Sue Wilson (2013)

[Kingseat Hospital]

Time Out of Place

Places are magnetic, their pull irresistible. Whether it be a happy place, a sad place, the place you met your husband, the streets you wandered as a teenager, where you worked, used to live, the list is endless, and at some point in our life we will be sucked in. It is an instinctive human need to retrace steps, to note changes, to recall memories, recapture youth, feel the presence of someone long gone. We associate people with places. And if there isn't a place that we remember fondly we create one, a happy place often constructed from childhood memories interlaced with imaginings.

Memories are unreliable at best, they are elastic, malleable, they soften with time. Memory often enhances or diminishes what the factual truth may once have been. It's subjective; my truth may not be my brother's truth, my reality at 17 may become less harsh at 30, or even forgiven at 60.

I let these thoughts hover in my mind as the wheels rolled the kilometres round the clock, the closer to my destination I got the quicker the years dropped away. Decade upon decade into a timewarp, an emotional vortex. A frisson of excitement, curiosity, wistful even, for a glimpse of the teenage girl that I was. My first visit was in September 1966. A skinny, long haired wannabe hippie chick, I probably wore a multi coloured mini dress with sleeves that flared from the elbows and long white boots. The epitome of hip. As Bob Dylan quipped, 'the more things change, the more they stay the same'. Today I am wearing raggedly chic blue jeans, black short sleeved shirt, black waistcoat, ankle boots, and with long red and white hair, perhaps closer now to the image I longed for back in the '60s.

As in 1966 I am making this trip this alone, the difference being that back then Auckland was not a connection of motorways to be driven at great speed and I went by bus, and the journey took almost two hours longer, punctuated with stops at every small town on the way. Passengers got on with all manner of daily commodities, shopping bags of every design bulging with produce from the butcher, the green grocer, I almost expected chickens in a cage but that was just a flash of whimsy. There was never milk as that was delivered daily in bottles by the milk man, and baking was more often than not done at home.

Is it any wonder we wax lyrical about the sixties? To spite the fact that nuclear warfare was a constant threat life was lived, by the youth of the day, for the day. Sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll. Where employment was non-existent, and the quarter acre section spread far and wide and the living was easy.

I turned into the driveway, the magnificent trees standing as grand as ever on either side, just as spectacular as I remembered them. And that, unfortunately is where the familiarity ended. The place was appalling. I was horrified by the state of the once majestic buildings. They were tired, unkempt, filthy, covered in graffiti, the whitewash that was always immaculate had turned to a nondescript grime off the colour spectrum and the last flakes of paint were desperately clinging to the walls. The art deco architecture had turned into a slum. I drove around and everywhere I looked it was the same depressingly sad state of affairs. I came back and parked by the big centre lawn that sat in front of the main building that had once sat proudly surveying its surrounding villas. At least the grass had been mown recently.

I sat on the grass and felt deflated and almost as if I was there on some illicit business. I felt no memories flooding back, I hardly recognised the place. No, that's not true, I knew each building and the villas still had their numbers attached to them, I glanced at Palm Lodge for a long time, trying to visualise Gillian playing the piano while a few of us sang folk songs, and the girls' dormitory through the grimy windows. I forced memories, but they were so far removed from the place I sat now. This was the lawn where I would lie in the sun with my boyfriend, Terry, and the same lawn where George wrote his love poem for me. There was rubbish littered about, drink cans, food wrappers, cigarette butts. And then there were the people. At first I thought they were squatters. Then a woman came passed riding a mobility scooter and I asked her, 'Do you live here.' It turned out that, yes, she and her family along with others did live here, in the villas and out buildings. She had been here for five years, we are the closest thing there is in Auckland to a commune. Oh God, I though. 'But isn't the plumbing stuffed?', I asked her. 'Sometimes, and the electricity, but they come and fix it up every time there's a problem, they're good like that.' They being Century 21 Real Estate, Manurewa, who manage the property for the off shore owner, who I later found out were Pulin Investments Limited, whose director was most definitely on shore. Every building that was rentable was rented out, and the villas were rented out like this: the villas that were rented out as two units, one being ground floor and the other upstairs, others had been cut up into four smaller units, and Century 21 told me that these smaller units were rented out at $420 per week. Expensive considering the state of the buildings and services.

