Case 442: Broken heart, unsound mind

Title:
Case 442: Broken heart, unsound mind
NFSA ID:
747018
Year:
2005
Category:
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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In reconstruction, in an overgrown field, an Aboriginal woman staggers through the lofty vegetation before falling to the ground. Frank, in voice-over narration, tells us that his mother’s heart and spirit were broken, and her life shattered because he was taken from her. Frank explains that Maudie was taken to Claremont (now Graylands Hospital), a hospital for the mentally ill that categorised Maudie as a ‘Female native suffering from unsound mind’. Evelyn Grove, a Graylands Hospital nurse recalls meeting Maudie, saying that she was rather withdrawn and believes she would have had a breakdown after losing her son. Black-and-white footage of the Claremont taken in the present day is followed by external shots of Claremont, colour, present day. Summary by Romaine Moreton.

In the Bringing Them Home Report about the Stolen Generations, the testimonies of the children are recorded. What is generally missing from these stories is the mother’s perspective. The emotional turmoil endured by Maudie from having her son removed, and the incarceration that resulted, gives human value to what may otherwise be only statistical evidence.

 

Case 442 synopsis

Frank Byrne was stolen from his mother Maudie Yooringun at the age of five. Decades later, Frank searches for his mother’s burial site with the intention of taking her back to her country in the Kimberley, 42 years after she passed away.

 

Case 442 curator's notes

A personable and intimate portrayal of an Indigenous family whose lives are irreparably changed by the government removal policies. Case 442 is the story of Frank Byrne who was taken from Christmas Creek to Moola Bulla on the 20 November 1943, removed from his mother Maudie Yooringun. Frank pinpoints that moment of his life – when he was taken to Moola Bulla – as being when the struggle for survival began, not only for him but also for the other children removed from their parents. When Frank was taken from Moola Bulla to Beagle Bay Mission, he was told by a priest that his mother had died, but the details of where, when and how were unknown to him, and Frank would search for the answers to these questions all of his life.

Case 442 is a heart wrenching story of Frank Byrne, who as an old man finally finds his mother’s resting place at Perth’s Claremont Mental Institute, where she was incarcerated following a nervous breakdown she suffered after the forced removal of her small son. Frank Byrne’s search for his mother was one that was supported by Stolen Generations senior case workers Justin Howard and Heather Shearer, and Julie Hayden from the Department of Indigenous Affairs, who collectively located Maudie’s remains. Case 442 is a personal testimonial to the effects of Aboriginal child removal policies, and the lifelong consequences it has had upon people who have endured being separated from their families and communities. Witnessing the emotion of Frank Byrnes, now an elder, and the determination he has to find the remains of his mother and return her to her country, is a demonstration of the impact of child removal policies on an individual survivor.

A film from writer and director Mitch Torres, Case 442 is the human face of a government policy designed to assimilate Indigenous peoples into mainstream society, the intention being to indoctrinate half-caste children with western values and in the process, forget Indigenous cultural identity and connections.

This program has also screened on NITV, National Indigenous Television.

Notes by Romaine Moreton

 

Education notes

This clip shows, through interviews and reconstructions, the consequences for Maudie Yooringun of the removal of her son in the 1940s. A re-enactment of a distraught Maudie Yooringun is shown alone in the bush, and black-and-white footage is used to show Claremont Hospital for the Insane, where she was incarcerated. A medical report states that Yooringun was 'suffering from an unsound mind’. Her son, Frank Byrne, says her heart and spirit were broken when he was removed and Evelyn Grove, a former nurse at the hospital, remembers her when she was a patient there.

Educational value points

  • After the removal of her only child, Maudie Yooringun was sent to Claremont Hospital for the Insane in Fremantle, where she remained until her death 18 years later, even though former nurse Evelyn Grove says she did not appear to have a mental illness. The Claremont site, which housed up to 1,000 patients, operated between 1904 and 1983, a time when the mentally ill were institutionalised.
  • While Yooringun’s breakdown was a reaction to the removal of her only child, she was nevertheless perceived as having an 'unsound mind’. The Protector of Aborigines in 1906 said that 'I would not hesitate … to separate any half-caste from its aboriginal mother, no matter how frantic her momentary grief might be … They soon forget their offspring’ (http://www.austlii.edu.au).
  • Light-skinned or mixed-race children such as Byrne were targeted because it was felt they could be more easily integrated. Frank Byrne’s removal from his mother was part of the policy of assimilation adopted by the Western Australian Government in the 1930s, which assumed that Indigenous Australians would be best served by integrating them into non-Indigenous society. This was to be achieved by instructing Indigenous children in a Western way of life.
  • The clip re-creates Yooringun’s story through interviews with her son Frank Byrne and nurse Evelyn Grove, a dramatic reconstruction of her breakdown, black-and-white footage of Claremont Hospital and the medical report stating she was of 'unsound mind’. The combination of images and words conveys a sense of how Byrne has had to reconstruct his mother’s story through medical records, the recollections of people who knew her and speculation.
  • Much of the scene depicting Maudie Yooringun’s breakdown is filmed from her point of view as she wanders aimlessly and collapses in long grass, creating an impression of disorientation, while the soundtrack of stark music mirrors her despair and Byrne’s voice-over explains that her spirit and heart were broken.
  • A dreamlike sense of disconnection is achieved in the depiction of Yooringun’s arrival at Claremont Hospital by replacing all ambient noise with a monotonal soundtrack, filming in black-and-white to suggest a previous era and using point-of-view hand-held camerawork to replicate Yooringun’s perspective. Later, hollow footsteps and the sounds of children playing are incorporated to evoke the ghosts of the past.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
CAAMA Productions
Producer:
Citt Williams
Director:
Mitch Torres
Writer:
Mitch Torres
Acknowledgements:
Produced with the assistance of the Indigenous Branch of the Australian Film Commission

This clip starts approximately 13 minutes into the documentary.

An Aboriginal woman staggers through an overgrown field. An interview with Frank begins playing over this footage.
Frank Byrne Well I know straight away, soon as – soon as we – I was taken away from her. Her spirit was broken. Her heart was broken, her life was shattered.

Disjointed voices surround the Aboriginal woman who has fallen to the ground.
Frank Byrne It wasn’t too long, you see? It wasn’t too long before she lost it.

Frank Byrne is seen sitting outside against a backdrop of trees waving in the wind.
Frank Byrne They must have thought that she was really mad and they – they took her to, uh Claremont – to the, to the um – mental hospital there. Whatever happened there, I don’t know. But ah, according to her files they got there, she – she wasn’t – she wasn’t – she couldn’t come back home.

Black-and-white footage shows the streets of Fremantle and grounds and buildings of Graylands Hospital, formerly Claremont. A nurse at the hospital is interviewed.
Evelyn Grove, Graylands Hospital nurse She wasn’t plumpish. She was – she had a little round face, but she sort of – the natural curly hair. Some people would have found she would’ve er – she was withdrawn, very quiet, and didn’t want to – she wasn’t one person that would go out and start a conversation or anything. She was very quiet, withdrawn in herself. Well she probably had a breakdown when they – when they took her son away. She must have worried about that all her life, all what – what she’d been through, remembering back on her. She would have had a sad life, when you come to think of it. Uh, I’d say that’s – that’s probably where – what – all the problem was where she went, had the breakdown, and was brought down here, to Claremont.