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.

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].

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.

laughing science

One of the things I would like to do with this project, is have a look at the neuroscience of laughter. What part of the brain does it come from? Well…the limbic system, our survival centre, our emotional centre, is primary to laughter.

Quick Saturday post – because I need to edit another video and I am slack this week, bogged down in research. One of the things I would like to do with this project, is have a look at the neuroscience of laughter. What part of the brain does it come from? Well…the limbic system, our survival centre, our emotional centre, is primary to laughter.

Of course I plan to getting to the actual science studies and sharing them as I go along – but for the moment I am just scraping the surface.

I’ve encountered the old ‘you can’t laugh at that’ policing a lot in my lifetime. Perhaps the policing of what we laugh at is part of our uniquely human sociality, our tendency to try and control the world around us; but it’s also an oxymoron. The more you try and police what people laugh at, the more they find other ways to laugh at it or just do so in private. Why is that?

I’m going to posit that it is part survival technique, something integral to what makes us human. I recently found a piece on pain management and swearing. And swearing, like laughter, is closely related to the limbic system of the brain.

Which is interesting because comedy, often does both. It often harnesses laughter and swearing. And policing people who swear is a literal conservative industry, let’s face it. Some people will step over someone dying because they are swearing, rather than help them. These people are not my people.

There is evidence the urge to swear is quite primal, not really to do with the word itself, not a choice, and far from all the ridiculous clickbait about swearing making you more or less intelligent – the reality is the release of swearing is human. So the drive to police swearing is often about power and control, not any real threat to the supposed social fabric.

While some might reduce laughter to ‘it’s either funny or it’s not’, the reality is far more nuanced, much more complex. In 2016/2017 when I started to explore comedy, I had experienced so much physical and emotional pain that it was part catharsis (see article below from the Centralian Advocate newspaper – please forgive me I will link to a transcript of this article for accessibility reasons soon and edit the post). I knew I was playing part auto-ethnography as an anthropologist and part comedian as social change agent, but was really just playing at the edges of ‘being a comedian’.

I’m loathe to call myself a comedian these days, not because I don’t love comedy and there are some brilliant comedic voices out there, it’s something else. I find the policing of what is considered comedy frustratingly commercialised, much like I find manufactured popstars can be likened to the Woolworths of music. We consume comedy based on supposed mainstream relatability rather than what is actually creative or interesting uses of the art of moving people to laugh. The microphone on chin stand up stage comedy has become so highly commodified and I don’t think I fit that mold of comedy. Never mind the accessibility issues it presents for me as someone with sensory processing disorder. Laughter has become wrapped in social plastic wrap and sold to the masses. I long to be part of a contemporary reinvention of something like Monty Python (which challenged the status quo at the time while a bit cringeworthy now!).

The Centralian advocate. (2017). Page 15, Friday May 12, 2017. Nationwide News Pty. Limited, Alice Springs. Retrieved February 20, 2021, from https://hdl.handle.net/10070/445608.

At an individual level, there is an aspect of societal control in the regulation of laughter that is very similar to the shaming of addiction and mental health. By policing laughter we are attributing to people more agency and more control over things than they actually might have, in some effort to show we have free will, or choice. Sometimes laughter is spontaneous for a very human reason.

If you are laughing to survive something, no one should tell you not to laugh. I recently saw a parent discussing online how her child was silenced from laughing in hospital by hospital staff. This young person was visiting a dying parent and they were laughing together and were told they were disrespectful by a member of the nursing staff. These last moments with their parent were intervened into by someone meaning to protect some thinly held social superiority – a power trip over this young person’s last memories of a loved parent.

I wanted to cry for them and I won’t hold back here, I want to jettison the staff member into outer space in a large cartoon slingshot.