'What about Spookers, I asked her, doesn't it annoy you?' 'No, my daughter loves it, and on Labour Weekend there's the grand opening of a Paint Ball arena, down there where the fences are, where the criminally insane used to be.' Oh God!.....The tenants, from what I could see, took no pride in their units/flats, apart from the odd battered trampoline and mangy dog chained to a post that was little sign of habitation. Washing flapped on a clothes line here and there, I saw just the one woman I had spoken to, unless you could count the one smoking on her porch who flicked me a wave, or maybe just her ash. And the one who hooned past in a beat-up car. What a dreadful state of affairs.

Here is a little history taken from the Kingseat Structure Plan, Franklin District, by Clough and Associates (p.14): 'In 1927 Auckland's only psychiatric hospital, then named the Auckland Mental Hospital, was experiencing over-crowding and the encroachment of suburbia, and plans to establish a second hospital were underway. On March 17 1927 the Auckland Weekly News (p.23) reported that:
the government has approved of the purchase of an area of 650 acres on the waterfront of the Manukau Harbour near Patumahoe. The property is easily accessible by good metal roads and the Whatapaka Inlet provides water communication to the boundary of the area.

'Patients from the Auckland Hospital were transferred to work on the new hospital site over the summer months, with temporary buildings erected in an open-air camp to house them. These workers were called “Pioneer Patients”.'

The interesting history of Kingseat continued (p.15), 'Originally known as Puhitahi Mental Hospital, the new name of Kingseat was given by Dr Gray, the Director-General of the Mental Health Division of the Health Department, after a trip to Kingseat Hospital in Aberdeenshire, Scotland in 1930. Also based on observations of overseas institutions, the layout of the South Auckland site was devised from the Villa System. This relied on the construction of many self- contained villas, housing up to 50 patients each, the abolition of yards and enclosed spaces, and aimed to provide patients with more freedom.

'With the installation of a water supply sufficient for up to 1000 patients, and various farm buildings, including piggeries, a garage and stables completed by 1929, the first two villas were well underway by 1930 … the first permanent patients at Kingseat were transferred from the Auckland and Porirua hospitals in January and February 1932, and by 1 April of the same year Kingseat became a separate entity.

'In 1933 further roading and sewerage work was carried out, and 30 acres of swamp was drained, reclaimed and put into crop on the land set aside for farming. The planting of 260 fruit trees also established the beginnings of an orchard. This was extended by an additional 234 trees the following year...the main drive was also laid out and planted during this year. By 1939 (p.16) Kingseat was almost entirely self-sufficient, with extensive gardens supplying vegetable requirements and milk provided from the dairy herd.'

'After the war, building continued at Kingseat although at a vastly reduced pace … Patient numbers peaked at around 1000 in the mid- 1960s (a fact that the author will return to shortly) and then began to decline. In 1967 it was decided that psychiatric hospitals around the country would give up farming, and Kingseat eventually lost its farm land to the administration of the Lands and Survey Department'.

I find it extremely interesting that patient numbers peaked in the mid 1960s, and question whether this was a result of post war Baby Boomers coming of age, children of migrants finding the stresses of immigration far more difficult than anyone had imagined, or the availability of recreational drugs. I have started to research this increase in patients during the mid 1960s, concentrating on a new breed of patients, those in their teenage years, without a major psychiatric (Axis 1 in the DSM 1V) diagnosis, but due to word and time constraints this cannot be addressed in this paper. However an example of one such patient is given below:
21.11.66 Admitted to WR Ward (obs dorm), Kingseat – voluntary inpatient

Diagnosis – asocial personality

29.11.66 ECT given – with anaesthetic and relaxant

30.11.66 ECT given – with anaesthetic and relaxant?

21.12.66 ECT given – with anaesthetic and relaxant?

29.12.66 Transferred to Palm Lodge

26.01.67 Discharged

02.03.67 Admitted to Kingseat – voluntary boarder

Diagnosis – asocial personality

03.04.67 Discharged improved

03.07.67 Admitted to women’s reception ward, Kingseat – voluntary boarder

Diagnoses – asocial personality, depression

22.07.67 Incident report – women’s reception ward – several slashes to right and left wrists and arm after use of razor blade brought back from leave

31.12.67 Admitted to Kingseat, Ward F27 – voluntary inpatient

Diagnosis – emotional instability

01.02.68 Admitted to Kingseat, Ward F27 – voluntary inpatient Diagnosis – hysterical personality disorder

2.2.68 patient gives 24 hours notice of her intention to leave Kingseat

5.2.68 Discharged under s 4(b) 1961 Amendment Act – unimproved

On January 21, 2013 Wayne Thompson, writing for the New Zealand Herald, under the headline: "Hospital do-up plan hears calls for do-over", reports that: 'A property developer's plan to turn the former Kingseat Psychiatric Hospital into a countryside living estate has triggered a row over what proportion of the 1930s buildings and their park-like surroundings should stay as a reminder of its past.' Thompson continues by saying, 'However, some residents have called for a clean slate – demolishing all or most of the 58 structures – saying they represent a sad period that should not be perpetuated and highlighted as heritage.'

