1970s: A Fledgling Organisation Takes Flight

Following the opening of Tehan House in the late 1960s it wasn’t long before enrolments outgrew the space at the house on the corner of Dickson and Connelly Streets. It was decided that the Committee, with Jack Squire at the helm, would begin the substantial task of purchasing a new property and relocating the Centre.

Tehan House Committee members identified some available Crown Land at 228-230 High Street, Echuca, and quickly set their sites on acquiring the property. They also began the business of fundraising and lobbying Government to assist with funding the construction of the new Tehan House. By 1971, 22 children were enrolled and staff increased to three, supervised by Pauline Ellis after Joy Hooper stepped down.

When the property acquisition was finalised, and the services of architect William Smart had been engaged, plans were subsequently approved and building works began, under the watchful eye of builder John O’Mahoney, began. Tehan House relocated from Dickson Street to High Street, Echuca, in March 1974, and was officially opened by Stuart McDonald, Member of Parliament. The initial building provided a day training centre for children under 16 and what was then known as a sheltered workshop for adults. Karen Witney was appointed as WOrkshop Manager. The ‘Auxiliary Wing’ was named in recognition of the time, dedication and financial support from the local auxiliaries, in particular the ceaseless fundraising efforts of the Tehan House Ladies Auxiliary and the Rochester Ladies Auxiliary.

Fruits of the Auxiliaries’ fundraising efforts, as well as contributions from the Cohuna Lions Club and Gunbower Apex Lions Club, resulted in the Centre purchasing a much-needed minivan and contributing to its running costs.

The workshop area was named the ‘William Buckland Wing’ to honour the legacy of the William Lionel Buckland Foundation. The adult unit, today known as the West End, was built later as an extension.

By the end of 1974 the Centre had appointed a new Supervisor, Fran Galvin, and boasted a total of 32 enrolments. The steady growth of enrolments and the progression of the time began to show families and staff that there was a need for an expansion and diversification of the Centre’s services. Most notably, the Committee began to look into a project designed to establish a group home/hostel which would assist some of the Centre’s earliest enrollees, now approaching adulthood, in living independently. In December 1977, the Victorian State Mental Health Authority provided funding to buy a house.

Amidst the progress and growth of the 1970s there was one event that threatened to bring the services positive momentum to a grinding halt. In July 1979 a fire engulfed Tehan House. The blaze burned furiously for 30 minutes before a team of 25 firemen from the Echuca and Moama brigades were able to bring it under control. Thankfully, no one was injured, although the service’s workshop area was completely destroyed and the administration area severely damaged.

As the 1970s ended so did the first decade of Tehan House’s existence. During the course of that decade the organisation had grown from its humble beginnings, with just four pupils and two staff members, to one which provided services, education and training for more than 60 people (25 children and 38 adults) with intellectual disabilities under the supervision of 13 staff. Enrolments for the Centre were coming from Cohuna, Lockington, Rochester, Elmore, Girgarre and Kyabram, transported to and from day services at the Centre by five organisation-owned vehicles. Tehan House and the Echuca and District Centre for the Intellectually Handicapped Children had become a respected and valued fixture of the regional community.


This story is an excerpt from Our Vivid History, a collection of stories celebrating over 50 years of our organisation. If you would like to order a copy of the book, please click below.

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