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Tilly Aston Memorial

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Corner of Pyrenees Highway and Chapel Street, Carisbrook VIC 3464

Features

  • Memorial
  • Information signs
  • Picnic table
  • Undercover area
This informative memorial in Carisbrook, Victoria commemorates the life and work of Tilly Aston, a remarkable woman born in Carisbrook in 1873.

A gazebo containing many detailed information signs lies alongside a picnic table. The memorial lies within a grassy area alongside the Pyrenees Highway.

The following text is displayed on information signs at the memorial:

TILLY ASTON CARISBROOK MEMORIAL

Matilda Ann Aston (11th December 1873 - 1st November 1947), better known as Tilly Aston, was a blind Australian writer and teacher. She was born in Carisbrook, and her original home was opposite this Memorial. She founded the Victorian Association of Braille Writers (which became the Victorian Braille Library) and then went on to establish the Association for the Advancement of the Blind, assuming the post of secretary. This was the seed that grew into Vision Australia.

Tilly's energy was unbounded and her achievements (along with those of her co-workers) to promote the human rights of vision impaired people were plentiful. They include:

  • Successfully lobbying for the world's first free post system for Braille (and later talking) books.
  • Achieving the right to vote for blind people.
  • Lobbying for the repeal of the bounty system which meant blind people had to pay hefty levies before they could travel interstate.
  • Gaining Government approval for a pension for all legally blind people.

TILLY ASTON'S STORY

Tilly was born in the town of Carisbrook, Victoria in 1873, the youngest of eight children born to Edward Aston, bootmaker, and his wife, Ann. Vision impaired from birth, she was totally blind by the age of 7. 

Her father died in 1881. Six months later, through a chance meeting, she Met Thomas James, a miner who had lost his sight in an industrial accident and who had become an itinerant blind missionary. He taught her to read Braille and soon after, the Rev. W. Moss, who visited Carisbrook with the choir of the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind, persuaded her to attend school in St. Kilda, Melbourne, to further her education.

Tilly enrolled as a boarder at the School for the Blind on 29th June 1882. After successfully matriculating at the age of 16, Tilly became the first blind Australian to go to a university, enrolling for an Arts Degree from the University of Melbourne. Her cause was helped by fundraising events conducted in Melbourne by the Austral Salon and in Carisbrook by a public concert in the Carisbrook Town Hall.

However, due to the lack of Braille text books and "nervous prostration", she was forced to discontinue her studies in the middle of her second year. While convalescent in Carisbrook with her sister Sophia, she tried to earn her living as a music-teacher, and realised the plight of blind people.

Tilly and six others met in Melbourne and formed an association to transcribe books into Braille. By 1899 there were 360 books available. This effort was still not enough! Tilly called a meeting for Saturday 7th December 1895 and, although only eight people attended, they formed the Association for the Blind. Tilly was then 24 years old and she was elected Secretary-Treasurer.

After leaving school, she lived with her mother and a brother in Melbourne until about 1913, when her mother died and her brother married. She then moved to a house of her own in Windsor, where she had a housekeeper companion.

In 1912, at the age of 39, she joined the Education Department as a teacher of the blind. She later became head teacher at the School for the Blind, despite some objections from the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind as they thought it was inappropriate that a person who was blind teach others who were blind. She taught for twelve arduous years, but then her health failed.

Tilly wrote poetry and several volumes of her poems and recollections were published. Her books included: Maiden Verses (1901), Singable Songs (1924), Songs of Light (1935), The Inner Garden (1940), and Memoirs of Tilly Aston (1946). She was a prolific editor and contributor to magazines for the blind. She was awarded a Commonwealth Literature Grant in 1935, and twice recieved the King's Medal for distinguished citizen service.

She died of cancer at Windsor on 1st November 1947, and is buried at the St. Kilda Cemetery. Her ability to live a useful, independent life despite her disability was inspirational. 

The Federal Electorate of Aston in Melbourne's eastern suburbs is named in her honour.

SOME LITERATURE OF TILLY ASTON

But now the "Brook" is a sleepy little village, where old-timers may rest, with very rare upstirrings of the spirit of the inhabitants. Yet, glory we did have at one time! Just recall the courthouse. Naturally, that shrine of justice was not without its unwilling devotees. Sometime the old boys would have made a spree, and find themselves in "The Logs" next morning. There was a story of two such, father and son, reaching the same refuge on the same night, and the father's wailings at daybreak, when they awoke to find each other.

"Ah, Dinny, me bhoy, that I should fine ye here! Ochone, Ochone! Locked up for too much of the crather. Sure, you'll break the heart of your mother and bring blushes to your father's face when he comes before His Honor!" and so the lamentation went on.
Memoirs of Tilly Aston p. 15.

Sowing and reaping

I never sought the easy path to tread,
To wait on others for my daily bread;
To toil and strive, to finish and achieve!
This is the faith in which I do believe.
An ever present joy the testing hard
Of those fair talents given me to guard;
And sweeter still the day when doubled powers
Bring doubled duties with their richer hours.
I have been willing to expend my days,
Knowing for certain that the future pays;
And knowing, too, that every good thing won
Is but the answer to the service done.
No fruitful Then without the toilsome Now,
No harvest rich without the rending plough;
Without the shady vales no mountain height,
Where man can climb, and find the perfect light.
Memoirs of Tilly Aston p. 79.

Now, the railway contractors were men of tact and generosity, and they decided to give the children of the town a party on New Year's Day, by taking them for a free ride to Castlemaine and back - the first trip in a train for most of them. Our family was represented by five youngsters, and all assembled on the hill, where the snorting monster was ready to haul them round the foot of Bald Hill, and away to the distant goal over thirty miles away. Mother and father went to see them off on this adventure and their last baby, obviously too young to share it otherwise, attended in mother's arms rolled up in her grey Paisley shawl which had enfolded more than one of our brood. So I can truthfully say that I was present on the historic occasion, even if I do not remember anything about it. Memoirs of Tilly Aston p. 7.

THE TILLY ASTON AWARDS

Tilly Aston was the inspiration for Carisbrook to recognise its outstanding community volunteers. One of the suggestions coming from a 1997 pilot scheme Building a Future for the Country in which Carisbrook participated, was that Carisbrook should honour its volunteers.

The idea was floated by Daryl McLeish, an outstanding volunteer in our community, at meetings of the Carisbrook Historical Society and Carisbrook Lions Club. They decided to implement the idea. The Awards were to be called the Tilly Aston Achievement Awards, which would give prominence to Tilly Aston's community contributions and would likewise recognise the contributions of the awardees. These were to be presented on Australia Day at the Carisbrook community celebrations.

Australia Day 2001 saw the first presentations of the Awards. As there had been no prior opportunity to honour our local outstanding volunteers there were sixteen Awards in that year. The idea went a little further with one of the Awardees to be honoured with an award to be Mayor of the Day. A special Mayoral Sash was designed and is now presented annually.

Awardees are given a citation Certificate, which outlines their contributions to Carisbrook and the wider community. This is read to the assembly. As well each awardee is presented with an engraved plaque, which features a portrait of Tilly Aston.

Each year awards are presented to community volunteers of all age groups.

The Carisbrook Lions Club administers and finances these Awards, as well as organising the well supported annual Australia Day.

This Memorial is a Carisbrook Lions' Club Project, 2013.



 

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