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Woomera detention centre doctor speaks out -

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Woomera detention centre doctor speaks out

Reporter: Margot O'Neill

TONY JONES: Well, the boats have stopped coming - that's the victory claimed by the Federal
Government after its tough stance to secure Australia's borders against people-smugglers.

But the policy has had unintended consequences not only for the families who made it to Australia
but for the Australians who had to implement government policy.

Dr Simon Lockwood was the longest-serving medical officer at the now closed Woomera detention
centre in outback South Australia.

For nearly three years he kept a diary of what he saw.

Dr Lockwood's never spoken out about those experiences before.

He's talking to Lateline's Margot O'Neill.

DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: I think I was myself very depressed.


DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: I think from the sheer volume of distress that I saw and the experiences that I
witnessed and just the nonsensical nature of it all, and the fact that I couldn't rationally
explain any it.

I couldn't rationalise anything.

It didn't make any sense.

"7th April 2002, a 12-year-old boy tried to kill himself today.

"6th June 2002, a female detainee signed a suicide note in blood."

It was just a terrible time and I thought to myself, "God, you know, how can I keep watching this?

"How can I keep seeing people, this happening to people?"

MARGOT O'NEILL: It didn't start out that way.

Dr Simon Lockwood arrived in the outback town of Woomera with his wife and young family in July
2000, just after the detention centre had been opened.

He'd always wanted to work in rural Australia and he was thrilled to take a job at Woomera's local

Soon he was also treating asylum seekers inside the detention centre, and he loved it.

DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: I hadn't seen a lot of things that I saw there, like malaria and typhoid and

I thought, "Gee, this is one of the best jobs I've had.

I'm going to learn a lot here."

MARGOT O'NEILL: But Woomera was soon engulfed by an epidemic that Dr Lockwood could not contain.

As detainees lost hope, they were overwhelmed by mental illness.

DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: I saw so many proud and fantastic people just break down to a level that you
would find hard to believe, grovelling on the floor in my clinic room and saying, "Please help me
get out of the here."

I found that really difficult to cope with.

I'd sometimes go home towards the end there and I'd cry myself.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Dr Lockwood watched Woomera descend into a living hell, and it wasn't just
detainees who were broken.

The trauma of the families locked inside spread to the Australian officers paid to guard them.

DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: "21st February, 2003, there was another meeting with WorkCover today.

Many of the officers have been damaged.

They suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, generalised anxiety and other
psychological illnesses, and a lot of them weren't able to work, many of them were put in
profoundly dangerous situations, where they were in the middle of a riot, and some thugs had beaten
them to a pulp.

MARGOT O'NEILL: The thugs, as Dr Lockwood calls them, were a small group of about 15 male detainees
who he says routinely instigated violence and riots.

He says none of them were genuine refugees and he wonders why the Government didn't move them out.

DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: Most of those guys were criminals.

"31st December 2002 - it looked like a war zone, however, the instigators, the thugs, they saved
their belongings, the belongings of the other detainees went up in flames."

The moderate group of detainees, who are the majority, regard these others as absolute animals.

Anyone with any type of morals would feel the same."

MARGOT O'NEILL: Even the little township of Woomera, population then just 800, was eventually
gripped by the growing horrors of camp life.

DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: A lot of the officers would cope with the stress by going to the pub and
drinking themselves into oblivion or gambling on the pokies, so there was a lot of social problems
in the town.

MARGOT O'NEILL: But did the Government know that it had a mass psychiatric disaster on its hands
inside the detention centre?

DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: They did know.

They definitely knew that a major amount of the population were very sick.

MARGOT O'NEILL: And they just decided not to do anything about it?

DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: Well, they must have, because they didn't do anything about it.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Unlike many of his medical colleagues, Dr Lockwood decided not to go public.

Instead, Simon Lockwood took his case directly to Canberra, addressing a meeting of officials from
the Immigration Department, or DIMIA.

For more than two hours Dr Lockwood told a room full of bureaucrats about the detention centre's
catastrophic impact on families, on children.

DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: And then towards the end of the meeting one of the bureaucrats said to me, in
front of everyone there, "That sounds all well and good to us, Simon, but we don't want to make it
so nice for them in detention that they won't want to leave."

I knew that I'd spoken for two hours probably for nothing.

MARGOT O'NEILL: By now Woomera was the country's most controversial detention centre, attracting
violent protests, which Simon Lockwood says only made camp life even more difficult.

DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: They never helped, because I always thought that it would be better for those
protesters to go to Philip Ruddock's office and protest there, because the amount of distress and
tension in the camp that was brought on by those protests lingered for months.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Dr Lockwood tried to get the worst-affected people, including children, out of the
detention centre.

But he was often blocked by DIMIA.

DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: The problem that I had with DIMIA was that they're not doctors, they're not
nurses, they're not psychologists, and yet they would do the opposite of what was recommended by an
expert in child psychiatry, for example.

On what basis?

Because no-one died, DIMIA or the bureaucrats believed that no-one made genuine attempts, but I can
tell you being the doctor that was looking after those people and saving their lives, that that
wasn't the case.

And there was a lot of times there where I thought someone was going to die.

"12 March, 2003, it's announced by Minister Ruddock that Woomera will be closed by Easter and
mothballed, thank God.

I'm so tired."

I look back on it now and I find it hard to believe that it was in Australia that we had a place
like that, that it couldn't have been better designed to break people down, detainees and staff.

MARGOT O'NEILL: Simon Lockwood and his family have just left Woomera, a much quieter town these

He's looking forward to working elsewhere in outback Australia, but he'll never forget what he saw
here, like the mother who signed a suicide note in blood.

DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: She came back and saw me and she said, "I'm getting out.

I'm going to have a life with my boy."

We're both getting out."

She said, "I really want to say thank you."

She said, "I really wanted to die before "and you talked me out of it "and now I'm going to have a

You know, we cried, and you know, I felt to myself that I've done the right thing.

MARGOT O'NEILL: But of all the memories that he'll carry with him, Simon Lockwood's haunted most by
a terrible silence, the silence of Woomera's children.

DR SIMON LOCKWOOD: I didn't see many of the detainee kids - towards the end - cry.

They got to a point where they just couldn't cry.

That was the only life they'd ever known, being behind razor wire.

I think they were just existing.

(c) 2006 ABC