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Authors: Carmel Bird

The White Garden

BOOK: The White Garden
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University of Queensland Press

First published 1995 by University of Queensland Press Box 42, St Lucia, Queensland 4067 Australia

© Carmel Bird 1995

Typeset by University of Queensland Press Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group Scan by Dan

Cataloguing in Publication

Natioanl Library of Australia

Bird, Carmel, 1940– .

The white garden.

I. Title.


ISBN 0 7022 2821 4

Innocence is not to be trusted.

Graham Greene in
The Other Man

interviews with Marie-Françoise Allain Accept no imitations.

Meditations on the Life and Work of Thomas à Kempis
Carillo Mean

Patience obtains everything.

Saint Teresa of Avila

The White Garden
was written during a two-year Fellowship from the Literature Board of the Australia Council. I am grateful to the Board for its support, and also to Arts Victoria for a travel grant that enabled me to visit the White Garden at Sissinghurst.


The Elephant Thoughts of Doctor Ambrose Goddard





A Small Samuraiin Lacquered Velvet


Black Mirror of Quiet Water


Rivulets of Violets and Mattresses of Roses

Saint Ditto of Lisieux


Little Ferret, Little Queen


The Space Between the Bed and the Wall

My Little Way


Last Days on Earth and Early Days in Heaven

Therese at Mandala


The Natural Law of Laundry


Horsehoof Balm


St Teresa of Avila


The Book of Colours


The Honeycomb Verandah


The Girl in the Cell Next-Door


The Eagle and the Dove


The Book of Knowledge


The Case of Marjorie Bartlett


The Horse with the Golden Mane


The Great Ghostly Barn Owl


The Hotel of the Stars


Date on or Before Which Item Must Be Returned

Patience Obtains Everything


The White Garden


The Violetta Letters






I have always, for as long as I can recall, identified myself with the elephant. This is not something I readily admit because in my profession friends and colleagues are only too ready to leap in with an analysis, to place a facile interpretation on this most intimate, personal and colourful of facts. You will occasionally find me throwing people off the scent (supposing they are
the scent) by making reference in a light-hearted way to ‘a herd of elephants’ or to the fact that the elephant never forgets.

Certain African tribes believe that after death the chief of the tribe becomes an elephant matriarch, respected and honoured, and an ally when members of the tribe are hunting elephants.

As I feel myself falling asleep at night I experience myself as the elephant matriarch, appearing in silence from a swirling mist, roaming hugely among thick greenery and large, colourful flowers, and then I drift back into the mist, fade, and, with soft lilac cloud-forms drawn across my eyes, I sleep. The feeling is profound and satisfying to me, and I have all my life sought to understand it. It is an element of the beauty of sleep itself, and is perhaps partly what has brought me to study the function of sleep in the life of the mind, the health of the mind, and to apply the science of what I have learned of sleep to my patients.

It was with fear and dread that I learned, when I was in my early teens, of John Merrick, the so-called Elephant Man. For a time my own elephant feelings had to be suppressed as I felt myself in danger of succumbing to the disease from which Merrick suffered. Consequently, my sleep was, for some months — it could have been a year, I’m not too sure — severely disturbed.

Such are the fears that children suffer, unspoken. How could I, a healthy Australian boy, mad about cricket and football and science and even Shakespeare, how could I confide in anyone the reasons for my insomnia?

I recall my mother decided I had toothache — strange the

The White Garden

solutions we find to each other’s problems — and I was always at the dentist. This was in the days before the elegant anaesthetics of recent years. Anything Mr Hudson did to me was painful in the extreme and only served to increase my nervousness and sleeplessness.

I lived in horror of the dentist, and I found it not too difficult to connect the thought of the tusks of an elephant with my own fairly respectable teeth. If I could remember dreams (and I can’t, thank god) I would probably be able to recount wonderful tales of my tusks and my trunk and the colonies of vermin that live in the folds of my magnificent dream-elephant skin.

What really matters is that my
elephant consciousness
is always present so that I know I command great power and respect in the world in which I work. It’s better than being a lion, in fact. Although I have never betrayed the depth of my elephant-being to Abigail, I know she has some inkling of my elephant thoughts because of the games we sometimes play where she rides me round the room before I turn on her and subdue her.

This is very enjoyable.

On Sundays when I walk along the cliff-tops with the dogs, I adopt a wonderfully particular ambling gait. I stroll my elephant stroll across the top of the world; I look lordly down on the endless waves, crawling like furrows in a field, viridian, aquamarine, beneath me. I experience at those times a deep sense of well-being in my roaming large-animal self, and, in the solitude of the windy cliff-top, I trumpet and bellow to the sky.


A dead woman lies in a garden where all the flowers are white or silver or very pale. The death, in Melbourne, Australia, in 1967, was curiously dependent on events that happened long ago in Spain and France and England. It was a sudden death, the woman young and healthy, full of optimism and laughter and daring. For some time the death was seen as an accident, a freakish, random event, but as the connections with other people and other times became clear, a pattern emerged, and it was seen that something odd had taken place. Understanding what happened to this woman depends on knowledge of the people and events that touched her in her present time, and of the people and events from other times and other places that figured in the pattern ending in the garden.

Time and tone and tense and significance flatten out, and an event in one century lies side by side with an event in another, and another and another until something resembling a design in a broad piece of lace is formed. A cloth on a table, thread by thread, knot by knot, loop by loop. The centrepiece is not the body of the woman in the garden, but the image of two honey-bees.

A number of small gardens were linked by vistas that appeared suddenly through gaps in walls and hedges, through arches, gateways and avenues of trees. Each vista finished with an arrangement of statues, of graceful shrubs in ornamental pots, or a glimpse of a convent built in the gothic style that was popular for churches, prisons and hospitals in the nineteenth century. One of the small gardens was called the White Garden.

