Residents seek compensation from 'house of horrors' boarding home

Grand Western Lodge in Millthorpe. Photo: Steve Gosch
Grand Western Lodge in Millthorpe. Photo: Steve Gosch

It has been 11 years since the first disturbing allegations began to emerge from the Grand Western Lodge boarding house in the small town of Millthorpe, near Orange, but the residents' stories still send a shiver down the spine.

''The residents have told us how they were bashed up, told us how they lived in fear and received meds that made them sleepy all the time,'' lawyer Jenny Tallis said of her weeks spent listening to the stories from the former disabled care home.

''Younger residents were told to care for older residents. The constant refrain was that they had no money. They worked, they mowed lawns, they cleaned cars. They might have been given a few dollars to buy lollies but they had no independence at all.''

On Tuesday, with the help of Ms Tallis and others, the residents finally took a stand, launching a class action against the man who ran the facility, the company he worked for, and the NSW government.

Represented by law firm Maurice Blackburn, the 40-plus residents, who have physical and psychosocial disabilities, lodged a claim in the Federal Court against boarding house manager Adrian Powell, Avibin Pty Ltd, and the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care.

They are seeking compensation for injuries, false imprisonment and financial losses allegedly suffered during their time at the boarding house between 2000 and 2011.

In a series of articles dating back to 2002, Fairfax Media exposed the alleged inhumane treatment of residents at Grand Western Lodge. Government documents recorded a history of allegations of physical assaults of and by the residents.

A committee of seven residents at the boarding house allegedly exercised control over the others, meting out physical punishment, solitary confinement, and massive unprescribed doses of psychotropic medications to sedate residents deemed out of control.

One man said he had been grounded in his room for a month, and another said he had been ''hit everywhere, kicked and punched everywhere'' over the course of 10 years.

In their action, led by former resident Paul McAlister, the residents also say they were not given enough food of adequate quality.

It is alleged the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care's monitoring of the boarding house's licence was negligent. Staff are said to have been aware of the risks to residents but failed to properly inspect the facility.

The acting chief executive of People with Disability Australia, Matthew Bowden, said he hoped the action would also lead to an improvement in housing and support provided to people with disabilities.

Fairfax Media was unable to contact Mr Powell or Avibin on Tuesday.

The Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care declined to comment.

This story Residents seek compensation from 'house of horrors' boarding home first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.