A squalid Relic and my brother Frank.

1200px-Mental_hospital_c_parkCallan Park


It is interesting that my self published book, titled ‘Almost There’: Fragments of a restless life, is getting some attention from some totally unknown quarters.

As some of you might know, my brother Frank passed away recently at the age of 78, in a Dutch Care Home ‘Atlant-Zorggroep, where he resided since his return from Australia in 1974. Frank was diagnosed when still in his teens suffering from chronic schizophrenia.



Prior to that he spent almost twenty years in the above mentioned Australian mental institute named Callan Park. This excerpt below tells you a little on how mental patients were treated there.

“By the 1950s, Callan Park was in many ways a closed institution. The 1955 Stoller Report revealed that significant overcrowding, bad smells, dilapidation and short staffing were restricting mental hospitals across Australia to purely custodial roles. Jess Learing explained that, while the patients at Broughton Hall used to ‘go to the pub… up the street… go to the doctor and get a script’ and  ‘go to the chemist and get the script made’, the patients at Callan Park Mental Hospital did not have such freedom of movement[i]. The poet Francis Webb intermittently spent four years at Callan Park. He proved enigmatic, even to his literary peers. He trod a fine line between respect and mocking humour. The poet Geoffrey Lehmann visited Webb at Callan Park in 1966. He recounted: ‘As we were leaving, the nuns produced some bananas, which they handed to him [Webb]. With enormous courtesy – he was always very courteous – he said: “Thank you kindly, sisters. I much appreciate it. Like the animals at the zoo.”’[ii] Webb felt inappropriately caged.

Gerard Oosterman was similarly disapproving of Callan Park’s gaol-like and ‘intimidating’ atmosphere[iii]. In his autobiography, Almost There: Fragments of a Restless Life, he claimed that ‘the one item missing’ from his brother’s time at Callan Park was ‘genuine care’: ‘The nightmare of Callan Park courtyard, with bunches of keys hanging from scowling wardens belts, wasn’t acceptable, nor the wrapping up of Frank in wet bed-sheets when he became violent. This was 1960 not 1860.’[iv]”

The Sydney Morning Herald was especially harsh about living standards and care at Callan Park.

I wonder if the care for the mentally ill in Australia has improved since my brother moved back to Holland. I very much doubt it. Jails still are used as de-facto mental hospitals.



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22 Responses to “A squalid Relic and my brother Frank.”

  1. urban liaisons Says:

    Usually the situation should have improved in Australia like in the Netherlands or Germany, but nowadays you can also jail people with all kinds of medicine. As always you need a good doctors first of all!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. shoreacres Says:

    Even under the best of circumstances, coping with mental illness can be difficult — sometimes, excruciatingly so. A friend’s daughter was married to a man whose disease ended in suicide, under the most terrible circumstances I can imagine. He had the best care available, from therapies to drugs, but none of it did any good.

    I was startled to read about the practice of wrapping a patient in wet sheets. I remember hearing about that before, or reading about it. I’m not sure where I came across it, but I know that I’ve heard about it. The list of treatments attempted over the years probably is longer than we can imagine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, you are right. A cure for most mental illnesses is yet to be discovered. Frank remained as stuck in his illness as ever. The demons of his mind refused to give up. However, he was fine and happy most of the time but his flare-ups remained unpredictable and this could be dangerous.

      He simply needed constant care and quality supervision by trained and qualified staff.
      People need care from others and by others, irrespective of whatever they might or might not suffer from.
      A caring community provides that.

      It is proof of that care that Frank lived till a good and reasonable age despite the condition that he was in.

      The care for the mentally ill has to include housing for those that cannot be absorbed in a community. That is expensive, but so are billion dollars sporting arenas or gambling palaces.

      Countries have to make up their minds about what is more important.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Robert Parker Says:

    I’d read about wet sheets, and ice-water baths in straitjackets, in Victorian times, when the doctors believed they were treating inflammation of the brain.
    In the U.S., there’s 100,000’s of people with mental illness in prisons or homeless. The ratio of inpatient beds to total population is supposed to now = 1850 standard.
    The folks with less severe conditions, though, in New York, live in group homes – – we have at least three in my village, and my impression is that this was a great idea, and when I run into the residents grocery shopping, etc. they seem pretty happy. In Syracuse, the “tiny homes” advocates have started a neighborhood for homeless vets with severe PTSD to live in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      The treatment Frank received in Callan Park at that time was barbaric and even then would have been unacceptable in many European countries.
      Visiting Frank was a nightmare and it effected us deeply at the time when we had been told Australia was such a good country.

