Whither Goeth the World - Humanity or Barbarity?


The Life Work of Dr. Neville T. Yeomans




Email:    lspencre@alphalink.com.au




Two Poems Written by Dr. Neville Thomas Yeomans



                           The Inma

There seems to be a new spirituality going around - or a philosophy – or is it an ethical and moral movement, or a feeling?

Anyway, this Inma religion or whatever it is – what does it believe in?

It believes in the coming-together, the inflow of alternative human energy, from all over the world.

It believes in an ingathering and a nexus of human persons values, feelings, ideas and actions.

Inma believes in the creativity of this gathering together and this connexion of persons and values.

It believes that these values are spiritual, moral and ethical, as well as humane, beautiful, loving and happy.

Inma believes that persons may come and go as they wish, but also it believes that the values will stay and

 fertilize its area, and it believes the nexus will cover the globe.

Inma believes that Earth loves us and that we love Earth.

It believes that from the love and from the creativity will come a new model for the world of human future.

It believes that we have started that future - now.

I guess that if you and I believe these things we are Inma.


On Where

Perhaps somewhere there is an unimportant place caught between East and West, North and South, Past and Future.

It is so far behind that it can only go forward.

Its indigenous people are so badly treated they will risk anything for a better life.

Its white overlords are so distant from the center of their own culture that they don’t know where to go except to Self Government.

It is wealthy, industrial, consumer, under-populated and chaotic.

It has tropical coasts and islands. It has cool mountains and tablelands.

It is closer to Asian and Melanesian peoples than its own capital city, and it often sees itself as the end of the earth.

Yet the desires of some of its citizens are:

to build the first free territory guided by global humane laws

to implement the UN covenants on Human Rights

to give migrants, visitors and native born an equal say

to accept ideas, people and music of living from all over

to welcome and respect every interested person

to love Planet Earth, and

to take a next step towards a happier more beautiful more human community.

Maybe one such place is called Northern Queensland, Australia.

But an Aboriginal word meaning 'a coming together' is Inma.



Together these poems provide a feel for the subject matter of this Thesis.

I first received these two poems at Neville Yeomans’ funeral in March 2000.
























Photo 1 The Mango Tree out the window of Neville’s Yungaburra house  19

Photo 2 We sat at this bench as we ate paw paw and talked. 19

Photo 3 Neville lost in the bush - A painting by L Spencer. 20

Photo 4 A Photo of Neville in his later years. 26





Dr. Neville Thomas Yeomans at his desk at Fraser House - Circa 1961





The research breadth went hand-in-hand with the support of many. I acknowledge the Indigenous people of Australasia SE Asia Oceania Region who have been so much a part of the social action at the heart of this Thesis. I also acknowledge the members of my family who lived with the myriad small and large consequences of my involvement in this prolonged and time consuming endeavor. My profound respect for Dr. Neville Yeomans is woven into this work. My kindred enablers/supporters are integral - Marj Roberts, Mareja Bin Juda, Norma Perrott, Nasuven Enares and her sisters Joyce Morris (deceased) and Phyllis Corowa, Faith Bandler, Geoff Guest, Terry Widders, Alex Dawia, Rob Buschkens, Jules and Chris Collingwood, John Lonergon and others who know who they are. My other interviewees all had zest and were so willing - Margaret Cockett, Warwick Bruen, Phil Chilmaid, Stephanie Yeomans, Stephanie and Ken Yeomans’ Daughters, Allan and Ken Yeomans, Terry O’Neill, Dr. Ned Iceton, Professor Alfred Clark and the Fraser House Patient and Outpatient. Financial support at key times was provided by the Jessie Street Foundation, Down to Earth (Vic) and the Gippsland Catholic Diocese through Jim Connelly. Stimulating sustained support came from Zuzenka Kutena, Dr. Elizabeth DeCastro, Judith Goldsworthy, Gregory Leonhart, Dihan Wijewickrama, Andrew Cramb, Don Foster, Mary and David Cruise, and Dr. Werner Pelz. Also providing crucial support at key stages were Elsbeth Stephens, Steve Andreas, Greg Burgess, Richard Clements, Andres Kabel, Barry McQueen, Richard Maidment, Vic Morrant, and Jim Vickers-Willis. Rich perspectives were provided by my fellow JCU research students and Dr. Sue McGinty and her husband Dr. Tony McMahon’s during the Qualitative Research Seminars. Tony as my supervisor provided sustained caring tight academic support that was fundamental. I acknowledge the profound connexity of Mother Earth and the Web of Life source of life Inma - towards a caring humane respectful sustained Epoch.




This qualitative naturalistic inquiry research explores psychiatrist barrister Dr. Neville Yeomans’ lifelong action towards enabling gentle transitions from the current non-sustainable inequitable inhumane exploitative Global epoch to a humane life-affirming one.


