As I have previously reflected upon on this blog, I was bullied by staff while studying social work at the University of Newcastle. That bullying had almost reached its ugly zenith when in late 1991, I was dragged into this weird and spooky inquistion meeting with two lecturers from the social work department, where I studied. For two, maybe three hours they harangued and hassled me and effectively chewed me to bits, telling me repeatedly that I was dumb, stupid, that I could not write and that I had absolutely no academic potential. In short, they had wanted me to withdraw from the course, since drumming people out who did not fit their prescribed, cod ordinary social work mold, was painstakingly common. I was, for one, the only male to graduate from that first cohort of students.
In my particular case, timing was indeed everything, since as both those lecturers well knew, I was at that moment stuck in the extraordinary bind of having my father diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and the delicate balancing act where we shared care responsibilities for, respectively, our wife and mother, was facing inexorable crisis. My mother had for eight years to that date suffered with early onset dementia and with my father’s death imminent, we were scurrying around to try and find her suitable nursing home care. One might expect that in such dire circumstances, social workers might do what social workers are supposed to do: ‘empathise.’ However, in true pathological form, the greater my distress, the more intensely I got bullied.
That bullying did reach its zenith in the middle of 1992, when my first confirmed social work placement at James Fletcher Hospital in Newcastle was pulled the night before I was due to commence, on account of an intervention between Social Work at the University of Newcastle and the head of social work at that hospital. The craven politics of that barbaric act centred on the fact that my mother had been ‘temporarily’ placed in Boronia House, a psycho-geriatric facility on the other side of the James Fletcher Hospital grounds. I was advocating against the decision of Boronia House’s staff to ‘dump’ my mother in a far away institution, a fact well known to Social Work and not an issue for them, in terms of my proposed placement.
Well, not until a phone conversation betwen the Head of the Social Work Department and his good friend and colleague at James Fletcher Hospital…
Even if I was able to countenance the possibility that Social Work was trying to avoid some sort of potential conflict of interest in which I might be enmeshed while on placement, although at that early stage of events no one could have foreseen what was going to happen, what do you think they would do next?
As fate would have it, and strictly against their own policy on where students could be located for first field education placements, I was sent to Gosford Community Mental Health, some 100 kilometres away from home. That meant getting up in the early hours of the morning and ending each ‘work’ day around nine pm, after visiting my mother at Boronia House, to see how she was going. In breach of the UN Convention Against Torture, and common human decency besides, staff at Boronia House had responded to my advocating against their plans to dump my mother out in the wilderness by withdrawing all nursing care to her. Within a few short weeks, that withdrawal of care had left a woman who had been in robust physical health for more than a decade, at the point of death.
I will be forever ‘stuck’ with the horrid traumatic memories of being forced to helplessly bear witness to the immense and totally avoidable suffering of the woman who had not only given birth to me but who had already endured way too much hardship in her life. For the eight years that I had been her primary carer I had been vigilant in ensuring my mother’s health, well being and safety. Further, and despite her inexorable cognitive decline, I had been able to bring much comfort and happiness to my mother’s life. To have that all needlessly smashed by staff at Boronia House was bad enough, but to have been so cruelly placed out of area by Social Work when I absolutely had to be placed at home, in Newcastle, took an immense toll on my physical and mental health.
I recall just after my father had died in July 1992, and with my mother being tortured all the while in Boronia House, how I had asked one of my social work lecturers for a brief extension for an assignment that was due. Despite the fact that I had not asked for any extensions or other forms of special consideration to date, her po-faced response was that the Social Work Department only gave extensions in ‘exceptional’ circumstances and my circumstances were not considered to be exceptional. I note with much sadness, thus, that 20 years later, bullying remains out of control at the University of Newcastle. The only difference is that nowadays, as this stunning video shows, more people are willing to speak out against bullying and assert their inalienable right to live free from abuse or neglect.
I will be forever grateful to Pr Lois Bryson, without whose tireless professional support I would have surely been eaten alive by those feral pigs in Social Work…"
(Thanks to the author for permitting its publication on our blog).