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September 4, 2004

An earful of good news for Father of the Year

From: Sydney Morning Herald, Australia - Sep 4, 2004

By Deborah Smith and Gerard Noonan
September 4, 2004

Graeme Clark was inspired to invent the bionic ear by his father's predicament.

"I wanted to help deaf people because of the embarrassment I had for my father Colin when he could not hear customers asking for confidential items in his pharmacy," Professor Clark recalled yesterday.

He also well remembered the first person on whom he performed a cochlear ear implant operation 26 years ago. He was a father who was then able to hear the voices of his own children for the first time.

The acclaimed Australian surgeon and scientist undertook the first implant in a child in 1985. More than 25,000 hearing-impaired children around the world have benefited from his dedication to hearing research.

Yesterday Professor Clark added 2004 Australian Father of the Year to his long list of honours at a presentation at NSW Parliament House.

The award was presented by last year's father of the year, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, and two bionic ear recipients, Julia Gilchrist and baby Emily Ralph. AdvertisementAdvertisement

Ms Gilchrist, 23, who was born profoundly deaf and had an implant in 2001, is a fifth-year law and communications student at the University of Technology, Sydney. She said the implant meant she could now have lengthy conversations with her father and was able to enjoy music properly for the first time. "It's so fantastic that I can now listen to the Beatles and really hear Paul McCartney."

Professor Clark, who has five children and five grandchildren all living in Melbourne, said he had always made fatherhood a priority. "I didn't join a golf club for example. My children were my main hobby."

He said he also felt like a part-time father to the thousands of children with implants. "When all deaf children can have the opportunity of hearing and learning to speak my dream will have come true."

His pioneering research was driven as well by a desire "to show the world we could do it in Australia against all the odds." An Australian company, Cochlear, supplies most of the world's implants, and as director of the Bionic Ear Institute, Professor Clark, 69, is still working to improve the hearing devices.

Copyright © 2004. The Sydney Morning Herald.