Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Peter Kocan

I don't have any idea about who Peter Kocan is.

I just hope he's not a cricket player....

He's not.

And this is a good one.

Kocan is the guy who tried to assassinate Arthur Calwell.

I mean not that assassins are good. And of course, it's better to be a cricket player than an assassin. I just mean this will be more interesting to me. That's a bit selfish, I suppose.

Lord Wiki says that baby Peter was born on 4 May 1947. He's about a year older than my mom.

He was born in Newcastle, and then later moved to Melbourne.

Kocan's father had died in a car accident three months before Kocan was born. That's really sad. I think pregnancy is probably one of the worst times to have your husband die.

Kocan's mom moved to Melbourne. She remarried. The marriage didn't work out. The family moved to Sydney. There was a younger brother now added to the mix. I guess he came from that second marriage.

Lord Wiki says that Kocan had a rough life. There was loneliness and violence.

When Kocan was fourteen he left school. He went off into the country to work as a station hand. Then he returned to Sydney to work in a dye factory.

Okay, and now Lord Wiki jumps ahead to the assassination attempt.

It happened on 21 June 1966. Kocan would have been only nineteen.

It happened at the Mosman Town Hall. Calwell spoke at an anti-conscription rally. Now I've forgotten if he himself was pro-conscription or anti? I'm guessing he was pro. He was probably speaking as an oppositional voice. I could be wrong.

When Calwell got into his car, Kocan approached the passenger side of the vehicle and shot from the window. Was Calwell on the passenger side. Did he have a driver? Or was he driving himself? I guess I'm wondering if the gun was close to him, or VERY close to him.

Well, Lord Wiki says, After Calwell left the meeting, just as his car was about to drive off, Kocan approached the passenger side of the vehicle, aimed a sawn-off rifle at Calwell's head and fired at point-blank range. So I think there was another driver. Otherwise, Lord Wiki would probably say, Just as Calwell was driving away......

Calwell was lucky. The bullet didn't hit him. It landed in Calwell's coat. He just had minor facial injuries from broken glass.

Calwell later visited Kocan in the mental hospital, and forgave him. When I read all of this during my Calwell research, I thought Calwell was amazingly wonderful for his forgiveness. Now I'm having second thoughts. I mean I still think it's great that he forgave Kocan. A lot of people would refuse to do so. But I do think it's easier to forgive when you haven't had horrific injuries. Would Calwell have been so forgiving if he ended up being horribly disfigured? What if he was paralyzed or something?

I'm not saying he wouldn't have forgiven Calwell if the injuries had been more dramatic. Some people do manage to forgive stuff like that. I just can't know if Calwell would have done so.

Kocan was sentenced to life imprisonment. First he went to Long Bay Correctional Centre in Sydney. That's located in the suburb of Malabar. Malabar....that sounds like a candy bar. It's about twenty minutes east of the airport.

Kocan didn't spend much time in the candy bar suburb. He was soon transferred to Morisset Psychiatric Hospital. Morisset is about an hour north of Sydney.

While in prison, and in the hospital, Kocan started doing poetry. He struck up a penpal friendship with a poet named Michael Dransfield. That probably helped him a bit....maybe gave him some inspiration and motivation.

Kocan published two books of poetry while hospitalized.

Despite his sentence, Kocan didn't spend his life imprisoned. He got out in 1976. He published two autobiographical books about his experiences in the asylum. Amazon.com has the books. I think both short books have been combined into one. One is called The Treatment, and the next is called The Cure.

The books sound fairly interesting. A review quoted on Amazon says it's like One Flew Over the Cuckoos Next.

The Cure won the NSW Premier's Literary Award for Fiction in 1983. That's pretty cool. Although wasn't it nonfiction?

Kocan has also written a science fiction novel called Flies of a Summer. This one isn't as easy for me to find online.

It sounds like this ex-assassin has done quite well for himself. In 1998, he graduated from the University of New South Wales.

He moved to Brisbane in 2003. I'm guessing he still lives there.

He fairly recently published another novel....Fresh Fields. Amazon.com has excepts from a Publisher's Weekly review. The review is very positive. It says, Nevertheless, Kocan indulges in neither sentimentality nor rage.... And it also says, Here and throughout, Kocan writes clearly and beautifully.

Lord Wiki says the novel was shortlisted for the Queensland Premier's Literary Prize. I like the look of these awards. There are so many categories. There's a lot of places for a writer to fit in. Well, unless they're not from Queensland.

This book review website has some information about The Cure and The Treatment. They have a picture of Kocan. He looks different from what I expected. I guess I expected him to still look like a wild nineteen-year-old.

