Leah Francis : Finding the Way contents

Leah Francis

Finding the Way




1. An unpromising beginning
2. Orphanage to foster-home
3. What will happen to her if they take her away from us
4. Around the streets
5. Boarding at Darlington
6. In the real world: no school
7. Elva
8. War-time
9. Auntie and the Minister for Education
10. Wahroonga school
11. High school
12. Who needs sex education
13. Trials of a teen-ager
14. A teacher
15. Living alone
near-catastrophic afternoon tea

16. Getting to the Us
17. New York
18. He changes his mind
19. The south
20. Britain
21. Europe
22. Israel and Jordan
23. Going home
24. “a political football”
25. the dispersal
26. The tax man
27. University
28. Marriage
29. My three sons
30. Albury to Solomon Islands
31. Back to work


In the Beginning
Dear Bill
Drive Time
Show Me a Sign
Music Therapy for Adults
Top End Diary
Diary of a Cookbook
Precious People
The Power of Slippers
Last Journey


I believe I have many, many merry years yet to live. Aged seventy, I have begun to rest a little, reflect on my good life. Such a good life that I want to write about it.

Not about being blind, but about living fully. Blindness has affected me too much to be dismissed, and people are eager to know about it. This memoir is about being blind.

Lucy Ching, a chinese writer who is blind, described herself as "one of the lucky ones". I too have met good fortune. I have lived through years when attitudes and opportunities were lacking for people who are blind, or indeed, who had any obvious disability. Yet there have always been people to encourage me, and opportunities to grasp.

I never contemplate the road not taken because my journey has been abundant in good experiences and exciting challenges. It has given me strength to survive setbacks, sorrows and mistakes.

I have been dissatisfied, depressed, frustrated but finally I have found ways to deal with even those deep, disruptive feelings. The way to survive adversity is to accept it and find ways to deal with its difficulties.

An Unpromising Beginning

Orphanage to Foster-Home

LETTERS from Auntie Bel (Isobel Anforth) to her English Relatives.

September 1933

Dear Jane,

Thank you for finding us. It's lovely to be in touch with you again. Dad and mum are always talking about "the Old Country" and our relatives there.

As you know, we left Bernley, Lancashire, in 1910 when I was eight. Victor and I were brought along with Edric, but we still do not understand why we were taken away from our parents. Nobody speaks about these things.

I'm not sure of everything that happened when we reached Australia, but I know we started off in Queesland. Dad would find jobs, mostly in the bush, and Mum, with us three kiddies, would go wherever work took him. Living was hard and hot.

After a few years we settled in Springwood on the lower Blue Mountains of NSW, west of Sydney. Dad was a good worker then, and could turn his hand to anything in the building and carpentry trades.

I was happy in Springwood and so were the boys. Both were married in their mid-teens, but dad kept me under his thumb. I wasn't allowed to get a job or to go out with boys. When I went to church socials dad would be outside the hall at ten o'clock sharp and would whistle for me to leave and walk home with him. Even when I was twenty-one he controlled my life. He forced me to break off friendships with boys.

I think it was late in 1922 when dad finished building a row of seven shops and came home with his final payment of fifty sovereigns in his pocket. That night our house and the shops burnt to the ground and the sovereigns melted.

Dad mistrusted banks and insurance companies so our family was left with nothing. He had a nervous collapse and tried to throw himself under a train. The tragedy was averted, but dad was never again a well man. He and mum lived in rented premises until they died.

By this time both Edric and Victor were married with children. I should have been married too. My social life centred on the church where I played the organ and taught Sunday school.

From the time of the fire until after mum died in 1943, and dad died eight years later, I was the chief bread-winner. My parents, though sharing the work, depended on me.

We rented a shop in Redfern and turned it into a good mixed business.

Mum loved children and was always eager to be involved with them. As you know, she had raised Victor and me along with her only child, Edric, and before the fire in Springwood she had also taken responsibility for Joyce, the first baby to Edrick and his wife, Kate. Kate had found it difficult to cope with her two eldest daughters who were born eleven months apart. She had several miscarriages and was not well.

Soon after the fire we moved to Redfern where we rented a shop and set up a mixed business. I managed the shop and became the main bread-winner, though at that time dad and mum shared the work load.

And load it was. The standard of living was low in Redfern and the great depression was soon upon us. We had much to learn about the retail trade. Our income was low and our debts and expenses were high.

It was not long before mum began talking about adding to our income by fostering a baby. She preferred girls.

In less than a year she had taken two babies but before they were ready to begin school their mothers took them back. We all loved them and the parting was hard.

Toward the end of 1933 a woman from the Child Welfare Department begged us to take on a baby who was blind. At first mum would not agree. It would break her heart, she said, to have a child like that in the house.

We talked it over, and in the end mum agreed to take the baby for a week or two. She would certainly need some fattening-up after being in an orphanage.

On the day the banks closed, Friday 13th of October 1933, I collected Leah, a suitcase full of baby clothes and a large tin of Lactogen.

The trains were packed and the crowds were unsettled and volatile as they went home to uncertainty, unemployment and a prospect of hungry families and nothing they could do about it.

Our new baby was to escape poverty and insecurity. She has almost everything a person could want, and soon acquired the ability to grasp and make use of almost everything that came her way.

What will happen to her if they take her away from us?

This baby's name was Leah. We, especially mum, (or Gran, as she is known to so many) overcame the sadness and pity for the "poor little mite" As we came to terms with her disfigured, expressionless eyes and her unresponsiveness to almost everything that happened around her.

By the end of the two weeks' trial we had begun to love this baby girl and to rise to the challenge of giving her as much love and pleasure as we could manage.

Who knew how long she would be in our care? Who knew when she would be taken back by a jealous, perhaps incompetent mother, or when the bureaucracy would decide she should be brought up in an institution where workers had experience of children with handicaps.

Slowly, Leah began to smile, laugh and move her limbs. She responded to our cuddles, tried to hold her bottles, reacted to our voices and our footsteps.

We were a bustling family but there were plenty of people about, and someone would find time to play with the baby.

Gran would sing nursery rhymes and old English songs to her in her broad, Lancashire accent, tell her stories teach her nursery rhymes and help her play with toys and household things like pegs, pots and spoons. We supported and praised her as she crawled, then walked, and tried not to restrict her.

We were realistic and practical about this baby, helping her to do things by herself. We taught her to search on the floor for things she had dropped, encouraged her to touch things and talked to her about their textures and shapes, and their uses. She must learn to "fend for herself", we told one another, "We won't always be here to take care of her, and who knows when she will be taken away."


Aunt makes a banjo out of elastic bands and cardboard. Gran teaches me to find things on the floor. Grandad makes me a wooden train on big wheels. A swing.

Given tricycle, scooter-elva.

Walking to church gate and Napper's Corner.

Stealing money from till. burning toys from papershop.

Stealing four shillings.

Aunt: tried to make things fit my needs: shoe bag behind bedroom door. Case for shorthand machine, leather cover for vol of bible. Grandfather: metal label for school case. braille name in bible and hymnbook. Aunt: tennis ball on elastic attached to racquet. Banjo of cardboard and elastic bands.


Cooee lodge: another one for the box.

Arthur starving.

Grandfather cured Arthur. Gave him a bottle to stop him from crying, contrary to doctors' advice about breast feeding. This was after Vic had fallen from a spar on Garden Island.

Around the Streets


Our shop was close to Hurstville Methodist Church. When I was about three, two teenage sisters, Millie and Daphne Piccard, offered to take me to Hurstville Methodist Sunday School. I loved it.

I revelled in singing the little hymns and doing the actions the teachers showed me. I was excited by the stories they told, and especially enjoyed holding out the basket to receive the the offering- "Hear the pennies dropping, listen as they fall. every one for Jesus – He shall have them all."

I was able to join in most Sunday School activities – making plasticine models or building in the sand tray to illustrate the stories we had heard, crumbling bread on to the lawn, to feed the birds God made and cared for.

One teacher made me a paper model of the house to which a man, "sick of the palsy", was taken to see Jesus. His friends could not carry him through the crowd into the house, so they took him up the outside steps and lowered him through the roof and down into the midst of the crowded room where Jesus was standing.

I had my own square house, a long flight of carefully folded paper steps leading from the ground to the flat roof which had an attic on one corner. I remember simple, uncluttered models like this one much more clearly and in more detail than many things which have been described for me, and than many more detailed and complex models I have seen.

As in most aspects of life, I sometimes missed out at Sunday School. On the week before Mother's Day (when I was about six) we all received tasks to perform of our mothers. Auntie came to watch me, but my teacher was away and nobody knew what I was supposed to do. I knew I should be cutting paper to cover a book, but nobody could understand what I was saying. While the others were working and chattering, I did nothing but try to hold back tears.

I have often felt ashamed and unhappy because I am blind. These are hard experiences but they prepare me for what is to come, and perhaps to develop the strength to hold swallow at least a little of my hurt and pride.

In junior Sunday School we began to use hymn books. I can see light, and colour from my right eye if the light is good and the colour is bright. I would hold the books close to my eye to see what colour they were. The others thought I could tell colour by smell, so they would test me by holding objects to my nose and asking me to tell the colour. At eight years old, it's not easy to explain such complexities, so I said nothing to dispel the myth. I believe that to this day some of those Sunday School friends are telling how I could smell colour.

When I was eight and in junior Sunday School I first sat for public examinations. While the others silently wrote their answers, I sat in a separate room where one of the teachers read the questions aloud for me and wrote the answers I dictated. These were sent with the others to the central office of the Methodist church in NSW for marking. I used this method through Sunday School, highschool, the "leaving certificate", teachers' college and many university examinations.

Each year I managed honours in Sunday School exams. My prizes were braille editions of books of the bible which the Church bought through the British and Foreign Bible Society. They were heavy, bulky volumes, usually containing just one book. Blind children were used to handling these unwieldy tomes. At prize giving nights the treasurer always read the account paid to the British and Foreign Bible Society. I knew these were the cost of my prizes and felt embarrassed.

When I could, I read the passages set for Sunday School lessons and learnt the memory verses from these hefty volumes.

I was always obliged to read at anniversaries and on other special occasions. Never a fast reader, I would stumble through the few verses, nervous and embarrassed because I read so slowly, and because I was different.

One day when I was practising a passage with Auntie, I read a word incorrectly. She corrected me, and I told her there was one dot too many in the word. She asked which dot, so I touched one at random. With the handle of a knife, Auntie rubbed that dot out. Never again did I tell that lie!

At Sunday School I often felt different, though I was rarely left out or given special attention. As always, I made a few friends, but most people avoided playing with me because I was not quick enough to join in games, was unaware of their body language, and made no visual response. Many of the children were strangers to me. I knew their names and their voices, but not them. For our lessons we were divided into small groups, and I formed good friendships with these class-mates. I have always found it easier and more comfortable to be with a small group than with a large one.

As I grew into my teens, conversation became more relevant and games less important, at least among girls. It was not until we vied for boys' attention that I again felt left out. What boy would bother with a girl who couldn't see!

One Sunday a guest preacher came to urge us to "sign the pledge" never to drink alcohol. I was ashamed because I could not sign my name, so I did not queue up to sign the pledge. The Lord blessed me by sparing me guilt. Almost every day I thrive on a drink or two.

I am thankful to the teachers and my peers at Hurstville Methodist Sunday School for the richness of knowledge and experience lent to my young life. While the Department of Education would not allow me to go to their schools, Hurstville Methodist Sunday School put thought, sensitivity and money into ensuring that my religious education was adapted to my needs and equal to everyone else's. Aunt and gran and grandfather supported them. They read the Bible to me, helped to prepare me for Sunday School examinations, sent me to Sunday School in clothes I could be proud of, gave me money for the collection, bought me a hymn book and a bible and helped me to write my name and address in them. They welcomed my friends and supported me at every Sunday School event.

Boarding at Darlington

To parody a greater writer, I've lived in boarding-school, I've lived at home. Home is better.

Until the 1970's most children who were blind or who had severe low vision had no alternative but to go to special schools. These might be schools for "the blind" or for "the deaf, the dumb and the blind". In Australia there was one such school in most capital cities.

