Today, 25th November 2015, we held the first memorial service in Australia that acknowledged people with disabilities who have died through neglect or at the hands of their carers from 1788, the establishment of British colonial rule, to the present.
An extraordinary circumstance changed the way we ended the service: Craig Wallace, the President of People with Disability Australia received news that a report , tabled by a Senate committee in the Australian Senate, has recommended a Royal Commission into Violence against People with Disability, plus an overhaul of the justice system and a national watchdog body. He made the announcement just before the farewell speech, which was cut short to accommodate the extra speech. Read more.
Below are the key speeches made at the memorial service.
“Welcome and Acknowledgement of Country” – Suzy Keene
Good evening friends, on behalf of the Australian Cross Disability Alliance I welcome you to the White Flower Memorial Service.
First I want to acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of this land, and to recognise that the Gadigal people were the first to be disempowered and displaced from their country.
The attitudes and actions towards First Peoples in 1788 has repercussions across Australia today, placing First Peoples with disability and their families amongst the most seriously disadvantaged and disempowered members of the Australian community.
This site was chosen for our memorial service because it is the first formal public space, the town square created in 1810. In 1818, made by the hands of convict labour, including those of my own ancestor who became an overseer on its construction, the Obelisk that stands near us marks the distance to other places in New South Wales along the earliest roads. Even now it is a place that is used to calculate the length of all road journeys to and from Sydney.
It is fitting that we remember that the journey to this place and to this event has taken 227 years: this obelisk is where all points meet, past and present, a place that connects all our histories.
We have come together today to mourn for those who have passed and whose names we may never know, whose names are long lost. We mourn men, women and children who have died at the hands of those who were supposed to care for them and because today is White Ribbon Day we mourn the deaths of women with disabilities who have died because of the violence of their partners.
Today we remember them all with white flowers – a symbol of beauty, purity, and impermanence.
Today is also a day we reaffirm our commitment to ending violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability; a day where we reaffirm the unity of our community in standing against our history of unrecognised violence and murder of people with disability.
This service is only the first: next year we want to see remembrance services across Australia; we want to see a National Disability Day of Mourning. and a sea of white flowers. We shall remember them all.
I now invite Craig Wallace to speak.
“Remember” – Craig Wallace
Thanks, Suzy and like you I acknowledge that we meet on the lands of indigenous people.
That is an important acknowledgment because today we are speaking about other events that have been parked for too long in our history.
Because when my European ancestors came out here 227 years ago they didn’t just bring convicts and invasion. They also bought the borstals, the Asylums, the orphanages and the cruel history of places like Bedlam. They bought the misguided therapies.
They bought buildings that had attics and imported attics of the mind that fed us the lie that disability and illness was something to be feared, enclosed and shut away.
And it was Paul Keating who said in a speech not far from here in 1992 that the atrocities committed against first peoples resulted from a failure of the imagination. An inability to imagine these things being done to us.
Well, the disabled people we remember today are us but for the grace of god. They are disabled people like us. They were human beings like us. They had feelings like us. So it’s about time we named it. Under the guise of law, medicine, therapy, family and charity terrible things were done.
People like us were chained in cots and forced to lie in their excrement
People like us were beaten
People like us were starved and denied water
People like us were raped
People like us were imprisoned
People like us were murdered
And it wasn’t called murder. And it wasn’t called rape.
And all of these things were done and wrapped in euphemisms for one real reason. Because they were like us. Because they looked like us. Because they communicated like us. Because they had bodies, genes and minds that were disabled. They had disabled minds that didn’t fit the mold. And disabled bodies like our bodies. Like my body.
So today we say we are with you. We remember you. We reclaim you. We are not ashamed of you.
We love you and believe you to be worthy and capable of love. You are our kind.
And in your name we shall fight for those who are still beaten, imprisoned and chained. And we will never ever stop until every institution is closed and all of us are free.
There are years when the arc of history turns and an issue becomes central and irresistible. When many forces crash into place. In 2013 that arrived for disability support through the NDIS. Australia said no person with a disability should be forced to survive on two showers a week. That we should not beg for equipment or respite.
This year we confront another truth. We say that no person should ever be assaulted, imprisoned, murdered or tortured because they are like us. We say there are no exceptions. We reject the idea that disability is a provocation for parental murder in the same way that what you wear is a provocation to rape. Or that gay panic is a defence for murder. We did not invite our persecution.
This is the year that we heard time after time about abuse of children with disability in institutions through the Royal Commission.
A Senate inquiry into abuse and neglect of people with disability heard from hundreds of people with disability.
The Uncounted told the stories of people without names living lives of pain buried without mourning.
