December 29, 1975

December 29, 1975

Exiled Valiant Barry Edge lives in Perth, Western Australia and is a regular columnist for onevalefan. In the absence of any juicy and/or newsy ovf message board posts to convert into verse, Barry would like to share with you the day he started work for the West Australian Government. Hang in there with this one because it’s worth the read.

 

 

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December 29, 1975
It seems only yesterday that I started work with the Government of Western Australia Community Welfare Department (Custodial Services) – with the events leading up to and including my first day being crystal clear today.

Between 1960 and 1975 all of my spare time outside of work and athletics was spent running youth groups similar to cubs and scouts. By 1975 a career in welfare and justice beckoned.

These days children between the ages of 12 to 18 years can only be placed in a secure setting following sentencing in the Children’s Court. Back when yours truly first commenced duty children could also be detained for short periods of time for welfare reasons including chronic truancy and running away from home.

My first posting was in a female juvenile facility called Nyandi (pronounced Nye-an-dee), which is an Aboriginal word meaning ‘a bird in the bush’, and was one of three secure institutions in the Perth metropolitan area. The other two were male facilities known as Longmore and Riverbank. In October 1993 Nyandi and Longmore were amalgamated into one co-correctional complex. Riverbank was mothballed.

The amalgamation of Nyandi and Longmore was convenient for a number of reasons – none more so than the two custodial centres being located next door to each other. They also shared the same outdoor sports area. The complex was surrounded by a high security fence topped with razor wire and was constantly patrolled to prevent escape. In fact, successful escapes are few and far between.

Prior to the 1993 amalgamation yours truly was stationed at Nyandi for a total of sixteen and three quarter years.

In 1975 each custodial centre provided educational, vocational and social skills programmes delivered by a mix of professional and other custodial staff. Psychologists were also available to provide individual support as needs arose because many of the boys and girls held in custody were mad and angry with their world for a whole range of deep seated and convoluted reasons. On those occasions when they acted out in ways physically harmful to themselves and others around them, referred to as an unusual occurrence, it was necessary to remove them to a safe, isolated time-out room.

Now the reasons for being ‘timed-out’ included any combination of the following: being physically out of control by fighting with peers; throwing furniture or other objects; unprovoked physically attacks on peers or staff; attempting to self-mutilate; and so on. In each of the above situations, and for the children’s, staff and visitors’ safety, we would need to remove them to an isolated part of the building – or to their own personal cabin cell – until such time they had settled down and debriefed before being allowed to rejoin the daily programme again.

Needless to say when any one of the children behaved as shown above, they rarely choose to go to the isolation room or their own personal cabin cell without some sort of a physical struggle with staff. Sometimes their struggle to avoid time-out from the daily programme would be nothing short of out and out violence requiring our combined skills, knowledge and guile to complete these moves without hurting either the children or ourselves.

Unfortunately, there were times when injuries were sustained with the odd occasion requiring hospital attention for one or more of the children or staff. Fortunately, most unusual occurrences passed without injury – more a case of being a little out of puff, or of having clothing torn.

When I was interviewed for the job I was informed, amongst other things, that the standard dress for males, according to Public Service Regulations, was suit and tie. It was also permissible to wear a watch. So it was at 8am Monday 29th December, 1975 that I reported for duty at Nyandi as instructed wearing a suit and tie plus watch. You can imagine my surprise, and that of my new male colleagues, to find that they were dressed somewhat more casually than me and without suit jackets and ties. Very few were wearing watches.

In December 1975 the average age of girls sentenced to Nyandi was 16.5 years. I hadn’t been on duty more than one hour before the first minor skirmish, between ten girls, required staff intervention. Fists were flying everywhere, their language was foul – to say the least – and several of the girls inflicted and sustained small injuries.

My orientation into the job came to sharp and sudden halt and I was instructed to go and assist the other staff in whatever way I could without hurting any of the girls. The assignment, according to the Senior Officer, was to restrain one girl each and return them to their own cabin cells. So off I rushed to do my duty in the cell-block known as Southside.

Now I have to tell you there were some big girls in that cell-block, both in height and weight, and later that day I was informed that Southside also held all the hard-core sentenced girls. One girl was around 17 stone, approximately 5’ 10”, and very, very strong. Compare that to yours truly at 9 stone 7lbs and 5’ 7½”. Thankfully, I was both fit and healthy.

Anyway, arriving in the Southside cell-block I picked out one girl around the same height and size as myself and attempted to restrain and take her to her cabin cell. However, the girl had other ideas and immediately went for my tie – giving it an almighty twist in the process. My first response was to stop her choking me and remove my tie altogether. Once that was done, I was able to restrain and remove the girl to her cell. Still spluttering and coughing somewhat I then went back to help the other staff restrain the remaining girls.

After what seemed an eternity all the girls who had been fighting were back in the own cabin cells. But as we were walking back to the staff duty room I noticed my watch was missing – taken by the girl who had tried to throttle me with my tie. The girl was confronted by the Senior Officer and my watch duly retrieved.

Since that very first ‘minor skirmish’ in my first day on the job on the 29th December 1975 yours truly, like most other of my male colleagues, has not worn a tie or wrist watch when in direct contact with children sentenced to a custodial setting. Oh, and that goes for suit jackets too.

By the end of my first day in Nyandi there had been fifteen other similar skirmishes – some involving only one or two girls, one involving all twenty girls that were in residence on that day.

Boy, was that some introduction to the job!

The next day I was to learn that several staffers had laid bets that I wouldn’t turn up for duty on the Tuesday morning. Well, I did turn up – and nearly twenty eight years down the track I’m still reporting for duty.

In 1993 the responsibility for juvenile services was transferred from the government’s welfare to justice ‘Department. Since that time yours truly has been assigned to community based agencies at the preventative end of the justice scale helping families to keep their children from falling into the justice net.

See you later…

Barry Edge
Western Australia
September 6, 2003

🙂

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