Craft activities at Mont Park, c 1960s
Ilyia Bircanin, The Dax Centre
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The Dax Centre
In Victoria, institutions providing some form of care or control for people with mental illness or intellectual disability have existed since 1848, with the opening of the Yarra Bend Asylum, which later closed in 1926.
When the need to close the Yarra Bend Asylum arose, land in Bundoora was purchased in 1907. This site later became the home of Mont Park Psychiatric Hospital, and consequentially, Larundel and Plenty Psychiatric Hospitals, of which Mont Park was the parent hospital.
It was not long after the completion of the first building in 1910, that physical activity for patients was introduced. With the arrival of the first patients from Yarra Bend asylum in July 1912 to be housed in the Farm Workers’ Block, work was considered to be important to stimulate patients who were considered to be ‘dull and lifeless’ (Bircanin, 1995, p.3). However, it was not until 1934 with the appointment for six months of Miss Lucy Syme, in the role of occupational therapist at Mont Park and Kew Mental Hospitals, that such practices were actively encouraged. A number of the Mont Park inmates were successfully employed in local Heidelberg businesses. Proving successful, Syme continued in the role of department occupational therapist until 1949.
During the 1950s and 1960s, a dual emphasis emerged that provided patients with experience of industrial-type work and encouraged them to express themselves through the creative arts. After Dr Eric Cunningham Dax was appointed the Chairman of the Mental Hygiene Authority in 1952, he introduced art programs into Victorian psychiatric hospitals. He was inspired by the work produced by patients of Netherne hospital in England. Conducted by art therapists or occupational therapists, Dax believed these sessions and the practice of art making was therapeutic and beneficial for recovery.
These images, circa 1960s, capture the wards at Mont Park Hospital along with female patients in the midst of an occupational or art therapy activity. Poet Sandy Jeffs, who spent some time at Larundel, recalls similar wards, stating:
‘In the 1970s and ‘80s, I recall the rooms in Larundel in the North Wards had no heating or air-conditioning, and they were freezing in the winter and hot in summer. At least that is how I remember them.’
What is The Dax Centre
History of The Dax Centre
The Art of Psychiatry
Trees and Their Meaning
The Art of Ekphrasis
The Stigma of Mental Illness - Donna Lawrence
The Artist as Outsider
The Art of Reflection
Art in a Therapeutic Context Today
Story education resources
Education Making Sense: Art and Mental Health Education Kit
This Education Resource links to relevant learning outcomes for:
- VCE Psychology (Units 1 – 4),
- VCE Health and Human Development (Units 1-2),
- Health and Physical Education: Health and Promotion, AusVELS levels 8 – 10.
- Other areas that may be relevant are: VCE Art, VCE Studio Arts, Visual Arts AusVELS levels 8 – 10, Humanities (History) AusVELS level 10.