Wolston Park Hospital was erected at Wacol in the mid 19th century at a time of the rise of the asylum everywhere over the ‘modern’ world. Over 155 years in excess of 50,000 inmates were confined in that sprawling institution, most involuntarily.
Relocated due to flooding and rebuilt, it had been constantly renamed over 155 years of its history. First the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum in 1865, followed by the Goodna Asylum in 1880, then the Goodna Mental Hospital, the Goodna Hospital for the Insane and in 1940 the Brisbane Mental Hospital. By the time my brother Randall Scott Carrington was admitted in 1978 as an involuntary patient it was called Wolston Park Mental Hospital.
You can read an official history of Wolston Park Hospital here. It doesn’t mention the dead bodies, the morgue, the hidden archives, the detention of children in adult locked mental wards, the chemical castration of homosexual men, the dishing out of experimental psychotic drugs, the administration of shock treatment without anaesthetic, straight jackets, beatings, strangulation with towels, sexual assault and seclusion cells. Wolston Park was a site of immense historical human rights abuses. These abuses remain hidden behind closed archives, protected by legislation designed to protect the institution. Meanwhile the trauma of former patients and their relatives remains privatised.
Crime historian Mark Finanne describes several periods of its operation from 1865 to 2001. During its first phase the asylum served as place of punishment and containment for ‘lunatics’ transferred from Brisbane gaol to what was initially called the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum. Woogaroo was a mispronunciation of a word used by the Yuggera Ugarapul first nations people who had inhabited the land for many thousands of years before it was stolen to house Qld’s first colonial mental asylum. Erected along the banks of the Brisbane river, inmates were transported by boat from the jail to the asylum. During the colonial era there was no pretence to offer anything other than confinement to protect the public from ‘imbeciles’ and ‘lunatics’. After the first of many inquiries in the 19th Century into the conditions and mistreatment of inmates the Asylum became regulated by the Lunacy Act 1869.
The largest state funded mental health institution in Queensland, Wolston park transitioned from being a place of confinement in the 19th century through several phases that reflected changes in approaches to mental health world wide. The Insanity Act 1884 reflected the increasing medicalisation of mental illness. Wolston Park became a place of moral therapy during the height of eugenics from 1909 to the 1930s. Then it became a site of mental hygiene during the 1940s and 50s, and finally as a holding pen for the mass institutionalisation of thousands of people labelled deviant or morally corrupt. This was also a period of radical experimentation using dubious psychotic drugs and medical therapies such as frontal lobotomies and shock treatment. Electric Convulsive Therapy (ECT), is the sanitised medical term.
This was the era during which my brother Randall Scott Carrington was locked up in Pearce House (from 1978 to 1979). In the 1980s after the expose of hideous human rights violations of people institutionalised in psychiatric hospitals a slow process of de-institutionalisation followed. The realisation finally dawned that institutionalisation literally made people mad.
The rare and distinctive architecture of the Woltson Park complex reflects this history. Stretching over more than 311 hectares, this expansive group of buildings surrounded by secure fencing was a total institution. The first time I visited my brother, Randall, I was aghast at the maize of roads, gardens, buildings, sheds, administration centres and on site services such as laundries, bathroom blocks and kitchens all divided by sex. They circled an oval with a cricket pitch, tennis courts and gardens enclosed by mesh. Inmates were segregated according to sex and category of diagnosis, the incurables, the schizophrenics, the hysterics, and people born with intellectual disabilities and so on. Some of the inpatients could be seen working in the kitchens, farms, sheds and laundries.
A century of human rights atrocities, 2800 Dead Bodies, 3 cemeteries and still no inquiry!
During the 20th Century, Wolston Park developed a reputation of over-crowding, mal-administration and patient mistreatment. It had become little more than a holding pen. With its own morgue and three cemeteries, its estimated that around 2800 patients died in Wolston Park, buried in trenches to be forever forgotten. That is, until journalist Lisa Herbert discovered the graves of corpses exhumed, placed in boxes and buried on mass in trenches. The headstones are marked by a number with the highest being 2300. This is how the poor sods labelled lunatics in life, were labelled in death. According to Lisa Herbert’s blog, the remains of around 200 ended up in Goodna Cemetery. The whereabouts of the other 2600 corpses remain a mystery and there’s never been an inquiry into the hidden past of Woltson Park’s morgue and cemeteries.
