Waratah Support Centre holds 40th anniversary celebrations at Bunbury Lighthouse Resort

The faces behind: Waratah programs manager Ann Harkin, board member Liz Phillips and chair Denese Shepherdson. Photo: Pip Waller.
The faces behind: Waratah programs manager Ann Harkin, board member Liz Phillips and chair Denese Shepherdson. Photo: Pip Waller.

Flashback to the 1980s.

Denese Shepherdson completes three case studies on domestic violence in Bunbury and finds "horrific" results.

"I didn't come from a background of domestic violence, but once I found out what I know now I couldn't walk away," says Ms Shepherdson, who went on to volunteer with domestic violence charity Waratah, which is celebrating 40 years next week.

"In Australia, one in every two women has experienced sexual harassment and on average one woman a week is killed by her intimate, male partner.

"And that's just Australia. It feels crazy that those are the statistics.

"We just have to keep moving forward and try to bring out as much as we can about what's going on in women and children's lives."

Waratah has an impressive claim as one of the first organisations of its kind in Australia.

The charity is named after the waratah flower that when it burns, rejuvenates and rises again from the ashes.

Waratah first opened its doors in 1981 by a group of Bunbury women.

After 11 years of "working on politicians, raising awareness and obtaining funding", the state government "finally" gave the group a lease on a Bunbury building, says Ms Shepherdson, who now chairs the charity. The building's location cannot be identified due to confidentiality reasons.

Today, Waratah provides free intervention, counselling and support for people who have experienced sexual assault, abuse or family domestic violence.

If you change one thing for one woman, it's a ripple effect, so you might be changing it for her sisters, her mum, her friends or her children."

Waratah Support Centre board member Liz Phillips

With 14 staff members in Bunbury, including on-site support at the Bunbury Magistrates Court, Waratah offers services to women and children in Bunbury, Collie and Busselton.

In Bunbury, Waratah provides a 24 hour, 365 days a year rape crisis service and education programs at schools throughout the South West.

Waratah also offers trauma sensitive yoga sessions, art therapy for adults and a therapeutic group called "Empowering Women" in Busselton.

Waratah board member Liz Phillips said Waratah's achievements over the past 40 years included introducing a counselling service for children suffering domestic violence in 1998 and children suffering sexual abuse in 2003.

"The fact that Waratah has been able to expand out into the South West region has been really beneficial," Ms Phillips said.

"One of the positives that we've seen is that if you change one thing for one woman, it's a ripple effect.

"You might be changing it for her sisters, her mum, her friends, or her children. It's trying to break that cycle of abuse."

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All three Waratah employees agreed that an increase in funding to services like those that are offered at the centre would allow the centre to "do some amazing things".

They also said that while in 40 years there hadn't been a significant change in most men's behaviours, a move in the right direction would be valuing both genders equally.

"That would be a really big step forward," Ms Phillips said.

"That isn't to say we all have to be the same, we can be different, but this is about treating all people equally regardless of gender and from a young age."

All former employees and board members are invited to Waratah's 40th Anniversary Celebration on December 7 at the Lighthouse Resort.

RSVP by November 26 by contacting administration staff on 97912884.

If you are in need of help or support, contact 1800 Respect or Lifeline on 131 114.