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He came and he helped

Thirty years ago, a Brisbane Principal walked into a meeting at the Wesley Hospital to offer support to families emotionally bruised from the brick walls that had peppered their experiences with Schizophrenia.

No-one else at the meeting knew that the man before them was also in need of salvation.

Gavin Bird was that man. His mother had late onset schizophrenia but at that first meeting of the Schizophrenia Fellowship of Queensland, he did not speak out about his own experience.

“I feared it would have been a killer for my career if people knew,” said Gavin.

“Despite being in a group of people going through the same thing, others still felt the shame as well – the isolation, indignation of the injustice of it all was not easy to shake off.”

 “So I identified myself as an educationalist – there to simply offer support.”

Gavin’s support has been unwavering.  He joined the committee after that first meeting and was instrumental in drafting MIFQ’s first constitution.

The early aims of MIFQ included educating the public about schizophrenia, improving community care facilities – especially accommodation, raising money for research, providing information services, forming a social club and safeguarding legal and civil rights.

Until a suitable venue was obtained, meetings were held at members’ homes - mainly at the home of Gavin who lived on Brisbane’s Southside. 

“We wanted to challenge conventional beliefs and did a lot of stirring in those early days,” said Gavin.

“The medical profession still had a very limited understanding and people were still being blamed for causing the illness.”

“Freudian ideas were still being taught in universities: that it wasn’t a physiological imbalance, rather it was caused by a deficiency in parenting, or by a toxic family environment.

“The mother was blamed for causing it in her children, and the children were blamed for causing it in their parents.”

“Families had a strong resentment of that belief – in my case I knew I had come from a loving family and that it was rubbish.”

“Many of us weren’t willing to accept it, and in early 80’s it seemed the movements against these beliefs started growing around the world – and there was finally physical evidence with cat scans detecting differences in brain structure.”

Gavin held various executive positions with MIFQ over the years, and was awarded an AM (Member of the Order of Australia) for service to the community in 2001.

“I am still so grateful for the courage and energy of the foundation members, and marvel at the achievements of an oppressed and stigmatised minority.”

stories gavin