For several days after he was “certified” we were not allowed to see him. I tried to imagine him in the Reception House, but I could not. Then we took the tram out to Callan Park, known to schoolboys as Sydney’s most famous “looney bin”, and we sat in a cold stone room with bars on its windows as if we were paying a social call on a man who was not interested in us. He was anxious that we should meet a fellow patient, whom he described as his “new friend”, and after some discussion the other patient was brought in, dressed in his street clothes like Dad. Dad and his new friend talked to each other while we sat on our hard wooden chairs and watched them.
On the morning of my last day at Parramatta High I said good-bye to our house at Westmead before I went to school. The removalists were already beginning to stack away our furniture. I avoided good-byes at school, and when lessons were over I made the long journey to Denbigh [Horne’s grandparents’ home in Kogarah] where we were going to live until we knew what was to happen to us…The next morning I woke up early, looking at the shapes of our stacked-up furniture as they defined themselves against the dawn, and then went, with indifference, to my new school, Canterbury High…
By now Dad had been moved into one of the Repatriation wards, each of them a separate building, at the end of the grounds of Callan Park. To reach these we would walk through the rest of the hospital, past buildings with barred windows, and past a big stone enclosure, like an animal pit at the zoo, where insane women in blue hospital uniforms were crowded, ignoring each other as they talked to themselves or stared out into nothing. Whenever we walked past them I looked at them sideways, ashamed of my curiosity at their misfortune, but unable not to examine it. Although I knew I was in a madhouse, and although I was afraid of everyone I saw, nevertheless when anyone spoke to me I was always startled to recognize that this person was insane. The grass was trimmed, the paths were freshly swept, there were flowers in the garden beds; if one looked away from the barred windows and the women’s stone pit it all seemed as normal as a public park. A well-dressed woman came up to me. She was carrying a copy of the Saturday Evening Post. She began to talk in an apparently normal way, in an educated voice. She was telling me about a conspiracy against her, a conspiracy mounted by words that were not even words, and she was drawing a diagram on the magazine to prove it, sketching it out quickly and methodically. I kept on listening to her, afraid of her, but politely making conversation about her diagram. Even when Dad came out of the ward with Mum she would not go away. Yet she looked as if she was dressed for a quiet day’s shopping in town. On these journeys to Callan Park I chilled my emotions, trying to notice nothing, and noticing things nevertheless.
Donald Horne, Australian, 1921-2005