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One might assume that interest in Freud in early twentieth century Australia was limited to the cities – and so it was for medicos and others who sought to add psychoanalysis to their practice. This would fit with the notion of psychoanalysis being a theory for the elite and educated; hardly known beyond scholarly circles – and certainly not in country towns a day or more in travel time away from the  city.

It appears that distance is not – was not – an impediment to learning and intellectual interest. In an article published in the June 2010 edition of Australasian Psychiatry historian Robert Kaplan  writes of the invitations from a Sydney Study group to Freud, Carl Jung and Havelock Ellis to present papers at the Ninth Session Australasian Medical Congress held in Sydney 18-23 September 1911. Freud might well have been surprised, although psychoanalysis was spreading beyond Vienna.  In 1910  the International Psychoanalytical Association was established at Nuremberg with Jung installed as its head. Branches had been established in Hungary, Germany, United Kingdom and the United States. Now the southern hemisphere beckoned.

In response to the Sydney Group’s invitation, Freud sent a paper. So too did, Jung and Havelock Ellis whose ideas were, by then, diverging from Freud’s insistence on the sexual basis of the neuroses.  Freud explained the tenets of psychoanalysis; Jung’s paper ‘The Doctrines of Complexes’ began with a word association test and argued that complexes ‘occurred in normal individuals, neurotics and psychotics’. Ellis’s paper, Kaplan says, ‘succeeded best at explaining psychoanalysis to readers’ although he was critical of Freud’s rigid adherence to his theory of the sexual aetiology of the neuroses. Kaplan, however seems a little surprised that there was such a high level of interest at this stage.

To have a psychoanalytic interest group by 1909, followed by the invitations to Freud, Jung and Ellis in 1911, was well in advance of many other countries, bearing in mind that psychoanalytic involvement in Europe was restricted to very small groups in capital cities. There is nothing to indicate a similar response in any other Southern Hemisphere country, if not further afield of the Europe/ American littoral.

It was not as if Australian mental health treatment was lagging behind  trends in Europe. Practitioners were up-to-date with contemporary literature. Kraepelin’s 1896 work on Dementia Praecox was well known. Eugenics, a key paradigm in UK, USA, Germany and Austria was being thoroughly studied. Practitioners adopted treatment methods developed in the  USA and Europe – insulin treatment for schizophrenia and electroconvulsive therapy for depression. In Melbourne in 1949 John Cade pioneered the use of lithium in the treatment of bi-polar disorders. By then psychoanalysis had also found a base in Melbourne: Paul Dane, Reg Ellery and others established the Melbourne Institute for Psychoanalysis in 1940.

Australian settler culture in the early twentieth century consisted of a large number of first generation migrants who retained strong personal links with ‘Home’  I well remember my Australian born grandfather speaking of England has home although he had never been there. My grandmother’s family in England regularly sent newspapers and magazines with their weekly letters. It was a way of keeping in touch with the Home to which they would never return. It was inevitable that developments in Europe would be transmitted to the Australian scene very quickly.  Perusal of the newspapers reveal items republished from the British press.  Newspaper journalists often referred to English locations in familiar terms – few needed an explanation.Until the mid twentieth century, at least, the British Medical Association oversaw the training of medical practitioners and developments in the field.Talented scholars – medical and lay – returned ‘home’ for advanced education. Distance was an inconvenience to be borne.

Historically, developments in primary production enabled Australia to begin to pay its way and, in 1901, be proclaimed as a nation in its own right – not as a  colony of Britain. Along with this was the developing infrastructure of rail, telegraph, mail; schools, libraries, churches and of course local and regional newspapers. The latter integrated national and international affairs with local reportage. They may have also reflected editorial interests – even if the editor also reflected upon the interests of their particular reading community. Perhaps this explains why psychoanalysis found a following in regional centres and the smaller capital cities. Between 1920 and 1940, a period covered by my particular survey of newspapers digitized by the National Library of Australia, newspaper editors as far afield as Cairns and Rockhampton in northern Queensland, Broken Hill in far west New South Wales and in Kalgoorlie a small western Australian gold mining town, often published items explaining Freud’s theories. So too did the editors of the Adelaide Advertiser and Perth’s West Australian. When Freud left Austria for Britain in 1938, the cables detailing his journey were published in Broken Hill’s Barrier Miner. When he died in September 1939 these papers published an obituary.

Reference: Robert M Kaplan ( 2101) ‘Freud’s Excellent Adventure Downunder: the only publication in Australia by the founder of psychoanalysis’, in Australasian Psychiatry, Vol 18, No.3, pp. 205-209.