Margaret and Lee’s Story

Margaret and Lee’s Story:

Lee Miller (January 2013)



Margaret and I have the claim to fame of being the first match made by Citizen Advocacy Western Sydney over 30 years ago in 1982. Here is just a little of our story.

I had been working at the old Rydalmere Psychiatric Hospital (now the University of Western Sydney Parramatta) at the time the Richmond Report was released in the early 80s. As a result, I saw many of the patients discharged from the hospital to live with support in the community.

I had previously befriended a patient at Rydalmere and she had been placed in a flat at Ermington. As I lived nearby, one day I called in on her to see how she was going. Another lady was in her flat at the time. She lived next door and had asked for her help with her vacuum cleaner. Her name was Margaret and she also had recently been discharged from the hospital.  I offered to look at the vacuum cleaner back at Margaret’s flat and while I was there Marg had another visitor, Barbara Page Hanify, who had recently been employed to set up Westcap – Western Sydney Citizen Advocacy Program. Barbara also had previously worked at Rydalmere and knew Margaret from the hospital. In fact, Margaret was still working at the sheltered workshop there known as Combined Products. Barbara knew Marg had no close relatives who had much contact and had thought of Marg as someone who could really do with a special friend and advocate. Barbara asked Marg what she thought of the idea and Marg was in agreement.

Barbara and I also chatted that day. I explained what I was doing there in Margaret’s flat. Barbara’s eyes lit up as she saw her first possible advocate and yes, I was interested. So the usual protocols and training followed and Barbara was a wonderful and enthusiastic mentor to me in that early period. And here we are, Marg and I, 30 years later and still good mates!

Without a doubt the relationship between Marg and myself has primarily been one of friendship. For the first seven years we knew each other, I also lived in Ermington with my husband and three little sons. Marg quickly became one of the family and was known for sometimes nursing one of my tiny twins off to sleep while I spent time with the other one! We saw lots of each other and had lots of phone calls, went on picnics and to church together each week, something that is very important to us both.

Occasions have always been very important to Marg, so of course many Christmas and birthday celebrations were enjoyed together. Marg has always had a great love for music, especially Country music, and she would lead all our extended family in singing her favourite Wall Paper Roses whenever we got together!

Speaking of birthdays though, I need to acknowledge Marg’s  phenomenal memory.   I have never needed an electronic organiser to remind me of up and coming family birthdays. Marg can without fail quote the dates of most members of her family and my family – even down to brothers in law! I still find her prompts very useful.

I guess one of the most profound times I have spent with Marg was when we worked together on her family history. There were good and many not so good events in her past, but as I wrote down the story I was amazed at the amount of detail Marg could recall, going right back to her younger childhood days in Ryde. I guess Marg may not have shared much of the story before and I felt very privileged to hear it that day.

My family and I moved to Canberra over twenty years ago and my relationship with Margaret had to change accordingly. Ours has been largely a phone relationship since, with me making occasional trips to Sydney, especially for getting together at Christmas, or Marg coming to Canberra. In the early years Marg travelled down by train or bus once a year and had a weekend with us. In more recent years, the support staff from Marg’s home have brought her down to Canberra, or we meet half way for lunches at Goulburn or Bowral. Being so far apart is not the best way to have a friendship, but it’s a lot better than not having one at all!

Over the years Marg has lived in a large number of group homes – good and bad – and in many ways it’s great to be able to say that her current home is possibly the best she has been in. Marg enjoys a good range of activities, gets on well with most of her house mates  and generally there is good communication between the staff and myself.

However, Marg would probably not be here at all if it was not for the tremendous support we received over the years from the staff at CAWS, particularly from Kaye Fraser. The office has always kept in contact with me, checking how things were going for Marg and myself, offering support and encouragement. There have been many significant issues to be addressed over the years, times when Margaret needed me to speak on her behalf, and the CAWS staff have always been very helpful. But when Marg was having significant health problems a few years ago and was hospitalised, the hospital pushed for Marg to be placed in a nursing home, it was the advocacy support from Kaye that made all the difference. I had neither the knowledge, the confidence nor the tenacity to have achieved the positive outcome alone.

It was a big story that evolved over many months. There were innumerable phone calls, meetings with medical professionals, trips from Canberra to Sydney and Marg in hospital for a long period. But in the end Kaye was able to turn the tide and organise a place in an appropriate group home, which had to be modified before Marg could be discharged from hospital. Kaye also pushed for appropriate ongoing therapies and programs to be put in place. The difference between ‘what would have been’ at the nursing home and Marg’s varied life in her current home at Winston Hills is immeasurable. Marg and I will always be thankful to Kaye for all that was achieved at that time.

Life for many of us is busy and we’d like to have more time to do things better. That’s how I used to feel about my relationship with Marg. I’d feel guilty that I wasn’t doing more. But I have other involvements and my own family and I am very appreciative for the support for Margaret over all these years from all my family and particularly my husband. Now I am more realistic about my goals with Margaret and I just do what I can do.

Without CAWS our relationship probably wouldn’t have extended past that chance meeting over thirty years ago. Marg will always have her health problems, but it was wonderful to celebrate her 70th birthday last year and to see that she is still going well. I hope I will always be a good advocate when Marg needs one. I know we will always be good friends.