Posts Tagged ‘Schizophrenia’

Schizophrenia; Care or jail-time?

June 11, 2019


Left to Right; Frank and Gerard about 1942!

Last night’s 4 Corners program on the ABC featured the story of a young man who after many years of abhorrent behaviour ended up killing 6 people. It traced his days as a young boy who went through school whereby according to the friends and teachers he already showed up as a boy who was different, with strange behaviours who was increasingly becoming more and more erratic and dangerous. At 14 years of age the school went into lock-down as he had taken detonators to school. He gave as reason;  to blow up the school and get even with his fellow students for picking on him.

James Gargasoulas was a troubled young man. The ABC decided to spend seven months on the story in order to point out that the tragedy not only could have been, but should have been avoided. It was clear that his spree of crime and violence was well known to the police and for some years. Nothing was done about him and one wonders why when the signs were so overwhelming and his behaviour so unpredictable that nothing was done to try and find out why his behaviour was so unpredictable. Why did it not get picked up that his mental state was in need of serious diagnoses and given some kind of mental examination and care? The only thing sure was the continuation and repeat of his unpredictable behaviour. He was diagnosed with Schizophrenia but none-the- less sent to life-time jail. He killed 6 people. It seems that the only place for mentally ill people who commit violence in Australia is jail.

This whole episode brought back the story of my own brother, Frank. He too was unpredictable and given to bouts of rage and violence. His behaviour too started well before adulthood. He too stood out and was different. His behaviour became unmanageable for my parents and at one stage after have stabbed one of my brothers with scissors was taken in and put in a mental hospital. This was back around 1958 or so, when Frank was just 19, and I was one year younger. His stay in that mental institution was something out of the middle ages or Bedlam. He would be wrapped in wet blankets to try and subdue him! Wardens would walk around with keys dangling from belts. I am just regaling memories of a period when I too was still a young man.

014Frank's birthday

(Right) My dear brother Frank in Holland, a few month before he passed away.

It was a horrible situation.  Our family suffered badly during that period. There was (as so often) a Royal Commission in the affairs of that Mental Hospital, Callan Park, but nothing improved. I am not sure if mental health has improved in the intervening decades! I doubt it. The episode of James  Gargasoulas is proof that mentally ill people remain undiagnosed and not given due care, no matter what happens, and what terrible deeds result from their unpredictable nature due to that illness.

At one stage my brother Frank jumped from a bridge and badly mangled his foot. After many years of bureaucratic battles my parents managed to get him back to Holland where conditions for mentally sick people already then were much better. For the rest of his life he was given good care and was no danger to others or himself. He spent a lifetime in a care institution where he would be managed  and looked after as well as possible. He would be given good care for his physical well being. He had an income for his cigarettes, clothes, or whatever he wanted. He had his own room with TV and suitable mobility equipment towards his latter years. He died almost two years ago aged 79. Below is a photo taken a few moths before he passed away. His life was not wonderful but he was given good care.

Frank could easily have ended up like the poor boy from Coober Pedy, James Gargasoulas now in jail. He killed six innocent people. It could have been avoided!

A squalid Relic and my brother Frank.

December 9, 2017

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.


Another Magnum Opus?

September 23, 2016


With the terror of our Strata compound life now bedded down with the doona pulled off the carcasses of the cowering recalcitrant owners versus renters, it is time to move forward. The weather, after a few shy days of an almost warm sun has turned cool again. Spring can’t make its mind up knocking off Southern Highlands windy weather.

Another notification by Amazon crediting my account with the previous month sale of both my books, pleased me no end. Not that the amount was anywhere in the league of a Mark Zuckerberg earnings, but… a sale is a sale. Somewhere in this world people are reading my books and that is very pleasing. It’s what I try to think about pushing aside other thoughts preventing me from a sound sleep. That’s part of many years lived and memories piling up.

The third book will be a compilation of when I started writing. It would have been around two thousand and eight. I knew many English words already then but had never anticipated that I would try and put them down on paper in a reasonable manner and order. WordPress tells me I have now written almost nine hundred pieces. Where has the time gone, my Mother would say while sighing.

So, the first sixty thousand words I wrote about my brother Frank’s life-long battle with chronic schizophrenia interwoven clumsily in our family’s story of migration to Australia in nineteen-hundred fifty-six. Here is a sample of some of those words.

“That something was not quire right about my brother Frank came at the time at the age of eight or so, the teacher noticed Frank’s beautiful handwriting. While the hand writing was in long up and down strokes, with swirly Ws and majestic Ms, the problem was not the beauty of it all, but more the time it would take him to perfect this skill. In fact, he would painstakingly take all day to do what should have taken him one hour. No matter how he was praised and how we all stood back in awe of his beautiful writing, the friendly urging to keep up with the rest of the class was ignored and he would take all the time in the world to perfect his writing. This wanting to be perfect in whatever he undertook is what would plague him for the rest of his life.