The research’s three interconnected areas specify firstly the precursors and structures/processes used by Yeomans in establishing Australia’s first psychiatric therapeutic community ‘Fraser House’ in 1959; secondly, Fraser House outreaches; and thirdly, the evolving of the Laceweb Social Movement through the SE Asia Oceania Australasia Region.


Yeomans ways of social action are traced to his collaborating with his father P.A. Yeomans and brothers Allan and Ken in evolving Keyline sustainable agricultural practice informed by Australasian indigenous people’s experience. The research specifies Dr. Yeomans’ adapting of indigenous socio-healing/socio-medicine ways and Keyline to the psychosocial and psychobiological fields in evolving processes he called, ‘Cultural Keyline’.


The research documents Yeomans’ evolving Fraser House as a dysfunctional fringe epochal change model – patient self-governance and law/rule making via patient-based committees, and through this, patients and outpatients assuming all of the hospital administration roles, including initial patient assessment, treatment, sanctions, ex-patient domiciliary support, research, crisis support to the surrounding communities and training psychiatrists in community psychiatry. Yeomans’ pioneering of Big Group Therapy (100-180 attending), including all patients and all staff on duty, and patients’ family/friends/workmates as outpatients is documented. Some of Yeomans’ leader roles and Big Group/Small Group processes are specified. Small group therapy with membership based on rotating sociological categories is described


Fraser House outreaches energized by Yeomans are outlined including: his use of advisory roles to legitimate and protect this social action; his pioneering role as New South Wales’ first Director of Community Mental Health; his setting up Australia’s first Community Mental Health Unit in Paddington NSW; his enabling of the Paddington Festival in 1969 towards starting Paddington Bazaar to surround this Unit; his energizing of intercultural festivals, gatherings and artistic happenings in the 1960/70s; his evolving of intercultural wellbeing networks among Asians and Africans; his adapting and disseminating of Cultural Keyline to business and other organizations; his entering as an independent candidate in the 1969 Federal election, his writing of newspaper columns, his pioneering of mediation in many fields in Australia, and his contributing to Divorce Law Reform and the inclusion of family counseling/mediation in Family Law.


The evolving of the Laceweb networks amongst Indigenous and other intercultural healers in the Region supporting self-help/ mutual-help amongst Indigenous/Small Minorities trauma survivors, and stopping dysfunction among them is traced to Fraser House and Yeomans’ seminal role in enabling Aboriginal Human Relations Gatherings in 1971, 1972 and 1973 in North East New South Wales. Yeomans sustained action research enabling networking among indigenous/intercultural natural nurturers in the Region are specified including, his setting up a number of small Therapeutic Community Houses in Northern Queensland, and extending the Fraser House model in evolving an International Normative Model Area in Northern Queensland as a model exploring World Order Governance. The research concludes with Yeomans’ writings about his macro-framework for epochal change over the next 200 years, and with future possibilities for the Laceweb.




The topic of this Thesis, ‘Whither Goeth The World – Humanity or Barbarity’ entailed researching the history, theory and practice leading to the evolving of the Laceweb social movement among Indigenous and intercultural healers through the SE Asia Oceania Australasia Region This Chapter introduces the life work of Dr. Neville Yeomans, discusses the significance of the topic, outlines the nature of the research and the research questions, and discusses why they are important. It also discusses briefly the story of how I became involved with this project and the way my biogeography has led me to undertake this research. An outline of the rest of the Thesis is included. Because of the expansiveness of the subject, some of the matters that will be treated in some depth in this research are introduced briefly in this Chapter.


This thesis explores Dr. Neville Yeomans’ role in evolving social action with the aim of enabling a gentle transition from the current Global epoch to a new humane and life-affirming one with new forms of social realities respecting and embracing diversity and having resonance with traditional Indigenous relating to the Web of Life. One aspect of this change is fostering regionality and locality in a life-world where every aspect is recognizing, respecting, celebrating, fostering, and sustaining the inter-connectedness of humane nurturing values and the diversity of all life forms and networks. The title of the thesis, ‘Whither Goeth the World – Humanity or Barbarity’ is resonant with Dr. Yeomans’ quest for Epochal change. This title is an adaptation of a title used by Dr. Yeomans, ‘Whither Goeth the Law – Humanity or Barbarity’ (Carlson and Yeomans 1975a; Carlson and Yeomans 1975b)


I have elected to use Dr. Neville Yeomans’ first name in the balance of this Research as a mark of my profound respect for him. For me he is Neville, not ‘Yeomans’. We had a working friendship for over 13 years. Neville was of immense support in times of crisis in my life.




