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Tilly Aston

Tilly Aston was the founder of Australia's first Braille library in 1894.

Honour Roll

Tilly Aston was born on 11 December, 1873, at Carisbrook, Victoria, the youngest of eight children born to bootmaker Edward Aston and his wife Anne. Her parents had migrated from Gloucestershire in 1855. Tilly had defective eyesight from birth. Her parents ensured that she was exposed to the beauty of nature and this inspired her later verse and prose.

She attended a private school where she learned to read from large-type books and to read and memorise poetry. Just before she turned seven she became completely blind. In 1881, her father died and her mother had to work as a district nurse to support the family. Shortly afterwards an itinerant blind missionary introduced her to the Braille method of reading.

In June 1882, Tilly enrolled at the Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind in St Kilda. She matriculated at sixteen and began an Arts course at the University of Melbourne. However, the lack of Braille books, combined with her nervous condition, forced her to abandon studies in her second year. She then tried to earn a living as a music teacher.

During this period she worked with the many friends she had made to establish the Victorian Association of Braille Writers in 1894, which later became the Victorian Braille Library. This group sought and trained volunteers to become proficient at transcribing books into Braille. The committee wanted the library service to be free to the blind. As books were mailed to borrowers, in 1897 Aston pushed for the railways to carry Braille books at half the normal rate, and by 1899 the cartage was free. Following this, she founded and became the first secretary of the Association for the Advancement of the Blind.

In 1913, Tilly applied for the Education Department post of Head of the School for the Blind. After training, she took up the post, but was never fully accepted by some of the staff of the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind. They did not approve of a blind teacher. She was also required to sever her connections with the blind societies she had helped to found. Although she enjoyed teaching, these years were not happy ones. In 1925, she was forced to retire due to ill health. She was appointed a life-governor and paid a weekly allowance in lieu of superannuation.

Over the years, she had written a number of books including Maiden Verses (1901), Singable Songs (1924), Songs of Light (1935) and The Inner Garden (1940). In 1946, she published the Memoirs of Tilly Aston. She twice received the King's Medal for distinguished citizen service. She was an exponent of Esperanto and corresponded with fellow linguists around the world. When she left the school, she lived with her mother and brother until about 1913 when her brother married and her mother died. She then lived in her own house in Windsor where a devoted housekeeper cared for her. She died there of cancer on 1 November 1947.