'Farmer John Dotchin recalled that the hospital was a good neighbour before it closed in 1999, buildings were well kept and it was like a home to patients who visited the farm to chop firewood and go fishing.'

I further spoke to another neighbour who wishes to remain anonymous who stated that yes, the hospital was a good neighbour, and she was never in any fear for her safety. However since its closure she does not have the same sense of security. The horror theme park Spookers which is housed in the old nurses' quarters is noisy, she told me, when they have their chain saw massacre nights, and then she became distressed as she spoke of Spookers. She remembers many of the patients and found the fact that Spookers trades on the mentally ill as a marketing tool to be distasteful, a fact that I must agree with. I think it is an insult and it is degrading, and no fake horror scene could even come close to the horror that trespasses upon the minds of severely ill patients.

She also mentioned her distaste for some of the nurses and general workers at the hospital, saying and I quote, 'They seemed to go to work just to eat their lunch'. She continued by saying that a hospital such as Kingseat simply was not viable in today's society where patients have rights and transparency is the modern catch phrase. I then asked her if patients are any better off in filthy boarding houses, tin-pan half way houses, or on the streets, or even in the community struggling in a world with very little support from a small group of outpatient nurses. She again became upset and said that she didn't know what the answer was, so I asked her what she would like to see on the Kingseat site. A nice tasteful housing estate, which would enhance the tone of the neighbourhood.

The tone of the neighbourhood has indeed gone downhill. I mentioned the tenants in the villas, and she asked me why people would live in rundown dwellings with shoddy plumbing and electricity? I told her that I had researched the neighbouring houses that once housed nurses and doctors but were now a ghetto of sorts, and how I had found Police records of methamphetamine lab busts, and cleansing orders to remove residue of clandestine drugs. That was her fear, the drugs and the regular visits from the police, and those who frequented the neighbourhood to buy the drugs.

At the end of the day it's just a sad, worn out psychiatric hospital and I felt almost nothing there from the structures. What made it real, alive, memorable was the patients, where are they now? Are they living under bridges, pushing a shopping trolley around Auckland city, or drinking away their days in some grubby boarding house? Are they the homeless who annoy you by asking if you have any coins or a cigarette? So on behalf of the thousands of patients who lived in Kingseat Hospital, some for decades, should the site not be preserved as a memorial to, one, an innovative design by Dr Gray to build a new, progressive style hospital and, two, the patients, who by whatever misfortune had beset them, ended up as patients there.

To this end I had a long telephone conversation with Robin Byron, Heritage Advisor Architecture, of the New Zealand Historic Trust about this topic. Is it all about architecture and Phoenix Palms? I wanted to know. It was most definitely not. In a report she wrote for Kingseat she concentrated as much on the social and humane qualities on keeping most of the buildings and some of the trees as on the architectural element. She spoke at length about the way the hospital was designed with a idea of a country retreat and fresh air for a happier patient and the out buildings that were built for occupational therapy and sports, including a swimming pool and bowling facilities.

She too believes that the patients should not simply be forgotten and swept under the carpet, simply because public opinion towards mental illness is abhorrent and heads are turned away. And yes, Kingseat had its fair share of abuse during the 1960s and 1970s which has been well documented. But are prisons and prison camps pleasant places? Certainly not, yet people flock to see these historic monuments, as history. The only thing that perhaps can be done for Kingseat's former patients is a mark of respect, offered in the way that is proposed by the Historic Places Trust, and it would seem that Pulin Investments, whose design architects attended the public meeting, are prepared to consider this and perhaps the restoring of some of the villas and buildings and incorporating them in their housing development.

It was a week ago that I visited the old hospital site and my ensuing research and I need there to be an Historic memorial to the place, for the patients. Some of the patients I met need to be remembered, by me, if by no-one else. Let me introduce you to four patients in prose and verse:
  1. George:

    ' Angel in a Snake Pit'. That was the name of his poem. I was his Angel. He said I was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He was madly in love with me. He wanted me to run away with him and live forever as vagabonds, bucking the system, doing nothing but writing poetry and making love.

