, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

With many thanks to Antoinette Ryan...

It is the practice of the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Association of Australia to have its annual conference during the Queen’s Birthday Weekend in June. Because the PPAA is a federated structure, with each state having its own psychoanalytic psychotherapy association, each state takes its turn to hold the annual conference.  In recent years the preference has been for city venues. People are time poor these days. But for some years the conferences, which began in 1982, were often held in country venues around Australia. One can imagine how lovely it would have been to troop off to a winery, or to an island off Queensland, in the tropics where it is warm and sunny in contrast with the cold of the southern midwinter, for a weekend of fine dining, wining, talk and frivolity.  But in 1998 the organisers decided that St Josephs Home, a disused Catholic orphanage in Ballarat, a goldfields city in Victoria, some two hours drive from Melbourne, would be an apt venue. Why this was chosen is lost in the veils of history. The effect on conference delegates housed together for three days in a place where there were so many relics and reminders of the harsh lives of former residents, the little children who lived there, lies behind the composition of an anthem. Ostensibly it is a song for psychoanalysis. I think it is for those little children.

Ballarat, a regional city of some 86,000 people, was once the site of the first Victorian gold rush which began in 1851. Fortune seekers flocked to the diggings from Britain, America China and Europe – one of them my great grandfather in 1856. He tried his hand at digging but eventually became a policeman. He was too late for the Eureka Rebellion of 1854, a protest by the ‘diggers’ against licensing fees, whether one was successful or not, and enforced by the police. After the gold was spent Ballarat did not decline as several other towns in the region did but turned itself into a commercial government centre servicing the western districts of the state. In this corner of the British Empire grand buildings and large houses were built, schools. parks and gardens were established and the churches each staked out their hill. This small city, echoing the British life at home in the old country, also had its share of hospitals, asylums gaols and orphanages. The Ballarat Asylum built in 1877 was renamed the Ballarat Hospital for the Insane before becoming the Lakeside Mental Hospital. It was called the Lakeside Psychiatric Hospital when it closed in the 1990s.

St Josephs Home in Sebastopol Ballarat, was founded c.1911, and closed in 1980. During the last decade or more the Forgotten Australians, children who grew up in such homes, have begun to describe and document their experiences. This has culminated in two national apologies from the government. The first to the ‘Stolen Generations’, children of Aboriginal origin removed from their parents, in February 2008. The second apology, which occurred some eighteen months later in 2009, was to the ‘Forgotten Australians’, to all children who had been placed in out of home care. This came after many years of lobbying by these groups  and investigation by the relevant bodies which included the Catholic Church. The children, now adults, tell of their abandonment, and the search for a good maternal figure. Some tell of the lies they were told, that their mother was dead, to discover, years later, that their mother was alive and that her letters to them were with-held. Children remember harsh conditions in which they were forced to live. They recall the exacting  and arbitrary discipline that often disguised physical and verbal aggression. Many were sexually abused and as I write, a Royal Commission investigating child sexual abuse in institutions is traversing the country gathering evidence. In 2009 the University of Melbourne also apologised for its use of ‘orphan children’ for medical experimentation. In all these accounts the alone-ness of each child pierces one’s heart as we listen to their struggle to survive. This is not to say there were not good experiences to be had and, indeed institutional care may have provided relief from very difficult home circumstances. However the question about why the state of Victoria chose institutional care over boarding out of its state children remains. Recognition of the value of the maternal bond for the well-being of children, argued carefully by prominent author and activist, Catherine Helen Spence, in her 1907 book, State Children in Australia, was  incorporated into state children relief legislation in New South Wales and South Australia from 1871.

Members of 1998 psychotherapy conference  at the Ballarat orphanage, a live-in event in one of the coldest regions of Victoria in the depth of winter, thought a great deal about the history of these buildings and former residents. They were haunted. Too.  Were there ghosts in the room? Or did they  hear their endless cry of little children or caught glimpses of others locked in silence of despair? It was the oppressive quality of the atmosphere they remembered. There was no beauty in that place.

One of those who attended that conference was Antoinette Ryan. During her long career, beginning as a psychiatric social worker in Melbourne and Sydney, Antoinette has held various official positions in the Victorian Association of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapists, including Chair of the Membership Committee and of the House Committee, and has been a member of the VAPP Council and the Training Committee.

She retired two years ago, and now devotes her time to socializing with family and friends, painting classes, and learning the art of bonsai. Occasionally she surfs, either in Cornwall or Tasmania. She has written short stories, and was a potter for some twenty years.

‘It was a terrible place’, she said of the Boys’ Home. “We were haunted by ghosts of the place; we all felt spooked. It was terribly oppressive.’ She wanted to find a way to respond, to counter the deadly sense of emotional deprivation about her. And so an anthem was created.

Here are the words of the anthem, published here with Antoinette’s permission. It is to be sung to the tune of ‘Jerusalem’ with apologies to William Blake and acknowledging the composer Hubert Parry, who composed it in 1916 as an anthem to a nation in the depth of the Great War. It was subsequently appropriated by the suffragettes, with Parry’s permission, and first sung by a massed women choir at the Royal Albert Hall at a suffrage rally in 1918 as an anthem for freedom from oppression

‘Jerusalem’ is an apt choice of melody and sentiment. It urges reclamation of mind and soul. It is a protest against oppression as it urges us to fight for our lives as the little children had to do. The date of composition for Antoinette’s piece was 7 June 1998. It was revised on 10 June 2007. Here it is. You can sing it if you like!

PPAA Anthem

So here we are, as Winter comes,
Gathered to meet and share concerns.’
So we are here, we meet again,
From distant corners of our lands.

And do we dare to hope for more?
For therapy to grow in depth?
Till be defeat despair, beat despair,
And foil destruction’s grasping hands.

Bring us our chair, our couch of pain,
Save us from mem’ry and desire,
Bring us our Freud, our Jung, our Klein,
For highest standards we aspire…

We will not hold with mental flight,
Nor let our inner hearts be blind
Till we have traced the threads, faced the dreads,
And fortified our thinking minds.

If you would like to be reminded of the original ‘Jerusalem here it is.