Books play an important part in this mother and daughter’s lives

Gwen McLean and her daughter Alison have shared a love of books down the years, but even more so now that Gwen, at 90, is completely blind. With a mind as sharp as a tack, Gwen now enjoys listening to the written word with mother and daughter sharing their own unique audio book club.

A librarian by profession, Alison knows what authors Gwen likes, listing Australian-Irish author Monica McInerney, Lianne Moriarty, Judy Nunn, Jojo Moyes and local writers Liz Byrski and Dervla McTiernan.

Alison says she chooses a book she believes her mother will like to read herself and at the same time orders the Daisy (Digital accessible information system) cartridge containing the audio book from the VisAbility Library in Victoria Park. They can compare notes as they listen and read.

The VisAbility Library is the biggest talking book library in the Southern Hemisphere, containing more than 70,000 titles in digital or Braille. Books and are available free of charge to people with low or no vision or who have a print disability.

“I enjoy talking books, listening to classic music and keeping up with current affairs,” says Gwen who lives at the Servite nursing home in Joondanna.

“I’ve always been a keen reader and talking books are wonderful. I put the headphones on and use the Victor Reader, it’s a lifesaver for me.”

Gwen was born in Sydney but at three weeks old moved to country Inverell with her parents Archie and Jane Goldman. She married John and went to live on a sheep and cattle property. The couple had two children Alison and Scott.

When her husband died suddenly, Gwen realised she would be unable to carry out the physical work on the property so 20 years ago she moved to WA to be close to her children who had both settled here and her four grandchildren.

“At 40, I was diagnosed with glaucoma which happened quite suddenly and affected my peripheral vision in both eyes. Four years ago, haemorrhages in the optic nerves of both eyes led to complete loss of vision.”

Settling in WA, Gwen first lived in Waikiki, residing at a retirement village in Port Kennedy before moving to Joondanna four years ago.

Gwen likes books about comedy, family stories and animal tales with the occasional mystery: “something I have to think about,” she says. 

She also likes podcasts downloaded by son Scott and is currently following the Chris Dawson murder trial in Sydney. She listens to Richard Fidler interviews on radio, follows state and federal elections and is up to date with current affairs including gas prices.

“I’m very lucky having Alison as my carer,” Gwen said. “She visits every day, helps with exercises and takes me out. Sometimes, we enjoy a gin and tonic.”

Her outlook on life? 

“Try to do the best you can and get along with people, have good relationships. I had a lot of love from my husband and now I have it from my family.”