Historians of psychoanalysis in Australia agree that a first point of contact for psychoanalysis in Australia was through the former Reverend Donald Fraser who, in 1909, wrote to Freud advising him of a reading group of people interested in his work. Two years later an invitation was extended to Freud, Jung and to Havelock Ellis to speak at the forthcoming Medical Congress in Sydney in a letter signed by one of the members of the group, Andrew Davidson, then Secretary of the Neurological Section of the Australian Branch of the British Medical Association. There was some discussion between Freud and Jung about whether they would send a conjoint paper. Historian Stephen Garton notes that Freud politely declined but sent a paper ‘outlining the central tenets of psychoanalysis’. Jung also sent a paper.  The two were in the throes of falling out: from 1912 they did not see one another again. Ernest Jones, Freud’s biographer, as Garton continues, sent a paper to a subsequent Congress in 1914 (1). From this point there was some isolated interest in psychoanalysis from amongst the medical profession, particularly those medical specialists in psychological medicine who returned from the Great War having learned about the application of Freud’s techniques in the treatment of war neurosis.

The full membership of Fraser’s little group is not known. Generally the narrative centres on Fraser himself, described by Freud’s biographer and advocate, Ernest Jones, as having been kicked out of his ministry in the Presbyterian Church for his Freudian views.

Further research has put paid to such notions of martyrdom on behalf of psychoanalysis. In a short biographical piece published in 1978 Historian Angus McIntyre provides evidence to show that Fraser, who came to Australia from Liverpool, UK, in 1893,  fell out with the Presbyterian Church in Newcastle by 1896. It is not clear why: whether from disagreement with the ‘establishment’ or drunkenness. After an attempt to begin his own church Fraser left the church to recommence medical studies at the University of Sydney in 1904 (2). Nevertheless as a result of a letter from Roy Coupland Winn who had set himself up as the first psychoanalyst in private practice in Sydney Australia, in which he made a connection between Fraser’s interest in psychoanalysis and his departure from the church, Jones has recorded Fraser as something of a martyr to the larger cause. That Winn was vague about the facts of Fraser’s case is revealed in MacIntyre’s paper. (2) Myths are created thus.

While commentators have grabbed hold of this incident as evidence of Freud’s deeper interest in Australia – he once fantasied in a letter to his fiance about moving to Australia, if only to establish himself well enough to be married- it is worth thinking about why he and Jung were invited in the first place. Davidson, who read Jung’s paper at the Congress appears not to have been particularly interested in psychoanalysis and appears not to have pursued it after 1911. After resigning his post as Medical Superintendent at Callan Park Hospital for the Insane in 1912 he frequently appeared in the press as an expert witness in trials of people accused of crimes as varied as murder and fraud to husband desertion for the next two decades. He was member of the Eugenics Society – a body whose membership Freud declined. He died in 1938.

It is the job of Secretaries of such bodies as the British Medical Association to act on behalf of their committees. By looking at those matters that occupied the thinking of the membership; their concerns over time and the tasks that filled their days we might begin to see something of what might have prompted an invitation to Freud and Jung. As colonials, the leading psychiatrists of the day were also recent emigrants, bringing their British training, their experience and their knowledge of the continental intellectual milieu informing their work and practice. Fraser, who had begun his medical studies in England, switched his training to that of a clergyman.Perhaps he was following his father -also Donald Fraser – who was well known as an ideas man and for his work in the Presbyterian Church in England. Perhaps young Fraser’s insomnia -prompting his migration – was symptomatic of some sort of conflictual relationship between father and son. Perhaps his interest in psychoanalysis was borne of an intellectual curiosity similar to his father’s. We can but speculate here. 

Andrew Davidson qualified in Aberdeen in Scotland before coming to Australia where by 1903 he had succeeded another well known doctor in the lunacy field, native born Chisholm Ross, as Medical Superintendent at Callan Park. Chisholm Ross had also trained in Scotland, at Edinburgh University before returning home to Australia and work with another Scottish born and educated doctor, Eric Sinclair, Inspector General of the Insane from 1898, a graduate from the University of Glasgow.Obviously there is a Scottish influence in the development of Australian Psychiatry.

