Editor’s Pick: Wrongfully Admitted to Sunbury Asylum

In 1945, Maraquita Sargeant, a mother of five young children, was admitted against her will to Sunbury Mental Asylum in Australia

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Every week on this blog we will feature one video that Smithsonian.com selects as an “Editors’ Pick.” Since we launched the contest launched in February, we’ve been blown away by the high quality of the submissions. Note: these videos are not selected by the contest judges and have no bearing on the final result of the contest.

The featured videos are meant to inspire and encourage.

In 1945, Maraquita Sargeant, a mother of five young children, was admitted against her will to Sunbury Mental Asylum in Australia. Her youngest child, Tony, has spent the last 50 years of his life searching for answers.

Walking the grounds of the now vacant and dilapidated Sunbury, Tony claims his mother was the victim of an era where there were no contraceptives and divorce was not allowed. Having five children already, Maraquita was not willing to give birth again and soon after was admitted. In 1946, she wrote a letter to the governor of Victoria stating she had been “unjustly detained.” The governor responded with a letter to the mental hygiene director and stated the letter “appears to be from a sane person.” The hygiene director’s response can only be described as chilling:

“She is definitely insane and if released would be a threat to certain prominent people’s reputations.”

With the director alerted to Maraquita’s attempt to write the governor, he shipped her to the Royal Melbourne Hospital where she received a lobotomy—a new and experimental procedure at the time that involved separating the front of her brain from the back. The operation was considered a failure. Maraquita spent her time at Sunbury in the sewing room repairing linen and ironing. Despite the injustice, Maraquita remained optimistic and in 1967 she was released.

Upon her release, Maraquita was disorientated so an attempt to reinstitutionalize her was made. Tony called for a psychiatric evaluation and the psychiatrist reported that there was nothing wrong with her. The chairman of the meeting with the psychiatrist delivered perhaps the most haunting news:

“Mr. Sargeant, there is nothing wrong with your mom. Never has been.”

“Maraquita” is a wonderfully shot and edited documentary by George Clipp. The use of historic photos mixed with modern footage of Sunbury today bring the viewer into the asylum but it’s the retelling of the story by Tony that will give you goosebumps. Sunbury is a dark place for Tony and you can hear in his voice the pain the asylum has caused him throughout his life.

Technically, the documentary is executed very well. The special effects used to re-create the sewing room and bridge the gap between the 40s to now were flawless. I also thought the music added a dark and somber mood to the piece.

Feeling inspired? Head over to our submission page and upload your video for a chance to win our grand prize.

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