Okay. The books ARE fiction. They're not purely autobiographical. They're inspired by Kocan's experiences.

The novel is told with second-person narration. This is the type of narration used in the Choose Your Own Adventure books, and The Bride Stripped Bare.

The reviewer on the site also gives the book very positive reviews. I think the basic idea of the book is that the asylum was NOT better than the maximum security prison. The reviewer says, With sadistic, resentful and possibly bored prison employees ready and eager to trigger a trip to Electric Ned, Len realizes that the path to avoiding shock treatment is fraught with traps and rules he doesn’t yet understand.

There's an excerpt from the book itself:

You go down into the garden with the others and start digging. You work steadily, not daring to take a breather much. You want to show what a good inmate, a model inmate, you are. Dedicated. Eager to please. Then you get afraid you might be giving a wrong impression. You might be overdoing it. Showing “Obsessional Tendencies.” Digging too much might be like cleaning windows too much.

In my times of emotional turmoil, I often consider getting psychological treatment. One of the things that makes me hesitate is I know too much. I have a psychology degree. But besides that, I've read too much (via books and the Internet). I know I'd constantly second guess every little thing I said. Oh, I wonder what she's writing in her notes now? Does she think I have a border-line personality disorder? Oh. Wait. Does that make me sound like I'm obsessive-compulsive? Does she think I'm delusional?

In the end, I've decided I much prefer self-therapy. And this blog is it for me. I think I'm doing pretty well. I haven't suicided myself, nor have I attempted to kill anyone else. I'm relatively happy the majority of the time. Yeah. I'm very delusional, but I like my delusions. I have some self-esteem issues, but that prevents me from being a conceited bitch.

I think psychology might be more useful for people who are NOT self-reflective. They might need someone to drag stuff out of them. I'm very good at dragging my shit out all by myself.

I think I'd like to read Kocan's books.

I'm dealing with a book issue right now. I've been reading pretty fast lately, and have gone through most of my books. I have seven and a half books left to read. My birthday isn't until late November. Then I'll ask my family for bookstore gift certificates, and I'll buy a ton of books then. I might buy one or two books before then, but I feel kind of guilty because I've bought so many books already.

I guess I could go back to the library. Yeah. That's probably what I should do. I got a bunch of library books a few weeks ago. That slowed down my bookshelf depletion a bit.

Anyway, I'm whining for nothing. Really. See, I don't need a psychologist to point that out to me.

I do want to read the Kocan books though. Actually, I'm going to go to Powell's site now and see if they have them. I'll add them to my wish list.

Oh good. I just checked out my account. I've been meaning to do that. I ordered a bunch of books a few months ago. Weeks after I got the order, I realized I didn't remember seeing the Germaine Greer book. I thought maybe I had lost the book somewhere....I don't know. Dropped it? Left it in the box? Maybe it got buried under all the crap in our house? But anyway, my account says the book was never shipped. That's a relief.

Well, Powell's has the Kocan book. I added it, and I shall buy it in November. I look forward to reading it. I think Kocan's story is inspiring. It shows that people can sometimes overcome their troubled pasts, and that writing is probably one of the best therapies out there.

EDITED TO ADD: It's several months later, and I've just finished reading Kocan's The Treatment and The Cure. AMAZING WORK. I highly recommend it. I don't know why this book isn't more famous. It should be a classic. Seriously.


  1. Gosh you're a gem ;) Never hear of this dude but like you I'll seek his book out. Well Done and Thank YOU. xo

  2. Redness,

    Thank you : )

    You're so sweet.

  3. It's interesting to see he's still around and seemingly doing well after how he was then. I'm guessing he may have ended up on a suitable medication for him. Having just watched "A Beatiful Mind", though, and then researched John Nash, who was apparently eventually able to recognise his delusions and deal with them safely without medication, maybe Peter was able to as well. Or maybe he was actually just a silly hotheaded young man, I don't know. Calwell was anti-conscription and anti-Vietnam War involvement by Australia, by the way.

    I just wanted to say a couple of other things. Firstly, I agree with you on how great Ruth Cracknell was in "Mother and Son" (and generally, actually).

    There is another comedy series that is great (and it's only just begun) that I thought you'd find interesting. It's "Race Relations" with John Safran. Safran is a wonderfully ideosyncratic Jewish Australian comedian. In the first episode of the series he discusses having a 'thing' for non-Jewish Eurasian women. What he then gets up to is classic Safran Australian thoughtful and even subversive but sometimes also gross-out humour. In parts it is absolutely hilarious and in other parts a bit wrong. It's about 30 minutes in length.

