Our Event Founder & Director: The Ken Warburton Story ...
It wasn't until Carol Warburton was five-years old that her parents, Norma and Alan realised that something was wrong with their daughter. Carol was diagnosed with a mental disability. That was 69-odd years ago.
The Warburtons didn't know it at the time, but Carol's disability occurred because Norma had suffered from German Measles when she was pregnant with Carol. While we now know that the disease can have serious complications on an unborn child, this wasn't known in the 1940s.
|Event founder & director, |
A lifetime involved with Sylvanvale.
Norma Warburton passed away in April 2012, her husband Alan, five years prior. Yet their legacy lives on.
Ken is Carol's little brother. Three years her junior. Ken took on the role of protector and defender of his big sister from a very young age. "It was pretty hard growing up with a sister with a disability. When you grow up with a sibling that has something wrong with them, people always poke fun at them."
Ken recalls. "In those early days I can remember getting into so many fights because people would have a go at my sister. I was forever fighting over her. Those were hard days. Very hard days."
Sadly, Ken explains that in the middle of the 1900s, people with a disability weren't welcomed by society. "People who had a problem just weren't accepted. No one accepts you unless you are perfect and that's very hard to live with."
But Ken's parents had a plan. They wanted to change the lives of people with a disability.
"My recollection goes back as far as the 1950s," says Ken. "My mum and dad were more or less the founding members of The Handicapped Children's Centre of NSW, which is now know as Sylvanvale Foundation.
It began at a Baptist church in Flora Street Kirrawee. The church allowed a group of ladies who had a child with a disability, including mum, to meet in the church hall. It started off like a playgroup and support group for the parents and the children."
The parents then wanted the chance to give the children an education and to do so, they needed to raise funds.
"Every Saturday morning we used to participate in a fete at Cronulla. Dad would work on a chocolate wheel and mum and the ladies would sell things they'd sewed, knitted or cooked. Little things like those coat hangers and teapot cosies." Ken says.
Ken standing next to his car:
1931 Model A Ford Tudor Sedan
at our inaugural 2015 Show
Norma also held fundraising nights at Sans Souci and at Cronulla as well as Melbourne Cup sweeps at her local bowling club. She was also part of the Ladies Auxiliary and was the driving force in opening opportunity shops in Cronulla and Caringbah. "mum and dad did anything they could to raise a quid for the centre." says Ken.
One of the funniest moments Ken recalls in Sylvanvale's history (although it's highly unlikely that the then administrator, Ruth Culloch, wasn't amused as 11-year old Ken) was at the opening of three new classrooms in the Flora Street building. "It was opened by a famous American actress, Dorothy Daindridge who had performed in the musical Porgy and Bess. She also had a child with a disability.
Dorothy was awfully late to the opening, which impressed no one. But here's the real story from the day of the opening - she wasn't just late - she was rather tipsy too! Geez, that was a funny morning."
Ken also recalls a few slip-ups of his own regarding Carol. "I'm an old motor mechanic and for years Carol used to come into the garage and watch me work. Sometimes I would let the occasional swear word slip because I forgot she was there and she was so quiet.
The centre thrived, so much so that the families were able to open a home - the very first Rainbow Lodge - for people with a disability in the Blue Mountains. "My mum had to make a decision as to whether she was going to put Carol into that house. It was a huge decision for mum to make," remembers Ken.
"She made it because she could see both Carol and herself getting older. It was the best decision she ever made, but also one of the hardest. It was traumatic for mum and dad. It was terrible. It took a while to get used of the notion of it. I can remember the drama and the toll it took on mum and dad's relationship.
Carol moved out of her family home when she was about 30 and into Rainbow Lodge. Then when groups homes were introduced into the Sutherland Shire, Carol returned home to the Sutherland Shire and moved into one of those, where she still resides.
"The group homes are a fantastic idea. For Carol to be living in a normal home and to be loved and cared for 24/7 is just fantastic. It is mind blowing says Ken.
If the original, founding mums and dads could see what The Centre has evolved into, they would be delighted. To come from where the Handicapped Children's Centre came from all those years ago to where Sylvanvale is today is mind boggling." says Ken.
"My mum and dad devoted their whole life to the cause and I think they made a difference."
Below a 2017 video celebrating 70 years of Sylvanvale:
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