Mad About Jane

The Deadline is an evolving community arts project. I hope it encourages other people to talk about family history skeletons and not be ashamed of them. I also am aware it will make some people quite uncomfortable.

On Monday I marched with thousands of women in the March 4 Justice. Because we are sick of the stories of women being couched in patriarchal bullshit and erased from history.

When I started this journey I had a partial family tree sketch and a bunch of certificates about a particular Brady lineage in Victoria, Australia. When I moved to back to Melbourne in 2018 I was working in violence prevention and gazed out the window in Bourke St to a massive building brandishing BRADY at the top. But I felt so disconnected, because my family walked away from this history in 1974. My recent encounters with other descendants are beginning to help me understand why.

Right now I am experiencing an incandescent rage. And that rage is for my father’s paternal grandmother, Jane Brady. I am mad about her, mad in the positive sense about her story, because it’s key to the purpose of this blog. But also mad in the angry sense.

There are a lot of Brady families around. Goodness knows I got sick of being called “Marsha” in high school because of the American sitcom. My little families story is important, not some sanitized sitcom so we can put our names on buildings and pretend to be important.

So, no pithy, snarky post today, I am trying to channel some anger. But I hope this will be an interesting post, if you are genuinely interested in social and oral history.

Jane Brady was dumped to die in Sunbury Mental Hospital and I want to know why.

If you are unaware of how brutal asylum history is and how it targeted women who didn’t fit or conform or for the slightest and often ridiculous reasons, you might need to go read a book. Start with Nelly Bly’s “Ten Days in A Madhouse“. And while some might be tempted to say, “not in Australia” you would be seriously mistaken, our institutions were just as brutal.

Jane Brady is a mystery and may just be a source of shame for extended family, at first glance. She may have changed her name, because the only record is her death certificate and no other records match, not birth or marriage.

It feels like Jane Brady was erased from history by the end of her life in 1945. And I am fucking furious.

I’ve been guessing that she was erased because she was a single parent who did what she needed to survive as none of her son’s details are clear either. So much on her death certificate and his birth certificate lead no where or are inconclusive.

I may not have BRADY building heritage like some like to puff out their chests about, but I want to know why Jane’s life is not as important as family hagiographies that want to hide family suicides and addiction.

The oral history of my little corner of the family is important. To any stalwart Brady family members out there who think their “bloodline is purer” I offer you this. My father played with, socialised with and holidayed with direct descendants of John and Bridget as a young person in the 1920’s and 30’s. As he was 47 when I was born and died when I was in my 30’s, I had many long conversations with him about this.

Jane, his paternal grandmother was believed to be a direct descendant of them by members of my immediate family, but we have never been sure how. I was going to explore this later in this blog – but now it seems, that time is here. Frankly, if Jane was what is called classificatory kin of John and Bridget, that’s fine by me, because I haven’t sold out our Celtic roots to the oppressors ideas that only bloodlines and ‘official documents’ are valid.

But Jane’s history was buried by Brady family members (perhaps even her own son). And I fully intend on unlocking the brutality and grittiness of the Australian family context and why this was so, because the broader aim of this project is to understand mental health and addiction stigma in families by unapologetically blowing up family secrets.

Why? Because my story reasonates with Jane’s for reasons I will unpack later. Jane was the reason I started this project – the missing link in what information was given to me.

I am not in the slightest bit interested in the family genealogy in the traditional ‘ancestry dot com’ version. Because in my experience in Anthropology, family genealogies are hagiographical public folklore sometimes designed to hide family secrets. They are a public telling of a history that likes to hide all the unpleasantness or alternatively, appease family shame.

They present a bloodline, and bloodlines are not only cultural and social myths of sorts, but not the only way to have family. In fact, an obsession with bloodlines is fundamental to all acts of oppression, racism and destruction, pretty much across the world.

The Deadline purports to be a series of stories, not any public assertation of some misplaced notion of ‘truth’. It may just about classificatory kinship more than I thought. A concept that most white families have lost their grip on, but for families with Celtic roots, we should at least know about this, it was once key to our lives. Perhaps the social isolationism and provincialism that we have experienced in Australia since migration contributes to this. When I was involved in large scale recording of family connections in other cultures, I came to understand how non capitalist systems (Indigenous systems) understood family to be more than the bloodline fixated discourses of domination.

Humanity has a longer history of including people as family who weren’t directly related and these family members are valid. This is human, and the oppressors of recent human history love to invalidate these relationships, destroy extended family systems for the damaging capitalist mythology that is the ‘nuclear family‘.

My father may have experienced a Brady kinship that defied bloodlines, if recent information that has come to me is correct. So my first encounter with ‘confirmed’ descendants of John and Bridget is to be told my family research is wrong, even though family research is not the core of what I am doing here. Ironically, the word “dead-end” was used. To which I replied, “that’s the point of the telling of the story“.

I knew I needed to work out where Jane fitted and I knew the Deadline would make people uncomfortable. But I didn’t want to start with this story, because John and Bridget’s story is the more interesting and public and I wanted to start with a public and older example I could unpack (you can find the newspaper clippings really easily) of how media and social history obscures mental health history.

Some stories are perfect examples of the dangers of how our obsession with thinking family mental health history is something to be hidden, to be ashamed of. How that stigma grows intergenerationally and contributes to collectively poor mental health outcomes. For example, the dumping my great grandmother in an institution in 1945.

This project is very unlike a lot of books with “Our Family” printed in romantic script across the cover, held by family gatekeepers with familial hagiographic intent.

There is an irony is this. My Brady immediate family left Victoria in 1974 and I am just getting to the ‘real’ reasons why. But Dad always talked about wanting to get away from family politics and this week I am beginning to start to understand why.

I DON’T want to talk “lineage”. The lineage that placed Jane as a direct descendant of John and Bridget was given to me by an Aunt, who is now 87. She was given it by a cousin, who wanted to help place my father and his brother and sister in that lineage. I wanted to do more with it.

Families who keep secrets are invariably places of abuse and trauma, particularly about violence against women and children. This has been written about in novels and real life accounts and research for a long time now. It’s time more of us got with the fucking program and rejected this bullshit.

Another thing, I hope I am never referred to as a ‘family history buff’. I am a social scientist, thank you very much.

Jane is a victim of this secrecy it seems and I am furious. And what this rage is reminding me of is that I will not stop talking about mental health and addiction stigma in families. You can count on that.

Next stop. Sunbury Mental Hospital records.




Author: Jacci Pillar

Jacci Pillar, sometimes comedian and variety artist, mainly anthropologist; autistic-ly solving conundrums people don’t know they have! A proud nonbinary autistic human with a potentially unhealthy love for acronyms and alliterations and inappropriate musical comedy composition. They are currently completing a PhD in Political Science on the politics of laughter in the Australian satire scene.

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