And I’m reminded of the last time I laughed about Dad in his presence. We had a shared memory of a time I had to resuscitate him in my early 30’s. I had to drag his 80 kilogram frame off a chair. He would laugh at me when I would later say “I don’t want to drag your sorry ass around again” whenever he did cheeky things that put his health at risk. He would love to laughingly remind me that when pulling him off the chair I had put his back in, that I had done him two favors that day.

The last time we shared this joke, I was walking with Mum down to Noosa river inlet. It’s a windy sandy track and I was struggling along and I paused and said to him “Dad this is the last time I drag your sorry ass anywhere”. Mum stopped and laughed and then we both cried for a bit and carried on, me with Dad’s ashes tucked under my arm in a rather heavy box, to the water edge.

I agree some things (like mocking other peoples experiences of violence, sexism, ableism, racism etc. to put them down) should never be mocked. This is because there is also some science about laughter having the ability to reinforce some shitty stuff (even if some in the room doesn’t think it’s funny, there is a contagion like effect that can change behaviour over time). Some behaviours can be made acceptable by laughing at them along with others. But the neuroscience shows that laughter is far more complex than even this, and way more complex than “it’s either funny or it’s not”.

Fuck judging people for laughing at the difficult things in life. The neuroscience places laughter firmly in the part of our brain that is the oldest and most linked to the uniqueness of human survival. I want to embrace that being able to laugh in the face of pain is a hallmark of survival. So, I ask you, have you laughed today?

born five minutes too late

I’ve been thinking about my Dad a lot lately and his dark sense of humour and how he engaged humour to soften the blow of difficult times as the best medicine. Interesting for a man born on the 1st of April 1923 and who resented that date for the rest of his life. CW: low level discussions of end of life conversations.

I’ve been thinking about my Dad a lot lately and his dark sense of humour and how he engaged humour to soften the blow of difficult times – as the best medicine. Interesting for a man born on the 1st of April 1923 and who resented that date for the rest of his life. CW: low level discussions of end of life conversations.

My Dad joked at the most inappropriate times, but always made it about the ridiculousness of the situation instead of mocking the people in it.

He would often tell me how much he disliked people who played ‘practical jokes’ on people. Being born of the 1st April and growing up in the 1920’s and 30’s in the Collingwood/Fitzroy are of Melbourne meant he never got to experience a birthday that wasn’t filled with anxiety about what someone might do to him in the name of joke.

My father Jack, standing mid way up a very large Eucalyptus tree.  He appears to be late teens, going by other photos I have of him with dates, late 1930's.  This photo is probably a bit telling about future careers, aircrew on Liberator Squadron no. 24 in WWII, seismic line working with CSIRO through remote Australia and a career maintaining and repairing remote lighthouses with the Australian Lighthouse Service.   Come to think of it, these careers were largely away from people and likely linked to his view 'people are the problem' approach to the world.
My father Jack, standing mid way up a very large Eucalyptus tree. He appears to be late teens, going by other photos I have of him with dates, late 1930’s. This photo is probably a bit telling about future careers, aircrew on Liberator Squadron no. 24 in WWII, seismic line working with CSIRO through remote Australia and a career maintaining and repairing remote lighthouses with the Australian Lighthouse Service. Come to think of it, these careers were largely away from people and likely linked to his view ‘people are the problem’ approach to the world.

I’ve never really thought about it much until recently. But now, I am doing at PhD on…the politics of laughter, with the title: “You Can’t Laugh at That”. So I suppose it’s been a topic of interest in my life for as long as I can remember because members of my family seemed to laugh at everything bad that happened.

Dad did like to say, at the end of the discussion about how he hated April Fools Day, but would add sometime funny at the end of it. It was like he was disclaiming not liking a day that was supposed to be humourus, with humour.

Maybe this an example of humour traditions born out of the great depression and two world wars? “I think this is shit and <describe how this is shit>, but then <insert funny story that makes people laugh about how shit it is>”

So, when in last few years of his life he was fighting a number of voices in his medical care that wanted to keep him alive in circumstances he didn’t consent to. He had an adventurous life until his 50’s and while he didn’t complain, he loved telling me his stories of that life. He had a living will that said he didn’t want to spend the end of his life being kept alive by machines. It was his worst nightmare.