Dr. Neville Thomas Yeomans, a little known extraordinary Anglo-Australian humanitarian was born in 1928 to Percival and Rita Yeomans and died in Brisbane in May 2000. Neville grew up in a stimulating household. As an adolescent he worked in sustainable agriculture with his father P. A. Yeomans who was described by the World famous English agriculturalist Lady Balfour as the person making the greatest contribution to sustainable agriculture in the past 200 years (Mulligan and Hill 2001). Neville Yeomans worked closely with his father and brother Allan (and later younger brother Ken) in pioneering a sustainable agriculture process called Keyline (Yeomans 1955; Yeomans 1958; Yeomans 1958; Yeomans 1965; Yeomans 1971; Yeomans 1971; Yeomans and Yeomans 1993). Neville adapted Keyline as ‘Cultural Keyline’ and pioneered this in the fields of psychiatry, sociology of medicine, social psychology, psychobiology, intercultural studies, peace studies, humanitarian law and global governance.

All of Nevilles and his father’s work was informed and guided by a relational familiarity with Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wisdom about the social and natural life worlds. While non-Aboriginal people had seen Australia as a harsh and hostile place to be conquered and tamed, Aboriginal and Islander people had a loving and affectionate relation to Earth as their nurturing mother – a profoundly different relating. Neville encapsulated this relating in the words of his Inma poem, ‘Inma believes that Earth loves us and that we love Earth’. Neville and his father’s work and way were guided and informed by this ancient loving caring tradition.

In preparing for his humanitarian life work, Neville obtained degrees in zoology and then medicine/psychiatry. He completed postgraduate studies in sociology and psychology with accompanying extensive reading in history, anthropology and peace studies. He followed with a degree in law, specializing in humanitarian law, and law studies in mediation as an alternative to adversarial law in dispute settlement (Carlson and Yeomans 1975a; Carlson and Yeomans 1975b). During the 1970s, he studied spoken and written Chinese and Indonesian, as well as Chinese painting. Amongst his other studies Neville studied 12 months at the Criminology Law School at the University of Sydney. As part of his quest to become sensitive to the intercultural nuances of the Region, Neville studied at a Technical College for eighteen months in Indonesian language and twelve months in Mandarin language both as spoken and written languages. He remained an avid reader and engaged in continuous action research throughout his life.


Neville commenced his endeavors with what he called the ‘mad and bad’ people of Sydney. Neville said that he recognized that in 1959, with considerable upheaval and questioning in the area of mental health in NSW, and a Royal Commission being mooted into past practices, there was a small window of opportunity for innovation. Neville started his epochal quest in earnest by setting up the psychiatric unit, Fraser House, in the grounds of the North Ryde Psychiatric Hospital in 1959. He obtained permission to have half of the patient intake from prisons so that he could explore self-help possibilities among the ‘mad and bad’ at the fringe of society.


In psychiatry, Neville was a World leader in therapeutic community, full family therapeutic community, community mental health, and large group therapy. Many of the iconoclastic practices that he introduced into psychiatry are now standard practice in Australia. He pioneered suicide support and other life crisis telephone services, the running of multicultural community markets and festivals and other multicultural events, and alternative lifestyle festivals. Neville also influenced the introduction of family counseling and family mediation into family law in Australia and mediation into Australian society. He was also responsible for energizing praxis networks in such diverse, though related fields as social work, criminology, family counseling, community services, community mental health, prison administration, business management, intercultural relations, psychosocial self-help groups, social ecology, futures studies, self organizing systems, qualitative method, World order, and Global, Regional, and Local Governance.


While the many things Neville Yeomans pioneered are now known by many in Australia and around the World, very few know he was the initiator. The (Sydney) Sun newspaper included Neville’s groundbreaking work in psychiatry and therapeutic community with six other Australians under the heading, ‘The Big Seven Secrets Australians were first to solve’ (17 July, 1963). Dr. Neville Yeomans was included with people like Sir John Eccles, Sir Norman Greg and Dr. V. M Coppleson.  How all these diverse social actions are related and interlinked by Dr. Neville Yeomans and others are the foci of this Thesis


This research traces Neville Yeomans fostering of the emergence of a social movement he called the Laceweb evolving amongst oppressed Indigenous and Small Minorities in the SE Asia Oceania Australasian Region.  Wellbeing action by Indigenous, Small Minority and intercultural psychosocial healers and natural nurturers has been evolving in the Region for over 40 years. This network of ‘natural nurturers’ continues to evolve. Some of the focal people now engaged in the Laceweb movement that emerged from Neville’s Sydney action are among the most oppressed and marginalized people in Far North Queensland and around the Darwin Top End. They are Aboriginal and Islanders and other people such as East Timorese, West Papuans, Bougainvillians and others from oppressed minority groups in the Region with small populations. Global governance organizations call them ‘Small Minorities’. These focal people are mainly women. Neville’s term for these informal networkers was ‘natural nurturers’ as they are engaged in self-help and mutual help as they go about their everyday lives.


The research explores Neville’s claim that he was actioning a three hundred year-plus project - Laceweb action evolving humane transition processes towards a more humane caring nurturing epoch; one that respects the Earth and all life on it.


