Born too late: Missing out on the experience of Deaf clubs.
In all nearly 30 years of my life, I’ve never been to a Deaf club.
I’m talking about Deaf clubs like Stanmore (Sydney) and Jolimont (Melbourne).
Those Deaf clubs were vibrant and so rich of community spirit. Deaf people of all ages got together in one place to catch up and make new friends. Young Deaf people listened eagerly to stories told by older Deaf people.
That, I have never experienced.
I haven’t had many encounters and opportunities to sit down with an older Deaf person (the age of my grandparents) to learn about the past of the Deaf community, be it from the 1920s, 1930s and so on.
I remember briefly meeting Alan Fairweather when I was 15, and I relished the 10 minutes I had with him. He told me a fascinating story – for the life of me, I cannot remember it but I do remember being fascinated especially with the way he signed. I really wished I had more opportunities to sit down with him and ask him about his life.
I’ve been lucky to have a few encounters with Nola Colefax. Nola is a phenomenal woman, and a true legacy of the Deaf community in Sydney. The last time I saw her was when we were both invited to participate in a panel at the Renwick College. We both learnt we were heading towards Parramatta afterwards, so we sat together on the bus from North Rocks and talked. I listened and she talked about her life, and her work with the Australian Theatre of the Deaf. I taught her how to text Transport NSW to find out when the next bus would turn up. She was amazed at the technology, and she thanked me profusely for showing her. She’s still very much alive, and very active in the Deaf community. Amazing.
Some years ago, I was staying at a close friend’s place in Brisbane during the National Deaf Netball Club Championships. Percy Bates was staying there as well, and it was a rare opportunity for me to learn about his life, and what the Deaf community was like 60 years ago. Percy is yet another phenomenal Deaf legend, and he is still soldiering on at the age of 96 (I think?)!
I’ve heard so many stories about Deaf clubs like Stanmore and Jolimont, yet I never had the chance to experience the vibrancy of the Deaf community like a lot of older Deaf people did some 40 years ago.
The Deaf Society of NSW did a history project as a part of the Centenary celebrations, where information was collected about the history of the NSW Deaf Community. As a part of the project, a documentary was created about Stanmore Deaf Centre.
Fascinating. I would have really loved to be a part of the Stanmore era.
Unfortunately, Deaf clubs like Stanmore and Jolimont have been sold. The Deaf community in Adelaide are still grieving over the sale of 262 – their Deaf club. 262 was sold by Deaf:Can Do, and the said organisation gave the Deaf community in Adelaide a new venue to establish a Deaf club. People have said it doesn’t feel the same anymore, which is saddening.
Vicdeaf have recently joined forces with Deaf Children Australia to establish a research team to search for a new venue that can become the Deaf community hub for Deaf people in Victoria.
Two Deaf bloggers have written about their experiences in regards to Deaf clubs:
The Rebuttal (Gary Kerridge) – Deaf Clubs and All That
Their recounts about their experience at Deaf clubs are a lot different to my experience.
The only Deaf social gatherings I’ve experienced are usually held at pubs and RSL clubs organised by Deaf organisations. It’s been pretty much a touch of luck with those social gatherings – it may be well attended one month, and the next month, it would be lucky to get as much as 10 attendees. I’ve also been to the Australian Deaf Games, which are held every 4 years and provides a great opportunity for Deaf and HoH people from all over Australia to get together.
I had the opportunity to attend Deaf Social Night, organised by Deaf Australia (NSW) the other week when I was in Sydney. It was very well attended, and it was great seeing heaps people I haven’t seen in ages. But…the need for a Deaf community hub is obvious. A bar run by Deaf people who are trained bartenders. A bistro run by Deaf chefs/cooks. Pool tables. Table tennis competitions. Darts. Lawn bowls. Theatre performances. The hustle of the community in ONE place. That is what I would have liked to experience.
I know I was born approximately 5-10 years too late, but I am grateful for opportunities to learn about what the Deaf community was like 35+ years ago from my older Deaf friends and acquaintances.