When Randle Patrick McMurphy (played by Jack Nicholson) was admitted to Oregon State Psychiatric Hospital he never dreamed that the psychiatric hospital could be more oppressive than the prison. “One flew over the cuckoo’s nest” changed the way I saw psychiatry for ever. I didn’t realize at the time that we had our own cuckoo’s nest in Adelaide. In the back of Glenside hospital was “Z” ward (pronounced zed). The original name was L ward, but this was easily denigrated to “Hell” ward and so it was changed to Z ward. Mind you the title “Hospital for criminal mental defectives” was intimidating enough.
Last monday Frances enrolled me in the historical society tour of the iconic building. “Make sure that you don’t drive into the main entrance at Glenside. It is accessed off Conyingham street behind the Mineral Foundation building.”
Our guide explained that the building was designed by Edward John Woods who also designed the post office and the Adelaide Town Hall. “Just look at all of that polychromatic brick work.” As we stepped inside the gate it became apparent that the 9 foot high wall on the outside was actually an 18 foot brick wall on the inside. The so called “HaHa” wall was recessed at the base so that it was twice as tall on the inside.
The roofline was festooned with chimneys that looked like they were plucked from the roof of Hampton court. The windows were arched with hundreds of tiny glass panes. It would be impossible to force your way out through one of these windows. The prison was designed to be well ventilated. The Victorians believed in fresh air to clear the mind.
She told us tale after tale of the sad lives of the inmates. Murderers who’s crimes could not be understood by the courts of their day. The inmates often died in prison, being held at the “governors pleasure” for the whole of their lives. A few were released. One man was murdered by his cellmates. One remote aboriginal man was incarcerated principally because he couldn’t speak english or be be understood. Many of the inmates had previously suffered head injuries.
There were many small features worth noting, an air vent with a piece of paper stuffed into one of the openings. Perhaps a note from a poor soul decrying his fate. The tiny glass pane that acts as a small opening window in the midst of a vast expanse of glass. The peepholes in the doors that are recessed to allow a wide field of view. The slate floors. It was a pity that there wasn’t more light so that I could take more pictures.
In the 50’s and 60’s the inmates were administered heavy sedation with the new anti psychotic drugs. The dosages were excessive and unkind. ECT was administered liberally. The object was to render the patient compliant. The doses were not therapeutic. At least the inmates were easy to control.
The building had a Victorian ambiance. It spoke of a different time and of different values. On the surface there was an attempt to create a beautiful and calming environment. However there was an underlying cruelty. Inmates were at times isolated in their cells without contact for days on end. I am reminded of the Edgar Allen Poe’s horror tale of “Dr Tar and Professor Feather” where the inmates switched places with their warders. The Victorian sensibility certainly didn’t want to be on the receiving end of their treatments for the mentally ill. I guess that hasn’t changed.
It was 2 hours before we were let out of the building to make way for the ghost tour that followed. I enjoyed the tour. Certainly this is one of Adelaide’s hidden secrets.