Perched up high #236

Disability, mental health and recovery are interchangeable and they shouldn’t be just measured by economic ideas only. It should just be feeling better, feeling hopeful, feeling valued and accepted – they should be the measures.

It’s been a long time since I posted and I want to apologise for that big pause. Right now, where I live, we are in day 236 of lockdown.

In the park near me the blossoms are slowly returning to stark and spiny branches. Earlier this week this park was dominated by overhead police helicopters and sirens and yells from the nearby union office. We had a 5.8 earthquake. I really don’t want to dwell on that set of events!

Pictured below is one of my local parrot population, perched up high on a top branch, well away from the others, just like I have felt for the last 2 years. Consciously isolated, part forced, part chosen.

So much has been shelved for me. This project has ground to a halt.

I got a brief respite with being able to perform 4 nights of musical comedy performance for the Midsumma Festival. But I’ve lost my comedy production business because it could not achieve any turnover and lost festivals and gigs meant it was best put on hiatus.

But I wanted to report, I’ve learned to play basic piano and this has helped with the mental prison of these lockdowns.

I am not experiencing frequent suicidal ideation, like 2020 presented for me.

But the only reason I could do that was because I was on WorkCover, after a workplace completely broke my mental health. Lockdown has slowed my recovery greatly, but also, probably helped in some senses as I couldn’t push myself too hard.

In my thirties I refused to acknowledge trauma and take time out to heal at all. In my forties, I got better at it, in my fifties I probably haven’t got a choice!

And what I am reflecting on today is just how many of us, carry trauma and untreated mental health, because the system means we can’t afford intense periods of therapy.

Or put aside recovery because we are too afraid of the discrimination we might encounter if we take stress leave or go on WorkCover when there is demonstrated mental injury.

Mental health is episodic. I want to copy and paste that a 1000 times down this page.

It’s not a death sentence, but untreated, it can lead to increased frequency of episodes, which become longer in duration and may lead to the topic of this blog. Suicide.

So, in the midst of what has been some terrible episode of community mental health for many; I’ve been able to access continuity of care, something I have not had for 48 years of my life to date (I turn 51 this year).

I am fortunate, but don’t confuse this with too much privilege. I manage 2 chronic illnesses and I’ve had recent diagnosis of one more of those that mean I have a long road ahead of me. But I don’t feel like dying as much as I did.

A sense of hope can be hard to find. But the bigger issue for me is still the war we must fight with shame.

So, if shame is weighing on you, move to higher ground (metaphorically). Concentrate on making yourself safe. Whatever that safety looks like.

I’m going to get real here. If your people in your life damage your mental health, if your life is plagued with put downs and gaslighting and other forms of abuse, put yourself first. That might mean really hard decisions, but you’ll be better for it.

A key stressor is often not just the mental illness that many of us have as a baseline, but how other people treat us. Some of us can’t escape that, and I acknowledge that many, particularly those of us managing disabilities, this becomes an almost impossible venture.

I used to joke, that “before you get diagnosed, just ensure you are not surrounded by assholes”. Of course this is flippant and not accurate, but it’s a good place to start. But a better place is both that and regular and continual access to quality therapies that work for us (whatever they may be).

Recovery isn’t a bad word. Disability isn’t either. But they aren’t some continuum or a binary or a competition.

Disability and recovery are interchangeable and they shouldn’t be just measured by capitalist or economic ideas only. Your worth, isn’t just if you can work again or not again, or if a career shift or change is needed (like I’ve had to). It should just be feeling better, feeling hopeful, feeling valued and accepted – they should be the measures.

Recovery can be partial or full. Recovery can mean being comfortable with what you manage from an overall health perspective.

Sometimes recovery can come out of times and places where we least expect it. So, even if we can only imagine having the room to fly and perch like this bird can, we can sure do our best to find time and space to heal…whatever that looks like.

And from my perch, I’m going to keep raising awareness and pushing back for more mental health services, so maybe one day we can all afford the kind of continuity of care we need.

Big loves to you all. Pandemics suck.

On Difficult Dx Conversations

Jacci Pillar

So I just got some bad medical news and I have some intense stuff to go through before I know the full damage or what to expect. But not much is going to change, I’m just going to be less available for others for a while. Study goes on, comedy goes on. There will be interruptions and some difficult stuff. But I need to focus on my own care, more than ever and I have been trying to build a support team.

Yesterday I reached out in a number of ways for help to select people and it was nearly as difficult as hearing the news my genetics have failed me. I reached out to people because I don’t have family nearby and what family I have left can’t help.

People say “they don’t know what to say”. Well, I decided to write some tips after I spent 30 years…

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Little c Courage

Enough talk of resilience. Enough talk of trauma. I want to talk about courage instead.