Upon the commencement of a new building, the Psychiatry and Neuro-Surgical Pavilion at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1935, the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald took the opportunity to reflect upon its history. He was careful to record that Davidson – by then a senior and well respected figure in Sydney psychiatry – who some thirty years before had spoken of the need for individualised treatment methods when the
when the unit’s ‘predecessor’, a special ward was set aside at the Reception House, Darlinghurst, for curable cases of mental disease in 1908.

“One hopes that Sydney, though it now has a small hospital in a special ward at the reception house, will do still more, and establish wards with out-patient facilities at the Prince Alfred Hospital, or that a hospital such as is being built in Melbourne should be erected close to the University. This would mean that individual treatment could be given in each case, all histories fully investigated,causes definitely ascertained, and treatment therefore given on a rational basis”. (3)

According to the Herald the special ward at Darlinghurst and the subsequent erection of a psychiatric pavilion at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital was actually suggested  in 1905  when Davidson’s superior, Dr Eric Sinclair said that accommodation for curable mental patients at public hospitals had many advantages over anything a special department could provide – not least the reduction of overcrowding.  He argued that early treatment prevented long term, serious mental illness and incarceration. The Historian Professor Stephen Garton highlights Sinclair’s indefatigable work for recognition of psychiatry as a scientific and respectable arm of medicine. Garton says Sinclair

led a movement to establish the treatment of mental illness on a scientific footing and to have psychiatry recognized as a legitimate medical science. To these ends in 1909 he established the department’s pathological laboratory where mental patients were tested for various medical pathologies. Sinclair sought to replace older terms such as psychological medicine with modern terms like psychiatry. He believed in the importance of training specialists and successfully advocated a chair of psychiatry at the University of Sydney, established in 1923. (4)

Sinclair was not averse to standing up to governments, Garton continues. He sought to legalize voluntary treatment and opened the first  first public psychiatric ward for voluntary patients in 1908. In 1915 he authorized the admission of voluntary patients to State mental hospitals despite the absence of any authorizing legislation. His bluff succeeded: successive governments refrained from stopping this practice.(5)

A third notable in lunacy reform was  W.Beattie-Smith – another Scottish trained doctor and colleague of Sinclair, Davdison and Fraser who opened the The Neurology Section of the 1911 Medical Congress. Beattie-Smith who had emigrated  almost thirty years before had spent twenty-one years administering asylums in Victoria. He had built his experience beginning as Superintendent of Ararat Insane Asylum (1881) where, according to his biographer, Eric Cunningham Dax, he developed a small wine-growing industry. He was an advocate of training for nursing and mental health staff and encouraged the Scottish system of boarding out selected mental health patients to the community. Not all people who became mentally disturbed needed incarceration. His paper “Insanity in its Relation to the Practitioner, the Patient and the State, published in the Australasian Medical Gazette for February 1903, sets out his system of diagnosis and management of mental disorder beginning from mild melancholia to severe delusional illnesses. Beattie-Smith drew the distinction between patients who needed treatment in an insane asylum and those who might well need special care in a nursing home, if not at home. There was a systemic problem: that certification under the Lunacy Act assumed that the person was of ‘unsound mind’ and that – as a result – the person was fit to be detained in an asylum. Further the medical practitioner, privvy to the internal workings of the family in which the individual lived, needed careful training to be able to assess whether the person needed to be certified. He provided a summary of his 21 years of experience as a medical practitioner in Victoria, advocating the Scottish system of training of both medical and nursing staff in treatment rather than custodial care.When he published his 1903 article he was about to retire as President of the Ballarat District Branch of the British Medical Association.

At the Congress Jung’s paper “The Doctrines of Complexes” was read by Davidson. ‘It began with a description of the word association test, the research that had first brought him fame’, the historian, R M Kaplan writes. He continues:

From this arose Jung’s discovery of the complex which occurred in normal individuals, neurotics and psychotics. Commencing with the tactical feint that the neuroses arose from psycho-sexual conflict which could only be uncovered by means of Freud’s psychoanalytic process, he trumped this with the statement that dementia praecox involved a “characteristic and different behaviour” that would end up in dementia. Using the same post hoc, ergo propter hoc logic favoured by Freud, he justified these assertions by stating that proof was not required because the subject was already a “special science”, known as analytical psychological or, pacé Bleuler, depth psychology – making a clear distinction from the Viennese version.(6).

