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Figure One: Aradale Mental Asylum circa 1880’s. Courtesy of Heritage Victoria. What Happened at Aradale? Located

Figure One: Aradale Mental Asylum circa 1880’s. Courtesy of Heritage Victoria.

What Happened at Aradale?
What Happened at
Aradale?

Located in Ararat in central Victoria, Aradale Mental Asylum was built in 1864 and has become one of Victoria’s most infamous asylums. Throughout its approximately 130 years of operation, Aradale experienced many physical and administrative changes, but a change in the treatment of patients is still contentious. Due to a number of issues, it appears that while Aradale always seemed to have the best intentions to help patients, but it fell short and patients were subjected to questionable practices and treatment.

Gold was discovered in Victoria in the 1850’s and it caused an inundation of people and the establishment of many towns. Ararat, founded in 1857, was one of these towns. By the end of 1857 Ararat had grown to be home to between 30,000 and 50,000 people i . By 1859 work had begun on a County gaol that became known as J Ward ii , and the construction of Aradale began six years later in 1865 (© Copyright. R.G. Burgin 2015) iii .

The Building

Aradale was specifically built to help with the overcrowding that was occurring in the asylums already in existence, especially the Yarra Bend Asylum, and assumedly to improve the treatment and rate of cure of patients. It was built during a time when the medical and general society had begun to believe that moral therapy, that is treating patients with activities such as gardening, board games and reading along with medical treatment iv , was the most effective way to combat mental illnesses. As such Aradale was meant to be a retreat where people could go to improve their mental health. However, from the start the treatment of patients leant towards being negative.

Aradale, and its two sister asylums in Kew and Beechworth were built in barrack style buildings that entailed patients living like soldiers (© Copyright. R.G. Burgin 2015) v . It had already been found that living in a more natural style that consisted of houses and cottages, as was the style used at Yarra Bend was much better for the treatment of patients. However, this was more expensive as more staff was needed, so the decision

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was made to build huge, imposing buildings. Ironically, these were built to make a statement about the wealth of Victoria at the time, which was caused by the Gold Rush (© Copyright. R.G. Burgin 2015) vi .

was made to build huge, imposing buildings. Ironically, these were built to mak e a statement

Figure Two: Aerial shot of Aradale circa 2000. Author’s own photo taken of a photo/information board in the waiting room at J Ward, Ararat.

Overcrowding It took barely two years for Aradale to become overcrowded, and this problem only worsened. Despite many buildings being added. At it height, it is believed Aradale had between 60 and 70 buildings, though this number is contested (© Copyright. R.G. Burgin 2015) vii . Overcrowding occurred mainly because many people admitted to asylums that didn’t need to be there. This included people with drinking problems, and people of low intellectual capacity who would have been cared for at home before this time (© Copyright. R.G. Burgin 2015) viii . There is even a reported case where a man was arrested whilst having an argument with his wife, and as a result was almost interred in Aradale (© Copyright. R.G. Burgin 2015) ix .

Other than overcrowding, little can be found regarding treatment of patients (© Copyright. R.G. Burgin 2015) x . However, at this time the doctors in charge of asylums

like Aradale, more often than not surgeons, had little or no training in mental health. The nurses and attendants were poorly paid and held even less training (© Copyright. R.G. Burgin 2015) xi . Adding to this was some of the medical treatments at the time. For example, in England patients often had their heads shaved to allow their brains to cool because it was believed that the overheating of the brain caused insanity. Though there is no reference to this practice directly, inclusion in newspaper reports of the time hint at overheating brains being an accepted cause at Aradale (© Copyright. R.G. Burgin 2015) xii . At Aradale’s sister asylum in Kew, a wooden cabinet was found that patients would be strapped into. Water would fall from an overhead pipe as a form of water therapy (© Copyright. R.G. Burgin 2015) xiii . No such cabinet has ever been found at Aradale, but the similarity between Kew and Aradale may imply that some form of this water treatment was used. From all of this it can be assumed that the treatment of patients was unpleasant.

was made to build huge, imposing buildings. Ironically, these were built to mak e a statement

Figure Three : One cottage built to help with overcrowding. Though these types of buildings were more expensive due to more staff being needed, several were built at some point in time. Author’s own photo taken at Aradale, Aradale.

