I’ve been trying to source information about the great-grandfather of my memoir subject (my subject is Aaron Fa’Aoso, his great-grandfather was Guy Townson).
Aaron remains very close to his Nan, was essentially raised by her, and Guy was her father. The following excerpt from the draft manuscript is Aaron’s recollection of Guy’s heartbreaking story.
Guy Townson was the skipper of a pearling ketch, and he spent the last years of his life in a mental hospital in Ipswich, in southern Queensland. My fair-skinned great-grandfather was the son of surveyor Harold Montague Wynne Townson, and an Islander woman called Genai.
In 1935 Guy Townson left [the Torres Strait island of] Saibai to travel south on a sailing trip and never came home.
The family story is that he injured his knee while at sea, and was hospitalised in Mackay. He soon tried to leave, to rejoin his crew, but as a so-called half-caste he needed permission. We think he did a runner, and that the police arrested him, and that maybe he incurred a brain injury while in police custody, which permanently disabled him, but no-one seems sure.
All we do know for sure is that he ended up in the Sandy Gallop asylum in Ipswich, an overcrowded and understaffed hole. Nan, her siblings, and her mother, were continually denied permission to leave Bamaga to visit him at the asylum, and Guy died of tuberculosis—after fourteen years without visitors—in 1949.
Understandably Aaron and his family would love more information about Guy, and would particularly like to know why he was admitted to the asylum.
I’ve therefore spent the better part of a year trying to get Guy Townson’s medical files from the Queensland State Archive although admittedly most of the delays were on Aaron’s side! Anyway, after making the family and me jump through a gazillion administrative hoops, the nice lady from the archives today gave me a call to say that the only info they hold about Guy Townson is a one-line record of his death: a record I’d already sourced from Queensland’s Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Apparently no other records exist in the archive because it’s entirely possible that when the mental hospital was decommissioned, all the old files were destroyed. I guess that applies to any hospital stay Guy had in Mackay, too.
So my question is this – is there anywhere else I could look?
Might the Queensland Department of Health know what happened to the files? The asylum buildings are now part of the campus of the University of Southern Queensland – might there be a basement full of old asylum records somewhere?
Grateful for any clues, hints or pointers.
That restriction on movement, you see it over and over and it was just straight out cruel. There isn’t any justification for it except slavery – an entire people owned by the state.
It was brutal. And the flow-on effects (as briefly illustrated here and discussed at greater – and even more interesting – length in Aaron’s memoir) continue to impact on people today. It’s still too easy for governments and other non-Indigenous folk to look away.