An Australian in India – Part I

An Australian in India – Part I


Professor Vaughan Carr, Head of Mental Health of Hunter region, in the State of New South Wales in Australia, was recently on his first visit to India.

Born on Christmas eve of 1948, at Adelaide, he was the only child of his parents. Incidentally, his mother was also born on Christmas day! His mother, a regular church-goer and a moderately religious person was a strong influence on him. He was pampered by his mother and several maternal aunts. His father worked as a storeman in the water works department of the government.

His ancestors were poor farmers from Ireland, who migrated during the ‘Great Potato Famine’ of 1850, when the potato crop was infected with fungus and was destroyed leading to starvation. This is the time when maximum immigration took place from Ireland to Australia. According to Professor Carr, people from Ireland migrated to Australia for various reasons, such as to get away from death, to get a better life or to earn more money which they could not do back home. A few also came as convicts, often for very trivial mistakes during those hard days.

His forefathers settled at Morgan on the banks of the Murray river, not far from Adelaide and were small farmers and also worked on the steamers, plying up and down the river. Their land holdings were tiny and they had to continue to struggle in Australia for a living. Professor Carr’s grand-father married a German lady who did not speak a work of English all through.

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His mother’s folks also came from Ireland and later got mixed with the English and the Welsh. They farmed at the edge of the Barrossa valley but their farms were more sustainable and integrated with dairy and orchards.

He went to the Technical High School, where admission was based on merit and on an entrance exam. While in school he wrote fiction, satire and short stories for the school magazine and acted in plays and musical comedies. He joined the Medical School in Adelaide in 1967. Later he came under the influence of the eminent Professor Pilowsky and studied psychiatry and worked for him. He continued his work and education at Rochester and Yale Universities in USA. He came back to Adelaide and taught as a lecturer in Professor Pilowky’s Department. In 1989, he took up the post of Professor and Chair of Psychiatry in Newcastle University, which he continues to hold.

As a medical student, while traveling on a train, he met his wife Margaret, then a student at the Teacher’s College, in 1969. They sat opposite each other and got down at the same station. He went over and said hello to her and asked her out. A different journey began and they were happily married in 1972, and they now have three lovely sons. Being from a conservative family, Margaret’s mother was not too pleased with the match as she felt that medical students knew too much about the body.

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Margaret is an extraordinary woman who subsequently did a degree in the history of arts at Rochester,in USA. Her interest in painting and monastic art led her to do another degree in theology, after which she wanted to enter the church. In spite of being born a Catholic, she entered the Anglican church in 1989. In 1992, she became one of the early women in Australia to be ordained as an Anglican priest. Now she is a priest with the Newcastle Diocees of the Anglican Church of Australia and is very much involved in public service. They have three grown up sons who greatly respect family values.

During his recent visit to India to participate in the International Workshop on Disabilities, Professor Carr wanted to know about Indian culture and family as closely as possible. Apart from visiting the mental health facilities, he visited Indian villages and homes, attended a wedding in Tamilnadu and visited temples in Kancheepuram, the temple town of Tamilnadu. I had the opportunity to accompany him to the world heritage site of Mahabalipuram and to Dakshinachitra (the vision of the South).

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During this trip, I found him to be a visionary who had plans for a better deal for mentally ill in all parts of the world.

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