From the President
As 2022 draws to a close, the pandemic rears its head againfor a fourth wave, though there is hope that it will be crest quickly and mildly, and peter out. As I wrote in a short commentary for last month’s AustralianBook Review, it seems a time for taking stock. Historians, many of whomhave been caught up in the thick of the pandemic, are perhaps now turning to consider how to make sense historically of this viral event. A crisis constituted by hundreds of catastrophes, a plethora of injustices and
prejudices, and a sea of information, disinformation, and regulation, as well as the microbial interactions which underpin it all, the pandemic is a prevailing argument for the importance of what we do. Not content to chronicle what has happened – everyone has been doing that – we desire to understand this event and our place in it. We have work to do.
On 29 November, the Society hosted forum on lived experienceof mental illness and neurodivergence, together with Red Room Poetry, to mark the publication of Admissions: Voices within Mental Health. Two of theeditors of Admissions and five contributors spoke at the forum, makingfor a powerful and fascinating evening. I want to take the chance to further commend this remarkable book to you. It approaches subjects which many of us research and write about through by more direct and raw paths. Edited by David Stavanger, Radhiah Chowdhury, Mohammad Awad and published by Upswell, Admissionsis a collection of 105 testimonies to the experience of living withneurodivergence or under the label of psychiatric diagnosis, as Pascalle Burton writes in her essay ‘If I Smell Gas and There is No Gas or Am I a Psychoanalyst if I don’t have a Couch?’ Burton suggests that delusion is all around us, that we constantly ‘rub shoulders’ with delusions and that the lines between ‘reality’ and delusion, or superstition, or suspicion, or paranoia, or psychosis, or clairvoyance, are not fixed and not easy to define. When an ‘artist’ makes work that is unstable, or incoherent it tends to be received as original and powerful. Burton writes vividly and warmly about her mother’s experience of living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia in words that should give us pause. ‘When a person under the label of a psychiatric diagnosis produces original ideas, fear is reflected back at them,’ she writes, with her mother in mind. ‘If she speaks into the air, do we have to fear? What is we make space for the
narratives of delusions instead of ignoring them or concealing them through shame?’
I wish you a restorative break over the summer, and lookforward to continuing to build our community of historians into 2023, especially at our biennial conference in Adelaide, in July.
About Ourselves: Neville Yeomans AM
But the premature death of our son brought my wife and me back to Melbourne to be some help to our daughter-in-law as she singlehandedly brought up our infant grandson. Thinking I had thrust retirement on myself, it was a relief to be offered the job of Director of Research at Austin Hospital, one of my old hospitals. This was a part-time position, which meant there was time to also tackle an Arts degree at Melbourne. Medics often have a narrow education, starting in the later years of high school when we focus on maths and sciences to the exclusion of all else. So, this was a wonderful chance to become more broadly educated, by tackling an honours degree in history with a minor in linguistics. At the time of writing, my PhD thesis is under examination: A History of Australia’s Immigrant Doctors, 1838-2021.