Perce Stratton returned to Hay to live in 2005 after an absence of 26 years.
This is his story – a truly amazing recount of one blind man’s endeavour.
This biography was compiled in late 2005, just a few months prior to Perce's passing.
Harold George Stratton, affectionately known as ‘Perce’, first arrived in Hay at the age of 5 with his mother in 1926. He was born with a serious sight deficiency and experienced a gradual deterioration resulting in total blindness.
By the age of 19 in 1940, Perce was totally blind in his right eye and had very little sight remaining in his left eye. He travelled to Wagga at this time to undergo an operation on his blind eye, as it was felt that there was nothing to lose and perhaps something to gain. During his stay in Wagga, the doctor advised that his good eye was affected by a cataract and it was suggested that he undergo a further operation to remove the cataract. However, the operation on his blind eye proved unsuccessful and the operation to remove the cataract from his other eye also failed - when the bandages were removed 3 weeks later he was totally blind.
His mother and father separated soon after he was born and in the absence of welfare, and with no immediate relatives to lend support, his mother immediately assumed the task of working and providing for them both. Prior to their arrival in Hay in 1926, Perce’s mother worked as a cook at the Pretty Pine Hotel and the move to Hay took place as a result of his mother securing a job as cook at Claughton Hostel.
Perce attended the Hay Primary School to complete 6th class in 1934, but was not able to continue on to high school because of failing eyesight. One of his most memorable achievements was the occasion when he won the Junior Athletics Championship of the Hay Public School in 1933. In the lead up to this event, the school principal tried to dissuade Perce from competing because of his poor eyesight, but with the support of his fellow students, the principal finally conceded. Around this time, Perce travelled to Sydney to attend the Far West Health Scheme to undergo an examination to determine if he was likely to benefit from surgery. However, it was soon realised that there was no beneficial treatment available for his particular sight disorder and he returned to Hay
Throughout the whole of his life, Perce has been renowned for his very high level of motivation and this attribute became quite obvious after leaving school. As a teenager he spent much of his time ‘lending a hand’ to various local workmen, where he freely volunteered his labour just to enjoy the company and a sense of being productive. Perce recounts some memorable times during this period, helping Harold Myers on road maintenance work for the Hay Municipal Council using horse drawn appliances, and with the loading of Westland Motors trucks at the Hay Railway Yards. At this time, construction of the Maude Weir and the Redbank Weir had just commenced with all construction materials first arriving at Hay by rail and then being off-loaded onto trucks for transport to the two sites by road. Perce spent countless hours shoveling blue-metal and assisting with the loading of general construction materials, which included the handling of thousands of bags of cement, all in a voluntary capacity; in Perce’s own words “just for the company and something to do”. At this time Perce was unpaid for his voluntary participation but had just commenced receiving a disability pension.
Perce came into contact with Ron Wall (Hay Furniture Co) in 1939 and it was not long before Ron recognised that he had in his company, a man as strong as a bullock and even more willing. At that time Ron was contracting to Permewan Wright for the packing of furniture as a sideline to running his second-hand furniture shop. (Permewan Wright contracted to the various government departments to pack, unpack and transport, by rail, the furniture and effects of all public servants as they moved to and from Hay in their employment). Perce soon learned the skills of the trade and was able to work unsupervised even though, by this time he had become totally blind. He continued with this work until the need for this style of packing diminished in the 1950’s due to the introduction of ‘modern’ road transport.
During the early WW2 years in the 1940’s, Perce was given access to a neighbour’s rather large, unused yard. This was just what he wanted. He soon developed the yard into a small market garden where he grew many different types of vegetables. Word soon spread and he developed a regular clientele to whom he provided a personal delivery service. During this period of WW2, the Hay Agricultural Show was held in the Hay Park (due to the prisoner of war and internment camp taking over the showgrounds) and it was on one such occasion that Perce won first prize for “The Best Collection of Home Grown Vegetables”. His presentation comprised no fewer than 19 different varieties. It is interesting to note that his prize consisted of a £1 ‘War Certificate’ which he was not able to cash until the scheduled maturity date some 7 years later.
