Fay Cumper worked at the Blind Institute until her retirement in 1991. A self-taught organist and pianist, she won the 1993 Angus Stewart Achievement Award for community service and served on the Council of Management as the residents’ elected representative.
Fay was a member of MHPA and provided the account she gave of her life over several issues of our newsletter in 2005.
2005 MHPA May newsletter page 2. A FACE TO OUR MEMBERS – Fay Cumper
My father and my mother were English. At a very early age – I don’t know how it came about, but they came out to Australia. I think it was in the 1920s and they got a job working on one of the stations. I think it might have been Onslow, because dad always used to mention it and he always used to mention Yannery Station.
My mother worked in the homestead and the people ,who either owned it or managed the station, were by the name of Clarke. In the homestead, there were a number of aboriginal women, who were trained by Mrs Clarke to do housework and cooking and ironing and all sorts of things. And my mother was working in that situation there. Now my father and mother worked there for about five years and then my mother decided that well she would like to have a family. So my father went to Mr Clarke and said, “Look the Missus (as Dad referred to my mother), she wants to have a family. And this is no place to bring up a family.” So anyway Mr Clarke valued my father very highly and my mother as well. Oh he nearly fell over himself, “Oh look I’ll give you more money, I’ll do this, I’ll do that and I’ll do the other.” But dad said, “No, no good the Missus wants a family so we’ll have to leave.”
2005 MHPA June newsletter page 2. A FACE TO OUR MEMBERS – Fay Cumper
Well, Dad used to say in the years in the future, “I wonder how we would have got on had we stayed up north?”. Because when they came down and they started having a family, I’m afraid that’s when their troubles began. For one thing my mother at a very early age suffered from headaches. They didn’t know at that stage you know, what was causing it.
But anyway the first child was born that was my brother, Bill. Now he was born in King Edward Hospital, and of course there’s quite a bit of history connected with King Edward Hospital. I don’t know whether any of you have read a book called “Life in Her Hands” or “Life in Their Hands,” it was written by one of the very early matrons, who worked there, Matron Agnes Walsh. I was fortunate enough to get hold of that book and it was in Braille. Strangely enough it came from the library over in Victoria. But I read that book and so if ever you get hold of book like that, it would be very interesting to read it because it gives you the early days of King Edward Hospital. Anyway, my brother Bill was born and he was okay. They had no problems with him health-wise or anything. The girls were the trouble unfortunately. Anyway he lived four years and then I was born and then the fun started believe me. It wasn’t fun, but still. So I was born, I was a big baby about nine pound. My mother was a small woman and unfortunately they had to use instruments at my birth and that caused a bit of problem I think.
After about three or four months… of course a lot of people used to come to our house to see my mother and all that sort of thing. One day, one of the friends of the family said, “Look I think there’s something wrong with that child of yours.” My mother was, oh quite flabbergasted. They said, “Yes you better take her and get her examined and have a look.” So they took me to the Children’s Hospital, it was then called, but it’s called Princess Margaret now and they discovered that I was blind. So that shattered my mother and shattered my father of course.
I mean no parent wants their child to have a disability of any kind naturally. But unfortunately, I don’t think they were able to detect like they can now if you have a disability. I mean they detect it soon after you’re born as far as I know. Those of you who are parents might know a bit more about it than I do, but that’s what I understand. But anyway they discovered I was blind. Of course Dad in those days was a very hard-working man and there was no child endowment or no benefits in those days, as far as I remember and not much help. Anyway I had my problems too apart from blindness. They discovered I suffered with bad nerves which I think might have been connected with what caused my blindness, because it’s the part of the brain that controls vision that hadn’t worked properly.
2005 MHPA July newsletter page 2. A FACE TO OUR MEMBERS – Fay Cumper
But we didn’t know that at the time. Anyway when I was about three, the doctor said to my father, “Look Mr Cumper, if you don’t send your wife away or your child away, your wife will be six feet under the ground.” Because she was in such a bad way you know because of my blindness. So they sent me away to the country. Now to do this, I don’t know whether any of you remember the Braille Society. They had a very small office and it was in 226 William Street, Perth. I don’t know what’s there now. Some of you might know but that’s a bit of history for you. You might be able to find out.
In those days, I think they had a lady as secretary and they also had a Miss Eadie Kane. Now she was vision impaired, but she used to do a bit of welfare work and she used to visit blind people. I don’t know how many she used to visit, but certainly she became involved with our family. She used to come to my parents and I’ve known her to come at night after tea, when my mother had put me to bed. That’s how devoted that lady was. Anyway she arranged for me to go away to the country, to the quietness of the country because I was suffering with very bad nerves and it was affecting me in different ways. She sent me away to the country and the lady and gentleman, who took me in, was a Mr and Mrs Kirkwood. But as I knew them, it was Aunty Euan and Uncle Bill.
