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If society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable, Sarah Luke’s Callan Park confirms the complexity of mental health histories in Australia. Opened in 1876, Callan Park provided much needed asylum for some, although over time it became a name associated with debilitating institutionalisation. This meticulous history seeks to tease out the hospital’s ambitious early aims to protect and care, under the leadership of determined, compassionate directors.
Callan Park is an impressive addition to New South Wales community history. Deeply researched and beautifully written, Luke populates those early decades of an enduring Sydney institution with the people whose lives were invested in it. It is a deeply empathic and critical exploration of patients and the institutions established to care for them. Using medical records, hospital archives and the material culture of Callan Park itself, Luke recreates the many experiences of Callan Park for its diverse communities of patients, medical professionals, families and government officials. This is a vivid history of a place and its past, speaking to wider histories of mental illness and health in colonial Australia.