A tribute to our Inner South Family and Friends member Judy Bednar 28 September 1942 – 15 May 2021

Judy (Judit) Bednar was born 28 September 1942 to Imre and Ilona Grosz (later Gordon). The birth of a Jewish baby in Europe during WW II is a miracle in itself, but the survival beyond the Nazi occupation of Hungary commencing in March 1944 is miraculous beyond measure. In 1949 Hungary was plunged into Communist dictatorship. Judy’s parents were jailed for attempting to escape to Austria, but they finally succeeded during the 1956 Revolution, arriving in Sydney in early 1957. As refugees/ asylum seekers, the family needed Judy to immediately enter the workforce at age 15. Tragedy struck again the following year when her mother died of cancer. A difficult relationship with her father led her to early independence in a boarding house where she met and soon married Joe Bednar. They separated two years after Tommy’s birth. Judy’s wise management of their limited income enabled them to buy a house in Rose Bay, which they sold after their divorce. Proud of her Jewishness, she started wearing a large Star of David to deter Joe’s friends’ anti-Semitic comments in her presence. She proudly continued to wear it to her end. Judy and Tommy moved to Melbourne in the early 1970’s to join her father and stepmother. Despite her limited education, she had risen to becoming an accomplished bookkeeper, always finding work to provide the best for Tommy. Her wise management of finances enabled her to buy a flat in East St Kilda. However on retirement she realized that to provide for her later years she would need to move from the area that remained the primary focus of her friendships and life.

Tommy was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a pre-teen, but, in keeping with the medical view of the time, to avoid ‘labelling’ him, the diagnosis was withheld until later. Cannabis use in his 20’s increased Tommy’s paranoia, leading to difficult and frightening years. Loss of his job as a taxi driver at the start of Covid in 2020 led to dangerous cannabis use and the steep downward spiral that led to tragedy. Unfortunately, Tommy never had the insight to accept that he would benefit from mental health care. Instead he lived with many delusions about the world around him, constantly blaming Judy for anything he could think of. Judy had lived in fear of Tommy’s delusions for decades, repeatedly seeking help for Tommy and protection but the system failed them each time. She joined Inner South Family Friends (ISFAF), carer support group about 25 years ago. Her commitment, efficiency and meticulous management of the Treasurer role was a great asset to ISFAF for many years. Even after her move to Chelsea about 10 years ago, she was always willing to help the group and its members.

Judy was an intelligent, wise lady who dedicated her life to trying to help her beloved son, Tommy. She made an enormous effort to find help for him, but despite showing them evidence of Tommy’s mental ill health, threatening texts, aberrant behaviour to others around him, mental health services failed to heed her warnings. She lived in the fear that his assaults on her property and malicious behaviour would end in tragedy. The system provided her with CCTV but despite having tried hard to set up a monitored personal alarm, no authority assisted her in this endeavour. When she moved to Chelsea, she joined the local carer support group, Peninsula Carer Council (PCC) while remaining active in ISFAF. Aline Burgess the Community Liaison Officer of PCC wrote that:: ‘Throughout the lockdown I had the privilege of sharing many long heartbreaking conversations with Judy Bednar, sometimes very late at night. Judy was a truly remarkable person who knew that behind the bizarre mask of mental illness there was a beloved son with a severe mental illness . Even in the darkest moments of despair and fear, her love was obvious. Judy faced enormous challenges with such courage, skill and unconditional love. What a different outcome there might have been if the police and the hospital had really listened to her as she begged for help and for the right to be part of treatment decisions. My hope is that sometime in the future, when Tommy faces the reality of his alleged actions he will know, that, in spite of everything that happened , his mother loved him dearly.’ It is hard to believe that in 21st century Australia, an alleged beacon of civilization and health care, despite her attempts to obtain help for Tommy, Judy was merely patronized and Tommy’s psychosis left to run its course. Prevention is a major focus in all other fields of health care. However Judy’s preventable death highlights the chasm between all other fields of health care, and the mental health system.in which the system frequently hinders both prevention and the provision of appropriate care and risk management. We will miss Judy’s friendship, smile, intelligent assessment of situations – always uttered at her breakneck speed to match her sharp intellect – and her decades of dedication to Tommy. Vale Judy, you Rest in Peace… but we will not rest until the system is fit for purpose such that no-one has to ever suffer the way you did for decades and have their life stolen from them so brutally. With very heavy hearts, Love from your friends at Inner South Family and Friends.