Perce’s work association with Ron Wall started in 1939 when he was employed on a part-time basis, and in 1943 commenced full-time employment. His work at Hay Furniture Co included the routine of sweeping throughout and cleaning the shop-front windows. Every stock item of furniture and floor covering material arriving and leaving passed through his hands, and with a photographic memory like he possessed there was no need for a stock inventory system – he knew where every single stock item was located.
In 1947 Perce took the first of many steps into community service. His first position being elected to the committee of the Hay Citizens Band, a position he held for 31 years. In this same year, 1947, the band was given a portion of the army drill hall yard (now the Civic Centre) and free access to one of the disused Army POW huts1. At that time, several of the bandsmen happened to be qualified tradesmen and the building was dismantled and re-erected by volunteer effort lead by these tradesmen. Perce’s interest and willingness to help involved him in the ‘logistics’ of the operation. During this time he assumed the routine task of assisting with the arrangements for procuring materials and for the scheduling of volunteer labour for work each week-end until the project was completed. The work was finally completed in 1954 and an official opening ceremony took place to celebrate the occasion.
Perce’s management skills also extended to organising the band’s annual ‘drinks and lollies’ stand at the Hay Show as a fund raising venture. He developed quite a large supply base for ‘home made sweets’ from local women supporters and arranged each year for their productions and collection. He also managed the hiring of the hall and monitored the need for routine maintenance. Perce’s association with the band included his self-appointment as ‘Volunteer Civic Centre Gardener’ - a chore he willingly undertook over a 10 year period prior to the local council taking over the task in 1964. This work involved the establishment of trees, shrubs and lawn and included the mowing and edge trimming of the large semi-circular lawn (yes, by push-mower and by touch). It was some time later that a motor mower was purchased jointly by the Hay Citizens Band and the CWA for Perce’s use.
Following the devastating loss of the Memorial Hall2 by fire in 1946, the Army Drill Hall3 was acquired by the Hay Municipal Council to serve as a replacement. Three major local fund raising programs were embarked upon in the years immediately following, in the late 1940’s, to pay for the initial conversion and subsequent furbishing. Perce was directly involved as a committee member with these three programs.
Around 1950 Perce’s interest in local government began to emerge and in 1953 he began a routine of attending every general meeting of the Hay Municipal Council, as an observer, to assess to his own satisfaction, his ability to function properly as an alderman should he decide to stand for election. It was after attending every general council meeting during this three year period, that he offered himself as a candidate and was duly elected as an alderman in 1956. He served two consecutive terms as an alderman of the Hay Municipal Council. At that time, the council met each month and prior to each meeting, every alderman was issued with a copy of the ‘council business notes’ (so that they could familiarise themselves with the subject matter that was scheduled for discussion). As a newly elected alderman, Perce prepared himself for this with the purchase of a tape recorder, and it became a regular routine for him to arrange for the recording of the ‘council business notes’. Perce was thus able to play and replay the tape, prior to the meeting, to the point where he virtually memorised the full content resulting in him being better positioned than most of his colleagues when discussions commenced.
Following his terms in office as an alderman, Perce continued, for some time, to serve as the Hay Municipal Council’s appointee to the Central Murray Regional Public Library Committee.
For many years, Perce regularly attended the annual board meetings of the Hay Hospital simply as an interested observer.4
Perce was not able to compete in any conventional sports but nevertheless followed all local sporting activities with fervent interest. He served as a member of the Hay Rovers Football Club management committee for several years during the 1950’s.
Perce joined the Hay Apex Club in 1958 as an inaugural member and held several positions of office including a short term as president. He was honoured with Life Membership in 1962 and due to this qualification he was able to maintain an ongoing involvement in Apex. During his 19 years association he attended every annual district, zone and national Apex convention.
In 1959 Perce joined a local committee which was formed to gather support for, and to raise money for the building of an Olympic size swimming pool. The proposal was considered by many to be un-affordable and considerable public debate ensued. The municipal council eventually, and somewhat reluctantly, at the time, became involved and the proposal was narrowly carried at a referendum with the pool being subsequently constructed. The Hay Swimming Club, which had previously existed for some considerable time, began to play a greater roll in promoting swimming competitions following the construction of the pool and Perce served as a committee member and as President of this organisation for some years.
