A few months after her arrival in Australia, eighteen year old Chris Baxter reads a letter addressed to her boyfriend’s mother that sets the course for the rest of her life. She becomes a teacher of children with disability and fights for their inclusion in the community, and in the education system from which they have been barred. Together with Rosemary Crossley and Anne McDonald she becomes embroiled in the infamous St Nicholas hospital controversy and takes up the cause of Ethel Temby, the mother of a tiny baby with Down syndrome shed seen in the nursery at Kew Cottages. Chris is angered by the injustice of what she sees. She knows Kenny would be able to walk, if he had the opportunity to do so, and that Annie and her friends would be able to learn, if allowed to go to school. She wages a struggle with bureaucrats and politicians but falls back into frustrated despondency when successive governments fail to act.
The media comes to the rescue, and with a bit of help from Ethel, pushes the local campaign along. When the battle to close the institutions goes global, Chris continues her work; pushing for inclusion in Australia and abroad. Finally, the transformation they want happens. The stark reality of the situation turns intensely personal when a family member is diagnosed with autism. Chris gets a shock! Undeterred, she maintains the course set by that chance letter so many years ago and the story ends with a very good reason to hope. As her rollercoaster story unfolds, Chris captures all the drama, politics and in-fighting of a sad and neglected aspect of Australia’s recent social history. Her insider's view is told with all the urgency, intensity and feeling of a front-line fighter who knows that the war is not yet fully won.
About the Author
Christine Baxter migrated to Australia from the UK with her parents and three siblings in 1957 and eventually settled in Melbourne, Victoria. She became a teacher of children with a disability, first teaching at a day training centre in Melbourne and then at a residential special school in Adelaide. In Canberra she was initially employed by the Handicapped Children’s Association of the ACT and then, in 1969, following integration in to the education system, became the first teacher-in-charge of the first special pre-school run by the ACT Department of Education and Science. During the 1970s Chris was employed as a training advisor to day training centres for intellectually disabled children in the state of Victoria.
She also taught in the training school run by the Mental Health Authority at St Nicholas Hospital. When the Institute of Special Education and Disability Studies was established at Burwood in 1976 Chris was seconded as a lecturer and she worked on, through the amalgamation with Deakin University, until 2001. She was invited by UNESCO to be an international consultant in special education and during the 1980s conducted consultancies in Turkey and Burma. She continued her consultancy work with disability services and parent groups over three decades. Chris gained her PhD in sociology from Monash University in 1986. She was the first researcher in the world to investigate stigma as a stressor for parents and mediators of that stress. In 1988 she won a national research prize awarded by ASID.
The monograph series she wrote on Barriers to Integration showed how social attitudes, structures, policies and access to support services impact the lives of children and their parents. When residents from institutions were settled into community housing In the 1980s and 90s Chris was appointed team leader for an evaluation of the Shared Family Care and Permanent Care programs in Victoria. In 1996 she became team leader of the equity access research and development group at Deakin University. She has published many articles on parental stress and social aspects of disability in professional journals, and has co-authored a book on early intervention. After retiring from the university in 2001, Chris reinvented herself as a writer. Inclusion is her first venture into the genre of memoir.