And this collective shame demands a response. I call for redress. I call for a national royal commission into abuse in institutions. I call for a national day of mourning and monuments to the dead to be erected at the places where they were neglected by the State and plowed into the ground.
But first of all, I call for them to be remembered. For their names and stories to be said out loud in the sunlight amongst people who loved them. For them to be at last granted the most basic grace and dignity of a memorial. Music to be played, white flowers laid and bells to be tolled. And at least today we can begin this as a disabled community.
And I invite Sam Connor who for more than a year now has been slowly piecing together the stories of the uncounted people with disability to share these with us & for you to join with us in granting them a moment of prayer, memory and remembrance.
“First Remembrance – Reading of the Names” – Sam Connor
We are the uncounted.
Since 1788, an uncounted number of people with disability in Australia have died at the hands of others in institutions, places of confinement and at the hands of families and authorities.
We have died in those places, and our bodies have been piled upon the bodies of others in paupers graves. We lie without markers.
We have died as a result of domestic and family violence, and too often our disabilities are blamed, or our perpetrators are afforded sympathy instead of us.
We are often segregated and isolated. There are often no friends or family members to mourn our loss, and people do not always notice that we are gone from the world.
Sometimes, the Coroners are our biographers. Today, we speak for those who cannot speak, we count those who have not been counted.
We join together in the reading of their names to express solidarity with those lost to violence, anger at the perpetrators and determination to fight together against oppression, violence and the social conditions and power imbalances that have caused our deaths.
We also call upon decision makers to listen to the stories told to the Senate and the report about violence against people with disability which will be tabled today.
We call upon all people who care about nonviolence and justice to bring about changes that will relegate acts of violence against people with disability to the past.
We call upon every person in Australia, including our disabled brothers and sisters, to speak up, tell our stories, and let the world know that violence against people with disability is unacceptable.
Today, we reaffirm our commitment to ending violence, abuse and neglect against people with disability. We reaffirm the unity of our community in standing against our history of unrecognised violence and murder of people with disability.
I will now read the names of some of the thousands of people with disability who are lost to this world.
The list is incomplete. We mourn today for the countless others who died at the hands of those who were supposed to care for them – we mourn for those who have passed and whose names we may never know. (Bell rings)
We remember Shellay Ebony Ward, aged 7, from Hawks Nest in NSW.
We remember Shellay and the many other children with disability who died as a result of family violence and after the failure of the child protection system. (Bell rings)
We remember Jack Sullivan, aged 18, from Ainslie in the ACT.
We remember Jack and the many other people with disability who have died as a result of neglect or abuse in government funded respite facilities. (Bell rings)
We remember the thousands of men and women with disability who were admitted to the Peat Island institution in NSW from 1911, and the hundreds who are buried nearby and onsite in unmarked graves.
We remember those who experienced horrific abuses at Milsen and Peat, and those who are now buried at Brooklyn Cemetery, one on top of each other, in pauper’s graves. We remember them and those people with disability who were buried without marker or the simple grace of a funeral. (Bell rings)
We remember Amanda Gilbert, aged 47, from WA.
We remember Amanda and the many other women with disability who died in institutional settings after years of abuse experienced because they did not ‘fit’. (Bell rings)
We remember Rebecca Lazarus, aged 25, from Boronia in Victoria.
We remember Rebecca and other women with disability who have died as a result of domestic or family violence. (Bell rings)
We remember ten year old Jason Dawes, from Kings Langley in NSW.
We remember Jason and the other children with disability who have died as a result of family violence and whose murders were described as ‘acts of love’ or ‘mercy killings’. (Bell rings)
We remember Stephen Moon, aged 21, of Narrabundah, ACT.
We remember Stephen and other people with disability who have died as a result of inappropriate medical treatment in health settings and other institutional settings. (Bell rings)
We remember Jody Meyers, aged 20, of South Australia.
We remember Jody and other people with disability who have died as a result of domestic violence. (Bell rings)
We remember Shaneen Batts, aged 60, of the 300 Hostel in Marrickville.
We remember Shaneen, Ilona Takas, Dorothy Hudson, Ian Birks, Donald Mackellar, Mohammed Ramzan and others who have died as a result of being over medicated, neglected and abused in ‘care’ at boarding houses. (Bell rings)
We remember Peta Doig, aged 58, of Graylands Hospital, WA.
We bear witness for Peta Doig and those people with disability who experienced repeated violence and abuse within a lifetime in institutionalised care. (Bell rings)
We remember Levai Bonnar, aged 7, of Sydney, NSW.
We remember Levai and other children who have been the victims of domestic and family violence. (Bell rings)
We remember Kim Hunt, aged 42, of Watch Hill farm near Lockhart, NSW.
We remember Kim, her son Fletcher and other people with disability who have died as a result of family violence. (Bell rings)
We remember the people with disability who died in mental health institutions like Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum, which opened in Victoria in 1848 and closed in 1925.
