Park refuses to let guide dog in

Walgett's Vivienne Barham with her beloved guide dog Ellie
Walgett's Vivienne Barham with her beloved guide dog Ellie

THE BOND Walgett's Vivienne Barham shares with her two-year-old golden labrador Ellie is something quiet extraordinary.

Not only is Ellie Vivienne's constant companion, but she's also her eyes to the world.

Borne out of necessity their connection is unshakable.The mere fact Ellie exists means Mrs Barham can get up each day and live with confidence.

But that cofidence was surely rocked at the hands of a Gilgandra caravan park manager who the Barham's claim denied them a place to rest last week, all because of Ellie.

The Barhams say they were turned away from the Gilgandra Rest A While Cabin and Caravan Park because management refused to allow the couple's guide dog to stay at the park.

Ms Barham has zero visibility in her right eye and is rapidly losing sight in her left. In time she will be completely blind.

She was returning home to Walgett after six weeks of invasive chronic ailment treatments at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. The couple stopped at Gilgandra because the trip home had left Mrs Barham ill and distraught.

In hindsight Mrs Barham said she wished they never stopped at all.

"I just needed somwehere to rest. I was ill, I was in pain and couldn't bear the thought of another two hours in the car," she said.

Mrs Barham claims her treatment defied even "the most denigrating" of her personal life experiences.

A breast cancer survivor, Mrs Barham has risen above an untold number of knocks to be a 10-year veteran member of National Blind Bowls League, but said the treatment she received at the hands of management was among the "worst" she'd ever received.

"We were chased away like dogs, for lack of a better phrase."

"There have only been a few times in my life where I've ever felt that embarrassed," she said.

The couple at the centre of the alleged incident, caravan park managers Graham and Julie Carpenter, have declined to comment.

When approached by the Daily Liberal Mr Carpenter said they had been "in touch" with Guide Dogs Australia.

"And we won't be making any comments on the matter," he said.

Guide Dogs Australia confirmed it received a complaint against the Gilgandra Rest A While Cabin and Caravan Park.

Guide Dogs NSW/ACT chief executive officer Graeme White said while there was no shortage of legislation protecting the Barhams against the type of treatment they claimed to they had received, the regularity of reports enforced the fact public education was still lacking.

A Roy Morgan survey conducted in 2010 found there was low public awareness of guide dog laws, with 42 per cent confirming they did not know guide dogs could legally enter a restaurant and 36 per cent unclear guide dogs could legally enter hotels and clubs.

The Guide Dogs relaunched its Welcome Here campaign last year to readdress the issue of education.

"The guide dog access laws have been in place for over 30 years but despite our ongoing efforts to educate the community, people are still being discriminated against. We're calling on businesses to ensure their staff are aware that customers with guide dogs can enter their premises just like you and me," Mr White said.

While Mrs Barham agreed a lack of awareness made things difficult for most vision-impaired people, the lingering pangs of last week's alleged episode still weighed heavily on her mind.

"It wasn't the first time I've been stopped because of the dog, but you learn to take it on the chin and move on."

"But it's times like that last week, when somebody could be so insulting, so rude, when I'm glad I couldn't see any of it," she said.


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