contemporary thinking about psychoanalysis in 1921, Ideas in the 1920s, regional and local newspaper reportage, settler culture, Shell Shock
One of the reasons for starting this blog was an interest in exploring the influence of psychoanalytic ideas in this part of the world: Australia and the Oceania region. The advent of the National Library of Australia’s data base, TROVE, and the link to Australia’s digitized newspaper collection has enabled an ease of research by laptop rather than making the physical journey to spend hours trawling through ancient newspapers. How this might shape the way history is developed and written will be interesting to see.
In the 1910s and 1920s – the interwar years – in the sprawling country that was settler Australia, with so many people living a long way from anywhere that resembled a city, interest in culture, whether politics, literature, science and philosophy could be hardly restricted to metropolitan newspapers and readers. Regional and local newspapers, depending upon the interests of their editors and readers, reported widely on literary and scientific events and thinking. Local papers generally confined reportage to political, economic and local news with a serial thrown in. With contributions from people with particular expertise, newspapers across the country reflect the diverse interests amongst Australian people. Freud’s name was well enough known by 1938 that the process of his escape from Europe was reported on a daily basis in numerous local papers across the country as well as in the metropolitan and regional press. So too was his death a year later. So what is the result when ‘Psychoanalysis’ is typed into the search engine.
A little research was needed. Using the word ‘psychoanalysis’ as my tool, I undertook a little survey of the TROVE digitized newspaper site. I used the year dates: from 1920 to 1929. In this period 1126 ‘articles’ were found from a total of 769 digitized newspapers. The total number of articles concerning psychoanalysis for the entire archive, dating from 1803 to 2007, is 2941. Other words could be used, such as ‘Freud’, ‘Psychotherapy’, ‘Psychology’ and ‘Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy’ and may yield different articles which will add to the store of items available. The point here, though, is that during the early part of the twentieth century news of Freud and his work, transmitted through the print media, reached a far into remote Australia as well as finding a more likely audiences living in the metropolitan areas.
Now, to content. Inevitably some writers will be critical of psychoanalysis and its method; others, admiring of Freud and his work wish to recommend it . There was also reportage of lectures and educational events: Workers Educational Association lectures were a major forum for lectures about psychoanalysis. From 1923 a new venture, the formation of the Australian Society for Psychology and Philosophy by University of Sydney’s Professor Sir Francis Anderson began attracting interested and critical readers – also from places hundreds of miles from Sydney. Between August 1923 and March 1924 the Capricornian a weekly newspaper in Rockhampton, a town in Northern Queensland, published four items of over 1000 words centred upon the introduction of the Association’s new journal, The Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy. and within this, exploring responses to the new science of psychoanalysis. Not so the the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miner’s Advocate, a regional paper serving Newcastle, north of Sydney. Nevertheless who, from the perspective of early twenty-first century urban Australia, would guess that at this time in the early 1920s, that in a place as remote and as rugged as the ‘frontier’ mining town of Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, that the topic of psychoanalysis would have even rated a mention?
Kalgoorlie, some 370 miles from Perth, was begun as a miner’s camp in 1893 when gold was discovered. It was declared as a town in 1895. It was and remains small enough population-wise. Wikipedia, that ever reliable source, suggests that Kalgoorlie’s population was about 2000 by 1899, increasing to 6000 by 1903, or so. Census data from the 2011 collection show Kalgoorlie’s population to be 13,949. This little film compiled from photographs at Western Australia’s State Library with commentary by Don Pugh, is a glimpse into the conditions in which the early settlers were living.
Perhaps it is reflective of the randomness and the sporadic way in which psychoanalytic ideas were spread globally. Or perhaps it shows how dispersed the population was as well as the reliance of many people upon the written word for information about the world about them. In the 1920s newspapers were the main form of mass communication, if not for many people, the only form. Fortune seekers on the Kalgoorlie goldfields may also have been medical practitioners or lawyers or indeed, Oxford Dons before going off to try their luck.
Between 1920 and 1929 Kalgoorlie’s daily, the Kalgoorlie Miner, published twenty articles where psychoanalysis was a key work, if not subject. In contrast with the metropolitan papers, The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s Argus which published 65 and 46 items, this is a surprisingly high number. South Australian daily, Adelaide’s Advertiser published 92 items during the same period while Perth’s two papers, the West Australian and the Western Mail published 90 items between them during the same period. One would expect more articles on the subject to have been published in the larger metropolitan areas of Sydney and Melbourne, both, at one time, Australian government centres.
