Patients were encouraged to develop and utilise their skills in their hospitalisation and recovery. Brian St Alban Smith was a Larundel patient in the 1960s. He wrote and published a book about his experiences as a patient, a book for children on the opal fields and a book of his poetry. Here are some of his poems and drawings sent to us from his family. The Feature Picture shows the the front covers of his three books.

His Book: The Spirit Beyond the Psyche: hope for depressives (1978, now out of print)

..‘Is a sensitively written novel based on the author’s own experience as a mental patient. The reader is subtly caught up in the convulsions of a brain-nightmare and he associates with a mind that is gradually becoming aware of its own irrationality. And, though now and then a momentary brightness gleams through, he co-experiences the horror of the locked ward: he endures the long and bitter striving towards normality – towards the light that must be present, else all human existence is hell indeed…’

The Opal Pub – painting by Brian St Alban Smith

Brian St Alban Smith

About the Author

Brian St Alban Smith was born in Singapore in 1926. During the closing stages of World War II, as a very young man, he served in the RAAF as an air-gunner, following this service with a stint in the British Army in India before that country’s independence. He then served six years in the Royal Australian Engineers. Married in Victoria in 1948 to Greta, they had 3 children. He was unwell for a lengthy period in the 1960s, suffering bipolar disorder (manic depression). He settled to live as a writer and artist in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges of Victoria, until his death in 2014 at age 88 years.

He published a book of his poetry, ‘Brushstrokes from the Hills’, in 1981. Some of his poems are reproduced here, illustrating his great talent and meticulous observation.

Are we mad in here?
Or are we the sane ones?
Outside is chaos…dark…
Some laugh at us, sneer,
Scared, yet preening themselves
Because they can leave.
I look about the ward,
At the circle of resigned figures,
And a great love wells
For them…
The boy in the Rugby helmet of leather,
Protection against his many falls
…Brain damage…
The kindly septuagenarian,
So thin, so wasted, wrinkled pyjamas,
Who shuffles by, always apologies
On his lips.

He apologises for being…

The bald man with the speech defect, constantly twitching,
…D’uuuh…Grant him peace…
We are a race apart;
I see this when the Voices let me,
During the respites…
But there is one I pray for,
Sadly, fervently,
The good psychiatrist,
The skilled one
Who is an atheist.
Long years in asylums killed his boyhood faith,
He told me once.
He neither believes in inner devils
Nor in an all-embracing Deity.
Yet every day he does God’s work…
His patience is like the Saviour’s…
Yet still par-blind?
I always thought atheists were evil
Lesson one…
I see a lady in my head – often –
My life.
I would go to her whom I love dearly
But I am fearful of the lost days,
The times of madness,
When unwittingly, I might strike her down…
So, I stay here til someone is sure.
Someone…doctor, God, my family;
I stay here with my brothers…

Portrait of a Young Lady – 1969

Music plays, mournful, a requiem
As the beat of wings
Against the web of gold…
A Last-Post for the unbrave:
Yet valour in his coffin…
So, the madness lies…
Sad monster…shrivelled, wrinkled,
That other self, that id,
Baking violet on an opal-dump,
Shackled by phobias
In the last landscape
Of his heart…

The Old Chinaman’s Shack at Three Mile –  by Brian St Alban Smith

Rehabilitation through creative work 

Other writers and patients have also crafted works which describe Larundel, such as Sandy Jeffs in her revealing ‘Out of the madhouse: from asylums to caring community?’ This book written with Margaret Leggatt in 2020, advocates for rehabilitation without the stigma associated with mental ill health.

Art work collected from Larundel is available in the Cunningham Dax Collection, and the La Trobe University Art Institute. Dr Cunningham Dax and Occupational Therapists at Larundel were enthusiastic in promoting art and other creative work to stimulate rehabilitation.

See: Dr Eric Cunningham Dax | Mont Park to Springthorpe

Occupational Therapy and mental health hospitals – Mont Park and Larundel | Mont Park to Springthorpe

This article was written with permission from Brian St Alban Smith’s family in 2021, and we would like to express our sincere thanks to them.

K. Andrewartha and Margaret Jack 2021