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  You are here: Home > Travel Stories > Australasia

Travel Story by Jo Atkinson and Andrew Hearn

  New Zealand sign language recognition
Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland Deaf club

The NZ parliament kindly scheduled their final reading of the NZ sign language bill for the first day after our arrival. So thoughtful of them. We headed to Auckland central library for all the live action from Wellington on the big screen. After initially being very impressed that the MP seemed to be giving her speech in fluent NZSL, we realised that technological difficulties meant that it looked like the interpreter was the parliamentary speaker. There was near unanimous support for the bill in parliament, except for sticklers from the ACT party who argued that money would more economically be spent on lipreading classes and cochlear implants. The Maori party were particularly supportive and pushed for more training of trilingual Maori interpreters.

The vote was passed and New Zealand sign language was made an official language, along with Maori and English (by de facto). Hush, nobody tell them that logic might dictate that NZ should recognise BSL with a kiwi accent. The room erupted into waving hands and bursting balloons. Anticipating a bit of a mad celebration in the pub afterwards we downed cokes for caffeine injections, but it turned out the kiwi celebrations lacked any fizz and went flat by about 8pm.

The next day we visited Kelston school for the Deaf, where their resident archivist, Susan Hamilton showed us round the impressive museum with photo boards showing its history and a whole room set up as a 1950/60s dormitory and classroom. Mainstreaming is now widespread and the majority of kids have implants. Kelston school is has therefore become more focused on additional needs, and seems to have a large Maori intake. Which left us wondering about the future mixing of Maori and Paheka (white) communities.

In the evening Monica Leach (nee Clarke) introduced us to the thriving Auckland Deaf club, where we got the pink carpet treatment. We were invited up to say a few words about our white van plans and then had the grand honour of drawing the Easter raffle ticket from the tombola. The Deaf people here are so friendly and welcoming. Much more so than in London (probably because Deaf people are a rare breed around here and the sheep can't sign). Auckland Deaf club might be unique in British terms because it is not housed in a damp, crumbling church hall which smells of oxo cubes and stale curtains. It was bright and airy and seemed to be pulling in the punters on a Friday night.

However, this month it is closing. It will be bulldozed and a new super Deaf complex will be built. Apparently the centre is 'too old'. We couldn't help but be slightly perplexed by this breezy destruction of building which seemed so modern. The British tendency for renovation has not been exported here and Kiwis prefer to knock it down and start again. The few buildings, which have been spared this short half-life, are not more than 140 years old. They are proudly adorned with historical markers and sealed off as museum-like exhibits. It made Jo smile to think about sticking a plaque on her own Victorian terrace and claiming it as a historical relic.

The rest of our time in Auckland was passed wandering around the viaduct harbour area, watching mad-dogs chucking themselves off the Sky Tower on a vertical zip-wire and sneaking into a food and wine festival to stuff ourselves on cheese and sushi!

Click on photo to enlarge

Auckland harbour and Sky Tower  'Museum' at Kelston Deaf School /Education Centre  A spot of tree hugging!

Date Submitted: 25 Jan 2007

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