    In the second episode, which hasn't yet aired here, he actually pretends to be black in Chicago so that promises to be quite provocative. I don't think it will be an issue like the "black face" sketch of a couple of weeks ago, though. I hope not, anyway. I don't think he's the type anybody would think is setting out to mock African Americans.

    Here's a link that I hope will work for you if you want to watch any of the episodes:


  4. Hi Dina.
    I have an interesting story about the attempted assassination of Arthur Calwell...which I shall email you shortly with a general Gina update!

  5. Martin: From what I read, I didn't get the impression that Kocan was schizophrenic. I'm guessing it was more along the lines of the other thing you said "Silly hotheaded"

    There's also an inbetween answer. I think many people have degrees of temporary insanity.

    Thanks for clearing up the Calwell conscription thing. I'm ashamed of myself for messing that up...that along with I'm doing these Australian trivia quizzes. I'm doing much worse than I'd like!

    I love Mother and Son. Sadly, it seems it's not Kosher to put whole episodes up. I went to watch another episode one day, and the user's account had been suspended. So I haven't gotten to see more episodes.

    Is John Safran the one who did the religion show as well?? Amy Michelle mentioned him...I think? It's probably the same guy.

    Pretending to be a black person doesn't have to be offensive. It's probably the spirit in which it is done. Is it to mock someone, or is to learn something?

    There was a comedy skit on Saturday Night Live in which Eddie Murphy became a white person. The whole joke is he's treated so much better. It wasn't real, but sadly it's probably not far from the truth.

    I've also seen shows where thin beautiful woman pose as fat people...get to see how people treat you in that situation.

    I think they can be good psychological/social experiments.

    Oh! and thanks for the link. I'll save it. I like to have stuff to watch while I exercise...and since Mother and Son is lost to me (sniff).....

    Gina: Cool!! Thank you : )

  6. Well, never mind.

    The site says it can be viewed only in Australia.

    I should scream discrimination, but I won't.

    I'll just find something else to watch...or wait for someone to illegally upload it to YouTube. It's probably been done already.

  7. That is sad that you can't watch it over there yet (or Mother and Son). If I knew how to, I'd illegally download them for you. Would I get arrested? I don't know the likelihood of that. Yes it's the same John Safran and he's an equal opportunity mocker, I think. He mocks himself (and his Jewishness) a fair bit as well.

    You may be able to get DVDs off the internet but you may have to get an Australian DVD player as well to watch them. How keen are you to see Mother and Son? I have to admit when I first watched a few episodes of it many years ago I was actually turned off by it because I thought it was an unfortunate topic to have a comedy about. I came around as I matured though and now think its classic comedy. I know you have the person who plays opposite "Maggie" on your list but under a different name. Can you guess who it is (hint: you uploaded a video of him interviewing Gough Whitlam (among others) on the day of 'The Dismissal' (I think))?

    You may remember I mentioned I read Calwell's autobiography and I got the impression Kocan just wanted to be famous so I guess it could have been temporary insanity (had he heard about Warhol's comments about 15 minutes of fame and wanted his?) You may find out more when you read his books.

  8. Correction: Actually he shot Arthur's coat about two years before Warhol made that statement.

  9. Martin,

    Warhol may have made the statement, but I don't think he invented the concept. He probably just spoke a truth that everyone already knew.

    I don't know what was going on in Kocan's head...and who knows if his books will reveal anything. They're fictional, so we can't know what is made up, and what comes from his own experiences.

    Why does anyone try to kill anyone? Passion? Insanity? Quest for power and fame.....

    Holy shit!!! Maggie's son is Norman Gunston????? I had NO idea!!! But now that I think of it, they do look alike. It's just the guy I see on the show is SO different from what I saw on the Whitlam video.

    I can see how the show could seem disturbing to people. It is a shocking topic to deal with on a comedy. But I think it's done in such an amazing way. When I watch it, I laugh...but at the same time I can imagine how hard it must be. Instead of mocking families that are dealing with the problem, it's more like they're trying to see the light side of the situation. But they do this without dismissing the dark aspects of it.

    I really do want to see more of the show. I'll probably just wait until we go to Australia though. Then I can pick up the DVD without having to pay the crazy shipping costs. I don't think they'll play on American DVD players, but they would probably play on our computer.

    I haven't done much research though. I MIGHT be able to buy them in the United States.

  10. Guess what! I just checked. I CAN easily buy them here!!

  11. You sound so much like me, Dina - and I have had struggles against depression and schizophrenia most of my life. But I keep busy reading and chatting to myself like you ;0)

    My mother remembers Arthur Callwell well, she was at his house when he served tea and scones and sounded particularly interested in her background in the catholic church run "homes for misguided girls", and other aspects of social policy.

