Founders Lane Masthead
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Christmas cards full of Canberra

Jolene Laverty

John Beckhouse makes Christmas cards which are full of Canberra-isms and character.

He has a great eye for the humour in everyday situations which he expresses through simple drawings and colour. What really makes John’s Christmas cards remarkable is that he is a middle-aged autistic man who was born profoundly deaf. As such, John hasn’t had many jobs in his lifetime; the one job he was particularly good at was stocktaking at the supermarket – his autistic characteristics served him well with the counting and putting the items back on the shelves EXACTLY as they were before. But when the company decided to get staff from Sydney to do the work, John was no longer required.

Now, with the help of his parents Pam and Wal, John makes and sells Christmas cards which brings in a little ‘pocket-money,’ and gives him the sense of achievement and self-worth that is so often taken for granted. His mum (pictured) proudly shows some of the cards he has made over the last decade and says that, “Over the years we worried about what he was going to do when he had to get a job. Well, we shouldn’t have worried!”

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It all began when a small exhibition that was held at the Belconnen Community Centre. Wal explains that John submitted a series of around 40 drawings of noisy birds “which he’s never heard in his life.” After the exhibition, they got to thinking about how John may be able to use his drawing skills in other ways and “it grew from there” says Wal.  John has since had some high profile clients from Canberra and the region, including the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Canberra Theatre, the Bredbo Pancake Parlour, and ACT Health which commissioned a card that wished everyone a “healthy festive season” from director-general Dr Peggy Brown.

One of John’s most recent creations was for the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, which Pam says was a significant step for John. She explains that due to his profound deafness, he had spent close to fifty years avoiding music altogether, “he wanted to stay away from it because he thought it was useless” she explains. But in preparing to create a music inspired card, John watched a live performance which included violins. Laughing, she describes the difference in John when he was in the room with live music, “He sat almost on top of the violins! I was watching him from a distance and I could see his eyes darting up and down in time with the bows. He had a wonderful time. It was absolutely unreal.”

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Although it must be extremely challenging to capture the essence of music when you’ve never heard it, the results of his work were fantastic and the CSO are thrilled with his creations, particularly the ‘Australian Christmas Beetles’ card. “He certainly draws with humour” his dad says, “we’re very happy that he’s found a niche in life that’s going to last.”

If you’d like to ask about having custom-made Christmas cards for your business or family, please call Pam and Wal on 6292 1901 or email pawal@bigpond.com. To listen to a longer conversation that I had with Pam Beckhouse, please visit the CSO’s Soundcloud.

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Jolene Laverty

Jolene Laverty was born and raised in Darwin, but has lived in Canberra for most of her adult life. She spent close to twenty years in radio, which took her to the copper outback of Port Augusta to the sparkling aquamarine waves of the Whitsundays. Today she is a member of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra*, ANU student, wife of a high-school teacher/rock-musician, and mother to three children who were each born in a different decade. *not allowed on stage. More about the Author

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