Remembering Goodna: An Exhibition
The historian Mark Finanne curated with Jo Besley an exhibition at the Museum of Brisbane, Remembering Goodna. It was visited by some 60,000 people over a six month period from 2007 to 2008. In a reflective piece about the exhibition they remarked upon the everyday tools of managing madness “distressing objects such as straightjackets, muffs, tranquilizers and other medications, Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) machines, keys for staff to operate taps, cigarette lighters kept chained to walls, and ‘combinations’ – the all-inone, flannelette undergarments that female patients were forced to wear for many decades and which they couldn’t undo for themselves.” (Besley and Finnane, 2011, p. 13).
Their article recounts memories of abuse. Below is one from a former patient.
“I have also witnessed bashings in the wards. I myself have had a wet towel placed around my neck and choked. On another occasion, a male staff member bashed my head against a wall, knocking skin off my face. He then said ‘You won’t do anything, you just hit your head on the wall.’ Bashings are quite common in security wards. Staff bash patients for any reason they like. Some nurses used wet towels around patients’ necks so as to choke them without leaving a mark. Larry, patient in 1968” (Besley and Finnane, 2008p 11)
Adele Chynoweth, an historian from ANU, has also investigated scandalous sexual, emotional and physical abuse of girls who were detained in Osler House, a locked ward for adult women at Wolston Park Mental Hospital, some of them during the same decade as my brother Randall. They were unlucky enough to be confined in Osler House, the sister house to Pearce House.
In an interview about why she wrote the book, Adele Chynoweth explains:
The history needs to be told so that it doesn’t remain as the Queensland Government’s dirty secret. The history needs to be aired with respect and scaffolded by meticulous research so that it isn’t confined to urban mythology, sensationalist gossip, voyeurism, the site only being the subject of commercial ghost tours, etc. This history is about conscious and systemised government policies that had tangible and long-lasting effects on real women in our lifetime. The Queensland Government needed to come clean on all that.Meet the Author: Adele Chynoweth, 2021
The Qld State Government still needs to come clean. Despite the undeniable evidence of systemic atrocities, there’s never been a public inquiry into the operation of Wolston Park Mental Hospital during the 20th Century. The archive of patient notes and extensive cache of medical records are conveniently closed to the public for 100 years, to a time when no-one living has a memory of any former inpatient in Wolston Park. I have been denied access to my brother’s records by the State Archives, even though he died 42 years ago. The curators of the Remembering Goodna exhibition were not even permitted access to any of the records. It is time for the Qld government to come clean, to amend the Public Records Act, and make amends for these past wrongs by establishing an Inquiry into Wolston Park Mental Hospital in the 20th Century. Here’s how you can support the call for a public inquiry. Click Here.
Besley, J and Finnane, M. (2011) Remembering Goodna: stories from a Queensland mental hospital in n Catherine Coleborne and Dolly MacKinnon (eds) Exhibiting Madness in Museums: Remembering Psychiatry through Collections and Display, Routledge, 2011, pp. 116-138
Adele Chynoweth, (2020) Goodna Girls: A History of Children in a Queensland Mental Asylum: ANU Press, Canberra
Finnane, Mark. “Opening Up and Closing Down: Notes on the End of an Asylum.” Health and History 11, no. 1 ( 2009): 9-24.
Finnane, Mark. “The ruly and the unruly: the uses of isolation in the management of the insane.” In Isolation: Places and Practices of Exclusion, edited by Alison Bashford and Carolyn Strange, 89-103. London: Routledge, 2003.
Finnane, Mark. “Wolston Park Hospital 1865-2001: a Restrospect, Queensland Review, 15, 2, 2008: 39-58.” Queensland Review 15, no. 2 (2008): 39-58.
Mark Finanne, 2001, Wolston Park Hospital, 1865-2001: a retrospect, Qld Review, 15 (2)
Jim Gardner, Inside the cuckoo’s nest: madness in Australia (Brisbane: Planet Publishing, 1977).
Lisa Herbert, An aerial photo and a sharp memory: location of missing Wolston Park Mental Hospital patients identified, Blog 20 March 2022
June Wrigley, The Less Travelled Way, published by Collins Dove, 1990.
Museum of Brisbane, Filmed Interviews, Remembering Goodna: stories from a Queensland mental hospital exhibition. Brisbane, 2007-2008.
Museum of Brisbane, Visitors’ Comments “Remembering Goodna” exhibition (Brisbane, 2007-2008).
Patients at Wolston Park Hospital. In Dark Hours. Brisbane: Wolston Park Hospital, 1997.
Qld Heritage, Wolston Park Hospital Complex, Qld Government.