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Ken Piaggio

Ken, 2006

Ken and his wife, Jane-Frances O'Regan, 2001

I have not been geographically adventurous since leaving Bundaberg. I have lived within a few suburbs of St Lucia in Brisbane where I went to University. The benefit of living in Taringa, Kenmore and Corinda (where I moved because it reminded me of Bundaberg) means that I do not get lost very often.

I do get to visit Bundaberg about twice a year with mum still living there; now in an Independent Living Unit with her second husband of 16 years, George. My father would be 103 years old if he was still alive; he died 30 years ago.

I have worked in Ipswich in private practice since I became a psychiatrist 27 years ago. I chose Ipswich because it was small enough and was a contained and self-sustaining community where I would be able to develop an interactive relationship with the people I would need to work with if I was to practice the sort of psychiatry I wanted. Again I was looking for the parts of the Bundaberg experience I was impressed with.

As Neil said, ‘You can take the boy out of Bundy…………’.

I have enjoyed psychiatry. I enjoy the people I meet. I feel privileged. I keep being impressed with the real strength and resourcefulness people have dealing with some pretty awful stuff. At times people exhaust their capacity for imagination, and/or their energy to bounce up again. This is where I believe my role is.

We cannot change what is, but we can choose how we move on.

There have been the losses, lessons and joyous times.

I set up a new model of mental health delivery 14 years ago in Ipswich. It won awards. I was really proud of what it was achieving. But then the pendulum swung and the Health Department in Queensland shifted its focus away from mental health and the limited health money went with it. (We only had $25 per head of population spent on mental health in Queensland; Victoria had $60, at the time). I left the part time job I had in Health in 1997 when I saw the service begin to unravel.
At least I could look forward to my continued work in the private hospital ward I had set up (23 years ago). Well, I thought I could. The partners I had died, moved away, got old or sick and went part time. Private hospitals are businesses, they want profits. At the beginning of this year, after a three-year battle, citing economic reasons, the Ramsey Group closed the private ward. (That was the basis of the article that Roger found and put on the website).

My private practice was decimated. I negotiated to rejoin the public sector half time and I now have a two-day a week private practice. There are signs that the pendulum is swinging a little back to mental health so, hopefully, there will be opportunity for me to reach my ‘1,000,000,000 suggestion’ before I quit interacting with the world around me.

I failed 4th year in Medicine and my teacher at the Conservatorium suggested I become a full time student in the Opera School. I decided that I should first finish what I had started and have a profession. I went back to singing, and that mainly as an amateur, after I completed my training in psychiatry. I know now I would have had difficulty with a career that required my living out of a suitcase for 6 months of the year.

My first wife called it quits when I was in England doing my exams. She made a good decision. I was pleased there were no children. It was not long after that I meet Jane-Frances who was a Social Worker. We have been together 27 years. We have had four children with our daughter dying just after birth. Jane-Frances completed her Masters while our oldest was a baby. She has mainly worked in Management in the Public Sector.

Our oldest, Sam, will be 21 this year. He is doing Creative Writing at QUT and is very involved with amateur theatre (his current show opens the night of the reunion). Max is 14 and in currently doing a 5-week life skills programme at a farm property his school runs. I have an 11 year old, Harry, who is quite strong willed and at 8 was the youngest Black belt, first Dan in his Tai Kwon Do club. It will come as no surprise that I plan to continue working for another 10 years.

I developed some deafness about 12 years ago. There are good hearing aids but it means I have not been as active with my singing. However, 7 years ago, when there was not a vacancy for a hockey goalie in the age group Sam was joining, I had this crazy idea that I could take up this game I had found fascinating. I had never played before. Sam is a big chap. I could fit into his gear while I found out if I could really do the job. Eventually, I got my own goalie outfit. Over the last three years I played two competitions per week. I have gradually become fitter.

This year, with strength training at a gym, I have become as strong as I was when I was rowing at college. (At least that is my selective memory!! A goalie does not have to run very far, so I am not comparing aerobic fitness).

A few weeks ago the Vets team I belong to won the Brisbane competition. It was a hoot. We came from 4th and beat two teams we had not beaten the whole season and in the Grand final we were down to 7 players a side in the second 10 minutes of extra time. The team voted me ‘man of the match’. I am their oldest player.

I have enjoyed teaching and have been lucky, since I am in private practice in a regional centre, to have been selected for sponsorship to attend a number of overseas conferences. These have helped keep me informed at a level I have needed for lecturing and the occasional article.

It has been interesting thinking about the last 40 years and the ways I may have changed or remained the same. There are things I may have wished to change but have had to learn to live with. Some of you will remember me being intense, prone to overfocusing and to passionately pursuing dreams. Well I am still the same. I have learned to be more realistic/ more balanced but I can’t completely give up the buzz of following an idea as far as I can.

I have never been socially ‘outgoing’ but I enjoy being around people who are.

I have made a fool of myself many times in my life and have not only learned that I can survive but that I can get a perverse pleasure living ‘on the edge’ of embarrassment.

I suppose I still have that adolescent sense of being ‘bullet proof’. I have learned, however, not to test this in a ‘Russian Roulette’ fashion. Compared to the risks some people have to take in their lives, it really is not that much risk taking if all I am going to lose is some pride.

Created: 14 October 2006 - Last Amended: 14 October 2006 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 15 February 2009
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