It has been a delight to discover the National Library of Australia’s online digitised newspaper collection.  I remember looking at it in the early 2000s or therabouts and finding a little creaky. It is possible, now,  to glimpse of what people were thinking and reading about  across the country far more than before. The archive dates from about 1830 through to  1954. It covers city, regional and country newspapers.

It is clear that Freud and psychoanalysis – or ‘The New Psychology’  had  a significant following in the first decades of twentieth century Australia – at the time Freud was becoming known in Europe.  Surprisingly for us twentyfirst century sophisticates, interest appears to have been more intense in the more remote places like Rockhampton in Northern Queensland, Broken Hill the mining town in far west New South Wales than in  capital cities such as Melbourne or Sydney.  Kalgoorlie, a gold mining town in Western Australia, was another surprise along with Perth, the Western Australian capital city. The Adelaide Advertiser, edited by the Bonython father and son during the first half of the twentieth century was also a frequent reporter.

In his book, The bold type : a history of Victoria’s country newspapers 1840-2010,  historian Rod Kirkpatrick notes that regional and country newspaper editors  played a pivotal part in their communities. To gather news they needed to know what was going on. They attended meetings and gatherings, they talked to friends, neighbours and were on familiar terms with others. The editors knew the interests of their communities and published accordingly. It maybe, though, that these editors had an interest in the subject. Newspapers were a source of intellectual input for people living in these remote towns. Workers Education meetings and evening lectures provided another source of information.

One of the first items I located in the online collection concerned a lecture: ‘The Aim of Psychology as Illustrated by Recent Developments’ given by Philip Le Couteur, recently appointed as Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy  at the University of Western Australia on 30 August 1913. Le Couteur, born in Kyneton in Victoria, was a Rhodes Scholar. He had studied experimental psychology under Karl Buhler at the University of Bonn in Germany before returning to Australia to take up this post. In Vienna Freud and his colleagues were meeting regularly to discuss psychoanalysis; Freud and Breuer’s Studies in Hysteria was first published in 1905. Freud had published The Psychopathology of Everyday Life in 1901.

Le Couteur  differentiated psychology from the occult, the spiritism that so interested former Prime Minister Alfred Deakin – noting that psychology and psychical research are different subjects. There is no hocus-pocus about psychology ‘which aimed to explain mental facts.’  le Couteur then  provided a lucid account of the work undertaken by Dr Joseph Breuer and his assistant Freud on the phenomenon of hysteria.  He explained that ‘Freud’s work is completely unknown to general readers and deserves to be better known’.  Further he stated, ‘it shows how the results of purely psychological investigation can be utilised by medicine for the healing of certain diseases’. For Le Couteur, Breuer’s original contribution needed to be acknowledged. Indeed it was

the psychological nature of Breuer’s work rather than the therapeutic that interests us tonight, although the latter is intensely interesting. It was Breuer who first regarded hysterical patients as suffering from a mental rather than physical disorder, and diagnosed and treated them accordingly.

Le Couteur continued, providing an account of dream interpretation, the use of free association and the differentiation between conscious and unconscious processes – the basic tenets of psychoanalytic practice.

Le Couteur eventually left the university to take up the headmastership of Methodist Ladies College in Melbourne. Why he did so is not clear – perhaps it was closer to home and family. But this lecture, published in its entirety,  by the West Australian Newspaper – along with a consistent stream of articles about Freud, his theories and followers published in newspapers across the country in the years to follow – shows that recognition  of Freud’s ideas was not confined to  small groups of doctors, theologians and philosophers with a particular interest in his work,  but found an intelligent readership in places geographically and culturally as far away as one could be from cosmopolitan Vienna.


1913 ‘THE UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA.’, The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954), 2 September, p. 5, viewed 04 August, 2011, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article26883990

The University of Western Australia, School of Psychology, website: The History of Psychology, 1913-1918, http://www.psychology.uwa.edu.au/community/history/1913-1918 accessed 4 August 2011.

Rod Kirkpatrick, The Bold Type: A History of Victoria’s Country Newspapers 1840-2010, Ascot Vale, The Victorian Country Press, Association, 2010.