It was reached by stone steps which led down into it, and a series of low hedges defined it. The flowers grew within rec-tangles of the hedge. Visitors could sit on wide stone seats and enjoy the soothing, dreamy sight of pale flowers, silvery foliage, grey and golden stone.

It was summer, 3 February 1967. The sunny city beyond the walls of these gardens was troubled by the story of a man hanged

The White Garden

that morning within the prison of the city for the murder of a prison officer. Ronald Ryan was the hanged man’s name, and it was a name never to be forgotten. He was known as ‘The Last Man Hanged in Australia’. All over the country people stood still at eight o’clock that morning, stopped what they were doing and thought about death at the end of a rope within the prison walls. For many years afterwards people would say: ‘I remember the day they hanged Ronald Ryan. It was stifling. There was a kind of pall across the city. You could smell death in the air.’

The wider world was preoccupied by the war in Indo-China.

But within the walls surrounding the gardens where the woman lay dead, life looked inward, paid no attention to the stories of wars and hangings. The gardens were in the grounds of the Mandala Psychiatric Clinic and, although the outer eye was led to views of statues and trees and convent walls and towers, the eye of the mind looked in on strange dark scenes.

The dead woman was Vickie Field. She lay sprawled across the steps to the White Garden for eighteen hours before anybody found her. One hand was at her throat; her hair, clotted with vomit, fell across her face. The man who found her was the di-rector of the clinic, Ambrose Goddard. Every morning Ambrose walked the grounds, marking the dew on the grass with his footprints, breathing the scents of the early morning, enjoying the sight of leaves and flowers. He was lord of the empty garden, a garden where few people strolled. It was possible to look on the lawns and flower beds and see nobody, nothing moving.

Inside the distant clinic building there was always activity. If one patient was in some kind of coma another was having a fit.

The staff was forever stalking the corridors keeping order, following routines, stimulating, suppressing, medicating, washing, cleaning, feeding, disciplining. A particular type of life went on behind the old convent walls. In the garden that morning in 1967 the early light fell on the dewy body of Vickie, on her skin, shiny, transparent, white like wax; on her hair, which was a sinuous black fan that spread across her bloated face and out over the steps. Ambrose could see maggots at her mouth and eyes but no sign of blood or violence.

Vickie Field had a sister called Laura, and it took nearly



thirty years for Laura to unravel Vickie’s story. During this time Laura conducted her own investigation of the people and events surrounding her sister’s death. A lot of things she discovered were simply things that went on inside the minds of the people involved. But other things amounted to a dense web of lies used to conceal the true source of this and other deaths at Mandala.


There were some pretty weird things. I know they happened, but they are like bits of a dream. People, mostly women, died at Mandala as a result of treatments given by Dr Goddard. He would put them to sleep and keep them asleep for weeks. As they lay in their own excrement and vomit and blood and urine, naked, dying, their relatives would try to visit them, try to have the treatment stopped, but Goddard was God, and his word was law.

People who suffered in various ways at Mandala have gone to the papers and the courts, and they are still fighting, thirty years on, for their stories to be heard. They are the Mandala Action Group, and their stories are of relatives who died while having Deep Sleep treatment — that’s barbiturate coma — or of people whose lives have been almost destroyed by the LSD and ECT they were given in Mandala. Perhaps it is because people are afraid of the mysteries of the mind that it has taken so long for the public to be made aware of the abuses that were suffered at Mandela. I say ‘abuses’ but really I mean murders. Ambrose Goddard murdered his patients in the name of psychiatry.

Vickie’s story is different from the stories of the patients who died in Deep Sleep. For one thing, she wasn’t really a patient or the relative of a patient. But she died in the grounds of the hospital and, although the curiosity of her death and her oddly bright clothing drew attention, on the surface, to a set of abnormal circumstances, there was nobody to take up her cause, nobody who could crack the facade of the Mandala Clinic. I can

The White Garden

say now that if Vickie’s death had been examined at the time, and if Ambrose Goddard had been exposed and stopped, lives would have been saved. The
of Ambrose Goddard was not on my sister’s throat, but his lunatic
was able to control the narrative that resulted in her death. Ambrose Goddard killed my sister.

Ambrose Goddard knew Vickie well because, from time to time, they were lovers. She had come to him as a patient once, but one consultation and a few tranquillisers had been enough to put her on her feet, or, as Ambrose would say, on her back. From the lawn above the White Garden Ambrose stood looking down at the body. It was Vickie, Victoria Alice Field — actress, singer, waitress, lover, corpse. It was Vickie, Victoria Alice Field.

Twenty-eight years old. Five foot two. Eyes of blue. Ambrose went down closer to the body and saw the eyes, obscured by the hair, were open, had an intense look, were gazing into the distance, gazing through Ambrose into the unknown distance, remote, stark, blank, flat. Frightening. Her face was like the full pale moon, bloated. The blood had drained away. There was a sickly smell and the body was stiff.

Vickie Field. Good figure. Nice legs. Ambrose liked her to shave her pubic hair. He would shave it expertly himself. Her feet were small. Pretty. She was very dressed up — red boots, yellow skirt, green jacket. Her broad-brimmed scarlet hat had fallen and lay nearby on a clump of small white flowers. She was a splash of drama in the muted silver, green and grey and white of the garden where everything was still, as if waiting for something to happen. In a useless gesture Ambrose felt for Vickie’s pulse. No leaf, no bird, no insect disturbed the air. Vickie was dead and Ambrose left her lying on the step as he returned to the hospital. He walked slowly at first, thinking, but when he came in sight of the building he started to run. He rushed through the front door and told the matron to call the police and an ambulance. He sent two senior nurses down to the garden to

BOOK: The White Garden
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