Goldfields Stories: The Girl from Carisbrook
- Maryborough-Midlands Historical Society
- Vision Australia
In 1881 an itinerant blind missionary, Thomas James, was traveling the country teaching Braille. In Carisbrook he came across eight-year-old Tilly Aston. Through learning Braille, Aston would go on to alter the destiny of Australians who are blind and vision impaired.
Matilda Ann Aston (1873-1947), the youngest of 8 children, was born vision impaired losing her sight completely by the age of 7. When Thomas James arrived in Carisbrook, Aston's father Edward, a boot maker, had been dead 6 months, leaving his wife Ann to support the impoverished family on a midwife’s wages.
Following a visit to Carisbrook by the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind choir, Aston enrolled as a boarder at the school. At 16 she became the first blind person to matriculate.
In 1894 she founded the Victorian Association of Braille Writers (later the Victorian Braille Library). In 1895 she co-founded the Association for the Advancement of the Blind, which in 2004 became Vision Australia.
During Aston's time at the Association it obtained improved rights and services of international significance, including the world’s first voting rights for people who are blind and vision impaired and free postage of Braille.
Tilly Aston’s achievements are formidable. As well as being Australia's first blind teacher, she was a distinguished and critically acclaimed writer, producing 7 books of verse.
Tilly received a Commonwealth grant for her writing in 1935, and the King’s Medal for Distinguished Citizenry twice, in 1935 and 1937.
Aston’s legacy survives in the lives of people who are vision impaired throughout Australia, but her memory is particularly cherished in her home district, where the Maryborough-Midlands Historical Society holds several objects relating to Tilly, including her childhood doll.