Wednesday, 15 May, 2024

By Jordie Howell

It is with deep sadness that I write to let you know that Dorothy Hamilton
OAM passed away at the age of 97.

Many of you will know Dorothy Hamilton through her excellent reputation
nationally as a highly experienced music teacher and transcriber who kept
high standards as well as aspiring to those standards in her students and

Dorothy was born in the small country town of Rainbow in the Southern
Mallee, Victoria, and has been blind from birth. She was the eldest of
seven children. From early childhood, she developed a love of music and her
earliest ambition was to teach sighted children music.

Dorothy was the first blind woman in the Southern Hemisphere to obtain a
music degree. She recounts her time studying as one of inclusion and acceptance
by her sighted peers.

In the 1950s, Dorothy taught at Korowa Anglican Girls’ School where she
filled a maternity position teaching singing, choir, piano and recorder. At
the end of her term, the headmistress liked her so much that she was
reported to have said that the only replacement she would hire for the
position was another blind person. True to her word, Alan Nuske, Dorothy’s
brother who was also blind, was the successful incumbent and taught for a
further nine years.

Her work at Vision Australia began in Transcription as a proofreader on 8
August 1977. She began with the frame and stylus, and then reluctantly
learned to work with the Perkins brailler. Then, in the early ’90s, Dorothy
introduced the use of refreshable braille to braille music transcription.
This is a process where a sighted music-proficient volunteer dictates to
the blind transcriber who inputs braille into electronic format, now using
the Duxbury Braille Translator. Dorothy was a pioneer in using this
technology, and Australia was the first to adopt such a process whereby
blind people transcribed their music rather than proofreading a sighted
employee’s work. Dorothy’s work training and transcribing with volunteer
readers over the 45 years she transcribed with Vision Australia is
very special, and the friendships they formed during the shared task of
completing work for students and adults all over Australia were life-long.

In 1986, the National Braille Music Camp was established to immerse
braille-reading upper primary and secondary school-aged students in braille
music. Along with other blind colleagues, Dorothy would transcribe
the majority of the camp music each year. She also encouraged and greatly
assisted one of her readers, John Shute OAM, who took it upon himself to
learn the braille music code and transcribed music for the camp for many
years. Dorothy taught for over 25 years at the National Braille Music
Camp, Many of the students who resided interstate would have regular phone
contact with her during the year to gain assistance with
completing AMEB theory examinations. Students would send her their work and
she would correct it over the phone when a braille music teacher was not
available to them in their area.

In the 1990s, Dorothy attended international braille music conferences and
meetings in Germany and Switzerland as the Australian delegate working on
updates to the International Manual of Braille Music. She travelled with
other blind colleagues (Joan Heckman and Tom McMahon and sighted guide Roma
Dix OAM). Her intuitive approach and intimate knowledge of the code meant
that Australia had very sensible input into such international decisions in
collating the most recent publication of this manual in 1997.

Dorothy embraced new technologies to maintain the highest standard of work.
Only just last night she was asking me about the best way to include
numbers in email addresses on her BrailleSense, and she always wanted to
learn about what technologies were being developed for blind people.

From a young age, I learned piano from Dorothy. My parents felt that, as a
blind student, Dorothy would be best suited to teach me braille music and
piano as she had personal experience of learning as a blind person and a
superior knowledge of braille music. There began a ten-year involvement
where I learned piano right through to eighth grade, was provided a sound
working knowledge of music theory and was inspired to pursue music
professionally both as a classical vocalist and transcriber with Vision
Australia. During my work experience as a year 10 student, I worked with
Dorothy on computer-aided braille music transcription, and continued to do
so until last year. I can’t quite believe I won’t be able to have another
meandering chat about technology, music, my life, Dorothy’s life, a new
recipe, or news about mutual friends.

Dorothy made a huge contribution to braille music in Australia, her
encouragement of blind students to take on music as a career is something
many of us will remember, but also her emphasis on the importance of
maintaining high standards of braille music transcription and application
in theory and performance.

Dorothy was a true inspiration to the braille music community of Australia.
You will be deeply missed.