My dissertation is titled "Help Us/Help Them: How Australian parents understood the problem of mental retardation, and what they did about it, 1945 to 1970." It charts the remarkable rise of non-government, parent-led voluntary organisations which provided services and advocacy for 'mentally retarded' children in the period after World War II.
Most of the children that these groups provided for would today be described as having intellectual disabilities, although I personally prefer the term cognitive impairments. However, some of the children would have had what we today call autism, and others probably had various physical or sensory impairments which made communication difficult. Others might have had psychiatric or behavioural difficulties. For these reasons, they were classified, at the time, as "subnormal," "mentally deficient," "feeble-minded," and so on. (These, and similar terms, were used more or less interchangeably).
Categories of disability, and the words we use to describe them change over time. As a historian, I believe that it is important that we use the language of the time when discussing these categories. I am aware that some people find that language offensive. Please understand that my use of it is not an endorsement of these terms, but a tool for understanding how and why such terms were deployed.
I've been preparing a longer post on the use of language for my blog. I'll post a link to it here when it's completed.
During the course of my research, I've become aware that there are no comprehensive Australian resources that catalogue the large number of schools, institutions, sheltered workshops, hotels and other facilities which have provided services for children and adults thought to be mentally retarded. At the same time, it seems much of our knowledge of these places, and what they did, is being forgotten, as organisations re-brand, and past practices are re-imagined. For instance, organisations which operated "farm colonies" in previous decades now claim (on their websites) that they operated "employment services." I think it is important that we remember what these places did in the past, and how and why they did them, in order to better understand why disability services operate as they do in the present.
As part of my project, I have been developing a database which helps me keep track of the hundreds of organisations, people, and facilities which have cared for people broadly understood as having intellectual disabilities in Australia over the past century or so. This map is part of that. It helps me (and others) chart the growth of these facilities over time. It indicates the numbers and types of facilities that developed in Australia during the twentieth century. It also suggests the relationship between some of these different places. For example, many of the early post-war parent groups established their occupation centres nearby the mental hospitals or diagnostic clinics where their children were first diagnosed Similarly, sheltered workshops were often established adjacent to the schools or occupation centres their "trainees" formerly attended. For this reason, I've also included a number of facilities (for instance deaf and dumb institutes, workshops for people physical impairments) that didn't provide for people with intellectual disabilities, but inspired them, in the map. They are marked in grey.
The data has been collected and collated during the course of my dissertation research. This has involved consulting over 2,000 newspaper and journal articles, archival material in state and national, and private archives, in books, government reports, pamphlets, and more. I have listed some of these resources in a National Library of Australia User List. The user list system has, sadly, been grandfathered, by the Library. I've made a newer and more comprehensive list available on Trove. I am not particularly happy with the features of Trove lists, so some time in the future I plan to make a more comprehensive reference, probably on Zotero or Connotea. I will link to that list when it is available.
Basically, you can select a decade (of establishment) using the checkboxes on the left menu. You can scroll around the map (and in and out) using the Google controls. Many of the facilities have more information available if you click them. Over time, I plan to add more information and images to the individual listings. If you press the "Home" button, the map will reset to the default "all of Australia" view.
I'm aware that this map is not very accessible for people using assistive technologies. Hopefully I will be able to find a solution to this soon. However, Google maps seems to be the best platform for this project in the mean-time. If you know of a more accessible solution, please get in contact!
I plan to write more comprehensive posts about this in the future.
The short story: I built the maps using Google maps on the web. I then exported the KLM files to my own server.
I plan to keep updating this page in the future, and have a few related blogs in the pipeline with more information about this and some related projects. Subscribe to the RSS on my blog, or follow me in twitter, to keep updated.