Moira Miles, the daughter of Thomas Edwin Miles and Elsie Miles (nee Pattinson), grew up around the Kirribilli and Mosman areas of Sydney, with her parents and older sister Shelagh (a.k.a. Peg) throughout the 1920’s and 30’s.
Moira was born in a time of peace, just after the end of WWI and there were great hopes for her and her future. Despite this, it became apparent at an early age, that her development was unusually slow.
Although most of Moira’s family members didn’t see her as different to other children her age, her mother Elsie, having graduated from the University of Adelaide in 1908 with a teaching qualification, noticed the delays in her intellectual development and feared the worst.
For decades with the resources of her extended family, Moira was able to be cared for at home, but at the time, school placements for children in her situation weren’t available. It was only when she reached adolescence and beyond that real anxiety about her future spread fear in the family and eventually, resulted in severe depressive bouts for Elsie.
Her nephew, Anthony Wallis, reflects on his memories of his Aunt from childhood.
“I became aware that my aunt was not 'normal' in my teens. She would chase my friends around the dining room if she was in a certain mood and the old family cat was tormented by her daily. The family unit held together through these years however – and it was with enormous reluctance – they had to admit that by the mid-1950's they could no longer cope. They sought help through a psychiatrist who eventually found a place for Moira at Gladesville [Hospital].”
Moira was admitted to the Gladesville Hospital in 1956 and lived there until her death in 1981. Although her family were saddened by the fate Moira was forced to face, Gladesville was the only solution in their eyes and alleviated her older sister Peg from the stress of providing the long-term care Moira needed.
“As a young adult I saw very little of my Aunt Moira, but my mother and my great aunt Pat never missed a Wednesday visiting her at the hospital. Moira loved the ritual and loved her cakes…Moira enjoyed Gladesville and she didn't yearn to come 'home' throughout all those decades she spent at the place.”
Unlike some of her fellow patients, Moira spent a significant amount of her life outside of institutions. She had the presence and support of her parents and although she never completely left Gladesville once admitted, she was able to visit her family at home on special occasions, meaning she kept strong relationships with them throughout the rest of her life.
“It was a miracle if you look at the broader aspects of it, it was a miracle that they had a service like this. It saved the family members who couldn’t cope with the stress of looking after someone who couldn’t look after themselves.”
Anthony admits a lot of his family never let go of the guilt around having Moira admitted, but they believed she was safe there, and by having her under constant care, their family avoided getting worn out or developing debilitating stresses.
“Some people did a lot of good there [at Gladesville]. People have a fear of mental illness and to think there was this long-term solution back then is very positive. There was sorrow in that [Moira] was unwell and the impact that had on our family…There are better methods now, but back in the day it was the only option.”