In 1961, a group of five hearing impaired people met for lip reading lessons at the Highton home of Mrs Betty Bade. Betty had been taught lip reading as a secondary school student at the Victorian School for the Deaf by a Mrs Dawson-Abbott, author of a book on teaching lip reading. Betty used this book as a reference.

The group grew and became known as the Australian Association for Better Hearing; its first annual general meeting was in 1963.

Promotion of the Australian Association for Better Hearing by word of mouth and advertisements in local community papers resulted in an increase in members. Betty’s lounge became unsuitable for meetings so a move was made to Fidelity Hall in Malop Street, then Red Cross rooms and finally the Scout Hall in Myers Street.

Classes were now taken by Miss Doris Lindsay of Better Hearing Australia’s Melbourne branch. She travelled from Melbourne Better Hearing Australia branch on the first Saturday of each month to instruct the class, in “lip reading and aural rehabilitation”.

In 1970, as numbers continued to increase, the group was forced to move again to the Fellowship Rooms at Wesley Church in Yarra Street. Jean Arnold now travelled from Melbourne by train for the lessons on the first Saturday of each month.

It was at this stage that Gwen Illingworth, concerned about her hearing, joined the group. She was persuaded by Jean Randall to become her understudy, with a view to becoming a qualified teacher. Gwen successfully sat for The Certificate in Aural Rehabilitation in 1973 and the Diploma of Aural Rehabilitation in 1974. She then held two daily classes a week in her lounge room and one evening class. There were 22 members at this time.

Membership continued to grow so more teachers were needed. Trainees, including Muriel Hoggart who was to become a stalwart of Better Hearing Australia Geelong, were tutored by Gwen Illingworth to attain their aural rehabilitation certificate and diploma.

Accommodation was again a problem. Quota International Group Geelong organised a room at Geelong’s Community Aid Abroad Offices. Rent was $2.25 per week. An annual grant from United Way Geelong covered this expense. Monthly committee meetings were held at Wesley Hall, two days of classes at Community Aid Abroad and one evening class in Gwen Illingworth’s lounge room.

In 1975, when The Association for the Blind opened Illawarra in Geelong, rooms were made available to Better Hearing Australia Geelong. Membership rose greatly over the coming years to 250.

In October, 1976, Geelong’s Australian Association for Better Hearing became an official branch of Better Hearing Australia. Audiologist Vincent O’Connor travelled from Melbourne to give free hearing tests and assistive devices information to anyone in need. United Way increased its annual grant to include paying for his services.

Quota continued its support by providing classroom equipment and hospital identification discs implemented by Better Hearing Australia National Branch.

Members led by Muriel Hoggart and Gwen Illingworth worked tirelessly preparing a quarterly newsletter, advertising in community papers and promoting Better Hearing Australia Geelong through talks to community groups and raising funds.

The increase in members and support services necessitated the employment of a paid office worker whose salary was paid thanks to United Way increasing its annual grant.

Classes started at Queenscliff, Portarlington, Drysdale, Saint Leonards, Lara, Cressy, Beeac, Ballarat and Colac, manned by Better Hearing Australia Geelong teachers on a roster basis. Colac now operates as a “stand alone” group. In 2015 Drysdale was the only one of this group still operating.

Better Hearing Geelong Australia had to move headquarters again in 1997 to 140 Pakington Street, Geelong West, in 1999 to 400 Pakington Street, Newtown, in 2004 to North Geelong and in 2008 to the Senior Citizen’s Clubrooms in Autumn Street Geelong West, from where it still operates.

Notable events over the years include hosting three national conferences: 1981 at Deakin University; 1990 at Deakin University, guest speaker was Professor Graeme Clark, inventor of the bionic ear; 2001 at Parkside Inn, Belmont, guest speaker was Dr Rosslyn Jablonsky, Australian Hearing.

Outstanding achievements include:

  • 1977 Gwen Illingworth elected vice-president National Council of Better Hearing Australia.
  • 1979 Gwen Illingworth elected president of national council.
  • 1981 Gwen Illingworth became immediate past president of the national council.
  • 1988 Gwen Illingworth was made an Australian Member of the Order of Australia for her work with the hearing impaired.
  • 1999 Muriel Hoggart presented with a Certificate of Appreciation for Community Work with hearing impaired by Lions’ Club Geelong.
  • 1999 Muriel Hoggart received the Federal Government’s Award for Achievement and Excellence for Community Service.
  • 2001 Muriel Hoggart awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her work with hearing impaired in Geelong and Bellarine area.
  • In October 2013, Better Hearing Australia’s Geelong branch celebrated its 50th anniversary with a luncheon at Black Salt restaurant on The Esplanade, overlooking Corio Bay.
  • In 2014 a mini-expo was held in conjunction with Geelong City Council Senior Citizens’ Festival to promote the support which Better Hearing Australia Geelong offers to hearing loss sufferers and the importance of Geelong’s only free aural rehabilitation organisation.
  • Better Hearing Australia’s Geelong branch provides the only free aural rehabilitation program in the Geelong region continuing to offer support to the hearing impaired and their families to help people maximise their quality of life despite hearing loss.
  • In 1989, Gwen Illingworth was awarded the Australia Medal for her services to people with Hearing Impairment and to the Geelong community.

