Earlier this year, 95-year-old great grandmother Violet Davis left the earth. Aside from the considerable family she left behind, including 4 sons, 9 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren, she also left behind a special legacy in the role she played in TADWA’s success.
Violet began life as an orphan at Fairbridge Farm and while it wasn’t the most desirable of childhoods, it was here Violet met her beloved husband of 53 years. She loved being at home with her family, knitting and cooking for everybody, and was so content there she didn’t bother with a driver’s licence or mobile phone. She also enjoyed the regular visits from her third son Bob, who spent hours each week with his mum and dad doing their home maintenance and driving them to appointments. During this time, Bob shared stories of the volunteer work he was doing at TADWA on the side of his job at Telecom (now Telstra) aiding people with disabilities with their telephones, which was a service Telecom couldn’t provide.
“I was visiting mum and dad quite often, as Dad started having heart problems I did all the maintenance work around their home and as mum didn’t drive I picked her up for the doctors if she needed it,” Bob explains. “I was talking to them a lot about the work I was doing, so when Dad passed away Mum decided the income from her pension enabled her to donate some money to TADWA.”
Back in 1984, TADWA’s premises were far from the purpose-built building that houses the organisation today. In fact, TADWA didn’t have a home base at all.
Violet could see that the hardworking volunteers of those early years were supporting as many people with disabilities as they could, but somebody needed to support the volunteers.
“We were a group of Telecom employees who volunteered to modify existing phones in businesses and private homes for people with disabilities such as hearing or speech problems and people who were blind so they wouldn’t feel so isolated,” Bob says. “We had no premises to do the work, so we had to do the work from people’s homes and then we’d meet at Darryl McCarthy’s East Perth offices once a month.”
The next step up was finding temporary accommodation in the form of Nollamara Primary School, which was closed at the time. TADWA took up residence in two former classrooms. As word spread and new challenges were taken on in the fields of computer services and home modifications, the team quickly outgrew the abandoned primary school so the Government offered them space at the Pyrton Site in Bassendean.
“By this stage we had probably forty volunteers and a large building to work from with an office administration and workshop area, but we still had no money coming in,” Bob says.
Violet became very enthusiastic about the work and had a keen sense of appreciation for the good it was doing. Although she was already donating money to other charities including the Red Cross, her generosity and love for her son saw her draw up her first cheque of $3,000, which soon became a regular donation.
“Mum was always a warm, compassionate sort of person and she was generous, so she donated three lots of $3,000 over the year which was the only income TADWA received and it was used to pay any expenses around what we were doing,” Bob says. “She continued doing that for ten years.”
Helped by Violet’s financial support TADWA was able to continue its good works. But more challenges lay ahead, with the Department of Health ultimately declaring the Pyrton site unsafe.
“The Department of Health wanted to kick us out because the sewer wasn’t working very well, in fact [recently retired CEO] Bob Whittaker had to go down and run the pump manually twice a day,” Bob says. “We approached the City of Bassendean for any land and they offered us where we are now.”
With a generous grant from Lottery West, and Therapy Focus joining forces with TADWA, the current building and workshop was eventually constructed. Violet visited the site as it was being built, watching it evolve from a three-metre deep, three-hectare-sized hole into the impressive office and workshop space opened in 2008.
“Mum didn’t come to TADWA often, because she was a bit shy in public and liked helping from behind the scenes,” Bob says. “But she loved knowing what was happening, so I took her out to see the new building under construction which she enjoyed.”
Violet’s keen understanding of TADWA’s purpose and direction through her conversations with Bob meant she took great enjoyment in seeing the organisation’s growth and success. In the early days, Bob believes TADWA wouldn’t have been able to survive its quick expansion (and the pressure that came with it) without Violet’s regular donations and he’s proud to see the current Bassendean premises are now the envy of the other TADs around the country. While other funding was later well-received from the likes of Lottery West and the Department of Health’s Home and Community Care (HACC) program, those crucial dollars poured in from a generous-hearted, widowed pensioner named Violet were perhaps the ones that counted the most.
*With sincere thanks to Bob Davis for sharing memories of his mum and the stories of TADWA as it evolved into the thriving organisation it is today.