My brother Randall Scott Carrington was detained involuntarily in Wolston Park Hospital 1978 to 1979. He was given 36 rounds of shock treatment, copious experimental psychotic drug treatments and effectively chemically castrated. He suicided at 20.
Qld State Archives have refused me permission to access my brother’s case files, as the files of patients like Randall are locked up for 100 years. By burying patient files in archives till no-one living has a memory of anyone detained in Wolston Park, these state institutions continue to evade accountability for past wrongs. In an era of inquiries into institutional child sexual assault in Australia and elsewhere, it is not good enough for State Government’s to hide behind laws that hide the past.
If you or anyone you know may have any experiences of being locked up in Wolston Park Mental Hospital, please reach out. I’d also really like to hear from anyone who remembers my brother Randall Scott Carrington. Here’s his story – or at least from what I remember visiting him in Wolston Park Mental Hospital.
My Memories of the Involuntary Inpatient Randall Scott Carrington, Pearce House 1978 to 1979
We had to pass through the guards on entry. Visits were strictly limited to certain times and days. “Who are you here to see?” “ Randall Scott Carrington my brother. It’s his birthday his 18th birthday. I have a present for him.” It was a new pair of flared denim jeans. They were the rage in the 1970s. His old jeans were tattered and frayed, from roaming endlessly round the walking yard, of the mental ward at Royal Brisbane Hospital, where he was initially locked up. When he turned 18 he was shunted here, to this ugly place, to Pearce House. “Can’t give them to him. Prohibited.”
I knock on the door. A guard opens the security door to the visiting room, “who are you here to see”. I repeat Randall Scott Carrington as I show my ID. “He’s not dressed yet, wait in here.” We enter the visitor’s room. I became impatient after 15 minutes, left the visiting room, walked down the hall turned left and then peered into a dingy room, where I saw my brother surrounded by several male wardens. Randall was stark naked bending over a huge pile of grey clothes trying to find a pair that would fit. I watched with excruciating pain as he lent into the pile pulled out a pair of grey trousers only for them to fall down. The wardens laughed. Here try another pair. It was a game to them. I flew off the handle screaming “what the [email protected] are you doing to my brother”. A tall thin mean bastard of a bloke pointed his horrible bent twisted finger at me as he walked toward me and in a loud voice “What the [email protected] are you doing here little miss. Your boots are too big for you. Pearce house has a sister house up the road (Osler House which was a locked ward for women). Now shut up or I’ll put you in the ladies den”. I retreated with anguish to visitor’s room. Five minutes later, Randall was delivered flanked by wardens on both side like a lopsided bag of potatoes, clothed in oversized grey pants strung up with a belt to stop them from falling down. This is called ‘stripping’. Upon entry to a mental institution patients are stripped of any signs of individuality – forced to wear the same clothes, mimic the same daily routines of eating, showering and sleeping.
Once they discovered Randall was homosexual, my brother became the ‘bum boy’ of Pearce House. There was plenty of opportunity to prey on vulnerable young men.
As a young psychiatrist Dr Paul White worked in Pearce House for men, and Osler House for Women. He recalled when interviewed on ABC Radio National:
there were 28 men, there was one bathroom, a communal eating centre and all of the men slept in one room on wrought-iron frame beds and then were put out into the fenced yard that had a 30-foot fence around it for the rest of the day. There were I think four or five seclusion rooms and it was regular that all of those seclusion rooms would be full…. The female unit was similarly appalling…There were a lot of people who really didn’t need to be here, the reasons for them being institutionalised or being locked up were really quite idiosyncratic and a lot of the problems that occurred were because people were locked up for no good reason. And a lot of those problems disappeared by opening the doors and letting people out.”(ABC Radio National Sat 17 Jul 2010)
My brother was confined to the seclusion room as punishment on numerous occasions. It was common to see bruises all over my brother’s torso.
When my brother was locked up in Pearce House, Wolston Park had just over 1000 inmates. Pearce house was erected in 1934. There are no pictures of Pearce house on the Heritage site. It looked a bit like Kelsey House at the back and bit like Gladstone House from the front.
Parts of the Pearce House were partially buried under ground surrounded by a Ha Ha fence. Ha Ha fences are an optical illusion used in zoos to create the false impression that large animals in captivity like Zebras, Rhinos and Elephants are allowed to roam free. Presumably, the Ha Ha is designed to appease the guilt of the tourists and to falsely reassure children, that our civilisation does not capture and lock up innocent animals for our enjoyment. From the outside looking in these large animals appear to be free. From the inside looking out they are imprisoned behind caged wire. Just as my brother was. Caged like an animal in a zoo. I remember bus loads of social work and psychology students visiting my brother staring at us as if we were the baboons. An austere brown brick one story building with three wings to make a U shape. On the opposite side to the visiting room was a large spartan room where men roamed, groaned and moaned endlessly. It backed onto a steel covered veranda with a view through the bars to a lovely green oval. Again another illusion. There was nothing lovely about this place. My brother was here for around 18 months from mid 1978 to 1979. He escaped at least once, only to be recaptured.
