Koomarri’s Bruce House in Canberra is a home made to fit people with a disability — not the other way around

Robyn and Bruce Davis’s mother once sat on the steps of Old Parliament House pleading with the then-disability minister to bring her son home to Canberra.

Because of his profound disability, Bruce had been sent hours away to a facility in New South Wales — there were no local disability services to accommodate him.

“It’s just too much to bear, having to even think about what Brucey endured in those days,” Robyn said.

Never wanting Bruce or anyone else to suffer in care again, Robyn has spent her life advocating for people with disability.

And she has been instrumental in establishing a new group home in Canberra for clients with high needs.

Named Bruce House, in honour of her brother, the home’s new residents had previously been in cramped old houses that did not suit them. The new home has been custom-built for its clients.

Robyn’s brother Bruce was meant to move in, but he died just before it was ready.

Instead Bruce House now has a new connection for Robyn: it is the home of die-hard Brumbies fan Tau Tanielu, who Robyn has become the legal guardian for.

“Knowing you can come here at any time, these residents are so beautifully cared for,” Robyn said.

Residents finally in a home that fits

Tau Tanielu, Mikey Di Toro, Jai-Anne Corey, Willow Scarlett and Katie Bennett, are thrilled with Bruce House.(ABC News: Greg Nelson)

Tau and some of his housemates moved into Koomari’s Bruce House from an ageing facility that did not accommodate them.

It had a standard bathtub that did not fit their bodies, cramped corridors and small rooms that made manoeuvring mobility chairs nearly impossible.

In contrast, Bruce House has wide doors and hallways suited for mobility chairs, and a $33,000 bathtub with a hoist, donated by a local business.

“As you can imagine, five people with high support needs; it has been a lengthy, difficult at times project, but with a really great outcome,” Koomarri chief executive Nadine Stephen said.

And it has meant the home’s new residents — Tau, Mikey Di Toro, Katie Bennett, Jai-Anne Corey and Willow Scarlett — have a place they can actually live in together.

“They all come with their own characteristics and it’s lovely to watch them together.”

A special bath in a bathroom.
The new hydrotherapy bath at Bruce House allows the residents to bathe in comfort.(ABC News: Greg Nelson)

Gavin Bennett, whose daughter Katie has moved into Bruce House, said it was “one of the best things that’s ever happened”.

“Being a parent of a child with a disability, you need them to be somewhere that they get the full care they need and where we can see her,” Gavin said.

Through big smiles and his eye movements, Tau also expressed his adoration for his carers and new home.

A young woman sitting in a wheelchair smiles at the camera.
Bruce House has enabled Katie Bennett to move through her own home with more ease.(ABC News: Greg Nelson)

‘Knowing he had his own home and people who loved him’

Robyn said her parents would be “very proud” if they were alive today, as it was their fight for disability care inclusion and dignity in the ACT that helped pave the way for Bruce House.

“Wilma Davis, Mum, lobbied for years and years and years,” Robyn said.

“She sat on the steps of Parliament House just pleading with the Minister for Disability at the time to bring her son and other ACT residents’ children back to Canberra.

“What they lived through in New South Wales was just heart-breaking.”

Robyn said her mother’s campaign eventually succeeded and Bruce returned to Canberra, where he spent his last 20 years close to family.

“He was happy, clean, well-looked after. His wants were always met. You could go and visit him at any time,” Robyn said.

“It was comforting for him, knowing that he had his own home and people who loved him.”

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