- Managing Their Own Affairs: The Australian Deaf Community in the 1920s and 1930s by Breda Carty
Previous publications on the history of the Australian deaf community have tended to be written by hearing people associated with schools for deaf children or deaf organizations, resulting in the subaltern history not being fully told. Burchett (1964), Flynn (1984, 2000), and Crickmore (2000) all wrote about organizations and services working with deaf people in Australian states, but their accounts have tended to feature hearing people as dominant figures and deaf people as a client and subaltern group. With the possible exception of Colefax (Colefax and Lawrence 1999), a deaf woman who published a biographical account of the establishment of the Australian Theatre of the Deaf, deaf women have also tended toward invisibility in the canon.
This work deals with an almost-forgotten period in Australian deaf political history when deaf people, added by the leadership of strong and charismatic deaf and hearing individuals, rebelled against paternalism and charity in the form of deaf welfare organizations. However, these gains were temporary and disappeared during the wartime and postwar years.
The first chapter sets the historical and social context of the work, including how the colonization of Australia by British and Irish settlers led to the establishment of missions or societies, staffed by both deaf and hearing people, and the beginnings of deaf education. In these organizations, some deaf people had leadership roles, such as caretakers, domestic staff, and collectors (a role that has not been fully [End Page 177] appreciated—society and mission newsletters were distributed by these deaf collectors who "found" isolated deaf children and directed them to the nearest school for deaf children).
The second, third, and fourth chapters focus on events in Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane. Ernest Josiah Douglas Abraham is introduced in the second chapter and reappears throughout the book. Abraham worked as a missioner in Britain before emigrating to Australia to commence duties at the Adult Deaf and Dumb Society of Victoria in Melbourne. He soon set to work organizing the deaf community, and he established the Australasian Deaf and Dumb Association in 1904, modelling it after the British Deaf and Dumb Association and the National Association of Deaf Mutes in the United States. Carty also describes the fraught relationship between Abraham and J P Bourke, a late-deafened man who was at times an employee, at other times a critic of Abraham and his work (in chapter 5, we see Bourke banned from the Society).
The third chapter focuses on events that led to the establishment of a breakaway organization in Sydney, New South Wales. This is the first conflict between benevolent organizations and independent-thinking deaf people that Carty narrates, and was characterized by larger movements of deaf people. Herbert V. S Hersee, who was a son of deaf parents and had worked as a missioner in Portsmouth, England, was the leader of this movement, which resulted in the establishment of the New South Wales Association of Deaf and Dumb Citizens.
The following chapter focuses on events in Brisbane that were inspired by the events in Sydney. In this case, John M'Caig Paul, also a son of deaf parents who had worked as a missioner in Scotland, led the movement. The Queensland Mission had a paternalistic approach to deaf people, who were often referred to as "boys" and "girls." Consequently, deaf people in Brisbane formed the Queensland Deaf and Dumb Citizens Reformed Association as a breakaway organization.
Chapter 5 discusses the personality cult that arose around Abraham, who was able to variously reward or punish deaf people. Carty notes that:
It is possible to use language skill (especially minority language skill) as a way of infiltrating communities, accessing private information, and making those who use the language feel exposed and vulnerable. [End Page 178] Such privileged knowledge can, in the wrong hands, become a tool of oppression, a weapon—and Abraham provides a good case study of...