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October 30, 2020


A series of programmes about Fraser House, a total therapeutic community in 1960s Australia, featuring David Cruise and Dr. Les Spencer, a behavioural scientist and sociologist in Melbourne, Australia.


Programme Four: Ethics and Group Process"

DC I am David Cruise in Melbourne Australia for Radio TC International. 'Fraser House' is a series of Programs about Dr Neville Yeomans – the founder of the Fraser House psychiatric Therapeutic Community in Australia. This extraordinary unit ran from 1959 to 1968 and was responsible for introducing many psychosocial innovations into Australian society. The series introduces doctoral research into Neville Yeomans' work by Les Spencer a behavioural scientist and sociologist. I have Les with me in the studio.

LS Hi David

DC You were going to speak about ethics and Group Process in this program,

LS Yes. Fraser House had an impeccable ethic. The staff were very well trained and new staff were inducted thoroughly. Staff were also extremely loyal.

Neville was continually telling the staff to go home after their shift. Fraser House had excellent results in supporting residents to return to functional living in wider society. It was also considerably lower in cost than conventional asylums. So, it was an excellent model for replicating.

DC To what extent was Fraser House dependent on Neville Yeomans, and if he was so special a character, was Fraser House a one off – never to be replicated?

LS It was. Therapeutic Communities modelled on Fraser House were successfully replicated. One example was Kenmore Psychiatric Hospital set up with Neville's support. Another community modelled on Fraser House was set up at Callan House – which was a very old, very large asylum right on the harbour in Sydney. Both Kenmore and Callan House were very, very large. Dr. Mitchell from Kenmore Psychiatric Hospital in Goulburn was interested in setting up a 300 patient therapeutic community, a psychiatric hospital with over 1,800 patients. A file note by an unnamed author in Neville's collected archives states:

Dr. Mitchell was sent to Fraser House for a week of intensive training and received copies of Fraser House's rules, administration structure and committee organization. Neville had visits to Kenmore and visited Goulburn Base Hospital and developed liaison between Goulburn Base Hospital and Kenmore. Neville engaged in four days of continual supervision at Kenmore during one phase when he ran small and large groups in every ward of the hospital and delivered talks to all members of both staff and patients throughout over 1800 people. He also supplied Kenmore with a research instrument to act as case history records.

While their therapeutic community had around 300 patients Neville ensured all involved in Kenmore and the local hospital knew about this new Unit. That's the end of that quote Note the thoroughness of Neville in ensuring every single patient and staff member, as well as the local base hospital, were all thoroughly briefed. Neville's work with Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Russell at Kenmore was featured in a Goulbourn newspaper article on 19 June 1963 called, 'Kenmore's Group Therapy Plan – Leading Psychiatrist Visits Kenmore'. Dr. Mitchell is quoted in the article as saying, 'A large-scale community living or group therapy used at Kenmore since late last year has proved an unparalleled success'. (End of quote) Kenmore modelled their Committee structure/process on the one then in use within Fraser House. I was able to interview Dr J Russell as well as her son Ian (who had lived on the Kenmore Hospital grounds with his mother) and they both confirmed what I have just been saying. Callan House Therapeutic Community was researched as well and found to be very successful and low cost. However I think that it very important to say here that there is one example of an attempt to replicate Fraser House that was an absolute and unmitigated disaster.

DC This sounds very interesting!

LS Yes! And this occurred in Queensland in the period 1975 to 1987 and I am referring here to what was called Ward 10B. Word of this might have reached even to other parts of the world. It was a unit set up by Dr. John Lindsay at the Townsville General Hospital Psychiatric Unit. During the 1960's, Dr. Lindsay had requested permission to be, and had been an observer at Fraser House for three weeks.

