Memories of Willowburn

Some Memories of Willowburn
Mrs Helen Vellacott (nee McDonald)

My association with Willowburn began on April 9th 1918, my father's birthday, and the day we left our house in Stanthorpe to travel by train to Toowoomba. We arrived on the Sydney mail train during the afternoon, for these were the days before the Kyogle line was built to give a direct service from Sydney to Brisbane, and travellers from Sydney still had to get out at Wallangarra and change to Queensland's narrow gauge line, the train still being called the 'Sydney Mail'.

We did not go out to Willowburn immediately, as we had to wait for the furniture to arrive by the slower goods train, and to be unpacked. We spent a few nights at the Imperial Hotel in Ruthven Street while waiting to move in, going out by hire car each day to the house to arrange where the furniture was to go. I was six years old at this time, and had my seventh birthday later in the month, celebrating it by planting a magnolia tree in the garden of our 'new' home.

My father was James Edward Fancourt McDonald, who had been born in Castlemaine, in Victoria, in 1875, the son of a Scottish surveyor and his Australian wife. In those days, Queensland was considered 'the coming State', so the surveyor brought his young family there in 1879 and bought a 12 acre block of land at Rocklea, building a comfortable house on it and leaving his wife and young family there while he went surveying in the wide lands that were being opened up. That family home had been burnt down before I was born, and the land is now part of a huge industrial estate with many factories on it, but along some of the boundary lines can still be seen several fine trees, grown from seeds sent from different parts of the world and distributed to members of the Queensland Acclimatisation Society, to which my grandparents belonged.

Fancourt McDonald, his sister and his four brothers, were all clever children. They won Government Scholarships at a time when only 50 Scholarships were given in the whole of Queensland, these being granted to the 50 children, both boys or girls, who came top in the Scholarship exam. In due course Fancourt and one of his brothers travelled down to Melbourne University to do medicine, for at that time the Queensland University did not have a Medical School. At Melbourne University he met his future wife, Olive Williams, a Castlemaine girl, the daughter of a Welshman, Edward Oavid Williams, the local Member of Parliament.

Although Fancourt McDonald was a doctor, he was keenly interested in horticulture, and took up virgin land at The Summit, near Stanthorpe, which was cared for by an Italian working partner, Mr Muscio, while Fancourt attended to his medical work. He found a comfortable brick house in Stanthorpe, which he considered to have the healthiest climate in Australia, and there he established his wife and three children, of whom I was the youngest, while he did medical work in various parts of the State. In the orchard he grew many new varieties of apples, peaches, etc. introducing new methods of cultivation, and 'old hands' have told me that he was instrumental in introducing phylloxera-free strains of grapes into Australia after phylloxera had done so much damage here.

As soon as the First World War broke out, Fancourt McDonald enlisted and went, as medical officer, with the Australian Hospital at Heliopolis, just outside Cairo, and then on to a Field Hospital in France, at Rouen. Here trench warfare, gas and other horrors of war played havoc with his lungs and he was invalided out to a tent hospital in a London park and then back to Australia on a hospital ship just before Christmas 1917.
While my father was overseas, my mother took we three children down to Castlemaine, to stay with her mother, Mrs. Williams, in the big family home which I inherited in the 1950's. When my father returned on the hospital ship, we went back to Stanthorpe, and as my father's health improved, he became Medical Officer at its small hospital for TB soldiers and in April felt well enough to take up full time work at Willowburn, under its Medical superintendent Dr. James Nicol.

Well at last we seem to be getting to Willowburn! Within a few days the furniture had arrived and was unpacked by some patients under the watchful eye of Billy Moore, an attendant who was also a qualified cabinet maker, and was in charge of the institution's carpenter's shop (where occupational therapy for the patients took the form of coffin-making!).

Dr. Nicol was very apologetic about the house - there had been a slight earthquake a few years before, and this house on the hill had been somewhat shaken, so that iron bars were put through the walls, high up near the ceiling, to bolt the unsteady walls together. Although repairs had been done, and those iron bars removed, the round patches on the walls could still be seen, showing where the bars had gone through them but Billy Moore and his gang with their pots of Kalsomine soon gave the walls a fresh appearance. We liked the house, it was much like our house in Stanthorpe but had two good pantries and a large vine-covered pergola outside the kitchen which were an added attraction. There were three large bedrooms and one smaller one but we all, parents and children, slept on the open verandahs as we had done in Stanthorpe. There was a very large dining room and a pleasant drawing room and all the main rooms had good fireplaces, a great comfort on those cold, west-wind days which we had in winter. The bathroom was in the centre of the house. It had a large porcelain bath and hand basin, and a Malley chip heater which not only gave abundant hot water but heated the whole bathroom!

And now I will describe the buildings of the institution as they were when I first saw them - I do not say 'the buildings of the hospital', for it was not known as a hospital then, it was 'the asylum' , and all the large packages which came by train were branded "L.A., T'BA." , short for (Lunatic Asylum, Toowoomba '. It was not for many years that the marks were changed to (M.H. T.B.A. ' showing that the official name was now Mental Hospital.

