The need for Thorndale was identified in 1958, when a group of local families who had children with intellectual disability, decided that they would fight the prevailing practice of putting children with an intellectual disability into an institution.
They wanted their kids to be part of the community and to be valued as any other community member. They wanted their kids to have opportunities to learn and achieve.
In 1959 Mr Clem Payne approached the Mayor of Penrith with a request that a public meeting be called to discuss the possibility of starting a school for children with an intellectual disability.
Various clubs and organisations were approached and a meeting was held on the 3rd of March 1959. A committee was formed under the chairmanship of Mr A. Little, headmaster of Kingswood Public School.
The search then started for suitable premises and eventually the Ex-Naval Men’s Hall in Park Street, Penrith, was hired at a nominal rental. School started on 3rd June 1959, with two
teachers and fourteen pupils coming from as far afield as Warragamba, the Blue Mountains, Mt.Druitt and Richmond. Also, on that day the Lions Club of Penrith presented them with their first bus.
The school was officially opened on 29th August 1959. A small pine tree was donated by foundation members Mr and Mrs Dwyer of Riverstone with the sentiment that while the tree grew, so would the school. Mrs Jean Thornley of Cranebrook, also a foundation member, tied a ten- pound note to the tree and it was then called a ‘money tree’. Many similar donations followed.
This tree was later transplanted and is now flourishing at the entrance to the present building at Werrington.Some twelve months after the opening, the name Thorndale was put forward by Mr Payne as a suitable name for the school, in recognition of the wonderful work done by Mrs Thornley and Mr Jack Daly, neither of whom had children with an intellectual disability. Back then we were part of what was known as the Subnormal Children’s Welfare Association, a title that has rightly and thankfully changed since then.
As the number of children attending classes grew, more space had to be found. Thorndale purchased a demountable ‘barrack’ from Warragamba Dam. Members pulled the building down in sections and it was transported to the Thorndale school site.
Carpenters from the Warragamba Dam generously gave their time and expertise to build two extra rooms onto the Hall. While this was being done, the children continued their lessons in a building owned by the Penrith Leagues Club and at the Cricket Club Pavilion.
Before long a permanent home for the school became urgent. Council donated the land at Rance Road, Werrington and plans were made to build the school. The first stage was officially opened on 7th November 1964, by Alderman W. Chapman, Mayor of Penrith.At this time there was no Government assistance and the public and local businesses helped in many and varied fund-raising efforts.
In 1974 five acres of land at Orchard Hills was purchased and in 1979, two residential cottages were built. The cottages were officially opened by Sen. Dame Margaret Guilfoyle, the then
Minister for Social Security. In 1983 a third cottage was opened, and together the Cottages provide a home for 20 residents.
Thorndale’s history is full of illustrations of community individuals offering their time and help in volunteer support and service. Thorndale exists only because of the past and continuing
contributions from the communities of the Penrith/Nepean area. Today, Thorndale receives funding from the NSW Department of Ageing Disability and Homecare and the Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. Funding is limited to paying for direct care and support, and Thorndale still relies on donations to help pay for new equipment and buildings.