So, our family has been through a shit-ton of well…shit. I am prepared to accept that there is evidence for intergenerational trauma. But I have been saying that then that also means that there is grounds for intergenerational resilience. But, I want to talk about courage instead.

This tweet (pictured below) made me realise just how much I am really f’n sick of both the word resilience – particularly as Melbourne is in yet another lockdown right now. The tweet from Zandashé L’orelia Brown (@zandashe) reads: “I dream of never being resilient again in my life. I’m exhausted by strength. I want support. I want softness. I want ease. I want to be amongst kin. Not patted on the back for how well I take a hit. Or for how many.”

Resilience, seems like another measurement of the hits we have taken, not a measurement of our own agency or power. As if our experience swings between the two. “Oh, I’m traumatised today. Oh I’m resilient today”. The truth is so much more than these labels.

So back to courage. I think there is big ‘C’ courage and little ‘c’ courage in the same way trauma is discussed. We overlook lots of little c courageous acts, daily courage, for the more glamourous Big C Courageous acts like mountain climbing. But daily courage, no matter how small they seem, add up to being a courageous person.

I think little c courage takes more effort and persistence (with no visible pay off or status) than Big C courage. This is what melbourne is mustering right now, daily efforts of a persistent courage.

Certainly my family has a history of Big C courage, myself included. I’ve worked in dangerous places, worked on dangerous sites and in work that has high risk. But to me that was just want you do. I think the example set by my Dad made sure of that.

For Dad, a life without what some would call adventure didn’t seem possible – but was not done for status. After his return from WWII and the jungles of Papua New Guinea, he worked for the Australian Lighthouse Service. He often talked of Maatsukyer Island lighthouse – Australia’s southern most lighthouse off Tasmania. But also Tasmania’s Cliffy Island and the difficulties in high seas and getting equipment and spares up the cliff face to repair it (Dad’s pictures here were taken in the late 1950’s).

Pictured to the top left is Dad standing on a rocky cliff on Cliffy Island looking out to see. He is in shorts and a short sleeved shirt. He has a mop of dark but short hair and is standing in a relaxed pose.

Bottom left is a view of a 4m wave in Bass Strait from the deck of a boat. Dad rushed out on the deck with his Box Brownie camera and managed to take this shot. Which in the days of still photography was quite difficult (and quite dangerous without a harness!) to do.

I loved listening to his stories of lighthouses and sea travel. Pictured to the top right here is Cliffy Island (a large rocky island that just looks like a big rock was dumped in the sea and floated there).

Middle right is the precarious boat house that sat on the cliff face and a system to cranes and pullies that would life a small boat out of the sea and onto a landing. This was dangerous work indeed.

Bottom right is a small row boat loaded with boxes and equipment being attached to a pulley and rope and onto a crane arm. It is preparing to be lifted up 20m onto the landing on the cliff face above. Crew are standing in the boat and would have stayed in the boat as it was lifted.

So it’s fair to say I received a good dose of intergenerational Big C courage that would take me to trek 211 km through the Himalayas, mountain bike down Death Road in Bolivia and travel to places on my own that most would consider ‘dangerous’. It’s not really a surprise that I would end up doing remote area field work on my own either. Or that I would not be frightened off by a large 4WD tire and be able to patch and split rim it on my own in the middle of nowhere. I never really questioned that this was possible, I just did it.

Big C courage is easy to see and recognise, but what of the other daily forms of courage we practice? So, let’s get to little c courage.

This is the daily stuff. This is where I find all the discussions of resilience a tad frustrating. Because if your life is filled with a constant series of needing to exercise courage on small scales – it can be bloody tiring and the onslaught creates it’s own demands. It requires a different, more persistent kind of courage.

The fact remains that 12 months ago I fought suicidal ideation on a daily basis. After years of abuse in an abusive marriage and a series of unforeseen disasters, a recent workplace bullying and harassment scenario, I had to muster a whole lot of little c courage to keep going. In November 2020 it was less frequent, after months of hard work, working on understanding my triggers and gradual re-exposure therapy (in a pandemic and lockdowns). I felt both traumatised and resilient and I think they co-existed.

I think my survival is a testimony to courage, not resilience. I think resilience is another way to say, toughen up when we all know rest and recuperation are more likely to help us recover.

I think courage also means not that you have toughed up, but that are prepared to say you are afraid, that you need help, that the emotional work is hard – that takes more courage than any toughen up resilience discourse.

In March, I got told my rental property was being sold after these months and months of rebuilding myself. I went through a debacle with a real estate agency that was quite dangerous to my health. A scenario that many people in Melbourne will relate to. The endless moving house that renting here seems to equate to.

