When the curtain opens, the stage lights go on and Mandurah All Stars’ Annie Abbott starts to sing next to her loyal furry friend Nessie the audience always lets out a long ‘aw’.
Not many people guess at the first attempt that Ms Abbott is legally blind, and seven and a half year old Labrador Nessie, sitting up on a pink blanket on a table, is her devoted pair of eyes.
“When the curtain is open and they see a dog, they don’t care how bad I sound, they go ‘aw’”, Ms Abbott said.
“Everyone does the same thing, it’s actually hilarious.”
Cheerful Annie Abbott was introduced to the singing band Mandurah All Stars four years ago by her current partner Les, also a performer.
She suffers from a hereditary eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa, which affects the retina’s ability to respond to light and causes a gradual loss of vision and eventually blindness.
Ms Abbott had worn glasses all her life, but never suspected she had a condition other than being short-sighted until a car accident changed her life.
“I didn’t see the car and it frightened me so badly,” she said.
“I thought ‘I didn’t see the car, what is going on?’.”
She set an appointment with a specialist.
She drove to the appointment but was told she wasn’t allowed to drive back.
She was told she only had 10 per cent of the vision left, meaning she was legally blind.
Ms Abbott, a young woman in her 30s, had only recently had her first child and was working as a photographer for her own successful family business.
Now she was told she would slowly lose her sight, and would have to readjust to a new lifestyle.
“When I was unable to drive and I already had a child and a business I thought, well there has to be other ways,” she said.
“Unfortunately I didn’t have a husband that could cope with it.
“That was very hard because I felt totally on my own.
“And I thought ‘well, perhaps my life was meant to take a different turn’, so I stopped crying about it and did something.”
Ms Abbott kept working in her photography business doing copy restoration, until the change to digital photography and computer editing forced her to retire.
She kept volunteering with the local school and after going through a divorce she raised two boys on her own.
Five years ago Ms Abbott met her current partner Les, a member of the Mandurah All Stars cast.
He introduced her to the rest of the members, who encouraged her to join them on stage.
She is now an active member of the cast and she even performs solos and duos.
“I sing everyday, it has given me a great deal of pleasure” she said.
“I find it fun, very challenging to do the show.
“When the lights go out I of course can see nothing.
“But you have to have the courage to want to do something for yourself and something that it’s fun and that you can enjoy.”
Ms Abbott said she has found in the Mandurah All Stars her particular safe haven, where both her and Nessie are welcome and taken care of.
“The Mandurah All Stars have been my total support on my singing career,” she said.
And she hopes to perform with them for years to come.
The Mandurah All Stars is a not-for-profit organisation for older people who enjoy comedy, singing, dancing and performing.
They have been performing for 20 years to bring affordable entertainment to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Besides bringing their show to the Mandurah and Peel residents, the group also raises funds for other charitable groups and organisations on a regular basis.
During the club’s gigs, Ms Abbott often performs with Nessie on the stage, where she sings her songs like My Girl to thank her for her unconditional help.
“No human will ever match that connection,” she said.
Ms Abbott has currently six per cent of her vision left, and is one of three siblings that require a guide dog due to the condition.
To find out more about Mandurah All Stars’ next gig, or to join the group, call Joy on 9586 8340.