On 17 February 1923 an announcement appeared in Rockhampton’s major newspaper, the Morning Mail. A local medical practitioner, Dr Wynne was to speak at the School of Arts on the subject of ‘Modern Medicine’. The lecture was to be
a brief non-technical account of facts not generally known which are profoundly changing the conception of the human machine, including psychoanalysis.
Clearly the organisers were confident that the good citizens of Rockhampton would be interestedenough to attend. Rockhampton in Central Coastal Queensland appears to be about as far as one could get from the southern centres of culture and intellect, Melbourne and Sydney, let alone Europe. Founded in 1861, it grew to become a major shipping port with easy access to the Pacific and Asia. With prosperity came thoughts that Rockhampton would be the capital of Queensland. And, not least the Morning Bulletin, reflecting the social and cultural pursuits of its citizens, not only published notices and reports of lectures held by the various educational and cultural societies, but also editorial comment. Psychoanalysis was a particular favourite: unlike their colleagues in Northern Queensland who published items critical of Freud’s ideas, Rockhampton editors were curious.
So far the few histories of psychoanalysis in Australia have focussed on events and trends in the capital cities. No doubt the omission of regional and country interest is due to the practical difficulty of wading through piles of newspapers from such remote places as Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, Broken Hill in far west New South Wales as well as Rockhampton. Such places are about as far as one can get from Europe as well as major Australian cities. Like Philip Le Couteur at the University of Western Australia they tried to describe psychoanalysis to readers, to explain its meaning and usefulness. The desire of writers of the history of psychoanalysis to bed down a story of psychoanalytic thought and practice in Australia, either with a complement of pioneers, or arguing psychoanalysis really began with the arrival of the training analyst, Clara Geroe, from Hungary in 1940 is also pertinent.
There was no lack of information. Books, journals, articles and pamphlets imported from Europe- about psychology, psychoanalysis, philosophy and science, education – were advertised and reviewed in the press. Scholars left Australia in search of an education and returning with news of doings abroad – even if these were buried in newspaper columns. By the late 1890s, as historian Rod Kirkpatrick has shown, most, if not all country towns in New South Wales had their own newspaper All the colonies had their own share of local and regional papers as well as several dailies in each of the capital cities. Editors knew what was going on in their town. They knew who was who, they ensured they were invited to events, large and small. They talked to the townsfolk. In the quest for copy, reporters covered everything from childrens’ music exam results, public meetings and lectures as well as the politics of the day. Contributors ranged from local clergymen and missionaries to reporters using shorthand to record a lecture for those who did not arrive. Newspapers – state, regional and local – received cables from a central international news service. It is not unusual to see a word for word report on one European event or another in several papers across the country.
In January 1924 ‘An Interview with Freud’ appeared in The Capricornian, republished in full from Popular Science magazine. 1200 words long, it detailed the meaning of psychoanalysis and described its principles – about the civilisability of the self- for readers. Clearly this editor was confident enough of his readership to publish it.
‘Psychoanalysis is a science that leads man through the mazes of his own subconscious where the repressed desires, the fabulous monsters lie in ambush’, the article, the result of a long night’s talk with Freud, began.
Professor Freud said: ‘Modern psychology has discovered the ego is not the lord of his own domain. We are neither the captains of our souls nor the masters of our fate. Far from dominating our thoughts by the exercise of free will, we do not even know the mysterious tenants that inhabit our unconscious selves. Psychoanalysis, with infinite labour, succeeds in making us dimly conscious of the motives that sway us, of the blind instincts, often savage anc criminal, that shape our minds and determine our decisions’.
Psychoanalysis deals largely with sex, Freud continued. ‘Sex is the root and the fruit of the tree of life; it is also its blossom’…Psychoanalysis ‘teaches us that we never entirely overcome the animal, the savage, the criminal or the child in ourselves’.
Readers learned how a baby passes through all the phases of evolution; that every child is a savage; that every human perversity is part of normal development and that ‘psychic shocks’ received in babyhood, inhibit a man’s normal development in whole or in part’. If we deny the sex life of a child, Freud holds, we deny nature itself.
Settler Australians were acutely conscious of the presence of indigenous people, if only to remark upon their absence. Aboriginal people were believed to have ‘died away’, if not tucked away on the missions. In Social Darwinist terms,the ‘lowest on the racial scale,civilisability of Aboriginal people had been debated issue for much of the previous century. In 1924 Queensland, like New South Wales and Western Australia, was adopting policies of removing Aboriginal children from their parents, focussing on those with an ‘admixture’ of European heritage, in an effort to preserve the purity of the white race. Freud’s notion of the savage within, so clearly articulated here for a general readership, not to mention its circulation in professional and academic circles, would have been confronting for good citizens believing they had mastery. This is what they read:
Civilisation, in self-defence, teaches us to forget, to deny the disguise, to repress, or to ‘ sublimate ‘ our criminal instincts. However, it cannot banish them completely. They crop out under certain circumstances in the most staid, the most respectable individual. They are responsible for curious contradictions in our nature. They explain why the same individual may be both cruel, and kind, selfish and generous, voluptuous and austere, depending upon the conscious or unconscious forces at sway. They betray themselves, if not to us, to the trained investigator. They subtly colour our thoughts, they generate our dreams, they enter in one form or another into every activity…
The struggle of repression absorbs a vast amount of our energy that could be directed into more useful channels. It explains the tardiness of human progress. Driven from the conscious mind, the repressed desire finds other outlets. Unaccountable nervous maladies, hysterias, neuroses, curious twitching of the face or the fingers, inexplicable obsessions, like Dr. Johnson’s mania to touch every lamppost, are merely [some] gestures of repressed desires. We read of a good man gone wrong. The very fact that he guarded his nether nature so carefully gave volcanic force to its eruption. The force of the explosion stands in a definite ratio to the degree of repression. Repressed wishes unable to escape cause… emotional and nervous ulcers, drawing strength from the healthy tissues surrounding them. Just as tumours, of which we are unaware, influence our physical wellbeing and react upon our emotional life, so tumours of the mind exercise a baneful influence over our physical and mental activities, even if we are blissfully unaware of their existence.
In future years Rockhampton people would host educators and lecturers from the University of Queensland and other places who sought to explain psychology and psychoanalysis to them. And through learning about these activities we can speculate just how closely settler Australian aligned their cultural and intellectual interests with those of the home country.