Because public transport was limited and few people had cars, most children lived at their schools during the week, and went home on weekends and for holidays. People from the country and some others would go home once a month, or only in school holidays.

Joan Ledermann (nee Eshman), who went to the Institution with me, is an example. She lived with her parents, her three sisters and brother on a six-hundred-acre farm at Glen Valley near Inverell in north-western NSW. In 1935 she and her mother made the (then) two-day train journey to the Institution in Sydney where she would remain for six months before going home for the three-week winter holiday. She was just five. The fun, fights, adventures, tragedies – the very essence of farm and family life had etched themselves on Joan's heart and set their mark on her mind and manner. The open space, the sheep, horses, calves, chooks and the welcoming fragrance of burning logs and home-made breads gave place, without warning, to the confined, enclosed boarding-school where the pervasive smells were of carbolic soap and jams, pickles and sauces made at the IXL factory across the road. Even though she was blind, the child must have an education. Where else could she go?

Mercifully, in 1942 blind children vacated the Institution to make room for airforce barracks. Joan returned to the family farm, where she learnt a little from the braille notes prepared by her boarding-school teachers. It was three-and-a-half years before she went back to boarding-school. In spite of the gap, she knew more and performed better than those of us in Sydney who had been given face-to-face teaching during that time.

The farm had deepened her family bonds and broadened her knowledge and experiences, not retarding, but enriching her academic and life education.

My experience was equally dramatic but less traumatic.

I left home for boarding-school when I was five. On Monday mornings Auntie would take me to the NSW INSTITUTION for the DEAF, the DUMB and the BLIND in City Road, Darlington, now occupied by the University of Sydney.

On Friday afternoons Gran would bring me home for the weekend. On the way she would buy me two cakes at the shop near St Peters Station. One day the shop-keeper gave me a "maori doll". She was made of a velvet-textured fabric and wore nothing but a grass (raffia) skirt and metal bracelets and ankles. If it hadn't been for this doll I might never have understood the war-time cartoon about the soldier who was reprimanded for chasing the "native" girls around the paddock. "But you told me to get all the grass off the place", he protested.

Darlington, as we called the Institution, was all right, but it took time for me to lose my fears of the cold, echoing buildings. We slept in a large dormitory containing twenty-five beds, each with a chair beside it. At the end of the dormitory was the "locketry", It contained baths, toilets and washbasins and stands of open metal "lockers" where we stowed our toiletries. One girl kept hers in a "wash-bag." She continued to do this until she died in 2002, aged seventy-nine. Even when she lived in her own flat, with her own private space, the wash-bag hung by her basin.

Instead of windows, that dormitory had chain wire, with sliding metal shutters which were closed when it rained. They rattled in the wind, and their rattle reverberated through the long, narrow room which had no soft furnishings to cushion the sound, and always frightened me.

At the other end of the dormitory were two teacher's bedrooms, each with a window looking into our two long rows of beds. These teachers would open their windows to quieten us or stride in to see to a problem, or mostly to keep us in order.

We little girls were confused and afraid in this vast . Mysterious sounds would come from everywhere and nowhere. I could never work out where they came from.

At nights we would lie in bed, three or four little girls, alone in that vast, empty space.

As I revisit it I remember tramping up the stairs after "tea" to clean teeth and climb into bed. On one night a week a teacher would read us a story or a poem, or chat to us. On other nights we talked to each other. Girls who had some sight would jump from one bed to the next, all the way down the room, but usually they were caught.

When it by cold we would snuggle under the blankets. Rose would tell sad stories, almost always about a baby dying slowly. Or we would list our aunties and uncles, competing to have the greatest number. Or the shutters or the lockers would rattle. Someone would tell us a ghost story.

When we ran out of ideas we would say our prayers. Sometimes the girl who said hers most quickly was the winner; or whoever said the greatest number won. I could never get past nine. There was God bless mummy, Gentle Jesus, Our Father which art in heaven, Jesus friend, and on they went. But the catholics always won. They can say ten hail Mary's three times and that made thirty, and you couldn't beat that.

In the morning the outside world called to us: doves and sparrows and many others. We were no longer locked up alone.

We shared the vast dining-room with "the deaf" though we had separate tables.

The noise we all made dragging our chairs out and pushing them in seemed like thunder and I was bewildered by the babbling during meals.

The deaf children said "grace" before meals, and we blind children at the end. Most of us were not thankful for the food we were obliged to eat. Lumpy porridge, stale bread and swill, called tea, for breakfast, slimy stews for lunch, followed by desserts of bread pudding, rice and the like, usually with lumpy custard, and bread again for tea. On Wednesdays it was sausages, peas and mashed potato – the best meal of the week, and now and then we had jam roly-poly or lemon sago. These were treats.

There were five small classrooms for blind children. We were referred to as blind, but most people had sight – some enough to read print. A few got drivers' licences when they were older and at least one boy drove a truck in the army during the Second World War. Nevertheless, everyone learnt braille and most were blindfolded when they were little, to prevent them from "straining their eyes" by reading braille by sight.

We had no contact with "the deaf" in the classroom and we had separate dormitories. Often in the playground and when going to meals we were together. The people who had good sight – "good partialies", we called them – enjoyed playing with the "deafies". In some ways they had more in common with them than with those of us who were blind, or almost blind.

Deaf children often moved quickly but they scraped their feet. I found this sound almost as scarey as the sounds they made with their throats and mouths.

In the Real World: No School


At a brownie picnic in the May school holidays of 1943, I found myself with Elva Mansfield, exploring the water's edge, finding shells and other curious bits of marine life. Instantly she understood the implications of my being blind. We held hands so that we could comfortably walk in the water and around the beach together. She talked about the things she saw, and even what other people were doing. Elva was, and is, an intuitive person who takes a matter-of-fact, practical approach to every situation.

Elva lived in Hudson Street, around the corner from our shop. To get to her house I would walk left to Nappers' corner then left down the little hill at the top of Hudson Street. I would pass the wide opening which was Nappers' Lane then follow the fences along until I reached her house which was number fifteen.

The house before hers had a high paling fence at the front. I could sense its height as I passed. That was my clue to finding Elva's low picket fence.

The very next morning we played in her bedroom and on her front verandah with her dolls and other toys. Her dolls had real baby's clothes and everything was well-kept, tidy and clean. From that day until this everything she owns wears better, looks better and lasts longer than anything comparable of mine. This applies even to our husbands, though I'm not sure that this relates to the way we treat them.

Shopping: nudge when I should talk. Walking, visiting, playing with dolls, board games, reading to me. We Want a Child. Saw her wedding dress before wedding.

Her friends would ask Elva how she could be my friend. What was there for us to do, to talk about. Her Auntie Nell came to tell my auntie I was a bad influence on Elva. She was probably right. Described pictures. Grandfather used to take us. Dances.

Stole or bought lollies for her. Put them on the kitchen window-sill behind the curtain. Helped her with the washing-up, scrubbing the washing on the scrubbing-board and putting it through the electric ringer. At home I never washed, polished or even swept a floor. At Elva's I would help her scrub the front verandah. It was she who told me you must sweep the dirt away before you begin to wash it, and scrub the timber planks along, not across the grain.

One Christmas I went with Elva, her mother and baby sister, to stay with their aunt's family in Taree. Elva's mum was partially paralysed, so Elva fed and cared for her baby sister while helping her mother and me. She was patient, competent, quick and kind.

Somehow, Elva's mother acquired a ticket for a joy flight over the Taree hills and beaches. At the last minute she would not go up in the plane, and she gave the flight to me. I heard the disappointment in Elva's voice, but there was nothing I could do and I didn't know what to say.

It was a small plane without windows, I think, and the air came rushing in. The flight was exciting as we turned this way and that, and wobbled, it seemed to me, all over the sky.

Poor Elva. Her Auttie Elsie was critical of her for not helping her mum, and wrote something unkind in Elva's autograph book. We were twelve, but I really felt sad for Elva on that holiday.

On rainy days, Elva would read stories for me, or we would play board games such as Ludo and snakes and ladders. Each of us threw our own dice, but Elva moved for both of us, describing our positions on the board and letting me know who was winning. I didn't feel grateful to her, or unequal. We were friends, and that was how our friendship worked.

Sometimes I was resentful when Elva went to play with her school friends, but this was insignificant.

Both of us enjoyed walking. We would meet after Sunday School, each with a list of directions for a mystery walk. "Take second turn to the right." "Turn left at the third cross street". We would take it in turns to read our next instruction, thus not knowing in which direction our walk would take us or where we would end up.

When Elva was given a "two-wheeler bike" for Christmas she tried to teach me to ride. Unlike some other blind people, I simply could not balance, and after I put two scratches on its mud-guards my loving, generous friend chose not to let me "ride" her bike any more.


Auntie and the Minister for Education

Wahroonga School

High School

Getting there: politics. "I don't think it will work". Lunch, get lunch money: no responsibility. Music—not good enough. Sleep in history. Lost style. Scared to ask or tell. Maureen and June. Things other girls remember, teachers' misgivings. Miss Collins and the French text. Miss Taylor "don't laugh unless she does." Tipping desk up and knocking frame off. Blushed but no apology. Unexpurgated Shakespeare. Comfort when reading aloud. Geography student teacher made simple plasticine map.

Who Needs Sex Education

The opposite sex. Sex. Relationships, esp with opposite sex. list and detail them.

It wasn't always easy to distinguish little boys' voices from those of little girls, but their hair was also short, and as they grew their voices became easier to differentiate. They weren't as compatible as girls, but gender wasn't really important. Not until we were about ten, that is.

Then Alfy Winfield told me how we were different. "Put your hand under the table," he said, and I'll show you. There in his trousers I found a trembling thing, like a finger but softer. It didn't interest me much. Alfy could have found nothing to interest him in me, either. Just clothes down there.

When the hormones crept into our consciousness, we used many ploys to get close to each other. "Truth or dare"? – Kiss the girl sitting opposite you. "Spin the knife" - "Go outside in the dark with the person the knife points to," and so on.

My first love was big and physical and vital. He knew where to touch and how to excite, and he had a great sense of timing and a knack for seizing opportunity. His voice was deep and strong, enhanced by his quick humour. Quite sexy, he was.

One night at boarding-school he arranged to meet me in the girls' playground. I received my first long, powerful, thrilling kiss. When we pulled apart to sneak back to our dormitories, I could not speak, could not stop trembling. I lay on my bed in ecstasy, in shock.

How rare such moments were in my single days. I wish, even now, that my glimpses of physical delight and emotional excitement could have absorbed more of my young life, and I am saddened by the thought that so many young women must wait so long for fulfilment, or that their indulgences must be marred by guilt and fear.

My first fiance was quite a guy. He was generous, sensitive, loving, and even good-looking, but he was stubborn and I was full of myself, despite my lack of confidence.

My first real boyfriends were blind, but I had few relationships with men than my seeing girlfriends.

As an adult I have many close men friends. Men attract me. I enjoy the sexual contrast and the marriage of our minds is stimulating and satisfying.

My marriage has passed through many phases, but it is lasting well, and has sufficient ripples to keep us sensitive to our relationship.

Trials of a Teenager

School dance, clothes-conscious family. Aunt who sewed. allowed to touch, discussed patterns and what others wore.

Map of first neighbourhood lived in, including people, dogs, trees, sounds, bus-stop, house and garden.

List more than ten relationships in life and tie in world or other events and relate to world happenings or from, world or other event.

The mind is greater than the senses. It perceives, and acts on its perceptions. Senses can be confused by misinterpretation.

As a small child, well-dressed and fussed-over. Knew this but incidents made me feel ugly and ashamed.

Granddad: "You should always wear a big hat to hide your face, and you should live with another woman who will be your friend and make sure you are well-dressed and clean.

School dance: Miss Henson suggested I should get glasses for the school dance. These added to my lack of confidence and increased my shame for what I was and how I looked.

I felt unattractive, undesirable, and this in spite of aunt and most of the family reassuring me about my looks, and how, in any case, they didn't matter to my friends, and anyone who grew to know me.

