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The Park Centre for Mental Health Treatment, Research & Education was first established in 1865 in Wacol, Queensland and is one of the largest psychiatric facilities in Australia. Built on a 120-acre horse stud farm owned by Dr Stephen Simpson, it was originally named The Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum and accommodated sixty-nine patients. Endlessly renamed as each generation put its stamp on it, it became the Goodna Asylum, the Goodna Mental Hospital, the Brisbane Mental Hospital, the Brisbane Special Hospital and Wolston Park Hospital. Today, the hospital can accommodate 192 patients through five clinical treatment and rehabilitation programs. Many of these patients can never be released [Queensland Health. 2005.]
During the 1950s and 1980s, many children suffered “abuse, torture and neglect”, and today the abuse has been described as “some of the worst cases of child abuse in the state’s history”. [The Sydney Morning Herald. 2012.] Dr Adele Chynoweth, an academic at the Australian National University College of Arts and Social Sciences, researched the facility and said that most inmates “did not have any diagnosis of mental illness; they were locked up without any diagnosis at all”. [The Sydney Morning Herald. 2012.] In many cases, their doctor’s letter of recommendation to leave the institution was overlooked.
Even though the abuse has been clearly documented by survivors of Wolston Park, the Queensland Government will not compensate any of the children placed in adult wards who were victimised and cruelly abused with shock treatments. Gwen Robinson, a survivor of the establishment when it was known as Goodna Mental Hospital, recounts her time spent institutionalised because she was a habitual run-away.
“I was put in there for being an absconder, better known as a 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….There is a letter in my files written by a doctor to the Children’s Department stating that Wolston Park was non-therapeutic to me and I should be out in a hostel and doing a business course. Needless to say that never happened and the Children’s Department just kept me there to be kept drugged up. We were given a drug called paraldehyde 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.” [National Museum of Australia]
In August 2012, Queensland premier Campbell Newman apologised to children affected by forced adoptions saying: “While the apology cannot change what has happened in the past, I am hopeful that the apology will go some way to easing the pain felt by people who have been so deeply affected, and will assist them in their healing process.”[Courier Mail. 2012] However, is the apology enough?
Sue Treweek, who spent eight years at Wolston Park, doesn’t think so. Recounting her time spent there, Treweek considers herself “one of the lucky ones” and testified in the 2004 Senate inquiry into ‘forgotten Australians’. “From the beatings and being forced to lie on the concrete all the time, and because of the submissive holds, I have no discs between three of my vertebrae,” she said. “Soon I won’t be able to walk and they won’t even give me a wheelchair. I have a spine that is about to clap out on me because of what they did and they just say ‘sorry’. It’s not enough.”
There are many people still institutionalised today. Many of them are unable to leave establishments due to the risks of deinstitutionalisation. According to the Human Rights Commission, “for people with disabilities, access to suitable accommodation is generally limited. Many people are still inappropriately accommodated in institutions, often because of the lack of other options.” [Human Rights Commission. 2012] Group homes and hostels are often the only options left, but even then, survivors of institutions are often unable to coexist with the community around them.
Today, Wolston Park is still run as a centre for mental health and it begs the question: Why does it remain open? If the government cannot own up to the crimes committed there in the past, then why should that stop them ignoring the crimes that are committed there today and will be committed in the future? Is the abuse of the institutionalised and mentally handicapped any less traumatic?
It is not enough to simply apologise to these victims. The government needs to stand up and fight for current and future victims of institutional abuse. It’s time to close Wolston Park and all the other similar institutions still operational in Australia. It’s time to close the book on institution abuse once and for all.
The Sydney Morning Herald. 2012. Come clean on chambers of horrors, sufferers plead.
[ONLINE] Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/national/come-clean-on-chambers-of-
horrors-sufferers-plead-20120818-24fqx.html. [Accessed 01 February 13].
Queensland Health. 2005. A walk through time. [ONLINE] Available at: http://
www.health.qld.gov.au/the_park/walk.asp. [Accessed 01 February 13].
National Museum of Australia. 2011. Inside: Life in children’s homes. [ONLINE] Available
at: http://nma.gov.au/blogs/inside/2011/06/22/shock-treatment/. [Accessed 01 February 13].
Courier Mail. 2012. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman apologises on behalf of state to
victims of forced adoptions. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/
of-forced-adoptions/story-e6freoof-1226524975315. [Accessed 02 February 13].
Human Rights Commission. 2012. The Rights of People with Disabilities: Areas of Need
for Increased Protection Chapter 4: Accommodation. [ONLINE] Available at: http://
humanrights.gov.au/disability_rights/hr_disab/areas/ch4.htm. [Accessed 02 February 13].