60th Anniversary: Taking the lead since 1957

It’s our 60th Anniversary! Guide Dogs Tasmania has been taking the lead since 1957.

60th Anniversary webpage collage


In 2017 we are celebrating the inauguration of the National Association of Guide Dogs for the Blind Australia, luckily now more succinctly known as Guide Dogs Australia. This was initially run out of early buildings at Kew, Victoria, with all states involved in the activities.

60th Anniversary milestones of which you might not be aware:

The Guide Dogs movement started after World War 1 in Germany to assist blinded soldiers returning from the battlefields. Something amazing arising from such a tragedy.

The first person to bring a Guide Dog to Australia was Arnold Cook. He had been studying at university in England and witnessed the amazing program. On return to Perth with his Guide Dog, Dreena, he created a sensation and the first Guide Dog Association was formed in WA in 1951.  Humble beginnings; it was housed in two old tram carriages.

The early pioneers - Guide Dog Dreena

Guide Dog Dreena

The first officially trained Guide Dog in Australia was Beau, a kelpie/fox terrier cross, who became famous around the country with his handler Elsie Mead during their tours to every State to gain support for the Guide Dog movement. He was over 14 years old when cataracts on both eyes and arthritis caused his retirement. He lived a contented, snoozy late life and died a few days before his 17th birthday. Elsie was presented with a British Empire Medal for services to Guide Dogs by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II during the Royal Visit to Perth in 1982. By then Elsie was accompanied by her Guide Dog Wendy.

1957 All states enter the scene. Interest spread throughout Australia and in 1957 it was resolved at the Scottsdale Zone Convention that Apex would initiate the formation of a Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in Tasmania, and a sub-committee was appointed for this purpose. This committee didn’t wait for the official body to be formed before sponsoring the recipient of the first guide dog in Tasmania.

1958. Tassie’s first Guide Dog. George Grainger, Chief Telephonist with the Hydro-Electric Commission in Hobart, had trained with a guide dog at the Exeter Training Centre in England but had been unable to bring his canine friend with him when he immigrated to Australia. A successful public appeal was launched and Mr Grainger was sent to Perth for retraining. 4 weeks later, in April 1958, Mr Grainger returned with Rumpus, Tasmania’s first guide dog.

Rumpus arrives

Guide Dog Rumpus’ arrival made the front page of the Mercury in May, 1958.

Betty Bridge was the first Guide Dog trainer in Australia, having met Arnold Cook in England during his training with his dog Dreena. In the 1940s she had applied for a position with Captain Laikoff who was training Guide Dogs in England, but was told only men were wanted. That all changed in World War II and she became one of his pupils.

Tremendous outcome - Betty Bridge on site

The Perth centre where Betty Bridge trained had humble beginnings. The original shelter in WA, it consisted of two converted tramcars.

In the early days dogs were offered by donation for Guide Dog training. From the first 130 dogs offered, 11 were selected for further training and were transported by Ansett-ANA to be formally trained at the National Training Centre in Kew. Guide Dogs are now specifically bred and raised for their important roles.

1960. A Royal change. The Governor of Tasmania accepted patronage of the Association, and around this time the Attorney General also approved the use of the prefix “Royal”. Thus, the Tasmanian branch became the only individual member of the Guide Dogs Associations to be so honoured. The Tasmanian Governor of the day traditionally accepts the position of Patron.

In the 1960s airline Ansett-ANA made their parked aircraft available to the National Training Centre for Guide Dog familiarisation. Airline staff trained on evacuating people travelling with a Guide Dog and also experienced under blindfold the challenges of eating an airline meal in flight.

60th Anniversary - Ansett training

Workshops for Ansett air-crew included safety procedures for evacuating vision impaired passengers.

1962. The first specially-designed Guide Dog Centre in the world was built on land at Kew in Victoria, granted to the national Guide Dogs Association by the Victorian Government. The centre was opened by then Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies on 17th November 1962. All states used the facilities.

1967. A Guide Dog Act, prepared by the then Minister for Health, The Hon. MG Everett QC was approved by the Tasmanian parliament. Guide Dogs can go anywhere under legal access rights. Penalties could then be imposed on anyone who refused entry or carriage.

1987. Guide Dogs Tasmania acquired office accommodation in Launceston and Devonport, and we purchased the Elizabeth Street Hobart office in 1988. We now have a largely mobile staff, with an office in Invermay and the head office remaining in Hobart.

2013. Guide Dogs Tasmania renamed and rebranded. Our new logo, featuring Guide Dog Beau (a nod to the first Guide Dog trained in Australia) was introduced across all Guide Dog organisations in Australia; thus strengthening our brand, our impact and our ability to work together. With the introduction of a new brand and a new look, as well as the major development of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, Guide Dogs Tasmania continued to provide localised, professional and accessible services.

Guide Dogs logo

Beau, the new face of Guide Dogs Associations across the country.

2015. Guide Dogs Tasmania re-opened our head office in Elizabeth Street Hobart, following a significant refurbishment. The works enabled staff, volunteers, dogs and clients to complete a range of critical tasks safely and efficiently, and also allowed for the possibility of growth and flexibility of service provision in the future.

Official reopening

Her Excellency Professor The Honourable Kate Warner AM, Governor of Tasmania, officially reopens the Hobart office in 2015. President Sue Shoobridge looks on.

June 2016. A Special General Meeting of Guide Dogs Tasmania voted to merge with VisAbility, formerly the Association for the Blind of Western Australia. The merger, which took effect on July 1, would deliver cost savings for the organisation through the centralisation of back office and administrative tasks. But most importantly, the partnership will allow for the delivery of a greater range and level of service for people who are blind or vision impaired living in Tasmania. The Board had recommended the merger because of sector reforms that would have made it difficult to deliver an appropriate level and range of services for Tasmanians in the future. Guide Dog Tasmania still operates as a charitable organisation, raising funds to train Guide Dogs in Tasmania. VisAbility operates all other services formerly provided by Guide Dogs Tasmania, including Orientation and Mobility, Occupational Therapy, Assistive Technology, Children’s Therapy Services and life skills programs.

VisAbility logo

VisAbility, formerly the Association for the Blind of Western Australia, operates Guide Dogs WA and Guide Dogs Tasmania. The partnership commenced on July 1, 2016.

July 2016. Guide Dogs was voted Australia’s Most Trusted Charity for the 4th year in a row. We are humbled by your faith in our work.

Most trusted x 4 years

Guide Dogs: Most trusted, four years in a row.

December 2016. While many Guide Dogs had passed through the training program in Tasmania, the first formal Guide Dog Graduation Ceremony was held. 3 Guide Dog teams graduated: Phil Menzie and Guide Dog Yoda; Vanessa Ransley and Guide Dog Yuri; Sara Waitzer and Guide Dog Pepper.

Guide Dogs graduation group

Official guests at the first Guide Dog graduation ceremony in December 2016.

April 2017. International Guide Dog Day. We will celebrate the GDA 60th Anniversary with a walk down memory lane, the official launch of the new puppy training coats, and a fancy garden party … details are still being finalised.

As we celebrate our 60th Anniversary throughout the year, be sure to check our Facebook page and the latest news of our website for regular updates and information.

Information and some images from “Lead with a Watchful Eye”, by V.M. Branson and W.B.C. Rutt. Royal Guide Dogs for the Blind Association of Australia. 1982.