A Teacher


The principal of the school to which I was first appointed was sensitive to the needs both of students and staff. He put me at ease, encouraged my initiatives, and gave me relevant information and good advice. Yet he was quick to point out incorrect protocols, sloppiness, shoddiness and other unhelpful behaviour. He was a good mother, and became a firm friend. Some other colleagues at that school also showed me useful techniques and helped me solve problems and handle difficult situations. Some important components of "good mothering" are being observent and sensitive, diffusing anxiety, cultivating a sense of humour, discouraging pointless competition and putting things into perspective. Like the little child, the new professional is unlikely to benefit from being "thrown in at the deep end".

As a student and part-time teacher in New York I was bewildered and felt unsupported. It was easy to make friends, but not to get to know how the Academy functioned.

When I moved to Vanderbilt in Nashville Tenn, I received plenty of "mothering" for a week or so, then coped well, using my own resources. However, the professor who supervised my work tailored the courses and practicaum to meet my needs and interests, and offered plenty of encouragement.

Before I began work at the University of Western Sydney, I was warned it was "a cut-throat" environment. People were friendly and helpful, but I received no guidance regarding teaching strategies or standards, and no appraisal of the quality or appropriateness of my teaching or marking. I speak from a professional, not a personal viewpoint. In many ways the two are hardly related.

To be a "good mother" at the academy requires both generosity and restraint. If one's relationship with a colleague or student becomes too close, it can be difficult to offer critical comments, no matter how constructive.

In a short time I found I was nurturing my own graduate students. Sometimes I gave them too much support, too much nurture. Indeed, after ten years or more, some of them continue to ask for my advice.

Mothering techniques must empower and liberate others within the academy, and must not foster dependence or discipleship.

To keep one's distance is the easy approach. To enrich one's students and colleagues might be more demanding, but the fruits are richer and the satisfaction is deeper.

The bad mother remains cold, distant, unyielding, minimal.

Living alone.
Near-catastrophic Afternoon Tea


a friend who was blind awoke one night to the odour of cigarette smoke, unfamiliar in her upstairs flat. Cautiously and quietly she followed her nose to where the smoke was strongest – in the bathroom. With her entire body she checked every surface of the room. I tiny sound drew her tow the window. She stretched up to the open window where she grasped a large male foot. She climbed on to the bath and leant her weight hard on that foot. With her other hand she slammed the sash window, pinning the intruding foot.

"Put the light on," a hoarse voice panted.


When I was a small child people would give me money. Aunt and the others would accept it graciously and give it to me to put in my money-box "for father christmas". As I grew older, I was offended by this kindness, feeling like a beggar. In those times, especially after the depression beggars were rare in Sydney. In recent years many people beg for money.

people to ask for directions. Most ignored: were hurrying. One said "I'm not giving you five dollars." Protest: I'm asking for directions, not money. Altercation.

Woman approaches someone with guide dog: five dollars. Woman says no thanks: don't need money: I work full-time. Other: Please take this money and buy that lovely doggy some food.

The dog is well-fed. I just want to do something for him: he's so kind to you.


Fearful of missing the connecting train I ran down the steps to the platform and carefully but clumsily found the door into the train. Someone clutched my arm.

"Where are you going?" she asked in her German accent.

"I'm catching this train," I said. I had heard the announcement that this train was going all stations to Central.

"Yes, but where are you going," she persisted, preventing me from moving in to the seats.

Sometimes, as on this occasion, my manners are lost in impatience. I answered, "I'm catching this train. Where are you going?"

"I'm going ... This train is going north."

"No it's not," I corrected. "It's going South, to Sydney." "Oh yes," she conceded. We laughed together, weakly. I thanked her casually and found a seat.

Such incidents happen to people who are blind all the time when they are travelling on their own.

Getting to the US

Theme: Being active and happy when blind is not easy but it is manageable.

I was just twenty-five when I was offered a study trip to the United States of America.

In 1954 Mercy Griffin (now Dickinson), teacher in charge of the section for blind children in the Queensland Department of Education's School For The Deaf and The Blind and herself blind, won a Fulbright scholarship enabling her to complete a Master of Science in Education at Hunter College in New York City and to live and work at the (then) New York Institute for the Education of the Blind.

She returned late in 1955 and visited Sydney and Melbourne where she spoke at conferences and to private groups. I believe she inspired Gwen Ringland to promote a similar opportunity for me.

Gwen was a pianist and voluntary transcriber of braille. She had helped to procure braille resources for students at the New South Wales School for Blind Children, Wahroonga, where I taught.

Gwen had interested Mrs Lefevre, a chemist, in blindness. She wrote a scientific, non-sensory description of colour, hoping to clarify its meaning for blind people. I reviewed the book and was invited to discuss it with Gwen and Mrs Lefevre and their husbands. It was the first Sunday in May, 1957.

To get to the Ringlands' home in Cremorne I had to walk to the railway station, then catch two trains and a taxi. Before leaving my flat I lunched with my former fiancé whom I still found attractive. We lingered.

I missed the train. There wasn't another for half an hour. To save time I decided to catch a taxi from Town Hall in the heart of Sydney. As I climbed the steps from the underground railway to the street I was confused to hear no traffic in George or Park Streets.

I felt challenged, defiant, excited, striding up the middle of Park Street among a vast, orderly crowd. No chance of being run down. As I strode, people on the footpaths began heckling and shouting abuse, obviously at me.

Why? Of course, I remembered! This was the first Sunday in May – the traditional Mayday procession was at its height. This was a different kind of danger. Reluctantly I moved to the footpath.

After a long wait, I found a taxi in Elizabeth Street near Hyde Park. It crawled all the way to Cremorne. I arrived more than an hour late and received an icy welcome.

As I sipped tea I recounted my journey, omitting the long lunch, of course. Everyone was amused. We relaxed and amicably discussed the book. Following that meeting I was asked to speak at many Rotary dinners.

In March 1958 I was awarded the first scholarship in a new International Student Exchange Project initiated by Rotary clubs of greater Sydney. Unlike Rotary's prestigious Foundation Fellowships, this project was for non-graduates. I believe it was designed to enable me, a two-year-trained teacher, to study overseas.

As with most Rotary initiatives, my major brief was to "promote international goodwill and understanding". Beyond that I was to study special education, particularly for students who were blind.

A condition of the scholarship was that I travel unaccompanied and meet my own expenses. I was provided with a round-the-world air ticket. However, I received half pay from my employer, the NSW Department of Education, as well as college fees and board from the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind in return for part-time teaching and supervision of residential students.

The next six months were busy and gloriously exciting. I continued to give talks to Rotary clubs and gathered information about the US. I revelled in farewell parties and travel gifts and bought a pure Australian wool overcoat with a removable wool lining. My aunt, a thoughtful supporter and the ideal shopping companion, helped me to choose this coat. I know she was afraid for me but that never showed as she shared my planning and fuelled my ambition.

On Thursday 21st of August 1958, the day before my departure and my final day at work, I received by special delivery forms from the NSW Department of Education, requiring me to provide guarantors for the repayment of my half-salary should I not return to my job.

Without hesitation two friends and colleagues, Paul Percy and Fred Skead, chose to be my guarantors. I owe them so much – for trusting me and for relieving me of tension and confusion. Few people are free or willing to make such a commitment. Each had young children. I believe neither consulted his wife before signing those forms.

I sent most things to New York by sea in Paul Percy's battered old trunk, but nevertheless left with seven pieces of luggage, including a brief case, travelling rug, Qantas Airways bag and a portable typewriter. I kept this Hermes Baby typewriter with me, writing letters to family, friends and Rotarians during most of the flights across the Pacific and the vast United States of America.

A Rotarian took me to dinner in Nandi, our first stopping-place. The live band was good, as was the tropical food, especially the fresh fruits.

afterward we walked among the airport gardens, refreshing in the still, warm air, redolent with sweet and pungent fragrances.

Planes flew slowly then, but the time certainly seemed to be out of joint, because after a short night and breakfast we had crossed the date line and the equator. At noon on 22nd of August, exactly the time and date of leaving Sydney, we landed in Honolulu. A careless, surly customs officer threw everything out of my bags and left me to stuff them in again. I had to run my hands carefully over the entire bench to search for strayed items.

I forgot about that when the charming wife of a local Rotarian took me to lunch. She introduced me to many tropical delights including delicious ice cream. Was it one of Howard Johnson's 28 flavours? I hadn't yet heard of Howard Johnson.

After lunch and with her cheery help I bought a few tropical clothes and some unusual shell jewellery. When I took the mu-mu's home a year later, Aunt made it into summer pyjamas. They were comfortable and attractive, and nobody saw them but me.

We ended the afternoon with iced tea and seafood in her elegant, timber garden-home deep in the hills above the Pacific, cool and lush, refreshing and restful. The pacific? I knew it surrounded the island but on that visit I neither heard, smelled nor touched a drop of it.

They had double-booked my seat in the economy class for the over-night flight to San Francisco. I was promoted to first-class – a never-to-be repeated, once-in-a-lifetime luxury. The stewards and hostesses were meticulously attentive, describing the items on the dinner menu, graciously introducing me to all the facilities, and even some, like the galley, that a passenger is not meant to see.

The rare roast beef came with all the trimmings and a half-bottle of good red wine, deep and mellow. Dessert was followed by strong, aromatic coffee, after-dinner mints and a liqueur. I could not know I would not taste tender roast beef for a whole year! Best of all, replete and soporific, I stretched into sleep on a smooth, crisp, comfortable, full-length bed.

A shy boy from the Association for Friendly Relations To Foreign Students met me at San Francisco airport. I complained of a severe earache. He offered no advice and that ache revisited me until I splurged on a specialist in Israel, almost a year later.

The taxi-driver showed me to the entrance of my hotel. I registered, and a porter walked to the lift (I should say elevator) with me. In Australia most lifts had a driver. They were not automatic. The door of the elevator opened and I told the driver my floor number. He said nothing. He must be a negro, I concluded as the porter carried luggage to my room. I had read about slavery and how the negroes were treated in today's United States. These negroes must be appallingly intimidated.

For three days I was alone in that famous west-coast city. Someone had made me promise to sleep through my first day, so resentfully I went to bed. I needed that sleep.

It was early evening when I woke, and time to eat. I ventured into the street, but first I examined the walls for clues to locate my room on return. A fire hose. That would do, and mine was the third door beyond it on the right.

Where were the lifts? (I must learn to call them elevators.) Nobody was about so I waited, listening for whirring motors or opening doors, and alert for the draft of moving air that would signify an approaching lift.

At last, a tell-tale sound. I walked to the next corner, turned left and began to look, or feel, for the smooth, recessed metal door of a lift. Nothing. I tried the other direction, checking both sides of the corridor. At last another lift announced itself. I hurried toward the sound and too late, heard the lift disappear.

While waiting for its slow return I mentally reviewed my route and rehearsed it in reverse. The door opened and I stepped in, again making small talk with the driver. Again he was silent.

I examined the exterior of the hotel, noting with my feet the slippery texture of the "sidewalk". The hotel was on a corner and under an awning. The walls were dirty-gritty painted brick. There were steps at the wide entrance. It would be easy to locate.

I walked a block or two this way and that, asking for help to cross roads and checking street names. These Americans were friendly, but like Patterson's crowds in "the dusty dirty city" of Sydney, they had "no time to waste."

At last I heard the sound of plates and cutlery and sniffed spices and vegetables. Chinese cuisine drew me into a bustling little restaurant.

I had been warned about US money. The notes were all the same size. There was no way of distinguishing denominations. I kept them in separate compartments of my wallet, and avoiding using high denominations such as hundred, or even fifty dollar bills.

It was easy to get home. My memory was good, my mind quick and logical and my senses sharp. Again, a porter showed me to the lift. When the door slid open he left. "Eleventh floor, thank you," I smiled. Again I tried to make conversation with the driver. Again he made no response, even when I mentioned that unfailing ice-breaker, the weather. Surely these drivers must be black – were they not allowed to speak to the patrons?

When the door of the lift opened I assumed it was my floor, thanked the driver and found my room.

Next day, Sunday, I took a tour of the city. I marvelled especially as we walked through the tall forest of aromatic redwoods. The wind and the birds high above, and the shade created by the almost touching branches showed me their height and majesty.

I was intrigued when the guide mentioned Alcatraz, "most notorious hotel in the United States." The other passengers knew what the guide was referring to, but it was months before I learned of the island-prison, and thirty years before I took a boat ride around it. Still, I have neither walked in its grounds nor touched its walls.

