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American Annals of the Deaf

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My Life with Kangaroos: A Deaf Woman�s Remarkable Story

Doris Herrmann
with Michael Gaida and Theres J�hl
Translated by Paul Foster

An Interview with Doris Herrmann
as told to Michael Gaida

MG: Dear Doris, at this point the attentive reader will have read and learned so much of interest about you and your life, and will certainly be both surprised and impressed by the way you have mastered your life, despite deafness, and, recently, the considerable visual handicap you have been subjected to. Not only have you mastered your life, but also created a fascinating career accompanied by all kinds of artistic and scientific interests.

Looking back on life, what was the most important thing in it for you personally?

DH: Well, kangaroos of course were always my first interest, and that goes back to my childhood. However, I must add that the animals formed a kind of �scaffolding� or better, a kind of �framework� to it. This means that kangaroos were not always my main interest. They have not only been my main concern, but have also been instrumental in leading my interest in other directions. How would my life have been without kangaroos? Would I have looked for other �favourites� or some central themes? That�s hard to say. The kangaroo has always stood at the centre of my life, if not always visibly right up front. The fact that other matters and concerns have at times assumed a more important place in my life of course is tied up with my personal living conditions.

In my childhood, you see, it was very important to learn communicative techniques, and these took a principal place: that of learning to speak, to write and read. These matters remained of paramount importance for a long time. Without these facilities, my life would also have been very limited, not only as far as my family, friends and acquaintances were concerned, but also my contacts would not have been possible, and naturally my relationship with kangaroos would have been very limited. How could I have related my experiences with them to my fellow beings? How could I have written about them? Then the training for my job began, and I started my artistic work. And then there was my independent study. This was very important, especially at the beginning. I concerned myself largely with biology, zoology, and especially with the behavioral sciences. These subjects, together with my travels to Australia and work in the field, were also at the center of my activities when I stayed there.

My striving for independence became more noticeable after my father died. I moved out of the parental apartment and led my own life while at the same time cultivating even closer bonds with my mother.

When I was 54, my life took a decisive turn of fate after I had been subjected to a dose of measles. This led to a considerable worsening of my eyesight. A consequence was that, unhappily, I had to abandon my field studies that were for the most part based on observation. One can imagine how hard this was for me to process inwardly. Practically, all that was left were the memories of that exciting time in the field, that is, in the Australian bush, which I have since committed to paper.

When my mother fell seriously ill, not so very long ago, I devoted all my energies to her for a few years. Her subsequent death cut deeply into my life. This was the very last step into independence. It was more of an emotional independence than anything else. Now I realised that I was totally alone.

On the other hand, I found myself with a new responsibility, especially for my brother, Peter. He lives in a home, and for him, I am not just his sister, but also a replacement for his mother.

Now, in my seventies, I concern myself more and more with the affairs of those who are blind and deaf, and in this I have made it my personal business to help liberate them from their world of isolation. In the meantime, I have attended a course aimed at educating people in the tactile (Lorm) method of communication. This is an important requirement in teaching those who are not handicapped. In this way, communication between those afflicted by deafness and blindness and those having normal faculties can be greatly improved. Of course, this is assuming that as many people as possible that are not handicapped learn the technique.

However, after saying all this, kangaroos still remain the most important factor in my life, and I still have contact with them to this very day � even physical contact, when this is possible. For even today, I still travel to Australia each year. My guide has to be able to �lorm� for me, though.

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