Zox Royal Commission

Interestingly, despite using treatments that are viewed today as barbaric, i.e.

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electroshock therapy; water therapy etc., the wider community of the time was very concerned with the treatment of patients. Following pressure from Ararat, the government ordered a Royal Commission into conditions at Aradale in 1886. Known as the Zox Royal Commission, it found the system at the time to be ‘very defective’ xiv . It contained about 65 recommendations (© Copyright. R.G. Burgin 2015) xv and directly led to changes in law through the Lunacy Amendment Act 1886 and the Lunacy Act 1903. Some of these recommendations also directly worked to help with the problem of overcrowding. One of these was that male patients who were criminally insane were to be housed separately from the general population. This led to the acquisition of the county jail by Aradale in 1886 xvi . Though it was meant to be a temporary measure, J Ward remained open until 1991 (© Copyright. R.G. Burgin 2015) xvii .

Another key recommendation was that people admitted due to drinking problems, or because of low intellectual ability, be moved to an asylum separate from ones for the insane. This led to the construction of the Kew Idiot Ward and other asylums for inebriates (© Copyright. R.G. Burgin 2015) xviii .

electroshock therapy; water the rapy etc., the wider community of the time was very concerned with

Dr. Eric Cunningham Dax The main changes to both Aradale and J Ward at the start of the twentieth century was physical as more buildings were added, and with the installation of a sewerage system in 1939/1940 xix . The next big change in terms of treatment and administration was in the 1950’s xx .

Dr. Eric Cunningham Dax was a British trained psychiatrist who was brought out to Australia in 1952 to revolutionise the various Hospitals for the Insane (as they had been called since the Lunacy Act 1903) in Australia xxi . He became Chairman of the Mental Health Authority and implemented many changes within the system xxii . The main one was the idea of occupational therapy. He believed that keeping the patient busy, either by working or by producing art, would help cure the patient and assist them in getting back into society, as had long been the aim of mental asylums xxiii . He worked to give patients more freedom xxiv and organised for patients to be paid for their work and to receive a pension from the government xxv . He drastically improved living conditions by cleaning all of the asylums and by moving patients to where they were supposed to be.

electroshock therapy; water the rapy etc., the wider community of the time was very concerned with

Figure Four: Front of J Ward as it appears today. Author’s own photo taken at J Ward, Ararat.

Figure Five: Dr. Eric Cunningham Dax. Courtesy of The Dax Centre.

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The problem of overcrowding had only gotten worse in the intervening years between the Zox Royal Commission and when Dax was appointed chairman. Dax realised that this impeded the diagnosis and treatment of patients, and tried to alleviate this problem xxvi . He did this by encouraging patients to be reintegrated into the community. The fact that Dax needed to implement changes and even be brought out to Victoria to improve the mental health system shows that the treatment of patients was not acceptable. It appears that the Victorian era idea of moral therapy had fallen out of favour, or had been forced out by overcrowding and the lack of training of carers and doctors.

Figure Six: The back of staff quarters today. Staff, especially unmarried women, lived at Aradale while
Figure Six: The back of staff quarters today. Staff,
especially unmarried women, lived at Aradale while
they were working there. Author’s own photo taken at
Aradale, Ararat.

The training of carers and doctors was also something Dax believed needed to be addressed, and he worked to do this by providing them with tutors to teach them about mental illness xxvii . For a while, it appears that Dax’s work, along with the implementation of new drugs and ideas regarding the treatment of mental illness, greatly improved the treatment, lives and living conditions of the patients. However once again something went wrong.

1991 Parliamentary Investigation

By 1991 things had become so bad that an

investigative task force was created to look into patient’s treatment at Aradale. The investigation was ordered when an anonymous source reported allegations of physical and sexual abuse of patients, unprofessional procedures, theft or misuse of patient and government funds and property and possible breaches of the law or codes of practice xxviii . Evidence confirming almost all of these was found, though physical and sexual abuse appears to have occurred between patients and not carers and patients xxix . This shows how far treatment had fallen from Dax’s time, and almost suggests that conditions were perhaps comparable with conditions when Aradale first opened.