Particularly as March 29 appeared and the previous eviction bans were gone and suddenly tenants and landlords were faced with economic fallout of 2020. And now people are facing insecure housing yet again in another lockdown that is going largely unsupported.

I had paid full rent and had not fallen into arrears, but my landlord was struggling financially and had to sell. I had really struggled through 2020 lockdowns (like many of us) and the sudden housing insecurity was terrifying. As someone who manages disability and two chronic illnesses it was hell for a few weeks and I was terrified I would go back to where I had been 12 months before. But I buckled down and mustered as much little c courage each day as I could to manage a house move, because the disruption of open for inspections and housing insecurity are major health risk factors for me.

This was all much tougher to do than any of the Big C courage things I have done.

So let’s talk little c courage instead, the courage we overlook but is none the less courage. The courage to:

  • Call out bad behavior. For my recent example, real estates who break the rules and then lie and gaslight you. The courage to take notes and keep evidence. To withstand them denying any harm they caused despite evidence of above lies and potentially unlawful behavior. To push back when they continued to pressurize me as a disabled tenant and ignore medical advice. I could have just continued to have my boundaries and safety compromised because it seemed easier, but the results could have been a lot worse.
  • Discerning which battles to pick requires courage and act in good faith. The above scenario involved three parties. A selling agency, a rental agency and the owner of my rental property. When the tribunal claim was lodged two of those parties (rental agency and the owner) began to act in good faith. The other party decided to double down and make legal threats against me for just taking action within my legal rights. I wasn’t afraid of them and it was a continuation of the previous behaviour. But then the two other parties were acting in good faith and vengeance was not my priority. Vengeance is the cowards way in my view. I made a choice to withdraw the claim and work with the two parties acting in good faith. I’m now settled and in safe and secure and affordable accommodation again.

A safe place to live is a human right but keeping it safe requires courage. The day to day battles we all face require courage. I think courage is worth focusing on. It takes courage to be kind just as much as it does to be mean spirited.

In a world obsessed with unrealistic notions of some mythical able bodiedness, it takes courage to rest and to heal. Courage encompasses a range of experiences and emotions.

Finding courage in others is helpful as is giving courage to others. Can this vague and victim blamey resilience thing do what courage can? I don’t think so!

Maybe some might disagree and say courage can be applied the same way. But courage, in my humble opinion, courage is more useful a concept.

And right now, Melbourne people, we are running with as many little c courage acts as we can to overcome our 4th lockdown. I’m not going to give you “you got this”. But I will say that collectively our courage is every little thing we do to get through.

I think we should be talking more about courage and not carrying on about resilience.

All is quiet on the front

Apologies for being quiet, I am contemplating an unexpected house move (argh) and doing a PhD and Midsumma Festival performances. It gets a little busy sometimes.

I have also been reading some documents a little bird in the extended family sent me and digesting those. But I want to talk about the fighting women in my family. The military women and the perceptions of women who have served in fighting forces since…well…since forever really.

My father’s first wife served in WWII as did he. His sister, Anne, was in the Navy in WWII. And me, I served in the RAAF. I recently wrote a piece on sexual harassment in the defence forces for the YWCA. And something I know all of the women who served in my family experienced, was judgement about our efforts from family.

I remember an Uncle (from Mum’s really conservative side of the family) saying, when I signed up, “Oh, at least there will be something good to look at in the office”.

I went onto be one of the first of a handful of female instrument and avionics technicians in the Royal Australian Air Force. Whilst women did technical work through WWII, they were not allowed to properly join aircraft trades until the 1980’s.

But here something more I would like to add, given we’ve just had ANZAC day.

You know what? You wanna get your head around war? Try seeking out and reading some women’s stories about war. Why? Because they tell it like it was. No glorification bullshit.

I got an anonymous death threat for my recent opinion piece on the sexual harassment of women in the defence forces. Just don’t take the glorified versions of war. Listen to the women that served. There are lots of stories, often repressed stories.

Read Svetlana Alexievich, “The Unwomanly Face of War”. Women who got told that their service in WWII as a tank commander meant being told they were unmarriageable outcasts when they returned. For me, I frequently got snide sexism after I left the RAAF. Not such much now, but it was pretty frequent.

Or read Julie Wheelwright, “Sisters in Arms” for a broad historical perspective.

Or Alex Edney-Browns PhD thesis on Drone violence and how it devastates civilian populations.

We hurl young men and women into war, then we don’t give a shit about what service or life after service does to them. And we ignore the stories of the communities ruined.

We sit on this comfortable island and don’t bat an eye all year round as continuing wars destroy lives. Continuing wars, all over the globe. Since WWII we’ve practiced “forward defence” or the notion that we’ve acted on intelligence about potential invasion rather than actual invasion threats. A lot of the time the intelligence is wrong. This is not in the spirit of the ANZAC – which was about protecting from fascism, now we back up fascism for oil.