      It was a charnel house and despite a Royal Commission, nothing was changed. The supervisor at that time later on committed suicide when at another institution ‘Chelmsford’ dozens of patients were murdered by a ‘deep sleep’ therapy that this supervisor initiated.

      The emptying of mental institutions was a good idea but it wasn’t adequately funded. The mentally-ill were left on their own or placed in boarding houses. No one checked on their medication or physical health, with many ending up wandering the streets, unkempt, unshaven, shoeless and above all love-less and care-less.

      It was no wonder that assaults and violence followed, hence the incarceration of so many that were mentally ill.


  4. Julia Lund Says:

    I am sorry to hear of Frank’s death. I hope his last decades in Holland were happier than the time he spent in Australia.

    Liked by 3 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, he was happier, Julia, and he was being looked after.

      He had our parents there and when they passed away, other friends and relatives would visit him regularly. Till the end he kept up his interest in Australia and knew more about AFL and the Australian rugby teams than we ever did. He also had very nice volunteers that visited him.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. stuartbramhall Says:

    It’s the same here in New Zealand – which has the second highest incarceration rate in the world (after the US). I heard a statistic a few days ago that 75% of Kiwi women prisoners suffer from mental illness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, I don’t know the statistics of incarceration connected to mentally ill people. I know it is high in the US but thought NZ was more advanced in caring for the mentally ill.
      Here in Australia it is high too. We believe in punishment more than rehabilitation. Consequently we pay the price of having high rates of incarceration and re-offending.


  6. Curt Mekemson Says:

    When Reagan was President, he closed a number of mental institutions. The theory was that the people would be better served in their communities. The theory is probably correct but money was never provided to the local communities.The severe problems caused is one of the reasons there are so many homeless people in America now with serious mental conditions. it is particular hard for veterans. –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

    • Big M Says:

      Curt, the same was true here, in Australia. There were studies, even royal commissions on the care of the mentally ill, and developmentally delayed in the eighties. many Psychiatric and , so called, ‘retard’ hospitals were closed and the patients farmed out to ‘group homes’, and the patients renamed ‘clients’. There was also a big push to demedicalise the process, so very few nurses were employed, and medical review was only by external consultation. As with the US experience, not enough money was provided, or money was drained from other resources.

      In short, many mentally ill folk are also homeless, and the most likely ‘treatment’ is incarceration. A well meant programme gone sour!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Curt Mekemson Says:

        Sad, M. It was probably the same studies. I suspect the state and federal governments moved as fast as they could to reduce and eliminate their responsibilities. –Curt


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      The irony is that spending money on rehabilitation and mental health pays high dividends.

      The Dutch amongst many other North European countries have much lower rates of prisoners as a result of adequate spending on not just jailing but giving good rehabilitation on law breakers.

      This has been so successful the Dutch are facing a chronic shortage of prisoners to fill their jails to keep employing guards and associated personnel.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Curt Mekemson Says:

        “Dutch are facing a chronic shortage of prisoners to fill their jails to keep employing guards and associated personnel.” Boy, I wish we were facing that problem! –Curt


  7. doesitevenmatter3 Says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your brother Frank’s death. And the struggles during his life. 😦 It makes me so sad to hear about how he and others were/are treated. 😦

    I think things have gotten better for the mentally ill (over the past few decades), but it is still not good enough. 😦 Sadly, those who need the best care and most compassion, are often given the worst care and little compassion. 😦 Mental illness touches all people, so why is met with so much misunderstanding, ignorance and apathy?


    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      So nice to hear your words of comfort. Thank you. Frank will not be forgotten.
      I sometimes feel there has to be a connection between how we treat the mentally ill and Australia’s continuation of punishing refugees on Manus and Nauru. Those refugees are now facing their fifth year incarcerated for not having done anything wrong.
      How is it possible that we allow that?
      Hugs to you too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • doesitevenmatter3 Says:

        I don’t know. 😦 And I will never understand. 😦 And it seems like speaking up and trying to do something doesn’t even help…over all/ as a whole. So I try to get involved individual people’s lives to try to make a positive difference.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Andrew Says:

    Such a sad post Gerard. It interests me greatly that the Dutch seem to be much more open-minded and innovative in finding solutions to difficult social problems. I hope Australia has moved on but tragic and wrong that Frank had to endure such a wicked system.


  9. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    I am sad for your brother, though at least you got him out of there and to somewhere better. It is good though that your book is there, and being read, as a record of that time.


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