The John Oxley Library recently received a wonderful donation of photographs and information relating to Narbethong Special School at Buranda. Narbethong was established in 1963 as a school for blind and low vision students, replacing the Brisbane School for the Blind and Deaf at Annerley. The collection focuses on the work of Richard Frank Tunley, who was known as the “Fairy Godfather of Blind Children”. Mr Tunley dedicated his life to improving the lives of visually impaired children and adults through the production of braille globes and maps as well as models, toys, doll houses and games.
Special provisions for the visually and hearing impaired were instituted in Queensland in 1886 when the Queensland government vested a ten acre site at Cornwall Street, Annerley, for the benefit and use of deaf and blind persons. A workshop was opened in 1887 and a home and school for blind as well as deaf students was established in 1893. There were twenty children at the school initially. Blind and deaf children were educated on the same site until 1963 when Narbethong , an aboriginal word meaning “happy place”, was established at Buranda for the sole education of the visually impaired.
Richard Tunley was involved with the students at the school from the early 1920s until his death in 1968. His interest in helping blind and deaf students stemmed from his own partial deafness and he dedicated much of his life to working for their benefit. Apart from the production of teaching aides such as braille maps, globes, models and doll houses he also lobbied to make education compulsory for blind and deaf children (this occurred in 1924) and worked for the establishment of Braille House at Annerley in the 1950s. Through the Queensland Braille Map and Model Club, Mr Tunley organised for educational material to be sent, free of charge, to schools for the blind throughout Australia and the rest of the world.
The collection also includes a copy of R.F. Tunley’s publiction Braille maps and how to make them as well as the booklet The Queensland Braille Map Makers.
In his professional life Richard Tunley had his own business making window blinds. In the newspaper clipping included above, his daughter Lilla Tunley, is quoted as saying “My father used to say ‘I make blinds for a living and live for the blind'”. She also states that every Friday they would visit the school and collect two of the children to spend the weekend with their family. Every Monday her father would buy a large box of lollies for the children at the school. She and her brother were not allowed to touch as them as they were “all for the blind children”. Lilla is quoted as saying “He was a wonderful man and we had a wonderful upbringing”.
In 1953 Mr Tunley was awarded an MBE for his services to the visually impaired and worked tirelessly in this field until his death in 1968, five days short of his 90th birthday.
The collection may be viewed at the John Oxley Library, Accession No: 29279, Box 17929 O/S. In addition we also hold the publication Narbethong State Special School 1963-2013, edited by Heather Grainger, Buranda Qld.: Narbethong State Special School, 2013. Call No: Q994.31 NAR.
Lynn Meyers – Original Materials Librarian, State Library of Queensland