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Refurbished headquarters for Services for Deaf Children, Melbourne, Friday, 27 March 1998: address on the occasion of the opening.



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ADDRESS BY SIR WILLIAM DEANE

GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

ON THE OCCASION OF THE OPENING OF

REFURBISHED HEADQUARTERS FOR SERVICES FOR DEAF CHILDREN

MELBOURNE

FRIDAY. 27 MARCH 1998

It is a great pleasure for Helen and me to be with you this afternoon for the official opening o f this second stage o f the redevelopment project for Victorian Services For Deaf C hildren-V S D C

This site in St Kilda Road ... “ 597" as it’s long been known - is a truly historic one For well over 130 years its splendid bluestone building has served the needs o f deaf children and those who are hearing impaired in this city and this State: as the Victorian Deaf and Dumb Institution, as the Victorian School for Deaf Children, and now, with the recent name change, as the headquarters o f VSDC Services for Deaf Children

It is a school and the home base for an array o f services to the deaf and the hearing impaired throughout Victoria. Indeed, as one o f the remaining institutional buildings from the high Victorian period still in original use, the building is recognised internationally for its significance to the history and culture o f deaf people

I would venture to add that it is also something else: a symbol o f the commitment that has inspired generations o f men and women in this city to take positive action on behalf o f those less fortunate than themselves That commitment is o f very great importance. Indeed, the longer I am Governor-General, the more convinced I become that the ultimate test o f our worth as a truly democratic nation is how we treat the vulnerable and disadvantaged members o f our society Among them, if course, are those who are deaf, who have hearing disabilities, and even to some extent those who are dependent upon them

A few months ago 1 was privileged to launch the Auslan CD-ROM, Signs of Australia, a dictionary for those who use the Australian Sign Language. In fact I understand you are working on the production o f a new edition o f the dictionary to be published about the middle o f this year I was most interested to discover that the figure o f approximately 15,500 deaf people who use Auslan tells only part o f the full story. In addition, there are up to 10,000 hearing children o f deaf people (so-called ‘CODAs’) for whom Auslan is literally their first language There are the other family members and friends o f signing deaf people. There are many hearing teachers o f deaf children and hearing interpreters who serve the wider community. A ll in all, and speaking

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conservatively, there would seem to be around 30,000 Auslan users in Australia: a very significant linguistic and cultural minority

Now I mention those statistics today to underline the fact that the services which have been provided for the past century-and-a-third on this site and at your other properties the Princess Elizabeth Junior School at Burwood and residential homes for children ... have not only directly assisted the young people themselves to an extent that dramatically influences the shape, the fulfilment, the happiness and the achievement o f their own subsequent lives but have indirectly but significantly affected the lives o f the wider membership o f their families, their friends, and the community o f which they are part.

Let me mention, briefly, your Education Support Service which provides a range o f speech pathology, audiology, counselling, physiotherapy, psychology and Auslan tuition. The Case Management Service helps deaf youngsters and their families ensure that deafness is no barrier to individual achievement There is the Independent Living Program which assists deaf students with a disability, over the age o f 15, to gain practical skills that encourage both independence and self-confidence And in that respect, I congratulate you on the recent successful tender to help provide employment services to deaf people. In all those ways, you do great things for deaf people and those affected or influenced by their special needs. And this has been true o f your work since the 1860s.

And, let me again emphasise that, in serving the deaf community o f our nation, you truly serve the nation itself.

As you all know, the completion o f this second phase o f the redevelopment has included the partial refurbishment o f the splendid bluestone Gothic-revival building. The aim has not been to restore it exactly as it was in 1871, when the north wing was opened. Nor has the aim been to create a museum for as always you are dealing with people o f the present: the living and the growing But certainly the intent has been to create an excellent modern educational and office environment whilst maintaining the historical and architectural significance o f the building In this you have been highly successful.

The new facilities include an art and craft room, a home economics centre, a multiĀ­ purpose room and canteen on the ground floor o f the north wing, together with office and administration facilities on the ground and first floors. Fire safety has been greatly improved; electrical services brought up-to-date; new light, power, voice and data systems have been added in the refurbished areas, together with new heating And whilst the St Kilda Road facade is substantially intact, many o f the old red brick extensions out the back have been demolished, windows and fittings restored

The result is handsome, dignified, thoroughly modern and practical. The approach has been one which retains and values the integrity o f the building. The result is a reaffirmation and renewal o f the wonderful work performed by VSDC and its predecessors for deaf children, their families and society as a whole since the first institute for the deaf was opened in the year 1860.

Finally, I sincerely congratulate all who have been involved in the project: the board o f VSDC, the Architect, the Builders, the craftsmen and women, the students and staff I also congratulate VSDC and all association with it for all that has been achieved over the past 138 years on behalf o f deaf children and their families And I assure the deaf

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adults and children o f our country and all who serve them that you will have Helen’s and my unqualified support and admiration while I am Governor-General and afterwards

I add one thought. It is that, if F J Rose does in fact still walk the corridors o f this great old building, he may well have been most annoyed by the disturbance during the renovations. Nonetheless, he is a very happy and proud man this afternoon

And now, with much pleasure, I declare the second stage o f the redevelopment project for VSDC Services For Deaf Children to be officially open