Review by Maggie Maguire


In the foreword to Tasmanian whistleblower Kevin Moylan’s autobiography One Flew Over the Kookaburra’s Nest former secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation Jill Iliffe credits the former nurse with being the “catalyst for the development of the Australian Nursing Federation policy on whistleblowing”.

Given the importance of whistleblowing in sectors dealing with the vulnerable this is quite an achievement for a mental health nurse from Spencer Psychiatric Clinic, Wynyard. Moylan outlines his whistleblowing journey in this recent publication.

Historically the book is informative on previous methods of treating the mentally ill in the 1970s including group psychotherapy and the administration of “truth” drugs to penetrate ego-defences for psychotherapeutic purposes. These practices were eventually dropped after the Townsville Ward 10B Royal Commission.

In the case of Ward 10B in the 1970s and 80s, diagnoses were not made because of the therapeutic ideology in the ward. This led to serious abuse and a subsequent Commission of Inquiry investigated 23 deaths.

In many ways it is a shame that the psychotherapeutic approach (apart from the truth drugs) has been so seriously impacted by the Ward 10B findings and Moylan makes quite a good argument for a return in the case studies of former patients he has included in the book. Sometimes the mental health sector throws the baby out with the bathwater.

Another important historical aspect of Moylan’s book is his chapter on Royal Derwent hospital. Called by Moylan the “geographical cure” he describes incidents when he had to transport patients from Wynyard to New Norfolk.

Having worked in Royal Derwent one Christmas holiday in the 1970s I can support the statements that the hospital was a hell-hole. Disabled children were admitted routinely to Royal Derwent including a huge number of children with Downs Syndrome who complained bitterly about the boring nature of the peg packing tasks they were given. Children of above average intelligence with spina bifida were given no education or occupational therapy. Intersex children were given no stimulation either physical or mental and were treated like curiosities. Elderly people with Alzheimers were sleeping in large dormitories with people with serious mental illnesses.

Moylan’s description of Royal Derwent is mainly centred on Ward 7 the ward (or rather jail) for the criminally insane and he describes how patients from the Spencer Clinic who displayed anti social behaviour were sent to this ward. It is important when considering mental health in Tasmania that we contemplate the truly awful conditions that patients were subjected to in the 1970s and 1980s so that we can make sure that mass institutionalisation does not occur again.

One Flew Over the Kookaburra’s Nest is also valuable for those concerned with the safety of nurses and those faced with the prospect of being a whistleblower. Moylan was attacked by a patient in 1994 and tried to alert authorities to security and administrative problems at Spencer Clinic. His remaining story is about his battle for compensation and desire to improve the safety of staff and patients at the hospital.

During his fight Moylan lost his home, his acreage and his beloved horses and at various times was homeless and jobless so his story might be a cautionary tale for those considering whistleblowing in Tasmania.

One Flew Over the Kookaburra’s Nest, Fraser Island Publishing