Care decades ahead of its time

Woodville Street hosting a celebration of John Casson’s life on October 13 2022.

THIS week the Vincent Local History Centre brings us the story of Susan Adelaide Casson, who 100 years ago founded an organisation to provide community care for psychiatric patients. After sitting on a government Board of Visitors to Claremont Hospital, Susan Casson became convinced there was a need for discharge and community rehabilitation of patients, and would later found the iconic Casson House in North Perth in 1935.

MANY locals would have walked past Casson House on Woodville Street, or St Rita’s Nursing Home on View Street, without knowing the story of this family-run organisation and its long-standing connection to North Perth.

This year, Casson Communities celebrates 100 years of providing residential mental health services in North Perth.

In 1922, Susan Adelaide Casson founded the Mental Hospitals After Care and Comforts Fund Association to try to meet an urgent need for ongoing community care for people discharged from mental institutions.

Susan’s interest in the welfare of people suffering from psychiatric illness was developed during her time as a member of the Board of Visitors at the then Claremont Mental Health Hospital.

Since its inception, Casson Homes has continued to operate under the guidance of a member of the Casson family.

In 2016, the late John Casson, grandson of founder Susan Casson, commissioned local historian Cate Pattison to write a history of the Casson Family and Casson Homes.

The following is an extract from Cate’s work, which was published in 2017 and shared with the Vincent Local History Centre:

“Susan had started life torn from her family home in Ireland and grew up in a Melbourne orphanage, with limited formal education and certainly no social privilege.

“Widowed as a young woman with four small children, her disadvantages in life had been many, however she went on to become one of Western Australia’s leading female social reformers in the first half of the twentieth century with strong personal connections to many of the state’s leading political and medical men and women of the day.

A portrait of Susan Casson, 1929.  Photo from the State Library of WA, 9267B Vol 142

“Susan’s work has been continued by her daughter Matilda Gard, grandson John Casson and now great-grandson Nick Casson, who have all quietly devoted their lives to the objective of providing 

a welcoming home and daily dignity for people struggling to live with long-term mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and other conditions. Many people who have passed through this organisation have spent the majority of their lives at Casson House, and been nursed through their final years at St Rita’s Nursing Home. 

“Over nearly 100 years, the Cassons have developed their own style of residential mental health care, resisting the dominant drivers of commercialism and excessive governance, in order to provide the sort of service that experience has taught them is in the best interests of their resident.”

Grandson John Casson, who was active in the management of Casson Homes from the 1970s, was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia Medal for service to the community in 2003.

The award was a fitting recognition of his work in providing residential mental health services for people living with mental illness.

John Casson passed away on August 24, 2020. His contribution to the community, and the contribution of Casson Homes over the past 100 years, was celebrated at the organisation’s annual street party in October 2022.

John Casson was interviewed by the Vincent Local History Centre in 2009 and a transcript of his interview is available in the Local History Collection, along with Cate Pattison’s written history of the Casson family and their works.

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