Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Round the Bend

This last week juggling work and a little baby I have found myself frequently thinking that I am going round the bend.

Which of course then leads me to wondering where that phrase may have originated. As your author tends to do.

Clearly the expression has something to do with mental health.  There is a school of thought that suggests it may have to do with the fact that many mental asylums were at the end of windy roads.

However I once heard a much more interesting theory, which also happens to be local, that I'd like to share with you today.

By the 1840s the population of Melbourne had grown into the thousands. This created a significant problem. Even though extra cells were built at the gaol to house "lunatics" overcrowding soon ensued.

So in 1848 on the banks of the Yarra, above Dights Fall an asylum was built. This was further expanded in 1850.

Initially known as a ward if the asylum Tarban Creek, it was officially named Yarra Bend Asylum in 1851, as it was built on a fairly large bend in the Yarra River.  Heading there was, literally, to go round the bend. 

A parliamentary inquiry was held in 1852 finding evidence of patient physical and sexual abuse, staff stealing government funds and corruption.  Given that at the time abuse was fairly routine in most asylum's - the situation in Yarra Bend must have been fairly bad.  As a result of the inquiry - both the doctor and the superintendent were replaced.

Yarra Bend faced calls for its closure from 1862, however the states asylum system was severely overcrowded despite opening of new institutions in Ballarat, Beechworth and Ararat.  This was due to the Gold rush and because of the fact that a larger number of people were being diagnosed as "lunatics" and that asylums were also being used to house "inebriates", "idiots" and "imbeciles".

Despite the fact that it was outdated, obsolete and basically falling apart at the seams, Yarra Bend kept accepting admissions right up until 1925.  Even after the asylum itself closed, the buildings then kept being used as part of Fairlea Women's Prison until 1993.

Today, all that remains is a pillar. A golf course is built over the asylum, including, it's believed some 400 grave sites.

I wonder if the metaphor hold about going round the bend holds as well for golf?

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  1. Another interesting local psych one, which I'm not certain is true, is about the origin of the phrase "dacks" or "dax", as in, pants.

    I did a tour of Mayday Hills (Beechworth Asylum) a couple of years ago, and the guide told us that the state-issued uniform for patients lacked provision of underwear until the 1950s or so. Apparently when renowned psychologist Dr Eric Cunningham Dax visited, he found that to be quite ridiculous and recommended that patients be issued with underpants. They were, and they thereafter became known as "dax" in his honour. Allegedly. Sounds convincing... but hey, never let the truth get in the way of a good story!

  2. I heard the same story when I was there! I choose to believe it because I love the story!

  3. Sounds like a good theory to me! I swear, this state is practically littered with insane asylums and I seem to keep learning about more and more of them. It rather makes me wonder what was going on.

    1. Booze. Booze was going on.

      You mark every city with one or more pubs - well you're going to need one or more asylum...


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