    Born into a very racist country, Callwell came through the unions in the 1940's and cut his teeth there, and unfortunately his compassionate and anti-imperialist politics could not easily budge on questions of racial heterogenity, he was of the "racial mix" school of thinking which couldn't countenance the idea of a non-white Australia or other "disunity".

    I remember reading a biography on Arthur Callwell when I went to the market and didn't have to pay a penny - I was so obviously from the hospital because of my sedated manner and the tag on my wrist to make it easier for nurses to identify me.

    The Italian book-seller said - "for you, my friend; it's free" - he had a big smile on his face, a devout catholic as you could tell from the Madonna figurines he was also selling.

    Callwell I remember reading wrote to Peter Kocan's mother pre-trial, expressing his regret and telling her he would put in a good word for him, because of his mental health background.

    Kiernan is the surname of the bloke I think who wrote that bio.

    This is an outstanding blog you know! I'll follow it from afar, you are very multicultural in your logic and that's a good thing!

  12. Matthew,

    Hi! That's nice that the bookseller gave you the book for free. Have you read Kocan's book? If so, do you think his experience in the hospital was similar to yours?

    Martin and I were talking about whether Kocan had a history of mental illness or not...I guess from what you read in Kiernan's book, he did.

    I think what you say about Calwell makes sense. He was a product of his time. Although I don't think that completely excuses racism, I don't believe he's as bad as most people imagine.

    I'm going to check out your blog now : )

  13. Dina,

    I got Calwell's career path wrong by about 20 years, he started off in the late 1920's in union politics.

    I could never excuse any racism. It's always important in my opinion to stand up to any form of discrimination. But it should be mentioned that Calwell's views were not disimilar to that held by even most university sociologists, political scientists and writers; witness the Stalinist discrimination against Jews in the Soviet Union, the racial segregation in the United States of that time, and the discrimination against the Roma gypsies of Albania/Yugoslavia.

    But even Bruce Ruxton, the reactionary RSL leader who made all sorts of nasty comments about Asian Australians in 1988, allowed his house to be shared by Chinese exchange students, I do believe, and the fascist Jack Van Tongeren, who now recants his racial hate posters I understand - his parents are Dutch and part Indonesian.

    I guess the problem racists have is that they don't really think that their viewpoints are wrong - they tend to see themselves as good people advocating a certain political viewpoint on migration - summed up for instance in the oft-heard remark "I'm not a racist, but..."

    I think that's where one must always challenge them - say, "yes you are a racist" and by reminding them of such hopefully get them to appreciate that you have a strong objection to such nationalism.

    Calwell is always controversial. But on the Wikipedia site you can see how he visited Peter Kocan many times during his 10 year stint in a psychiatric ward, and so often repudiated suggestions he was a racist.


    No, I haven't read the Kocan book, I'm reading so much at the moment, but I know that there's almost always disputes over diagnosis, the key point though with me is the emotional well-being of the patient, as R.D. Laing the famous psychotherapist of the 1960's pointed out in his book "The Divided Self", people are always in control of their lives to the extent that most psychotic developments are rationalised as quite normal, and even family members can keep rationalising even quite bizarre behaviour as a "quirk of personality", etc.

    A GP once remarked to me that the science of diagnosis is actually regarded as a minor science, diagnostics, and the much more important business of clinical psychology is dealing with the depression, the loneliness, the high anxiety; the key part is the therapy, in other words.

    My treatment has been relatively successful in the sense that I do not have the social withdrawal I once had. I still however find it hard to control anxiety, particularly on job performance, I have a checkered history on that, the Sane Australia website said that over 60% of people with schizophrenia, which runs in the mothers side of the family, develop depression as a result of work or relationship difficulties.

    My mind runs at a thousand miles an hour sometimes, I think ten minutes has gone when in fact a few hours have passed. It's difficult to sleep in such conditions, even with medication, and that's why holding down jobs is difficult. I had to withdraw from University, where I was an early candidate for honors in English and Political Science. Since then I've done various volunteer work, political activism, tried Workright and a couple of other job training agencies, but always find the paranoid episodes difficult to control.

    But I am still much loved and supported by family and friends. And I never give up - I'm going to try University entrance next year!

  14. Matthew,

    My feeling is that EVERYONE is at least a little racist...or we at least have racist thoughts/moments. We had a African-American Jew come to our synagogue once. He talked about this. He said something like it's not important what your first thought is. If you see someone of a certain race, and a negative thought comes to you, this is not necessarily a problem. It's your SECOND thought that matters. Do you recognize your racism and try to change your thoughts...or do you accept your opinion as being totally acceptable?