As you stood on the circular drive and looked at the buildings, the central one was the office, and the first large room was the Medical Superintendent's office, where Dr. Nicol sat at his desk with large photographs looking down at him from the walls. One of these portraits was of Dr. Hogg, a Scot, the first Medical officer when the institution was opened, and another was of Dr. Whishaw, who had been murdered by a patient as he went on his usual morning rounds, the patient springing from behind a door, full of delusions, and hitting him on the head with, I believe, a chair.

Behind Dr. Nicol's office was my father's office, and here the huge leather-bound case books were kept, my father writing up notes of the thousand and more patients listed in them, noting any change or deterioration of the patient's condition. Nearby was a clerk's room, a telephone room, and a large dispensary where all prescriptions were made up, some by my father, some by a visiting pharmacist. On the left hand side of the office block was the head attendant's office, and outside it was a large rain water tank, from which water was drawn for all the office morning teas and afternoon teas, as tap water from the institution's two reservoirs was considered "too hard" to ever make a good cup of tea. One Summer, I remember there were complaints from the office staff about the brand of tea that was being used: a change was made to another brand and there were still complaints - then someone looked inside the tank to see if it needed cleaning out and found floating in the water the highly decomposed body of some unfortunate possum which had fallen into it.

On a corresponding position on the right hand side of the building was the matron's office, and outside it grew a Queensland nut tree - Macadamia - which bore enormous crops of nuts, really delicious when freshly gathered from the ground under the tree. Upstairs was a flat for the head Matron, and the Library - several large rooms in which were piles of bound volumes of 'The Strand' and other magazines mostly ofthe 1890's and of early this century. They were all in pristine condition, and did not look as though they had ever enjoyed any use but we enjoyed them! We used to take them home for a week or so and read them from cover to cover. Many of E. Nesbit's fascinating children's stories first appeared as serials in them, as did the early Sherlock Holmes stories, and many other well known books.

On the right hand side, the female wards ran up the hill - first Ward 1, then Ward 2, for violent patients, and Wards 3 and 4, for 'chronics'. These were all old-fashioned two storey blocks, built in the 1890's, probably exact replicas of prison and asylum wards in "the old country". After these came the 'new wards': Ward 5, a big two-storey building which was still in the last stages of its construction and still had scaffolding round it and then Ward 6, a recently opened ward, detached from the other buildings. It had garden all round it, and was the only single storey female ward. The patients in this ward were mostly quiet people, perhaps with a few wild delusions, or patients who were almost well enough to be discharged. In those days there were no such things as 'voluntary patients' - before a patients could be admitted, he or she had to be 'certified' as being in need of custodial care, and the certificate had to be signed by two medical practitioners neither of whom should be related to the patient or to each other or to the Medical Officers of the institution.

On the left hand side a series of corresponding male wards ran up the hill starting with' A' ward, then 'B for bad', where the violent patients were - and so on. Beyond 'F' ward, the bungalow ward, was another large building, detached from the others - this was the 'Hospital', a boomerang shaped, single storey building, facing North-East so that it would get the benefit of the sun in Winter, and the cool evening breeze in Summer. As well as pleasant airy wards it had a very up to date operating theatre which had never been used! It is strange to think that the four 'new' wards and the very expensive hospital had been built in the final years of the First World War, whereas during the Second World War it was practically impossible to do any building work.

In the centre of the grounds, between the two sets of wards, were other buildings. First came the Hall, where dances were held in Winter, and also church services, at which my mother was often asked to play for the hymns. And sometimes groups came out from Toowoomba to give concerts for the patients. I remember Scottish bands and dancers, pretty girls dancing Irish jigs, and marvellous displays by teams swinging Indian clubs; sometimes the clubs were wrapped in cotton wool which was impregnated with spirits and ignited, the Hall's lights were switched off, and as the clubs were swung they looked like wheels of fire!

On one side of the Hall was the Billiards Room where the attendants spent much of their leisure time, and behind that was the male bathroom, patients marching along to it once a week for their tubbing and on the opposite side of the Hall was the Sewing Room, and behind it the female bathroom. Behind these again lay the Store, where bulk provisions were kept (with patients' trunks containing their personal possessions in a gallery upstairs - what unknown treasures these trunks, dating from the last century, may have contained !) and the Kitchen with its huge boilers of food.

Then came the engine room; we used to love going in and gazing as the men opened the furnace doors and shovelled coal into the fiery mass. They provided heat for the laundry, which was close to it, and the kitchen and the bathrooms. I think it also provided power for the generator, for the institution had its own electrical system. The laundry was also an exciting place for children to peep into. It was run by three very pretty and capable sisters, Daisy, Myrtle and Violet Burling. They were all musical, and were clever needlewomen, and were the organisers of many concerts and other entertainments for the patients.