Neville told me in 1992 that Lindsay believed that he 'slavishly' copied aspects of Fraser House in establishing and running Ward 10B in that period - 1975 and 1987. In doing this, Neville said that, 'Lindsay did not allow for the structure of the city of Townsville'. Neville said that in Ward 10B there was 'no evidence of using locality for evolving a way of life together connected to place' – what I'd call 'localised networking'.

Neville told me in 1993 that after he visited himself Ward 10B, Neville completely dissociated himself from having anything to do with it.

Neville said that this was because he sensed that Dr. Lindsay had 'too faithfully followed Fraser House in a different State, political and metropolitan context'.

As well, there was evidence that Ward 10B staff were in any way like Fraser House. They were far from being an effective team. Ward 10B was in no way encapsulating the Fraser House processes.

Now, in contrast I'll speak for a minute about Fraser House.

Fraser House staff rapport process was described in the following terms, and this is from a paper in Neville' archive that I'll quote:

The emotional comfort and satisfaction of Fraser House staff is one of the most significant features of the Unit's therapeutic program. The numerous staff meetings aim to foster this. Specifically their role is to prevent the development of covert, hidden conflict between staff members about patients. Such conflicts are proven to result in overt patient disturbance. The staff remains the most powerful members of a therapeutic community and their welfare and comfort are of paramount importance. (That's the end of the quote)

Back to Ward 10B then, following many complaints, Ward 10B was closed and became the subject of a Commission of Inquiry that reported in 1991. This inquiry sought to find out if negligent, unsafe, unethical or unlawful acts had taken place in Ward 10B. The conclusions of the report (Queensland Commission of Inquiry 1991, p. 461) were in part:

Clause 20.4 The primary lesson to be learned from the findings of the Commission of Inquiry is that what happened in Ward 10B between March 1975 and May 1987 must never be allowed to be repeated in this or any other psychiatric unit in any hospital in the State. Clause 20.5 The mentally ill population deserves expert care, compassion and solicitude, not abuse and rude confrontation, and above all they deserve to be spared from the excess of those who would wish to impose upon them eccentric and idiosyncratic treatment philosophies. Even more so, they deserve to be treated with all of the skill and learning which the caring professions can offer them.

That's pretty powerful –

DC Mmmm.

LS That's quite an extra-ordinary statement – in its wording

Dr. Lindsay gave his version of events– of course he had his perspective on this Ward 10B in a book called, 'Ward 10B - The Deadly Witch-Hunt' published in 1992.

I sense that Ward 10B can stand as a warning to anyone who may want to implement ideas culled from these radio programs without allowing for the interwoven, inter-connected, inter-dependent richness of Neville's way and value underpinnings.

I also think it would be useful research to compare differences between Fraser House and Ward Ten, especially between:

  • the roles of the respective directors - between Dr Neville Yeomans and Dr. Lindsay, and
  • the respective director's relationship with the respective staffs, and
  • the respective treatment philosophies and how they differed

DC Well there is no doubt that Neville was a very special character.

LS Yes he was. However, he was not indispensable. After Fraser House was running for 3 years Neville went overseas for nine months and the Unit ran very successfully in his absence. From 1966, Neville almost totally removed himself from the day-to-day running of the unit - very hard to reach. He was positioning Fraser House process to reach out into the community as a precursor to setting up Community Mental Health in Australia – which is what Neville in fact did as the pioneering and founding director of community mental health

In the next program I will describe what Neville did to prepare the staff, patients and outpatients for this nine month absence.

DC Thank you, Les. That concludes this program.

Listeners you can find Les' Cultural Keyline thesis on Fraser House on Internet at www.laceweb.org.au

I am David Cruise for Radio TC International

Programme Five: Going Berserk

Read the Script

Essential reading:

Dr. Les Spencer (2005), CULTURAL KEYLINE - The Life Work of Dr. Neville Yeomans, PhD. Thesis, School of Social Work and Community Welfare, James Cook University (Australia)

Email comments and questions to Les Spencer, for incorporation into later programmes: lspencre@alphalink.com.au

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