The material is not lightweight. On 1 February 1921 readers of the Kalgoorlie Miner found this little item headed, “What Psychoanalysis is Doing”. Here is the full text.
Since Freud began his searching and patient investigation of the unconscious mind, over twenty five years ago, a constantly increasing number of psychologists, mental physicians, and educational reformers have found it necessary to reconsider a number of problems associated with the conscious activity of the mind in health and disease.
It is not too much to say that psycho-analysis has revealed the springs of human behaviour in an entirely new light, and that its discoveries are of an epoch-making character. The practical results are indisputable in the cure of hysterical affections and those mental and physical symptoms that have been classed loosely under the description ‘neurasthenia.’
Psycho-analysis, as practised by ardent and highly-qualified physicians in military and civil hospitals during the war, relieved a very large number of sufferers from states of morbid dread, acute mental depression, loss of memory, and obsessional ideas. The treatment provides a means for which physicians have sought for generations, and the proof of its efficacy is shown to-day by the host of people who have been released from some of the keenest emotional torture experienced by humanity.
At a period in civilisation when the difficulty of adjustment to conditions that conflict with deep primal instincts induces an enormous amount of nervous and mental disturbance, psycho-analysis brings a healing boon to mankind. The menace to mental sanity, and frequently the physical health, is not invariably present in the consciousness. It was through an analysis of a patient’s unconscious mind, as revealed in dreams, that Freud, became deeply impressed by the part that the unconscious plays in the causation of hysteria, abnormal fears, and impulsions of a morbid character.
Psycho-analysis, as Dr. H. Coriot says, ‘bears the same relation in all its principles to the human mind, and to social consciousness, as bio logy does to the organic world.’ Many difficult social and moral questions become plainer through a knowledge of the unconscious mind. Psycho-analysis supplies an explanation for forgetfulness, slips of the, tongue and the pen, and many of our puzzling weaknesses and strange deep-rooted prejudices. It is not possible to describe the technique of the system in a few words. The cure of mental illness comes through ‘transference, a feeling of acknowledged sympathy towards the physician such as is noted in all medical practice when the patient relies on the wisdom or the doctor. This is not ‘falling in love with the doctor.’ as suggested by some critics. Any demonstration of that kind would put an end to the treatment. I recommend interested persons to read ‘What is Psycho-analysis?’ by Dr. Coriot; ‘The Freudian Wish’ by Holt; and ‘Man’s Unconscious Conflict,’ by Dr. Lay.
Perhaps it should not be so surprising that such interest and vigorous thinking about intellectual and cultural issues is so easily demonstrable at this time in Australian history. Or probably anywhere for that matter. But Australia at this time had just dried the ink on its own constitution signed in 1901. It was leading the world in some political and social spheres. White women had gained the right to vote, beginning in 1895 in South Australia with New South Wales Women achieving this in 1908, well ahead of the United Kingdom where women’s suffrage was not achieved until the late 1920s. It’s welfare reforms, particularly in the field of state children, were well regarded. From the late nineteenth century, in several states the ‘boarding out’ of state children was internationally recognized as the ‘Australian System’. In 1916 workers in Victoria had won a long and hard battle, commenced in 1856, for the 8 hour working day: 8 hours work, 8 hours sleep and 8 hours leisure and would be achieved nationally during the 1920s. Some interesting research is yet to be done.
1921 ‘WHAT PSYCHO-ANALYSIS IS DOING.’, Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950), 1 February, p. 3, viewed 19 August, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92883739
Edwin B Holt (1915) , The Freudian wish and its place in ethics, New York, Henry Holt and Company. https://archive.org/stream/freudianwishitsp00holtiala#page/n1/mode/2up (accessed 18 August 2014).
Wilfrid Lay (1917), Man’s unconscious conflict: a popular exposition of psychoanalyis, New York, Dodd, Mead and Company; https://archive.org/stream/mansunconsciousc00laywiala#page/n5/mode/2up (accessed 18 August 2014)