This research traces the evolving of Laceweb networks in the Region supporting self-help and mutual-help amongst Indigenous and Small Minorities’ trauma survivors, as well as supporting the resolving of domestic violence, oppression of women and children, sexual abuse, substance abuse, criminal and psychiatric incarceration, and other dysfunction towards evolving a humane caring nurturing Way of life as exemplars of Epochal change. Neville had first hand experience of this dysfunction in growing up near remote aboriginal communities. At the same time he recognized that indigenous holistic communal process sustaining social cohesion had potency in resolving the above dysfunction  - what Neville called Cultural Healing Action.




While aspects of this endeavor have been the subject of a PhD (Clark 1969), and other research and writings in the past (Yeomans 1961; Yeomans 1961; Webb and Bruen 1968; Clark and Yeomans 1969; Watson 1970, p 109; Paul and Lentz 1977; Yeomans 1980, p.64; Yeomans 1980; Wilson 1990, Ch 6, p. 71-85; Clark 1993, p. 61, 117) this will be the first research that attempts to draw the many aspects of the above and related social action together.


It took a number of months of reflection and discussions with Neville and my Supervisor for three ‘natural’ parts to emerge - Fraser House, Fraser House outreach and the evolving of the Laceweb. The research questions emerged from this cleavering.


The research questions are:


1.    What were the theoretical and action precursors to, and the nature of the structuring and processes used by Neville Yeomans in evolving and sustaining the psychiatric unit Fraser House?


2.    What change processes, innovations and social action evolved in and from Fraser House? With what effect?


3.    What is the Laceweb? What is its structure and process, and how has it being evolving and sustained?


4.    What patterns and integration are there linking aspects of Neville Yeomans’ work - Fraser House, Fraser House outreach and the Laceweb?


5.    What possible futures may emerge from Laceweb praxis


As the Thesis is investigating something with so many facets, I had to make decisions about my research focus and what was to be included and excluded. I have elected to report extensively on structure, process and their connexity while providing a broad feel for their fit in the interstices of Neville’s massive endeavor. In order to cope with the extent and complex richness of my focal interests, the following are excluded.


Firstly, while outlining and answering the criticisms others have made about Neville and Fraser House, I do not engage in identifying shortcomings, or criticizing his life work. I have gathered together material that others may use for further research including critique and evaluation. The limits I set to my research have still left me with a massive endeavor.


Secondly, I report on Neville’s extensive life work and public persona and the public life of Fraser House staff. I exclude research concerning his personal life while acknowledging and recognizing this was and is fundamental to an understanding of the man. In fact, Neville recognized and made restricted file notes on issues in his and other Fraser House senior staff’s private lives that were reflected in the dynamics of Fraser House. Neville drew attention to the ethical dilemmas in research where adequate writing up of a case would give sufficient material to identify focal people to their potential harm. Neville made suggestions in a short monograph to the World Health Organization that may address these dilemmas about research protocols including anonyminity of individuals, institutions and nations where important, though social delicate research, is being conducted (Yeomans 1965, Vol. 12, p. 129-130).


Thirdly, while researching the evolving and the nature of the Laceweb social movement, the Laceweb networks themselves have not been researched. I have scant links to these networks and I am not cleared to share information.


Fourthly, while the social action being researched has drawn on Australian and Oceania Indigenous socio-medicine and other social and community social cohesion knowledge and way, this thesis only briefly describes some of these without going into detail. I do not re-present or speak for anyone.




I was privileged to be mentored by Neville over a fourteen-year period from 1986 to 2000. Neville arranged for me to engage in sustained action research into every aspect of his life work. I researched and wrote this Thesis with his blessing, encouragement, cooperation and support. Further, I carried out this research so that Australians and the World would know more about this man. With the inhumane self serving behavior of sections of the World traumatizing and exploiting/harming the majority of the Earth’s population and fast destroying our children’s’ future, Neville’s lifework is timely, practical, seminal and potent. This Thesis makes his life work accessible.


I first met Neville in the mid 1980’s. At first all I knew about him was that he was a psychiatrist who had just come back from doing a really interesting workshop on powerful brief therapeutic processes – NLP Sensory Submodality Processes (Bandler, Andreas et al. 1985; Andreas and Andreas 1987). At the time I knew nothing of Fraser House or Neville’s wider work. I attended the workshop he was co-facilitating in Balmain, Sydney. I was taken with the ecology of the man. He was precise and thorough, and incredible quick in sensing everyone in the group. I had never met anyone like him. He singled me out as a resonant person. At lunch on both days of the workshop we shared life stories related to working with groups and change processes. He specifically engaged me on my academic and work experience. By the end of that lunch, he knew I had a Social Science degree in Sociology and a Behavioral Science Honors Degree in Psychology. My honors research was in clinical psychology and I had completed postgraduate studies in neuro-psychology. He knew I had been eligible to do PhD level research since 1981. He also knew of, and could see ‘fit’ in my prior degree-level industry studies in actuarial and financial services to become a Fellow of the Australian Insurance Institute by examination. He also saw resonance in my Diploma level studies in Personnel Management and Organizational Training and Development. I was for a time a member of the Australian Institute of Personnel Management and the Australian Institute of Training and Development.


