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Australian Story -

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Under Her Wing - Transcript

PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT: Monday, 18 April , 2011

CAROLINE JONES, PRESENTER: Hello I'm Caroline Jones. Tonight's program is about an Australian
businesswoman and a most unusual and compelling rescue mission. Eight years ago Elizabeth Clayton
was in Fiji when she encountered a young man known as "chicken boy". As a child he'd been kept in a
chicken coop and then tied up for 22 years in an institution. His name was Sujit Kumar and he was
about to change Elizabeth Clayton's life forever. This is her story.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: When I first saw him, it was a day where Sujit was as wild as I could ever see
anyone. I didn't know whether he was a little boy or an old man. He was hunched over and he was
lunging, he was dirty, he had long whiskers coming down - that was horrifying. I thought, there has
to be something that has to be done with this boy, I cannot pass him by. I didn't have an option
there.

TIFFANY WILLS, DAUGHTER, DAUGHTER: You do hear about other stories about kids being raised with
dogs or bears or whatever, but chickens? It's just so extraordinary.

SALLY FRASER, FRIEND, FRIEND: When Elizabeth first discovered Sujit, I think she thought she could
bring something to this young man and that's a huge commitment for anybody to take on a challenged
person and dedicate their lives and their resources to that person.

TIFFANY WILLS, DAUGHTER: Ultimately Sujit is a survivor. He's come through tremendous odds to
survive. In a way I look at mum and I think she's a survivor as well, and she has... they're a good
fit for each other.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: I can remember the exact day that I met Sujit, it was the 28th of November 2002,
and I went to an old people's home with my Rotary colleagues and one of my colleagues said to me,
have you seen the boy that eats like a chicken? Sujit's got a unique background. He was tied up all
the time, for 22 years he was tied, he peed and pooed in the same place, they hosed him down to
bath him and he was in a terrible state. I thought, there's someone in that person there, there's
someone inside there, and I knew that he had more to him than met the eye then. When I started with
him I thought he was crippled. He used to have his hands right up like this, you know. I thought
that within that institution maybe I could make life better for him and that was my only aim at
that stage. The superintendent told me things like, well he was more like a chicken than a child,
and she told me a lot about how he used to roost, peck, scratch around, hop around and so on. And
she said that he was put in the chicken pen by his family. Then after that, he was put into an old
people's home and there he was left in isolation and confinement for the next 22 years.

TIFFANY WILLS, DAUGHTER: He's still got the scar marks on the side of his tummy from being tied up
and he was, he was very wild.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: He's kind of like a little toddler that has never been socialised. He's never
been touched, he's never been cuddled or spoken to. Sujit's missed out on all of that so his
behaviour is going to look bizarre because I'm almost taking a toddler-man through the
socialisation process. Because he was too aggressive he'd bite, and even when I started with him he
would bite me and scratch me and pull me. My big dream is for him to be independent in his personal
habits, that he'll be able to clean his teeth, take himself to the toilet, even shave himself, that
he... I mean of course, my big dream is for him to speak.

TIFFANY WILLS, DAUGHTER: Once mum found Sujit in the old people's home, I think she was really
compelled to find out more about who he was and she just needed to know why he was put in the
chicken coup to begin with.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: We don't know whether he was born with something or we don't know whether he
might have been hit with something. There's talk of a crow bar in the picture somewhere. I found
the grandmother and I found out this very dysfunctional family. His mother committed suicide when
he was four years of age. His father was murdered when he was six.

BOB, SUJIT KUMAR'S COUSIN: He was very wild when he was young. You can't control him, because he
was born mental, I mean not mental but...Epilepsy, yeah. He doesn't understand anything, he can't
talk.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: Then the grandparents would have taken Sujit, no option and then they kept him
in a chicken coop, right, because they couldn't handle him. By that stage he would have been madly
wild, you know, hopping around like a chicken. He would have been bizarre. There was certainly
something detected in his behaviour when he was young, and they think it's an evil spirit, you see,
and people want to get rid of that because they think that that evil spirit is causing the
dysfunction in the family. This is where they would have had Sujit underneath the house here, in a,
with the wire chicken mesh around it and that's where they used to keep their chickens, underneath
their house. Now we here would have thought, well if he was properly medicated, looked after well,
he probably would have got through that. You know, that's what I think, but given the
circumstances, the dysfunctional nature of the whole family situation, the grandparents put him in
an old people's home and they left him there and there were no records, we cannot find records from
there on. An affinity grew between us and then eventually I actually took him out of that old
peoples' home and he came to live with me for a while. Well it was a milestone, you know. I really
loved having Sujit living at my home, having him under my wing. Some people say, am I obsessed, you
know, what are the motives and stuff like that, and I think any passion is an obsession in a sense.