I’ve not forgotten a conversation just before he died about a doctor who had branded him “noncompliant” for rejecting a treatment. A treatment he thought was effectively a medical experiment to his thinking.

While he spent his entire life disliking his birthday being the butt of jokes, he reminded me what he thought of the doctor with a hot take on the circumstances of his birth. Whether it was an embellishment or not he would say:

“It just before midnight and the midwife got really worried and was yelling at my mother Push! push! you need to push!”

<At this point, he would get very solemn because he knew how to tell a story>

“And my Mother was like, but I’m not ready! I’m not ready to push! It’s too soon! And the midwife…”

<Insert dramatic pause>

“And the midwife is waving her arms in the air saying “you cannot have this child on April Fools Day! And I was born at 12.05 on the 1st of April. I’ve never done what I was told to, why would I start now”.

Jack brady 2002

And herein lies the birth of the tradition of my humour and probably that of the entirety of Dad’s side of the family. Laugh at the tragic, the inconvenient, the sad, the annoying parts of life, because otherwise you are destined to be a slave to those events. To laugh at these events is an act of resilience, not humour.

That’s all for my Saturday post, I did have some success finding the archaeology team for the Kilmore brewery site this week.

Hope to have more news to share about what I am learning about the Kilmore brewery soon and I’ll do some more posts about what I do know already, next week.

And research is often laborious and often noncompliant and I am having to be patient, so please don’t push and put up with my bad puns, less it bears a post too early or too late. Bye for now.

John the brewer

Exploring how I first came across my ancestor John Brady’s death in 1888 and his erasure from history. Was this mental health stigma in action? Do we as a culture just erase uncomfortable mental health history?

Okay, some posts a bit light and some serious and technical, this is how ‘The Deadline‘ rolls. Content warning: discussions of death and mental health (‘insanity’) that may be distressing for some.

So in my family there was this enigma about our founding ancestors, John and Bridget Brady (nee Lynch) that I was curious about. And with genealogy I find starting with how people finished a good place to start, so death certificates first and gravely work backwards. Sorry for the puns.

And John and Bridget’s story is a lesson in confirmation bias. Basically we knew they had pretty hard Irish migrant lives in the Victorian goldfields and they had both had alcohol related deaths. They, in my Dad’s language ‘drank themselves to death‘, so I am blundering along, assuming death by things like liver and kidney ailments.

In 1999, while I was studying Anthropology at the University of Queensland, my Aunt Anne handed me the Brady family tree she had been working on. It was a pretty good effort, but I had access to the Pioneer Index for Victoria from 1836 – 1888 from the university. This is the one of the source indexes that websites like Ancestry.com use. Given learning about genealogy is part of anthropology it was a perfect opportunity.

Anthropology has a tradition of participant observation (immersing yourself in your research with people) in the production of ethnography. It requires a certain level of introspection and techniques to position yourself in the research so as to avoid objective/subjective disasters. This project is an exercise in autoethnography.

So the exercise of learning about the first Irish-Australian ancestors on my father’s side was exactly an example of the need to think carefully about my assumptions. Given that a number of family members have struggles with alcohol, a lot of that has been almost an accepted part of the lineage. My father hated alcohol with a vengeance and was quite vehement that alcohol destroyed families and I saw my parents have a beer once a month at best.

Doing family tree research (for yourself or anyone else) requires a lot of moments of unpacking confirmation bias. What’s confirmation bias? Probably best if I give a fictional example. A long told family story about a female ancestor reveals they loved to smoke Tabaco in a pipe, and this was considered quite unladylike and contributed to her death. Some have said lung cancer because there is a recent family member who died from lung cancer. There is a family photo of her in the 1860’s with the pipe in her hand, rested at her side. You find her death certificate and it doesn’t shed much light, but her headstone reads ‘died of foul air’ on it, and you think that confirms the family story of complications from smoking Tabaco. But the ‘smoking killed her’ family theory may well be confirmation bias and it’s important to step back and look a bit closer.