The eleventh of August 1939 would prove to be a most unfortunate date for Frank to be born. The rumblings of unrest in our part of the world were getting ominous and louder. Sometimes one could easily surmise that Frank’s problems started at his conception. Not only the wrong time for births in general, Rotterdam was also a bad place and the wrong place, especially around August the following year when I was born as well.”

Frank and own House.

May 18, 2015
Life in the garage with mother looking on. My Lambretta scooter with sister Dora.

Life in the garage with mother looking on. My Lambretta scooter with sister Dora.

With so much happening despite the dramas, the joys, and many tearful tribulations, life in the garage assumed some normality, even became routine. Things fell into place. We got a pet dog and chickens were bought at the markets in Sydney at 6 weeks of age. They all turned into roosters. Dad could not eat chickens from the shop let alone our own roosters. The roosters probably killed each other or possibly got killed by that dog in the photo. I think my brother John started breeding his pigeons after the debacle of the fighting roosters.  We all had our place and those who worked kept surrendering earnings to our chief accountant who was now targeting the next objective; the building of our own home. After two years of some very tight turning and twisting in the crowded garage our house was built and we moved in. It was a glorious day. My mother’s saving and scrimping were legendary amongst  immigrant’s communities. She used to scrape the butter from the paper, shake the tomato sauce bottle, and empty the last smidgen of jam, that I have yet to see repeated anywhere in the world. And I have seen some scrapings! She sewed, patched, and knitted with not a minute to waste. If it was loose not nailed down, mother made it either into a meal or into garments or something useful, even pan holders. It was no wonder we could get the house built after just two years in the garage.

The photo above shows me on my scooter just before taking a round trip Sydney to Melbourne through the Snowy Mountains. It would be a trip of well over two thousand kilometres. I packed enough clothing, a small tent and some cooking utensils, including I suppose, a fork and knife. I went with a Dutch friend who had a Vespa. Vespa were considered a bit more upmarket. During that period I became part of a scooter club that met fortnightly at an ambulance-hall in Parramatta. My friend took a complete suit with him. He knew a girl from the Migrant boat that lived near Melbourne!  He planned to visit her. I did not know any girls but was keen on them from a distance anyway.

Hand coloured etching

Hand coloured etching

The trouble with Frank might well have been one reason for this trip. I wanted to get away!  It was such a creeping illness. The behaviour did not add up and it must have been such a puzzle. Why would Frank so often behave  bizarre?  He  was his own worst person and even though at times he was sorry for his behaviour, it would not stop and seemed incapable of stopping. My parents hoped that with the move into bigger house, things would get better. We were counselled by my mother to try and accept Frank and include him more. However all of us were younger than Frank. We might have felt sorry, I did, but we also had own friends, own growing up to do. Slowly Frank did become excluded. It was all too strange and upsetting.  I would hear my parents talking into the deep of the night about the problem of Frank. It crept into our lives as nothing before, not even the experiences of migration and the sardine-like condition in our previous fibro garage came close to this problem, let alone understanding the reasons or getting it resolved. It was all getting dark and joy of our own house was slowly leaching away.  It could be tempting to feel that the migration and other traumas effected Frank badly but there were already things with Frank before the immigration from Holland.  I remember Frank was taken out of high-school in Holland to learn a trade with a watchmaker. However, it did not last long…Frank’s behaviour already then was becoming erratic. He would be very obsessive about certain things and not with other more important issues. He was becoming a bit outside of things.

My parents in front of their old house. It was their last visit to Australia.

My parents in front of their old house. It was their last visit to Australia.

After Frank’s run with so many jobs in Australia, almost on a weekly basis, it must have dawned on my parents that Frank had a serious problem. It all came to a head when once again Frank had become violent and thrown a pair of scissors at his brother John. The scissors were sticking out of John’s thigh. My father took the pointy scissors out while Frank escaped through the front door. At the time dad was doing some drying of dishes. Dad followed Frank outside with the dish towel still hanging over his shoulder. Frank was faster but both run up the hill with dad in pursuit. Frank, half way up the hill then ran into someone’s garden and hid himself between the bushes. As dad arrived with tea towel still slung over his shoulder, the owner of the house and his garden came out brandishing a shot gun. Without mucking about or further ado or contemplation of this strange event and Frank hiding in his azaleas, the man pointed his gun at the sky and fired a deafening shot.  This seemed to calm the situation. The police arrived and Frank was taken away. This was the last day in Frank’s life where he would enjoy a normal family life. Of course, ‘normal family life’ is open to question and has endless variations. Nothing is really normal. So much still to come and so many answers for begging.