Just as Jack Nickolson in One flew over the Cookoos Nest, morphed into a vegetated state after being medicalised and literally made mad, that’s exactly what Wolston Park did to my brother. I watched his slow but certain demise through 36 rounds of shock treatment. The sanitised polite medical term is electrotherapy. At that time they didn’t even use anaesthetic. Jo Beasley curator of the Brisbane Museum Exhibition, told ABC RN
“they were lined up in the wards and would actually witness other patients getting the treatment and it’s a major shock, the whole body convulses, they needed five or six staff members to hold people down. So I think it was a very frightening thing to witness, knowing you were then going to get it yourself. We’ve also got a spoon here wrapped in a bandage because of course they needed to stop people from biting their tongues during this shock.”(ABC RN 30 September 2011)
I recall the effects of shock treatment on my brother were profound. He told me he felt like he was burning on the inside. He looked like it as he sweated and shook uncontrollably. His posture changed from upright to stooped, and his gait transformed into a short series of shuffles. He spoke in one syllable monotones usually one word repeated over and over. The only words he could utter that day were “mum” “where’s mum” “mum” where’s mum”. I ached then, more than four score years ago, and still ache now from the memories of my 18 year old brother Randall, locked up in that foul place. I felt a blackness descend hollowing out my spirit and soul as if I was empty inside. I was 16 at the time and all alone in the world.
Next visit, the long lanky bastard whose name I never knew, dragged Randall into the visiting room. He was drugged and appeared to be in a trance like state. I cried out ‘what have you done to him. What have you done to my brother you bastard’. In a deep grouchy voice he said, ‘he was playing up, and that’s what you get for playing up in here.’ ‘Now you’ve been warned before unless you want to end up in Osler the sister house, shut the [email protected] up’.
Randall sat huddled in the corner of the hard wooden seat – like the kind you associate with churches. Endless chain smoking was his only comfort. With shaking nicotine stained fingers, he puffed on cigarette after cigarette. The wardens used to hand ‘cigis’ out like lollies. In the other pocket they carried needles containing powerful psychotic medicines, as another chink in their armour to contain the hapless lot. When I looked into Randall’s eyes this day, pleading for recognition, for some sign of the brother I once knew, his once green eyes pierced through mine, like spaced out spirals of steel. He was vacant, out to lunch, a pale stooped miserable version of his former self in an existential crisis, of being there but not being there.
Next visit, I had a plan to disrupt the bleakness of Pearce House. Randall loved David Bowie, knew his 1970s songs off by heart; “Changes”; “Young Americans”; “Diamond Dogs”; “Life on Mars”; and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”. I bought Bowie’s newest album released 23 September 1977 ‘Heroes’. I snuck the tape and tape player past the snooping guards, in a picnic hamper along with Randall’s favourite foods. This time he wasn’t comatose, he was actually with it, well as much as anyone could be ‘with it’ after so much shock treatment and psychotic drug treatments. He’d found a friend, another young gay guy also locked up who was unsurprisingly also fond of the gender bending David Bowie.
Another year passes. Its 1979. The psychiatrists had a diagnosis for Randall now. He was – or rather had become- schizophrenic. Not just gay after all. At the time of my brother’s institutionalisation, only males in Queensland could be punished for homosexual acts – defined as ‘unnatural offences’ of anal intercourse between two males, or otherwise ‘indecent practices between males’ which meant everything sexual bar sodomy. It wasn’t till January 1991 that consensual acts of homosexuality between men were expunged as crimes under the Qld Criminal Code. Men could also be penalised for ‘indecent acts’ under the Vagrants, Gaming and Other Offences Act (1931). As far as I know my brother was never convicted of such an offence, being 17 at the time he was first scheduled and made a state ward. When released into my care 18 months later, he was effectively chemically castrated and put under a regime of regular psychotic injections.
Randall committed Suicide aged 20
Caught in bed with his boyfriend, aged 20, my brother Randall chose to kill himself rather than face the prospect of being returned to Pearce House. He died of asphyxiation by hanging on or around 6-7 October 1980. I’d really like to hear from anyone who remembers my brother Randall Scott Carrington. The case files of patients like Randall are locked up in archives for 100 years, conveniently till no-one living has a memory of anyone detained in Wolston Park. If you are able to help, please reach out and make contact. He did not die in vain. His memory lives on. I want some justice for Randall and some peace of mind for me.
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