    I think it's a common thing. Someone says something racist and then they declare "But I'm not a racist."


    Or. "I'm not a racist, but I hate when...."

    As for mental illness. It's funny. I think I have the opposite viewpoint as you, well at least in terms of the book.

    I think people these days are too quickly diagnosed with mental illness. I think quirky behaviors are misinterpreted as being diseased. I also think people take normal human emotion and rush to treat/medicate it.

    It's not that I don't think there IS real mental illness. I think there's stuff out there (like Schizophrenia) that needs to be medically treated.

    I'm glad you're doing so well, and I'm glad you have the support of friends and family.

    I can understand there are major challenges for you. But one thing I can say is you're writing is very coherent. If you didn't mention that you had Schizophrenia, I don't think I would have picked up on it. I can't say say the same for others I've met on the Internet. Although people might say the same for me!


  15. sDina,

    I guess of all the various mental health disorders, I think schizophrenia is the easiest to mis-diagnose.

    But as the same GP I mentioned said to me, in the late 1970's he was taught at university - "What does it mean to you as an anarchist that an adult comes to you and says "I want to be admitted to hospital"?"

    What are you supposed to say - "you're wrong! Go away!" - that would be a breach of care! And hardly very egalitarian!

    Textbooks, as Hans Eyseneck wrote in the "Uses and Abuses Of Psychology", can bias your view on things. Your readings in psychology are only a small fraction - usually with very dramatic examples by the way of severe symptoms - of the millions of people out there who have the illness.

    But I think you're probably right to say that people sometimes draw conclusions that are a bit too immediate. I have mostly been seen as having many sleeping problems connected to my paranoia, it's very episodic but when it comes on everyone in my family knows it, because I become very self-absorbed, and start to get depressed.

    My psychiatrist has over 30 years experience, and she told me she is convinced I still have the illness, but that it is in remission. But she tells me to let her know when I lose more than two nights sleep, because it makes a dramatic impact.

    On the other hand, a psychologist also very experienced told me he did not think I had schizophrenia; that's for people who eat rocks, have hallucinations, that sort of thing.

    And then you have had people who always disagreed with the whole idea of schizophrenia, and say it's not very useful to see things that way, just treat the symptoms, I saw an article in the Lancet on that basis.

    But I can tell you from many years of going through the job training programs, and the community services for people like me, that I keep seeing the same old familiar faces. They too are very coherent, and they don't eat rocks, but they find it very difficult to hold down jobs, etc..

    So I guess your view can only be very biased one way or another, but for me R.D. Laing spent many years in the British Army and then in private practice, and his famous statement is that it's all very well to argue about the biological basis of schizophrenia, but that doesn't really change things. But if we can understand the social aspects, then we can actually do something about it.

  16. Matthew,

    In a way, I think it's all about perspective. What's mental illness to one person might be quirky behavior to another. Even if you factor in chemical/biological evidence, we could say it's not mental illness. People are simply wired differently.

    I might agree with the people who say treat the symptoms. My son has shown signs of mild Autism...more so when he was a baby/toddler than now. I don't think of him as being ill. I think of him as being delightfully different. But when he does have negative issues, we try to work through those. And we openly talk about Autism in our family. We don't see it as something shameful.

    I've been on both sides of the issue. There have been times that I have been sad because of stuff going on in my life. Now I'm not talking DEEP debilitating long-lasting depression. I've never been to the point where I'm so upset I can't get out of bed. Nothing like that. But I'll mention my sadness, and almost immediately I get people suggesting I'm bipolar. This happened to me on another blog once. Can a person not have normal human emotions without someone trying to tell them they have a depression illness? Are we not allowed to be sad anymore?

    On the other side....I had an eating disorder. It wasn't horribly severe, but heading in that direction. It went on for about a year or two. I stopped it in time, but I still have issues at times. I've tried to talk to my family about it, and they don't believe I had a problem. To them, excessive exercise and severe dieting is a POSITIVE thing and not an illness. They're attitude was very hurtful to me. But I guess maybe I should respect their position. I saw what I had as a dangerous problem. They saw it as a way to look prettier. I don't know.....

    It's like you said though. If you try to get yourself help and support, it's awful to be turned away. "No you're not sick enough".

    As you said schizophrenics should be eating rocks....Yeah, if you haven't eaten enough rocks, I guess you don't qualify. Go away.

    That's how I felt about the eating disorder. There's this idea that because I never got sick enough to require hospitalization, it's not a real issue.