A book about stories celebrating the contributions of older Australians
Cath Bonnes AM
Founder: Broken Hill & District Hearing Resource Centre Inc.
2000 Member of the Order
2003 Centenary Medal
My own childhood has made me very conscious of the fact that some people aren’t capable of fighting for themselves. And I know, full darn well, that at times people have to have someone else to go in to bat for them.
I was born in Burra SA in 1920. My father was a Broken Hill boy and came back here when I was four. I lost my mother soon after and my father and maternal Grandmother raised me. Every time the two of them had a row, he’d take off to the bush to work as a horse trainer or a rabbit trapper or whatever suited him. I was reared as a boy, well, some parts of me.
I had very little schooling and I married the first person who was kind to me. I was twenty.
When I left my husband at 40 years of age I was semi-illiterate. The only papers I read were the kid’s comics books and that sort of thing.
When I lost my hearing, I was in my fifties, working as a shearers cook. I didn't have much family , a couple of Aunts. I was just told to go home and live with my deafness. I went through such terrible times: I nearly lost my home, I hit slid row. I never a drinker before but I drank for eight months solid. And I know why I did. Because if I bought people a drink
they’d put up with me for being deaf. That’s honest. Deafness is one of the most isolating things there is and I was buying company.
One day I was down in Adelaide seeing about some surgery on my leg and I saw a sign on the street that said: Better Hearing Australia. I called in and they said to me, ‘You can learn to speech read.’ So over the next year, that was what I did. There was a bus from Broken Hill to Adelaide and it was forty dollars,
I’d be on it. It left at 11am at night and got into town about four in the morning. I’d sit in the Greyhound bus terminal and wait for the time when the doors would open at Better Hearing.
That night I’d catch the bus back again. More often than not I wouldn't even have the money to buy a meat pie. A few women would give me a meal.
Once I’d learnt to speech read, I thought to myself: I wonder how many others there are in Broken Hill like me? That led to our first Deafness Awareness Week which was twenty years ago this August. Three hundred people turned up and were on our way.
The Broken Hill Hearing Resource Centre is a voluntary support organisation. We try to fill the needs of the hearing impaired and the deaf. When we first started getting it established, I’d work in the Centre in the day and then I’d go and sit in the Mall and sell raffle tickets until it got dark. I've had so much assistance over the years. For example, the community built us two soundproof audio-testing booths. I just went to the South Rotary Club one night and I said to them, ‘Well I am here to sing for my super.’ And they said, ’And I suppose you wanted it yesterday?’ And I said, ’No, I wanted it three weeks ago!’ Now Australian Hearing visits our Centre and uses our booths every month.
There’s always a lot to be done. We supply batteries, repair hearing aids, demonstrate devices, train staff in correct fitting, teach signing, visit schools, advise people with Tinnitus, act as assistants and so on.
I’m always pushing for an increase in funding and better conditions for the deaf. I’ve served on State and Federal Advisory Committees, forums and reviews for years. I think I’ve gotten under the skin of quite a few people over the time, actually, but that has never stopped me.
I no longer care what people think of me. You’ve got to be able to say, ‘This is what I believe in.” These days I’m comfortable in my own skin. I can look myself in the mirror and am quite happy about what I see staring back at me.