Around 1965 a public meeting was called to examine the idea of providing an accommodation facility for the elderly. The body formed was known as “Hay Senior Citizens Association” and Perce was an inaugural member of this committee. During the initial period the committee focused on obtaining information concerning basic government requirements and the availability of finance. Following a great deal of work over a considerable period of time the ‘Haydays’ project was finally launched. Perce worked on this committee throughout and together with several other committee members were ultimately absorbed into the management committee of ‘Haydays’. Perce remained on the Haydays committee for several years and was awarded Life Membership upon his retirement from the committee.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s Perce was involved in the local arts scene as a committee member of the Hay Amateur Dramatic Society (HADS) and was a keen supporter of their drama and musical productions, making sound recordings of all during that period. A number of these recordings have been donated to the Hay Gaol Museum.
Perce’s interest in music and the arts prompted his involvement as a committee member of the Hay branch of the NSW Arts Council. This state body was responsible for arranging visits to country towns of professional drama and music groups during the 1960’s and 1970’s. During this time, Perce was also a member of the Hay Musical Society, a music appreciation group whose activities were also designed to encourage local artists to actively participate.
Perce was an inaugural member of the Hay and District Tourist Association which was formed around 1970 and was one of two local delegates who regularly travelled to attend meetings of a regional tourist body then known as the “Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area Tourist Association” (MIATA). This body comprised delegates from several surrounding towns and meetings were routinely held on a rotational basis.
The Hay Historical Society was formed in the early 1970’s with Perce being one of the inaugural committee members. The society continues today with a strong core of dedicated members. It was during this same period, in the early 1970’s, that interest began to develop concerning the restoration of the former Hay Gaol in Church Street as a museum. A separate group within the Hay Historical Society was formed to further examine the proposal and a new organisation subsequently evolved. Perce was one of the inaugural committee members of the new organisation and it continues today as “The Hay Gaol Museum Management Committee”.
Perce served as a board member of Claughton Hostel for 12 consecutive years from 1966 to 1978. During this same 12 year period he also served as president of the combined Girl Guides & Boy Scouts Association.
In 1977 Perce began personally lobbying for the establishment of a lawn cemetery in Hay. His submission to the Hay Municipal Council, which was drafted by a professional friend and accompanied with financial incentive, won favour with the council and plans for its implementation were soon adopted.
In 1978, a NSW regional TV Network sent a crew to Hay to gather footage for the production of a television documentary covering Perce’s outstanding achievements. The production covered both his daily work activities at Hay Furniture Co and his community service involvement with numerous local organisations.
This blind man’s extraordinary level of participation in local community service over a period of 30 years can be seen as a measure of his character, his strength and of his commitment and sets a benchmark that would be hard to top in any company.
Immediately prior to his departure for Sydney in 1978, he was made the guest of honour at an official public function sponsored by the Hay Shire Council with representatives from his former associated organisations invited to attend.
Perce’s association with Hay Furniture Co spanned an even longer period, but that too came to an end, for it was in 1978 that he met the lady of his life, Dorothy, married and moved to Sydney. However, Perce was not one to let the grass grow underfoot and so commenced chapter 2 of his very energetic life.
Prior to moving to Sydney, Perce had tried his hand at bowls at the Hay Bowling Club guided by an assistant. However, it was not until he moved to Sydney that his interest in lawn bowls intensified. Within 3 months of his arrival in Sydney he had become an active member of the “Wentworthville Bowling Club”. Perce was indeed fortunate that the Wentworthville Bowling Club periodically sponsored social bowls for handicapped groups and, that his neighbour, knowing that Perce had been previously involved, volunteered his assistance. Perce and his helper enjoyed themselves so much that a firm partnership developed enabling Perce to join in with the club’s normal social Bowls activity.
It was quite coincidental that the NSW Blind Bowlers Association was formed around this same time. It was perhaps even more coincidental that the newly formed association arranged with the Wentworthville Club (Perce’s own club) to stage some of their events at Wentworthville with their first state championships scheduled for the following year, in 1979. Needless to say, Perce was eager to compete.