On Monday morning I managed to "ride" a cable car up and down some almost vertical hills. The scenic railway in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, sky-ways and cable-cars all over the world thrill me, especially when they speed.

Buying lunch at a down-town cafeteria was bewildering. The food was presented in plastic containers or glad-wrap - not identifiable by touch or smell, and there were no shop assistants. The only person providing service was the cashier. To locate and identify a reasonable meal I had to get help from others in the lunch-time rush and crush. Chopped salads, cottage cheese, fresh or preserved fruit, sliced sausage and other meats were displayed, hygienically and hermetically sealed. Australians were not yet familiar with that labour and cost-saving ploy, self-service.

In the afternoon I "rode" a bus across the Golden Gate bridge to Berkeley and the California State School for the Blind, which adjoined UCB, the University of California, Berkeley campus. There was neither student nor teacher at school. A gracious secretary showed me round the buildings and told me about this well-known school whose principal was Dr Berthold Lowenfeld, a leader in vision impairment.

Back in the city I managed to follow detailed directions up and down steep, narrow streets to an apartment block for dinner. It was good to be among friends and to gather facts and impressions about this fabulous, foggy city, already known for its bohemian lifestyle and its earthquakes, especially that most destructive one in 1906.

After a little wine I gathered courage and asked about the silent elevator drivers. Everyone laughed. "Our elevators are automatic," they explained. "There are no drivers. No one in the elevators except passengers. That's why nobody answered you!"

How much I had to learn about this vast, fast country which was so much like mine, yet so different.

Comments: more on smell: roast beef, sheets, more sensuous detail.

More detail.

"I want to read the book."

Pervasive smell of india."

Explain 20th of may. Too many short sentences. Staccato.

1 pp.: Repetition of afternoon tea. My fair lady explained. Age when travelling? ("Walking through the world") Presence of lift drivers: Australia had them. Was the lift voice-activated? Clarify attitude negroes." More reality of my experience.

Description of going to America confusing. How do you know the trees were tall?

Could put acknowledgements at back? Mention helpers at the back?

More concepts and images are derived from what others say and how things are used.

New York


Justice Kirby citing cases of harassment in the work-place, e.g. homosexuality against an employee in a hospital. I came back from the US having a perception, based on my own experience and my observation, that institutions were less desirable than integration. Protests.

He Changes His Mind

The South



Following the directions given to me by John Darvis I made my way to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guard.

When I found the appropriate roadway I managed to get close to the front of the quietly waiting crowd.

I plugged in the headphones and settled down to listen to the radio commentary from the BBC. As I listened to the people's comments


Movies in Bris. What happened at the end of Waterloo Bridge? Lost at Hunter College? Why do they let you out alone?"

Lost in Hunter College.


Attempt to steal bag morning in Los Angeles. 1959 tour of Old Jerusalem with help of American. Walking with Arab holding my cane. Arabs. Dead Sea. Getting to New Jerusalem. Coat sent to Aman. Rue de la Paix (and flour).

Belgium late at night. Taken passport away.

Go to Lido with Isobel Grant. Sleeping in her wardrobe drawer. Speaking at Rotary of Nashville.

Laura Dudley: Father Beverley Nestel: Everyone would talk if I went to Synagogue.

always interested in Jewish people and culture, because Auntie sometimes said I must be a Jew. Continue to feel this affinity and have this interest.

Lost 60 dollars in Pittsberg. Rotarians gave me that much.

Laura Dudley: father shot because seen walking behind a white girl.

London: Grimey. Paris: it's a tree. Lakes try for swim. Tel Aviv. swim.

Frankfurt Prevented from leaving station.

Tour with Friendly Relations to Foreign Students. No turkey with Quakers at Thanksgiving. Got notes mixed in us. Miff and Don. Janice and Donald.

Cable car in Zurich. Over what? Off in a garden of prickley, sweet-smelling roses.

Israel and Jordan

Going Home


When I returned from America I joined teachers, parents and other blind people in a struggle to change the agreement between the Royal NSW Institution for Deaf and Blind Children and the Department of Education to close the NSW School for Blind Children and reopen it as a combined school for deaf and blind children on property owned by the Royal NSW Institution for Deaf and Blind Children. I had observed in America that blind children benefit from attending ordinary classes in ordinary schools.

Based on my own success in high school and on my studies in the US, I forcefully persuaded Rotarians, church groups and others I spoke to, that blind children benefit from going to ordinary classes in ordinary schools rather than to special schools.

I wrote letters to newspapers and to people in "high" places and joined deputations to members of parliament.

The Institute for Deaf and Blind children also tried to use me as a tool for fund-raising.

I am proud of the occasions when I had strength to resist this publicity.

My fiance (who was blind) and I were offered complementary seats in a box to see the film Julius Caesar. We were to be photographed reading the play in braille as the film proceeded.

Supported by my fiance I refused to be photographed reading the play in the dark. Blind people would be unlikely to watch a film while reading the play in braille.

In 1960, during celebrations of Coral Sea Week, the Institution for Deaf and Blind Children were asked to join US seamen on the Eric Bohme television show.

This was yet another money-raising stunt.

As soon as I was introduced on the show I mentioned my studies in the US, praised the country and its education system (ignoring the short-comings) and asked the seamen if they knew how blind children were educated in their country.

Of course they did not, so I told them all about "integration" into ordinary schools, monopolising the interview and allowing no interruptions.

Finally Eric Bohme realized I was undermining the Institution's fund-raising campaign, terminated the programme before the scheduled time. I tried to continue the discussion with him but he repeated "I agree with everything you say," and without a gracious word, left the studio, taking the seamen with him.

This has been my only appearance on television.

“a political football”

The Dispersal

The Tax Man


She taught him much about knitting. He looking straight at her responded, "My mother taught me to skin chickens' feet." I was indifferent.



Religion has always been important to me, but especially at the time of our marriage. Leo was a Catholic, he wanted his children to be Catholic, and if possible he wanted his wife to be catholic. "If he's willing to marry you (though you're blind) at least you should become a catholic for him."

We had been married for more than 35 years, and had known each other for forty years when Leo told me that, as I stood before him in the Taxation Department, he fell to admiring my shape, not least for all the shapely breasts that pointed at him across the counter. "For once," he said, "I could gaze upon these attractive items without their owner seeing my entrancement. That was wonderful!"

My Three Sons


Three caesars. Within a year of our marriage I was pregnant.

"Lead a normal life," advised the obstetrician. So on Christmas night we traveled by train to Melbourne and flew to Hobart for the Australian Jazz Convention.

It was easy and fun.

Afterward we went to Mount Field National Park for some bush walking. On our second day there I had a miscarriage. We hired a car and a driver to take us to the nearest doctor, and what he described as the "tram ambulance" to Hobart General Hospital.

Next morning I lay sobbing for the loss of our baby, while the single girl in the next bed cried over the miscarriage she did not have.

At first sight of me, bleeding and crying, the doctor at Mount Field asked what had happened to my eyes.

"That's not why I'm here," I snapped. Leo insisted I write him an apology for my rudeness. The doctor did not reply.

In October that year, 1968, while I was deep in research for my honours thesis, I miscarried again.

I was devastated by our second miscarriage after almost five months of pregnancy.

By my graduation day in May 1969, my next pregnancy was certain and the doctor was taking precautions to avoid another disaster.

It was a good, safe pregnancy, though I visited the doctor every week and worried constantly that our baby would be blind. My blood pressure rose dangerously so the pregnancy terminated in a Caesarian section.

I had arranged for an ophthalmologist to see our new son soon after he was born.

His eyes were excellent, pronounced the expert. "But yours don't look too good!"


Matthew small, pale. difficult to feed. failed to thrive. projectile vomiting. Kay Campbell. many doctors. stress. Dr said malnourished. starved. "labile".

Write more including conversation. Why might it be blind?

Expand on some things: what is really like.

Albury to Solomon Islands

Back to Work


It was eight o'clock when I unlocked my office that morning. Now, at almost seven at night, I was weary. Students' results were due tomorrow morning, and mine were not complete.

I had required each assignment to be presented on disk, and was using speech to read the screen, keying in marks and remarks as I "read"." Marking assignments is always tedious and tiring, but it is slower and more demanding when you are not able to scan the screen.

Time to leave my cosy office and fight the weather. Had I left earlier I could have asked someone to drive me as far as the railway station.

The heavy front door slammed, forcing me into the whirling wind and the icy, stinging rain. I almost lost my bearings.

The railway station was close but my progress was slow. Ignoring that wise advice not to take unnecessary risks, I splashed and slithered along the footpaths, the roar of the wind almost louder than the peak-hour traffic on the highway beside me.

I reached the traffic lights. Was it safe to cross at this intersection alone in these conditions? Was the traffic flowing beside or in front of me?

Beside me, I was sure.

Almost sure.

I crossed safely.

Along the side street, down the railway steps and up to the platform I trudged.

Cautiously, I found the edge of the platform with my cane and verified that the train was beside it.

"Stand clear! Doors closing," warned the guard.

Slithering perilously beside the train I found a door with my cane and stepped in, hanging on to a bar to regain my balance.

A firm hand guided me to a seat. I submitted, too numb from the cold, too tense from fear of falling under the train to acknowledge the help.

In the comparative warmth I relaxed, paying no attention to the bridges, points and tunnels which were clues to my whereabouts.

With a start I asked the man sitting opposite which station we were approaching. My station. As I moved to leave the train he held my arm again. I realized it was he who had found me the seat.

We stepped off the train together and he offered to walk to the exit with me. I was thankful. We were walking in the same direction and I appreciated his help.

He told me where he worked and what he did. "I rent a room not far from here," he said. "On fine nights, after I have something to eat I go for a walk then read my Bible." He had no radio or television. His needs were few, he said. He earned enough to cover simple living expenses and was content.

We approached my corner and I was tempted to ask him home for coffee. Caution prevailed. Good-night, I said, and thanks for your help. We did not shake hands but he told me his name and said, "if ever you need me, just think of my name and I'll be there."

This happened more than ten years ago. I have not needed him, but not once have I been able to recall his name.

Was he an angel whom I had "entertained unawares?"

comments: beginning doesn't quite fit.

We can see the world but you can't, and we can't see your world. Difficult to offer help.



When I was ready, Auntie or Gran would say prayers with me before tucking me in with a "night-night" kiss.

"God bless Mummy and Daddy," I would repeat. I soon knew that other people had mummies and daddies but I didn't. Yet praying for them led me to feel warmly toward them. Then I prayed for granny and auntie and granddad. I loved Auntie and Granny and Grandad and the Anforths. `you were my family and I have never needed "blood relatives". Finally I would repeat, "make me be a good girl."

You could ask God for things, or thank him. Mummy and Daddy had no function.

When I was three and cute and talkative, I began going to Sunday-school. There I learnt how God is so good, and heard and remembered strange and exciting "bible stories" about dreams and miracles and battles, kindness and cruelty, love, hate, favouritism, injustice. Every Sunday Granny would read the week's bible verse from the tiny "text card" I brought home. I usually remembered the words but rarely understood their meaning.

"I am the truth." Now that was a mystery. Did it have something to do with telling the truth or the Sunday paper called The Truth? The question did not puzzle me long. I forgot about it.

One day a customer gave Auntie a picture of Jesus and asked her to teach me the prayer printed below. Every night we recited this meaningless rhyme until I knew it by heart and could recite to visitors. –

Gentle Jesus
Meek and Mild
Look upon
a little child.
Pity my
Suffer me
To come to thee.

What was "pitymy", "simplisatee", "suffamee". I recalled but discarded this jumble until at boarding-school I needed it to try to prove I knew more prayers than my best friend, Pamela, who was Catholic. For her, every "Hail Mary" counted as a prayer.

However, there is one little prayer I learnt at Sunday-school and whispered throughout my childhood. It was a most heart-felt plea and turned out to be a very present help in trouble.

"Jesus, friend of little children, be a friend to me.
Take my hand, and ever keep me close to thee."

