I grew up in country NSW being the only person in my family with hearing. My grandfather was Deaf, as well as both my parents and my brother. In the Deaf world I am what is known as an ‘only hearing CODA’ (child of Deaf adults).
Deafness was my norm, I thought it was strange that other people used spoken languages and did not communicate using their hands and facial expression.
My first few days at school were challenging, I would do things like tap the teacher on the shoulder to get her attention. When she gave me instructions in the classroom, I would often ask her to draw or write concepts and instruction on the blackboard so I can see it visually, my written English was basic, at times I didn’t understand the ‘words’ my teacher was saying. My brother went to a school with a Deaf facility, and I remember asking my mother ‘Why can’t I go to school with Sam?’ And she would say I was hearing so I would go to the local school, and the government would not pay extra funds to send me to the same school as my brother 45-60 mins drive away. I even had times where I tried to sneakily fit my brother’s hearing aids on myself, and no I didn’t need them. I felt like I was the odd one out, I felt ‘DEAF’ culturally like them even though I could hear!
As a child I did not understand why, but now looking back it made perfect sense – this was ‘MY WAY’ or ‘OUR WAY’ in Deaf culture.
Anyway, fast forward 20 years and I found myself working in the hospitality industry after leaving school. I did some volunteer interpreting and then ended up attending the RMIT interpreting diploma course in 1995. After a positive experience, two years later I sat my NAATI Level 3 test (known as the Certified Interpreter test nowadays) and became an accredited Auslan Interpreter at that level at 21 years of age.
I continued to work full time as an Auslan Interpreter, taking up a staff interpreter role at Vicdeaf (now known as Expression Australia) and have been there now for almost 25 years, freelancing weeknights and weekends.
My first experience of university was in 2009 when I enrolled to undertake the postgraduate diploma course in Auslan/English Interpreting at Macquarie University. Along with a great cohort of interpreters from Melbourne and being privileged to have the incredible Dr Trevor Johnston lecture us on Sign Language Linguistics – this was the gentleman who coined the term ‘Auslan’ and produced the official Auslan Dictionary. Dr Jemina Napier and her husband Andy Carmichael were also lynchpins of this incredible course and extraordinary mentors of mine throughout my career.
Who would have known what this career path would bring? Over the years I worked with many Deaf community members from all walks of life: Deaf migrants, interpreting weddings, funerals, working in justice, prisons, court cases and police interviews, drug raids… Then international work such as the Deaflympics as Australian team interpreter in Taipei 2009 and Turkey 2017 to name a few. Official ceremonies, government speeches, conferences, and then the Victorian Premier’s COVID-19 updates over two years daily with our Emergency Media Interpreting Team (EMIT) operated from Expression Australia. I was Team Lead of this group of highly skilled interpreters who were representing our Deaf community on a massive scale in the public eye, simultaneously elevating the profile of the Deaf community and our work.
Many may not know that the EMIT team was established around 2013 initially in response to Emergency Management Victoria’s desire and partnership with Vicdeaf to provide Auslan interpreting access to Emergency announcements by the Commissioner at that time Craig Lapsley, and the now Commissioner Andrew Crisp primarily for Bushfire emergencies and other natural disasters or state emergencies ensuring that the Deaf community were kept well informed. In addition to this every Sunday ABC24 provides the news interpreted into Auslan at 5pm – be sure to take a look!
Conference Interpreting has been a specialisation of mine (of sorts) since the Macquarie University course back in 2011, and while it has been a long road, I am very pleased to have been awarded the Certified Conference Interpreter certification in both language directions by NAATI in May this year. I am the first Auslan interpreter to be certified in both language directions in Australia (Auslan‑English and English-Auslan) which is very exciting.
Currently I am now practicing as an IS (international Sign) Interpreter and have Pre‑accreditation status with WASLI/WFD (World Association of Sign Language interpreters and World Federation of the Deaf). A new and fresh challenge, requiring different skill sets as sign languages are not universal, although at international events international sign is used.
The world is your oyster, my dear wife once said to me ‘Mark, do what you enjoy and do with the whole of your heart’ and I can honestly say this is how I feel about interpreting and the work I do.
Thank you to my wife, my family and the Deaf community for sharing this incredible gift – Auslan which I will hold in my heart as my first language until I depart this earth.
Mark Quinn is a Certified Interpreter in Auslan and English, and recently became the first Auslan interpreter in Australia to gain Certified Conference Interpreter credentials in both directions (Auslan-English and English-Auslan).