OBITUARY OF DR. NEVILLE YEOMANS PSYCHIATRIST 1928 – 2000
Posted Jan 2001 Updated April 2014.
Neville Yeoman's affection for and empathy with the original inhabitants of Australia began very early in his life when, at the age of 3, he was saved by an Aborigine after he had wandered off and become lost in the bush in far north Queensland. This rescue from certain death, laid the foundations for his later work with Indigenous communities as a carer, with an intense interest in the peoples and their cultures. He was a co-healer rather than a prescriber and believed in approaching the problems of mental health, alcoholism and drug addiction from a community perspective. He devoted much of his life to providing counselling and treatment to those most under-privileged and handicapped especially women, alcoholics and drug addicts. After 1975, he extended these activities to northern Australia, from the Atherton Tablelands to the Kimberleys, from Arnhem Land to Central Australia. In a sense it was a repetition of his childhood years when his family travelled like ‘gypsies’ throughout the northern parts of Australia with his prospecting father.
Neville Yeomans was born in Sydney on 7 October 1928 to Percival Alfred ("P.A.") and Rita Yeomans. It was the depression and life was hard. His father, Percival A. Yeomans, a mining engineer (who later became famous for his contributions to farming including Keyline Farming, City Forest, Shakaerator plough and other farming developments) took the family around northern Australia trying their luck at prospecting. These were important years for Neville Yeomans when many aspects of his character were moulded.
The vagabond existence of the family meant that they were never in the one place for long. Experiences such as attending 13 schools in one 12-month period, taught him that friendships were ephemeral and superficial.
He completed his schooling at Scots College in Sydney and then went to Sydney University from where he graduated as a Bachelor of Science (Biology) in 1948. He wanted to work with and heal people and he went on to obtain his Bachelor's degree in Medicine and Surgery in 1956. But it was people's minds that fascinated him most and he completed a Diploma in Psychological Medicine in 1959. In the same year he won an overseas scholarship that enabled him to meet with some of the World's leading psychiatrists. Neville Yeomans was a brilliant and sensitive man who understood things in their context, and he had an ability to see things from different perspectives to those commonly held.
He was appalled by the methods used at the time to treat psychiatric disease (especially shock treatment which he regarded as a crime) and on his return from overseas he established and became the Director of Fraser House at North Ryde Psychiatric Clinic, Australia's first family Therapeutic Community with accommodation for some 86 adults and children. It was a revolutionary contextual approach that treated psychiatric disease on a family and community basis instead of treatment of just the individual. Patients were able to be rehabilitated and return to society rather than being locked away out of sight and restrained with drugs and straightjackets. Many of his peers did not understand this radical approach to treatment and Neville was frequently vilified for being out of step with the main stream of things. It is interesting to note that 40 years later, his approach to psychiatric treatment has become the norm rather than the exception.
During the period from 1959 to 1972, he ran "healing community" courses for Aboriginal and Islander peoples in Sydney, in country New South Wales and at Alice Springs in Central Australia.
He was the Co-ordinator of Community Mental Health for New South Wales Health Department from 1965 to 1970.
He published many papers on psychiatric treatment (which are now held in the Mitchell Library in Sydney) and with a colleague, wrote a book "Fraser House: Theory Practice and Evaluation of a Therapeutic Community" published by Springer, New York (Clark and Yeomans 1969).
As his interest in community work developed, he completed a Diploma in Sociology at the University of New South Wales in 1963, to better understand the social aspects of human responses. He also broadened his interests to studying other cultures and their values and, among other things, joined the Australia Eurasian Association in the late 1960's, and followed his passion for multiculturalism. He regarded Australia as a "cooking pot" rather than a "melting pot" of cultures, cooking up a new and better culture for the future! It was on a platform of multiculturalism that he stood for the seat of Philip (Liberal, Sydney) in the 1972 elections and gained sufficient votes not to lose his deposit, but failed to gain the seat.
Not content with his already numerous qualifications he went on to complete a Bachelor of Law degree from the University of New South Wales in 1975 and was admitted to the Bar. In spite of this, he was more interested in mediation than litigation and closely studied the mediation systems used in China. He studied Japanese and Chinese languages and travelled overseas to Asia, Europe and the Americas on several occasions over the years. He was an avid supporter of Blissymbolics, an international sign language based on symbols.
Neville Yeomans was drawn more and more to the area he grew up in and in 1975 he moved back to north Queensland where he became engrossed in working with Aboriginal people. He conducted a private psychiatric counselling and family therapy practice, facilitated community support for Aboriginal and Ethnic groups, established "Healing Haven" houses in North Queensland and assisted in the creation of a black women's shelter in Cairns.
In the early 1980's he became interested in and a keen qualified practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) which was a revolutionary way of treating emotional states and of helping people overcome psychiatric illness and addictions. He and a friend, Terry Widders, set up NLP Centres in Cairns, Townsville in Queensland and Bondi Junction in Sydney. Neville Yeomans continued to pay the price of being a pioneer of new ideas and was regarded as a pariah by many of his professional colleagues in the establishment, with many refusing to refer patients to him.
In 1987 he was a consultant to Petford Aboriginal Training Farm in far North Queensland and from 1989 to 1994 he facilitated camp-outs/Intercultural Healing Training festivals in the Atherton Tablelands and at the Petford Aboriginal Training Farm. In 1990 he was an Adviser to the Australian South Sea Islander United Council. He was on the Steering Committee for Training on Torture and Trauma in 1994 and conducted a three-day training course in Darwin. His working career came to an end in 1997 in Darwin where he was discovered sick with bladder cancer by his youngest son, and brought back to Sydney for treatment.
Neville Yeomans was a very intelligent, passionate and insightful person with a deep sense of purpose and an ability to focus absolutely on the job in hand, a characteristic that often made it difficult for those closest to him. He was also an introspective, artistic and aesthetic person who loved music (he played the clarinet) and art and he wrote poetry on a regular basis from the mid 1960's. Many of the poems demonstrate his sharp wit and sense of fun. The hundreds of poems he wrote, which give glimpses of the man within, will be published shortly. His passion was to treat people in need, his skill was his ability to engage with people and to make suggestions for change. His dying wish was to leave a legacy of clinics for Aboriginal people to enable them to help themselves.
Neville Yeomans died in Brisbane on 30 May 2000 following a painful struggle with cancer. He spent his final days at home, surrounded by members of his family and friends.
He is survived by his two brothers, two half-sisters, five children from two dissolved marriages, and eight grandchildren.
Peter N. Carroll