Herstories tell it like it is, with the intent to prevent it happening again. Histories speak of glory of victory and forget about the loss of life and raging destruction.

And these photos below demonstrate how my life felt in extremis when younger. On the left is my graduation from basic training in the RAAF. Dressed up glam, drinking straight whiskey and with a military tan. On the right, in full greens with water bottles and utility belt and armed with an L1A1 and ready for field exercise (including gas mask).

I reflect on this and think to myself – I did more than just decorate an office and I always will.

WANDERING WOMBS, WITCHES (and orgasms)

WANDERING WOMBS, WITCHES (and orgasms). A taster…of what I will be writing about next in relation to intergenerational family stories, what my research has uncovered and in particular Jane Brady’s death at 82 in Sunbury Mental Hospital.

I like April people. My Dad was born in April. My son was born in April. Today I had a wonderful chat with another April person in my extended family that I didn’t know existed. They have a similar awesome sense of humour to my other awesome April people I know.

I’ve written about Dad’s birth and his jokes about being born on April Fools Day.

Today is Dad’s birthday and I want to talk about the silly idea that women’s internal reproductive organs are animals and that this thinking existed right up until the early 1900’s. This is not an April Fools joke, this is very real.

A taster…of what I will be writing about next in relation to intergenerational family stories, what my research has uncovered and in particular Jane Brady’s death at 82 in Sunbury Mental Hospital.

The following is from an academic piece (I’ve included references for the nerds). It was about the persecution of women from as early as the 15th century as witches by the church and how that morphed into putting those same demographic of women in asylum’s by early medical practitioners:

But how mental illness was defined and the historical justifications for putting women in institutions was nothing short of ridiculous. The persecution of women during the witch trials of the 14th century and beyond would have no doubt contributed to a rise in mental illness and there was a link between this and older women (MacDonald 1981:39-40). 

Tensions around marriageability, the perceived sexual voracity of women and their overall status as inferior could well have prompted a propensity to breakdown and mental illness and was reported widely. But it was pitched that women were more prone to complaints and as something female rather than as a result of oppression (MacDonald 1981:39-40). 

Edward Jorden looked to causes natural to the differing anatomy of women including the idea that women’s wombs, wandered or moved through the body. He saw the renegade movement of the uterus  in conflict with the rest of the body, the discomfort migrating to the brain (considered the seat of reason), causing what Jorden termed the ‘suffocation of the mother’  or  hysteria (Bronfen 1998:108; Jorden 1603:6).

Bronfen (1998:105) writes that the womb was:

[c]onsidered to be a small, voracious animal, a foreign body that had dried up, lost weight and come unhooked, this wandering uterus was thought to seek for nourishment throughout the body of sexually dissatisfied women, such as widows and spinsters.

A combination of the religious and medical understandings of women meant older women (particularly older women with dementia) were at high risk of persecution, although again, this cannot be viewed in isolation of other socio-political influences (Bronfen 1998:105; Darnst 1979:304; Levack 1995:141, 142; Scot 1665:4, 19).


Later in history someone would finally get it somewhat right and yet still the logic behind it was wrong; they would invent the vibrator.

This was to treat the above “hysteria”, and finally women got more socially acceptable orgasms as a small trade off for centuries of oppression (and I haven’t provided references for that bit, but suggest you watch the film of the same name).

Mind you, we always just did it for ourselves in secret anyway, so no bloke ‘gave’ us anything…Fellas! You didn’t invent fingers and ours DO wander!

References for you nerdy types…

Bronfen, E.  (1998) The Knotted Subject: Hysteria and Its Discontents. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Darnst, D.H. (1979) Witchcraft in Spain: the Testimony of Martin De Castanega’s Treatise on Superstition and Witchcraft (1520).  Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 123(5):298-322.

Jorden, E. (1603) A Briefe Discourse of a Disease Called the Suffocation of the Mother.  Available from Early English Books Online: http://80-wwwlib.umi.com.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/eebo/download/pdf/337098/19994/1-30/99854567_1-30.pdf  [Accessed 10 October 2002]

Levack, B.P. (1995) The Witch-hunt in Early Modern Europe (2nd Edition). New York: Longman.

MacDonald, M. (1981) Mystical Bedlam: Madness, Anxiety, and Healing in Seventeenth-century England.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Scot, R. (1665) The Discovery of Witchcraft [online].  Available from Proquest Early English Books Online:  http://80-wwwlib.umi.com.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/eebo/download/pdf/337099/55338/1-227/12166650_1-227.pdf [Accessed 10 October 2002].

the inquistion

The inquisition has arrived. Well, maybe not like the actual inquisition. But oh my, how the language of the past was.

