Forgotten Australians, memories

Shock treatment

by Gwen (Sandra) Robinson (guest author) on 22 June, 2011

‘My heart broke for these defenseless people and still does today.’ Gwen (Sandra) Robinson was placed in Wolston Park Hospital, Tufnell Home and Home of the Good Shepherd Mitchelton. Here, she remembers her experiences at Wolston Park.

Gwen writes:

My name is Gwen Robinson preferably known as Sandra and I am going to write a little about the Shock Treatment that I seen given to patients at Wolston Park Mental Hospital also known as Goodna Mental Hospital. First I will tell you a little about myself and how I got there. I was put in there for being an absconder, better known as an habitual run-away, and not because there was anything mentally wrong with me which was proven by the I.Q. test that I did there and it came out as above average. I had the brains to be an accountant, which is what I wanted to be, but I was never given the education to follow that profession. There is a letter in my files written by a doctor to the Childrens Department stating that Wolston Park was non-theraputic to me and I should be out in a hostel and doing a business course. Needless to say that never happened and the Childrens Department just kept me there to be kept drugged up. We were given a drug called peraldahyde and it had to be given in a glass vial as it melted plastic. The mind shudders as to what it has done to my body being given to me as a young teenager. We were also given other mind altering drugs which kept us immobilised, which led to some of us wetting or dirtying ourselves as we could not move. It also left the staff free range to do whatever they wanted when we were in this state. I have cigarette burns on my arms from the staff and other scars.

I absconded from Tufnell Home and ended up in The Good Shepherd at Mitchelton and then I got out of there and was sent to Karalla House. I never got out of there but was locked up for more than a month in solitary confinement and when we got out of these rooms we came out as mad as hell and caused trouble and then this led me to be put in the Mental Hospital as it was the most secure place in QLD to keep me. I got out of there and was caught months later and was locked in a room for 2 weeks for the male staff to have access to as this was my punishment. I was also told at this time that if I escaped again that there was a lot of suicides in the Bremmer River. I believed them as I thought if you can lock me up with the Criminally Insane, and no one is doing anything about it, then you could do exactly as you pleased. Needless to say that I did escape from there one more time and was never caught, but I lived a life of being someone else as I thought I would be murdered. If anyone is interested I could explain that to them. In my mind I have never deserved any of this treatment as my only crime was being an orphan and being severly bashed at home and sometimes so bad that the school took me to the Hospital as I had blood and welts all over my body.

I cannot remember the number of the Ward that I was in when I witnessed the horror of seeing people being strapped down for shock treatment and also seeing them come out of the room when it was done. I am sitting here writing this with tears in my eyes as the pure horror of what these people went through comes back to me. It was one of the cruelist things that I have ever witnessed. The patients would fight the staff and come and hide behind other people, such as myself, and beg us to help and protect them. There was nothing I could do and they would be dragged away by staff and they would be begging and pleading to the staff not to do this to them. When they came out of the rooms after Shock Treatment they would be left lying on the beds and this is when I seen male staff interferring and doing sexual things to some of the patients while they were unconscious. Even today thinking about it makes my stomach heave. I have always been quite a strong person and have had a strong sense of survival, but what I seen in this place and also had done to me has had the worst effect on me even these many years later. Sometimes for days and even weeks these patients who had Shock Treatment would walk around in a daze with strange eyes, like they couldn’t focus, and also loss of memory. They were forever asking others what their names were and where they were. Another thing is that they were very skiddish as hiding behind other patients, such as myself, so as not to be noticed by staff and if staff came towards some it was like they were frozen with fear and I witnessed some patients just pass out with this fear and some of the staff thought this was quite funny. My heart broke for these defenseless people and still does today. Everyone dreaded Shock Treatment days but some of the staff loved it.

The Government in QLD. will not compensate any of us who were children placed in Adult Institutions or who were locked up with the Criminally Insane. They keep saying that the Redress Scheme has closed but they fail to realise is that these Mental Institutions were not covered by the Redress Scheme as it only covered places in the Terms of Reference for the Forde Inquiry and this Forde Inquiry did not let us speak of these Mental Institutions and we were told that they would never be included as it was a seperate issue. None of us have ever found a lawyer who is smart enough or has the fight to take on the Government or Health Department on this issue. Even the legal part of the Senate Inquiry says we should be looked at again for compensation as it was wrong that we were excluded as we were put there by the Children’s Department.

Forgotten Australians, memories

Lowson House

by Jessica Dalton (guest author) on 10 June, 2011

‘I stopped correcting them, and certainly stopped respecting them’: Jessica Dalton describes her time at Lowson House, Royal Brisbane Hospital, in 1980. Jessica was 20 at the time but some of her experiences were similar to those recounted by Forgotten Australians who were admitted to adult wards of psychiatric hospitals as children.

I had taken an overdose after being dumped by my first boyfriend, and when I began vomiting I told my mother what I’d done. She took me to RBH where she worked and I was admitted to Lowson House where I was kept in isolation for three days on the locked female Ward D. Before being discharged, I was examined by a room full of doctors, students and staff.  The registrar assigned to my case argued that I was schizophrenic and should remain in Lowson House for treatment.  The psychiatrist invited me to give my version of events and I explained that I was very unhappy at home and when my boyfriend dumped me I wanted to die.  However I didn’t die and I thought my best plan was to return to finish my schooling so that I could get a decent job or go on to uni and get out of home as soon as possible.  He agreed with my interpretation of events and I was released.

When I was 20, I had finally made it to uni and had become extremely anxious prior to first semester exams. One night I couldn’t deal with the anxiety and walked to RBH and asked for help.  I hoped that I would find intelligent reasonable people with expertise to help me deal with my emotional problems and mental distress.  The anxiety was so excruciating that I told the doctor at admissions that if they couldn’t help I’d probably have to end my life. I was admitted to Lowson House again and the same psychiatric registrar I had met when I was 16, was appointed as my psychiatrist. She remembered me and told me that now I would get the treatment I should have received when I was 16. Although I had admitted myself voluntarily, I became an involuntary patient. I revealed that I had been sexually abused over the first 12 years of my life which I believed was the source of my mental distress, but this was interpreted as delusional, reinforcing the diagnosis of schizophrenia. I was heavily medicated, refused leave to attend my final exams, and refused leave to attend another doctor for a second opinion. I asked if I was entitled to a second opinion and my psychiatrist said that of course I was. So when I asked for leave she would smile and refuse. If I tried to discharge myself, I was put on an involuntary order and sent back to D Floor, the locked ward. If I refused medication, I was sent back to D Floor. If I refused again I would be held down by orderlies and nurses, have my jaw prized open and have syrup poured down my throat. I stopped there. The next step was injections. I couldn’t win that battle.

In the first few days on D floor I felt so heavily medicated that I used to fall over if I got up from bed, or stood up suddenly from sitting position.  They made me go up to E Floor for ‘recreation’.  I kept falling over and the orderlies made me crawl up the stairs, laughing at me and kicking me with their boots. Up on E Floor, sometimes people paced up and down but they’d be yelled at and made to sit down and be quiet. Mostly the patients sat around the room in the chairs lined up against the walls staring speechless into space, some drooled, until we were allowed to go downstairs again.

They did conduct tests on me including inkblot tests, intelligence tests and a couple of EEGs. I don’t know how my responses to the inkblots were interpreted but I had the feeling at the time that it didn’t really matter what I said, it would be interpreted however my psychiatrist wanted it to be interpreted.  Whatever results didn’t fit the diagnosis, were discarded as irrelevant or false, rather than revisit the diagnosis. I remember the psychologist bailed me up in the corridor and accused me of cheating on my intelligence tests. I asked how that was possible and she said I must have done them before. I told her I hadn’t, she insisted, so I smiled and asked if she was upset because they were higher than hers, and would she like me to repeat them in order to produce a lower score? She was furious, stormed off and she had no more contact with me. I didn’t really understand the ramifications of showing disrespect to the staff in this way but I believe I tried to be totally honest with them initially. But they didn’t believe me when I told the truth or they twisted what I said to mean something else. I resisted their definitions of me but they still got inside me and hurt.

The EEG results indicated some sort of electrical disturbance similar to epilepsy, but that was not investigated.  The psychiatrist insisted I must have been blinking, even though I wasn’t. I complained of the smell on D floor caused by faeces smeared on the walls in the toilets. That was interpreted as olfactory hallucinations. I complained of feeling like a slug because of the effects of the medication. That was interpreted as a psychotic Kafka-esque metamorphosis. I stopped correcting them, and certainly stopped respecting them. My psychiatrist explained that I didn’t like her because I was projecting my hatred of my mother onto her. I assured her that I hated her for herself.

