Frank Anderson was a railway signalman whose young wife Gwen was on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Gwen was struggling to cope, unaided, with the needs of their microcephalic baby daughter, as well as caring for their other children.
Frank knew something had to be done to help parents of children with severe intellectual disabilities. Parents who, like himself, were unable to cope with the strain of caring for child needing 24-hour care. And, also like himself, were not happy about putting their child in the Claremont Mental Hospital – the only alternative available in Western Australia at that time.
Frank realised nothing would change unless parents spoke out about their difficulties so he approached the Daily News with his story. This was a courageous step to take in the 1950’s as people felt that it was shameful to have a child with intellectual disabilities.
Frank himself said: ‘Very little has ever been done for mentally deficient children, one reason being that some people are ashamed of having an idiot in the family and try to keep the matter quiet’.
Frank’s appeal in the Daily News won a quick response. He was contacted within a week by several couples whose children also had severe disabilities and needed support. Less than a month after the newspaper article appeared, a meeting was called for all concerned parents and the Mentally Incurable Children’s Association was formed.
Most politicians were reluctant to become involved in setting up the new home, but Frank found a sympathetic ear in the Minister for Health, Emil Nulsen. When it came to choosing a name for the new home, the parents turned to the man who had helped to get them started. Minister Nulsen was delighted the home was to be named after him.
Nulsen was officially opened on 7th October 1956 by the Premier ARG Hawke. His Minister for Health commented that ‘with this home, WA has set an example to the rest of Australia, for the home is the first of its kind in the country’.
To learn more about the history of Nulsen Disability Services, visit our 60th Anniversary web page.