A history of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind 1866-2004




НазваниеA history of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind 1866-2004
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Memoirs, is that her involvement with the AAB had rankled, along with her attitudes about the self-determination of people who were blind or vision impaired. Aston remarked to Mr Fussell, the Chief Inspector at the Education Department, that she should at least have been given a trial. Although she offered to withdraw her teaching application, Fussell refused and sent her instead to a mainstream primary school. Eventually the Department must have persuaded the Blind Institute to reconsider, because Aston was finally asked to report for duty there. However, there were some conditions to her employment, the main thrust of which was that, in order to 'avoid all friction', she was 'to withdraw for the present from … public association with other blind movements'.5


It is easy to imagine that the Board of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind saw Aston as a member of the rival organisation, and that as such it did not want her or her emancipist attitudes at its own school. Aston was not keen to expose herself to the politics of the position but felt that with the support of the Education Department, she could cope. Although only hinted at in her Memoirs, her economic situation was one deciding factor, as she had been living off the goodwill of her brother for years while sharing her mother's house and looking after her. By this time, Mrs Aston was eighty years old and becoming frailer. For Tilly, teaching made a good deal of sense. So in a pragmatic spirit, she withdrew from other organisations, as requested.


The unintended result for her was ostracisation at the Blind Institute and


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rejection by former friends at the Association for the Blind. It was a huge personal blow. According to Aston, the rifts were never fully breached.


For all Aston's frustrations and loneliness, there were compensations. She and the other two teachers, Dobson and Bryan, together overcame challenges that were unknown to teachers at mainstream schools. Indeed their level of dedication was astounding. This entry in the Schoolmaster's Report Book gives a fair idea of the problems faced:


Report for week ended 5/8/13 (Tues)


The attendance is improving and during the past month has been exceptionally good.


Ernest Keys enrolled 10/7/13 was ordered to the E&E Hospital and is there yet. He is the only absentee today.


The S'Master having been relieved of the 3rd Grade of 5 (all with one exception totally blind) since Miss Aston's first connection with the school as a teacher (18th June last) finds it possible to press on with more advanced work in the 4th and 5th Grades. This is a great satisfaction to him as the 5th Grade of 6 boys (old for the Grade and all with one exception, having partial sight) were to some extent neglected last year; while the staff was below the school's requirements, through the uncertainty that then existed as to the ultimate control of the school. [It had been unclear whether the Education Department might to some degree take over the school.]


This uncertainty having, happily, been removed the development of the pupils' powers - to the extent their affliction will allow - seems to be assured; both of the lady teachers - Miss L. Bryan and Miss M.A. Aston - being skilful and energetic and manifestly desirous of the advancement of their special charges.


At the suggestion of the Head Teacher Miss Aston is good enough to give the most backward of the partly sighted boys of the 4th and 5th Grades: Herberte, Guilmartin, Anderson and Boyle, practice in Braille Reading daily at the close of morning school (12 noon till 12.20 pm).


After a short experience it was found that these youths were not chivalrous enough to behave as they should have done so, at Miss Aston's request the plan of taking one of them daily in turn has been adopted.


Since then they have decidedly benefited by the extra tuition …


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The enrolment of a new scholar Ernest Keys (9 in May last) and the prospective enrolment of another on 1st Sept. next resulted in the decision to remove W. Blackwell (a neglected youth of 17) from Grade 1 and to ask Miss Aston to take him as a Special pupil to be worked with her charge Grade 3.


Miss Bryan needed some relief and Will is less out of place, all considered, with Grade 3 than he was with Grade 1. (It is a problem at all times how to deal with this youth to the best advantage.)


Miss Aston readily assented and as she will be able to give him more individual attention than Miss Bryan has been able to (with 8 scholars all at different stages of educational development) it would appear that Will's chances have improved, especially as he is not associated with children nearer (though not as much) to his own age.


This boy has done well considering the deplorable state of mental stagnation he was in when he came first to this school …


Doris Bailey daughter of Kew residents, who after Miss Aston at the Superintendent's request had interviewed them at their home recently agreed to enrol her … Doris is untaught - 13 years of age and totally blind so she is likely to tax Miss Bryan's skill and patience for some time.


We would like to have some thinner Braille paper as soon as it is available.


With the Superintendent's permission I would like Mr Palmer [the Music Master] to give a demonstration of School Singing for the last half hour on each Friday of the two-monthly holiday so that the relatives and friends of the pupils may hear them. The experiment was tried on Friday last and two of the pupils' parents were present. Mr Palmer has a fine influence over the pupils and works effectively and with no apparent effort.


The health of the scholars generally is good and with occasional lapses among the elder boys the conduct is all that can be desired.