At school I discovered there was more to religion than a kind, absentee protector and judge called God. There were Catholics, for example, and Protestants, and in the religious context of the late thirties they were against each other. Catholics knew they were superior and headed for heaven, and the rest of us were envious because their religion instructors came after school every Wednesday and gave them toffees or French jellies. Only they were treated to religious instruction and lollies. As well as that, once or twice a year the Catholics went out for breakfast and some of the girls wore white dresses and veils. They called these breakfasts "first holy communion." I wasn't really jealous, though. Each Sunday, wearing my very best dress, I went to Sunday-school where we sang songs, went out on to the grass to feed the birds, heard stories, played in the sand tray and made models to illustrate the stories we were told. When the other "little people" were drawing or painting the "teachers", untrained volunteers, concerned and imaginative, would find meaningful and satisfying things for me to do.

During my teens I drifted away from Sunday School, as others did.

Later my boyfriend attracted me to a fundamentalist bible study group. Each week about eight of us met, some with a deep knowledge and a definite point of view about God, the past and God's power and plans, salvation and life after death. Most knew the Bible well and found in it coincidences and confirmation of their beliefs and great support and comfort.

I have been involved with many 'Christian' denominations, but have never been 'faithful' for more than a few years.

In the Beginning

In the beginning,
Then formlessness, emptiness, darkness, stillness, silence.
Air came, destroying silence.
in the breeze.
Branches, bows and trees creak, split, thump on to the earth,
propelled by wind, prepared by attrition.
Water combines with air to ripple, bubble, gurgle, hiss, roar.
Silence is hidden.
There is sound, even in still waters.
In the sky, air and water unite in clouds, but the clouds do not remain silent.
The Thunder rumbles, echoes, booms.
Rain patters on every surface, plops in water, fuses with dirt to make mud - squelch.
Winds whine, moan, roar.
It sets leaves sliding against each other, scraping the ground as they, drift and scud about.
Abundance of life brings abundance of sounds.
Rustle, creep, crack, crash, clatter. clomp.
Everything that lives contributes to the soundscape.
The first people heard everything - Every insect's fluttering wing, every surreptitious footstep, every drop of water fall.
Modern people hear so little. They have overwhelmed their hearing with diversity, intensity, incessant, ever louder sound, much of it nerve-killing, valueless noise.
As they gain in power and skill, people build up an ever-increasing such a crescendo with their axes chopping, stones grinding, metal cutting, and electronic soundwaves swelling in a continuous ceaseless crescendo, scrieching. screaming, shouting, saturating the airflow, loud and booming with vibrations that shatter the earth, higher than the human ear can hear.
While sounds multiply, hearing, injured, diminishes.
Will it seem to people in a hundred years
that the world is silent?


Confidence, independence, freedom, privacy, equality, meeting known and new people. Interactions. Information and geography, respect, economy: saving taxi fares.

Disappointment when not met, lost, being thankful, misinformation, changes to terrain, obstacles, signs. misdirected, accidents, badges of blindness.

7th Feb: day after Hugh's funeral. Taxi to Spencer Street station, arriving soon after nine. Driver left his taxi to ask station attendant to help me. Attendant left his post and walked down to the platform with me, checked arrival time for next train, left me

The train arrived without an announcement. Finally a recorded voice announced the destination and asked people to stand back. I hurried now the train in some trepidation because I had no knowledge of the platform or exactly which way it was. I missed the train and began to walk along the platform to find a phone. station attendant found it for me and waited while I rang. Sat with me for half an hour until my train arrived and helped me in. He was off duty, he explained. Also told me times of trains back to Spencer, stations before and after Berrick. Rang officer at Berrick to warn him of my arrival and ask him to ring taxi. coming back I found same man on platform at Spencer and he had come back in check if I had made it. Showed me to food shop and chemist. Sat with me until train arrived and showed me to my seat. no flirting. on a seat to return to his post.

Who would you like to sit with? Don't know who's here, or who looks as though they'd like to sit with me. Given a seat either alone, or at end of row, isolated.

Need to be comfortable with myself so that others can be comfortable with me.

reflections on my life. reminiscences and Reflections: people seem to be less intrusive, more accepting, or indifferences. Many helpful, so get to know or at least talk to them.

Still ask intrusive questions. Intriguing, mysterious, remarkable.

Sometimes resentful.

MOBILITY grows with habit – the better the habits the better the mobility. Families and others discourage by predicting accidents, danger much more than by encouraging, giving guidance and good information. Do things for, rather than with me so that I miss the opportunity to gain information about what is around me. In the ladies' room someone will hand me a paper towel, but I have no knowledge of where it came from. Should I go there again I have no knowledge of where to look for it.

Someone will say, "you'll fall", "you

Dear Bill

222 The Espladade, Umina beach, 2257. 9th November 1988.

Dear Bill,

Thank you for caring and praying for me. I very much appreciate your concern and I'm touched by your strong and persistent faith in the power of prayer and healing ministry.

As I see it, prayer is an excellent way of getting close to God. There is also plenty of evidence that it can influence attitudes and events, although God knows what we need and want before we ask. I find as well that it helps in overcoming personal difficulties when I pray for others and become less self-centred.

I'm sorry I can't join you in your fervent prayers that I should receive physical sight. Of course I would be ecstatic if your prayers were answered, but when I pray for myself, other things seem more urgent. I need spiritual insight and strength. I need to find serenity and peace by concentrating more on God's perfection and less on human weakness and my petty dissatisfactions. When I pray for physical things, they are usually to do with improving the quality of my day to day life. I pray for safety when crossing roads or walking along railway platforms. I also pray for acceptance from other people – that they will see my blindness as a difficulty with which I need help, but not as my most important attribute.

It seems to me that God, having designed natural laws, usually works within them. When, in the first two weeks of life, I developed an eye infection, doctors didn't have the skill to cure it. Today, a Western baby acquiring that infection will not be blind, because much more is known about hygiene and medical treatment. You could call this increase in knowledge a miracle. You could say that God is working miracles through all the drugs, care and surgery which give sight to so many people.

When Jesus was on earth as a man he cured some sick people, gave sight to some blind people, even restored life. Yet although he had the power to remove disease and disability from all who had faith, or even from the entire world, he chose not to do this. Even the great apostle Paul retained his "thorn in the flesh" which could have been defective vision.

God has never intended to free, the world, not even the "elect". from hardship in life as we know it. Christ told his disciples the poor would always be with them. Yet throughout the world the poor are most vulnerable to disease, disability and early death. We should pray that the rich nations in our Western world will spend half their resources to diminish the massive problems caused by blindness and thousands of diseases rampant in places like India and Africa because of poverty and ignorance.

I believe God is more concerned with the way we handle our circumstances than with changing them for us. Last Friday I visited a sad little twelve-year-old boy who sits at his school desk all day and does nothing. He is gradually going blind. Nobody yet knows how to cure his condition, but Stan's family are convinced that a miracle will happen and he will see properly again. Instead of learning to live a useful, happy life without seeing, Stan is waiting. Perhaps, as his family and others pray for him, he is praying with all his strength – "Please God, I know you can restore my sight. Let me see again." He is praying and waiting for the miracle he knows will happen. Because of his faith in the future he is not interested in learning to walk alone or read a book with his fingers or get along with other kids. He is not using the gifts God has given him today; he is waiting for tomorrow's miracle.

Bill, I try, though not hard enough, to live fully and for God each day. I'm sure it would help me if you joined me in praying that today I will cheerfully obey God, especially the principles of 1 Cor 13. Nothing matters as much as love shared with God and love shared with people.

Sight is so important for getting knowledge, pleasure, freedom and a hundred other things and I encourage people to use it and take care of it. Yet the wisdom and faith to accept things as they are and to make the most of all we have, is even more important than sight. Thank you again for praying that I will receive sight. Perhaps you might pray as well that I will make good use of every day, with or without sight.

May God help us both to grow in wisdom and faith, so that each day, through what we say and do, other people will come to peace and courage through the experience of God's love.

The Lord bless you and keep you.

Leah Francis

Drive Time

I'm on Norfolk Island overlooking the bay near the old gaol.

I see two people in a car snaking across the road at the water's edge. She's driving, but his hand remains almost on the wheel. They're doing a U-ey. He has taken the wheel, but she's clutching it too. She's still driving. She looks amused. He seems tense, half-afraid. They're close to the prison wall. Now she's made a sharp right-angle turn. They're heading straight for that wall. They'll crash! He pushes her hands away, grabs the wheel.

He makes a hard left. They're on the road again, driving straight down the middle. She's gathering speed. He spins the wheel to the left to avoid an approaching car. They're lucky to be alive, these two.

Now they're laughing at their near-miss. This is amazing!

She has to be drunk, or blind, or something. Blind drunk, maybe. Yet he doesn't look at all suicidal, a­nd he doesn't seem to be angry.

Keep your feet on the pedals, keep your hands on the wheel.

Feel the power increasing as you speed ahead.

The car stops with a screech. She gets out of the driver's seat. There's something weird about her all right.

He walks to her and takes her arm. I can see her face full on now. They're laughing together and, ... she's blind all right. Blind as blind. Blind as a bat. Even though she's holding his arm she almost trips over a couple of stones.

Well, that's it. I've seen everything now!

But she hasn't seen a thing!


Although it was minor surgery I would be required to stay in hospital over night - I became apprehensive. Even packing a bag was a strain. That faded old dressing-gown had passed its rag-time date. I felt ashamed, but it was too late to buy a new one. It would have to do.

My husband walked to my ward together and he left.

For five hours I waited, thinking all the time about that shabby dressing-gown. Occasionally I would retrace my steps to the toilets, mostly to reinforce my memory of where they were.

So far, everything was easy. I simply sat, and sat, and sat.

I took a nurse's arm and climbed on to the bed.

I didn't recognise the surgeon's voice and he seemed surprised when I asked him who he was. Neither would I recognise the voices of the anaesthetist and the assistant. when they returned next morning.

Back in the ward, all vague and woozy, I discovered I had been moved from the ward I began in that morning, and nothing was where I expected it to be.

Again, I lay for a long time, waiting. Waiting. Finally a nurse approached. No, I had not eaten since dawn.

I heard someone put a tray on my table and after a while scrabbled around until I found sandwiches and a cup of something.

Food revived me.

Then a nurse brought flowers to me. She read the card, told me she'd put them "over here", and was gone.

I'm always pleased to see the man I married, but tonight he was especially welcome. "Husbands become functional," someone had remarked, and it was true. He brought the flowers close, so that I could smell and touch them, and we discussed what they were.

Next he found my shabby dressing-gown and together we found the toilets. They were conveniently close, but not where I had expected them to be in this unfamiliar ward.

He also answer a few questions. How many people in this ward? Where was the door? Where was the window? Where was the buzzer?

Woozey but content, I drifted to sleep and he was gone.

During the night I had to buzz for a nurse to remind me where the toilet was. But first I searched for my shabby old dressing-gown. No, it wasn' on the chair, not in the wardrobe. But where else? No choice but to go without the old thing.

"I'll be right," I said, retracing my steps the short distance to my bed.

But where was that dressing-gown? Sleep knits up the unravelled sleeve was care.

I forgot the dressing-gown until I was roused by a nurse.

When she left I carefully returned to the toilet, this time not even searching for that dressing gown but slinking along in my nighty.

When the surgeon stopped me in the corridor I forgot to be embarrassed. In five seconds he looked at his handiwork and was gone.

After breakfast I went to clean my teeth. But first I made another fruitless search for the old dressing-gown.

For some, thank goodness this nighty wasn't of the revealing, honeymoon type.

They needed my bed, so I drew the curtains, dressed and packed.

Fortified with food and buoyed by the prospect of going home I looked everywhere, but no dressing-gown. I thought I looked everywhere, but finally I gave in and asked a nurse for help.

"Here it is," she said. Losing my embarrassment I asked where it had been.

"Just hanging on the rail beside your bed," she said. On the rail, I thought. That rail they put up to prevent me falling out. An inch, perhaps, past my hand.

And we (gone, taking the flowers home to touch and smell, and leaving embarrassment behind. It didn't matter about that drab, shabby, dressing-gown, you know.

Show Me a Sign

Little Jodie wanted to cry, but couldn't work out why, except that It had something to do with what Sarah had said about Auntie being angry.

Auntie had shouted at Jodie for climbing on to the kitchen table.

