Explore the growing digital archive of deaf history in Australia.

Deaf Performance

Curator: Caroline Conlon
Copyright Caroline Conlon 2024. Used with permission.

Deaf Performance

Guest curator Caroline Conlon explains the role of performance in Deaf communities, and how different types of performance have evolved through Australian Deaf history.
There have been many examples of deaf performance throughout Australian history. See and read about some of them here.

An Evening with the Deaf and Dumb

In 1889, a group of deaf men in Melbourne called the Deaf and Dumb Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Society put on a performance for the deaf children at the Victorian Deaf and Dumb Institute. The performance included a signed song, a ‘farce’ or comical performance, and drawing sketches on a blackboard. The deaf children loved it! A newspaper reporter also loved it and wrote about it for a Melbourne newspaper.

An Evening with the Deaf and Dumb. (1889, September 21). Weekly Times (Melbourne, Vic. : 1869 – 1954), p. 9 (SUPPLEMENT TO THE FARMERS GAZETTE). Retrieved January 18, 2024, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article220418221

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‘The [deaf] actors acquitted themselves well, throwing themselves with creditable abandon into the humour of the various positions. As to the youngsters, they were vastly delighted...’
-‘An Evening with the Deaf and Dumb’, 1889.

Copyright Caroline Conlon 2024. Used with permission.

Deaf Mute Cricket Club Entertainment

In 1889, the Deaf Mutes Cricket Club in Melbourne held a “Grand Variety Entertainment” to raise funds from the general public – this is the program. Some of the entertainment was provided by hearing people, such as singing, piano playing and reciting poems. Deaf people performed “living statues” and a deaf magician performed lots of conjuring tricks.

South Australian Deaf Community Collection (Deaf Connect).

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Statue Performance

Deaf women pose as “living statues” showing well-known scenes (Melbourne)

MS 13362. Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library Victoria

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Townsend House Diamond Jubilee Program

In 1897, the South Australian Institution for the Blind and Deaf and Dumb in Adelaide celebrated their diamond jubilee with a concert for the public. This is the hand-written program. There were several “Tableaux” (similar to “living statues”) performed by the deaf students.

South Australian Deaf Community Collection (Deaf Connect).

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Copyright Caroline Conlon 2024. Used with permission.

Unique Entertainment Program

This 1902 “Unique Entertainment” was one of Ernest Abraham’s first ambitious fund-raising events in Melbourne. The detailed program lists the names of all the deaf performers involved.
South Australian Deaf Community Collection (Deaf Connect).

Female Performers Group

A group of deaf women performers in Melbourne, early 20th century

MS 13362. Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library Victoria

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Performers Group

A group of deaf women performers in Brisbane, posing with Samuel Showell, early 20th century.

MS 13362. Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library Victoria

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Copyright Caroline Conlon 2024. Used with permission.

These newspaper stories report on the “Deaf, Dumb and Blind Entertainers” group. They seem to have travelled around performing in different towns in the early years of the 20th century. The deaf performers included both signing and oral deaf people.’ 

Kalgoorlie Miner

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Omeo Standard and Mining Gazette

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Healesville Guardian and Yarra Glen Guardian

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“One of the items which particularly interested the audience was a deaf and dumb recitation of 'The Charge of the Light Brigade.' Two members of the company went through the performance together, one by finger spelling and the other by signs and gestures, which were interpreted by a deaf man, who, prior to being instructed in the oral system, had also been regarded as dumb.”
-‘Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Entertainers’, Kalgoorlie Miner, 20 October 1908, p. 6.

Copyright Caroline Conlon 2024. Used with permission.

Deaf and Dumb Anthem

This hymn, also called “Hymn for the Deaf and Dumb” was written by a British deaf man. We wonder why it is no longer popular?

Footage courtesy of Expression Australia.

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Nearer My God to Thee

An early film of a Victorian deaf woman signing the hymn “Nearer my God to thee”.

Footage courtesy of Expression Australia.

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Souvenir Programme of the Jubilee of ADDS Victoria

In 1934 the Adult Deaf and Dumb Society of Victoria celebrated their 50th anniversary with this Jubilee concert. It included several signed songs, and a play in one act - “Who’s to Win Him?”. The cast, director and stage manager of the play were all deaf.
MS 13362. Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library Victoria

Copyright Caroline Conlon 2024. Used with permission.

Mock Wedding 1953

This is a photo of the cast of “Mock Wedding” (all deaf) performed by the Deaf Younger Set at the Adult Deaf and Dumb Society of NSW in 1953.

NSW Deaf Community Collection (Deaf Connect).

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Mock Wedding Play

This document includes the program for “Mock Wedding”, handwritten production notes by the deaf director Connie Harvey, and the script.
MS 13555. Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library Victoria

Welcome to the Deaf History Collections

We acknowledge the traditional custodians of Country throughout Australia and pay our respects to Elders past and present. We extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visitors to our site, recognising the long, rich, complex and unjustly disregarded histories of First Nations peoples in Australia.
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