The psychiatrist refused to give me leave to have dinner with a dear friend who had come from Sydney to see me, when I actually wanted to go out. Well she didn’t initially refuse the leave, it was cancelled without reason at the last minute when my friend arrived to pick me up. Yet I was forced to go on weekend leave to my parents’ place although I begged them not to make me go … until I overdosed on my father’s heart medication and spent a week in coronary care. Then my parents decided that they wouldn’t have me and I was spared those visits. One registrar argued my case for me with the psychiatrist to trial me off the medication, but I guess he was disciplined because he wasn’t allowed to speak with me again.

Occupational therapy involved making a teapot stand with matchsticks or little tiles.  I was never a really crafty person. Then they decided I should learn to type. I was put in front of a broken typewriter in a cramped and messy office or storeroom with an old book on learning to type.  I was left alone and supposed to do something with that. The ribbon was worn out, keys were broken and I was medicated to the eyeballs. I was labelled as non-compliant and that was the end of my rehabilitation.

The food was revolting and at first I didn’t eat it. But eventually I lined up like everyone else, ages before the meal was served, in that long shuffling, dribbling line of human despair. Everything looked and tasted like porridge. I ate flies and bugs caught up in the food without a care. I put on four stone in weight.

I felt so tired and heavy, like my veins were filled with concrete. I didn’t want to get up, all I wanted to do was sleep. But every morning at 5 o’clock I was dragged out of bed, had cold water thrown on me a couple of times, and forced up to E floor for morning exercises. This consisted of orderlies physically placing us in rows facing the staff member who enthusiastically jumped about like a wannabee PE teacher or aerobics instructor, complete with whistle around his neck. Well, I’ve never been good at aerobics either but being drugged up at 5.30 in the morning, surrounded by people in a similar or worse state, did not inspire me … it was humiliating torture. And I’d be yelled at and called names, which also did nothing to improve my performance. I didn’t complain about all the courses of ECT because at least on those days I didn’t have to go for morning exercises and I really liked the IV valium. I had a really good peaceful sleep-in on those mornings.

I remained in Lowson House for 13 months, continued to be heavily medicated, received three courses of ECT, was not allowed to discuss the sexual abuse, and became totally dehumanised, demoralised and institutionalised by my experiences there. Although suicide had originally been an option to relieve the anxiety, I perceived it to be my only option after treatment at Lowson House. I managed to summon the energy to make a couple of attempts, which were not successful. Sadly, others I knew managed to do the job properly.  One man put his head under the wheel of a reversing truck while being walked to the canteen. I remember a nurse who was really annoyed about how inconsiderate that man was, considering the investigation the supervising nurse had to undergo. Another young man on weekend leave with his parents, threw himself off the faculty building at his university where he had graduated with distinction many years before. And another hung herself on the ward after excusing herself to get a tissue during a rowdy ward meeting. I was first back into the bedrooms, walked straight past her blue, lifeless, swinging body across the aisle from my bed and lay on my bed oblivious. Eventually someone else came and screamed. A male patient held up her body, while a young nurse aide ran to find scissors and cut her down. Those two did CPR together on the dead girl till the crash team eventually arrived and took her away. She had recently given birth and been forced to sign adoption papers. Then the nurse aide let loose on me for doing nothing. I don’t blame the nurse for that. How could I not notice? How could I not call for help? I knew why, but she didn’t.

I was not assigned a case-worker because, according to the social worker, she didn’t waste her time on hopeless cases. I began reading my file and was appalled by the fantastic rubbish written up as case-notes, informed by my mother and interpreted by my psychiatrist. Apparently, I was a lesbian because it was documented in my case-notes and all the staff and patients accepted this as fact despite my denials.  However, I was not abused as a child because the case-notes said it didn’t happen. I learnt early in my stay not to talk about the abuse, because staff abruptly got up and walked away if I raised the topic.

At one point I did make noticeable improvement and a registrar wanted to write a paper on me because she attributed my remarkable recovery to a new trial drug. I had to tell her that I had not been taking the drug and it was likely that the improvement in my behaviour (I was voluntarily getting out of bed, talking to people and feeling better) was due to not taking medication at all. I was forced to resume medication.

On my 21st birthday I was forcibly carried/dragged by 4 staff into the common room for a party I didn’t want to attend. After the party I stole my file, went to the embankment, drank a bottle of vodka, and burnt every page of my file. Another time I put a poster up on the front entry door to Lowson House. It was a picture of a sinking ship with the caption, ‘Abandon hope, all ye who enter here’. It was ages before the staff even noticed but eventually a visitor complained, an investigation launched and the culprit was tracked down. Yes, some of them really hated me. A new registrar let me read what she’d written in the file, and I was allowed to clarify it, if it was wrong. I thought that was respectful and sensible.

By the time I was to be discharged, my psychiatrist had left RBH and I had declined her invitation to be transferred under her care to another hospital. I don’t think I was allocated a new psychiatrist, because I didn’t see one again. I was not allowed to make my own living arrangements in the community and was given two options:  long-term accommodation at Wolston Park or a half-way house called Richmond Fellowship. By this time I had become institutionalised. I felt all my choices had been taken away from me. I had no hope for the future because I really was a mess by then, and besides that I’d been made aware that I should not have children because I would pass my mental disease on to them, and that I would never be able to work again, or achieve anything in my life. I badgered staff to help me make a decision about where to go, but nobody would give me any information about Wolston Park or Richmond Fellowship. The default option would be Wolston Park. I didn’t see how Wolston Park could be worse than Lowson House, I’d be fed and housed. Finally after following a registrar around for days, begging her to tell me what Wolston Park was like, she looked me in the eye and said it was a horrible place where I’d be treated worse than an animal.  I asked for an example, so I could differentiate between Wolston Park and Lowson House. She said that at Wolston Park I’d be herded with others, naked, into showers and hosed down. That sounded like a new experience I’d rather not be subjected to.

So I chose Richmond Fellowship, and discharged myself from there when it also proved to be less than helpful. When I arrived there I was not welcomed because a ward meeting was happening, which could not be interrupted. I was allowed to observe it from the corridor. I remember a young woman raised an issue about the way another group member spoke to her or treated her. The person responded by disregarding the complaint and telling her the problem was her inner child. The therapist agreed that she was dominated by her inner child and needed to use her inner adult more. The issue she raised was not addressed and she ran crying from the meeting. I thought that was interesting and some time later in life read about transactional analysis which shed some light on that strange interaction. Then I had to  complete several personality tests and was allowed to go to bed. Nobody spoke to me except the therapist conducting the test. I think they purposely made people leave you alone, in order to give you time to settle in. The next day the therapist asked to see me privately because there was a problem with my test results. The problem was that they were good. I didn’t know why that was a problem. He said they were better than most of the therapists. I still didn’t see why it was a problem. Then he told me that they have to show improvement between the before and after tests to justify the effectiveness of their programs. But my after tests wouldn’t be able to show improvement because my before tests were so good, and that was a problem for them. I offered to do them again and try to produce a worse result. He said that he couldn’t do that either, but he was pretty upset about it. I discharged myself and saved them the trouble of solving that dilemma.

After living in a share house for some months with other ex-patients, I was visited by the social worker who didn’t approve of my sleeping all day, eating hamburgers and watching television all night. She informed me that I was still under their supervision and would be re-committed if I didn’t assume a more normal lifestyle. I engaged a private psychiatrist, moved to another share house and never returned to a mental institution.

My life has not been easy, but I have raised a beautiful son to manhood; eventually returned to uni and graduated with honours; and enjoyed a successful career as a primary school teacher. But the horrors of my experiences at Lowson House still haunt me and make me cry. Although my family and very close friends know about it, they understandably don’t want to hear about it. Telling people has proven to be a poor strategy for maintaining friendships. And if I raise it with a mental health professional, I once again lose my credibility when I reveal my former status as a psychiatric patient.  So, it is a very lonely experience that I have not really been able to share, and it still weighs heavily on my heart. I remember there were people younger that me at Lowson House, who definitely fit your category of ‘child’ and I hope that at least some of them, like me, were able to recover. Thankyou for the opportunity you are giving people to share their stories.

Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry

One Man

by Barbara Lane (guest author) on 16 April, 2011

Barbara spent time as a child in Opal House, Opal Joyce Wilding Home, Wilson Youth Hospital, Vaughan House, The Haven and at Wolston Park Hospital (Osler House) between the years 1970 and 1979. Barbara is now the co-ordinator of the support group Now Remembered Australians Inc. In her poem One Man, Barbara pays tribute to Fr. Wally Dethlefs who helped to establish The Justice for Juveniles Group, previously known as the Wilson Protest Group. Wally also set up one of the first refuges for youth in Brisbane.

One Man

When I was young and in a place
Where no one seemed to care,
One man fought on my behalf
Though others would not dare.

I’d been told I had no rights
For I was “just a kid”,
But one man fought on my behalf
And showed me that I did.

They took away my childhood,
My freedom and the sky,
But one man fought on my behalf
When others would not try.

They locked me up in Wilson
But now I have the key
For one man fought on my behalf:
His name is Wally D.

articles/lectures, Forgotten Australians, Stolen Generations

Thanks for the help Max

by Rhonda Trivett (guest author) on 18 October, 2010

Rhonda describes how it’s been hard for her to get a job and who is helping her.

My name is Rhonda Trivett I was locked up from the age on 7 to 21 years old.  I am 50 years of age. I was never taught any trades or anything. Just how to be bashed raped and see my friends being killed that was my life. Its sucks, hey? I never had a real job working for someone else in a normal environment. Cause I’ve never class my self as being normal. I’m a expert on the work rejection. People have always said I was a nothing all my life but they didn’t know the real me. Years ago all the doctors said I would never be able to even hold a job down. Really everything I’ve done I’ve taught myself. And man that was hard especially when you can’t read or write.  But in my adult years I have learnt.  And I am proud of myself. I’ve come along way. I’m still learning. I’m always a stuff up until now. It’s time for me to change. You only live once so I reckon live life to your fullest potential.

At Max Employment I done two courses and they really made me think of what I wanted to do in my life as well as a job and how to do it. It really hit me for once that I have got brains and lots of skills that need to come out and it’s time to use them.  Also learning about different techniques and how to put them into practice and getting and keeping the job that made so much sense the way it was taught to us and how to be a person for the job. I suppose I’m a hell of a challenge for them.

Max Employment agencies at Belconnen is more than just a work place. In the last couple of weeks they have shown me how nice good hearted real people that do care are all about. They have as well shown me that they believe in me and in getting me a job. That makes me feel good because no one really has believe in me, let a lone told me they will get me a job, really spun me out. Being in Canberra I’ve met all kind of good people that really wants to help me no matter how who or what I am or do or think. I kind of really like them all a lot. I’m so screwed up inside they still want to help me. And they are just a job employment agencies.  I still hate myself and want to get it right. But it’s good to know that there’s real down to earth caring people. I wish I was one.

Out in the world you hear about all the bad people but you never hear about the good ones. Because of my circumstances I think its good that these guys are around. I’m glad I’ve got some real good friends.

All the staff like me even as a person that really makes me feel good, and because I want to work and get off my DSS Pension. I don’t have to. But I want to. And especially where I come from. They are really trying to help me get a job.  And get my own place as well.  Even the boss is a nice young likeable caring person which has a great team. Well I like them all. Thank you Max at Belconnen.

articles/lectures, Forgotten Australians, memories, Stolen Generations

A violent, unjust and dehumanising system

by Adele on 29 September, 2010

Father Wally Dethlefs is Project Officer for Marginalised Students at Catholic Education in Brisbane but his involvement with the homeless and marginalised began way back in 1973 when he set up one of the first refuges for youth in Brisbane.

In an excerpt from Fr Wally Dethlefs’ book: Journey into Gospel Justice: The Faith Development of a Diocesan Priest (1998) (unpublished) Wally describes his experiences as a chaplain at Wilson Youth Hospital  and his establishment, with Father Pat Tynan, of Kedron Lodge.

A History of Wilson Youth Hospital

1928 – The Queensland Government bought a property called ‘Eildon Hill’ for £1400 and established the Wilson Ophthalmic School and Hostel – named after the then Minister for Public Instruction, the Honourable T. Wilson.

1930s – The Wilson Hospital was a specialised facility where eye diseases in children from country Queensland could be diagnosed and treated.

1950s – During the Second World War patient numbers at the Hospital fell drastically and it was due to the diminised numbers that the Wilson Youth Hostel began to treat orthopaedic, rheumatic and crippled children.

1961 – By this time the original purpose of the Hospital had been subsumed. In its place a remand, assessment and treatment centre for young males between the ages of eight and fourteen was established – The Wilson Youth Hospital. Initially intended to accommodate trouble-makers, emotionally disturbed children, and those who had broken the law, the Wilson was also ‘home’ to many orphans and homeless children.

1971 – A section was added to the Hospital to accommodate girls aged twelve to sixteen. Girls were often held not for committing offences but for being ‘emotionally disturbed’, ‘exposed to moral danger’ or ‘incorrigible’. In the 1973–4 financial year, for instance, only 57 per cent of Wilson girls had committed offences.

1977 – The Justice for Juveniles Group, previously known as the Wilson Protest Group, was established to bring about much-needed changes in Wilson through community education and action.  This group conducted successful campaigns around such issues as lack of education, solitary confinement, lack of legal representation in the Children’s Courts, etc.
By this stage the ‘Hospital’ accommodated 68 boys and 32 girls. It was considered a ‘closed’ institution meaning that children were not free to come and go at will.

1980 – The Justice for Juveniles Group assisted with formulating the proposal and seeking funding for the establishment of the Youth Advocacy Centre.

1981 – The Juveniles for Justice Group were eventually successful and Brisbane’s Youth Advocacy Centre was established.

1983 – Responsibility for the Wilson Youth Hospital was transferred to the Department of Children Services and it was renamed the Sir Leslie Wilson Youth Centre after the Governor, Sir Leslie Wilson.

1993 – The Centre was again renamed: Sir Leslie Wilson Youth Detention Centre.

1995 – The Wilson Detention Centre became the only facility in Queensland to accommodate young females.

1999 – The Forde Inquiry into the Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions recommended that the Sir Leslie Wilson Detention Centre Close as a matter of urgency.

2001 – The Wilson Detention Centre was closed on February 7 by the local member Premier Peter Beattie. Later that year the Centre was demolished

An excerpt from Fr Wally Dethlefs’ book: Journey into Gospel Justice: The Faith Development of a Diocesan Priest:

Wilson Youth Hospital

In August 1973, we became involved in Wilson Youth Hospital, a remand, assessment, and treatment centre for young people, in fact a prison for juveniles, in the nearby suburb of Windsor.  It was to change my life drastically.  A woman phoned the Lodge.  Her fourteen year old niece who was in Wilson and who wanted to see a Catholic priest.  When Pat went to Wilson, he was told a Catholic priest had not visited for some six months.  When he came home, he told me about his visit and asked me if I would be prepared to share the chaplaincy with him.  I agreed.

In early September 1973, Pat and I formally applied to visit Wilson, as chaplains on a regular basis.  In December 1973, permission was given for Pat “to visit when required” and for me to “visit at the present time whilst Father Tynan is on annual leave and also when Father Tynan is unavailable”.[1] It was never made clear that I was to be merely a stand-in when Pat was not available.

From August 1973 until December 1974, Pat and I shared chaplaincy responsibilities at Wilson Youth Hospital – a juvenile prison for young people between the ages of eight and seventeen years for girls, and eight and fifteen years for boys.

On my first visits to Wilson, I could not believe what I saw taking place.  Most, but not all, of the young inmates found their way into Wilson through the Children’s Courts.  Many young people – in fact, most of the girls on their first admission – were placed in Wilson for non-criminal offences.  These were called ‘status offences’, like running away from home, being uncontrollable, living in moral danger, or likely to lapse into a life of vice or crime.[2] If these offences were proven, and hearsay evidence was sufficient, the young people often received a Care and Control Order, which meant that they were placed under the Care and Control of the Director of Children’s Services until they were eighteen years of age.  Under this Order, the Director could place his charges in secure custody.  Most of these young people were leaving home because of violence.  For the young women, the violence was often sexual.

I found many things which horrified me in Wilson.

Indeterminate sentencing was one of them.  Since most Care and Control orders were valid until the young person reached eighteen years of age, they could in theory, stay in custody until their eighteenth birthday.  Indeterminate sentencing meant, in practice, that young people never knew when they were to be released.  Their release depended on a number of factors: the way they responded to the ‘treatment’ they received while incarcerated, the availability of accommodation on the outside, and the way they reacted to being locked up.  Once they were placed on a Care and Control Order, they could, after release, be placed back in Wilson without reference to the Children’s Court.