"She wasn't really angry," Sarah had said, "because she was smiling all the time."

Jodie knew about stealing. You took things when you were sure nobody was around. She knew about hiding, too. You hid where you couldn't be seen. and you kept very quiet.

But she didn't understand how people told each other things without speaking, or said one thing with their voices and another with their bodies.

Sometimes they misunderstood her, too. She would be listening closely to what Uncle was saying but he would ask, "Are you listening? Can you hear me?" She didn't know he wanted to see some facial response.

Someone offered to bring Jodie's cardigan to her as she hosed the garden. Cold, and impatient with their slowness, she ran into the family room shouting, "What about my cardigan? Are you growing the sheep or something?"

How could she know their neighbour had come in to say his wife had been run over? How could she read their body language –shock. Sympathy!

During a pause in a meeting, Jodie introduced a new topic. Everyone was irritated. They had been considering previous remarks, you could see it in their faces.

A university student couldn't understand what Jodie, the lecturer, was talking about. He looked bewildered, took no notes, questioned Jodie with his eyes, and finally took a novel from his pocket and began to read. How could Jodie help? She hadn't seen a thing.

Jodie was proud of her sense of humour. Once she noticed students weren't laughing at her jokes.

We smile, someone explained.

At dinner with friends Jodie exploded, letting out pent-up rage, losing control, unfairly accusing her friends. Only her partner could speak. Angrily he tried to intervene, but Jodie, unaware of her friends, distress. went on shouting.

Her partner left.

People gesticulate, laugh at gestures, look grim, shake their heads, nod, look eager, lower their eyes, stiffen. Jodie's gestures are sparse, she doesn't make eye contact, she can't 'see' the joke, read expressions.

Jodie doesn't want to hurt, be left out, appear disinterested, or bore people, and nobody wants to offend her or leave her out, or to have to behave unnaturally.

What can Jodie and the rest of us do?

Music Therapy for Adults


Outline of a paper to be presented at the Annual Conference of the Australian Music Therapy Association, Sydney, August 1982.

It's not even a legend, it's merely a myth, that all blind people are gifted musically and it is equally eroneous to suggest that music is automatically "the solace of the blind". There is no such solace. Among blind people there is a small number of highly talented musicians who learn quickly, remember accurately and perform or teach with excellence. Yet another group become highly successful musicians by many long years of hard work. A larger number scrape along in a moderate manner often in the frustrating knowledge that, had they the ability to see and to sight-read, their repertoire would be wider and their learning capacity increased.

Music is nevertheless an invaluable source of therapy and recreation for individuals who are visually impaired. The first group who come to mind are those who lose, or are losing, their sight in adult life. All too often they, or well-meaning relatives, purchase some expensive musical instrument – usually organ or piano – in the belief that this will be a ready source of pleasure and satisfaction and that performing will come easily though the person might never have set finger to key. In such cases music therapy can avert disappointment and disillusion through
(a) working at a level appropriate to the client,
(b) developing listening skills and deepening understanding of music, or
(c) providing opportunities for improvisation on a variety of instruments in a variety of ways, so developing confidence and an urge to be creative.

It is usual for severe visual impairment or loss of vision to be accompanied by either fear and a loss of confidence, or more rarely, a beligerent determination to overcome no matter what the cost. Music, a comfortable medium, can stimulate the client to come to terms with either of these attitudes. Music for relaxation and music for movement (both to facilitate mobility and to encourage vigorous exercise) are almost always relevant... Discussion of the disability, its immediate effects and its long term consequences can also be promoted through music, a practical medium for the release of tension and the common ground of conversation.

Generally speaking however, the possibilities and implications of music for the visually impaired are precisely the same as those for other clients. Movement, the release of tension, for the shut-ins and geriatrics, and the emotionally disturbed, as a source of non-threatening recreation and disciplining for the retarded as a means of expressing anger or fear. The list is well known to us all. Worth special mention however is the potential of music in socialization, either among visually impaired people, or more important, within the general community. The inability of a visually impaired person to communicate with people through eye contact or by other visual means is not such a disadvantage when he has something special, like music, to offer. To be able to sing or play in the local musical societies or join the church choir, provides opportunities for closer contact with a small group of people. These kinds of relationships can be more satisfying for visually impaired people, and indeed for everyone, than more casual associations with large numbers of acquaintances.

What kind of music and how to use it? The answer is as broad as the range of people within the community.

Top End Diary

SUNDAY, 21st JUNE, 1998

Last night we went to half of the Indian Cultural Society's festival on Mindil Beach. The dancing was good, the music mediocre, but the women's clothes were worth going for, said Leo.

This morning I'm off to Aboriginal territory with Margaret Sharpe and her daughter Cath.

We're sitting in Jen Monro's kitchen while Margaret gives and receives current information about Alawadd. She teaches Alawa to Alawa children. Strange that Europeans are preserving, recording and perpetuating Aboriginal languages more vigorously than Aborigines.

The term 'tribe' is taboo. 'Mob' is preferred. Jen spoke of a 'mongrel child.'

Drive To Arrive says a road sign.

Cath lives in Brisbane with two Anandamaga, yoga practising nuns.

Margaret lives in Brown Street Armidale around the corner from an Aboriginal mission. There's clear distinction between the people on the mission and the Coories who 'live uptown.'

"I'm getting used to this car," says Cath. "It doesn't want to go fast, so I'm staying on 110". Glory be for a wilful car!

This town's called Adelaide River. There seem to be three petrol-station-stores, a green-grocer and nothing more. No wonder service stations go broke!

We lunched outside the war cemetery but saw neither its graves nor the Adelaide River.

We're admiring some "brightly-coloured ants: gold with a green bulb at the end." The ants you find in Armidale, says Cath, are an inch long with a bite at one end and a sting at the other.

Lunch was the home-alone-type: one whole carrot eaten banana-style, some lettuce, a third of a tin of salmon, rice and seaweed crackers and some prunes. Margaret and Cath bought food last night. We couldn't buy fruit until we passed the fruit fly barrier, and the one shop we passed was closed.

Aborigines in this region have a genetic tendency to have thin legs. Cath says "sometimes they look like eggs on legs."

The Stuart Highway is taking us toward Mataranka on the Roper River. Burn-off down one side of the road has left it orange, while the other side is green. Like the Irishman's mother and father!

I'm sitting in the front of the car now and what a difference it makes. Never have I wanted to be anything but a driver, but a back-seat driver is no good.

Tall, scrubby vegetation, open canopy, balding-grassy ground cover, plenty of red dust. The sky has changed from blue to dirty-red.

There's not a hill to be seen in any direction, says Cath.

There are bee-boxes along the side of the road, but Greg, last week's tour guide, said there are no honey bees.

Remember the 1995 Sydney bushfires? Margaret says the Northern Territory Aborigines saw them on television and asked, "Isn't anyone looking after the land?"

Not a car is moving in the heart of Mataranka, among the service stations, hotel and take-away food stores. Of course, this is the Stuart Highway, and there'll be plenty of traffic in the morning.

We're wondering when someone will set up The Big Termite Mound to match the big pineapple and banana.

Off Stuart Highway, we're approaching the Mataranka Homestead and caravan park, where the hot springs spring.

The road looks purple in the colours that follow the sunset.


Darkness brought a mass of flying foxes, shouting and whirring their wings. This morning I woke to hear what seemed to be the river, but we are quite a way from that. It was the flying foxes' wings again. I don't think they were going anywhere at first, but when the sun rose, they vanished. Lots of other birds are scavenging among the tents. There's plenty of room around us, but the huge camping area is well peopled. Anyone who passes stops for a word. At half-past seven, many people have gone, but we are waiting for Cath to see the light.

Greg told us there are no kangaroos in the Top End: only wallabies. Yet in Katherine Gorge there was a painting of a kangaroo with a joey, and Margaret says Aboriginal languages have words for kangaroo.

Apostle birds are well equipped to preach to every creature. They can run, hop, jump, climb and even fly. The bird book says they congregate in groups of twelve.

The warm springs are almost still, and a perfect temperature. The pool is big, with a few bends, and there are trees and scrub around it, giving plenty of shade. The flying foxes are about again, some clinging to the trees, others flying about, all who are awake making their presence heard. At every little puff of wind they all flutter and chatter.

People of all ages and many languages shared the pool with us. good preparation for another long drive. We've turned left off the Stuart on to the narrow Roper Highway to Hodgson Downes, now known by the Aboriginal name of its billabong, Minyerri.

To get to Minyerri, we turned right and took a rocky, rutty, dusty, grey-red road through Roper Valley Station. To Margaret, it's a good road. Leo wouldn't venture one metre along it.

The Aborigines bought Minyerri and other stations either with government funds or royalties from the mines. A Creole notice asks us to drive slowly and watch for children.

We see well-built corrugated iron houses, wrecked cars, caravans, roads, lots of kids, tins, plastic bags, bottles and a plain office and council building with a cement verandah.

Over the PA system comes a call in English for women who need the clinic to go there now.

I'm doing nothing while Marg and Cath light the fire and cook our stir-fry. Cath assumes she should chop everything. I'm hot, so I don't protest.

Little children touched the car as we drove in, but nobody stares at us, as they would in the Solomons. Probably they think we're just government people.

The flies never give up, but they are slower and stickier, so you can kill quite a few.

This old school we're living in has a small demountable at each end, and two sets of showers, toilets and laundry tubs, hot water and iced water, a table and chairs and even some teatowels, all in the breezeway. We spend most of our home time in the breezeway. Ian, one of the white couple who manage the place, came to unlock one of the rooms for us to sleep in. They are air-conditioned, and the electricity isn't even solar.


Margaret and I walked down to see her Aboriginal 'mother', Cleo, and a few 'old men.' They spoke in Alawa, Creole and English. Creole is a combination of languages used by particular people. It's a more specific term than Pidjin, but of course it takes dIfferent forms according to populations. disX's especially useful where more than one language is spoken, such as in many Aboriginal communities where various clans or mobs are relresented, and English is also spoken. Nevertheless, the basis of Creole seems to be English.

I'm reading a book set in India. The author speaks of 'pink English'. That's English coloured with punjabi words (or no doubt words from other Indian languages).

The church is evangelical-anglican. It consists of a store-room and a roof over the stoney ground. People sit on the ground or on blankets. The minister, Felix, is an Aborigine, known to his flock as "daddy". They used to have long services and Bible study every night, but Belix is growing old and tired, and gives only two services a week: Sunday and Wednesday. He won't let any other minister come into the community.

The public address system is used whenever anyone is wanted for a phone call, or at the council offices, and for community announcements. The Europeans speak in English, the Aborigines in Alawa or Creole. Creole is replacing Alawa because it's easier. There are similarities between Aboriginal languages and Latin, such as declensions.

A donkey followed us, and has settled at the bottom of our steps. He's more interested in us than the community are, but then, they are Europeanised.

Every night two kittens come to see us. There are many dogs about, and most of them have a lean and hungry look. We've also noticed a half-tame pig and a pet turkey.

At ten o'clock we cake to the town centre, near the office and the store, the public telephone and the houses, to watch a graduation ceremony of Alawa students from Batchelor College. It's now a quarter to twelve, and nothing has happened. Although the students have minor achievements they will wear traditional academic dress. Their European lecturers are in academic dress as well. I wish I had a book or knitting to fill in the time.

We're sitting on a low brick wall under a roof. There's no building. Just the roof.

The motor on an unattended diesel truck has chugged away for an hour or more. Kids are playing. People are lolling, lying, sitting, standing about.

Margaret has a degree in science with an honours major in maths, a Bachelor of Divinity from Moore, a certificate from the Summer Institute of Linguistics and a PHD in linguistics from New England. She worked at the CSIRO, then went to Moore and SIL. She was a missionary-linguist for CMS and SIL in the Philippines and Australia for a few years.

When she married Phil she had to leave the SIL programme because, though Phil was a practising Anglican, he wasn't involved in SIL.

She has retired from lecturing, but manages to get research grants. Aboriginal studies are well funded.

Graduation has begun, two hours late.