Neville delighted in my revelation that I had been sacked from most of my jobs for provoking the system to change; at the time I did not know that Neville worked with the resources on the margins. At that first meeting I had no idea that Neville was a constant networker and that he was checking me out as to how I might fit and be interested in the social action he was engaged in. We discussed my consulting work supporting CEOs of multinational companies on organizational change, and psychosocial group process at the senior executive level. I found out later that he had seen ‘fit’ in all aspects of my background including my security consulting work in electronic article surveillance.


I had my training in counseling from Terry O’Neill at the Student Counseling Unit at La Trobe University in the late 1970’s and was an on-call para-professional crisis counselor in the La Trobe University Student Counseling Center for eighteen months. I found out shortly after meeting Neville that Terry based his way of counseling largely on Terry’s voluntary work at Fraser House and the influence of Neville in the 1960’s.  When I told Neville about Terry training me in counseling this further strengthened his interest in me as a potential resource.


Because of my psychosocial community and group therapy experience, much of it subsequently in groups with Neville, and my brief therapy skills, Neville arranged for me to provide 18 months in-service training and mentoring support to a psychologist friend of his working within a medium security special protection prison facility. This involved my co-facilitating, along with the jail psychologist, groups of 12 inmates as well as mentoring the jail psychologist on one-on-one work. Neville specifically broached my potential to research his lifework via a PhD in 1992.  Key things for Neville were that I was eligible to do a PhD and also, that I had experienced major trauma in my life. I knew from personal experience about trauma self-help. In Queensland in 1993 he again went thoroughly into all my background although the chatting was laid back. Little did I know then how my entire blend of background ‘fitted’ his interests and foci. It seems that I was potentially the person he had been looking for for more than 20 years (Yeomans 1980; Yeomans 1980, p. 64; Yeomans 1980). He quietly suggested me doing a PhD on his life work a number of times in the following years.


By 1997, he was keen for me to get started as he knew he was in real trouble with his health and that it was life threatening. When I told him in July 1998 that I was starting a PhD on his life he was elated. I could literally see his mind clicking. He was checking for fit.  Then he said a big,‘Yes! Your background is perfect!’ I knew in large part this was because of my dysfunctionality as well as my experience and abilities. As discussed throughout this research, Neville had great faith in the dysfunctional fringe.




This thesis is about people connecting with each other and discovering and learning from and supporting each other. I will share a few things that may support you in connecting with the pith and moment of this research and how I came to be doing it. Neville Yeomans and I are eating paw paw in Yungaburra. It is a warm December morning in 1993 – in the lush greenness of the tropics of Far North Queensland, Australia. Neville and I are having a good time in friendly banter. Through the open window of Neville’s heritage listed large bungalow type house comes the sweet smell of hundreds of over-ripe mangoes on an immense tree.


The air is permeated with the fragrance of frangipani and other tropical flowers. Going back there in memory now, my longtime friend and colleague and I are engaged in a casual conversation of significance. We are talking about the origins of the passions that have energized and interwoven our lives. Neville has no hesitation in saying that a defining moment in the origins of his passions occurred in 1931 when he was three years old. He recalls becoming separated from his parents and being lost in the hot arid desert of Western Queensland.




Photo 1 The Mango Tree out the window of Neville’s Yungaburra house





Photo 2 We sat at this bench as we ate paw paw and talked.




Photo 3 Neville lost in the bush - A painting by L Spencer.


In wandering away from his parents as a three year old, Neville had been absorbed in minutia - looking at the little plants and pebbles. After a time his body demanded his attention away from the pebbles. He was becoming parched. His mouth and lips were becoming very dry. His attention flits again to the pebbles. Then everything begins to shimmer. Every direction seems the same. His legs go to jelly and the world begins to tilt all over the place as he crashes to the ground from heat exhaustion. Neville vividly remembers his near death delirium. Being a bright little three year old, he knows about death and that he is about to die. He desperately longs to live to make the world a better place. In delirium, emotions sweep him. Awful dread mingles with immense love - and all this is reaching out for love and nurturing and all their possibilities. In his near-death delirium little Neville sees a shimmering black giant coming towards him and feels being gently picked up. Neville feels the giant’s gentleness - strong yet soft - and presently he feels the cool fresh water that gently touches his lips, and is being poured on his body, and assuaging his raging thirst. Then, still in delirium, Neville feels being carried for a time and then passed by the Aboriginal tracker who had found him to nurturing Aboriginal women and he is ‘home’ again and his yearning is being full-filled.