TIFFANY WILLS, DAUGHTER: I would say that that is one of mum's character traits that she's had for
all my life and I think with Sujit, you know, this is not something that can come and go, I think
it's very much something that she's got to maintain for the rest of her life.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: I've been driven since I was a child and my parents are highly motivated in
different ways so I guess it's in my genes.

WARREN CLAYTON, BROTHER: Elizabeth and I, we were a family of 10 children and probably the
education wasn't so good because dad used to keep us home from school to pick the beans, so he
could get them to the market and things like that.

SALLY FRASER, FRIEND: I think Liz was highly intelligent. At the age of 12, 13 she had aspired to
take herself to boarding school, and I think that blew me away really.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: I decided that I wanted to work and I wanted to study and I wanted to get
somewhere, not just on a fruit truck.

WARREN CLAYTON, BROTHER: And then she went through university, got her degrees and then from there
she worked at different high flying jobs.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: I then landed in Canberra for the next 13 years. I met my husband there, Roger,
we were having a child. We had a very, very funny kind of marriage, it was a very new age marriage,
we never lived together. We had an agreement that I would look after my daughter for the first 12
years, and then he would look after her from 12 to 18, which I thought was the hardest years
anyway. If I had my time over again, I wouldn't make that decision again.

TIFFANY WILLS, DAUGHTER: I remember spending time with dad on the weekends and time with mum during
the week. Only now as an adult can I look back at it and go, yeah, I don't know what they were
really thinking.

WARREN CLAYTON, BROTHER: She lived down there he lived up there and I told her at the time, I said
it can't work, and it sort of deteriorated, the marriage deteriorated, you know. So space age
thinking doesn't work all the time, does it?

TIFFANY WILLS, DAUGHTER: She was a consultant in Canberra. She was a self-made woman really and I
think she just got sick of the wank of it all really, and she wanted to just do something and make
something and that's what led her to Fiji where she set up her furniture manufacturing business and
I recall dad saying that that was very much the last straw for him. They officially, I think,
divorced; that must have been in 1993 and they always maintained contact, but they were officially
divorced, marriage over. Dad died climbing Mount Everest in 1998 and his body's still on Mount
Everest.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: I became a major supplier of IKEA and for 17 years I was certainly one of the
biggest furniture manufacturers in Fiji and it was a multimillion dollar turnover business. Once
I'd taken on the care of Sujit I scaled back my manufacturing business, eventually selling it so
that I could concentrate on Sujit. I knew that Sujit needed the company of other children so he
could be socialised and there was the need for a home for children, welfare children at risk. So
this is how the concept of the Happy Home began. It was a safe home for Sujit and for other
children. So in 2006 we got a group of volunteers from all over the place. We refurbished this old
plantation house and that became the Happy Home.

WARREN CLAYTON, BROTHER: I congratulate her for that, she got 14 or 15 or 16 children in that Happy
Home. She goes around there and takes them off the street, you know. That is a good, good cause,
you know, you got to salute her for that and I just wish she'd continue with that you know?

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: I'd got as far as I could with the history, and then I wanted to find out what
was happening with him medically, I wanted to find out about his condition, I wanted to find out if
there was something structurally wrong with his brain that caused the situation initially or
whether his behaviour now relates to the traumatic, horrific environment - the feral environment
that he grew up in.

DR DAN MCLAUGHLIN, NEUROLOGIST: It's a very unique story. A lot of our medicine is performed on a
recognition of previous patterns of illness and that's where Sujit, unfortunately, falls in a very
large crack is that there's very little to guess at what happened here. He had a seizure disorder,
a type of epilepsy. Overall the impression from the reports is that the brain is slightly smaller
than average without having a specific focal area of damage. There may be a structure within the
temporal lobe, a structure very important in memory. That is not quite normal.