Certificates of completion of a course or a stage in community studies, community maintenance, general education, and teaching have been awarded. Health studies will soon be introduced. All the students, and indeed as I find it, all aborigines have English names, and the head of Batchelor College is making no allowance for people who don't speak Australian-English. People are sitting or standing under trees, or in the sun, and the kids are playing, shouting, crying. There's plenty of open space, so the sound isn't intrusive. Only a few of us are sitting under this roof, behaving like an audience.

Aborigines are speaking now, in Creole or broken English.

That's it. None of the promised dancing or singing, no 'refreshments' for the graduands.

All the way from Batchelor, near Darwin, about eight hours' drive, for a fifteen-minute ceremony.

Cath is a strange girl, self-absorbed, self-effacing, demanding, thoughtful, generous.

On our walk through the hot, sandy dirt this afternoon, Cath and I met two women with about a dozen children, collecting, or catching food for the community's diabetics. They had a few seeds in their bucket. The women spoke to us in English. Cath joined them in their seed gathering.

We also found the larger part of the billabong we'd seen yesterday. Minyerri Billabong is covered in water lilies. Even in the deeper section, none of us were tempted to swim.

We also discovered two disused sheds and a disused high-set colourbond three-bedroomed house originally occupied by the station manager. Cath and Margaret know it well from early visits when white people were running this as a cattle station.

This land is used for nothing now, not even gardens. The Aborigines live close to one another, suburban style. Their houses have no adornments or gardens.

Margaret's Aboriginal 'mother', Cleo, went fishing yesterday. She caught a little bit of fish and collected waterlily seeds and roots. Aborigines eat almost every part of the waterlily.

Speaking of fish, Margaret and I went to the store and bought a piece. We had half each. Margaret and Cath have chosen the foods and quantities. I just paid. Cath's a pseudo-vegetarian so she doesn't buy meat, but she certainly ate the chicken we bought on Sunday.

The store is managed by an Asian. It's like any country store, and it doesn't sell anything specific to Aborigines. No souvenirs either, of course.

It's difficult for Aborigines to work in stores because custom obliges them to give their family or clan-members what they are asked to give. Their only way of avoiding this is to say the boss won't let them give things away.

Tonight we walked down to the public telephone. There are street lights where the houses are clustered, and some people were watching television. Fortunately, this is a 'dry' community.

A branch of a tree scrapes along the metal roof of this old school whenever the breeze stirs it. It sounds exactly like someone slithering about in the bottom of a cast iron bath.


Margaret is away with her Alawa people, I've been working on the cook-book for newly blind people Gillian Gale and I are supposed to be writing, and Cath has been sleeping, writing down her dreams and doing her yoga and meditation. It's eleven o'clock and she hasn't yet eaten. I'd like to pop into our sleeproom to get a book, but why disturb her.

At last, cardigan, warm shirt and socks are off. One year in this climate and I'd buy a fur coat. With the warmth came the flies.

No sounds but the birds, high, low, close, distant, and the breeze shuffling things about. No people, no cars. Even the cats have disappeared. It's good for a change, and if one had to live completely alone, this setting would be preferable to a block of units.

The birds have flocked around to herald the sunset, and for me, a quiet day has ended. Margaret has been working, Cath has been reading, I've been doing both, and more.

The water is pumped from a bore, and augmented by tanks of rain water. Every building has piped water, and there are septic systems throughout the property.

The mosquitoes have taken the place of the birds. They are ferocious.

A few years ago church was on every night. Now, apparently, it's Wednesday and Sunday. It's on now, but the others don't want to go.

People play cards for cash around here. We watched a few as we came back from the phone.


It's half past seven. Margaret and Cath have been for an hour's walk. I stayed behind, thinking they'd explore more if I wasn't delaying them, but they stayed on the road, and saw nobody. The community will rise when it chooses and conduct itself in the manner of white Australians: breakfast of wheatbix, tea and toast. We see their babies in disposable nappies. They are said to substitute them for feathers in some of their ceremonies!

The cool wind is shaking the branches, and at nine o'clock the birds have settled for the day. Except for ours, there's not a human sound.

At ten o'clock we're back from a walk to find suitable people to discuss language with. You don't make appointments, you find people. You don't knock, or walk into houses. You catch people.

Tonight's dinner could have been a disaster. Cath was dissatisfied with the way Margaret drained the pasta so she did it again. The lid of the billy slipped and the pasta landed in the dirt! Margaret scooped up a serving for herself. Cath and I preferred to do without. Fortunately, even Cath is well-mannered, so there was no bickering or blaming.

We had dinner in our sleeproom because Cath couldn't stand any more mosquitoes. I never want to eat inside, but owe certainly sat and talked for longer than usual.


At seven we're driving me to Mataranka to catch the bus to Darwin. Mosquitoes and flies are breakfasting on us.

Margaret feels that though the Aborigines stand about and do nothing they are more cheerful, have more self-esteem and "stand straighter" than they used to. I suppose doing nothing is better than working for low wages and being put down by white people.

Elsie National Park sounds great. Elsie station on our right is managed by whites.

Mataranka is cool, slightly cloudy, breezey and free from flies, as I wait for the bus.

LUNCH! My first garbage meal for six days: fish and chips here at Katherine. The bus is too cold and too crowded, and it's leaving late again.

Hours later we're at Palmerston, a satellite town of Darwin. Darwin used to be called Palmerston. It's the fastest growing town in Australia. It has a military establishment, the usual mass-produced shopping-town, and even KFC!

The driver says there are eighty thousand people in Darwin, sixteen thousand in Palmerston and eight thousand in surrounding rural areas. A hundred thousand, he says, is the right number.


Jak fruit are so delicious we wanted to take some home so we returned to Parap markets to find some. They didn't look so luscious. It's as well we didn't buy any, because the only fruit you may take from Darwin are pinapples and coconuts. A foreign killer is destroying their mango crop, and must be confined and exterpated, because it loves fruit.

Darwin is far away, and home is an hour's journey along this railway line.

I wish you comfortable shoes, light baggage and entertaining holidays.


Diary of a Cookbook

Prominent in my book shelves are several looseleaf folders, one old, worn and dirty, all untidily stuffed with bits of paper of different shapes and thicknesses. They are the recipes I have been collecting since childhood. Each recipe recalls an incident or an impression, so that browsing among them is like looking at photographs or reading a diary.

Here at the front of the oldest, moldiest folder is the first recipe I ever wrote down. The dots are pressed almost flat and the paper feels tired and limp, but it captures a major celebration.

There was to be a wedding in our family and Granny was making the cake. As she measured and mixed, she told me what she was putting in the cake and how to mix it. I, just eight, wrote it all down, dot by dot on my 'frame and brass'. or as most people say, slate and stylus. It was a 'pound cake'. One pound each of brown sugar, butter, flour, raisins, sultanas, and so on, plus some spices and ten eggs. You don't weigh eggs, Granny explained.

Granny's bench was an old piece of wood lying on top of one of the zinc laundry tubs which stood next to the gas copper in our kitchen. I sat at a worn wooden wash stand with a marble top - our kitchen table.

In its brown-paper-lined tin, the cake went into our dangerous old oven. When you turned the tap on, the gas flowed through tiny holes in pipes on each side of the oven floor. You had to make sure all of these gas jets were ignited. If they were not, gas was mixed with air, and might build up, to explode when it finally caught fire. The oven had a heavy metal door which squeaked when it moved. There was no thermostat, of course. You judged the temperature by the intensity of the heat and the brightness of the gas flame.

I sometimes use Granny's recipe for our Christmas cake, proud to be part of a living tradition as I load the ingredients into my electric mixer, and in minutes, not hours, have it baked in my convection-microwave oven. It never tastes as good as Granny's, and I don't think my sons enjoy licking the mixing bowl as much as I did.

When I was nine we were sent home from our 'Institution for the Deaf, the Dumb and the Blind', because the war was on, and the Royal Australian Air Force needed to use our dormitories and classrooms as barracks.

My recipes remind me how exciting it was to be at home. Using a gas gun, I learnt to light the stove. Alone, I experimented with matches, which, though you often burnt your fingers, were much more fun. Not only did they smell and sound interesting, but you didn't have to aim so carefully to ignite the gas.

I wasn't allowed to pour boiling water, or touch the stove while it was alight, but I had joined the local Brownie Pack, and knew about surprising one's elders by doing good deeds in secret. You can't punish a girl for pouring boiling water over the dirty plates in the washing-up dish, drying them and putting them away, in the old solid wood kitchen dresser, however sneaky and disobedient.

Without school, there was plenty of time to gather recipes. I would hear them on the wireless, and, like other housewives, write them down from the announcer's slow dictation.

A favourite programme was 'The Women's Session' from which I have recipes for an eggless cake and butterless biscuits. During the war, butter, eggs, sugar and many other foods, as well as clothing, were rationed. Meals became unwittingly healthier, if less tasty. Here is my first recipe calling for margarine in a pie. Ugh! That nasty war-time margarine!

On a half-sized, cardboard-like sheet of braille paper I find Scottish Shortbread. Old Nanna Park promised to teach me how to make it "after the war", so I made her tell me the recipe right then. You only needed butter, sugar and flour. We had plenty of flour, but very little butter or sugar unless Auntie managed to buy them on the black market, or to barter our ration coupons. Even then, there wasn't enough for shortbread.

Here are some goodies from the tiny 'books' that came in the Mother's Choice flour Granny used. the pages are so crumpled I can hardly read them. Cheese scones, steamed pudding, suet dumplings.

Remember suet? You had to remove all the 'skin' from among the lumps of fat before you rubbed it into the flour. It was said that nothing but suet would do for steamed or boiled puddings.

This recipe for Christmas pudding I helped Auntie make required us to skin the suet. then mix it with the washed fruit and sugar. I was adding the eggs and flour alternately, mixing well after each addition. Crack! The final egg went in. My nostrils quiver yet as I recall the smell! Rotten egg gas, they call the odour of a bad egg, don't then?

That's one pudding that never found its way into a scalded cloth. Instead. our chooks had a feast. What's modern about recycling.

When I was about twelve, the braille library began to send me Our Special. Here's my copy of Candied Orange and Sweet Potato Slices. This and many other recipes amazed me. Australians would not mix fruit with vegetables or meat, except for pork and apple sauce. We didn't mix sweet with savoury, either. How time, migrants and the media have enriched our cuisine.

That reminds me of a column in Our Special called 'Over the Tea Cups'. You don't see many tea cups in the States these days. Did Americans drink more tea in the forties, I wonder.

This neatly kept spring binder heralded the introduction of cooking lessons at our new boarding school after the war. There were no braille text books, so on our frames and brasses we wrote out the recipes before each lesson. With spectacles or good lighting, the rest of the class could have read their recipes from a well printed book. Experts believed, however, that eyes should be rested to conserve sight. If you use it, you'll lose it, they warned. None of those girls uses braille now.

Plain scones are first in this folder. Mine turned out small and hard. The boys played cricket with one, and though they whacked it hard, sending it scudding about, it never even crumbled. To this day, you won't find home-baked scones for afternoon tea at my place. I passionately loved the instigator of that cricket game, and I still thrill at the memory of his first kiss.

Later I did home science at an ordinary high school. My previous lessons were great preparation. I knew how to peel, pour hot liquids and do many things the other girls learnt by demonstration. I continued to braille recipes, but by then I was using a Stainsby writer – a noisy mechanical device, made in England.

My Stainsby was faulty and missed many dots. When we made this recipe for Sharp Steak in class my partner and I couldn't eat ours. It contains many spices. My machine having written 9 instead of 6, 5 instead of 4, and so on, I added too much of things like chile and cayenne. I'm heavy-handed with seasonings, anyway, and our tender palates couldn't tolerate the heat. No matter. I won a man's heart with Sharp Steak, though he took it back.

As for apple jelly, we had to pour the above-boiling liquid into heated jars and cool them slowly. I mustn't have done it properly because on the way home my jar cracked. My notes were transformed into a sticky, unreadable mess. You won't find home-made jelly in my kitchen cupboard, either. Egg custard was another disaster, though the recipe remains. Mine curdled. The teacher obliged me to taste everyone else's custard in case I didn't understand its texture. These days my custard comes out of a carton!

