Today I watched an interview with Robert Martin He is one of my heroes. Like my sister Judy, he was in Kimberley, but unlike Judy, he was able to get out.
Even the name Kimberley sends shivers down my spine. If I drive through Levin, I am acutely aware of where it was. Thank goodness, it is closed now. Children placed there by their parents who were told it was for the best. We should put them with their own kind, they said. It will be better that way, just have another baby and forget about this one. They believed the doctors and they did as they were told. Children lived there and they died there, Both my sisters were placed there in 1968. Judy went first. There was little support in the community and we were told it was for the best. She will learn new skills and she will be happy there.
When my parents marriage broke up, Mum left with the kids, She had to work to support us so Carol went to Kimberly. She wasn’t there long. She became very depressed and fortunately she was transferred to Hutt Hospital. It was a much better environment for her.
I never visited her there or saw her villa, I wasn’t allowed. I would go with Mum when we picked her up for a home visit. She was one of the lucky ones, she was able to go home for weekends once a month. But I was never allowed out of the car. It wasn’t safe I was told.
Most of the stories I heard about Kimberly were from Uncle Bill, Kerry’s father. He worked there. He would tell us about the children who would eat everything, the wards full of adults who couldn’t walk and talk and the children who needed to be tied up. It sounded terrifying. I never really understood there wasn’t a better place for Judy. I mean she could walk and talk in a fashion we understood. She was a bit boisterous that is all and she had epilepsy. but lots of people had that.
But there she stayed. In September 1973, I was 19, living in Tauranga and I was in love and engaged to be married. John was a few years older than me. He drove me down so he could meet Mum and Ivan. I suggested that we call in and see Judy on the way back. Mum said no, she is really settled and you may upset things so I didn’t.
I was living with Dad at the time and the phone rang at 6:30, really early for a phone call. Margaret woke me and told me it was my mother. Judy had died in the night. I was in shock, I remember Margaret covering me with a blanket. But went to work that day, Dad felt it best that I kept busy.
We have no idea what happened. The police turned up at Mum’s at 3 am. Ivan answered the door and the policemen asked if he had a daughter Judith, As it happened his oldest daughter was also named Judith and he said what happened, was it a car accident. That is when the police said no she died at Kimberley and he realised it wasn’t his daughter but Mum’s. When my parents asked what happened, they said it wasn’t surprised since she had a heart condition. What asked condition they asked. She had been home for a weekend every month so Mum know what medication she was on. We never found out the truth.
But I wonder how many others died in that way, unexplained deaths covered up by a system that didn’t care. We will never know.
But at least Robert Martin got out.
© Barbara Hart 2014