Tho. B. Dobson

Schoolmaster

RVIB

6/8/13


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Students who were almost adults when they arrived at the school certainly posed added problems for all the teachers. And Superintendent Hogarth did not always give the necessary support.


Tilly Aston faced a constant struggle with the unpopular Hogarth. But unlike Aston, Dobson was often bold in challenging Hogarth and the Board about problems faced by the teachers. Since teachers as well as students had to live at the Institute, they had very little free time. It was a requirement that they announce any forthcoming absence, no matter how brief:


With regard to the Supt enquiring as to the Schoolmaster's absence on Friday evening last - the fact was that finding out at 7.30 pm that the barbers shop was closed at 8 o'clock he was away having his hair cut and returned to the Institute at 8.35 pm.


Thos B Dobson

Schoolmaster

RVIB

9/8/1915


With regard to the absence on Friday evg last I trust that in future the SM will communicate with one re absences other than those scheduled.


JH

10/8/15


Australia was now involved in the biggest catastrophe it had ever faced. World War I had broken out in Europe in 1914 and the whole British Empire was caught up in it. Australian men travelled to Europe to fight battles in places like Gallipoli and the Somme. Gas warfare and injuries from guns, cannon fire and bombs often resulted in blindness or vision impairment. The consequence was that a new group emerged for whom the Blind Institute became responsible.


At the onset of the war, overall progress had been registered in most areas of the Institute. Kenneth Sutherland, previously a Collector, was now the Organising Representative. Working with local committees in the City of Melbourne and some suburbs, under the Presidency of the Lady Mayoress (Mrs D.V. Hennessy) and local mayoresses, it was Sutherland's task to raise money for a scheme of extensions and improvements to the Institute's


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buildings. They raised pounds 883. This method of fund-raising through local councils would continue to be important to the Institute for many years.


Also in the last period of normal activities before the war, the Hon. J. Murray on behalf of the Victorian Government set aside one of the race days at Flemington Racecourse for the benefit of the Blind Institute. One of Melbourne's well-known citizens, bookmaker John Wren, took the matter in hand and conducted a race meeting on 28 April 1914, the proceeds of which, amounting to pounds 820, he handed to the Lady Mayoress for the Institute.6


The Edward Wilson Estate, which had provided funding to the Braille Library, gave the Institute pounds 1,000 in this year, and a special football match between Collingwood and Fitzroy Club players raised pounds 253.7 In all, fund-raising brought in pounds 2,707 of which pounds 2,368 was put aside for building purposes.


Since the onset of the war caused all building work to be put on hold, the Board temporarily invested these funds to meet the call for additional capital. Plans such as those for the construction of a gymnasium had to be abandoned, while terrible inflation, a long drought that affected country contributors, and the diversion of charity fund-raising to the war effort all meant that the Institute had to struggle to survive over the next few years.


The increasing inflation meant that workers' wages were worth less, so the Blind Institute decided to compensate by paying its workers more. Meanwhile, the defect of mixing educational and industrial buildings, the barrack-style architecture of the residential and educational portions of the institution, and the antiquated and prison-like state of the factories persisted. The only exception was the new brush factory, which provided an example for future manufacturing sites. Norm Rees, who worked in the factories during the early part of the twentieth century, remembered that 'there were 3 mat shops called Siberia because they were soooooo cold'.8 On the other hand, the factories had acquired a new function, in that they were now contributing to the war effort.


In 1915, the 48th Annual Report stated that:


Notwithstanding … that the work [of] the Institute … has been greater … that prices of all commodities have increased enormously, and that wages and bonuses to the workers have been increased, the year's operations only show a deficit of pounds 297/4/16 …


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The number of blind workers, &c. (including apprentices) engaged in the different workshops of the department … was 95 at the end of the year.


This is the largest number employed since the inception of the Institute …


The Sales for last year reached pounds 12,044, being pounds 2,301 in excess of the highest hitherto recorded …


The amount paid to the blind workers during the year in wages and bonus additions was pounds 4,782, and represents a substantial addition to that of any former year.


Despite a shortage of materials due to the war, the factories continued to be productive. And workers found themselves in possession of an unexpected windfall when they were granted free passes by the Prahran and Malvern Tramway Trust. This largesse enabled several of them to obtain at a distance from the Institute homes much more satisfactory than were available nearby.


The junior boys in the Institute were now housed in the repaired and adapted old hospital cottage and further benefited from an adjoining playground. This freed a portion of the main building for extra class space and the nucleus of a museum - the latter being something for which Mr Dobson had long lobbied.


But new struggles loomed:


Not only has the Board to consider further means of finding employment for the increasing number of candidates under present conditions, but from what can be gathered from the press, there is a likelihood that the ranks of the blind may unfortunately be increased by the injuries to some of the soldiers at the war resulting in blindness.9


In London, St Dunstan's Hospital had been set up to assist returning soldiers who had become blind or vision impaired, but no such special place existed in Victoria. It was simply expected that the Blind Institute would perform the service of training former soldiers.


