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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Making of a Child Psychiatrist: (78) Psychiatric beginnings (1); Australia

We flew into Adelaide on the 18th December 1974. Fortunately, we were able to move into the pre-arranged house straight away; an old bluestone villa on Kermode Street, owned by the hospital. All I would have to do to get to work was get up, shower and dress, and cross the road. The hospital was set in parklands a short distance from the city centre, and just down a hill from North Adelaide. So we had access to wide open spaces, gardens and playgrounds, and although everything was new to us we were to find out we had shops and cafes and all the amenities of a modern city within walking distance. There was even a pub on the corner (The Cathedral Hotel named after the Adelaide Cathedral just across King William Road); not that we were ever to frequent it. The fully furnished house was cool and somewhat dark inside, and the immediate impression was that it was dingy. It only took a couple of days of summer heat over 100 degrees Fahrenheit for us to understand the welcome relief of cool and dark. There was a small well-tended garden, but forays were brief and followed by a sigh of relief as we came back indoors for a thirst quencher.
Of course we had nothing familiar around us but each other, the clothes we had been able to pack, and our naiveté. The boys (being boys) had packed cowboy guns in their backpacks and these to our surprise had been confiscated as we went to board the plane in London. Luckily they were returned on our arrival at Adelaide airport. There was a strange relief in seeing the boys resume their chasing games, taking imaginary pot shots at each other. The rest of our belongings would not arrive in Adelaide for several weeks. We needed a supply of food to suit the children, but were too exhausted on that first evening to get more than the bare essentials from a small local shop. However, on the doorstep the next morning we found a large cardboard box full of fresh fruit and vegetables, with a note from a Dr. Kerry Callaghan wishing us a happy Christmas and hoping we would settle in well. This kind and thoughtful man would become a life long friend and mentor.
Looking back you can see our total naivete and lack of preparedness. We had spent 3 months in Adelaide as university students 11 years prior, and must have imagined that we knew the place, the people and its customs, and would settle seamlessly into our new routines. There were to be a number of shocks in store.
The other issue was about the pressure to get on with things. At one level we needed for me to begin work as soon as possible to ensure an income, and settle us into a routine. But I now recognise that I have always had an urgency to get on with things; an internal driver that has put those around me under pressure. My parents, when they were posted to Adelaide for three years, used the opportunity to travel home graciously for several weeks on an ocean liner (the Orsova, I believe). Going further back, my grandparents had also travelled by boat when emigrating from South Africa. But for us it was one day in England, two days later in Australia, the only constants being our family unit and the close bonds between Jan and I as parents. No small wonder the boys were glad to get back to playing Cowboys and Indians, and Harriet was clingy.
There were so many things to do. Apart from the need to set up some semblance of Christmas for the children, there were practicalities. We needed urgently to get to the Commonwealth Bank in Rundle Mall to ensure our funds had been transferred, and organise cheque books, as well cash for immediate needs. We needed to get transport. We had to get in touch with our sponsors to start the ball rolling toward getting housing. I had to clarify the details of my contract, and sign the necessary papers. And none of this proved to be easy in the silly season that is Christmas, or in the aftermath when so much closes down for the first weeks of the New Year so that everyone can go to the beach.
Our first foray was to Rundle Mall in 108 degree heat, and we were to welcome the air conditioning of numerous shops as we tracked our way to the bank. Along the way Jonathan managed to disappear in John Martins, given we all had little experience of large busy department stores, and despite our vigilance. He was found playing happily with the toys in the lost children’s area after a loudspeaker announcement. Of course he was totally unaware of our Day 2 ‘disaster’ panic. We all trooped off to see Father Christmas.
On Friday morning I popped across the road to find the Department of Psychiatry, which showed small signs of pending Christmas with even a tree at reception. Most staff members were still working, if busy, but someone parked me in the staff room (which was to become the centre of the work world), made me a cup of coffee, and began the process of introducing me to staff as they emerged. Then I had some time with Jeff Gerard, the man who was to be my supervisor, mentor, champion, and life long friend. His letters had suggested someone who was enthusiastic about life and his work, and our conversation did not disappoint. He bubbled over with his plans for the department, ideas about working with families drawn from his time in the United States, and the statewide training program to which I would become attached. I was introduced to more staff members, and then packed off to the admin department with my passport, to sign forms, provide our new bank account numbers, and set up superannuation. I was to begin my Australian journey to become a child psychiatrist on 13th January 1975.
Back in Kermode Street, I overwhelmed Jan with all the information, we had lunch, and then began a series of phone calls to begin to tick off the issues on our rather lengthy list. Our sponsors, the building company, were understandably keen to show off some of their houses, and Jan remembers being driven to various suburbs in the bliss of their air-conditioned car. We were not obligated to buy, but after we had seen a brand new bungalow in a newly developing outer suburb called Surrey Downs (about 17Kms north of the city), and under the pressure of the short term rental at the hospital, we signed the papers, handed over a cheque for the deposit, and were given the keys to our first home in Australia. We were going to need to buy some basic furniture, given it would be another 6 weeks before delivery of all of our stuff from Birchington. We were also going to need two cars.

When I reflect on that time, it was amazing that we all managed. We must have been beginning the grief of leaving our known world behind, of saying goodbye to the precious people we knew. Yet we coped. I suspect that was because of the close relationship and open communication between Jan and I. We had (and have) a close agreement on most things, and only very rarely have major disagreements. I think, despite the problems of everyday life in this new adventure, we kept the tension low, we made the most of every circumstance, and we kept up a strongly optimistic frame of mind. This was our family adventure, and we set out to make sure everyone enjoyed it. We have always tried to keep communication channels open with each of the children, and if one of us was struggling with that, the other was quite comfortable to step in with a different way of constructing the problem and solution. And I believe the children had every trust in us to work things out, and while we had numerous uncertainties, we knew we would get there (wherever ‘there’ was going to be.

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