There were well over 1000 burials at the cemetery, but the graves are unmarked and records are difficult to ascertain. Most people were buried with others. The cemetery is located on the river flats under the practice fairway of a golf course.
We remember the thousands of men, women and children who are buried on the sites of old institutions across Australia in common and unmarked graves and those whose names have now been forgotten. (Bell rings)
We remember Zahra Baker, aged 10, of North Carolina (formerly Wagga Wagga, Australia).
We remember Zahra and other children who have died as a result of domestic and family violence, including Australians with disability who have died in other countries. (Bell rings)
We remember Gary O’Dwyer, aged 29, of Murray Bridge, SA.
We remember Gary, Frederick Brooks, Suzanne Allen, Thomas Trevilyan, Ray Davies and the other disabled victims of the Snowtown murders and other murders where people are targeted by hate crimes because of their difference or perceived vulnerability. (Bell rings)
We remember Isabella Leiper, aged 9, of Clarence Town, NSW.
We remember Isabella and the other children with disability who have died and whose parents have been charged with their murders or manslaughters. (Bell rings)
We remember Warwick Ashdown, aged 27, of Graylands Hospital, WA.
We remember Warwick and other people with disability who have died in psychiatric hospitals as a result of restraint procedures. (Bell rings)
We remember Lala Mardigan, aged 22, from Wadeye in the NT.
We remember Lala and the other Aboriginal women, men and children who were not given the support they needed in their remote and regional communities. (Bell rings)
We remember eleven year old Client 8, whose name was never disclosed during the lengthy investigations that followed his death on April 3 at the Basil Stafford Training Centre.
We remember Client 8 and those who died after being institutionalised in Queensland institutions like Challinor, Basil Stafford and Bribie Island. (Bell rings)
We remember Peter Eitzen, aged 16, from Blackiston, Australia.
We remember Peter and other young men and women who have died as a result of domestic and family violence. (Bell rings)
We remember Courtney Jayde Topic, aged 22, from Carnes Hill in NSW.
We remember Courtney Topic and the other people with disability and psychosocial disability who have died at the hands of law enforcement agents.(Bell rings)
We remember the men, women and children with disability who died at Royal Derwent Hospital/Lachlan Park/Millbrook Rise/New Norfolk/Willow Court from 1829 to 2001 and especially those who died after repeated, lifelong and substantiated abuse.
Some patients from the hospital and/or asylum were buried at the North Circle Public Cemetery. Others were buried in sites which have been repurposed, and the headstones were removed and records destroyed.
We remember those who were buried as paupers in public graves and whose names have been lost to time after a lifetime in ‘care’. (Bell rings)
We remember Krystal Fraser, who was 25, from Pyramid Hill, Victoria.
We remember Krystal, her unborn child and other people with disability who are believed murdered, including those who are missing.(Bell rings)
We remember Janene Devine, aged 48, from Bullcreek in WA.
We remember Janene and the other Australians with disability who died at the hands of their caregivers. (Bell rings)
We remember the patients and residents of the Public Colonial Lunatic Asylum in South Australia, the Adelaide Lunatic Asylum and the Parkside/Glenside Lunatic Asylum.
We remember the dozens of South Australian children who were imprisoned behind the ha-ha walls at Parkside from 1940 with adult patients, and those men and women who died under the psychosurgery knives or after ECT.
We remember those people and others who lived and died at Parkside, Lochiel Park Boys’ Training Centre, Minda, Seaforth Home and Northfield Mental Hospital and other institutional settings in South Australia. (Bell rings)
We remember Alice McTye, aged 34, from Oakdon, South Australia.
We remember Alice and those many others who have drowned in residential and institutional care settings.(Bell rings)
We remember Stuart Lambert, aged 31, from Queensland.
We remember Stuart and the many other men, women and children who have died in ‘care’ as a result of unexplained violence. (Bell rings)
We remember Joseph Richmond, aged 35, of Kew Cottages, Victoria.
We remember Joseph, Alan Negri, Adrian Edmunds, Thomas Grant, Shayne Newman, Bruce Haw, Ronald Aldridge, Peter Otis and Stanley Mathews, who died in the Kew Cottages fire in 1996. (Bell rings)
We remember Neil Summerell, aged 34, of Kambah, ACT.
We remember Neil and others who have died at the hands of unqualified and untrained care staff. (Bell rings)
We remember Kyla Puhle, aged 27, of North Brighton.
We remember Kyla and other women, men and children with disability who have been starved, neglected or have otherwise died as a result of domestic or family violence. (Bell rings)
I will now lay the first wreath and we will hold a minute of silence before asking you to come forward to lay the white flowers.