The White Garden
"Seven people die in deep sleep therapy. A woman dies from a bee-sting in the grounds of a psychiatric clinic where inmates are encouraged to live out their delusions.
"The doctor rapes his patients in the Sleeping Beauty ward.
"Carmel Bird's examination of the secrets of the human mind is a chronicle of tragedy that is inadvertently revealed in the search for a lost library book. It is also a compelling portrait of a doctor whose lust for power is a form of madness."
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 on 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?
From the UQP paperback edition, 1995.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2002 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Carmel Bird Page.
Last modified: January 16, 2002.