Gore Hill on Sydney’s Lower North Shore, naming it the Sunshine Institute. Later that year it opens as a residential school for just six children with intellectual disability.
By the time of Lorna’s death in 1951, more than 60 students are living and studying at Gore Hill. Many of the first children to join the school stay with the organisation into their adulthood, and over the years adults with disability become the majority of those we support. Prior to her death, Lorna converts the institute into a non-profit organisation under a board of trustees, to whom she bequeaths the bulk of her estate. At this time, the Sunshine Institute is renamed the Lorna Hodgkinson Sunshine Home. Over the years, the organisation continues to expand, always staying true to Lorna’s philosophy of supporting and caring for people as individuals.
In the early 2000s, the Gore Hill site is sold to help fund Sunshine’s expansion into community-based living. Sunshine’s services expand across Sydney and up to the Central Coast and Hunter region. In 2014, Sunshine celebrates its 90th birthday.
In 2017 Sunshine rebrands to Unisson Disability. We have been known as Sunshine for almost 100 years and we feel strongly that it is time to look for a name that will take us into the next 100 years. The new name reflects who we have evolved into as an organisation and our unique approach to working with those we support. In addition, it is determined that we need a name that will make it easier for people to clearly understand and engage with what we do. After extensive consultation and market testing in the years 2014 to 2017, we choose the name Unisson Disability. It is anticipated that this name will allow us to connect more deeply with the people we support and the general community, and to better represent our values and mature leadership in the disability sector. While our brand name and look has changed, our values, purpose and approach to supporting people with disability has not.