Every morning, as soon as the patients' breakfast was over, the central door would be opened, and teams of patients would sally forth, under the care of an attendant or a nurse, to work in the kitchen or the sewing room, the carpenter's shop or the vegetable garden, or the farm.

There was another institution, which was separate from but closely associated with the main one; this was the Epileptic Home, a large single storey building with a red tile roof (all the other buildings had galvanised iron) which was at the corner of Hogg Street, named after Dr. Hogg, and Tor Street. As the residents here were not 'certified', they still retained their vote, were regularly visited by local politicians who no doubt hoped to gain their votes. The Epileptic Home was still being completed when we moved to Willowburn, and as soon as it was opened, eighty persons, men, women and teenagers, moved in, and my father visited it twice a week to check the patients' health and deal with other medical matters. This Home had a wonderful Matron, who was in charge when it was opened, and remained at her post till almost the day of her death - she was in St. Vincent's Hospital for the last few days of her life, and I can remember going with my mother to visit her there. This Matron was devoted both to her patients and to her Church. All the buildings at the Home were Surrounded by beds of agapanthus, some blue and some white, and these bulbs, which were in flower for most of the year, produced the largest flower stems I have ever seen. Matron grew them for her Church, and was happy that she could fill large vases there nearly every week.

As well as these main buildings that I have described there were a number of smaller wooden buildings. Before the Government chose the land as the site for a Lunatic Asylum, it had been thrown open for selection, and many of the selectors had built these small homesteads, mostly four-roomed wooden cottages with a verandah across the front. One of these was used as a cricket pavilion, and my mother and I sat on the verandah each weekend to score for the matches that were played against the Willowburn team, a team composed both of attendants and of patients. Among the top scorers, I remember, were Bill Moore, his brothers Alex and 'Cobby', and Duncan McInnes. When the original selectors had been bought out, and the land resumed, most of them just walked out of their houses, so that the kitchen's wood stoves, and a few other fittings remained, and on these stoves big pots of water were boiled up for the players at lunch time and afternoon tea time. Some of the visiting teams I can remember were Harlaxton, and Crows Nest.

Another of these old selector's houses became the Clubhouse of the Willowburn Golf Club, a small nine-hole course laid out, I think, by Dr Hogg. A number of doctors and other Toowoomba people
drove out at the weekend to enjoy a round of golf, and used this little Clubhouse which was near Hogg Street, down towards the Railway Station. Later on, the Mental Hospital at Goodna also developed a golf course. The Medical Superintendent there was Dr. Ellerton, a nort-countryman who was a very keen sportsman. His first great love was cricket, and under his guidance, the Hospital developed a very strong team. But one day as he stooped to field a fast ball, he was seized with acute neuralgia, could not straighten up again, and had to be carried off the field on a stretcher -so it was goodbye to cricket! He and his wife then took up horse riding. Mrs Ellerton was a most charming Irishwoman who had grown up at Port Ruch, close to the Giant's Causeway. They had no children of their own, but were very hospitable and loved having children to stay. They taught many youngsters to ride on their beautiful ponies. I enjoyed many holidays with them, we all went riding each afternoon and I soon got to know all the pleasant side roads where we could canter through the timber. Then one of their young guests had a bad fall from a frightened pony, so they gave up their riding and Dr. Ellerton then took up golf. He laid out a nine hole course between their large house and the railway line where he could have a hit in all his spare moments. The course was later enlarged to eighteen holes, and when Dr. Ellerton invited friends from Brisbane to come and have a game, the train crew would always halt at a little siding below the Ellertons' house to let the guests dismount there. Dr Ellerton called the course Gailes, after his favourite course in Scotland, so the siding was named Gailes and it is now a regular stop for some of the trains. But the Willowburn golf course did not develop in this way, but remained a small, friendly place to have a hit!

Another big building was the Nurses Quarters, a comfortable two-storey building a little below the main office block. The assistant matrons also lived here. It was sad to see this building in a state of disrepair last time I visited the district. Willowburn in the 1920's was a fairly isolated community. The only houses near the grounds were the homes of some of the attendants - the Dickmans, the Wursts, the MacQuillans, the Clays. Mr Emmerson, the engineer, had a house adjacent to the grounds, and while we lived there a house was built fairly close to ours for Mr Clarke, the storeman. Most of the nurses lived in the big nurses' quarters, most of the attendants rode a horse to work or drove in a sulky, very few had cars, and there was no bus service.

As there was no school near us - the Rockville school had not been built then - I did not go to school till I was nine. My brother went off to the Grammar School each day, either bicycling, or walking down to the Willowburn Railway Station, going into Toowoomba by the rail motor, and then walking up Margaret Street to the Grammar. But when I was nine, a cab service was started for the convenience of the nurses who wanted to go shopping, and I was allowed to use this. The attendant in charge of the cab service was a cheerful person named Mick Linane, who remained a bachelor, devoted to his horses till he had almost reached retiring age. Each morning he drove in his sulky from his home in Newtown, across to Willowburn, talking to his horse all the way, then unharnessed it and gave it a nosebag of feed while he harnessed the two cab horses, and brought the cab round to the Nurses' Quarters ready to leave at 8 o'clock. I walked down from our house and piled in with the nurses, usually we crammed ourselves into the two inside seats but on popular shopping days a couple of us had to sit up beside the driver, where we got lots of dust! As soon as the cab reached its destination, the corner of Margaret and Ruthven Streets, I hopped out and walked quickly up Ruthven Street, to the Glennie Preparatory School, which then operated in the Sunday School of St. Luke's Church.

