The International Healthy Cities movement is a WHO initiative based on the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion which was adopted in 1986. The Charter recognised that health is created in the context of everyday life where we live, love, work and play. It also recognised that health is a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. Therefore health promotion is not just the responsibility of the health sector and goes beyond healthy lifestyles to a broader understanding of well-being.

The fundamental conditions and resources for health were seen as peace, shelter, education, food, income, a stable ecosystem, sustainable resources, social justice and equity.  It was in this context that Healthy Cities Noarlunga was established.

It commenced in April 1987 when the Australian Community Health Association received funding from the Australian Government to pilot the WHO Healthy Cities concept in three cities—Canberra, Illawarra and Noarlunga.  The Australian pilot phase ran for 3 years (1987–89) and was followed by a funded network project (1990–92)

HCN was based in the State Government funded Noarlunga Health Services (NHS). NHS was then a new primary health care service that, in 1991, was integrated with a new community hospital. Project funds were used to employ a full-time project manager and a half-time administrative assistant.

A two-tier committee structure was established with a Reference Committee that met quarterly with senior agency staff and community representatives, and a Management Committee that met monthly. HCN also attracted significant in-kind contribution from NHS and other agencies.
During this period numerous initiatives were undertaken, and a clear vision was established for a ‘Healthy Noarlunga’. This vision evolved from a community process and built on a needs assessment that had been conducted before HCN was established.  Dedicated funding was withdrawn following the pilot period, and HCN then relied on in-kind contributions, primarily from the local health service.

The community activists in HCN initiated a review of the management of the project in 1991, and this resulted in a decision to incorporate HCN as a non-government organization. The constitution of HCN stipulates that there must be a majority of community members on the Management Committee. Through the 1990s, HCN continued to initiate and be involved in many projects. Three of particular significance are:

1.   Noarlunga Toward a Safe Community
2.   Noarlunga Community Action on Drugs
3.  Onkaparinga Collaborative Approach for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

Each of these health promotion initiatives had their origins in HCN and then developed and established their own identity. NTSC became an accredited WHO Safe Communities Project in 1996 and was redesignated in 2003.

HCN’s relationship with the Department of Public Health at Flinders University of SA continued to develop. From 1991, the two organizations have cooperated in running training programs and developing a post-graduate course on Healthy Cities.