In other ways, too, the Institute continued to grow. Dobson began teaching night classes in Braille writing and reading to adult workers who had never gone to school. And the new museum came to house objects that were useful in helping students to understand the world they lived in. Sir Baldwin


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Spencer, Director of the National History Museum, kindly provided suitable specimens. He also arranged for children from the Institute to attend the Museum in the city on special days when they were allowed to handle many objects.


Members of the choir and band gave several concerts to soldiers at the Base Hospital, as well as at the Soldiers' Lounge in St Kilda, to assist the Red Cross with funds. They also played and sang at a major Conference held at the Institute in September 1915. It was at this Conference that the Director of the Sydney Industrial Institution, Mr H. Hedger - whose son was to be the next Superintendent of Melbourne's Blind Institute - urged that a concert tour be organised to New South Wales. Generously Hedger even offered to contribute towards the expenses.


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The Conference of Managers of Industrial Blind Institutions of Australia opened on 21 September with the following representatives present:


Mr J.T. Hogarth (Victoria)

Mr I. Dickson (Queensland)

Messrs S.E. Ellis and J.C. McPhee (Tasmania)

Mr H. Hedger (New South Wales)

Mr A.W. Hendry and Capt. E.W. Pittman (South Australia)


An apology was received from Mr Bridge, Manager of the Western Australia Institution, who was unable to attend.


At the opening session of the Conference, J.T. Hogarth was elected Chairman, and H. Hedger, Secretary. Among the subjects subsequently discussed were:


The Best Methods of Dealing with Blind Soldiers Returned from the War. Papers on different trades and professions were presented including: Telephone Operation, Typewriting, and the Use of the Dictaphone, Simple Cabinet Making and Joinery. The subject of Massage was also considered. Some other trades suggested were Cigar Making, Fancy Basket Making, Fancy Brushwork, Firelights, Netting, Boot Repairing, Upholstering, Wirework, Piano Tuning and Repairing.


The Evil of Granting Pensions to the Junior Blind was the subject of a paper read by Mr. H. Hedger. He gave interesting particulars of the methods of assisting blind people in America. It was the unanimous opinion of the delegates that pensions to young people below the age of 21 discouraged efforts on their part which might otherwise have led to their complete independence and infinitely better financial position. It was resolved to forward a copy of the paper to the Hon. the Prime Minister, with a request that it should be considered when the revision of pensions comes up for discussion.


The Scale of Pensions to Adult Blind was considered, and it was generally felt that married people are unduly handicapped under the present arrangement. It was resolved to recommend that full pensions should be granted to married people whose incomes do not exceed 35/– per week.


The subject of blind mendicants was fully discussed and the harmful


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effect street begging had on the general welfare of blind people was pointed out by several delegates. It was resolved that a recommendation be conveyed to the authorities in each State that street begging by blind persons should be restricted in future by refusing permission to any new accession.


Other topics were the System of Augmenting Wages of Blind Workers, Relative Success of Industries, Assistance to Blind in Business Ventures and Compulsory Education.10


The opportunity to discuss all these new and old issues was of great importance to the institutions involved. There were to be many more such meetings.


In the midst of the war, in 1916, the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind reached its Jubilee anniversary. By the time of its fiftieth birthday, it had become the largest Blind Institute in Australia. Sadly, on account of the war, no commemorative celebrations were held.


By 1918, though trade continued to grow, the deficit had risen to pounds 6,396 and the Institute was obliged to withdraw pounds 4,744 from its permanent investment funds. In an added blow, the Victorian Government lowered its grant from pounds 1,700 to pounds 1,445. Buildings continued to deteriorate. The Institute was criticised by some for the high wages and bonuses it paid its factory workers. It defended itself by pointing out that it was simply trying to be as generous as possible 'especially at this time'.11


Economies were constantly being practised - often to the detriment of facilities for the children. The food and general conditions just got worse.


The number of soldiers arriving at the Institute who had lost their sight due to injuries in the war was less than initially anticipated. Some ex-soldiers were trained in piano tuning or in typing or telephone switchboard operation. Many had been at St Dunstan's in London before returning to Australia. Of those who returned without training, many chose not to use the facilities of the Institute. This was partly because, being in receipt of both a pension from the Defence Department and a sustenance allowance from the Repatriation Department, they were under no immediate pressure to earn a wage.


The schoolmaster, Mr Dobson, set up a chicken run to train the soldiers and anyone else interested in poultry farming. This innovation took its inspiration from a practice begun at St Dunstan's. Locally, too, the results


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were promising: 'Private Locket, though spending most of his time in the Basket Shop as a learner attends at the poultry yard between whiles and acquires as much information as is possible in a run "yet in the making".'12


In 1918 the Braille Library was installed at its new purpose-built premises close by in Commercial Road. The Institute had opposed this relocation, believing that the Library should instead remain sited within its own grounds, but most people who were blind or vision impaired felt otherwise.