As far as I’m concerned even if they were alive now, I would still call them Aunty Euan and Uncle Bill, because they were the only relations that I knew as such. Because I didn’t know my relations in England at all. So I was sent away to her. She did her best and so did Uncle Bill to really try and bring me up and give me a little bit of independence and try and teach me as a child. Unfortunately she hadn’t had any children of her own, because unfortunately she wasn’t able to carry any children, which is very sad. But anyway she took me on and it really was a real task. But she did have her mother living with her and her name was Mrs Frost, so I called her Grandma Frost. She also had a sister who lived in a block of flats in Perth called Evoca Flats. When they used to come down to Perth they used to bring me down to Perth or when they were taking me back to the country that’s where we’d stay overnight. But anyway she looked after me and she tried to do what she could.
She was a Christian lady, so she used to teach me hymns. I always remember her playing the piano. The poor lady she had a piano that was one of those iron-framed …I think, and I don’t know whether you’ve ever had of them, but when the hot weather gets them, they warp and the tone of them goes right down to zero. So poor Aunty Euan used to play a piece called “The Sweet By and By.” And I can always remember her playing that piece.
2005 MHPA August newsletter page 2. A FACE TO OUR MEMBERS – Fay Cumper
But anyway she used to… she did what she could to try and make me independent and look after me. But she got very attached to me and she would have really like to have adopted me and she used to… she was a bit naughty really, because she used to bring me back to Perth and she didn’t always take me back home to my people. She used to… you know people would say to her, “Oh we’ve seen Fay in town,” and all this sort of thing, you know, so that didn’t go down very well. But anyway they had a farm and they lived in various areas. One was called Cunjin and another town was called Minnivale. I went back to that some years ago and it’s well, I don’t know what it’s like now, but anyway, that was in the days of the Co-op stores.
You probably remember the Co-op stores where they sold everything there. I suppose they’ve gone out now. Also the dirt roads and horses and sulkies. I’m sure you remember those too. But anyway my Aunty Euan, she worked pretty hard. She had a hairdressing and dressmaking business as well to help keep them going. I’m not quite sure or I didn’t know why at that particular time whether Uncle Bill wasn’t very successful as a farmer, but she really had to work hard poor lady. Anyway I stayed there on and off from when I was three to when I was six. But I was a very confused child and I was always crying
I’d get up in the morning and start crying and I wouldn’t know why and she would call me “Booby” and that wouldn’t help me. Grandma Frost though she never spoilt me or anything like that, but she didn’t… there was no tears, where she was. She was a mother or had been a mother, so apparently that made a difference.
But in the meantime, there was a whole lot of talk going on about me. The child this and the child that and I couldn’t make it out. It seemed as though everybody was… oh, they were very worried and I couldn’t make out what was going on. I used to help Aunty Euan wipe up at meal times and this talk used to be going on all the time. What I think they were talking about was, how are we going to get the child educated? Just what are we going to do about it?
So I think at one stage Aunty Eadie Kane – I used to call her Aunty Eadie – I think she came up to where we were. I can remember her bringing me up a what they call a peg board and it was what they used to use for children. They had pegs and they had groups of holes where you can form, you can learn how to form your Braille letters and that sort of thing. So the time drew near when I was to go to school and it so happened that the Institute for the Blind in Maylands in those days had a school for the blind children.
2005 MHPA September newsletter page 2. A FACE TO OUR MEMBERS – Fay Cumper
So that was where I was going to be sent. Now another thing while I was with Aunty Euan and Uncle Bill, to keep me amused they had one of those wind up gramophones. They were always telling me not to scratch the record, because you know you had to be very careful when you put the needle over. But they had the most beautiful lot of records, you know, the old type, the very thick ones, you know, that go on the gramophones. Oh Jess Crawford on the Organ and Gold and Silver Waltz that was played by an orchestra and all kinds of records. I’ve often wondered what happened to those records. They were beautiful things. Somebody told me they left them in the shed back at the farm. I thought ‘oh my gosh!’. Anyway, so that was one of the ways that Aunty Euan kept me amused apart from the fact… And she also made sure that we went to church, that I went to church.
Somewhere along the way between before I started school, my parents in their wisdom decided ‘well, we better get her christened’. So I don’t know who my God parents were from that day to this, but anyway, I was taken along to the Cathedral, St George’s Cathedral in Perth and I was christened. I can remember it very well, because Dean Moore was the Dean then at the Cathedral. He was the one who christened me
I can always remember because I had a white silk pleated skirt with a white cardigan and I got very upset. I cried because when they made the sign of the cross on my forehead although I didn’t know what that was they spilt water on my dress. I was dear, dear, it was terrible. Anyway I was christened so that was okay. Then they thought well we better take her to school so they took me to school and arrangements were made for me to start.
Now in those days the hostel at the Institute was not where it is now. I think a lot of that land was they had trees, I do remember that.They were the days, let me tell you. We had coir matting down on the floor, because in those days we had a mat shop. They also at the institute here they had a hair shop, didn’t they Albert [Moon]?