Gwen Illingworth – her mission was to improve life for the hearing impaired

Gwen Illingworth Better Hearing

Better Hearing Geelong stalwart Gwen Illingworth.

Gwen Illingworth joined Better Hearing Australia Geelong in 1970 when she was faced with the challenge of hearing loss. She studied to become a qualified teacher with Better Hearing Australia and obtained The Certificate of Aural Rehabilitation in 1973 and Diploma in Aural Rehabilitation in 1974. Classes were taken three times a week in her lounge room.

Gwen’s dedicated commitment to Better Hearing Australia, locally and nationally, was remarkable. She was fascinated by the way hearing aids and assistive listening devices could improve the quality of life of the hearing impaired. Promoting this became her mission.

She attended national conferences and became a member of the National Executive of Better Hearing Australia and national president in 1979. In this role she travelled extensively throughout Australia, visiting branches, meeting and encouraging members and promoting the work of Better Hearing Australia.

Later Gwen was appointed national co-ordinator of teachers, holding this position for 24 years, editing two text books on hearing rehabilitation and collating a teachers’ newsletter, six times a year, until October 2005.

In 2005 Gwen and Stan Illingworth donated money for the G&S Illingworth Award to be awarded annually to encourage enthusiasm and enterprise amongst BHA members.

Muriel Hoggart is owed debt of gratitude for work with Geelong’s hearing impaired

hearing loss geelong

Better Hearing Australia Geelong branch president Joan Belle and Muriel Hoggart at the branch’s 50th anniversary.

Muriel Hoggart joined Geelong’s Better Hearing Branch in October 1973 at the insistence of her daughter, Janet, who was frustrated by her mother constantly misunderstanding what was said and answering or behaving inappropriately; not to mention refusing to go shopping because it was so difficult understanding others. Janet, a teacher at Swanston Street State School took matters into her own hands and sought the advice of Specialist Teachers of Deaf, also based there.

Enquiries were made, Better Hearing was discovered and Muriel became a member of a weekly class in Gwen Illingworth’s lounge room. Her employer of 23 years, delighted that she was doing something about her strange replies, gave her time off to attend classes.

This was the beginning of an outstanding association with Better Hearing Australia’s Geelong branch. Not only did Muriel learn to manage her hearing loss and alleviate the communication problems with her family and at work but she was trained by Gwen Illingworth to become a teacher with Better Hearing Australia Geelong branch. This meant qualifying for the Certificate of Aural Rehabilitation in 1977 and The Diploma of Aural Rehabilitation in 1978 and also, in 1978, travelling to Burwood Teachers’ College for a weekly, full-day class in teaching practice.

Besides teaching classes, Muriel became a committee member and served as president until 2005. For years she was involved in fundraising activities, compiling the quarterly newsletters, giving promotional talks to local groups including talks to school children and organising colouring competitions for them. She continued to teach classes and train teachers and helped organize three Better Hearing Australia national conferences in Geelong.

She was instrumental in setting up Better Hearing Australia classes in Drysdale, Portarlington, St Leonards, Colac and Cressy and teaching classes at these branches on a roster basis.

In 1999, the Geelong Lions’ Club presented Muriel with a Certificate of Appreciation for her community work with the hearing impaired in the Geelong region.

On November 21, 1999, at the inaugural Australian Awards in Sydney, Muriel received the Federal Government’s Award for Achievement and Excellence in the field of Community Service. Wally Lewis and Minister for Aged CareBronwyn Bishop made the presentation.

In 2001, Muriel was awarded the Order of Australia medal or her work with the hearing impaired in the Geelong and Bellarine region

Muriel retired as president in 2004 and as a teacher in 2014. Better Hearing Geelong owes Muriel a huge debt of gratitude for her dedicated services to the hearing impaired. She has always said that it was the constant support of her younger daughter, Rosslyn, who “became an audiologist so that she could help her mother and other hearing loss sufferers,” which made this possible.

If you’d like to know more about the work of Better Hearing Australia Geelong read the personal hearing loss stories from Geelong branch members.

For more information, to take advantage of hearing loss support services in Geelong, take part in hearing loss short courses or use the group’s resources, simply contact Better Hearing Australia Geelong.