The Annual Concert was held at the Prahran City Hall and proved a huge success, with pieces Sung and played by members of the choir and orchestra under David Palmer's directorship. Admission was one shilling and the concert earned the Institute about pounds 100.13


In the same year, a new Ladies' Committee was formed to provide entertainment and assistance to the children and 'blinded soldiers' receiving help from the Institute. Mrs George Tallis was elected as the Committee's first President, and a successor would be the Lady Mayoress of Melbourne, Mrs W.W. Cabena.


Two entertainments were successfully organised by the ladies, with the generous co-operation of Messrs Buckley & Nunn and Messrs Ben and J. Fuller, 'by means of which a substantial amount was raised to finance the


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work'. The performance held at the Princess Theatre on 18 December 1919 was a combination of items by the Institute's orchestra and singers, with the latter performing several solos and duets.14


By 1919 the physical condition of the Institute had much deteriorated and repairs needed to be done urgently. As well, the Institute was still under pressure to take more people into the factory. However, the Victorian Government was not forthcoming with any increase in grants and the Institute itself was already paying for the storage of factory supplies outside its own grounds. While a good deal of money had been earned by the factory because of its contribution to the war effort, this income was now winding down. The government grant stood at only pounds 1,445. And sales for the year from factory goods amounted to pounds 18,064.


The Institute came under public scrutiny again when an article was published in the Melbourne Truth under the explosive title 'Sweating the Blind':


The blind men employed in the various industrial departments of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind, St Kilda-road, have grievances which the Government should rectify immediately. These men do not live at the institution; but simply work there for 8 hours a week [sic]. The trades they are employed in are under wages boards, and the rates of remuneration paid outside are used as the basis on which the work done by the blind is assessed. This is most unfair, for a blind man, no matter how expert he may be at his trade, cannot possibly compete with a man with eyesight. The result is that it is impossible for them to make a living. There are single men working at trades in the institution who are only paid 22s 6d a week, out of which they have to pay pounds 1 per week for their board. There is a married man with a wife and four children to support who can only earn 32s 6d per week … With the high price of com-modities the hardships these unfortunate people undergo in making ends meet will be realised.


The institution does its best to alleviate the lot of blind workers; but the fault seems to be with the system of payment. For instance, the wages actually earned and paid to blind workers for the financial year ended June 1918 … totalled pounds 3,118 11s 3d; but the percentage payment allowed by the institution to the workers above what they actually earned


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at the wages board rates amounted to another pounds 2,791 12s 10d. These percentage increases should be abolished, and a living wage paid to these unfortunates, irrespective of their earning ability.15


One letter in response to the article went even further in the criticism about the way workers were paid:


… Although bonuses are added to piece-work rates paid, these piece-work rates are themselves frequently below those paid in outside shops to sighted workers - less than the Wages Board determination … The bonuses are, for the most part, spent in bringing the wages of these a little nearer to the magnificent average of 33s 1d per week …


The condition of these workers in general is so deplorable that in ever-increasing numbers they are ceasing to work at the Institute, and are begging in the streets …16


And another letter on the same day from a person in Brighton, who stated that he was blind, asserted:


Forced Into Beggary

… There are streams of generosity which never reach many of the deserving blind, who suffer in silence and misery and live in very squalid conditions. Is it any wonder that some of the blind workers at the Institution beg in the streets at night to supplement their pittance? There are said to be no less than eight or nine men out of 50 thus degrading their fellow-blind and themselves. They say, 'It's the streets or the river.' If that is so, it is high time a severe inquiry was made by an impartial board.17


It is quite likely that the second letter came from a resident of the Association for the Advancement of the Blind Home in Brighton. This was perhaps the first time that the opinion of a person who was blind or vision impaired had achieved direct exposure in the Melbourne press.


The Blind Institute's Board, which only the previous year had been criticised for paying workers too much, substantially agreed with the Brighton letter-writer's views. It printed the following statement in its 1919 Annual Report:


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The Position of Blind Tradesmen in the Social Plane and their Right to a Living Wage


Throughout Australia, and indeed the civilised world, blind workers are making a strenuous claim for such minimum rates of wages or allowances as will enable them and their wives and families to attain a reasonable modicum of comfort. Here, as elsewhere, such a demand has been recently made, and in regard to it, it should be pointed out that blind workers occupy a distinctly different position to ordinary persons who fail in common life, and are entitled to special treatment.