There was solitary confinement, either in Open Tantrum or, as it was often called, “the fish bowl” (a room with a glass wall), or in Closed Tantrum which was simply a cell with a bed base built into the floor and a small window high up on the wall.  Regulations prescribed that young people should be placed in seclusion for one hour, and then only with a staff person in close attendance.  However, these regulations were often contravened.  In fact, many young people spent days at a time in solitary confinement.  One fifteen year old girl, Teresa, spent three and a half weeks in solitary before she was certified as being mentally unbalanced and transferred to Osler House at Wolston Park Mental Hospital, the lock-up section for adult women who were judged to be criminally insane.  But that was another long and sad story.

There were no trained teachers in Wilson and, therefore, no schooling, an obvious breach of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, as well as of a State law requiring compulsory education to the age of fifteen.[3] In the words of the psychiatrist in charge of Youth Welfare and Guidance in the Health Department, Dr B.J. Phillips, “education for these children was contra-indicated.”[4] In fact, many children in Wilson were illiterate, but even they were not helped to gain basic literacy-numeracy skills.  Moreover, even a young person who had not been truanting and had been coping well at school was way behind his or her classmates when he or she returned to school because he or she was unable to continue with schooling while in Wilson.  Even if a young person spent only three months in Wilson, he/she was so far behind his/her classmates that he/she effectively lost a year of schooling.

Julie was fourteen years when she went to Wilson.  She was doing quite well at school in Year Nine, and wanted to continue with her schooling while in Wilson.  At first, she was refused.  After six weeks of persistent requests, she was allowed to do her schooling by correspondence, which meant that she had to sit in a room by herself all day, without any assistance.  She approached me, to see if I could obtain a book she needed for her French studies.  She also needed a tutor for maths with which she was having some difficulties.  I was able to obtain the book she requested and to enlist the voluntary services of a qualified teacher who was prepared to tutor her in maths one or two hours per week, at the convenience of management and staff at Wilson.

I approached the manager of Wilson, the Major, (he was a retired Army Major), to arrange for the handing over of the book and to organise for her to be tutored.  The Major said neither was possible – it would establish precedents.  “Other children would be wanting books and tutors,” he said, “and the whole thing could get out of hand very quickly.”  Unbelievable stuff.

Wilson institutionalised violence.  Most children had not committed serious crimes, contrary to what the Minister for Children’s Services, Mr John Herbert, often used to say: “Wilson is full of murderers, rapists and arsonists”.  In the three years I worked there, I met two arsonists, but never a rapist nor a murderer.  Most of the young people had run away from violence at home, been deemed uncontrollable by the court and incarcerated.  Many young women I met in Wilson had been victims of sexual violence in their homes.

The young people who were sent to Wilson were dehumanised, brutalised, victimised and criminalised.  On a number of occasions, staff told me that their young charges were “savages”.  I saw young people with broken arms which they had received from staff who were supposedly “restraining” them.  One girl suffered a fractured skull when staff dragged her upstairs by her legs.  Her head bounced on the edge of the steps, and she was later admitted to the Royal Brisbane Hospital for treatment.

Vicki, a very intelligent and courageous girl, told me about this incident.  She was so enraged by the violence of some of the staff that she fully intended to report the incident to the visiting magistrate who appeared at Wilson once every month.  However, she was prevailed upon by staff not to take any further action.  They told her, “Remember you have to live here.  Staff will not take kindly to you reporting them.  Also, staff members have families and your action could result in them losing their jobs and, if their families suffered, that would be your fault and on your conscience.”  When Vicki told me that she did not have the courage to write up a report for the magistrate, she broke down and cried.

There is no doubt in my mind that some of the staff were sexually abusing both boys and girls.  I knew of several cases that came before the courts, when staff were charged with sexual offences, but, as the courts were closed when minors were giving evidence, I was unable to find out the determination of the court.

In my opinion, staff were also using drugs to control the young people.  Young people were often injected with sedatives.  If some staff wanted to have a quiet shift, they were not above giving sedatives to their young charges.  Some young people who did not have a drug problem when they entered Wilson certainly had a raging habit by the time they were discharged.  I often spoke publicly about what I termed the misuse of legal drugs in Wilson.  On one occasion, I was given a verbal warning, supposedly from Dr B.J.Phillips, saying that if ever I mentioned it again I would be brought before the courts.  That worried me for a short time, but then I reasoned that a court case would be worth losing: the associated publicity would surely highlight the terrible things which were occurring in Wilson.  I continued to speak publicly about the misuse of drugs in Wilson and heard no more from “B. J.”

In Wilson, all young people were ‘treated’ with incarceration, and seen by psychiatrists.  If a young person was incarcerated for truanting, running away from a violent home situation, shoplifting, or a serious criminal offence, she/he was treated psychiatrically, with the result that the young person regarded themselves as “mad” because they had been treated by psychiatrists.  And, because they had been incarcerated, most young people upon release were also convinced that they were “bad”.  So the result of their time in Wilson was the double stigma of being “mad” and “bad”.  Years later, many young people are still struggling with this slur on their character and their consequent negative self-images.

I must admit that I found it difficult to believe that our so-called civilised society could treat vulnerable young people in such a harrowing way.  The only parallel situation which I had heard of was the psychiatric treatment of political prisoners in Siberia, by the government of the former Soviet Union.  On many occasions, I was all but reduced to tears by the stories I heard from young people in Wilson.

One story, one of many similar stories, may illustrate what I have been saying.  Glenn (a pseudonym) was the eldest of four children.  His father had left the family home soon after the youngest was born.  His mother battled on alone.  When Glenn was twelve years old, his mother had a nervous breakdown and could not get out of bed.  Glenn assumed responsibility for his mother, his brothers and sister for the next few days.  He cut lunches, got the children off to school, did the cleaning and the cooking, but his mother seemed to be getting worse and Glenn did not know what to do.

He spoke to his class teacher, who couldn’t assist him in any practical way.  He spoke to the neighbours, who didn’t want to become involved.  There was no food in the house, so Glenn reluctantly decided to steal some fruit and vegetables from the local greengrocers.  He told me three years later that he was not a thief, that he hated stealing, but did not know how else to feed his mum and the kids.

The greengrocer caught him stealing and called the police.  ‘The welfare’ were called in.  Glenn’s mum was placed in a psychiatric institution, his brothers and sister placed in children’s institutions, and his sister later fostered out.  Glenn, however, suffered a worse fate.  He was charged with stealing and placed on remand in Wilson Youth Hospital.  He appeared in Court, unrepresented, and was placed under the Care and Control of the Director of Children’s Services until he was eighteen.

Two weeks later, he was placed in a Church-run boys home which he told me he hated, because of the violence of the staff who bashed the boys.  The other thing he detested about the place was that, when a boy had infringed the rules, he was placed in a boxing ring with an older and bigger boy and thrashed in front of the other boys.  Glenn loathed this violence.  He coped in that place for three years by keeping his nose clean, his trap shut and learning to defend himself.  He told me that, when he was placed in the boxing ring with a smaller boy, he would not hurt him.  He would rather incur the wrath of the staff and the ridicule of his peers than participate in organised and institutionally sanctioned bullying.

Upon release from the boy’s home, Glenn had nowhere to go.  He hated Christians.  One night, he rang me at the Lodge, I don’t know on whose suggestion.  He had been living with two young men at Manly.  The eldest of the three was working and paying the rent, and had decided to move on.  Glenn said he needed accommodation and needed it immediately.  I told him we had a spare bed.  It was then that he told me his mate needed a bed as well.

I arrived there about eight o’clock.  The electricity had been switched off, and Glenn and his mate were sitting on the floor in total darkness.  I chatted with them for awhile and then asked them to get their gear together and come and stay with us at the Lodge.  They had a small bag each, in which they carried all their possessions.  They had no food.  Glenn told me that he had asked the local shopkeeper for some food and was not only refused but threatened with the police.  Glenn certainly did not want to steal, and absolutely did not want to have any involvement with the police.  He had decided to ask for help.

Glenn was at the Lodge three days before he found out that I was a Catholic priest.  He came to me and asked, “Are you a priest?”

“Yes,” I said. “Why?”

“If I had known that when you picked us up the other night, I wouldn’t have come with you.  I hate priests and I hate Christians”.

It was then that he told me about the treatment that was meted out to him and others in the church-run boys home.