The above piece was confirmed by Neville in September 1998 as encapsulating the feel of his experience. It was part of my first writing that reduced Neville to tears.


Neville, in the care of these Aboriginal women had personal experience of Aboriginal socio-medicine. He knew from his own experiencing of it that Aboriginal socio-medicine is powerful. Psychiatrist Richard Cawte has written of Aboriginal socio-medicine (Cawte 1974; Cawte 2001). I understand Indigenous socio-medicine to entail a wide range of social processes with a central aim of community social cohesion and wellbeing. Aboriginal socio-medicine links the psychosocial with the psychobiological through special forms of embodied social interaction. Neville experienced and embodied this link. Neville spoke of how, during the years of his childhood, he constantly returned to his desert delirium experience as he was forming his very big dream of doing things that would make the World profoundly different. The dreaming evolved as an action quest.


Neville said that from that traumatic experience, what he was exploring and mulling over all the time as a child and later as an adolescent, was how could he enable an Epochal transition. He was talking of enabling a shift of the magnitude of the one from the Feudal System to the Industrial System in England. He read up on how that transition occurred. He was passionate about how he could link with others in enabling a Global Epochal transition to a humane, nurturing, sustainable social-life-world. He was talking about a life-world that is respecting, celebrating and sustaining diversity of all life forms and networks on the biosphere. He kept asking himself, how would someone do that? How could he do that? He realized that it may take up to 300 years to do. And if it takes a few life times to do this, what could he do that would set up action that was self-energizing and self-organizing; processes that could, no - would withstand the withering ways of the current epoch in decline as it seeks by any means to maintain itself. What processes could enable reconstituting to continue through time, to finish the transition?


Even on hearing Neville saying words like these in 1993, it never occurred to me that that was what he was really attempting to do. Subsequently, a number of people I interviewed about Neville all confirmed the epochal focus of his social action. Margaret Cockett, his personal Assistant at and after Fraser House, Stephanie Yeomans, his Sister-in-law, and Stuart Hill, a Professor of Social Ecology at University of Western Sydney, all said that Neville had said similar things to the above in talking with them about the emergence of his quest from his childhood sociomedicine experience. As well, Paul Wilson, who was for a time Head of the Australian Institute of Criminology and now Dean of the School of Humanities at Bond University, implies the same understanding of Neville’s quest in his writing (Wilson 1990, Ch. 6).


Neville went on to tell me a story that was similar to his being lost in the bush. In 1943, Neville’s father co-purchased with his brother-in-law Jim Barnes, two adjacent properties totaling 1000 acres at North Richmond, one hour West of Sydney in NSW (Mulligan and Hill 2001; Hill 2002; Hill 2002). In the next year when Neville was sixteen, a second defining episode occurred. Neville was out riding on his horse Ginger on one of their properties with his Uncle Jim (Barnes) when they were caught in a grassfire that was being fanned by powerful winds. Jim yelled to Neville to dismount and squeeze into the hollow of a dead tree and cover himself to shield the radiant heat. The firestorm was coming towards them at phenomenal speed. The fire front was long. Jim on his horse could neither outflank it nor out-race it. Being too large to squeeze through the gap into the stump, Jim rode straight at the fire – attempting to ride through it. The horse went from under him, and Neville, watching from within the tree stump saw his Uncle burn to death. Amid the shock and horror was the dread of his own impending horrible death. Neville said that he slumped into traumatized delirium consumed with dread laced with pervasive love similar to his experience when lost as a three year old. He described being on the edge of oblivion and again yearning for a better reality for all people. When found, physically safe, Neville was profoundly traumatized. Ginger, though singed, survived.


Circumstance created another similarity. At age three it was the Aboriginal women who gave nurturing care. During the time of this grass fire there happened to be an Islander women staying with the Yeomans family as a housekeeper-support for Neville’s mother. The woman was an Australian South Sea Islander - Faith Bandler’s sister, Kathleen Mussing. It was in Kathleen’s nurturing care that Neville found enfolding love. Faith Bandler was one of those responsible for the referendum on Aboriginal voting rights. Faith had support from Jessie Street. The Jessie Street Foundation in memory of Jessie has supported Laceweb action in 2001 and 2002 (Laceweb-Homepage 2001).


Neville attributed his healing from this second trauma in the months following the fire, to the nurturing socio-medicine of this housekeeper, Kathleen. In essence, this entailed love, care, nurturing and affection as the central components of psychobiological healing.  Neville re-met Kathleen Mussing when she was old and dying and she didn’t recognize him. Neville described that meeting as one of the saddest experiences in his life, though permeated for him with immense love.


In the ensuing years up till the Yungaburra 1993 conversation, Neville had progressively involved me in aspects of his quest. Even so, I knew very little. It was a bit at a time. I did not know at the time that he had written a letter to the International Journal of Therapeutic Communities in 1980 providing an overview of his work (Yeomans 1980, p. 64; Yeomans 1980).