The expression ‘died of foul air’ or ‘bad air’ is related to an old defunct disease theory – known as Miasma theory and usually relates to infectious disease and the idea that various fumes were causative (that we now understand to be bacterial). Your ancestor has died in her late 30’s and you start to look at the history of where she died and find a tuberculosis outbreak in the area at that time. Your ancestor lived in a community without much medical care and it’s unlikely she would have had a proper diagnosis to be put on her death certificate. But it’s also likely that TB was was the cause of her death and having smoked Tabaco a complicating factor.

So, this leads me back to John and Bridget and the moment during my examination of family history that changed everything for me – John’s death certificate.

Image description: Image is death ledger from October 29th, 1888 at Kilmore Shire. John Brady. Brewer. Male age 49 years. Result of inquiry – Death from a wound in his throat, inflicted by himself while in a state of insanity. Inquiry held Oct 31st 1888, Patrick O’Neill J.P.

I first looked at this certificate in 2000 and put it down to process it until I picked it up in 2020 again and The Deadline project was born. I was going through a period of intense suicidal ideation and treatment for that twice a week and I was trying to understand my experience.

Here’s some of the feelings it brought up (written in my dark take on the world!):

  • The nature of the self inflicted wound to the neck. Holy hell. That’s committed. What on earth would drive you to that?
  • A state of insanity. How does one do insanity in a field (Dad said he died stumbling around in a field)? Do you discuss this with the cows? When was he found? Who found him? Did someone witness the state of insanity? What did it look like?
  • What warning signs were there? Why didn’t anyone listen? Did he talk about it?
  • Was he medically unwell too? How did they define insanity? How did they conclude this?
  • Is this my future, is this inherited? What the heck!
  • And finally, THE NEXT CLUE to follow…he was a BREWER! Let’s find the old Kilmore Brewery. There was a lot of gold rush pubs (I knew this from earlier research) but unlikely to be more than one brewery.

So my journey to understand how John the brewer (not to be confused with John the Baptist, because our John was most definitely Catholic) to came to be in a field in a state of insanity began and unpacking exactly what ‘a state of insanity’ meant in 1888; began in earnest in January 2020.

So you and I, Dear Reader, are going to go on a dark journey and next we will take a look at the Kilmore Brewery. And at times I am going to drink Gin in very small amounts and read to you bits of info and I may podcast or video that, because as my dear friend Rene will tell you, I am a piss weak drinker.

And here’s one small spoiler alert – the history of John Brady’s ownership of the Brewery is referred to only once in official histories (or missing altogether) and less than a line long, although it was a significant timeline of events for the town. While I understand his death is sensitive for religious, social and legal reasons but why forget him altogether? Shouldn’t we have honoured his life anyway?

Was this mental health stigma in action? Do we, as a culture, just erase uncomfortable mental health history as well the persons contributions?

It’s enough to make me drink (but I promise you in moderation). Laterz. To the brewery we go. See you there.

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.

WTF is the deadline?

The Deadline is video, podcast and blog project, taking you on a darkly humorous boutique distillery tour that crosses representations like “Who do you think you are?”, “Time Team”, “Drunk History” with “What we do in the Shadows”.

If you have to torture yourself to listen to this. It’s basically what is written below, but it’s just for value add and I hate my voice, so there’s that. So, yeah.

The Deadline is video, podcast and blog project (and eventually community theatre project), taking you on a darkly humorous boutique distillery tour that crosses representations like “Who do you think you are?”, “Time Team”, “Drunk History” with “What we do in the Shadows”.  Let’s talk about what is hidden in our family history closets and mock the crap out of the government policy and the inane and outdated social conventions that drive stigma and taboo.