I asked him if he wanted me to find another place for him and his mate to stay.

“You’re all right”, he answered.  “I’d like to stay on here until I get a job and can set myself up”.

Glenn did that.  He was with us for six months.  He kept on trying for work until he was taken on by a volunteer at the Lodge who ran his own business.  Every Sunday, he would get dressed up in his best gear, jeans and T-shirt, and catch a train to visit his mother who was still in a psychiatric hospital, and then his brothers, and finally his sister who was living with a foster family on the north side of Brisbane.  Glenn often said to me, “If only there had been help available, my family would not have needed to be split up”.

On a lighter note, I took Glenn to an interview for a job as a labourer one morning.  Glenn was fifteen or sixteen, well built and strong, but not very articulate.  There were thirty others applying for the one job and Glenn missed out.  On the way back to the Lodge, we dropped into Toombul Shopping Town.  I had to exchange a shirt I had been given for Christmas which was too small.

Glenn was dressed for work.  The lady shop assistant I approached looked at Glenn and intimated to me that we may have stolen the garment.  She said she could not do anything until she consulted her manager.  We waited until he came.  He was a little man whom I would describe as a ponce.  He gave us a lecture and mentioned the word ‘shoplifting’.  Finally, he offhandedly waved to a row of racks and told us to get another shirt from there.  I found one that I liked.  Glenn and I took it back to this little, impeccably groomed and well dressed manager who continued to berate us.  In the middle of the scolding, Glenn took me aside.

“Would you like me to re-arrange his face?” he inquired.

“No”, I said.  “He’s only doing his job.”

“I don’t like his attitude.  Nobody should be allowed to talk like that, particularly to you.  Just let me tap him on the face”.

“No”, I replied emphatically. “Thanks all the same, but violence is not the way to solve problems.”

We left the store soon afterwards.  That manager never realised just how close he had come to having his features altered.

Another story.  Mary Anne (another pseudonym) was still a baby when her mother sent her to her grandmother to be cared for.  As Mary Anne grew up, she called her grandmother “Mum” because her grandmother was a real “mum” to her and the only mum she had anyway, as far as she knew.  Nobody told Mary Anne anything different.

When Mary Anne was eight years old, her mother remarried and, on the wedding day, took Mary Anne from her grandmother to live with her and her step-father.  The experience was traumatic.  She tried hard to fit into the new situation, but could never bring herself to call her real mum “Mum.”  She called her mother by her first name, which her mother resented.  Her real mum and her step-father both drank heavily, and prevented Mary Anne from seeing her grandmother “mum”, who lived on the outskirts of Brisbane.

Mary Anne was a good student who caught onto things easily at school.  However, as the home situation became progressively worse, with her parents drinking and arguing most nights until the early hours of the morning, Mary Anne started skipping out of school and spending time with her friends, because as she said, “They are in a similar situation as me and because of that everybody understands everybody else”.

Her parents resented her spending time in this way and reported her to the police.  She was charged with being uncontrollable and, because she continued to skip out of home, she appeared before the Children’s Court and was committed to Wilson Youth Hospital where she stayed for six months.  During her stay in Wilson, she was unable to continue her school work and got further behind in her studies.  She asked to be sent to her grandmother upon discharge, but her request was refused and she was sent home to her mother and her step-father.  Of course, she ran away again and, subsequently, was returned to Wilson.  Her grandmother wrote to her while she was in Wilson, but the letters were withheld from Mary Anne.  Mary Anne also wrote to her grandmother, but the institution did not forward the letters.  Mary Anne often wondered why her grandmother never replied.  When she turned sixteen, Mary Anne moved back in with her grandmother.  She obtained a job in the supermarket in a neighbouring suburb, and never again came to the notice of the police.

These homeless, disadvantaged and incarcerated young people were an oppressed, voiceless and powerless group of people.  What was my God saying to me about them?  Verses from the Bible began to jump out at me: were these the poor Jesus wanted us to tell the good news?[5] If so, what was the good news he wanted them to be told?  Were these the prisoners Jesus had come to release?  Were these young people the oppressed Jesus wanted to set free?[6] There was no doubt in my mind that this was so.

Then I came across these verses from Isaiah,

“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”[7] (my emphasis)

God, through Isaiah, was saying, that Wilson was where I ought to be, living gospel justice for these little ones who were voiceless, powerless and oppressed.

Pat and I attended Wilson for one half-day each week, and we saw young people mostly in one-to-one situations.  When they were nearing release, we gave them slips of paper with our name, address and phone number, and encouraged them to make contact with us if they needed.  We also went there on Sunday mornings to celebrate Mass.  It was not too long after we started work at Wilson that the young people who had been incarcerated in Wilson began turning up at the Lodge requesting shelter.  We took them in, and tried to help them to the best of our ability.

The first two young people whom we accommodated at the Lodge were girls from Wilson.  It happened this way.  I was woken by the phone very late one night.  It was the Juvenile Aid Bureau at the Clayfield Police Station asking if I would come over.  They had two young women, Katie and Karen, whom Pat and I had met in Wilson.  The police had contacted their parents, in fact, one of their mothers was at the police station.  The girls were homeless, the police said.  Their parents did not want them.  Karen’s mother said that she was about to enter into a new relationship with an airline pilot.  She tearfully told me that she did not want her daughter around to complicate things.  The police said that they were reluctant to place the girls back in Wilson as they had not committed a crime, and they were unimpressed with the way Wilson dealt with young people.  However, they had no alternative except, as the girls had mentioned, maybe, the Lodge.

I knew enough about Wilson at that time to agree totally with them.  I had never anticipated living with young people.  Here was a genuine need.  What else could I do but respond?  I took the girls home and made up beds for them in one of the upstairs rooms.

The next morning at breakfast, I said to Pat, “Did you hear the phone go last night?”  He hadn’t.

I said, “How do you feel about homeless young people living here?”

He was pleased that I had bought Katie and Karen home, rather than have them placed back in Wilson, but the questions were: what would we do with them, now that they were living at the Lodge?  How would we deal with Children’s Services?  What would these young people do each day?

From a Biblical perspective it was easy.  We had only to reflect on such readings as Matthew,

“for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me  …..  And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me'”.[8]

The Last Judgement text, as it is often called, spells out in a practical way what is important in the eyes of Jesus.  It points to a practical living out of our beliefs in the circumstances of our lives.  It specifically focuses on the stranger, the prisoner, the ones who are hungry and thirsty and calls them “members of my family.”  Who were Pat and I to argue?

The text did not, however, answer the practical questions.  It did not feed these young people or clothe them.  It did not tell us how we were to deal with them, except to indicate to us that they were special and must be treated with respect.  We trusted in our God, and decided to get on with it, reflecting as we went, acknowledging our mistakes and limitations, and often asking for assistance from our friends and those who had more skills than we did.

In a short space of time, the Lodge became a hive of activity.  There were live-ins for YCS and YCW members on a regular basis, and some YCS and YCW people who needed time out from home because of alcoholism were using the place from time to time.  There were various meetings, for example, YCS, YCW or Tertiary Students.  We celebrated Mass several times each week, and those who wished were welcome to attend.  Other groups used the place for one-off meetings.  On top of all this, ex-Wilson young people were calling in for a chat, or asking to stay.


[1] Letter from Manager of Wilson Youth Hospital to the Director of Children’s Services, dated 17th December 1973.

NB. This and subsequent similar material was obtained from files released under Freedom of Information twenty years later.

[2] Children’s Services Act 1965: Sections 60 & 61.

[3] United Nation Declaration of the Rights of the Child states that the child is entitled to receive education which shall be free and compulsory (Principle 7.)  Section 28 of the Queensland  Education Act (1964-1974) states that “every parent of a child being of the age of compulsory attendance shall, unless some reasonable excuse exists, cause such child to attend a State school on each school day”.  What applies to parents surely must apply to those acting in the name of parents (in loco parentis) and in the best interests of the child.

A number of the young people who had been incarcerated in Wilson and whose education had therefore ceased have often remarked that this played a significant part in condemning them to a life of poverty.

[4] See, for instance, the letter from the Hon. Mr Herbert, Minister for Welfare, to the Hon. Mr Knox, Deputy Premier and Treasurer, undated (but I estimate it to have been written in March or April 1978).  Mr Herbert states, on page 2: “The children who are undergoing psycho-therapy under the control of Officers of the Division of Youth Welfare and Guidance do not (receive education) because, on the advice of the Senior Medical director, Division of Youth Welfare and Guidance, remedial teaching is contra-indicated for these children”. (my emphasis)

[5] Luke 4:16-18.