This short letter is reproduced in full below:


From the Outback


Dear Sir,


Since A. W. Clark and I produced the monograph ‘Fraser House’ in 1969, I have moved to private practice in Cairns, North East Australia. This is an isolated area for this country, but is rapidly becoming an intercultural front door to Melanesia and Asia.


‘Up North’ the therapeutic community model has extended into humanitarian mutual help for social change. Two of the small cities in this region have self-help houses based on Fraser House. An Aboriginal Alcohol and Drug hostel is moving in the same direction, as are other bodies.


These are facilitated by a network called UN-Inma, the second word of which is aboriginal for Oneness. Actually, aborigines have discussed offering one of the Palm Island group off the North Queensland coast as a model therapeutic community prison.


The Director of the Australian Institute of Criminology has the support of the United Nations Secretary-General for the idea of an international island haven for otherwised condemned political prisoners. Our proposal is an application and extension, in which the Institute Director is ‘extremely interested’.


The main conditions sought by the Indigenous group are that selected aborigines in Australian prisons also be permitted to complete their sentences on such islands; and that therapeutic self-management with conjugal rights be the administrative model.


One of our major next steps is to bring together a psychosocial evaluative research team to monitor the development of this regional community movement. Such may take some time as social scientists are fairly uncommon in the area (my italics).


Some years ago, I arranged a cost-benefit analysis of Fraser House, compared first with a traditional Admission unit in another psychiatric hospital, and second with a newly constructed Admission unit which some felt might be a pseudo therapeutic community.


Somewhat to my surprise Fraser House was not only more effective but also cost less than the other two. The traditional unit was next cost-effective and the ‘pseudo’ unit least. Unfortunately this report was never publically circulated. Until recently I was unable to locate a copy. One has now been found and it seems I may soon have a manuscript.


This Thesis revisits this letter in documenting the flow-on action from Fraser House. Note the italicized paragraph. Neville had been looking for someone like me at least from 1980. He was sizing me up in the mid 1980s.




During September 1998 Neville agreed to read some of my Thesis writing about the precursors to Fraser House. Neville said, ‘When I read your draft it was so congruent, it moved me to tears - it’s like a scientific detective story.’


My writing touched strong emotions that had him sobbing. He said I was underway and that he would not comment more on that piece of writing or read any of the Thesis until it was finished so that it was my work, self organized by me. In November 1999, Neville asked whether I would have the Thesis finished by February 2000. He was very keen to read it, though only when it was finished. When I told him it would not be finished by then he said that was regrettable. In December 1999 there was inexplicably no reply on his phone for two and a half weeks. Then one morning Neville’s daughter answered the phone and said that Neville’s bladder cancer, which had been in remission, had rapidly moved everywhere in his body and that he would die very soon and that they were shifting him from hospital to his former wife (his second wife) Lien’s place in Queensland. His daughter said he was so bad I would not be able to speak to him again. This was devastating news. I rang the hospital for a status report and was knocked further emotionally to be put directly though to Neville without knowing this was about to happen. Neville spoke and sounded the best I had every found him. He was clear, calm, relaxed, poised and centered. He said, ‘Les have you heard. The cancer’s gone everywhere. I have just received a massive dose of morphine and I am going up to be with Lien (his second Wife) and Quan (his son). I can’t help you any more. Goodbye’. I said, ‘Goodbye.’ Those seconds were our last chat. Then he hung up. Quan said in April 2000, ‘If Neville died this instant it would be a mercy’. He died about 4 weeks later in May 2000. Neville’s Obituary written by a friend Peter Carroll was read by Carroll at the funeral and appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald. It is included as Appendix 1.


Photo 4 A Photo of Neville in his later years.




While arbitrary, this Thesis divides Neville’ life work into three inter-woven threads. The first part is Neville’s pioneering in Australia of community therapy and his global pioneering of full-family residential therapeutic community practices within the therapeutic community based psychiatric unit, Fraser House (Yeomans 1961, p.382-384; Yeomans 1961, p.829-830). Neville set up this Unit at North Ryde Psychiatric hospital on the North Shore in Sydney, NSW in 1959, and became its founding director and psychiatrist.  Neville and other Fraser House staff claimed that Fraser House practice established that extremely dysfunctional people could be the prime source of their own reintegration and move to wellbeing functioning (Yeomans 1961; Yeomans 1961; Madew, Singer et al. 1966; Clark 1969; Clark and Yeomans 1969). The precursors influencing Neville in setting up and evolving Fraser House are explored. A core and integrating aspect of the Thesis will be articulating the emergence and the use of a way of being, functioning and action by Neville’s father, P. A. Yeomans in creating Keyline processes in sustainable agriculture. Neville’s extended his father’s Keyline into the psychosocial sphere within Fraser House and Fraser House outreach in a process Neville called Cultural Keyline. This is researched


Another thread woven through Neville’s life and this Thesis is the wisdom and being of Indigenous people. P.A. (Neville’s father) and Neville had a lot of contact and affinity with Australian Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Australian South Sea Islander people. Neville particularly sought out the company of nurturing women from these groups. The father and son’s profound connexity to nature is resonant with Indigenous way. ‘Connexity’ is an old English word meaning that a connexion continues between people, things, and between people and things such that they are simultaneously interwoven, inter-dependent, inter-connected, inter-related, and interlinked.


