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Published October 1st 2019
Bookworms can feast at Bookshop 507 bonanza
I realise that this is the second WeekendNotes article in as many months on historic Braille House in Annerley but there is much to discover about this organisation and its work.
After hearing that the Annerley Community Bookstore books and furniture had been donated to Braille House, my sister and I (both former volunteers of the bookstore), decided to pay a cursory visit. However, we were taken aback by the spacious Bookshop 507 inside an old Queenslander building and saw that the familiar plush armchairs had found a perfect home here.
Lounges from Annerley Community Bookstore getting a second lease of life at Braille House.
Bookshop 507 is part of Braille House's efforts to fund its work to support those with low or no vision. Braille tutoring and the production of braille resources are at the heart of its work.
The books and other media from the recently closed Annerley Community Bookstore (ACB) have been happily absorbed into Bookshop 507. The collection is made up of sections such as biographies, fiction, children's, travel, Australian authors, classics, magazines, music CDs, DVDs, and LP records. Those booklovers, who were ACB fans, will be pleased to hear that they can still peruse the same selection of secondhand books just a stone's throw away at 507 Ipswich Road.
Besides the books, volunteers at Braille House have a giftware section with their handmade creations. You can find aprons, bags, knitted scarves and beanies, soap, jams, intricately stitched cards, embossed Christmas cards, knitted teddies, and crocheted doilies.
While we were admiring the decorative plasterwork on the ceilings of the old Queenslander, a friendly voice declared that it was International Coffee Day (1 October) and offered us a free coffee. It was Andrew Backhouse, the marketing and branding manager. He turned out to be a delight, giving us a guided tour of the three wings of the premises and an informative commentary about their work.
In the newer extensions, there was a production room, book binding area, a library of hardbound braille books, and tutoring room. They produced two types of tactual scripts — braille (invented by Louis Braille) and moon (developed by Dr William Moon). Both involve embossed code which can be "read" by using one's fingertips to interpret the text. The library lends out books in both formats and is Australia's only producer and repository of moon script texts.
Andrew explained that Braille House is a non-profit organisation and is mainly funded through donations. They also rely on corporate sponsorship, fundraising activities, bequests, and Bookshop 507 sales.
Interested people can lend their support as volunteers or in organising fundraisers. More information can be found at www.braillehouse.org.au.
Just before we departed, Andrew showed us Regina, their antique polyphon music box. With a few spins of the wind-up arm, it played a waltz in beautiful tones — it made a memorable end to our discovery of Braille House.
Queensland Braille Writing Association, the group behind Braille House, began teaching braille and producing braille materials since 1897. A clique of seven motivated women established the association and included the influential Mrs Sharp, head teacher at the School for the Blind, and Lady Lamington, the wife of the then-Governor of Queensland. Each member was assigned to transcribe 12 texts into braille. From this initial work over the next two years, they were able to launch a free lending library in 1899 with 54 books.
Converting texts into braille was made easier with the use of machines, but those who didn't have that luxury had to use the more painstaking manual method of punching dot by dot using a frame and stylus.
Some of the members of the association contributed over a thousand volumes of braille texts. The dedication of these pioneers is inspirational and it is heartening to see their work being continued today.