While it has been fully demonstrated that the blind of a suitable age and condition may be trained to largely overcome their affliction, and become useful citizens, it must be understood that they cannot under the best conditions produce much more than one-third of the actual work which seeing workers can, for reasons that must be obvious … The fact remains, however that even when grants amounting to an average of over 80% have been added to their earnings, the amount obtained by many of our workers is hopelessly inadequate to meet the increased cost of living, and it is no exaggeration to say that the condition of some of them is dangerously near starvation, while none of them receive anything approaching the wages considered to be the irreducible minimum among seeing workers, and one of the deplorable results of this has been a large influx of blind beggars to the streets of our cities.


The Federal Government has already been asked to make the regulations now governing the payment of Invalid Pensions to bona fide blind workers more liberal. At present a blind person may obtain a pension of 12/6 per week, provided that his income from all other sources does not exceed 22/6 per week. When his personal earnings or income from any other sources exceeds 10/– per week, the pension is correspondingly reduced, and the effect of this is to fatally discourage effort just at the period when it is most desirable.18


The Institute wanted the Federal Government to give workers the full pension. But even so, it would still have had to augment wages by pounds 3,000 to pounds 4,000.


The Annual Report of 1920 stated the following:


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Pensions for Incapacitated Workers


The Board is pleased to be able to record yet another step onward in its efforts for the advancement and amelioration of the condition of the blind by having established a system of pensions for old and incapacitated workers. The Board has given the workers something to look forward to in the days when their efforts to maintain themselves must cease through disability, by promising the following good conduct and long service pensions (so long as funds will permit) in addition to the Commonwealth Invalid pension of 15/- weekly.


For workers who have served

10 years 7/6 per week

10 to 13 years 8/–

13 to 16 9/–

16 years and upwards 10/–19


While it is impossible to know who fell into the category of 'good conduct' pensioner and who defined what 'good conduct' was, it is certain that this labelling was yet another indignity suffered by workers.


It was at this time that the Spanish influenza epidemic arrived in Melbourne and devastated the population. Many residents and staff at the Institute were affected. One of these was the Superintendent and Secretary, J. Thurston Hogarth. He died on 23 January 1920, having been Executive Officer for twenty-nine years.20


Fortunately things were about to look up. Hogarth was replaced in 1920 by thirty-year-old Stanus Hedger, who was eminently qualified for the position. Previously he had been Assistant Manager at the Sydney Blind Institute, of which his father, H. Hedger, had been Manager for forty-one years. As well, Stan Hedger had trained in all the trades taught to workers who were blind or vision impaired, and in Braille reading and writing, and in music. Further, in 1914 he had attended, in London, the largest international conference on blindness and vision impairment ever held. And while in England, he had been invited to give evidence and advice before an enquiry of the Royal Commission appointed by the House of Commons into the best way of improving the condition of people in the United Kingdom who were blind or vision impaired. Still overseas, the young Hedger had taken in the


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leading sister Blind Institutes in the British Isles, Germany and Continental cities, as well as in the United States and Canada. This had enabled him to study internationally the latest methods for the education and employment of people who were blind or vision impaired. Immediately on his return to Australia in 1915, he had enlisted in the AIF (Medical Corps) and served for three-and-a-half years at the Dardanelles, Egypt, France and Belgium, before eventually being invalided home.


It was three years after the end of World War I that Hedger came to the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. But by then it seemed that even Melbourne would finally recover from the long depressive period that had begun with the crashing of banks in 1892.


From the moment he arrived at the Institute, Hedger started winning over admirers. The following extract is taken from a tribute by Norman Rees for the Blind Workers' Union, which was not an uncritical fan of the new Superintendent. It gives an indication of the improvements he effected for those living and working at the Institute.


I went to school at the RVIB in February 1915 - just 5 years before Mr Hedger was appointed superintendent of the institute … Immediately, when he took over … a complete transformation took place … The


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factory workers received increased wages, and the living-in conditions of the school children were revolutionised. The cold stone floor of the dining hall was covered, the tables were cut down in size to cater for four children using chairs instead of the large tables with uncomfortable forms to sit on … Thousands of flowers were placed on the tables, and knives and forks were encouraged in place of spoons. Above all, the quality of the meals was greatly improved.21


Hedger's ability to gain the trust of movers and shakers in Melbourne brought much-needed funds to the Institute. Soon after the new Superintendent's term of office began, Melbourne's new Lord Mayor, Cr J.W. Swanson, accepted the invitation of the Board to act as Honorary Treasurer and Chairman to a special appeal to raise pounds 25,000. Every suburb took up the appeal. Subscriptions and ordinary donations also increased and workers in the factories were consequently granted bonuses amounting to pounds 1,500.22


The Annual Report of June 1921 showed a subscription of pounds 12,000 from Councils of the Municipalities of Victoria. Swanson's predecessor, Cr J.C. Aikman, had written a personal letter to each municipality urging their support and clearly it had hit the mark. The money had many urgent uses:


(1) To pay for an inevitable yearly loss on the Manufacturing Department amounting to about pounds 4,000.

