Lake Macquarie History

Light on Morisset: Does work make well?

photo:light on morisset. does work make well. exhibition panel

Morisset was originally established as an `Industrial Farm colony for suitable patients'. Staff and patients cleared land and built structures together. Work was intended to be a part of patient activity at Morisset from its earliest beginnings. Up until about 1970, patient labour was required to help run the hospital and produce food. A sewing centre, boot repair shop, chickens, dairy and piggery were established at Morisset by the mid-twentieth century. Vegetable and produce gardens were tilled. Surplus produce was sold to the local community to supplement the hospital's budget. A fishing fleet established in 1915 worked Lake Macquarie. It supplied fish for Friday lunch for patients and staff. A gang of patients supervised by a staff member collected wood to feed heaters. Patients made beds and cleaned floors.

Work was encouraged for able patients. They had little say in what task was allocated. A small allowance was paid, which they could spend on items such as tobacco and sweets.

Many of these jobs involved access to sharp tools, power tools and other implements which could be dangerous. Trust existed between patients and the staff supervising them. Claude McKenzie was hospital manager between 1936 and 1961. He set up occupational therapy units for both male and female patients. The unit for men was renamed the Industrial Rehabilitation Department (IRD) in the 1970s. The unit for women was known as Female Occupational Therapy. These units were intended to provide patients with meaningful therapeutic work and skills to be used after release. Pegs, wooden toys, woven baskets, rugs, moccasins and other handicrafts were made by patients and sold. Proceeds were used to buy more craft materials and items for patients, including a bus to transport them to activities. Members of the Lake Macquarie community still own and love pegs and baskets made at Morisset Hospital. Morisset Hospital staff felt that having a purpose and meaningful work was an important part of patient management and recovery. Peter Kocan gives an overall positive account of his experiences in occupational therapy.

Mr Trowbridge feels deeply that work is the best therapy for sick minds and he has a set of phrases about it. One is WORK MAKES WELL. The others aren't so catchy.
The Cure Peter Kocan 1983

Many of the patients have had little success in life prior to their admission and without some intervention would appear to be doomed to further failures in the future. A great deal of effort is made by the staff to give these patients some successes in interpersonal relationships and work situations whilst they are in the hospital in the hope that this will engender in them hope for further successes later on and a more satisfying life.
The Care of the Mentally Ill Offender in New South Wales Masters thesis Dr Leslie Osborn Darcy 1983

It’s odd to have the rack of tools near you. It holds knives, awls, scissors – dangerous things. In MAX [the maximum security unit] you were treated like a maniac who couldn’t be trusted with a knife and fork to eat with. Of course there were inconsistencies – no knives in the dining room but hoes and pitchforks in the garden. You don’t look at these tools much. You don’t want to seem too interested in them. You notice, though, that the pliers have had the wire-cutting parts filed out.
The Cure Peter Kocan 1983

They picked out about ten or a dozen of the most able [patients], and every morning there was a male nurse whose job was to take them out into the bush and cut wood for the jumbos [wood fired heaters for water]. They had a truck, and when they cut the wood — all different sizes — they used to load it up and bring it in. They had a little sawbench where they used to cut it up into short lengths and then a cart would take it around and deliver it to the jumbos for the fire…
The first ward I was put in charge of, I had Arnold Nixon as my Deputy, and down the back of the ward there was a great big yard. A couple of patients in the ward used to do a bit of gardening, and they started a big vegetable garden inside the ward fence. They used to grow a lot of stuff there, and when it had grown we’d contact the store and they would send a truck down and we’d load all the potatoes and cabbages and that. They would take it up to the store and then it would be taken to the kitchen. There were only about two wards in the whole place that did that because the others didn’t have the space to have a garden.
Working in Morisset Hospital in the Bad old Days Laurie Akers As told by Bill Bottomley July 2020

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