A brief history of Auslan’s early days

Auslan developed in Australia over the course of the 19th century, growing organically with the help of several pioneers in sign language. The arrival of British colonists in Australia in the early 19th century brought Deaf people educated in Europe to Australia’s shores. John Carmichael was one such pioneer, arriving from Edinburgh in 1825, where he worked as an engraver. Carmichael was deaf, but was an engaging and animated storyteller using sign language. His active participation in Australia’s growing Deaf community paved the way for Thomas Pattison to establish the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children in Sydney in 1860, just weeks before another colonist, Frederick Rose, established the Victorian College for the Deaf.

These institutes allowed deaf children to be educated traditionally, and provided an exciting environment in which children could learn sign language. These schools were residential, meaning that children studying there had plenty of opportunities to learn and perfect the language that was emerging into Auslan. Auslan developed over the course of the next century, incorporating aspects of British Sign Language to become fully recognized by the Australian government in 1987. 

Today, Auslan is used across the country by the Deaf community, as well as their friends and families. The early pioneers of the language have left a remarkable legacy which modern Auslan users have inherited. 

It is important to understand where Auslan came from, but looking to the future of the language is exciting too. Each year, more people are using Auslan, creating a more vibrant and diverse community, and Echo is proud to offer easy access to the interpreter services that help connect people across Melbourne.  

Echo works closely with RMIT University and Monash University to ensure that Deaf students have the same ability to learn and grow as their hearing peers. Education has always been important for Auslan users, from those early days at Deaf schools in Melbourne and Sydney to today’s global and interconnected world. We take special pride in working closely with educational institutes to play our role in continuing the education of Deaf Australians. 

The development of Auslan has been a long process, and the language is still changing and growing today. In the coming months, we’ll focus more closely on the lives of the individual pioneers who helped establish Auslan, including John Carmichael, Thomas Pattison and Frederick Rose. 

If you have a story about your experiences learning Auslan, reach out to us on Facebook or at info@echointerpreting.com.au, we’d love to hear what you have to say.

Featured image from Unsplash.

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