So Jane’s inquest documents arrived, courtesy of the Public Records Office of Victoria.

I chose to pay for them to digitize the record, a total of $22.20 to be sent, a service you can request after searching for the inquest. I could have gone into the reading room for free, but I wanted to get this glimpse first. And besides, parking, time, etc. etc. it’s probably twenty two dollars well spent. Great turn around time, I only requested them 9 days ago.

I shall reveal more when I have more of a chance to examine the inquisition documents. My gut is telling me not much information here, not enough pages. Stay tuned.

And Happy Friyay!

LET THE RECORD STATE Shame sux

Most records about the past prior to the 1930’s are public (and even more recent ones sometimes). But that doesn’t mean they are not hidden. Hidden from dinner table conversations, hidden from important intergenerational health discussions and hidden by what I think is misplaced shame. In my experience, hidden by boring beige people on a power trip. (Did I just say that? Whoops, I forgot to mention I am not one of those people who thinks that I should be entirely nice about people consciously still stigmatising meaningful mental health discussions in 2021).

Most records about the past prior to the 1930’s are public (and even more recent ones sometimes). But that doesn’t mean they are not hidden. Hidden from dinner table conversations, hidden from important intergenerational health discussions and hidden by what I think is misplaced shame. In my experience, hidden by boring beige people on a power trip. (Did I just say that? Whoops, I forgot to mention I am not one of those people who thinks that I should be entirely nice about people consciously still stigmatising meaningful mental health discussions in 2021).

If you find yourself wondering why you asked about the social history, or intergenerational baggage because of the anger and/or passive aggression you receive from other family members; the problem with the truth is theirs, not yours. Maybe time to ask the public record instead.

Comedy character Mrs. Brown (an older woman in a cardigan with rollered hair and wire framed glasses known for her Irish accent) turning to camera saying “I’m sorry I feckin’ asked now”

You can and should talk about this uncomfortable social history and more to the point, don’t be bullied by people into silence. You don’t have justify talking about public records to anyone. You also don’t have to justify talking publicly about your own struggles and efforts to break the shame of silence either.

If your family and extended family (biological or otherwise) survived a shit-ton of trauma and disadvantage you may well have some inherited trauma. But you also have inherited resilience and sometimes reading about what we have survived is healing.

So let’s access that resilience and talk about it. Not with blame, but with understanding and a reflective point of view.

There is a conservative “civilised societal” view that celebrating survival through the telling of survival histories is to be avoided. We beat each up with toxic positivity and fail to support one another when one of us develops mental health or addiction issues.

That’s not exactly very civilised, decent or progressive, yet here we are.

So let me say this loud and clear. Let the records speak. But not the commodified and expensive family history obsession that you can buy online. Good grief capitalism has some of you by the proverbial balls.

Some records will cost you money, but many are free. And if you buy them from ancestry dot com you’ll pay extra.

Some records you can request or are available online. It all helps paint a picture more than just some pointless family tree diagram.

So this post isn’t about just the lonely space of context free dates and names you’ll get from Births, Deaths and Marriages information, but other sources of information that help you to understand the past, not just recite it and tow the party (family) line.

One source below is an example of some collection information you can find in Victoria, Australia from the Public Records Office. Most states and territories in Australia have similar. Google is your friend (and as an academic I hate saying this, it’s only a start point and not research gospel!). The second source is national.

Some may require you to physically go into a reading room and read (gasp!). I know this excites me and not others, but reading is a good thing, not a chore. And most online collections have ways you can use screen readers and transcripts if you need a more accessible way to access the information.

Dodgy deaths and family we left behind via inquests and coroners reports Inquests into deaths (deposition files 1840-1985) | PROV

How the hell did we get here information and migration records like Assisted passenger lists (1839-1871) | PROV

A bunch of photos in various themes here at Photographic collections | PROV

All the griping about money and associated social climbing at Wills and probates | PROV

And finally I want to give you a treasure trove. Literally a treasure at TROVE.

Newspaper clippings a plenty! Find out when they got in trouble, were foolish enough to marry, did interesting things and more often than not, were just human at Newspapers & Gazettes Home – Trove (nla.gov.au)

A smorgasbord of scandal and crime (and a way to see it for what it really is, human, rather than scandalous) at The Prosecution Project.

What the colonial bastards and boffins scribbled in their diaries about us poor folk. A range of diaries and letters and manuscripts (okay, not always from bastards, sometimes from people doing good things – and now I technically am classed as a boffin myself).

Images, images, images. Maps. All kinds of visual things here.