Over the years, the number of patients had been gradually falling, but the number of staff, both direct carer and non-direct carers (cooks etc.), had remained steady and even gone up slightly. This directly affected the patients in term of competency because when there were more patients than staff, patients had been expected to help with their own care, through housekeeping. Once Dax worked to change things, it was also through paid work that improved conditions xxx . Surplus staff combined with the end of programs that raised issues around client rights, patients were left idle and with very little to do. One example of this was the vegetable garden at J Ward. According to guards, the patients had immense pride in regards to their garden, but were confused and upset when it was stopped because of issues about patient exploitation because they didn’t understand why they couldn’t do something they loved xxxi .

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Figure Seven: Courtyard of J War as it looks today. Not pictured is the gate leading
Figure Seven: Courtyard of J War as it looks today. Not
pictured is the gate leading to where the vegetable
garden was, but it is a wrought iron gate. Weeds and
grass can be seen through it. Author’s own photo taken at
J Ward, Ararat.

found basically, that there was widespread mistreatment in the form of handling of patient’s money, the amount and variety of food patients were getting and the fact that patients had little to do during the day. This was added to by things not discussed here due to space such as the roster of staff which didn’t allow for continuity of programs or care (it was a 2 days on 2 days off system) and accountability of staff in regards to their actions and treatment towards patients as well as theft. It is not surprising that J Ward was shut down in 1991, whilst Aradale was shut down in 1998.

In other cases, when programs such as cooking classes were actually run, the patients had no chance to apply the skills they had learnt, as they were not needed due to the sheer number of staff xxxii . Patients were completely reliant on staff, and this led to the opportunities for staff to mishandle the money of patients. It was the staff that decided when and how much money to draw from a patients account, not the patients. Although records were meant to be kept regarding these transactions, none were kept properly and this meant that whilst carers may not have deliberately stolen from patients, the investigation found there were funds missing xxxiii .

Aradale and J Ward have had a long and sordid history. Patient treatment appears to have been mainly negative, despite the many positive things Dax tried to do as Chairman of the Mental Health Authority. Overcrowding, lack of staff training, forms of treatment at the time and lack of things for patients to do were the main reasons for this. From the idea of moral therapy, to Dax’s changes and to the idea that asylum’s were meant to cure patients and then reintegrate them back into society, the mental health sector over the years appear to have had the best intentions, but it often fell short due the reason previously outlined.

Overall, there appears to have been much confusion regarding the roles of carers, especially in relation to rules and regulations. There was an overabundance of stock and supplies at Aradale due to carers and management not communicating, and this led to reports of widespread staff pilfering xxxiv . However, patients were underfed according to reports, and staff sometimes used patient’s funds to buy extra fresh fruit for the individual wards xxxv . The findings of the parliamentary investigation

Figure Seven: Courtyard of J War as it looks today. Not pictured is the gate leading

Figure Eight: Aradale from its driveway as it appears today. Author’s own photo taken at Aradale, Ararat.

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  • i Graeme Burgin, The J Ward Story, (Ararat, Victoria; The Friends of J Ward Inc., 2009), 10-

    • ii Burgin, The J Ward Story, 12.

      • iii Graeme Burgin, The Building (Ararat, Victoria; The Friends of J Ward Inc., 2015), 22. iv Lens Levin, ‘Bibliotherapy: Tracing the Roots of a Moral Therapy Movement in the United States From the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present’, Journal of the Medical Library Association, 101/2 (2013), 89.

        • v Burgin, The Building, 18.

          • vi Burgin, The Building, 19.

            • vii Burgin, The Building, 33.

              • viii Burgin, The Building, 78. ix Burgin, The Building, 56.

                • x Burgin, The Building, 77.

                  • xi Burgin, The Building, 77.

                    • xii Burgin, The Building, 79.

                      • xiii Burgin, The Building, 80. xiv Ephram L. Zox et al. Royal Commission on Asylums for the Insane and the Inebriate, ‘Treatment of the Insane’, [online document], (1886, Parliament of Victoria) http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/papers/govpub/VPARL1886No15Pi-clxxii.pdf, xxviii, accessed 6 th of October 2016.

