(as remembered by Peg Makinson)
As I could not access all material which should be at Otago Deaf Centre, I have to rely on information in the material that could be found.
It would appear that the Association started in 1964, which was the year of another major rubella epidemic that saw about 2600 children diagnosed as severely or profoundly deaf throughout New Zealand.
Here in Dunedin there would have been about 20 children in that category, but there was already a group of young Deaf adults who had been getting together since 1958 for an opportunity to meet and share experiences, play sport, etc. This was started with help from Alec Mair (audiologist) and the Hard of Hearing League (later to become the Hearing Association) and was known as “The Young People for the Hard of Hearing”, then became the “Dunedin Deaf Club”, later the “Dunedin Deaf Society” and then when they became incorporated it was under the name of “Otago Deaf Society”
In 1964 the group was being assisted by Alec Mair, Dunedin audiologist, and Jeanette Gibson who was a teacher of the deaf. Alec Mair was aware of the growing number of very young children being diagnosed and suggested to the parents of these young children that they might like to get together and he could share information with them and find help for any concerns they might have, as well as meeting with the young Deaf adults and others in the Hard of Hearing League. I do not know how often they met in the beginning as I was not living in Dunedin. If they were similar to the Wellington Association, at that time, they were meeting monthly except for December and January. In Wellington, there was a very active and knowledgable Adviser for Deaf Children, with a huge case load. I do not know if there was one in Dunedin at that time but when we came here in 1971, the Adviser was a teacher who had done a short pressure-cooker course to become and Adviser and she was rather useless.
The group became an Incorporated Society in 1967 – with George Emerson and Russell Gillions being on the committee. I joined the committee in 1972, when we moved here to live. I soon became secretary, George Emerson was President, Tony Devereux, treasurer. Coralie Kirkland was the next President,
Robin Bowman, Treasurer, then Clarice McIntyre was Treasurer. Shirley Reid may have been the next Treasurer for a short while, followed by Jenni Duncan. Coralie remained President for a good number of years and I was secretary. We tried to have monthly meetings with some sort of end-of-year activity for the whole family. It was often difficult to find somewhere to meet. We had meetings in the Arthur St school staffroom – as it was at Arthur St where the Deaf unit was located, sometimes in the Hearing Association rooms (until they complained that we had scratched the varnished floor of their main room when we held a end-of-year activity there!). This must have been about 1979 1980 as it was after that that Coralie suggested we try and find somewhere to be our permanent home. Coralie and I were very much involved in trying to raise funds and were applying to all the trusts we could find. Following International Year of the Disabled Person’s Telethon, in 1980, there was grant money available. We applied and received a joint grant with Otago Deaf Society. At the same time, Coralie looked at 660 George St which we thought could be suitable as a joint meeting place for both Deaf Association and Deaf Society. As we did not have enough money, we jointly raised the balance needed through a mortgage from Otago Savings Bank and a loan from the Hearing Association. This money was paid back by applying for grants, particularly from Perpetual Trustees.
660 George Street was used for all our meetings, plus regular holiday programmes for Deaf Children and their families, and numerous other activites, such as art workshops, pottery, cooking, and games nights.
It was used regularly by the Deaf Society with a Friday night social and games. It was a house which we took out one wall to make a large meeting room. There were two other rooms which did get used as bedrooms when we had other Deaf Children’s groups joining us, eg South Canterbury. However, by 1990 it was getting too small for both Deaf Children and Deaf Society. The adjoining property owner made an offer as he wanted to extend his student flats. The offer was too good to refuse so we sold to him and then had two years looking for premises. We were fortunate to have a Deaf Society member hear about 68 Manor Place and we jointly bought it, having sufficient funds to do limited renovations to make it suitable.
When Coralie Kirkland retired as President, John Lydiate was the next President until 1996, followed by Susan McKenzie, then Evan Rees, Julie Allen and this year Alan Hughes.
We held our first Family Camp at Tautuku in 1995, with help from Steven Townshend who was the Deaf Liaison Co-ordinator for NZ Association for Deaf (now Deaf Aotearoa) and had Southland Deaf Children join us. The next camp was two years later at Roxburgh Health Camp. The following year, Chris Blum (Friends for Young Deaf) helped organise the games and activities at the camp at Roxburgh Health Camp.
We have continued to arrange family camps each year since then but without the records, I can’t remember where we were and when. We have had camps at Waikouaiti, Herbert, Waihola, Berwick, the Scout Camp at Waiora, Tautuku, and Camp Colomba
Otago has hosted the Federation for Deaf Children’s AGM about four times and we usually attend the AGM wherever it is. Shortly after the Federation was formed in 1977, Coralie was on Federation Executive and arranged a review of the role of Adviser for Deaf Children with a resulting improvement in the training and the service.
From 1995, we have received a regular substantial grant from Beatrice Georgeson Trust which has enabled us to fund family camps and activities, assist with tutor fees, equipment purchases, particularly computers for Deaf children. We have helped the teachers of the deaf with purchasing equipment they have needed. We have run NZ Sign Language courses for families and for teachers. Also in the past, we have paid for teacher aides to learn Sign Language.
As an Association, we have lobbied MP‘s on behalf of families with Deaf children. Had a great battle with the District Health Board about audiological services; written numerous submissions and letters to Ministry of Health about services for Deaf children, or the lack of services.
We also did regular Deaf Awareness Week displays in the Golden Centre Mall, each year for the last week of September. We would demonstrate equipment such as teleprinters, latest hearing aids, display work done by Deaf children, and for several years I would get the Deaf Sign singers from Christchurch to come down for a couple of days and sing at the Golden Centre during the day and give performances at the old Deaf Centre in the evening.