The cab left town at 12 noon, and then made an afternoon trip, leaving the Nurses' Quarters at 2 o'clock, and returning from town at 4 - I used to hurry down from school to catch this. After the cab horses had been attended to for the night, Mick would harness his own beloved horse into his sulky and drive home. One year when there was a circus visiting Toowoomba, Mick met elephants parading through the streets as he was on his homeward journey. His horse stopped in its tracks, shivered, and dropped dead! We had all heard the tale that the horses of the Roman Cavalry dropped dead when confronted by Hannibal with his elephants, and this incident certainly seems to prove the truth of the story.

When I was older, perhaps twelve or thirteen, I passed my Scholarship exam, and moved from the Prep. up to 'the big Glennie' in Newtown. The cab was no use to me - it just went to the shops, and I had to get to Newtown , so some friends lent me a beautiful pony named 'Bluey' - it was an iron grey - and once again the large wooden stable building behind our house had an occupant. The pony was cared for by a patient named Farrow who had been a jockey and who took great pride in grooming Bluey, polishing my English light-weight saddle etc. Dr Nicol's house had even larger stables, feed rooms and carriage house, completely unoccupied!

I have hardly mentioned Dr. Nicol and his family, who were very good friends of ours. There were three beautiful daughters, and a son named Alec who had enlisted the moment he turned eighteen, and had come safely through the war and was now on the land in western Queensland. One of the daughters named Maidee was a nurse, another named Pim, who was very charming and had a tall, slim figure which showed off her beautiful frocks. The youngest was Joyce, who was both beautiful and charming, and also loved pretty clothes. Shortly after the war ended, the Prince of Wales, later known as the Duke of Windsor, came out to Australia on an official tour, and was to visit Toowoomba. There was great excitement, for he was a veritable Prince Charming, slim and fair, with a twinkle in his eye, who loved dancing, and everyone was looking forward to the ball which was to be given in his honour at Toowoomba: who would be chosen for his partners? When the Prince's special train reached the station, he transferred into an open touring car and was driven very slowly along Russell Street, up Ruthven Street and then up Margaret Street to see the view from Picnic Point, and to visit 'Simla', then a hospital for T.B. soldiers, to talk to the boys. Of course the streets were packed with cheering crowds, and the route was lined with cadets, with police and with scouts, all standing at attention. As the cavalcade slowly turned into Margaret Street a beautiful young girl slipped through the police cordon, stepped onto the running board of the Prince's car, lent towards him with a lovely smile, and handed him a beautiful basket of Toowoomba violets bearing a message of welcome. Yes, of course, the beautiful girl was Joyce Nicol, and of course Prince Charming remembered the smile and danced with her that night.

Two other events of world importance occurred during our first years at Willowburn, the first only a few months after we moved there. I can remember my mother waking me as I slept in my bed on the Eastern verandah, and hearing my father's voice saying, "It's ridiculous, getting the child out of bed at this hour of night!" to which my mother replied, "I think she should be allowed to remember it". She then explained to me that the war had ended and we all went out onto the hill behind the house to watch the celebrations on that night of November 11 th. I don't think spotlights had been invented then but many people had hurriedly made bonfires and lit them and the whole sky was lit up with a red glow, while every church bell was pealing and every factory whistle or hooter was going and engine whistles added to the noise. My mother's younger brother and one of my father's younger brothers had been killed in France and so had many other relatives and old friends.

The second event was just as dreaded as the other had been welcomed - it was the coming of the influenza epidemic which had already caused more deaths than the war itself had! We first heard that it had broken out in Sydney where one of my mother's dearest friends died after only a day's illness. Desperate efforts were made to prevent the infection from reaching other States: if you travelled up from Sydney by train, for instance, you had to leave the railway at Wallangarra and stay in a quarantine station for two or three weeks before you could travel on to Brisbane. These quarantine stations were tent cities, where basic rations were handed out each day and where temporary committees were set up to organise games, morning drill, fancy marching etc. to relieve the boredom of sitting in a tent all day. One of our friends with his wife and children, was held up at the Border in this way and although they did not contract influenza they looked back on the time they spent there with a shudder.

