John Beckhouse makes Christmas cards which are full of Canberra-isms and character. He has a great eye for the humour in everyday situations which he expresses through simple drawings and colour. But what really makes John’s Christmas cards remarkable is that he is a middle-aged autistic man who was born profoundly deaf. As such, John hasn’t had many jobs in his lifetime; the one job he was particularly good at was stocktaking at the supermarket – his autistic characteristics served him well with the counting, and putting the items back on the shelves EXACTLY as they were before. But when the company decided to get staff from Sydney to do the work, John was no longer required. Now, with the help of his parents Pam and Wal, John makes and sells Christmas cards which brings in a little ‘pocket-money,’ and gives him the sense of achievement and self-worth that is so often taken for granted. His mum proudly shows some of the cards he has made over the last decade and says, ‘over the years we worried about what he was going to do when he had to get a job. Well, we shouldn’t have worried!’
It all began when a small exhibition that was held at the Belconnen Community Centre. Wal explains that John submitted a series of around 40 drawings of noisy birds ‘which he’s never heard in his life.’ After the exhibition, they got to thinking about how John may be able to use his drawing skills in other ways and ‘it grew from there’ says Wal. John has since had some high profile clients from Canberra and the region, including the Canberra Theatre, the Bredbo Pancake Parlour, and ACT Health which commissioned a card that wished everyone a ‘healthy festive season’ from director-general Dr Peggy Brown.
The Canberra Symphony Orchestra met John and Pam when they came to the CSO’s Rediscovering Music program for people with hearing loss. For John who had spent close to fifty years avoiding music all together, the program was actually more like ‘discovering’ music rather than ‘rediscovering.’ Pam reveals that due to his deafness, ‘he wanted to stay away from it because he thought it was useless.’ Laughing, she describes the difference in John when he went to Rediscovering Music for the first time. ‘He sat almost on top of the violins! I was watching him from a distance and I could see his eyes darting up and down in time with the bows. He had a wonderful time. It was absolutely unreal.’
When the CSO learned of John’s Christmas cards, we asked if he might draw a ‘Canberra Symphony Orchestra’ inspired card. To prepare for the task, John and his parents came to the Canberra Weekly Matinee Magic to watch the Beatles in Symphony. The results were fantastic, and we were thrilled with his creations, particular the ‘Australian Christmas Beetles’ card. His dad beams when he sees our reaction to the card, ‘he certainly draws with humour. We’re very happy that he’s found a niche in life that’s going to last.’
John Beckhouse’s Christmas cards share the joy thrice: with those who send them; with those who receive them; and with the Beckhouse family, whose rewards go beyond the money raised. If you’d like to ask about having custom-made Christmas cards for your business or family, please call Pam and Wal on 6292 1901 or email email@example.com