Each year the town of Carisbrook, Vic, commemorates the work of Tilly Aston, one of Australia’s most important disability advocates.

Story John Dunn   

The tiny rural town of Carisbrook in central Victoria does not forget. Once a year many of the 1115 townsfolk gather for a volunteers awards ceremony named in honour of a young blind girl who grew up there – Matilda ‘Tilly’ Ann Aston.

Tilly has been referred to as Australia’s Helen Keller, after the famous blind American disability advocate, and described as “one of the most important activists in the history of disability in Australia”. Born in 1873 with impaired vision, Tilly had no sight at all by the time she was seven. “Gradually it crept upon me, first a mist then a grey twilight,” she wrote in Memoirs. “Finally the world vanished, never again to be visible.” 

In 1997, when Carisbrook participated in a State Government scheme called ‘Building a Future for the Country’, prominent member of the Carisbrook Lions Club and Historical Society, the late Daryl McLeish, suggested the town should encourage the work of its volunteers. “The idea was to honour those people who did so much to progress our district and to ensure that they were rewarded for their efforts,” says local Lions Club member George Nagy, who in 2014 became the awards’ key organiser. “It was decided back in 2001 to name them after Tilly and the first presentations were held on Australia Day that year. Those selected are given a citation certificate that outlines their contributions and an engraved plaque, which features her portrait.”

This year Ian Boucher, Natalie Woods and Barb Willis were chosen. Ian has served the local fire brigade for 50 years and has been a hospital fundraiser, Natalie has been involved in a number of community groups, and Barbara Willis has written histories of the local Tullaroop Shire, and the nearby Maryborough Agricultural Society and Maryborough Highland Society.

This story excerpt is from Issue #138

Outback Magazine: August/September 2021