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When I was a little girl in Budapest, one of my father’s prize possessions ( along with ‘Mari neni’, the skull sitting on our bookshelf) was a globe of the earth with a light in it. I loved that globe. ‘See just here, if you put a knitting needle in it from Hungary, it will come out in New Zealand,’said Dad. He claimed that New Zealand was a land of eternal spring, geysers and naked Maoris, and then he remarked, ‘That is where I would like to go‘ – as far away from the hated Communism of the 1950s, as possible. ( Suzanna Taryan, 2020, p. 11).

There are all sorts of ways to make history. This book by Suzanna Taryan is about the living and the writing of it – from her Hungarian childhood, her escape to New Zealand with her parents, and eventually her role in the early establishment of the professional branch in psychiatry, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, and Infant Mental Health at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne Australia. Her story is part of the larger refugee story – as Settler Australia and New Zealand evolved from Britishness to becoming culturally diverse nations – and all that this might mean.

I had interviewed Suzanna for my Clara Geroe project late in 2019, before the pandemic. Among other matters I am seeking to understand the Hungarian emigre experience – and its influence on the development of the psychoanalytic culture in Australia. Suzanna, just ten years old when the Hungarian Uprising occurred in October 1956, was happy to oblige. And in a sense this book, written for her family, signals the completion of her own personal project, a task triggered by my interest. She has a story to tell.

At the time of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 Suzanna and her parents were living in an apartment next door to the AVO – the secret police building in Budapest. They did not want for an electricity supply… other Budapest households were apparently not so endowed. But when the people marched on the AVO building and dragged the police out onto the streets, and killed them, Suzanna and her family saw too much. Enough to decide to escape. Suzanna’s parents had experienced enough during the war. Her mother’s family perished in Budapest at the hands of the Hungarian fascists when the Russians swept in to liberate Budapest in 1944. Her father had spent time in a forced labour battalion. Of the Russians, Suzanna recounted her father’s words: “The Liberators forgot to leave after the war”. He opposed anything to do with Communism. Even though as he explained to his daughter, knowledge of that opposition had to remain within the walls of the family. Outwardly there would be conformity.

I have come to admire this man, Suzanna’s father. I like his wisdom and chutzpah! He was a survivor. He saved Suzanna’s mother’s life. I hope someone will make a movie about him.

And so the family escaped from Hungary, late in December 1956. They took buses and trains. They walked, with a few possessions and clothes stashed in backpacks, from Budapest all the way to the border between Hungary and Austria. Ten years old Suzanna carried the precious brew intended for bribes along the way. They tramped through deep snow, lost their money to unscrupulous guides, walked around in circles in darkness and eventually were found by Austrian people who provided shelter, food, and rest before the bus trip to Vienna.

Then there was the journey from Vienna to New Zealand where the family settled, and, eventually for Suzanna, Australia -all told through vignettes that mirror the people and culture of the time – their Britishness, smug superiority and their shock at Suzanna’s difference. There is Suzanna going to school without knowledge of English, being put into a class lower than her ability, shooting to the top and eventually making her way to medical school in New Zealand before undertaking psychiatry training in Melbourne. Suzanna tells her story through short descriptions of her encounters with senior professionals, the seminal moments in her life. Her battle to become a child psychiatry trainee – she had to qualify as a psychiatrist first – is told with wry humor as she overcomes one hurdle after another. Dr R, Director of Psychiatry at the Royal Children’s Hospital had put the ‘no vacancy‘ sign up when Suzanna applied for a registrarship there. She ended up at Prince Henry’s Hospital then in St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Her cultural difference was one matter to contend with. There was also the assumption of male superiority… has it gone away?

There are personal stories along the way, marriage, family, illness – all the things that constitute a life. Suzanna finally makes it to a consultant psychiatry job at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. She is appointed to the Craniofacial unit alongside Dr L, the Chief Psychologist. Together they became pioneers. They built a body of experience and literature, about early parenthood of children born with facial deformities. It is creative, ground breaking work as the two devise research projects, observational studies of mother infant interactions, write it up and publish articles. Their collaboration is worthy of further study – it was part of the early development of the Infant Mental Health unit at the Children’s. Suzanna also lectured in this field at international conferences – part of the team brokering Australia’s reputation world wide.

I spent a brief period at the Children’s early in my professional career and was aware of this work, albeit from a distance. Dr L was also very influenced by the psychoanalyst Dr Clara Geroe during the 1950s.

This little book by Suzanna is a about courage, luck, and fighting to make opportunities happen despite the odds. It is an excellent contribution to the understanding of the Antipodean refugee story, and the Australian development of international mental health practice for infants. If you wish to obtain a copy of Suzanna’s book please send an email to freudinoceania@gmail.com