The records of Wolston Park Mental Hospital are secret for 100 years. Cover up or not? Listen to the podcast and make up your own mind.
In this Podcast Dr Jo Besley talks us through her journey of curating Remembering Goodna, an exhibition at the Brisbane Museum in 2007 and 2008. Goodna is one of the names for the Wolston Park Mental Hospital. The exhibition ran for 6 months and was visited by 60,000 people. The exhibition won an award for exceptional curation of sensitive material.
With the assistance of distinguished crime historian Professor Mark Finnane from Griffith University they dug up a lot more than they expected about its shocking history. On display were relics that Jo had found in a basement in one of the abandoned heritage protected buildings at Wolston Park. Among them, a mortuary trolley, an electric convulsive therapy machine, a barber’s chair, huge institutional tea-pots, lighters once chained to the walls of the wards, uniforms of nurses and wardens, syringes, cigarettes rolled in toilet paper, and an iron bed where a patient had once slept.
As part of the exhibition Jo interviewed around 40 former staff and patients of Wolston Park. She learnt that the most fascinating, and confronting history of Wolston Park was its human history. This is a history largely hidden behind closed files.
One day while doing research at Wolston Park, she saw, but was not allowed to read records of this institution. Jo recalls her frustration with the Public Records Act that protects the records of Wolston Park from being made public for 100 years. Convinced the release of these records are in the public interest, she supports an inquiry into the sordid history of the graves, the human rights abuses of patients, state wards and children with disabilities locked up in that place over the 20th century. Is hiding the records for 100 years in the public interest? Or is this a cover up? Listen and make up your own mind
Jo Besley has worked as a senior curator in Australia’s museums for almost two decades. She is currently working as a Senior Curator, Museum and Gallery, Coffs Harbour.
She has a Phd from the University of Qld called Other people’s pain: trauma and testimony in Australian museum.
About Remembering Goodna Exhibition
“Remembering Goodna: Stories from a Queensland mental hospital presented the difficult and complex history of Queensland’s oldest and largest mental hospital that was founded in 1865. In developing this exhibition, the Museum of Brisbane worked in partnership with The Park Centre for Mental Health (Queensland Health) and Professor Mark Finnane of Griffith University, an expert in the history of the hospital. The exhibition’s curatorial team employed processes and principles that ensured that the history of the hospital was presented sensitively,
and allowed visitors to engage with it at their own comfort level. The curatorial approach favoured first-hand accounts so that the people who had lived and worked at the hospital had the opportunity to speak for themselves. The stories of patients and hospital staff were told side by side, often presenting conflicting and contradictory viewpoints. The exhibition attracted 60,000 visitors, around 650 of whom left substantial written feedback.” (Source; Jo Besley LinkedIn)
Besley, Joanna (2018). Other people’s pain: trauma and testimony in Australian museums. PhD Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.https://doi.org/10.14264/uql.2018.678
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
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