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Seen and heard: Dean Barton-Smith's enduring legacy

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

by Adam Burnett for

23 September 2020 Reposted from

From big-dreaming kid to Olympian to Victorian cricket coach, this Aussie legend has forever flown the flag for the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Dean Barton-Smith remembers how the vibrations from the starter's pistol felt as they ran across the ground and up through his body.He remembers his sense of dread each time the teacher turned to write on the chalkboard and he could no longer decipher words from the movement of her lips. He remembers the pain of the rocks and bottles that clattered into the back of his head in the playground. And he remembers the immeasurable pride that spilled forth when a simple slogan on his t-shirt helped to quite literally change the game for a shunned minority.

Decades on, those sights and sensations of a wordless world stay with him, just as readily as the philosophy that has been his compass in a life without sound: "If your mind can see it, and your heart can feel it, you can do it."


The cause of Dean Barton-Smith's profound deafness will forever remain a mystery. It might have been the result of complications during birth, or the wicked consequence of an early bout of German measles. Medical insight in the late 1960s and early 1970s was not what it is today. Besides, for a young boy charting his way through life in housing commission Brisbane, the how always seemed a luxurious thought to ponder.

School was difficult. Smith (as he was known until he hyphenated his surname when he was married) reflects on scenes from that time as "like watching a TV show on mute". Kids were cruel. He was picked on for having a disability, singled out by bullies as an object for ridicule and violence.

"I would be mocked for how I would speak, or say certain words incorrectly," Barton-Smith tells via email. "Picked on for fights regularly."

Some days, if pressured, he would stand and fight. Others, he would run, and cop the bottles and rocks as he went.

"I often reflected back on my school years and defined it in a way that I was surviving just to get through class, and then surviving to get through lunchtime," he says.

Smith used sport to quell the torment. He was fast and coordinated and capable of overcoming what he calls the "daily attitudinal stigma" that said people with a disability couldn't play sport, or for that matter, do much at all. But his search for an escape from the scorn came with an inherent risk: "Any mistake I made," he remembers, "only reinforced their thinking."


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