(2) To maintain and extend the free and higher education of blind children of Victoria, which at present is costing pounds 3,800 per annum.

(3) To build extra workshops to accommodate every blind person wanting work.

(4) To restore to the blind the concert and recreation hall (containing a magnificent pipe organ) which for seventeen years has been used for the storage of manufactured goods.

(5) To remodel (in order to conform with the requirements of the Department of Public Health) the old buildings built fifty years ago.

(6) To pay in addition to Union sighted rates of wages, bonuses to workers which at present amount to pounds 5,500 per annum, and which are paid to try and bridge the gap between blind and sighted labour.

(7) To meet the large increases granted by Wages Board awards to the sighted staff, who formerly did not come under such awards.23


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These improvements began to be implemented as soon as the money was raised. The 55th Annual Report and Balance-sheet, for the year ended 30 June 1922, reported as follows:


It affords the Board great pleasure at the outset to state that the general management of the affairs of the Institute has been good, and its administration efficient and successful. During the year the Institute was honored with a visit from the State Treasurer, the Hon. W.H. McPherson, MLA, and the Secretary to the Treasury, Mr T.E. Meek, who congratulated the Board on the great progress the Institute had made since their last visit three years ago.


Through the splendid success of the Institute's special appeal for funds last year, the Board has been enabled to build three of the most modern workshops for the blind - capable of accommodating all the eligible blind who desire to be trained in trades, and the record admissions for the year testify to the urgent need for these buildings. Comfortable lunch rooms are being provided, and in addition the schoolrooms, dormitories, dining-hall, music and lounge rooms have all been renovated and painted, the latest methods of ventilation, etc., being installed. The Concert Hall which for 17 years had been used as a store for material and goods, is being completely remodelled - a flat floor on springs is being substituted for the old sloping floor to enable the blind people to dance, etc., and cloak rooms and conveniences are being added.


About pounds 14,000 has already been spent on these additions and improvements, and the balance which has been temporarily invested is bringing in interest which helps the Board to meet the extraordinarily heavy drain on its financial resources incurred by the increased price of commodities, the extra wages which had to be paid to the staff according to Wages Board Awards, and the large bonuses granted to the blind workers to assist them to receive a living wage …


Hedger's positive influence was felt in every part of the organisation. Although the head teacher, Thomas Dobson, retired from the school in 1921, even the brief year he spent under Hedger was uplifting for him. The following passage from his logbook mentions the young Norman Rees (who later spoke so enthusiastically in his Tribute from the Blind Workers' Union):


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Some two months ago the Supt gave Norman Rees a cottage junior (14) permission to keep pigeons. The S'Master was dubious at first as to the advisableness of this but with the assistance of his partly sighted schoolmates and the Cottage Mother, the lad, though quite blind, has managed so well that the S'Master acknowledges himself a convert as to the advantages of the experiment …


As one who has had the pleasure and privilege of reading to the blind inmates during their morning and evening meals and keeping order in the Dining Hall the S'Master bears willing testimony to the efficacy of the innovation, small tables accommodating four diners only, knives and forks, where possible flowers and serviettes, understood to be one of the Supt's ideas of dining room control. These betterments and the substitution of a wooden floor for one of the asphalt have transformed the Dining Hall and the manners of the diners have improved in consequence.


The S'Master who has been closely identified with the inner life of the blind here for over 12 years congratulates the Supt and Board of Management, if he may be allowed to do so, on an undeniable advance in this department of the Institute's many-sided activities at any rate.


The Sup't may rest assured that the diners are playing up to a good and wholesome lead.24


Record admissions were a feature for 1921, with nine girls and seven boys being taken in. These admissions did not represent an increase in blindness or vision impairment. Rather, they demonstrated the Board's diligent activity in getting in touch with the parents of children who were blind or vision impaired and residing in various parts of Victoria. These parents were then persuaded to send their children to the school.


The Institute regularly obtained from England all the latest school and musical magazines, papers and books printed in Braille type. As well, its staff read aloud to students from children's magazines and stories written in 'seeing' type. The Board arranged for students to receive almost daily instruction in physical education. One child, who was 'both crippled and blind', necessitated the engagement of a special nurse.


Norman Rees was successful in passing his Scholarship examination. He joined two other students, George Findlay and John Byrne, at Gardiner


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Elementary School where they all received a higher education. The Annual Report for 1921 stated that the boys' success was largely thanks to Miss Aston.25 The Institute, by arrangement with the Education Department, provided students with apparatus for Braille arithmetic and algebra, as well as with slates, paper and typewriters. This enabled students to write their examination papers and the regular home lessons required by their teachers. Volunteer workers at the Braille Library transcribed school books as required.


