Vice-Chancellor's Award for Public Policy & Outreach

20 November 2018

Imagine, as a child, being locked up as punishment in an adult psychiatric ward after being labelled a juvenile delinquent because you ran away from an abusive orphanage. 

For Queenslanders, sadly, this was the policy where some children were placed in Wolston Park Hospital wards with the criminally insane, right through to the 1980s. This was despite the fact that the children hadn't committed crimes and there was nothing wrong with the children themselves. Decades later, these children, now adults, have received financial redress from the Queensland Government thanks to the commitment of Dr Adele Chynoweth.

"Day and night on the phone we off-loaded to her our broken down emotions and trauma that we suffered as State Ward children in government-run institutions and Dr Chynoweth never turned us away," says Christine Waite, whose sister was one of the children locked away.

"We trusted Dr Chynoweth with all our hearts and by her being there... made us feel that she was with us when we were going through emotional anguish."

In 2016 Dr Chynoweth's research made it into the spotlight when she published an opinion piece that gained the attention of then acting Queensland Mental Health Commissioner.

"You say that I've been quite dedicated but actually, they are the ones who are dedicated," she says, responding to a question about her dedication to these victims, who are referred to as the Forgotten Australians. 

Dr Chynoweth initially crossed paths with the victims, who shared their stories as part of a museum exhibition that featured the narratives of children who had been placed in out of home 'care'. 

"We think about objects being precious but when institutionalised abuse survivors donate their narrative to a museum, they have to re-traumatise in doing so," she says. 

"They give their stories in good faith that there will be social change as a result of that. Now if you walk away from that and say 'we're finished', I actually think that is morally reprehensible. So there's a sense that if people give something to the museum, there's an importance of giving something back."

Dr Chynoweth says she is extremely grateful to ANU for giving her the opportunity, via an Honorary Fellowship at the time, to explore the Wolston Park history further.