Shirley Hanke - My Story

Shirley Hanke was the 3rd person implanted by Prof Bill Gibson in the RPAH implant program in Jan 1985. Shirley lost her hearing suddenly, 2 months after her 11th birthday in 1937, from a diptheria vaccination. Her hearing loss was complete and hearing aids were no use and 6 months afterwards, Shirley commenced lip-reading lessons with teachers of the deaf who taught at the old Deaf, Dumb and Blind Institute at Darlington. Shirley also mentions the dedication of her mother, who had the patience to practice the lip-reading and speech lessons with her daily!

Shirley’s mother was a talented pianist and so Shirley really missed the wonderful music that had been a big part of her life until then. After leaving school, she attended business college and went on to do clerical work in local government….not Shirley’s choice but at the time, employment for deaf people was quite limited.

Shirley travelled overseas for 15 months on a working holiday in England, travelling by ship each way on her own.

Research about the multichannel implants prompted Shirley to write to Prof Graeme Clark in Melbourne to be considered for an implant but it was 2 years later that Bill Gibson contacted Shirley. The electrocochleography test was only new and was endured for about 3 hours. Tests showed that Shirley was a candidate but she had been deaf for 47 years and it could be slow progress.

Shirley’s implant went ahead and she was switched on at RPAH In Camperdown in January 1985. Her balance was affected for about 4 weeks after the surgery but came back to normal.

Shirley’s husband Paul played a big role in her habilitation, bringing her attention to sounds and playing a lot of music. He made some tapes from Dr Seuss books for practise, some Beatles music and bush ballads. Her speech and hearing range improved though she always read lips as well. Shirley learned to recognise a great number of bird calls over time and could imitate some of them and look out for them in her back yard.

Shirley pays tribute to her husband Paul and to partners and families of those who lose their hearing, because she appreciates the great efforts, they make to help you. It was Paul Hanke who took so many lovely photos to record the events of our early days and Paul drew up our original CICADA logo. Shirley also acknowledges the care and support from her two sons and their families who have helped her so much since Paul passed away.


Shirley turns 97 on the 3rd of August 2023 and has been a true pioneer of the CI program in NSW.

In 2002, Shirley published a book entitled “The Story Of Cicada”, bringing together a collection of news items and personal stories of the early recipients of the RPAH Program.

Sue Walters remembers taking her new baby Ruby to a CICADA Committee meeting at Shirley’s and when Ruby started crying, it was the first time that Shirley had heard a little baby crying and she was delighted with the sound.

Our gratitude to Shirley for her contributions and dedication to CICADA over this last 38 years.

(Extract from The Story Of Cicada by Shirley Hanke)