This project was begun from a position of relative innocence. I had no fore-knowledge or warning of what I would find. If what was discovered emerges more and more as an indictment, this has hardly been my prime objective. Passing moral judgment is meaningless and futile in an historical context, however emotionally satisfying it may be. Far from levelling condemnation, the main function must be to illustrate and explain.
There is a paucity of studies of this kind, especially in Australia, and those undertaken tend to regard charitable institutions in a vacuum. Little attention is paid to the society which provided their rationale. However, Anderson and Seacat in A Statement of Problems and Priorities have called for projects concerned with "values, attitudes, practices, and behaviour of people in regard to health and disease"- The nature of relevant institutions reflect these, and are in turn related to "means” at the disposal of that society.1 The character of a society at any particular time is thus vital to any understanding of why certain public institutions functioned as they did.
Further, social reactions to the persons served in these institutions must be known. This unproductive class, as the most conspicuous deviants in a new society, prompted certain responses from the 'normal' or committed segments, which predicated the manner in which they would be treated. As Erikson has written:
Deviance is not a property INHERENT IN certain forms of behaviour, it is . . CONFERRED UPON such forms by audiences which . . witness them2
and, as Judith Lorber continues, the nature of the 'audiences' determines how and why and with what consequences … (they) come to label certain behaviours as wrong (or) abnormal, to be punished, treated or controlled.3
The problem is to discover whether certain forms of deviance in the society Queensland possessed in the nineteenth century were viewed as sickness (an involuntary state) or crime (a voluntary state). The area of deviance covered will encompass insanity, mental retardation and epilepsy, chronic infirmity in its various aspects, leprosy, venereal disease and alcoholism - for their nature is not so easily classifiable as, say, influenza or burglary. The modern trend is for the area recognized as sickness to encroach upon that of crime, but how far had this process developed by World War I?
In order to discover the treatment offered, the institutions evolved to deal with these conditions must be scrutinized: the lunatic asylum, the benevolent asylum, the lazaret, the lock hospitals, the reception houses and the inebriate asylum. The relation of these institutions to the hospital and the prison is of most importance if palliative or punitive responses are to be determined. The knowledge that these institutions developed, in turn, out of a penal background is also essential. Did the subsequent interaction in society between a tradition of punishment and colonial innovation bring reform or retrenchment to the way these institutions operated? How, in short, did a pioneering society, composed of predominantly British stock of a certain class composition, allow these institutions, with roots in the convict past, to develop in a free society?
Such a problem is perhaps as vital to an appreciation of Australian society as concepts of mateship and urbanism are. Even if focus upon the under-belly of this society should tend to obscure some of its finer aspirations, this should be more than compensated for, by the contribution to historical understanding which an original viewpoint allows.
1. Odin W. Anderson and Milvoy S. Seacat "Behavioral Science in the Health Field: A Statement of Problems and Priorities".
2. Kai K. Erikson: "Notes on the Sociology of Deviance". Social Problems IX P.307.
3. Judith Lorber: "Deviance as Performance: the Case of Illness"- Social Problems XIV P.302.