[6] Luke 4:18.

[7] Isaiah 1:16-18.

[8] Matthew 25:35 & 40

art, Forgotten Australians, poetry, Stolen Generations

Are we proud to be Australians?

by Rhonda Trivett (guest author) on 1 September, 2010

Below are some recent poems by Rhonda, a former inmate of Wolston Park Hospital. Lately, Rhonda has been working with kids in schools. She has visited four schools in the Canberra region, and talked to the kids to try and get to them before they start drinking and drugging.  Wherever there is a need Rhonda will help and her message is ‘God can make a message out of a mess’.

Are we proud to be Australians?

Australia’s made up of six states, all types of weather and land
Australia is a country its rich in lots of ways
Metal ore cattle wool are mans sweat hope and fears
Its sweet sugar cane and its wheat and fruits we bear
In all kinds of weather in all kinds of pain
On our nice green land and oceans deep and blue.
The hot equator right above us
Then left and right the Indian Ocean and the pacific
and the stars across its southern skies glow at night so great
As the skies tell a story leading Australians to see a brighter future
And the Great Barrier Reef is the shop for our tourist
Its islands and miles of coloured coral reefs
All the different beautiful fish and their living species
The strong proud Australian aboriginal people on their land
Survived desert and hard cold inhumane conditions
They have great knowledge of Mother Nature
Aboriginal folklore, the Dreamtime, to keep their stories alive,
They re-tell them in songs, fables, dances and cave and bark paintings.
In the past some dark clouds have over taking us
While our aborigines children tell their true stories
Some really great some not some about the stolen ones
That will shock and turn this country up side down
While there’s others who were just left and forgetting about
Abuse in many ways some children were killed some took their own lives
That I believe will really rock this nation wide and keep it on its toes
Where’s the answers? No one really knows how pathetic how inhumane
How did the so called great organised Australian system fail?
Let’s do the right thing and try to make the wrongs right
And let there be peace on earth which starts in and with us
I know we can be proud of our country so let’s fix it
Let our country Australia be our hope and future for our children

When I Look Up at the Sky

It’s beyond belief  the pictures  I see
The  clear  blue sky shines  like the face of god
With its sparking stars I hear him call
With the great  blue moon makes me see a life
The bright sun rises then stars slowly fade
until the next day  they slide across the milky way
Walking on clouds and flying on stars.
Through a powerful mystical beauty air
watching the rings of Saturn
And Mercury Venus and Mars move slowly by
Its beautiful magical ball
The brightness of its wonderful colours
Reflect against each other
Then fly down to the  passion universe earth
Above me I see my confidents just wanting me to dream
Its  magical wand  has many stories to tell
Creating new unexplained patterns
The creator’s holy imagination
Making the world a brighter place
In which passion flows bonds together
As your sons love takes its place in the sky
Where  holy angels sing and dance
There paradise it never disappears
And  night and day either do you god
You’re always there moving
Alive and you live forever
So let’s finally be at peace
And watch the heavenly body
The master at work.

My   Friends   the   Dolphins

Dolphins are a gift from the sea
Wonderfully beautiful and smart
Diving here and there swimming everywhere
Dancing beneath the rippled surface
Over the waves gliding through the sea,
So gentle and free I’m not alone
As I surf I feel their love their kindness
They talk they play and forceful my day
They are my healing peace within my soul
I feel so free when I surf with my friends
Their sun is my light there eyes are my stars
I can see I can fly what a feeling it’s not a dream
They comfort me with freedom and hope
I knew somehow they want to help
They picked me up when I feel down
When I touch them I feel so good

But I know that tomorrow is another day
When they will share there life’s with me again
To swim and ride the waves will be
Such a wonderful meaningful lovely day
The magic they share flows I know I have a dolphin within
As time go by they sing with their unique angel voices so pure.
Our spirits have joined with the truth in these waters
Swimming with them their fin in my hand puts aside my fears
This is where my healing takes place and where my pain is gone
When with them is worth me living and not wanting to die
I’m not afraid hurt or rejected there’s no sadness no pain
Just as a child they inherently loved and cared for me
In the ocean where life is full of freedom’s wonderful fun
As my friends leap around me and bring their love joy and happiness to me, so do I to them

art, Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry

Six institutions, six poems

by Gloria Lovely (guest author) on 17 June, 2010

Barbara spent time as a child in Opal House, Opal Joyce Wilding Home, Wilson Youth Hospital, Vaughan House, The Haven and at Wolston Park Hospital (Osler House) between the years 1970 and 1979. Here are Barbara’s poems Remembering Osler House, Time, Tomorrow, Too Much!, Young and Word Games.

Remembering Osler House.

Screams echo down the hallway of my mind, as they did the cells
and hallways of that house of endless horrors, through the years.
My body still remembers all the shame of what I witnessed,
And the corrosive, all-pervasive acid-urine smell of fears.

I was thirteen years.

The sobbing, wailing background noise that ate away the night;
The soul-shattering, too-sudden… cessation of the screams,
These joined the tortured memories I buried in the abyss,|
To carve away my childhood, brutally, as they stole my dreams.

I was only thirteen.

The milling, naked bodies in the showers with no doors;
The excrement and sanitary pads, my first time, on the floors.
Betrayed by my own government, the state that had my care,
In an adult asylum for the criminally insane; I’d pulled out all my hair.

I was only a child.

Hollow-eyed people, shock-treatment blank, helpless,
And no longer knowing their names;
The intellectually disabled and terrified children
Still haunt in their drugged, bruised and bare-naked shame.

I was thirteen years old.


Master of Earth,
Dictator by Nature,
With Universal Power,
Sits in His Tower,
Solving all mystery,
Success or Failure,
Truth or Lie,
By and by.
In Time you’re paid
What you’ve earned;
In Time the hands
Of clocks are turned;
In Time understand what,
With Time, you have learned.
Possessive Guard
Of Past and Future;
Undefeated, Eternal Master:
Won’t move slower,
Won’t move faster.
His Word is Law;
You can’t break away.
There’s nothing more:
There’s just Today.


Always tomorrow.
Whatever it is,
it’s always left…
’til tomorrow.
Just a slight delay…
But not Today.
Today we are
too busy
Dreaming and planning
for tomorrow.
It’ll be a big day
with all that we have planned
for Tomorrow.

Too Much!

Too many thoughts
Spinning around:
Too much to think about.
Too many thoughts,
And too many thoughts
That I could do without!
Too many people
all in my thoughts:
Wish they’d all go away.
Too much can happen,
And all crammed into
A twenty-four hour day.
Too many things
that I should do
When I don’t want to do any.
Too many people;
Too many thoughts;
Too much!
Too many!


You can grow old,
‘Though you were born young.
With impermanence weak,
You can be strong.
And, yes, you can walk,
‘Though you’re learning to crawl.
You have an idea,
Yet younger, saw all.
For you can eat fruit,
‘Though you suck from the nipple:
A stone’s throw’s a universe,
Seen through a ripple.
But always know this:
What you are, you can be.
You can open each door:-
Only you have the key.


I wrap words around their intent,
And knock pretext to its knees.
I push protests off their perches,
And with words, do as I please.

I pack speech with all its content,
And condemn the need to tell
With embellishment and pretence,
‘Cause exaggeration’s hell.

I write off the need for falseness,
And I verily will say
That all politic diplomacy’s
In over-use today.

I like truth without adornment,
(If the garnish leads to lies),
With no semblance of pretension,
With no mask and no disguise.

art, Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry

Remember Them, Those Poor Souls

by Sue Treweek (guest author) on 10 June, 2010

Sue Treweek was a resident of Abbortsford Convent from 1968 – 1970. At the age of 11, she was sent to Warilda, in Brisbane. She was also a resident of the Bush Children’s Home in 1973 and Nudgee Orphanage from 1978 – 1979, both in Queensland.

For the simple act of rocking herself to sleep, the nuns sent Sue, at the age of 12, to Lowson House, a mental health ward at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. Even though the psychiatric assessment stated that she was not mentally ill, no children’s homes would take her and so she was admitted to Wilson Youth Hospital. She was then transferred to Osler House, from 1980- 1988, the maximum security ward for adult female psychiatric patients at Wolston Park Hospital. A feature-length documentary film is current being made about her life: Scab Girl Asylum.

