Stanmore Deaf Centre
Stanmore to Parramatta Summary and Video
Stanmore to Parramatta Mini-Documentary (2013)
The Stanmore Deaf Centre
The Deaf Society’s headquarters had been in the centre of Sydney (‘the city’) since its beginnings in 1913. The move to the inner west of Sydney began in 1949 when a hostel, Gordon-Davis House, was erected in Cambridge Street, Stanmore, although the Society’s headquarters continued at 5 Elizabeth Street. In the 1960s, facilities for elderly deaf people were added to the hostel at Stanmore. Finally, in 1970 the Society decided to move its headquarters and all of its services to Stanmore, beginning construction of a purpose built facility which came to be known as the Stanmore Deaf Centre. While the Centre was being built, the Society used temporary office accommodation in Dey House, an extension of Gordon-Davis House.
Ken Tribe was the Chair of the Deaf Society’s Board in 1970 and is widely recognised as a major force behind the development of the Stanmore complex. His vision was to see the Society move away from paternalism and enable deaf people to have greater control over their own affairs, and the new Deaf Centre was planned to facilitate that. The Deaf General Committee had extensive input into the design of the Centre. On 22 April 1974 the Premier of NSW, Sir Robert Askin, laid the foundation stone of the Stanmore Deaf Centre, and by 1975 a distinctive white building at 123 Cambridge Street, Stanmore was ready to become the new headquarters of the Deaf Society.
The Stanmore Deaf Centre consisted of three impressive floors incorporating the offices of the Deaf Society, a chapel, education and training rooms, a children’s play room, a crèche, offices of various deaf committees, a large auditorium, a coffee lounge, billiards and table tennis rooms, a stage for theatre productions with dressing rooms, a well equipped kitchen and - as if that wasn’t enough - a full sized bowling green, a squash court, crafts room, shower and locker rooms and storage areas.
The Stanmore Deaf Centre, or ‘Stanmore’ as it was commonly called, was seen by most of the Deaf Community in NSW as a very special place - for many it was even a ‘second home’. It is remembered as a vibrant, inter-generational meeting centre, filled with people of all ages and full of activities and services. These included many sporting clubs, and a number of social clubs including the popular Deaf Club and its Friday evening ‘Club Nights’. The Deaf Centre also hosted the drama activities of the NSW Theatre of the Deaf which later became the Australian Theatre of the Deaf, as well as regular social events and celebrations. The Centre also housed the various welfare programmes and oher services which the Society provided. A temporary setback occurred in 1980 when the administration area was gutted by fire, destroying many records. However, this was soon rebuilt.
The 1980s was considered by some to be the heyday of Stanmore, particularly around the time of the International Year of the Disabled Persons and afterwards, when the Deaf Community transitioned to having greater responsibilities within the Deaf Society and was moving more into the mainstream. However, it was in the 1980s too that the Deaf Society found the financial cost of maintaining the Stanmore Complex and running ambitious programs became very difficult. Because of this, the Board decided to reduce its activities and sell off many of its buildings. The Deaf Society’s centres in Newcastle and Wollongong were sold and in 1995, after much discussion and consultation, the Stanmore Deaf Centre was sold to the nearby Newington College. The Deaf Society moved its advocacy and professional services to leased premises in Parramatta and the residents of the aged care facility, Lonsdale House, were moved to Mullauna Village in Blacktown. The selling of the Stanmore Deaf Centre had a profound effect on many in the Deaf Community. Although the community has adapted and found new venues to continue its social, sporting and cultural activities, many have felt a sense of loss for the social networks and activities that were once facilitated by the Stanmore building itself. Stanmore is still remembered with great affection.
A written and visual report, ‘Stanmore to Parramatta Oral History Project: Changes within the Deaf Community’, can be found in the Deaf Society archives. This report includes detailed descriptions of the Stanmore Deaf Centre and its significance to the Deaf community in NSW.
The Stanmore to Parramatta Oral History Project was made possible by the support of Parramatta City Council's Heritage and Stories Research Fund.