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Michael Longhurst: activist for the mentally ill 1956-2012.

ON NEW YEARS' DAY 2012, THE mental health nursing community lost an individual who had been an activist for mentally ill people since his youth. Someone who had a lifelong commitment to the disenfranchised in society. Michael Longhurst, 55, was a dedicated, highly skilled nurse, who spent his life enhancing services for the mentally ill.

Michael was an active member of the Endeavour Clubhouse Committee and of the St Vincent de Paul Society in Port Macquarie, prior to falling ill with cancer in 2010.

Born in 1956 to Pat and Joan Longhurst, Michael grew up in Goulburn, New South Wales. He trained as a mental health nurse at Kenmore Hospital Goulburn, and as an aged care nurse, and a learning disabilities nurse, in the 1970s and early 80s. Michael later completed a PO (Program Officers) course. He assisted in establishing the first community group home for adults with an intellectual disability in Goulburn in 1984.

Moving to Sydney in the mid 80s, Michael took a particular interest in mental health rehabilitation. At that time he wrote the proposal that led to the first Community Mental Health Extended Hours Team in Australia. Its aim was to support people who live in the community with long term psychiatric disabilities--Michael argued that this cannot be done only between the hours of 9 to 5!

Michael then commenced work at Ryde in Sydney, contributing to the Burdekin Report, a national inquiry into the human rights of people living with mental illness, produced by Brian Burdekin, former Australian Federal Human Rights Commissioner. Michael's contribution was published in Burdekin's final report in October 1993 and the report remains relevant to this day.

Michael went on to become Deputy Director of Ryde Hospital and Community Mental Health Service, where he wrote a submission that created the highly successful Cornucopia project. This was, and is, a groundbreaking employment and rehabilitation scheme for people with a mental illness, through which they are paid award wages, helping to normalise their lives.

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Cornucopia challenged the concept of sheltered workshops for the mentally ill. Michael saw these as stagnant and not providing much in terms of future hope. Instead, Cornucopia provided three businesses--a cafe, a function centre, and gardening/ nursery. Jobs included property maintenance, cleaning, hospitality, retail, and horticulture. Cornucopia's workers are union members so their jobs are secure. In 2010, the NSW state government attempted to close down Cornucopia but failed after a public outcry, with Christina Keneally, then Premier, intervening to keep it in the public sector. The project continues to hold together the lives of many people who would not otherwise have work, providing them with dignity, job skills and a purpose to their day.

Michael received a Premier's Award from Bob Carr for the success of Cornucopia, though he was always more proud of the certificate presented to him by the Ryde Mental Health Consumers Network, recognising the value of Cornucopia.

Prior to moving to the Mid-North Coast for a sea change, Michael became CEO of Real Jobs Work Pty Ltd, one of the top performing job network companies in Northern Sydney. There he continued to find jobs for the long-term unemployed and for disabled people.

Michael always thought outside the square and at times challenged bureaucracy. He just did things and sorted out the red tape later! He was a great humanitarian, stood for social justice and believed in Liberation Theology. He was patient, fair and stood up for those who couldn't stand up for themselves. He invited people from all walks of life to join him at his dinner table. He had few material interests in life--family, friends, politics, swimming, camping, good food and red wine were what brought him joy. He was generous to all of those that he loved.

Michael's final nursing position was as a Credentialed Mental Health nurse with the Hastings Macleay GP Network in Port Macquarie. There, he was able to work with severely disenfranchised mentally ill clients and use his vast experience in rehabilitating this client group.

Michael would be pleased that instead of flowers his family requested donations be made to Endeavour Clubhouse, a program that bears similarities to Cornucopia.

Michael leaves behind his wife Susan, his three beautiful daughters Vida, Emily and Louella, and his stepdaughter Andrea as well as many loved family and friends.
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Article Details
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Author:Hall, Wendy; Longhurst, Susan
Publication:The Lamp
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jul 1, 2012
Words:719
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