Here's a recipe for duff pudding. It looks like any other steamed pudding, but no. My first fiance thought his mother was a superb cook, and hoped I'd be equally satisfactory. Again with my old frame and brass, I sat at their dining table, copying out recipes for his favourite dishes. I never did make that pudding, however. He cast me aside before I had time, and I've never dared to offer it to the husband I ended up with. He might ask where the recipe came from!

When I started work as a teacher and had an income I moved into a flat. The recipes from this period are more practical and more adventurous. Alcohol actually appears in some.

When I tried this recipe for old fashioned vegetable soup, I added some vegemite, not listed among the ingredients, and put some extra barley in to give the soup "more body". My guests sat down to eat and I gave thanks. We dipped our spoons. There was a brief silence.

"Just as well we thanked God for this soup before we tasted it," exclaimed a valued friend. "We certainly won't be thanking him afterwards!" Too much salty vegemite; too much gluggy barley; not enough water.

"Why don't you follow the recipe," my family moans. It's a good question.

My recipe folders grow fatter, and browsing remains a favourite pastime. When it's time to get the dinner, however, recipes seem irrelevant. I just find things in the cupboard and use my imagination. As for measuring, why dirty an extra cup or spoon?



Leah became blind as a young baby. She went to school at the (then) NSW Institute for Deaf and Blind Children Here the range of subjects was small and the standard of education low.

Aged sixteen Leah became the first blind student to officially enter a government high school in NSW. Having passed the Leaving Certificate, she was the first blind student to receive a scholarship to a teachers' college in NSW and on gaining a teaching certificate was appointed to the NSW School for blind children. This school was financed and administered by the (then) Department of Education.

In 1958 Leah was awarded the first scholarship in the (then) Rotary district 275 International Student Exchange project, enabling her to undertake post-graduate studies in special education in the United States.

In 1960 Leah obtained the Diploma of College of Teachers of the Blind, London, with a major in music.

Nine years later she graduated with honours in Education from the University of Sydney.

Leah has worked as an early education specialist, a music therapist and in many aspects of special education. For eleven years she co-ordinated the vision specialization at the university of Western Sydney.

With her husband and three sons she lived in Albury and in the Solomon Islands before settling on the Central Coast of NSW. She has left the paid work force but remains active in community work, continuing her commitment to improving conditions for people with disabilities

In the year 2000 Leah was awarded membership of the Order of Australia (AM) for her services to the community, in particular, to students with vision impairments and those with other disabilities.

Precious People

The most precious possessions are people. Their personalities, rich contributions to my life, and most of all, their love.

Rene: arthritis restricted so she read for me.

Paul Percy: rich knowledge, wisdom, humour, generosity, bareadth of understanding.

Eva: love, loyalty, tolerance, generosity.

Roddy and Johnny: hospitality, trust, generosity, sensitivity, humour, love.

Mary McNish: breadth, tolerance, love, trust, humour, warmth, acceptance.

Darrell: trust, tolerance, faith, acceptance, trust.



Aunt makes a banjo out of elastic bands and cardboard. Gran teaches me to find things on the floor. Grandad makes me a wooden train on big wooden wheels. A swing. Cedrick Keith cohen says fight for light. Sunday School: smell the colour.

"I want this young lady to have a seat!"

Given tricycle, scooter – Elva.

Walking to church gate and Napper's Corner.

Stealing money from till. Buying toys from papershop. Stealing four shillings instead of twopence.

Nothing to do on mother's day at Sunday School because teacher away. Aunt and fm^ said nothing.

Fattling shutters and deaf children at boarding school. 25 beds in dormitory.

Scratching and pinching.

Tearing up books from Father Christmas.

Pram and stroller. Piano accordian, drum, xylophone. Piano.


Little cakes and blistered hands.

Twirling the swing.

Learning to print.

Local brownies.

Clothes sense.

Match nights with Elva - lighting matches in the back lane.

Sisters, on the Western Plains.

Travel:? How come this model moves?

Will the post cross the road with me? People show me where things are but without clues to locate them, I can't find. a

Descriptions difficult to recall.

Church collections: nobody hands plate: folding money. Don't hear plate pass because God means me to keep it?

Mistaken women for man: Elizabeth Smith and women in creative writing.

Joyce's eightieth: not asked. Peter's wedding etc. not flower-girl: can't walk straight. but Mary's bridesmaid.

I might be someone's skeleton in the cupboard – Miss Doran. If you come to light, might hurt someone. Mother will probably turn up if you are successful: Doran.

God wouldn't like it if both parents blind.

In the pictures. Blind but big hearted.

Cleaning shoes and belts and badges for brownies

Dirt all over when I went from St. John's Road to teachers club in Sussex Street.

Didn't mind the polishing, but always ended with brown polish on my clothes, arms, nose and face.

Should two blind people marry? Have children. Reading Julius Caesar while watching the movie.

Funeral of Pamela's father: latin mass, Pamela's howling, shovel after shovel of soil landing on the wooden coffin.

My garden of sweet peas growing on wire, and flocks. Plant for Hurstville Brownies.

Laurel and Hazel Bedford: concerts and beach with them and mother. Curiosity about Jews. Beverly Nestelle baulked at my attending synnagugue. People would be so curious and ask so many questions.

David George: rich descriptions.

Lost in rome after cocktail party and dinner with Sir Cluther McKenzie. Police. Women. School excursion in Rome. Colloseum with American students.

Tagged along with people on tours.

Prevented from moving away from Frankfurt station, though had to wait several hours for train to marburg. Blindenstudienanstalt.

During war tried to take stock from L'Instution National des Jeunes Aveugle. Herr Strehl. Did not succeed.

Analese and Ingaburg, sisters. stayed with Usl's family in marburg. Holder at top of plate on which to rest knife.

Germans meet in turkish baths.

Kids' birthday cakes: copies of things understood. Swimming pool of jelly, fenced with checolate biscuits, ring-shaped lollies for floaties.

Milking a cow.

Keeping Norma Lincoln tied up and giving her potions.

The drawer is light, so empty. It's like testing a tank for water level.

Things: squill candy, penny nestles, man in the park, "Eyes work".

"Have you always been like that?"

Potato queues.

Title: finding the way.

Don't rest on your laurels.

Sayings: empty vessels make most noise; don't tell tales: tell-tale-tit. tittle-tattle.

My feeling: give reasons

Moses: thou shalt not remove the ancient landmarks.

We, the old, must do the compromising.

Blossoms in the Dust: illigitimate children.

Dunlops: fiancee had a glass eye.

Don't glorify the past.

Not: I can't read. I can't see to read.

29th July 2001: Took gold watch for a new battery. Jeweller: Do you want new glass in it?

stolen, rescued, enslaved, punished?

While others engaged by what they see – view, pasers-by, wild life – blind people left with their own thoughts which sometimes turn inward.

Israel: dusty hills? and olive groves. Date palms. Israel's lush farms; palestinian arid, parched land.

Leah, unattractive, undesirable, old, fat, only.

Knew where Aunt was because she had a mannerism: she sniffed every few minutes. Grandfather had a smoker's cough.

Leo constantly clearing his throat.

Some people don't announce their entry to or leaving a room. contrast fred skead and the school inspector.

Teachers college: you can't go to college, or teach.

Choosing marriage house: owner insisted leo look before we paid a deposit. Waving fingers in front of eyes. Being taught colours. Fight for the light.

Pinching and scratching: threatening to cut my fingers but the scissors were blunt.

Going to the pictures on Saturdays: restless and bored: the best part was community singing.

Blind leading the blind:

Knox from Vulgate: Matthew 15.14: Let them say what they will; they are blind men leading the blind, and when one blind man leads another, they will fall into the ditch together." Luke 6.39: And he told them this parable, Can one blind man lead another? Will not both fall into the ditch together?


25th July 2002

It's 22nd of July 2002. My hearing aids have stopped working so I tell Leo I won't go to see Presence tonight. I'll stay home.

"That's a pity," he says, "it's better if we go together. Let's drive to Gosford and see if they can find the fault."

"Are you sure you don't mind?" I ask.

"It's time we started doing things now," he explains, "instead of putting them off until we have a few things to do in the same area. Anyway, I want us to go together tonight!"

I'm delighted.

They find the problem quickly and we set off for the Stables Theatre in Sydney.

We're early so we sit in the foyer, sip red wine and crunch crisps, chatting easily. We look at the names of producer and cast and reminisce about the productions in which we've seen them.

After the play we take the usual route home, reading and dozing in the train. Comfortably we climb into bed, casually exchange a goodnight kiss and fall asleep.

He has given up paid work, but he's everybody's voluntary treasure. The boys need him to drive them to sport, and other things. Anyway, he points out, I earn more than he used to earn.

I arrive home from work late, as usual. Each of us has a meeting tonight.

He shouts angrily as I open the door, "You're not going to any meeting. You can't go without dinner, and I'm not waiting one minute for you to eat. I should but there now, reading my report."

"I don't have to eat now," I say, and, with hardly a word to our teenage sons, I hurry into the passenger's seat." He drives dangerously fast. I get out of the car without a word.

The man who drives me home comes in for coffee. He stays too long, chatting with the boys and me.

Leo arrives. He smiles, always polite to other people. For that matter, he's usually polite to his family.

Tonight, though, I can't speak to him. Upset is what you'd call it, not afraid, not annoyed.

There is room for another couple between us in bed.

I remember a friend telling me how her husband would react to something she had done. "He'll belly-ache a bit, but he'll get used to it."

I move toward the middle of the bed, smiling in the dark. It's all over – just another bump.

After two miscarriages and no information about the state of the dead infant I become more uncertain as my third pregnancy progresses. Will the baby be able to see? Will it have some other disability?

Why did my first two babies miscarry? What happened to me, or them?

Will the baby be safe and Will my husband support me? Will he be critical and dissatisfied? How will his mother raact? Will she turn him against me?

Will I care for it adequately?

I read everything I can find about pregnancy and parenthood. I tell him what is expected of him, what I need. I nag nag, whimper, fret over nothing. He goes out with his old school friends. I am at home alone. What if the baby comes early, what is someone breaks in. Will he get drunk? Will he forget me in all the fun? I cry when he kisses me goodbye. What if he has an accident? What if. What if.

He's home before midnight, serene, loving, concerned.

God, give me faith, let me trust.

Four weeks ago it had been the eve of our marriage. On that night I had felt excited, fearful – was I committing to permanent prison, or on the brink of a lifetime of freedom?

Now the honeymoon had been managed, settlement had been achieved. We were back at work.

First Friday – four weeks after our wedding's eve. He could have been home two hours ago. Was he drinking somewhere? Was this what he liked to do on Friday nights? Would he come home drunk? What sort of life had I let myself in for. I remembered Auntie Bel telling me, "I made my bed. Now I have to lie on it." Was I to lie on a bed of thorns?

The front gate opened and closed, a key turned.

"Hello, darling. Sorry I'm late." On my lips a passionate kiss, in my arms a full-blown gardinia in a decorative pot. Oh God, give me faith, let me trust.

I arrive at the theatre more than half an hour before opening time, to wait for Leo and his girlfriend. Leo is the man from the Taxation Department who completed my over-due tax returns.

Five minutes before the performance will begin t walk towards the box office to procure a ticket.

Leo calls to me, "Sorry we're late! I forgot to ring you at work today."

He hands me a ticket and introduces me to Bert. Bert and his wife catch the same train as I, so they will walk to the station with me. Leo doesn't sit with me but he speaks to me at interval, and shows me some of the musical instruments and stage props.

We don't meet after the performance. I walk to the station with Bert and his wife. We seem to have little in common, and I forgot about Leo Francis.

The Power of the Slippers

Sore feet. Slopped around in slippers.

Moved slowly, not briskly. Slopped.

Reverted to joggers: crisp, firm footsteps. Felt better, moved, bester, grew stronger.

On a luxury visit to Kangaroo Island an 'incident' almost stealthily disturbed my life.

PERSISTENTLY I trod on my friend's foot, lost balance and leant against her, failed to connect my wine glass to my lips.

During the following weeks I seemed to lose my sense of balance, fall over, lose my sense of direction.

Last Journey

better belly burst than good food waste.

don't worry - x might never happen.

this master of mine is better than the priest on sunday.

Don't talk about a halter in the house of a hanged man.

There's nothing like a legacy to asuage the grief.

end of seventy: our life is rounded with sleep.

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