Westhaven

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History of the Westhaven Association

In the early 1950s a young local medical practitioner Dr. Brian Dickens saw many parents with children with intellectual disabilities and was concerned that there was no support structure in place either for the parents or the children. Along with a group of parents and dedicated local people, Dr Dickens determined that these children, who did not fit within the structures of the conventional education system, needed a special school where they could feel free to exercise their special abilities and learn at a pace more appropriate to their needs.

With outstanding community support, the Westhaven Association was established in 1957 and the first Westhaven school for children with intellectual disabilities was opened, making Westhaven one of the earliest such facilities in Australia. Interest in the special education school grew and many parents from around the region soon wanted to send their children to Westhaven, consequently creating a need for a hostel to accommodate children from hundreds of miles away.

As the children progressed into their mid-teens, there then emerged a need to find employment for them. The first Westhaven 'sheltered workshop' was established to provide meaningful training and employment support.

Today, Westhaven no longer operates a special education school and the 'sheltered workshop' concept has been developed into a multi-faceted Westhaven Business Service, providing supported employment for 70 adults with intellectual disabilities. In 1976, as a part of this employment support service, Westhaven started producing Ugg boots to sell through its shop in Dubbo and has continued to do so ever since.

Westhaven’s hostel has grown and its supported accommodation service now cares for 95 adults with intellectual disabilities, all of whom live in mainstream housing in Dubbo and enjoy a quality lifestyle within the local community. Some live very independently while others require varying degrees of support around managing their shopping, finances, health and social interactions.

Those participating in supported employment with Westhaven are employed under a special legal wage system that recognises their ability and productivity. They participate in all the normal activities and employee responsibilities of a conventional large business including having their own staff meetings, training and social functions. They are employed in numerous business activities including landcare and landscaping functions, confidential document shredding, mail-house services, making timber products and producing our famous Two Sheep sheepskin Ugg boots.


Westhaven timeline

1 July 1957 – A day care centre is set up in the Scout Hall. Eleven children are enrolled and 32 women volunteer to supervise. Dr Brian Dickens was elected President that same year, a position he held for 27 years. 

3 July 1958 – The Westhaven Association School opens on the corner of Cobra and Palmer Streets, Dubbo, with 17 students enrolling within the first year.

11 February 1960 – the first Dubbo sheltered workshop opens at the old RAAF base, Dubbo. 

1962 – Westhaven has become an integral part of the Dubbo community, and 80 students have been through the Westhaven School by now.

1964 – To meet the school’s accommodation demands (for students who attend the school from the surrounding region), a children’s hostel is built as residential accommodation in Palmer St, Dubbo, and officially opened by The Hon. Ian Sinclair in 1965. It will be later called O’Brien House. 

11 September 1966 – the Westhaven Farm and an adult hostel at Burrabadine Reserve are officially opened by NSW State Governor Sir Roden Cutler. 

1971 – St. Faith’s Hostel is leased from the Anglican Church to provide accommodation for 50 people with disabilities. 

2 June 1972  – A fire breaks out in the spray painting section of the RAAF hanger housing the original sheltered workshop. The 2DU radio station helps raise $28,000 in a day following the workshop fire. 

12 April 1975 – The new workshop and administration building officially opens in Hawthorn Street, Dubbo. 

1975 – The Department of Education takes over the Westhaven Public School, and in the same year a contracts section is set up at Burrabadine Farm to manufacture garden ornaments, wooden pallets, survey pegs and bulk bins. 

1976 – 2DU Radio appeal raises $40,000 towards equipment and furnishings for the village project. 

1 August 1980 – Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser opens Westhaven Village Hostel in Wheelers Lane. 

1981 – South Dubbo Rotary Club donates a swimming pool to the Village Hostel. Constructed by Mr Les Fardell, the pool is installed in the world record time of 1 hour and 29 minutes, shaving two hours off the previous record.

1982 – Westhaven celebrates 25 years of operation. 157 adult trainees are living in Westhaven’s hostels and village accommodation. 26 children are living in O’Brien House, and 180 trainees are employed at both the workshop and the farm. 

1984 – Westhaven Industries is established, changing the image of the Association from that of a sheltered workshop to a commercial business operation. 

1987 – Westhaven is supporting 210 people with a disability in accommodation and/or employment. In the same year, the Burrabadine Hostel closes. 

1995 – Fairview Heights Public School (previously Westhaven Public School) closes and is replaced by the Special Education Unit at Buninyong Public School which opened in 1996. 

1997 – Westhaven opens a new $1 million housing project comprising five new duplexes and group homes, providing accommodation for 14 adults. 

1998 – Westhaven wins the ‘Quiet Achiever Award’, its first Silver Rhino. 

2003 – Dr. Brian Dickens, the ‘Father of Westhaven’ dies. 

2008 – ‘Ugg’ boots and other woollen products are rebranded as ‘Two Sheep for your two feet’. 

2012 – Westhaven wins its second Silver Rhino Award, for ‘Excellence in Community Service’. That same year the organisation holds its first Carols by Candlelight event, with 250 people from the Dubbo community attending. 

2014 – Westhaven receives its ‘Statement of Verification’ as a competent Service Provider under the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The organisation also wins its third Silver Rhino Award for ‘Excellence for Products and Services’. 

2015 – Westhaven’s Business Services are extended into Nyngan, having taken over from the Western District Supported Employment Services. The organisation wins its fourth Silver Rhino Award for ‘Excellence in Community Involvement’. 

2016 – Westhaven celebrates 40 years of making its famous Two Sheep Ugg Boots. The organisation also wins its fifth Silver Rhino Award for ‘Excellence in Community Service’, and receives a Highly Commended award for being an ‘Employer of Choice’. 

1 July 2017 – The National Disability Insurance Scheme rolls out in Dubbo and the Western region. Westhaven celebrates 60 years of service to the community that same year.


Photo: Westhaven Public School Classroom (circa 1960-70s). Kathy Cole (back), Kerry Everleigh, Janice Chapman. Wilna Rutherford and Gloria Chatfield are standing.