It's the 1960s, in Melbourne, Australia. You are in Grade One at a large Catholic primary school, and you are the only one who is deaf. Deafness is subtle, especially when you can speak like anyone else, but you can't hide it. The cord of your new hearing aid loops out of the collar of your
school shirt, and tells the world you're deaf, whether you want them to know or not.
This is what faces Mike. What makes his story of schooldays and adolescence more
unusual is his family. He is one of five children, of whom four are inexplicably born deaf
to hearing parents. With almost no support, the parents decide to make home life as
normal as possible. Sometimes this helps. But at other times Mike struggles to
understand the difference between what is normal and what is not.
Again and again, Mike encounters situations in which there are no rules and for
which there is no past experience to guide him. What do you do when a swimming
instructor shouts orders you cannot hear? Or a teacher asks for homework you never
heard about? Or when the priest asks you questions in the dark of confessional booth at
church? And how do you con off a girl at a teenage dance when you can't hear what she
says? Mike works it all out for himself, and doesn't always get it right. Schooling
becomes a downward academic spiral as life becomes wider and more complicated.
But Deafness Down is far from being a tale of triumph over adversity. It is an
absolutely authentic account of dogged persistence and a youthful attempt to negotiate
and understand a world that at times makes no sense.