Over the next 21 years Perce competed regularly in the NSW State and the Australian National Championships, entering in the Men’s Singles, Men’s Pairs and Mixed Pairs, winning many events including 2 National Singles Championships and 6 National Men’s Pairs Championships. As a result of his successes at state and national level, he was selected on two occasions to represent his country, competing in the World Blind Bowlers Championships in Canada in 1994 and in Scotland in 2001.
During his 26 years in Sydney, Perce withdrew from public life other than a keen involvement with the administration of the newly formed NSW Blind Bowlers Association. He served as a committee member with this association for 7 years.
After moving from Hay, Perce and his wife Dorothy lived for many years in Westmead, NSW and it was with great sadness that Dorothy passed away in 1998, just 4 years after they had moved into the Courtlands Retirement Village at North Parramatta.
For many years Perce held dear to his heart a plan to return to Hay one day and it was in June 2004 that he decided it was ‘time to come home’ and so took up residence in the McFarland Wing of the new Hay Hospital. He still maintains a very keen interest in local affairs and a willing band of friends provide him with a full coverage each week of the contents of the local newspaper, The Riverine Grazier, even to the extent of including details of job vacancies and houses for sale etc.
Perce can be seen today exhibiting the same motivation and energy - folding towels etc. to assist staff at the Hospital.
As he once said many years ago; “just for the company and something to do”.
(Perce passed away peacefully at the Hay Hospital on 10th March 2006)
List of Community Service Positions Held in Hay, 1947 ~ 1978
It is worthy of note that Perce had become totally blind several years prior to the commencement of his
extraordinary involvement in community service. Many of the positions detailed were held concurrently.
2000 & 2001
List of successes in the NSW State and
Australian National Blind Bowlers
1980 ~ 2003
(front & back of gold medal won 2000)
2000 & 2001
1980 Melbourne..... 3rd Men’s Pairs
1981 Sydney........ 1st Men’s Pairs, 3rd Singles
1982 Perth......... 1st Men’s Pairs, 2nd Singles
1983 Brisbane...... 2nd Men’s Pairs
1987 Brisbane...... 3rd Men’s Pairs
1988 Maitland...... 2nd Men’s Singles, 2nd Men’s Pairs
1990 Melbourne..... 1st Men’s Pairs, 2nd Men’s Singles
1993 Sydney........ 2nd Men’s Pairs, 2nd Mixed Pairs
1996 Adelaide...... 1st Men’s Pairs, 3rd Mixed Pairs, 3rd Singles
1997 Brisbane...... 2nd Mixed Pairs, 2nd Men’s Pairs
1999 Perth......... 1st Men’s Pairs, 2nd Singles, 3rd Mixed Pairs
2000 Adelaide...... 1st Singles, 1st Men’s Pairs, 2nd Mixed Pairs
2001 Coffs Harbour. 1st Singles, 2nd Open Pairs, 3rd Mixed Pairs
1981 1st Men’s Pairs
1982 1st Men’s Pairs
1983 2nd Men’s Pairs
1984 2nd Men’s Pairs
1985 2nd Men’s Pairs
1986 1st Men’s Pairs, 2nd Singles
1987 1st Men’s Pairs, 2nd Singles
1988 2nd Singles, 2nd Men’s Pairs
1989 1st Singles, 2nd Men’s Pairs
1993 1st Singles, 2nd Men’s Pairs
1994 1st Singles, 2nd Men’s Pairs
1995 1st Singles, 3rd Men’s Pairs
1996 1st Singles
1997 1st Singles, 2nd Men’s Pairs
1998 2nd Singles, 2nd Men’s Pairs
1999 1st Singles
2000 1st Singles
2001 2nd Singles 2nd Men’s Pairs
2003 2nd Singles
In 2000, Perce won both the NSW and the Australian National Singles Championships
1 Originally located within the present Showgrounds. return to text
hours of the morning following a ball the previous night. return to text
3 The present Memorial Hall in Lachlan Street was originally constructed as an Army Drill Hall about 1912. return to text
4 Members of the public were permitted to attend such meetings. return to text