I’ve given you just two sources, there are many more. PROV (Victoria) and TROVE (Australian).

I need to say, the bonds in my immediate family have only gotten stronger, and relationships healthier since we grappled with uncomfortable truths. And it may have saved some lives from the risk of suicide too.

Silence about events that just make us human is the way shame is carried, amplified and turned into ways we are retraumatised, generation after generation.

You don’t have to sit beholden at the feet of a website wanting to rip you off. Or worse, you don’t have to put up with bullshit from your supposed kin wanting to make you feel like a failure in comparison to some glorious retelling of old. Do your own research.

Often people don’t find out who they are or how they fit or how our collective history can help them be happier and healthier people because the hiding of truth has become a pretty messed up cornerstone of Australian culture.

Let’s throw it in the bin with the outdated ideas that tightly knit family that controls and manipulates each other is everything. Let’s get real about that notion that this “family is everything” kind of family really means women and children die more frequently at home (or in care) at the hands of family than on the streets.

In doing this I hope you find out that we all have mental health dilemmas, social pitfalls, issues with addiction as well as our triumphs and there is no shame in that. All we can do is learn from it and get the hells away from people who think otherwise.

And finally, don’t be a lazy sod (OMG! I used the ‘L’ word! Sorry!) and always select advanced search (unless of course you are just on ‘what can I find’ mission in broad terms, then I give you points for embracing your inner nerd).

IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH, HAVING A PERSONAL CRISIS OR HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE, CONTACT LIFELINE ON 13 11 14

YOU CAN CALL THEM 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK FROM ANYWHERE IN AUSTRALIA.

LOOKING FOR INFORMATION OR SUPPORT SERVICES ON ALCOHOL OR DRUGS AND NOT SURE WHERE TO BEGIN? CALL THE AUSTRALIAN DRUG AND ALCOHOL FOUNDATION 1300 85 85 84 TO SPEAK TO A REAL PERSON.

IT’S ABOUT LOVE, NOT LUNACY

Sweeping the past under the carpet just means we all trip on the lumps we can’t see and get bloody noses when some politician decides to bring back an old destructive social policy with a new name. In the cult of personality that has become Australian politics, a catchy slogan on repackaged policy disaster is a valuable thing.

Sweeping the past under the rug just means we all trip on the lumps we can’t see and get bloody noses when some politician decides to bring back an old destructive social policy with a new name. In the cult of personality that has become Australian politics, a catchy slogan on a repackaged policy disaster is a valuable thing.

People are often critical of those who explore dark topics like asylum history or family secrets (such as my interest in why my great grandmother Jane was left to die in Sunbury Mental Hospital). Sometimes it’s said it is exploiting the memory of people who suffered. But I would argue that the memory of those impacted by historical maltreatment are not enhanced by shutting down that discussion. Perhaps it is better to enhance, redirect and dissect that discussion like grown ups.

When I did my undergraduate degree at University of Queensland I did a history elective about the history of medical bioethics. It was the most confronting course ever.

Why, you ask? Being the unaware but intellectually and conceptually rebellious person that I am, I discovered punk in the 1980’s (I’m often late to trends) and developed an infinity with my middle finger…

2002/2003 was the year I took a ride in a dark knowledge carriage down the cobbled street of hate and persecution of anyone differently human to some mythical “normal”. I took elective subjects such as “Genocide, persecution and revenge”, “Medicine and culture: bioethics” (of course mainly about psychiatry!) and “Witchcraft and demonology” (about the precursor to psychiatry…the church!).

But one thing dark human history has taught me, is that talking about the darkest places in human history is not always about spectacle. It can be about love too, because you don’t want to repeat the terrible mistakes of the past. That’s an act of love.

I can still quote facts and figures about the persecution of women and the mentally ill from witch trials to war time rape camps to Nazi twin studies. And sorry Americans and Australian American worshippers, Salem in the US was a miniscule part of the witch trials. It was just well publicised in the 20th century. Go read a book, even better go check out Project Gutenberg (it’s free!) and grab yourself some historical texts about it; see for yourself the kind of ideas being spouted in 1584 and the medical opinions of 1882.

Don’t take me to a Liberal party fundraiser, unless you want my conversational topics to clear out the room. Or, maybe, the Greens may one day want to weaponise me for that purpose.

I would argue these discussions can be done with part seriousness, part humour, parts horror and respectfully. It’s hard enough to talk about, but being drier than a climate change scientist in a desert ain’t going to get people to engage. But also, if any of you have been inside a psychiatric ward or know people who have and are open about it, you would know that your sense of both curiosity and humour can be a life line.

Do you know what can make mental health and addiction episodes worse and send people into more frequent cycles? Poor medical care and social stigma. And every single one of us, contributes to that, knowingly or unknowingly. We are this society. Society is not some vague concept, we are it.

