Lake Macquarie History

Light on Morisset: Where am I, What is happening and Who are you?

photo:light on morisset. where am i? what's happening? and who are you?. exhibition panel

Welcome to Morisset Hospital. It’s the mid-twentieth century.

You’re about to tour the hospital and discover the fascinating history of this place. Morisset Hospital has been caring for people living with mental illness since 1909 and is still operating today.

Real patients, staff and residents of Morisset Hospital will guide you through the experience of being here.

They’ll tell you about life inside, from their perspective, in their own words.
Meet your guides.

Peter Kocan
Kocan is an award winning Australian poet and author. He was born Peter Raymond Douglas on 4 May 1947. On 21 June 1966, Kocan attempted to assassinate politician Arthur Calwell. He was 19 years old. He was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

He spent time in Long Bay Jail. He was transferred to the maximum security facility, then refractory and rehabilitation wards at Morisset Hospital. He was released in 1976.

Descriptions of day to day life at Morisset are drawn from his fictionalised autobiographical novels The Treatment (1980) and The Cure (1983).

Kocan lives in Brisbane and is still writing.

Dr Les Darcy
Leslie Osborn Darcy was the Medical Superintendent of Morisset Hospital from 1971 to 1985. He is credited with modernising the care of patients at Morisset. His innovations led to industrial actions, as staff resisted some of the changes he led.

Descriptions of Morriset Hospital’s operations are drawn from his 1983 thesis The Care of the Mentally Ill Offender in New South Wales, written for his Masters of Health Administration degree.

Darcy currently lives in an aged care facility.

Peggy is a patient at Morisset Mental Hospital. Peggy had been living with bipolar disorder for 38 years when she was interviewed in 1983. She received both medication and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments for her mental illness. These treatments only temporarily stabilised her condition.

Descriptions of Peggy’s experiences are drawn from her interview in Mike Willesee’s television documentary Inside Morisset.

We don’t know what happened to Peggy.

Rob Henderson
Rob spent his childhood and youth living within the boundaries of hospitals where mental illness was treated. Rob lived on the grounds of Morisset Hospital, with his parents, from when he was 8 years of age until he left to attend University in 1971. Their residence was one provided to senior staff, close to the foreshore and swimming baths on Lake Macquarie. He attended Morisset Primary and High School. His father Jack Henderson was the General Manager of Morisset hospital until his retirement in 1971.

Rob’s words are drawn from the oral history he gave to Lake Macquarie City Council in 2021.

Rob is a retired economist and still holidays in the house his parents retired to in Brightwaters, Lake Macquarie.

Nan Shipley
Janice Shipley nee Pursehouse, known as Nan, is a retired second generation Morisset Hospital employee. Her daughter, Kyley, is a third generation employee. Nan lived in one of the Piggery Hill residences at Morisset Hospital from when she was 8 years old in 1946 until 1961 with her family. Both of her parents were employed at the hospital. Nan worked as a psychiatric nurse, charge nurse and housekeeping sister at Morisset Hospital from 1956 until she retired in 1993.

Nan’s words are drawn from the oral histories she gave to Lake Macquarie City Council in 2021 and from the local history publication A Private World on a Nameless Bay: A History of Morisset Hospital.

Nan has been a member of the Morisset Hospital Historical Society since 1997 and lives in Ryhope, Lake Macquarie.

Laurie Akers
Laurie worked at Morisset Hospital from 1947 to 1981. He saw the major changes created by contemporary nursing methods and medication at Morisset Hospital. Laurie became a qualified psychiatric nurse, then a senior nurse, deputy in charge of a ward and then charge of a ward. He was responsible for bringing residents living with developmental disabilities from Milson Island on the Hawkesbury to Morisset Hospital when it closed in 1972.

Laurie’s words are drawn from Bill Bottomley’s retelling of his story in the booklet Working at Morisset Hospital in the Bad Old Days.

Laurie lives in an aged care facility on the mid-north coast of NSW.

Chris Gavenlock
Chris commenced Psychiatric Nurse Training at North Ryde Psychiatric Centre and transferred to Morisset Hospital in March 1971. She worked as a psychiatric nurse at Morisset during the 1970s. Having worked 8 hour shifts at NRPC with staff from diverse locations, she found a very different workplace culture at Morisset Hospital. It was clear to Chris that Morisset’s staff, predominately from the local area and working 12 hour shifts, had created an unparalleled camaraderie with a workforce that, at all levels, had the welfare of patients as a core value.

Chris’ words are drawn from the local history publication A Private World on a Nameless Bay: A History of Morisset Hospital.

Chris has been a member of the Morisset Hospital Historical Society since 1997 and lives in Dora Creek, Lake Macquarie.

Acknowledgement of Country

We remember and respect the Ancestors who cared for and nurtured this Country. It is in their footsteps that we travel these lands and waters. Lake Macquarie City Council acknowledges the Awabakal people and Elders past, present and future.

Council acknowledges traditional custodians throughout Australia. We commit to listening deeply to and collaborating with First Peoples in our work.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website and Council's cultural collections may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs, film, audio recordings or printed material.

This website may contain place names, opinions and terms that reflect authors' views or those of the period in which the item was written or recorded. These may not be considered appropriate today.

If you experience any issues with the website or its content please contact us [email protected]