Sue has founded No-Problem Cleaning Services which provides:

  • family lifestyle coaching
  • yard clean- up and rubbish removal
  • specialised cleaning services
  • cooking and nutrition training
  • child care/supervision
  • office cleaning

Here are Sue’s poems; Remember Them, Those Poor Souls, Out of the Ashes, A Child Cries, Jesus Loves the Little Children, People of the Cloth and Those of Faith Stand Up.


Remember them, those poor souls

Today I sit and wonder what became of them, those poor souls I left behind.
A deep sadness fills my soul.

Their bodies racked by illnesses confusing to some.

Their pain can’t be seen only heard through their cries for help.

The uncertainty to what is real; a deep fear dismissed, no logic found by those in charge.
Still these people feel the pain no rest for them those poor souls.

An act of ignorance papers are signed another poor soul loses their rights.

Abused and dehumanized in the name of therapy their worst fears are realized.

Not knowing any different they settle in to a life of pain and uncertainty no mercy for them those poor souls.

Awake again the daily ritual begins, the turn of a key their here again, who this shift, will they be cruel or kind, showered and dressed wait to eat pills to take before you eat.

The drugs take hold the voices are silent for awhile, reality strikes as for a brief moment they remember what once was their life as the memories flood in, tears well in their eyes as they wonder what is happening  to them, and for those who have never known different they wonder why were born not right.

Cruel words spoken sink to their soul those they trust hardest of all, told they are  unacceptable till they can bear it no more succumb to the pain you know you must, sent away from societies eyes, stay away you must.

Their silent screams for understanding and acceptance fall on deaf ears only those innocents that watch their suffering yet have no power, hear their screams and remember them.
In dreams and on the wind they hear and understand those poor souls and will never forget.

The turn of a key they’re back again what today when will death come for me.

For some death does come like an angel in the night, swept away on the wings of an angel they feel no more pain.

Accepted now for who they are at peace within no fear, the confusion is gone.

Shame on those trusted to care, forget them not, those poor souls.


Out of the ashes

Out of the ashes we walk alone charred from the flames of a childhood
Spent in care,

Still we live luckier than some, are we.

In shock we wander through life wondering what could have been, had we been dealt a different hand.

Each day a challenge just to stay,  still we stand alone,

The beginning of new, for some bring life to our world, a child to love maybe a spouse
Feelings of joy replaced by pain, the battle begins, learn the mistakes of those who had the
power, don’t repeat, or the next generation will walk alone from out of the ashes they to will

Packaged now, for justice and change, not with out more pain to come for those who speak out,
we watch as one by one our generations fade no justice found; finally, now they listen to those
who walked alone.

United we stand, now our voice is strong and clear, grouped together for effect and support,
some sink deep from the weight of their past others wander in shock yet again, a few move on
and realize their dreams.

The fight renewed society screams out in anger as more with power are exposed, fear have some
who carry their guilt, with the knowledge they failed their duty of care.

To the top they walk together, on common ground that binds them all.
Their voice is loud, all can hear; people with position back them in their fight.

In disbelief they watch society and government react with guilt and remorse
Promises made that have no truth, reports and recommendations gather dust.

Too late for some the changes come rest in peace with the knowledge your fight is over. For those
left behind the fight continues till no other will suffer as they did and history will show that those
who had the courage tasted victory and realized their dreams.

 A child cries;

A child of 13 sits waiting to be judged, two sisters of god sit either side.
A woman in white flanked by two men, approach the child, and lead her to hell.
The lift rises from floor to floor the sound of screams shoots fear to her core.

A child cries.

A woman screams for help no one listens the child listens and wants to help.
A naked woman sees the child looking through the small holes into the cell.
Help me child tell someone. The child tells but no mercy to be found for her.
A woman yells as her delusions take hold you child you are the one,
my children are dead, you the devils child you must be punished.
Punched in the head as another patient act’s out her delusions, many more to come, weakest are you.
Confusion sets in. 

A child cries.

A woman quenches her thirst; cup of urine in her hand, down it goes no thought of what.
She turns on the child and it starts again more abuse, no escape to be found,
she can’t help it she’s sick is the reply.
The child protests and is punished, labelled, drugged and isolated now she knows she is in hell.

 A child cries

Another day passes in hell assessed and processed yet again no illnesses found.
Frustration by all at no illness found labels are many. The child is confused,
words slice deep into the child as her soul dies, fear is overcome by rage.

A child cries

This child learns fast the hell she is in.
Punished for differences that make her stand out told she must change she wonders into what.
Caught again banging her head no harm has she done, remove her pillow see if she stops
Taunted and teased by staff, who must make this child conform it is their job.

A child cries

The child fights to change without knowing into what.
Hides her head banging by rocking side to side with care not to be caught.
Not acceptable was this, manipulative is she
Punished again for inappropriate behaviour and dress, back in the cell.

 A child cries

 Another Dr out of bed another needle in her leg, Striped naked and left in this cold dark cell,
Drugs take hold to cold to sleep, sat on the floor back to the wall,
rocking front to back the only comfort to be found,
prayed for sleep my only friend or death, either will do.
Awake again in this cold dark hell as the child fights her body’s pain.
Fear of death, her screams are now ignored by those who care.
Her pleas to be let out are dismissed as attention seeking, don’t listen or it could reinforce,
teach her a lesson, more time for her in that cold hard hell.
Pain shoots through her body as she holds in the wee, mustn’t have an accident no toilet to use.
A puddle in the corner sometimes more to be punished for, shame, shame on you, you dirty girl.
Judgement is made out of ignorance and frustration, trapped in hell.

A child cries as her childhood dies.

Jesus loves the little children

 A child sits cold and terrified by those charged to care
No thought of the future the child will conform
Break its spirit destroy its faith make it take the pain
It cries for mercy none to be found

 Abused and left in that cold hard cell, their guilt is hidden deep in their souls
Mistakes are many the child waits, and rebels the pain enforced
By those charged to care, in the depths of hell the child remembers the song once heard which comforted her before.

 A deep breath the pain subdued, as the child remembers the words through her drugged state,
they tell her to shut up and stop those words she struggles to stand as they knock her down again,
still she sings that song from deep inside her soul, the words strike hard the consciences of them all,
in their sleep they can’t escape, these words haunt them and always will as they remember the child they continued to abuse in that cold dark hell

Her only weapon the verse of a song called Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world, red and yellow black and white, all are precious in his sight.

 Fury spurred by their guilt, they attack the child no thought for her,
Shut her up she must not sing, this song is an attack we must, stop, how dare she sing this song.

 The despair is relieved by the words she sings, her pain is comforted by the one she can’t see, but sing his name, louder now for all to hear
She gathers strength from the words she sings, with the knowledge she is loved by one who cares.

 With her faith she takes it all, sometimes wondering if she will finally die and meet her friend, the one who stood by her side through all the pain and suffering, he was there,
He sacrificed his life to save our souls, now he stands beside this child,
She feels his presence in that cell, fear subsides, she is not alone.
Til the next wave of pain in the name of therapy and discipline, is enforced upon the child, til
she can take no more, again Jesus stands by her side and shares her pain.

 The lord watches the struggle, as the child fights to hold on to her faith,
The lord steps in and takes her soul, wraps it in his arms protect it he can, what’s left will survive or join her soul.
Grown now is the child, survived the past her soul intact, an act of mercy from the lord he saved her soul, only now she sees the truth and knows she must never forget.
The love of the lord out lives it all.

What’s left of shattered dreams

 As a child we dream of years to come with innocence and a sense we can.
An astronaut will I be, a doctor, nurse, teacher, I’ll climb the highest mountains.
Or a general in charge of a war
Or a ballerina a great dancer or maybe a mother that cares

 All to soon we learn we can’t, as our dreams are stripped from us one by one,
Left with what could have been if dealt a different lot.
Trying to dream the child has forgotten how,
What a shame is what we hear, that child could have been.

 The ones who lived there dreams are now the ones who destroy,
Feeding on the child as does the ravenous beast to its prey,
As dignity and innocence are replaced by fear and humility,
The child learns from those told to care, how worthless they truly are
As they endure the horrors dealt out to them their soul shudders at more to come and their dreams turn into nightmares relived day after day
No harm done the child will forget, we will rehabilitate it

As they rehabilitate what they cannot see and fear to be to be true.
More dreams die, till soon the child fears to dream and is lost,
As those who have the power wonder why.

The child grows and wonders what could have been.
Now an adult their dreams are new but tainted by the child within.
They dream of simple things now, like getting through one more day.