So, as a person, I’ve always been drawn to dark topics. As an autistic person I have never been able to understand why people cared so much about hiding the truth of their families pasts. This is an organic thing for me, my brain does not do the complicated dance of fucking over people for a piece of gold or loaf of bread that I observe others do. I just, literally, don’t get it and I don’t want to become it either. I’ve made mistakes in my life like all people do, but not out of the desire to social climb. Knowledge is my addiction, not power. People either love me for that, or fucking depise me for that, and I am quite comfortable with either.

In 2002 I needed lots of energy drink that in 12 months studying the worst in human medical and social history. Partly because my Dad would pass away in December 2002 and I was trapped in an abusive marriage, with a small child and trying to help support a grieving mother, completely on my own. Other family popped into the picture from time to time, but to Mum, but never to me. I don’t recall a single phone call about my welfare. I was the mentally ill daughter and family refused to see the actual work I was doing in the family because of that stigma (and the fact it came out of the mouth of a man I was married to who was practicing coercive control). But ultimately I have always been the person that would say things as they are, a cardinal sin to conservatives everywhere.

Despite some rough and tumble and very well known family history I gleaned from Dad, in terms of shoving people’s dark history in the closet, my family history seemed no exception. I have spent most of my life just wanting to understand why talking about this was met with a strange silence. When I was reprimanded it was in vague terms, not direct enough for my neurobiology, so I often forged on, unaware I had upset people – and guess what, I’m not about to change that about myself! The fact remains, I cannot interpret passive aggression, not until later, I take things literally and don’t read the social cues like neurotypical people.

Sadly, passive aggression in my family was like the high jump of the oppression Olympics. Sideways and non-direct, vaguely aggressive approaches to a problem should have seemed like a bad idea. But people seemed unable to stop, addicted to both the spectacle and discomfort it brought them.

I have two degrees and a trade and yes, some difficult mental health history, but have had a life that is rich and interesting. Yet I do wonder if I had been born in another time what would have happened to me. Because some people who think differently were considered society’s enemy and being born female and outspoken was often a dangerous thing to be. I think, looking at the historical treatment of women who challenged the system, I am very fortunate not have been incarcerated or institutionalised for challenging the system repeatedly.

What is really interesting for me, was my Dad seemed to shield me from any diagnosis when people were aware I was different as a child. I am glad he did. Given the understanding of autism in the 1970’s, my life could have been in and out of institutions had he not intervened.

People respond to medical and government information about the health and well being of their loved ones. I am aware that when my great grandmother was put in Sunbury Mental Hospital family may have thought it was the right thing to do.

I am grateful for the correct dx in my 40’s and it has made my life better. But I dread to think what a dx in my childhood would have meant in my family of origin. My mother and I have spoken about this recently, it’s not about demonising my parents, it’s about understanding the messages they were receiving from medical experts and broader society. That messaging, however, if we are collectivist in our thinking, is the responsibility of us to amend now, when we do know better.

Most historical asylums had a history of being located on hills away from the township. Years later they become places with great views, and great real estate collateral, very much unlike the view past inhabitants would have had. When they are converted into university campuses (like the campus in Ipswich of the University of Queensland I worked at) and community hubs their history can be almost forgotten. It’s important this doesn’t happen.

Victoria is STILL facing it’s history and current practices of restraint and seclusion in mental health “care” facilities. Until recently it has dodged this discussion with a Houdini like ability to get out of a straight jacket and pick locks under water. A Royal Commission shook some of that sleepy bureaucracy up.

I think it’s time we start more public education through the actual history. Through the sites like Sunbury. Because honestly these modern restraint and seclusion practices are rooted in old world practices and old world attitudes. Below is a video of the site by a YouTube user lady888lyrical whose channel is dedicated to heritage sites.

But this study I did in 2002/2003 taught me about the idea that intellectual love wins. This kind of love prevails. I don’t mean romantic love, I mean another kind of compassionate love, a love for humanity, a love of treating one another better. Even if that means having really difficult conversations about our pasts.

Going into the dark places of the things we did in the past, often in the name of restorative trauma work, is an act of love.

So I’ve just found out that Sunbury Mental Hospital site has been neglected by the Victorian government and I am going to explore that further (see what the current status is with Heritage Victoria) as I go looking for Jane Brady’s records.

In 2018 A previous tour operator won awards for contributions to heritage and history through the education about asylum history provided, so to me this is sad news.

So sometime soon, I am off to see what I can find about Jane’s admission warrant.

IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH, HAVING A PERSONAL CRISIS OR HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE, CONTACT LIFELINE ON 13 11 14

YOU CAN CALL THEM 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK FROM ANYWHERE IN AUSTRALIA.

