Lifestyle

Australia’s Longest-Serving Guide Dog Owner on Love and Loss, and Living with Blindness

By: Georgia Free

David Hume has lived a full and exciting life. He’s had fruitful careers in radio, retail and recruitment (to name a few).

He was the lead singer of popular Australian band The Gondoliers. He’s sailed the Sydney to Hobart yacht race – twice. He’s had two wonderful marriages, which have given him eight children and 20 grandchildren. And he’s done all of this completely blind.

Early years

Born premature during World War Two, David was overdosed on oxygen while in an incubator – which made him blind in his first few weeks of life. David is the eldest of five children born to a working-class family, and, although he remembers his early years with fondness, his parents struggled to support him in the ways he needed it.

As a result, when David turned five, his mother made the heart wrenching decision to send him to a boarding school for the blind – almost three hours away from the family home in Muswellbrook, in the Upper Hunter Region of NSW.

David described his education at the Wahroonga Special School for Blind and Low Vision Children as “partially hostile”.

“I was thrown into the deep end,” David said. “At that stage, I didn’t really know how to dress myself or do up my shoes. I was left to struggle.

“But what it taught me was independence and competitiveness. When I wanted something, I went out and got it.”

 Gaining independence

Leaving the boarding school at fourteen years old, David finished out his education at a local high school in Muswellbrook, before leaving school at 16 to enter the workforce.

David struggled to find work and felt trapped by his lack of independence, so sought the help of a guide dog – Perry. After four weeks of working with a trainer, and getting acquainted with busy city streets, Perry proved his worth in a remarkable way.

“Perry saved my life in Perth,” David remembered. “A truck burst through the lights and almost killed me. But Perry threw himself across my legs at the last minute, to stop me crossing.”

Today, David is Australia’s longest-serving guide dog owner. He has worked with a total of eight dogs throughout his life.

Behind the microphone

With a guide dog, David’s confidence grew. As a keen musician, he became the lead singer of a band called The Gondoliers. While travelling with the band, David was offered a job on radio.

“I was interviewed by Ron Camplin, the manager for 2MG – a Mudgee radio station. And he said I had a good voice for radio,” David said.

“I told him that I’d tried to break into the industry but was denied [due to my blindness].

“And he said that there was nothing that would stop me, that they could work around all the issues that would be impediments for you.”

David soon began a career at 2MG, initially working as an announcer and newsreader, before gravitating into sales.

As an avid lover of sports, David dabbled in sports commentary, with accommodations made so he could accurately call the game.

“It was arranged that my boss would put headphones on that was connected to a microphone a few feet away,” he said.

“He would tell me the facts and I would translate those facts [into a good story].”

Sydney to Hobart

David is also a talented sailor, which stemmed from a childhood passion for being out on the water. He was the first blind person to sail the Sydney to Hobart yacht race – in 1984 and 1985 – on a boat cleverly named Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

In 1984, David’s team had to abandon the race after their boat flooded and they lost power to the engine but, the next year, sought redemption by finishing in the top third of the pack.

“This race was lighter, and I got to participate the whole time,” he said.

“And when we got into Hobart, almost the whole town was there to welcome the fleet.”

Love and loss

Throughout his life David has also experienced his fair share of grief. He has had two wonderful marriages to Ruth and Liz, which gave him eight children and 20 grandchildren. But, heartbreakingly, Ruth and Liz both died from cancer.

After the death of his first wife Ruth, David found himself a single father of three young children – completely alone for the first time in decades. Through grief, he found solace in a mutual friend, Liz, who was also widowed. Liz ran a grief group that David began to attend, which helped him move through his grief in a healthy way.

Liz and David fell in love and married – becoming a blended family of 10. David spent 30 years with Liz before she also succumbed to cancer in 2018. However, despite immense pain, David gets through each day with a mix of reflection and looking forward to the future.

“You never lose the memory of your partner,” David said.

“There’s only one way to survive it – to go forward, whilst not forgetting the past.”

“You never lose the memory of your partner. There’s only one way to survive it – to go forward, whilst not forgetting the past.”

Gifts of blindness

David has detailed his incredible life in his memoir Blind Without Barriers; encompassing all the joys and challenges that blindness has brought to his life.

Now, David wouldn’t choose to be sighted, if given the choice, saying it would be too scary of an adjustment.

“You look at things from a completely different context as a blind person,” David said. “You ask questions and you really, truly listen to the answer.”

Find out more about David’s memoir Blind Without Barriers.

 


Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.

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