The Helen Keller Hostel

"The death of Helen Keller house." Photograph by Syd Shelton. (Image source: The Living Daylights)
Streetscape of Waimea Avenue, Woollahra looking towards Helen Keller (Waimea) House, circa 1983. (Image source: William Simpson)
Waimea House was known as the Helen Keller Hostel by the Royal Blind Society from 1949 to 1973. At one time in danger of demolition, it was saved by determined local residents assisted by the BLF and has since been restored.

The hostel housed 20 blind women from age 16 years old and above. According to a 1949 article from The Sunday Herald, 30 blind women from all over New South Wales, who were capable of working, applied for a slot on the 20 beds available at the Helen Keller Hostel when it was primed to open in 1949. Twelve of the rooms were solo occupancies, while the rest were shared occupancies.

Each room had cream walls, central heating, large windows, and hot and cold water hand basins. The new wing built to extend Waimea House with more rooms opened to a large sun verandah. Downstairs, the doors at the backside led to a path with handrails that opened up to the fragrant garden filled with jacaranda trees, pink oleanders, lilac, magnolias, roses, gardenias, and daphnes. At dawn, cicadas would be heard from this garden.

The Helen Keller Hostel also had a blue large dining room with crimson leather chairs, a sewing room and a lounge room that converted was the former library. Eventually, however, the blind sanctuary lost its stream of occupants after the women gained more independence and no longer wished to live as segregated members of society.

The cost for the upkeep of the Helen Keller Hostel was too high that in the early 70s, the Royal Blind Society lodged an application to demolish the house. Community members, however, rallied against the plan to the Woollahra Council.

The house is now privately owned and known as Waimea, Waimea Avenue, Woollahra a two storey Victorian Colonial Georgian mansion built around 1858 for Thomas Barr. From 1949 to 1973 it operated as the Helen Keller Hostel by the Royal Blind Society.

Research provided by Jo Holder and Isabella Maher
A news bulletin from Woollahra community magazine The Village Voice declaring the preservation of the Helen Keller Hostel, May 1973. (Image Source: QSWWA)


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