LOOKING FOR INFORMATION OR SUPPORT SERVICES ON ALCOHOL OR DRUGS AND NOT SURE WHERE TO BEGIN? CALL THE AUSTRALIAN DRUG AND ALCOHOL FOUNDATION 1300 85 85 84 TO SPEAK TO A REAL PERSON.

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.

IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH, HAVING A PERSONAL CRISIS OR HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE, CONTACT LIFELINE ON 13 11 14

YOU CAN CALL THEM 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK FROM ANYWHERE IN AUSTRALIA.

LOOKING FOR INFORMATION OR SUPPORT SERVICES ON ALCOHOL OR DRUGS AND NOT SURE WHERE TO BEGIN? CALL THE AUSTRALIAN DRUG AND ALCOHOL FOUNDATION 1300 85 85 84 TO SPEAK TO A REAL PERSON.

Bridget the badass

#IWD2021 So today is also a day to celebrate success, as much as it is about struggle too. So I want to shout out to my ancestor Bridget Brady (nee Lynch 1842 -1892). From my research it’s plain to see she was a badass. She ran the Shannon Hotel in Kilmore in the Victorian Gold Fields.

VALE BRIDGET, THIS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY. I HAVE NO DOUBT YOU WERE ONE TOUGH COOKIE.

After her husband, John, who owned and operated the Kilmore Brewery took his own life in 1888 life must have gotten significantly harder. A woman on her own running a business, and the business of liquor at that. CW: discussions of suicide.

Not only that, I found she had to fight to keep her possessions after the death of John. This was despite the fact that Victoria had followed English law and made provisions for women with the Married Women’s Property Act of 1884. This act protected the rights of women to their personal property upon marriage. I’m planning on exploring her legal woes after John’s death in later posts.

But for now, lets talk about the pub, and Bridget the Badass. First there is her account in the inquest into her husbands death. It certainly shows her as not afraid to speak her mind…that must definitely run in the family.

It was one of the first things that I read recently that made me think differently about John’s death. It’s easy to conclude that there was some economic or social pressure on John. The doctor’s testimony, simply blanket concludes “insanity”, despite admitting he had not seen him for several weeks.

Bridget’s testimony to police is brave because she does not shy away from talking about the issue of the nature of his death and is unafraid to counter the testimony of the attending doctor. Bridget refers to John complaining of a pain in the head for several weeks, as does their son, Bernard.

And let’s face it, those of us who know the terrain of suicidal thinking know it is not something people just get up one day and just decide to do, it’s often a long time coming. John might not have talked about it, but pain and pressure do things to us over time. So, here is the system, the word of the doctor, leaping to conclusions and not listening to families or that of the person themselves…sigh…many of us know that hasn’t changed has it?

Later I found a Kilmore Police court reference to her some two years later. Still running the pub. In goldrush Victoria, a widow running a pub is badass defined.

This time the police attention is because she left the pub door open after hours and is fined a whole five pound. Which would have been a lot of money for leaving a pub door open for a brief few minutes. Later there is reference to dropped charges against her for illegal gambling on the premises, largely because she couldn’t be there all the time due to ill health.

So here is the gutsy, short, succinct and to the point testimony of Bridget defying the doctors single word diagnosis, transcribed beneath the image.

Magistrates Inquiry

Colony of Victoria, To wit. This deponent, Bridget on her oath saith, I am a wife of the deceased residing at Kilmore.

I identify the body as that of my husband John Brady, he was 47 years of age, he has been in usual health but complained of pain in his head. I never heard him say he would commit suicide. I saw him about 5.30 pm on the 29th at his residence when seemed alright. I went to the malt house to milk the cows about half an hour after after I saw deceased. When I saw my husband lying at a distance in the corner of the malthouse.

Mark of Bridget Brady, Witness John Wilkinson, Const. 3179.

Taken and Sworn before me, the 31st Day of October 1888 at Kilmore.

What little the history shows so far, it speaks to gutsy, but also bloody tired.

IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH YOUR MENTAL HEALTH, HAVING A PERSONAL CRISIS OR HAVING THOUGHTS OF SUICIDE, CONTACT LIFELINE ON 13 11 14

YOU CAN CALL THEM 24 HOURS A DAY, 7 DAYS A WEEK FROM ANYWHERE IN AUSTRALIA.

LOOKING FOR INFORMATION OR SUPPORT SERVICES ON ALCOHOL OR DRUGS AND NOT SURE WHERE TO BEGIN? CALL THE AUSTRALIAN DRUG AND ALCOHOL FOUNDATION 1300 85 85 84 TO SPEAK TO A REAL PERSON.