SUE PARK, SPEECH PATHOLOGIST: Elizabeth had questions about the epilepsy and how that was affecting
his behaviour, whether he wasn't talking because of that.

JANET EALES, SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER: I think she was hoping that with just a lot of talking and
a lot of love and a lot of language that he would manage to pick up speech and language that way,
which wasn't really going to be the case. He was imprinted with chicken like behaviour, so he had
very acute visual skills in that his whole aim in life was to search out food and so he could hone
in very easily on what he had to find as food, but ignored everything else.

SUE PARK, SPEECH PATHOLOGIST: To us it's more about giving him functional skills so that he's
understanding what he would come across in a normal day and somehow he's able to communicate and
express what his needs are for a normal day. He got some new teeth, which was fantastic. The moment
that he had them in, he just looked so pleased with himself

WARREN CLAYTON, BROTHER: I think what she's doing with Sujit is just a waste of time and I oppose
it because Sujit's mind will never get him out of the situation. He's animalistic by nature. All he
needs is clean bed and a food, they can't improve him, you know? So I think she should let that lay
a while.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: It took a few years before I got rid of that blankness and something woke up.
This guy's just missed out on it all, missed out on that love. So maybe if I can just ooze out love
on him, and I think that's been the magic to it all.

SALLY FRASER, FRIEND: Since Elizabeth has had Sujit it hasn't all been plain sailing. For some
reason, the department of welfare in Fiji deemed it necessary to take Sujit away from Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: They didn't give me any explanation for that. I was devastated, I mean, I was
tearful. He'd grown very close to me. I don't think they realised how important that attachment
was. I had to do something about it. I mean he couldn't speak up for himself; I had to fight for
him. I eventually had to go to court.

WARREN CLAYTON, BROTHER: Apparently when it went to court, Liz was sitting there and as soon as
Sujit came into the room he run straight from the door, pulled away from the two carers that had
hold of him by the arms and went straight to Liz, you know? So the judge sort of said well, you
know, she can be his guardian.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: In essence, that meant that I adopted Sujit. I was happy. Now, he's living in my
home, he's got a life back again. I pray, I pray to be able to cope with a situation without
getting hostile and so on, and I think that's where my faith has come in in a certain sense.

TIFFANY WILLS, DAUGHTER: Some people could say that it's mum's belief in God that drives her with
Sujit. I don't know about that. As a child, mum was abused. Yeah, I think that that's why she
probably has a real heart for children at risk and people who don't have the ability to speak out.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: That has made me very bold, it's made me cross the line, it's made me - in the
face of people that are predators on children and I don't hesitate to go up to a guy and just tell
him, just get off that child, you know, stop it. That's one of the reasons why I do what I do and
at least something good's come from something that wasn't so pleasant for me. I've been in Fiji for
25 years now and the reason I'm here in Queensland is really to follow up on Sujit's medical
issues.

DR DAN MCLAUGHLIN, NEUROLOGIST: On several occasions Elizabeth's asked, would there be a better
medicine, would there be a medicine that would fix this and clearly her hope was for the famed
magic bullet, the golden bullet, it is going to fix everything and he will be restored. And I, as
have colleagues, have explained to her that's almost certainly not going to be the case.

SUE PARK, SPEECH PATHOLOGIST: They're only very small steps that you'd see in a couple of months in
a baby's development but for us, we see that where he was non- communicative and he was isolated,
he's now trying to be much more human.

DR DAN MCLAUGHLIN, NEUROLOGIST: I think we take the approach of a benevolent one. We might be able
to provide him with some care or management or treatment that improves his health and allows him to
enjoy life at a better level than he currently does or that he has previously. I think that his
future will be improved I think that what Elizabeth is pursuing is worthwhile for Sujit.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: Because Sujit's mute, because he's vulnerable, he could be taken advantage of
and I'm fiercely protective of that. I won't allow people to just do research on him.

DR DAN MCLAUGHLIN, NEUROLOGIST: There is a potential that some investigations or some treatments
might run the risk of really being directed more at a quest for knowledge rather than specifically
to benefit Sujit.

