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I didn’t want to accept the fact that I was deaf, ’cause I wanted to be a hearing person so I could fit in with their world. I didn’t know where I should fit. Mum never told me about my nationality until I was 14, and I asked her “Why didn’t you tell me this before?” She said “Because you’re deaf, you wouldn’t understand.” I only met my Dad when I was 21. He said “Jo, you should be proud, you are an Aboriginal woman and you are deaf. That’s who you are and you shouldn’t change it.” Even now I have a dream, I have a vision to help young deaf Aboriginal kids to achieve in life. Joanna Agius. Narungga woman. Accessible Arts Deaf Arts Officer

Photography by Belinda Mason.

Joanna’s mother contracted rubella whilst she was pregnant, resulting in Jo being born profoundly deaf. She was encouraged by her mother to learn to speak, as her mother was unable to accept Joanna’s disability. From uttering her first word – ‘water’ – at the age of 4, she fought for acceptance. Because her speech was imperfect, she was bullied at school, which discouraged her from participating in a world in which she felt she did not fit, no matter how hard she tried. In her early teens, when all young people are trying to find their place, her mother revealed that her father was an Aboriginal man. Joanna decided that every time a person asked, she would tell them she was from Spain or that she was a Maori, so that she could be accepted. Then, at the age of 21, she met her father for the first time. Joanna’s vision is to empower other young deaf Aboriginal people, through her father’s words, to achieve acceptance on their terms rather than the terms of others. Her career aspiration is to assist deaf and hearing-impaired Aboriginal people in Australia through education, health, the development of social and communications skills and the fostering of an Aboriginal and deaf identity, delivering all this in Auslan as well as by Indigenous signs. Her goal is to set up a centre that caters for both deaf and Aboriginal people, tending to all their needs, including language, cultural issues, health and healing. Joanna is the winner of the 2011 Vocational Student of the Year at TAFE WESTERN.

Leah Purcell

Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri woman

Actor, Writer and Director of Stage and Screen