Despite all sorts of precautions however, the influenza epidemic spread to Queensland. By this time, a vaccine had been developed to counteract it, so my father had the task of inoculating all the patients, over one thousand in number, and all the staff. Then a more powerful vaccine was developed, but this took three injections, at perhaps weekly intervals, so everyone at Willowbum received four injections. Everyone lined up and the injections were done very quickly. I remember being placed near the head of the queue, so that I could show that even a little girl had nothing to be afraid of and could stand there smiling during the process. One large strong attendant, who had never before had an injection, was so alarmed at the thought of having a needle poked into his arm and an unknown substance squirted into it, that when he reached the doctor and the nurse, he fainted.

All the buildings I have described were set in very beautiful surroundings, for the grounds had obviously been carefully planned and planted by someone with a wide knowledge of horticulture. The main gates opened out of Tor Street, and a driveway planted with bunya trees, Norfolk Island pines and silky oaks led round to the main office block. Under these tall trees were numbers of smaller trees and shrubs, providing colour all through the year. There were jacaranda trees, a dream of loveliness in Spring when their mauve blossoms not only covered the branches but carpeted the ground beneath with their fallen flowers and there were towering clumps of giant bamboos. There were kurrajongs and bottle trees and brilliant Illawarra flame trees and, although my parents were keen gardeners, there were certain shrubs in the grounds that they had never seen before. The Government Botanist identified these for us and we all learnt their names - Dombeya, with its big bunches of graceful white flowers; Holmskioldia sanguinea, a shrub covered in Autumn and Winter with long sprays of red flowers, are two that I remember particularly. There were also dozens of well known shrubs, lilacs, honeysuckles, Brazilian cherries, gardenias, pyrus japonica in various colours, and wisteria vines trained into round bushes and carefully pruned to remain in this shape. In some parts of the grounds the original gums still flourished. Many of them were magnificent old trees. Through parts of the ground trickled the little creek or burn, lined by old weeping willows, which had given Willowburn its name, and near this creek had evidently stood one of the selector's cottages - all signs of the building had disappeared but the quince trees that had been planted in this garden still survived and provided us with delicious quinces each Autumn.

As my father was so interested in horticulture, he obtained permission to enclose half an acre of land beside our house on the hill, and he planted this with fruit trees - peaches, plums, apricots and nectarines flourished there and so did guavas, cumquats and a few other less known fruits. Having described the buildings and their setting, I now come to the most important part of Willowburn - the patients. We knew so many of them and regarded many as real friends. Some of them helped my mother in the house, others helped in the garden or with the chickens and ducks which we kept in a run beside the stable. One whom we all loved was Hannah, an Irishwoman from Kanturk, County Cork. She was a splendid worker, scrupulously clean and honest but she had various harmless delusions and used to imagine that people were leaning down from the sky to talk to her and she would pause in her sweeping to chat back to them! She had been an orphan, left at the County's workhouse known as the Union building when she was an infant. As these people were maintained at the ratepayer's expense, they were naturally keen to get rid of them and when Australia was seeking more migrants, were quick to ship them out here in the days of free immigration. Hannah was an Irish Nationalist, and she taught me an Irish alphabet: I have forgotten much of it but I can still remember the lines "E's for old England who robbed us of bread and R's for the Famine she left us instead." Some country friends who saw Hannah's ability when they visited us, arranged to take her out on leave, and she helped at their homestead for many years.

Another patient who helped my mother in the house was a young aboriginal woman named Minnie, who had been brought up at a mission station. She was a lovely person, quiet and gentle, but became slightly melancholic at times. She used to take me for a walk each afternoon and would tell me the native names of all the trees, the birds and the insects. Sometimes we would sit down at a little sandy patch along the creek and with her fingers she would make in the sand the tracks of a kangaroo, an emu, a dingo, or a duck, and teach me to recognise the footprints of all these creatures.

I have already mentioned Farrow, who took such care and felt so much pride in the condition of my pony. Another man who worked at our house and fed the chickens was Gladys. He came from Germany or Austria, I think and was a seaman who had jumped ship years before and when he wrote his name it looked like Gladys but this may only have been his bad writing - there were no documents to check it. He was a tall, strong, athletic man who could hear very well and was quick and intelligent but was dumb.

Opening off our dining room was a small room with shelves all round, probably intended as a kind of wine cellar as it had a strong panel door, always kept locked. We called it the 'indoor pantry', as there was another cool airy pantry where milk, butter etc. were kept. There were no shops in Willowburn except a tiny one, Miss Thorne's, in Holberton Street, which sold mostly cheap sweets such as 'penny striped peppermint sticks', chewing gum or biscuits, and all our groceries came out from Toowoomba by cart, great bags of flour and brown hessian bags of sugar (these were the bags which were unpicked, washed, and turned into the sugar bag aprons which were so popular - prizes were given for the best at all country shows). When the groceries arrived, my mother would unlock the pantry door and Gladys would carry in these heavy bags, my mother then opened them and put some of the contents into canisters for daily use. In the pantry were also kept some chests of household possessions, sets of 'best' china, and on a top shelf were souvenirs of the years that my father had spent at sea as a young ship's doctor. These included a double coconut from the Seychelle Islands, wonderful cowrie and nautilus shells, carved wooden figures from China, a Malay kris, and a small Colt revolver, a tiny thing which could easily fit into a man's pocket. One day my father realised with a shock that the Colt was no longer there. He opened the case, on another shelf, where a few bits of ammunition were stored, and it too was missing. As the only person who ever entered the door was Gladys, my father at once reported the incident to Dr. Nicol, who poo-whooed the very idea; he had observed Gladys for 20 years and he was honest as the day. However my father would not rest until Gladys' possessions were searched - but nothing was found. Then a couple of months later Gladys', body was found in a quiet corner of the grounds, with the Colt still in his hand! What a mercy he had not shot one of us, or anybody else.