SUE PARK, SPEECH PATHOLOGIST: Our first thoughts have really been about Sujit and Sujit's welfare.
We have not gone in it to really study Sujit, but rather than to assist Elizabeth to help him take
the right steps.

WARREN CLAYTON, BROTHER: She's been six years with him and, okay, he's had a bit of - I say
minuscule improvement. When you say he's improved but it's not worth the effort, put it that way.
The improvement on him is not worth her effort for so many years, you know?

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: What I want for Sujit more than anything is that I have him in a safe
environment, right, I have him medicated properly, I empower him. Hear that noise? That's the
clucking noise that he goes on with. They say that's his first language. And if people feel I'm
wasting my time, well I don't. I see it as sacrificial in the sense that it's a burning love, which
comes right from the heart and, I don't make any excuse for it. There's lots of things can happen
in your life that are milestones, you know, the birth of my child of course, Tiffany and just what
she has had to go through with me being a free spirit as I was.

TIFFANY WILLS, DAUGHTER: She was quite a modern woman I guess for that time. I don't recall her
cooking a meal, which is quite extraordinary but the mundaneness of looking after a young child, or
looking after a husband, having a meal on the table was definitely not in mum's sphere.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: I think my going to Fiji in 1986/87 took a lot of my time away from the
mothering of Tiffany. If I have one regret in life it's not seeing her through her teenage years, I
do regret that.

TIFFANY WILLS, DAUGHTER: I don't think that that's necessarily taken away from my life. I don't
know. It's different to how I want to mother my children. I want my children to be the priority in
my life. It's quite a typical mother-daughter relationship now, she pushes my buttons, I push hers.
That's to put it politely.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: Last month we had a reunion in Sydney with all the volunteers that were there
five years ago to renovate the plantation home, and it was a great chance for them also to catch up
with Sujit.

MAREE MCNAMARA, SUPPORTER: Soon as I saw him get out of the car and start to walk up, I couldn't
believe how straight he was.

SUSIE CHRISTIE, SUPPORTER: And he's got this smile and he actually connects with his eyes, amazing.

MAREE MCNAMARA, SUPPORTER: Completely different, yeah.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: It's a very lonely life sometimes and coming over to Australia is great for me
because I connect with a lot of supportive people because you do have detractors, everybody has
detractors and they question your motives, and my motives are very sound. I know that they are
related to my faith.

WARREN CLAYTON, BROTHER: There is a warm sort of spirit between them, you know, it's like a baby's
love, you know? You get an 18-month-old baby with her mother, that baby will cling to your mother
and you know, that's what it is. It's just a motherly love.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: And now he can be very loving. He is now starting to be proactive in seeking out
love, and that's a joy.

WARREN CLAYTON, BROTHER: I could see Elizabeth helping others, seeing happiness. That's what she'll
do all her life. I'm just proud to have her as my sister, that's all. Proud to have her be called
my sister, yeah.

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: Today's fantastic, because I've got all these wonderful people here that have
connected with me in the past and this sort of connection is what I love, because I know they're
batting for me all the time.

SALLY FRASER, FRIEND: I had a discussion with Elizabeth recently about where this would all lead.
You know, how are you making arrangements for Sujit if the time comes when we're not around
anymore?

ELIZABETH CLAYTON: Well I don't unduly worry about what will happen to Sujit after I pass, which is
what will happen, because he's in his 30s, I'm in my 60s. Maybe we'll empower him with a form of
communication, to improve the quality of his life and to make him easier to look after, because
that's the thing that concerns me most, that he becomes someone that is easy to look after. There's
many people that love him and there's many people that are now connected with the Sujit story.

TIFFANY WILLS, DAUGHTER: I'm definitely part of the group that mum has put in place to make sure
that he is cared for. I certainly want to play a part in it. He's my brother, you know, we now
share a mother. I'm very happy for Sujit that he has got someone to be his advocate, such as my
mum. She is just genuinely a really good person with a big heart.

CAPTIONS:

Sujit Kumar will continue to work with his therapy team in Australia for the next month.

Next year Elizabeth Clayton hopes to refurbish her own house in Fiji as another Happy Home for
children at risk.