Publication Date: Jun 2023
RRP: $39.99
ISBN: 9781922633781
Format: Paperback
Size: 153mm x 234mm
Pages: 384
Category: Human Rights

Failed Ambitions

Kew Cottages and Changing Ideas of Intellectual Disabilities

Lee-Ann Monk, David Henderson, Christine Bigby, Richard Broome and Katie Holmes

Also available as an ebook from your favourite retailer.

Failed Ambitions helps us understand the evolution and shaping of disability policy in Victoria. The study of the institutional history of Kew Cottages shows the factors that eventually led to the fundamental changes in in the way we see and engage with people with intellectual disabilities. Importantly, it shows the profound impact on the lives of the people with intellectual disabilities, and gives us insight into the elements of an institution that persist, despite change. Finally, and most significantly, it shows the profound and heartbreaking impact of the failure of public policy on generations of people with intellectual disabilities who lived at Kew Cottages.’ Colleen Pearce, The Public Advocate for Victoria

‘This illuminating and well-crafted study is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of intellectual disabilities in Australia.’ Australian Historical Studies

A gripping history, both topical and timely

The history of Melbourne’s Kew Children’s Cottages (1887–2008) is the challenging story of an institution that failed its residents – and it is vividly relevant to today, when the rights of people with disabilities are the subject of a royal commission.

Those with an intellectual disability were historically the most vulnerable in our society and the least protected. Governments continually failed them by underdelivering on ambitious promises of reform. Failed Ambitions traces the development of Kew Cottages and the broader themes it gives rise to, including changing social ideas about intellectual disability. Australia saw a shift from a belief that those with intellectual disabilities were educatable to a view, which took hold in the 1920s, that the ‘feebleminded’ were unreclaimable and a menace to society. It took until the 1980s to formally recognise the rights of disabled peoples, and demanded dismantling institutions like Kew and associated ideas of disability.

Throughout Kew Cottages’ history, a cohort of journalists, parents, activists and residents fought for and finally gained greater rights and respect. This is a moving and powerful story that deserves to be read by all policymakers so we can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

Lee-Ann Monk

Lee-Ann Monk is adjunct research fellow in the Department of Archaeology and History at La Trobe University. She has published nationally and internationally on the histories of mental health, disability and work.
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David Henderson

David Henderson was a researcher in the Living with Disability Research Centre at La Trobe University for eight years. He now works as a researcher in the disability area of the Victorian Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.
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Christine Bigby

Christine Bigby is Professor and Director of Postgraduate Programs in the School of Social Work and Social Policy at La Trobe University.
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Richard Broome

Richard Broome AM is Emeritus Professor of History at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, and the author of twenty books, including three on Indigenous Australians, notably Aboriginal Australians 5th edition (2019). He is a Fellow of the Australian Academy...
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Katie Holmes

Katie Holmes is Professor of History and Director of the Centre for the Study of the Inland at La Trobe University. Her work integrates environmental, gender and oral history and seeks to understand the experience of Australian settlement.
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