Another sad story was that of Katie, a patient in Ward 1 whom we all knew well by sight. She was not allowed to work in places like the laundry or in any of the staff residences because she was very noisy and at times very, very noisy. Sometimes my father was called to the ward to quieten her when her shouts were keeping everyone awake, for as well as going round all the wards in the morning, and again in the afternoon when he was on duty, plus a short visit to the matron's and head attendant's offices each evening that he was on duty, he was also on call for the 24 hours if emergencies arose. Katie was a big, well-built woman with rosy cheeks and flashing eyes, she loved singing and dancing and was in her element at the weekly dances in the Hall. She was mad about men and if she saw a strange man walking past the ward she would shout through the window to attract his attention and then make some bawdy remark. One year she grew much larger - could she be pregnant? Impossible, she was always locked in the ward except when going, under the nurse's eye, to the hall or the bath block. But tests proved this was so. After a lot of puzzling over this, the staff remembered that some months previously there had been a lot of trouble with the drains in an upstairs washroom and the plumber had spent hours locating the trouble: they could only surmise that Katie had slipped into the room, closed the door and displayed her charms. Of course as soon as the infant was born it was put into an orphanage as a child never to be adopted - a truly sad story.

Happier memories are associated with Barney, a tall, dignified Scandinavian who had been a ship's carpenter. He went every day to the Carpenter's shop, and when he was tired of making coffins he enjoyed making very solid furniture, so it was arranged that he should make a wardrobe for my mother. She showed him just what she wanted, went to see it when it was partly built and was delighted with it but when she saw the finished article she found it mounted on a wooden stand a foot high, which meant that the hooks for coat hangers were far beyond the reach of a normal person. My mother said she would prefer it without the stand, but Barney assured her that its proportions would then be incorrect. When my mother replied that this would not bother her, Bamey looked at her severely and said "It's my reputation I am thinking of, Madam! " So the wardrobe was duly delivered on its stand, and when all the helpers had gone, it was lifted down to the floor so it could be used by persons of normal height. Barney also made me a very wonderful dolls' house, standing about five feet high, with five rooms and a hallway and with beautifully made doors and windows. I had great fun creating furniture and curtains for it and it amused me and my small visitors for many years. When I had finally reached university age, we gave the doll's house and all its furniture to the Children's Ward at the Toowoomba general hospital where it may still be amusing children, so solidly was it made.

Another memorable character was Madame Meredith. She was a tall, graceful elderly lady who, according to legend, had once been a dressmaker in Paris. She always wore a very long dress, and on her head wore a frilled cap, tied with a bow under her chin. Every morning, quite silently, seldom uttering a word, she went to her appointed place in the corner of the sewing room as soon as its door was opened, and sat there working diligently at her sewing machine, zooming down the long seams and wide hems of the patient's dresses. But at times she changed her work and, gathering up the scraps of calico or print that littered the floor, she would cut out and seam up wonderful calico dolls, stuffing the bodies with still smaller scraps of calico and embroidering their faces skilfully. Then she would dress them from other scraps, or perhaps with odd pieces of material given to her by some of the staff. The female dolls always wore the dresses of the last century. They were made with tiny waists and their skirts were made with bustles. Madame Meredith gave these artistic dolls to anyone with children, and I remember that she once gave me a big flat cardboard box inside which were a dozen little rag dolls, pinned neatly in rows across the box, each with a dress with a bustle, and a tiny, perky hat. One of my father's brothers, Dr Sydney Fancourt McDonald, was a Children's Specialist in Wickham Terrace and we gave him many of these dolls and some of Madame Meredith's fantastic stuffed pussies and puppy dogs - all with human faces embroidered on them - which were a feature of his waiting room and kept children intrigued while they were waiting for that perhaps frightening experiences of "seeing the doctor", though a kinder, or less frightening man than my uncle could not have been found.

Another two patients we knew well were Mabel and 'Little Brother', the two youngest children of a good Scottish selector who had a large block of very poor land somewhere below the Range. This youngest boy was severely mentally retarded, no one had time to devote to his special care, to teach him to drink from a cup or to toilet train him so he was just fed from a baby's bottle while all the elder ones toiled among the poor crops or milked the thin dairy cows. When they all had to work on some distant paddock they would tie 'Little Brother' on to a primitive sledge and pull him and his bottle along with them!

