Within the Deaf community there are a number of cultural institutions. It is through these cultural institutions that the community gets its strength. It gives the community a sense of identity, pride, worth and also lays down some of the rules for participation. In many cases cultural institutions contribute to the economic well being of the community.
For example the Australian Deaf Games are a cultural institution. They are not just games that Deaf people participate in, they are also part of the Deaf community’s identity. They create history, social links and even contribute to the economic health of the Deaf community. A well run Australian Deaf Games that makes a profit gives the Deaf community a certain amount of financial gain. The Australian Deaf Games are crucial to the long term survival of the Australian Deaf community, both socially and financially.
Cultural institutions are not just events. They can include things like social groups, arts, theatre, family structure, religious groups, political groups and the like. Examples of such institutions include Australian Theatre of the Deaf, The John Pierce Centre and Deaf Victoria. Across these various institutions much of the strength of the Deaf community lies.
A crucial cultural institution for the Deaf community has always been its Deaf Centres, or Deaf Clubs. These Deaf Clubs are a central place where many of the cultural institutions meet and co-exist. Old timers in the Deaf community know that groups like sports groups, Deaf Senior Citizens, the Women’s Guild, the political groups and individual community members all used the Deaf Clubs as place to coordinate activities. Deaf Club’s are the hub where the social and economic benefits of the Deaf community’s cultural institutions come to the fore.
In recent times, particularly since the mid-1990s, the value of Deaf Clubs as the hub of the community has been forgotten and in some cases lost. There are many reasons for this. One of them has been technology. In the past Deaf community members did not have the benefit of email, Skype, SMS, TTYs and the like to communicate.
As technology developed it provided Deaf community members with a means to be able to arrange things differently. Whereas in the past they would all meet at the Deaf Club and move on from there they could now arrange to meet directly at any number of places. A quick SMS to meet at a café or the movies has meant that the need to meet somewhere centrally like the Deaf Club was no longer needed.
The bigger threat has always been the economic one. Deaf Club’s usually existed within Deaf Society’s. Increasingly Deaf Society’s have faced financial challenges. These financial challenges have led to the sale of assets and the purchasing or leasing of more financially viable business centres. As Deaf Society’s made the decision to move to premises that were more financially viable it usually meant that Deaf Clubs closed or were neglected.
The rot started with NSW and the sale of the Stanmore Deaf Society. Stanmore had a wonderfully vibrant Deaf Centre. At one stage it actually had a lawn bowls green out the back. I worked there for a time and made good use of the squash court down stairs. In the 90’s financing the Stanmore site became too much of a strain. It was sold and the profits were used to set up the Deaf Society of NSW at the current Parramatta premises.
Unfortunately planning for the survival of the Deaf Club in NSW was inadequate. The Deaf community lost its central and most important cultural institution. This led to the NSW Deaf community becoming increasingly fragmented and disjointed. It has taken many years for the NSW Deaf community to recover and it still has a long way to go.
In Victoria the old Jolimont property was sold. With it went the Jolimont Deaf Club. There was some thought given to the needs of a Deaf community meeting centre. This is probably why the John Lovett meeting area was established. However, to get access to the meeting area the Deaf community were competing with many other groups. Accessing the centre after 6pm was a nightmare. The lift security prevents any access after 6pm. This means someone must arrive before 6pm. As people arrive they SMS each other and someone has to go down and let people in. It’s cumbersome and often unworkable. The demise of the Jolimont Deaf Club is very much lamented.
In South Australia the Deaf community had an acrimonious battle with Deaf Can Do to prevent the sale of its Community hub at 262 South Terrace. They lost. Deaf Can Do have made provisions for the establishment of a Deaf Club at Modbury. It is not ideal. It is not very central nor is it that accessible to public transport but at least it is a Deaf Club. However, one wonders if Deaf Can Do missed a trick by not allocating a proportion of the profits of the sale of the grand old 262 building to the Deaf community. This would have allowed the Deaf community to become independent of Deaf Can Do and potentially financially secure.
Make no mistake Deaf Clubs are the heart of the Deaf community. Deaf clubs promote and sustain many of the community’s vital cultural institutions. This is why it is such great news that Vicdeaf and Deaf Children Australia have joined forces to employ four researchers. The researchers will gather information about successful Deaf centres and community centres all over the world. The research will be used to consult with the Deaf community to hopefully plan for the establishment of a strong and viable Deaf Club. To learn more about the research project watch the video.
We can dream. Let’s imagine a Deaf Club that is not just a meeting spot but it is also a hub of activity. Perhaps there will be café within that is managed entirely by Deaf people. Perhaps there will be regular community activities such as yoga and self-help groups that are run from the centre. Imagine if one of the several Deaf hairdressers in Victoria actually set up a hairdresser/beautician salon at the Deaf Club to pamper both Deaf and hearing people. Maybe there could be a business hub where consumers can locate any number of skilled Deaf professionals like builders, accountants, web designers, computer technicians and the like.
Let’s dream. The Deaf community needs a strong and vibrant Deaf Club. This is the lesson that we have all learnt from the 90s and early 2000s. The strength of the Deaf community lies from it having a strong Deaf Club. It is only right that profits made from the sale of assets from our Deaf Societies, including Deaf Children Australia, be directed back to the Deaf community. After all, these organisations were largely established on the backs and hard work of our Deaf pioneers.
Congratulations to Vicdeaf and Deaf Children Australia for establishing the research project into Deaf Centres. I, for one, cannot wait to read its findings.