Wicker and Gladioli

Valuing Craft at Morisset Hospital

In 1955 a journalist for the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’s Advocate reported that when touring the Morisset Psychiatric Hospital he observed a blind patient weaving a basket.

At the Hospital in this time, and until 1965, items such as these baskets were made by patients in the Male Occupational Therapy Department. But there are also records which mentioned female patients making these crafts as early as 1954.

The department was renamed the Industrial Rehabilitation Department in the 1970s following the integration of male and female patients in some wards. It was during this time that these basket samples were likely made.

Each year from 1962, crafts made by the patients were sold at the hospital’s own ‘Festival of Flowers’ in November. This Festival invited residents from the district to come and admire the beautiful gardens at the hospital while the gladioli were flowering. Ernie Keen, the Head Gardener from the late 1920s to the late 1950s, and his team of twelve patients were credited for the beauty of the grounds – a rare quality for asylums in this period.

The fertile hospital grounds produced flowers of such good quality that the festival became a means to raise money for the patient amenities fund. Alongside the stalls which sold flowers were those selling patient crafts. The money earnt was then used to purchase new materials for the program.

Mr Herbert Pocock, head of the Hospital Activities Programme from 1967, monitored the program for two years. During this time, he found 87% of the patients who engaged with occupational therapy profoundly improved their conditions with 10% leaving the hospital altogether.

However, it is important to acknowledge that only those considered suitable for the department would participate in such activities and most patients were not given the opportunity to access this form of therapy.