A hair shop. It would be considered to be an obnoxious trade though now, because oh boy it used to stink. But it was a trade for the blind people. See they learnt how to get the hair ready for the brooms and the brushes and everything like that, so they had a hair shop. They also had a mat shop for some years. Brush shop and wicker shop at the Institute. We also had a school room in the old house. As the years went on, they got another teacher. As a matter of fact, they got two teachers and they used the social room for the classes downstairs and the school room upstairs. Now the lady who was our teacher when I went there was a Miss Joan Lowenson.
2005 MHPA October newsletter page 2. A FACE TO OUR MEMBERS – Fay Cumper
She was totally blind herself and she unfortunately had to teach not only children with vision impairment, but also children with other disabilities and some of them used to take fits and all kinds of things. It must have been a very, very nerve-racking business unfortunately and it used to show in her too. She used to raise her voice and some of us used to get quite frightened of her. But you know, I can understand what she must have gone through. At one stage she had a nervous breakdown and had to go away for three months.
But anyway we learnt, we had to learn our Braille because we had to do it. We had to learn to read and write Braille. Miss Lowenson also taught us some of us how to read and write Braille music. Although as I can play from ear, I’m afraid I took the easy way out. I wasn’t all that keen on practising either like some kids. And so I sort of found that I’d much rather play from ear than by music, although I used to have music lessons. I had music lessons from when I started school till I was about 13 and then I think Miss Lowenson realised well, you know, playing by ear I’d much rather do that, so she just left it at that. But as far as my piano playing goes, my father used to tell us a story that he took me into Nicholson’s. Do you remember Nicholson’s any of you?
In Barrack Street. He took me into Nicholson’s and said to them in there, “Oh my daughter can play the piano.” I was only about five or six then. This other man said, “Oh can she? What can she play?” “Well she can play the “The Sin to Tell a Lie”.” “Oh no, she can’t do that”, he said. “Oh yes, she can! Go on Fay, sit down at the piano and show them what you can do.” So I sat down at the piano and played “the Sin to Tell a Lie” with one finger. That wasn’t bad.
So anyway that was my… As time went on, I sort of gradually improved in the technique and that sort of thing and so that’s how it went.
But anyway, we used to do our arithmetic. You’ve probably never seen but we used to have a… it was like a slate with holes and the lead figures. One end had two points and the other end had just a smooth edge. You turned the figures round, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, seven, eight, and that helped you to… and of course when you got to your double figures, you put one and nought and so forth and so on. We did, you know, our own sums, fractions, divisions and decimals and all kind of things you know, with those figures. So you know we really learnt in those days. Well of course I was born in 1931, the 8th October 1931, at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. And so it meant that during my school years, that was round about that time that was when the war was on
2005 MHPA November newsletter page 2 A FACE TO OUR MEMBERS – Fay Cumper
As well as our lessons, we used to have a lady come every week to teach us handicrafts and we formed a junior Red Cross group for the children there. The lady’s name was Mrs Lindsay, a very nice lady too. She taught us. They also taught first aid to just about everybody that could learn it. I can remember one experience our children had, we had, where they had a first aid class in progress and one thing they wanted us to be was casualties. So we had to be in certain positions, I was in one of the corridors lying down with something or other. I don’t know what it was. They had to come and rescue me. It was really great because they rescued me all right and we finished up having some sandwiches for our trouble, so that was good.
Really enjoyed that. Anyway so we finished up with that. Then they got the bright idea of – and it was a very good idea for some of us – for learning first aid. So they got a lady come out, her name was Mrs Shewbridge and she came out from Red Cross and she taught us our first aid. Well some of them did very well. We had to learn how to put splints on and all that sort of thing and… oh dear, you know. Then we had to learn all our pressure points and everything else that comes with first aid. Then it came time for us to go through the final exams well quite honestly as far as I’m concerned I don’t know how the heck I passed it really. I really don’t.
But however it happened and I got a certificate. I don’t know where it is now unfortunately. But it was one of those things, but like I say…
Well anyway, life went on. I used to board up at the Blind School during the week and go home weekends. Now I’d like to say too that it was pretty tough in those days. We didn’t have any hot water. If you wanted to have a bath, well they lit the heater. You know, it was one of those chip heaters. All cleaning had to be done with brooms, mops, down on your knees with polish as far as I know. No vacuum cleaners, no way. But they had staff there, when I first went there. I think if ever they build any accommodation, and it’s houses or whatever they’re going to build in the future, because they reckon they’re going to upgrade the hostel. There were three staff members that worked in the house. We used to call them by Miss, you know, Miss Shiels, Miss McCulloch and Miss Stewart. Now as far as Miss Shiels and Miss McCulloch were concerned, when they left they couldn’t keep any staff. They just came and went like you know. Miss Stewart came off afterwards. Now she was there in the pretty hard times and I really think that those three, as well as dear old Matron Davey who was in charge, they kept the ship afloat, there’s no doubt about it.
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