Eventually the father died, and the doctor who had attended him was asked what they should do with 'Little Brother' during the funeral? He said that he should go to Willowburn and, yes, his sister Mabel could go with him to comfort him - she did not look very bright and certainly had some strange delusions about the care of children. So both were certified and taken to Willowburn while the rest of the big family went off to the grand funeral. Of course 'Little Brother' went into a Male Ward where he was soon taught to sit up, to walk, and to feed himself etc - he had always just been left lying with his bottle in the cot, although he was about 30! And Mabel was put in a Female Ward, worrying about how 'Little Brother' would manage without her! She came up to our house to work, such a gentle, patient, and hard working person. She was soon able to be discharged, and she worked in one of Toowoomba's big boarding schools where she was regarded as 'a treasure'. If the cook left she would cheerfully help in the preparation of those huge meals; if measles or mumps broke out she would help with the sick, and was cheerfully at everyone's beck and call. And what about 'Little Brother'? The staff in the ward and some of the patients taught him to do practically everything for himself and even to talk a little! When my father went on his daily round of the ward, 'Little Brother' would be sitting up on a chair and would say cheerfully 'Good morning, Doctor' - and of course my father always had a kind word for him, although he knew that 'Little Brother' did not really know what the words meant, he had just been taught to say 'Good morning, doctor' as one would teach a parrot to say 'Scratch cocky' .

Of course, my father knew every patient in the institution and knew most of their histories. He saw them all every day, for each morning at about 10 o'clock he and Dr Nicol did their rounds. They would be joined by the Matron, who wore a white uniform and white starched apron, and a square white nurse's veil. They would proceed up the female side of the institution and at the front door of each ward the charge sister would be waiting, in a blue uniform with a white starched apron and smaller white starched cap, jangling a bunch of keys from her waistband to unlock the door. The visitors would see every patient, and go into every room, and then walk up the covered way to the next ward. When they reached Ward 6, the last female ward, Matron would put up an umbrella if the day were hot, and they would walk across the cricket ground to F Ward, perhaps looking in at the kitchen or the carpenter's shop on their way. At the gate of F Ward they would be met by the head attendant and they would carry on with their inspection to the bottom ward.

We children, too, knew many of the patients. On Christmas morning we went, with my mother, through all the wards, greeting the patients and admiring the decorations - there was great competition among the ward sisters as to who would have the best decorations and weeks of work, good occupational therapy no doubt, went into their preparation. And of course we admired the Christmas puddings that were being hauled out of the steaming cauldrons in the central kitchen.
We also went to the patients' dances that were held in the recreation hall in Winter, and to the pictures which were held there in Summer, flickery, black and white silent films which were nevertheless one of the wonders of the world. Clive Brook was a favourite star in those days. The patients had their evening meal at 4.30, and the dances and the films began at 6 o'clock I think, and lasted till 8, when the patients filed back to their wards to enjoy a cup of tea and a bun.

A good staff orchestra played for the dances, and some of the patients were expert dancers. We danced Quadrilles, Lancers, Waltzes, Schottisches and Mazurkas, nothing more modem than that. One of the great events of the year was the Fancy Dress Ball which ended the dancing season. The clever sisters who ran the laundry, Daisy, Violet and Myrtle Burling, were wonderful at suggesting and making costumes for the patients. We had a withered up little helper in our house named Lizzie. She had been born in a London slum and had worked as scullery maid in dark basement kitchens before coming to Australia as a free migrant, and she still looked sallow and unhealthy. "What would you like to wear to the Ball, Lizzie?" "Ho, I thought I'd like to be a Fairy Queen, like". So my mother and I concocted a wonderful robe, full white mosquito-net skirt with big silver stars among its folds, spangled net wings to tie round her shoulders, a crown of silver stars round her dark lustreless hair, and a long silver wand tipped with another big silver star. She was radiantly happy that night.

Another patient who worked for us on occasions was Sarah - she was another English migrant who had come here as a young girl. She had beautiful fair skin, pretty fair hair, and although she was grossly over-weight, she still carried herself well, was very proud of her appearance, and was a fantastically light dancer on her neat, tiny feet. She would like to go to the Ball as the Queen of Sheba! I can't remember just what we dressed her in, but I remember she was draped from head to foot with our strings of pearls and all that we could beg from our friends for her. Sarah's story had a happy ending, some of our friends saw her working in our house, and arranged to take her out on leave, and she was their trusted helper for years, enjoying having real wages to spend on the pretty clothes that she loved.

My parents entered into the spirit of the thing, and nearly always went in fancy dress. I remember my father, who was very tall, 6'6" I think, looking really terrifying as Ned Kelly, in the armour and mask that I made for him out of cardboard lacquered black to look like iron. Another spectacular costume of his was that of a Klu Klux Klansman's, then much in the news, in a long white garment with a pointed white hood over his head. Another year he looked very smart when we managed to squeeze him into one of his old army uniforms. My parents always led the Grand Parade at the Ball, and we all followed, and many attendants and their families came in fancy dress too and joined in the fun .