Freud,’s paper for the 1911 Congress, ‘On Psycho- Analysis,’ numbering but three pages, was  more peremptory. Kaplan reflects its tenor – Freud seems to be lecturing down to an uneducated audience he assumed to be ignorant of psychoanalysis. Kaplan writes:

Easily the shortest of the three papers, his explanation of the principles of psychoanalysis was terse, to say the least, and a significant portion was devoted to attacking those, especially in psychiatry, who rejected its tenets. Anyone critical of psychoanalysis, Freud stated, should “analyze his own person”, concentrating on their dreams. Freud’s masterful rhetoric and superb literary skills notwithstanding, it would seem to be a misguided effort to send such a paper to a far-distant group expected to know next to nothing about a theory that was far out of the boundaries of knowledge, if not conventions, that they inhabited.(7)

The invitation from the Antipodes, so far away from Europe and Vienna, must have astonished both Freud and Jung. Freud saw it as a sign his work was expanding. Jung, perhaps, found it another way to promote his ideas amongst medical peers. But for both, I suspect, Australia was too far away to think seriously about attending the Congress – whether or not they had the means.Australia was, for Freud at least, the site of primitivity, where Aborigines the lowest of the low races on earth could be found. At this time when Social Darwinist theory ordered humanity it was not surprising. Missionaries also preoccupied with such theories sought to establish that Aboriginal people had souls, that they were capable of an English education and were civilisable. All of this is considered racist these days, but these were the theories extant at the time. Where Jung found evidence of the ‘primitive’ in himself during his journey to Africa, so Freud also located it in his work, Totem and Taboo.

The Australian doctors who tried to arrange for the presence of Freud and Jung appear to have had a different agenda to Freud’s and Jung’s desire to promote their work. Qualified in England and Scotland, emigrants when they were adults, and well aware of the to-ing and fro-ing of information between England, Europe and Australia as their students departed and returned and new migrants arrived, it is not surprising that they were well up-to-date with contemporary ideas about mental health treatment and medicine.  They may have seen themselves as leaders, using the opportunities afforded in the Andtipodes to make good some of the frustrations encountered at home – as well as in their interactions with the government of the day – as they attempted to develop world leading treatment for insanity. It may be that they saw in the work of Jung and Freud potential methods for individualized treatment which would serve to prevent admissions to the asylums.

Based on a careful reading of available documents – the annual reports, newspapers as well as secondary sources a portrait of doctors who were proactive in their quest for better treatment for mentally ill people emerges. These were also the colleagues of Melbourne based John Springthorpe whose later work with war affected patients also drew on psychoanalytic ideas. It made sense, I think,  to this group of reforming doctors that the best in the world in the treatment of lunacy should be invited to their Congress. They were arguing with the government of the day. They wished to demonstrate to their peers and to government officials that that there were alternative and viable methods and techniques to custodial care and incarceration in the treatment of mentally distressed people. That Freud not only did not come to Australia but, in his paper,  failed to appreciate the knowledge of his peers in what to him was a faraway, if not exotic, land, could well have been have been a huge disappointment.

(1), Stephen Garton, ‘Freud and the Psychiatrists: The Australian Debate 1900 -1945’, in Brian Head and James Walter (eds,). Intellectual Movements and Australian Society, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988, p.170.

(2). Angus McIntyre, ‘The Reverend Donald Fraser’, Australian New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, v.12, June 1978, p.109-113.

(3).1935 ‘MENTAL DISEASES.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 15 October, p. 10, viewed 5 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article17215833

(4). Stephen Garton, ‘Sinclair, Eric (1860–1925)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sinclair-eric-8435/text14827, accessed 5 January 2014.

(5). ibid.

(6). R.M Kaplan, ‘Freud’s Most Excellent Adventure Downunder: The Only Publication in Australia by the Founder of Psychoanalysis’, Australasian Psychiatry, 2010 Jun;18(3):205-9.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20482424

(7). ibid.