Now before you go ballistic about how “you can’t laugh at that!”, people often laugh through trauma as a way to cope. And we won’t be laughing at people’s experience unless it’s something a family member found funny and is prepared to share with you…and you are not that wanker whose going to tell them they can’t laugh at this are you? We will mock the hells out of the system along the way.

If you would like to read a bit about how community arts and good mental health practice here’s a little taster for you:

Keller, S.; McNeill, V.; Honea, J.; Paulson Miller, L. A Look at Culture and Stigma of Suicide: Textual Analysis of Community Theatre Performances. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019, 16, 352. Available from: https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/16/3/352#cite

About the author of this site: I’m Jacci Pillar, a presenter somewhere between Louis Theroux and John Safran but a lot queerer than both.  “The Deadline: Of Death and Gin”; is a hybrid arts project that combines autobiography, anthropological ethnography and comedy. 

Why do this? It all started with a family history of laughing about “things you shouldn’t laugh about” in order to heal through some big family crises. My family has been plagued with mental health and addiction issues, often hidden with such ferocity it was comical. Then I began unwrapping the family history in 2005…

Two founding ancestors of a Brady lineage in Australia, John and Bridget were goldrush brewery owners in Kilmore, Victoria, Australia.  (Irish-much?) John died in 1887 from “a wound to the throat after being in a state of insanity”.  His wife, Bridget, died a few years later with an enlarged liver, a typical drinker’s death.  My great grandmother, Jane Brady, was left to die in Sunbury Mental Hospital in 1945, and while her connection of the original lineage is unclear, this is because of the erasure of mental health histories and social stigma. Jane and extended family claimed to be direct descendants of a John and Bridget, but other family members dispute this. Jane’s records are vague and require more investigation.

Regardless, the Deadline is not about family history, it’s about family secrets and how and why they shouldn’t be secret and it’s about understanding social history. How family secrecy doesn’t help us heal, demonizes and excludes people and reinforces dangerous stigma about mental health and addiction.

RESEARCH IS SAYING THIS TRAUMA COULD BE both INHERITED and a result of experience, WHICH LED ME TO ASK, AM I DOOMED?

Image is a gif of the character Bernard from BBC series Black Books (played by Dylan Moran). He is spinning around from bookshelf and saying “You don’t beat around the bus do you?”

We all talk about good mental health but then hand our depressed relative a drink in the corner at Christmas and hope they’ll go away.  Let’s face it, we’ve all got that Uncle or Aunt.  For my family that person is me. 

If you’ve ever rung a suicide hotline late at night, you’ll realise lack of funding mean you are more likely to get on hold music than rapid help. 

The voice message should say “Please try and restrict your suicidal thoughts to between the hours of 8.30am and 4.30pm, when we have the resources to deal with you.  We are sorry for the inconvenience.  Have a nice night.

Research has also shown how stigma, shame and lack of services, push people to further harm.

If we want people to keep living so much, why are we literally killing people with shame? 

Could modern mental health and addiction services be like the self-fulfilling bungled social policy of promises unmet, the ultimate spin.  “The Deadline” takes a personal look at what we’ve learned anything in the last 200 years.  

Worse, could the idea that we inherit our trauma be taken on board by people so deeply that it replaces ideas like fate and destiny? Or self-fulfilling prophecy?

I sincerely hope not!

Take a journey with me through The Deadline, from my great great grandfather’s 19th century brewery to now – using comedy, history, family stories,  picking researcher’s brains and gin! Don’t forget the gin!

Content will include literary blogposts and some little film and podcast projects as we get out to Kilmore and Sunbury later this year and do some history investigation like:

  • Interviews with experty type people
  • Interviews, oral histories and stories from other Irish-Australian families with similar intergenerational mojo
  • Interviews with people who perform about dark topics
  • Whatever else I think of.

Weekly posts and updates as the project develops coming soon…

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.