So far I have dealt mainly with the lighter side of life at Willowburn, and now I must turn to my father's real work - the changes he made at the institution to improve the life of the patients.
When he went there in 1918, he was the assistant of Dr. Nicol but, some time in the 1920's, Dr. Nicol reached retiring age and my father became the Medical Superintendent. I cannot remember at just what date my father was able to introduce the earliest of his new ideas but it was certainly during Or Nicol's time.

One of the first things that my father wanted to improve was the patients' diet. They had monotonous meals - boiled meat nearly every day, with boiled potatoes. There was a vegetable garden behind the female wards which grew pumpkins and a few other vegetables, but really only enough green vegetables to supply the staff residences. The vegetable garden was enlarged and new varieties were introduced, such as the improved Hubbard squashes that had been developed in America. Tomatoes were planted and produced heavy crops which gave the patients a treat, and strawberry beds provided a great treat. This more intense cultivation meant that more patients were able to get out of the confines of the wards and work in the open air which they all enjoyed.

The institution had its own dairy farm, and a piggery which thrived with the kitchen scraps augmenting the normal animal diet. To improve the quality of the milk, my father persuaded my mother to purchase two young pedigree Jersey bulls, one from a top Queensland herd and one from the famous Jersey stud at the Hawkesbury Agricultural College, and to donate them to the farm to build up the herd.

Another thing my father was able to change was the women's clothing. A few, a tiny few, of the women patients wore their own clothing but most wore the ward clothes which had not changed since the place was opened at the end of the last century. These dresses, which were made in the sewing room took many yards of material, with their long, full skirts which were gathered onto a tight waistband, and their long, full sleeves. They were all one dull colour, and were stamped with the number of the ward to which they belonged. It cost no more to buy several different attractive colours of material, and it took fewer yards of fabric to make more modern frocks, shorter and cut on simpler lines. The women really enjoyed having a choice of colours, and being able to decide whether they wanted long or short sleeves.

Closely allied to the improvement to the dairy herd were the improvements to the farm, where crops were grown to feed the herd. These Summer crops were cut, and either stored in the barn -where they were attacked by rats - or put into the silo to be fed to the herd in dry times. The farm was extensive but its paddocks were very steep, and if heavy rains came soon after sowing, half the crop would be washed away and the hillside scoured into great gullies. I remember one crop of maize, newly planted, which was washed down the hill, across the railway line, and sprouted up along the roadside there. My father had read about contour ploughing in the United States, and he arranged for the experts from the Gatton Agricultural College to come up and mark out the sloping paddocks with contour lines to prevent the crops being washed away. The scheme worked well, and the farm was the first spot on the Darling Downs to benefit from contour ploughing. The practice has now become almost universal on sloping land on the Downs, but in those days the passengers on the Western Mail train, which used to run beside the farm paddocks, used to put their heads out of the train window to stare and ask why all those gutters had been dug. Contour ploughing certainly saved many of the crops, and once the crops had been harvested and placed in the big barn, they were saved from the ravages of its large rat population by the introduction of a big carpet snake. The snake thrived on its diet of rats, and the barn used to carry a notice which said 'Please do not frighten our carpet snake'.

I have already spoken of my father's desire to get patients out of the wards and into the farmlands or vegetable garden each day. He also tried to let them see something of the outside world by arranging for bus loads to be taken to the Agricultural Show each year and he was always delighted when some patient was taken out on leave to help at a homestead or on a farm and always hoped that this would eventually lead to their discharge. He felt that many people who did not really need to be in locked wards, in the care of nurses or other attendants, had just drifted into the institution because their families did not understand them or know how to support them in times of stress. This was particularly the case with migrants, who had no family out here to help them and this probably' accounts for the very large numbers of migrants who were in the wards in those days.
Pets were now allowed in the institution, and what pleasure they gave! One men's ward had a pet wallaby which hopped round the yard, came up to be fed with snippets, or to have its head scratched. One old lady, Mrs Whisk, loved chooks and she was allowed to have a little poultry run near the vegetable garden and to go out of the ward each morning and evening to attend to them. She was very successful with all her ventures, and usually brought back lots of eggs for tea. On several occasions when a sitting hen deserted her nest, Mrs. Whisk gathered the eggs to her ample bosom, wrapped them in flannel and wore them inside her bodice to keep them warm. At night she was allowed to take them to bed with her and miraculously did not roll on them in the night and most of these rescued eggs hatched out successfully.

As you read these notes you may be tempted to say - all these things an adequate diet, occupational therapy, freedom to choose one's clothes, the opportunity to get outside the wards quite often, and the chance to perhaps go back to the freedom of normal life again - are what we expect in such hospitals. What is remarkable about my father, Dr Fancourt McDonald, is that he was half a century ahead of the times when he initiated these improvements at Willowburn in the 1920's and 30's.