    We lay on the grass. I didn't want to be his Angel, or anybody's angel for that matter. His poetry was trite, banal, a load of shite. But it was nice to be fawned over, even though I wouldn't let him touch me, and danced out of reach as his lips strove uncomfortably close. Sweet sixteen and never been kissed. And seventeen. And eighteen. Asexual. That was what I was. Thought it was all overrated. Over rated. Over hated. Now there's a poem, George. Honestly that was his name. George. Such an old name for such a young man. What a burden to carry around. I think I would shorten it to Geo, or G.

    Sure. Of course I love you
    Why wouldn't I
    No one has ever written poems for me before.
    Sure. I'll run away with you
    I don't care
    Up North maybe
    Of course I'm sure
    When? Next Wednesday
    Yep. No worries
    I will go and see her tomorrow when I get paid

    I took the bus to Glen Innes, to a house in a row of others leaning against each other for support. A woman answered my knock. She look almost as tired as the house. I declined her offer to go inside. She sat on the front step and eased her fecund self into a comfortable position as she lifted a toddler on her knee.

    Don't worry. I told her. I don't actually even like him that much. I am technically a virgin and will probably stay that way until someone marries me. Whatever he told you, nothing happened and never will. I would never have sex with another girl's husband. If I ever have sex at all.

    Here, I bought some lollies for your kid.

  2. Terry:

    My sweet schizophrenic, crazy boyfriend, whom I loved to bits. My first ever boyfriend, we were on and off for a couple of years. He was in his second year at law school when he became unwell and was training for the Commonwealth games. The rings were his speciality so he had a beautifully muscular body, but a mind that forced him to jump twice from the Auckland Harbour Bridge, only to find that he was still alive. Finally he went to Australia and hired a rental car and drove it off a cliff. Twenty four years old. Where ever you are now, Terry, God bless.

  3. Tunisia:

    Not someone I knew well but someone who needs to be remembered.
    Hanged herself in her room one day with her dressing gown belt
    Twenty one years old.

  4. Deirdre:

    The eyes
    Windows to the soul
    Expressions of sorrow
    Mirrors of pain.

    Be they blue, green or any other shade
    By the age of two their life doth fade

    Fades away to a place so far
    that the child has trouble focusing
    on a world that has thus far
    been one of abuse of power
    misuse of trust
    a pain so vile
    that the child can
    no longer see
    and disappears for a while.

    In fact this child forgoes childhood
    and at the age of two years
    plus one day
    becomes old
    eyes become dim and pale
    and undertakes a journey as
    a broken vessel on a ship doomed
    To sink
    and a boat that won't sail.

    May God Bless her and all who sail upon her
    For this child has no hope of ever reaching
    Her heart's desire

    And so
    She embarks upon a journey
    Of her own devising
    Following a map she created
    Of Wonderland
    Through valleys of darkest mist
    Down rivers of despair
    She knows not where she goes
    Or why
    But she'll find out

And my life has been richer for having the privilege of spending time with these and many others I met who were patients at Kingseat Hospital.

- Sue Wilson


Herewith is Robin's conclusion in her report:
11. Conclusion

11.1 The opportunity that the Kingseat Structure Plan presents in regenerating the site and buildings of the former Kingseat Hospital is an invaluable one. Finding new purposes and adaptively re-using the site and buildings will importantly breathe new life into an important heritage place that can no longer function for the purposes for which it was intended.

11.2 Across the wider Kingseat area there is enormous development potential, and within the site of the former hospital itself. In order to build on the heritage values of the place it is critical to the integrity of the place and to maintaining the character of the site, to retain the breadth of building typologies on the site that are redolent of their former use. The buildings are eminently adaptable and can be made to suit a multitude of new functions.

11.3 Notwithstanding some of the comments in my evidence, the balance that is achieved by Kingseat Structure PC28 which include the modifications and amendments proposed in the Hearing Report, is appropriate between the retention and protection of heritage and the development potential for new buildings to augment and compliment this unique and a valuable place.

Robin Elizabeth Byron

12 February 2013

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

© Sue Wilson

1 comment:

Unknown said...

What an absolute beautiful story.. I really enjoyed reading it..
We moved to Kingseat in June to escape city life after the 1st covid 19 lockdown, in the hope of giving 4 x children more freedom than city life offers for pending lockdowns.
We live in Villa 5 and occupy the whole villa, 2 x solo mums and our children. We have done so much to make it a home?? The children just love it out here and the space the villa offers makes it comfortable for two families to live without interference.
Except.... you are so correct about the pipes etc... utilities are charged to us through Century 21 and though rent is cheap, it's certainly made up by the monthly utility invoices.... never being under $1000.00 a month..
I enjoyed reading yr story and thank you so much for it..
As a tenant, I just had to reply..