Nothing soothes there soul as they prey for death their only friend.
Some did not give in, they still struggle to dream, only now there dreams are of a better life, a life of peace and fullness they have never known,
They refuse to give in fighting for their lives they believe they can.
To their graves they take there dreams some never knowing how close they came.

 Forgotten by those who stole their dreams, passed of as a mistake made so many years before by those told to care
No remorse for the devastation caused.


Care for those unfortunate kids, sent to you with no place to call home
Treat them well for judgment day will come for you all
The lord watches on as you do your best to uphold his word
Remember well he sees it all

 As he watches the evil take hold of his people as they hide behind his name, they turn away from him and act out their evil on those defenseless souls,
Not a thought for judgment day.

 The children sent to his house, betrayed and abused they stand in line,
Jesus came he loves them all his sacrifice was for them,

 The lord his son by his side, watches as more souls are damaged by his people.
They are turned by evil yet preach his name
They use his name to justify their evil, first to the children then their peers,
All listen to them powerful are they.

The lord is saddened by the pain of his children, he watches and remembers them.
Those who came to him for sanctuary, now turn away thinking he has forgotten them
They can not see the sadness in his soul.

 He sends a message only headed by some, those of the cloth fear me now for your judgment day will come, no mercy will I have, on those who abused my children from
behind the cloth.

 People of the cloth chosen by him, to care for the children, our future cloth,
Those, whose faith is strong, separate the lord from the evil ones,
They stand by their faith to the end and the lord welcomes them
His arms open, they are home.

One by one the evil ones draw close to their end.
The lord waits with his son by his side, to pass judgment on them

 As the day draws closer panic sets in, no more can they hide behind the cloth
The time has come for those of the cloth, to answer for their sins.

 Brutal is the lord on those of the cloth, they betrayed him from within.


Unite as one within his sight.

Send a message to all who have faith to join as one, unite your souls to right the wrongs and embrace a future free of shattered children.

Welcome home his lost souls those who suffered a childhood shattered by those of twisted faith.
Only then can future generations of our faith be freed from those who betrayed the lord from within, cleanse his house renew the faith and trust lost by so many.

Heal the wounds of past injustices embrace the children past present and future, make a difference their will be no more evil within his house , gather strength from those who suffered in his house for only they hold the key and know the way, it is within they must see.

Remain united till the end the lord will see and join the fight together we will rejoice cleansing the cancer which threatens our faith.
The sky will open the earth renewed from his tears of joy
Remember well the lord sees it all.

articles/lectures, film, Forgotten Australians, memories, Stolen Generations

Video: Wake-up call from the stolen and forgotten

by Rhonda Trivett (guest author) on 28 May, 2010

Rhonda Trivett, at the age of 13, from 1974 – 1981, was locked in the maximum security adult ward (Osler House), in Wolston Park Hospital, Brisbane. In her video, Rhonda talks about her experiences and the need for redress.

Wakeup call from the stolen and forgotten
articles/lectures, Forgotten Australians, Stolen Generations

It’s about time we make things right

by Rhonda Trivett (guest author) on 26 May, 2010

It’s about time we make things right

I believe it’s time to be responsible and say, “OK what has happened in the past was wrong. It should never have happened and it’s time to make it as right as we possibly can”.
Until now the government always has turned a blind eye to the real bad inhumane things that have happened.
We all live in this world and to make it a better kinder and peaceful place is what I hear people keep saying but really not all that much gets done.
If one person helps another or even has the guts to stand up for trying to make a good right caring change and really believe in what they are doing in a nice decent way, well that’s how good things happen.
I believe one person can make a difference as long as they don’t give up. Everybody’s got feeling and good in them sometimes you just need to look deep down into the real person.
There’s too much giving up, fighting, hate and war when there shouldn’t be. In the 1970s children were apart of an Australian inhumane war in a hospital Wolston Park. They were killed, bashed and raped, stripped of everything by the so called nurses that were supposed to be looking after us. It went on. My god, how did this happen? We need to try to help the ones that survived. There’s not many left. Please help me do this. Some of us still have shell shock and some just trying to get it all right. We are all wrongly labelled because of the past. It must stop, OK? How can we even try to make a life for ourselves? Let our suffering stop. Think. That could have been your child.
Help me and others make things right. We can’t wait for another 3 to 30 years. Some of us could be dead.
I need to do this now because people are starting to listen at last. We can learn from each other. Let’s clean up our Australian health and government acts.

art, Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry, Stolen Generations

Then came my son

by Rhonda Trivett (guest author) on 26 May, 2010

Rhonda Trivett’s poem describes the importance of her son in her life.


So God in six days did set the world in place
when He made the stars, land, ocean and the seas
the plan was, that He saw things to be as they should
He created me and I really used to wonder and don’t know why
to be hurt, sad and raped see my friends killed as a child
to lose it all was that his love for me
why couldn’t I just smile and have fun as a child
to make a jail as a home is a bad sick joke
to teach and guide me with cons and lies
with no-one on my side to understand
through all my pain, strife, my life no helping hand
I had to be the strength to stand
No-one listening no-one cared
no encouragement just told I wont succeed
lean on what, with no boundaries
I had no love no life no beginning and it looks like no end.

But then came my son who I’m proud of A part of him I’ll always see and be
I learnt to understand his tears,
And also calm all of his fears.
I see my sons laugh, his smile, his touch
He always brightened up my days
for each truth his has helped me see
the heartaches and the joys that we shared
And when I go Please do not forget me son,
for you are always in my heart, thoughts and my mind
The values you’ve taught me you made me a mum
and the wonderful love that you made me see in me
will always be there no matter what
the sparkling joy in your baby happy loving eyes
We never needed or wanted just gave and had we all ways had enough
our Special Love we shared
we share the joy our dreams were real
our confidence from day to day so easy
You set me free from all my fears
And when you were at school In spirit I was never alone
you were the best challenge of life 24 hours a day
It’s great and fun loving my son. Lets keep it up
I have a life, a beginning and a great loving end
I’m proud to be a mother and I’m proud to be able to love.

13 August 2003

art, Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry, Stolen Generations

Raped and bashed

by Rhonda Trivett (guest author) on 25 May, 2010

Rhonda shares one of poems about life as a teenager, in the adult maximum security ward (Osler House) in Wolston Park Hospital, Queensland.

Raped and Bashed, Now D Day, It’s Time to Fight Back, you Hurt Me and Made Me this Way

I live in fear of what you did to me
You made me cry you hurt and bashed me
I thought I was going to die many times
In the dark I’m scarred for life
And I kicked and I stirred
But no-one heard me and no-one cared
And it’s hard but I tried to be strong
you done this deed why me I was just a child
I did nothing for this hell treatment
I was a lost child wanting her mother
and I stole a push bike and That was my only crime
what a price I paid what really did I do
I don’t understand and I never will
With a label I try to survive, which I can’t
stop the label then I will be able, OK

I’ve been silent too long, no more playing the nice life games
You hurt me too many times, made me like a wounded animal
Just waiting for my next feed to come along
Stripped of everything and without a choice
I used to be clean now just dirty and unclean
bad and just a piece of rubbish
the guilt is just killing me in so many ways
no-one ever listened it was very wrong
Just looked me up with a needle, stripped me of my clothes
I’m still to this day confused getting silly as ever
With a hurtful rage of hate just waiting to explode
Wanting to hurt back with all I’ve got waiting for the kill
I didn’t start this, but I can assure you all that I will finish it
I’ve, now, got nothing to lose so it’s time to gain
I’ve been waiting for this moment every day of my life
I’m on my own, it’s time to pay,
it’s time for sorry Rhonda all the way.

Blood on the bathroom wall at Osler House

The next stanza in Rhonda’s poem explicitly describes an act of serious assault.

Forgotten Australians, memories, poetry

When a child’s home is an asylum

by Rhonda Trivett (guest author) on 10 May, 2010

In 1967, at the age of eight, Rhonda was placed in Sandgate Home, Brisbane, while her mother tried to cope with the death of Rhonda’s father. Because Rhonda was dyslexic and became frustrated with her inability to read, she ran away from school. As a result, she was admitted to a locked ward in the Winston Noble Unit, a mental health facility attached to the Prince Charles Hospital at Chermside, Brisbane. She was later admitted to Lowson House, a mental health ward at the Royal Brisbane Hospital and then transferred to Wilston Youth Hostel. At the age of 13 she was admitted to a maximum security ward for adult female psychiatric patients (Osler House) at Wolston Park Hospital where she remained until she was 21 years of age.

Here is her poem, describing how her mother’s love helped her.

Rhonda’s bed in Wolston Park