Neville’s pioneering of both therapeutic community and full family therapeutic community in Australia are documented.


In the second part of the Thesis, the research documents the spread and influence of Fraser House’s guiding frames of reference, structure, processes and practices into the wider community. The claims by Neville and other Ex Fraser House staff that Fraser House’s structure, processes and practices had a substantial effect on mental health practice in Australia are investigated.


The third part of the Thesis traces the use by Neville of Fraser House’s frames of reference, structures, processes, practices and outreach in enabling the evolving of the Laceweb Social Movement spreading among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other minorities in the remote regions of Far North Australia and extending throughout the SE Asia Oceania Australasia Region. In enabling with others this network, Neville was tapping into pre-existing nurturing energy amongst Indigenous people and people of oppressed small minorities in the Region. The Thesis traces the processes used to extend this social movement via networking among people Neville described as, ‘natural nurturers’. While these people are typically fighting for their very existence as a people and culture in their place, Neville said that the natural nurturers were always present and have been present since antiquity. Neville and others fully recognized that everything they did was using and/or re-constituting the socio-cohesive ways of being of the ages among focal people who had been decimated by dominant societies. The Research documents the psychosocial and other histories of Laceweb social action over the past forty-three years, as well as their precursors from the 1930’s onwards.


The term ‘Laceweb’ was initiated by Neville. One summer morning in 1993 in Yungaburra in Far North Queensland, Neville and I were discussing the Laceweb and it seemed that the Movement had, as far as Neville knew, no name. Neville knew the potency of symbols, icons and logos and said these were not used in the Laceweb, and he did not think them in any way appropriate at the present. Neville talked about naming the movement. Within seconds he came up with ‘Laceweb’. This name was, in Neville’s terms, ‘an isomorphic metaphor’ – something of similar form and resonance to the social movement that was evolving. The name was from a natural outback Australian phenomenon that Neville had personally experienced. Some years previously Neville had been traveling alone in outback Queensland. When he awoke in the morning and looked out of his tent, the low gorse bush, about fifty centimeters high, appeared to be covered in snow as far as the eye could see. What had happened was that during the night millions of tiny spiders had floated in on thin webs, drifting in the slight moving air. The continuous, immense web the spiders had spun overnight stretched to the horizon in all directions. For Neville it had a very Yin – very feminine energy reminiscent of lace, and hence ‘Laceweb’. The many ways that this metaphor is resonant with the Laceweb Social Movement is discussed in Chapters Nine and Ten.


The Thesis Chapters are as follows. Chapter Two discusses the method used in completing this Thesis, including processes used in data collection and analysis. It also identifies and gives brief backgrounds of the people interviewed. Chapter Three describes the frames and ways used by Neville, and the influences on his Way, including Keyline, Indigenous wisdom and way, specific life experiences, academic study and reading, as well as his theoretical and pre-theoretical reflecting. Another resonant conceptual link for Neville was the Chinese Yin/Yang concepts with difference/diversity and unity as aspects, with humane healing nurturing being very much part of the Yin nature. Neville was always exploring the Yin energies and how they may temper Yang energies. Chapter Four outlines Fraser House’s structure and processes, while Chapter Five discusses Fraser House change processes. Chapter Six explores Neville’s use of Cultural Keyline in enabling change in both psychosocial and psychobiological systems simultaneously. Chapter Seven explores criticisms of Neville and Fraser House as well as the steps taken by Neville to set up transitions from government and private sector service delivery to community self-caring. Fraser house evaluation is briefly outlined along with a discussion of American research using Fraser house as a model. The Chapter concludes with ethical issues in replicating Fraser House. Chapter Eight discusses the extensions of Fraser House into the wider community and their implications. Chapter Nine explores the nature, the evolving, and the history of the Laceweb and its potential. Chapter Ten is integrative. It introduces Neville’s 300 year model of epochal transition and provides glimpses of future possibilities for Laceweb praxis in every aspect of the social life World.




This Chapter has introduced the topic, the history, theory and practice leading to the evolving of a social movement known as the Laceweb. It has briefly discussed the significance of the topic, outlined the nature of the research and the research questions, and why they are important. It has explored how I became involved in the project and the way my biography has led me to undertake the research. The next Chapter discusses the research methods used in this Thesis.




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