The self-help group Cornelia Rau attended for six months says it had no choice but to throw her out, writes Robert Wainwright.
There is a personal file on Cornelia Rau at the Mary Street offices in Surry Hills, Sydney. It is not clear why.
The young woman who has focused so much public attention on mental illness has not been to a workshop or lecture of the self-help group Kenja Communications for more than six years.
They asked her to leave in 1998 because, says Kenja co-founder Jan Hamilton, it was clear Cornelia Rau was ill and in need of psychiatric help far beyond the capacity of an organisation established to "enhance the self-empowerment of individuals".
She had been attending classes on and off for just six months because of her job with Qantas. Ms. Hamilton makes no excuse for Kenja's seemingly callous attitude.
"We are not an organisation set up to help someone like Cornelia," she says. "We are for people who are seeking to enhance their abilities."
Ms. Rau did not fit in. Even though her attendance at classes such as ballet, choir and drama was infrequent, her "scattered, disorientated" behaviour was noticed.
She was asked to leave after an incident at a Kenja eisteddfod in Melbourne where, according to Ms. Hamilton, Ms. Rau "walked off."
As Ms. Hamilton spoke, defending the organisation's role, her lawyer sat with the green ring binder that summarised six months of Cornelia Rau's life - observations and evidence of the state of mind of a young woman about to topple into a mental nightmare that would lead her to the Baxter Detention Centre.
Among the documents are several letters from Ms. Rau to "Ken and Jan and everyone" the husband and wife team of Ken Dyers and Jan Hamilton, who founded Kenja in 1982.
The last dated letter is October 3, followed by a card the next day, thanking the couple.
She wrote: "Thank you very much for all the increased life force that I have gained through the Kenja training. The skill levels I have reached with the kenja training have increased my creativity level in all areas of my artwork. This has enabled me to put my artwork in exhibitions much sooner than I would have dreamed possible. Thanks, Love, Cornelia Rau."
Ms. Hamilton could not shed any light on why Ms. Rau began Kenja classes in early 1998. The group has "hundreds, even thousands" through its doors in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Parramatta each year.
There is no actual membership, just attendance (at a cost) to "energy conversion" meditation, lectures on self- confidence, "klowning" workshops and classes on dozens of activities from ballroom dancing to music and aerobics.
The walls of the dance studio at Surry Hills are lined with photographs of beaming Kenja devotees. Cabinets are filled with trophies for Kenja competitions, all stamped with the group insignia, the fearless bunyip.
It is just before 6pm. There is an energy conversion workshop starting at 6.20 and the offices are busy - a man finishing his ballroom dancing lesson, a group of women organising tomorrow's activities, a couple of families arriving with praMs..
Ms. Hamilton, neatly groomed and in her mid-50s, is unflustered. She admits being uncertain about how much to say about Ms. Rau. She rejects stories about Ms. Rau being involved in a love tryst or being "shamed" into leaving because of her strange behaviour.
"We are not responsible for Cornelia's condition . . . we are not a cult. It's a witch-hunt," Ms. Hamilton insists, offering a booklet that details the group's ethics, including a warning against "gossip."
So what was the behaviour that prompted their concern?
"Cornelia was scattered, disassociated," Ms. Hamilton says.
"After she walked off during the show in Melbourne I told her that she needed help; that she needed a psychiatrist, and we couldn't help her. She agreed and accepted the situation. There was no anger."
And why was she remembered among the hundreds who pass through each year?
"Her behaviour," says Ms. Hamilton. "She needed help. I find what