The residential quarters of the children were remodelled in 1921. There was now an up-to-date dining room and lounge room. New bedding and clothing were also provided. Dancing and elocution classes began and Hedger obtained a boat for the children to use on Albert Park Lake.


The Education Department kindly carried out its annual examination of the Institute's pupils, and the Inspector was very much gratified at the work and tone of the school - thus demonstrating the success of the Board in its efforts to provide the best education for its pupils. The Department's praise to the management must be shared by the teachers Mr John Chapman, appointed in the place of Mr T.B. Dobson who retired after 14 years' service, Miss M.A. Aston, the teacher of the Scholarship pupil, and Miss L. Bryan, who give their energy and enthusiasm to bring about the results achieved.


Preparations are now complete for the girls to be instructed in domestic economy (cooking, laundry, household duties, etc.) and the boys in technical trades by means of which they will leave school more fully equipped with knowledge to enable them to take their places in the home or industrial life.26


Music continued to be integral to educating children:


At the ANA Competitions held in Melbourne, 15th May to 19th June, 1920, six pupils competed against the 'seeing world.' After exhaustive contests, two blind lads, George Findlay and Jack Byrne, won the final of the pianoforte duet for boys under fifteen years of age, and the former followed up this achievement by securing a place in the Champion pianoforte solo for boys and girls under fifteen years of age, against no fewer than thirty-five competitors.27


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In June 1922 two of the Institute's singers, W. Rule and Fred Sutcliffe, were successful in winning the final of the duet at the Australian Natives' Association Competitions held in Melbourne. Sutcliffe, an assistant teacher at the Institute, was awarded second place in the tenor solo too. Seventy-three students received instruction in music during 1922 - mainly in pianoforte, violin, class and solo singing, flute, cornet and other band instruments, harmony, counterpoint, and the art of teaching. Those with special talent were sent to the University of Melbourne Conservatorium. The three so assisted in that year receiving tertiary training in singing, violin and piano.


Back at the Blind Institute, able and efficient instruction was given by David Palmer (Musical Director) and Fred Sutcliffe (the assistant teacher). The orchestra, which boasted twenty artists under the conductorship of Mr Palmer, was rapidly growing in popularity with the public, who frequently engaged it for dances, concerts, at-homes, picnics, sports meetings and the like.28


Other innovations at this time included the Social, Literary and Debating Club, which provided evening dances, card, domino and draught games, lectures and concerts. All people in the metropolitan area who were blind or vision impaired were invited to participate. These gatherings proved very popular.


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Cricket clubs were also formed, and keen contests were played using a wicker-ball with bells inside. Rowing and swimming classes were conducted too.


A Wholesale Department was set up to supply workers with groceries, clothing and tobacco at wholesale rates.


Seven ex-soldiers were being taught trades at the Institute's training centre. A particular favourite among them was switchboard operation. A special instructor was provided for the purpose.


A highlight of 1922 was the re-opening of Ormond Hall for the Blind. At a special ceremony a tablet was unveiled by His Excellency, the Earl of Stradbroke, Governor of Victoria:


After a very sympathetic speech, in which he expressed himself as being delighted with the improvements effected, and the excellent work-shops, etc., provided, Lord Stradbroke formally declared the Hall open, and unveiled a brass tablet which had been erected by the Committee to commemorate the generosity of those who subscribed pounds 52,000 to the Institute last year in response to an appeal by the Lord Mayor (Sir J.W. Swanson) and Lady Swanson. After the Governor's speech, the orchestra and soloists of the Institute appropriately gave the first concert in the Hall, during which Miss Rappiport (blind) on behalf of the Committee appointed to cater for the Social Welfare of the Blind, presented His Excellency with a Braille letter in book form, thanking him for opening up the Hall to the Blind of Victoria.


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Hedger's term of office would continue to bring changes. But though he was doubtless their champion, he was not always sympathetic to the calls for greater self-governance made by people who were blind or vision impaired and studying, working and living at the Institute.


Jack Murphy, who began at the Institute in 1917, vividly recounts the effect of Hedger's revolution and also his limitations:


My recollections of the Institute go back to July 1917. I was, at the age of 10 years, admitted to the school on St Kilda Road. And at that time the whole system of training, education and living was very much like a reformatory style of administration … I was a junior pupil of course along with numerous others and we occupied a cottage in the front garden. It was a weatherboard building but it was very nice and comfortable.