                        • xv Burgin, The Building, 78.

                          • xvi Burgin, The Story of J Ward, 13.

                            • xvii Burgin, The Building, 78.

                              • xviii Burgin, The Building, 78. xix Burgin, The J Ward Story, 170.

                                • xx There has been contracting evidence as to whether it was in 1952 or 1957.

                                  • xxi Kenneth Clifford Kirkby, ‘Art for Psychiatry’s Sake: An Interview with Dr. E Cunningham Dax’, History of Psychiatry, 9/33 (1998), 39.

                                    • xxii Kirkby, 39.

                                      • xxiii Dr. E Cunningham Dax, Mental Hygiene Authority, Report on the 1957 Overseas Visit, (Victoria; 1957), 1. xxiv Dax, 15.

                                        • xxv Dax, 17.

                                          • xxvi Dax, 3.

                                            • xxvii Kirkby, 44.

                                              • xxviii Victoria, Parliament, The Investigative Task Force’s Findings on the Aradale Psychiatric Hospital and Residential Institution, Parl. Paper 198, Victoria, 1988-91, 5 http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/papers/govpub/VPARL1988-92No198.pdf, accessed 6 th of October 2016. xxix Victoria, Parliament, 94-110.

                                                • xxx Victoria, Parliament, 55.

                                                  • xxxi Burgin, The J Ward Story, 141-142.

                                                    • xxxii Victoria, Parliament, 55.

                                                      • xxxiii Victoria, Parliament, 45. xxxiv Victoria, Parliament, 49.

                                                        • xxxv Victoria, Parliament, 62-67.

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Primary Sources

Dax, Dr. E Cunningham Mental Hygiene Authority, Report on the 1957 Overseas Visit, (Victoria; 1957).

Victoria, Parliament, The Investigative Task Force’s Findings on the Aradale Psychiatric Hospital and Residential Institution, Parl. Paper 198, Victoria, 1988-91, http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/papers/govpub/VPARL1988-92No198.pdf, accessed 6 th of October 2016.

Zox, Ephram L. et al. Royal Commission on Asylums for the Insane and the Inebriate, ‘Treatment of the Insane’, [online document], (1886, Parliament of Victoria) http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/papers/govpub/VPARL1886No15Pi-clxxii.pdf, accessed 6 th of October 2016

Images

Figure One: Aradale Mental Asylum circa 1880’s, in National Trust Database [online

database], accessed 29 th of August 2016.

Figure Two: Aerial shot of Aradale circa 2000. Author’s own photo of information/picture board in waiting room at J Ward, taken 18 th of September 2016 at J Ward, Ararat.

Figure Three: Accommodation Cottages. Author’s own photo, taken 18 th of September 2016 at Aradale, Ararat.

Figure Four: Front of J Ward. Author’s own photo, taken 18 th of September 2016 at J Ward, Ararat.

Figure Five: Dr. Eric Cunningham Dax, in The Dax Centre [online website], accessed 17 th of October 2016.

Figure Six: Back of staff quarters. Author’s own photo, taken 18 th of September 2016 at Aradale, Ararat.

Figure Seven: Courtyard of J Ward, Author’s own photo, taken 18 th of September 2016 at J Ward, Ararat.

Figure Eight: Aradale from the driveway. Author’s own photo, taken 18 th of September 2016 at Aradale, Ararat.

Secondary Sources Burgin, Graeme, The Building (Ararat, Victoria; The Friends of J Ward Inc., 2015).

Burgin, Graeme, The J Ward Story, (Ararat, Victoria; The Friends of J Ward Inc.,

2009).

Kirkby, Kenneth Clifford ‘Art for Psychiatry’s Sake: An Interview with Dr. E Cunningham Dax’, History of Psychiatry, 9/33 (1998), pp.39-49.

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Levin, Lens ‘Bibliotherapy: Tracing the Roots of a Moral Therapy Movement in the United States From the Early Nineteenth Century to the Present’, Journal of the Medical Library Association, 101/2 (2013), pp.89-91.

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