There were two dormitories but only one was in use. There were eight beds in the dormitory that I occupied along with 6 or 7 other lads. I have their names here: Sam Dunne, Keith Davis, Leslie Lynch, Walter Lansdell, Norman Rees and the Cottage Mother was an Irish lady by the name of Mrs MacVickers. They tell me by those who could see her that she was a red headed Irish lady and a very austere type, used to haul us out of bed at 6 in the morning with a cane in her hand and waited at the bathroom door for us to engage in a cold shower, winter and summer, and we were driven in more or less with a threat of a smack on the bottom with the cane. She was followed by a Miss Collins who was much more easy going, rather a free and easy type and one of the boys for instance who could see a fair bit, he noticed something sparkling on her dressing table which was adjoining the dormitory, and he jumped in and stole it. Something - a brooch, I can't be sure what it was, maybe a ring, and it was reported. He admitted to the theft. The Superintendent, Mr Hogarth, came down one morning, with the cane in his hand, stripped the blankets off the bed and the boy and gave him a flogging and turned to the rest of us and said, 'Now this is what any of you can expect if you do the same thing.' And that was the type of administration that prevailed over us young chaps in those early days. Mr Hogarth came from England to take up a position with a benevolent society at Bendigo. He later applied for the position at the Institute somewhere about the turn of the century, I believe, but he was in office until an epidemic of influenza


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in 1919 took him into the next world beyond. On notification of his passing, the whole lot of us cheered with joy. He was a tyrant of a man and very difficult to get on with.


I'm told of a story, one of the older students who had left by the time I had come there, but I had met him on one occasion, a chappie who was a piano tuner too, lived at Shepparton. He was great at impersonating people. And he could impersonate Mr Hogarth absolutely perfectly, I'm told. George Findlay and Jack Byrne knew him quite well, they were a little bit older than I was. Anyway this fellow bailed up one of the blind boys and reprimanded him in the voice of Mr Hogarth. Of course the boy was all dismayed and so forth, apologised and so forth. Well about a week later or some time anyway, this boy was genuinely approached by Mr Hogarth and was pulled up about something and he thought it was the impersonating fellow again and he hopped in and jobbed the boss. So that's a story that we have had handed down to us through the years as a result of the type of atmosphere that we had to survive in as school pupils until Mr Stan Hedger took over in 1920 …


Stan Hedger … devoted his whole time to organizing the first big public appeal that as far as I recall, was the first ever conducted by the Institute. It was during that appeal that the girls and boys of the school were used for the full publicity purposes for raising money. The appeal ended with a fund of 50,000 pounds which was big money in those days but prior to that, the institute was absolutely bankrupt and the Prahran City Council was providing funds to keep the staff paid to look after things but the food and the conditions were down right disgraceful.


The dining room had an asphalt floor which was broken up, you could really catch your heel in holes and topple over. We were furnished with long bare board tables like forms, no tablecloth and very heavy crockery and so forth. And the food was something shocking. It was very much a matter of Irish Stew, composed of meat and vegetables that the shops couldn't sell at the end of the day, sent down to the Blind Institute for the kids. It was shocking … we went off to the Christmas Holidays of 6 weeks at the end of 1921 and when we came back to school we were ushered into a dining room with a beautiful parquetry floor and little tables for four with linen tablecloths and cut glass vases with flowers in


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and knives and forks instead of the clumsy tools of trade that we had been used to. And for a change we got bacon and eggs for breakfast and beautifully cooked porridge and that sort of thing … I'm quite convinced from what I learn about his attitude towards the school, that although he was a bachelor in those days he was fond of children. He was often seen to pick up a little toddler in the courtyard where the bell rings, you know, and pick him up on his shoulders … Although he generated a great deal of dislike because of his firmness and his style of administration, he was a capable person, entirely energetic, dynamic and in a sense dictatorial. He was an autocrat and a very egotistical person. But he was capable of very vast compassion where it was justified. On the opposite end of the scale, if you got into holts with Stan on anything that was controversial or with anything that he disapproved of, it was just bad luck for the opponent.29


An example is:


There was trouble in the brush shop on one occasion. The representatives of the Brush Makers Union wanted Trades Hall to come down to do battle with Stan Hedger over conditions of work in the brush shop. He


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received them, there was two of them, he listened to them and he just said 'Get out of here, I'll do what I want to do. I'll stand over dead bodies to get what I want. It's got nothing to do with you, I run this place, not you.' That was his style. He was a war-like individual on occasions and nothing would stop him. He was an aggressive type of individual in a battle like that. He'd use any tactics at all to win an argument by hook or by crook but on the other hand, if you had a good logical case and you presented it intelligently and decently without any abuse, like some of them would go in complaining bitterly and criticizing and so forth, well Stan wouldn't tolerate criticism. So if you presented a case to Stan and he decided to go ahead with you, he was always generous. Generous to an extreme.30


Stan Hedger would continue to rule the Blind Institute for another thirty years, through good times and bad. His abilities were great and his passion for the Institute total. Like many people obsessed with their work, he was both brilliant and difficult. As a result, people felt strongly about him - either loved or hated him.


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