Every year during the 80s, around the Easter long weekend, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists and anyone else with an interest in the psychoanalytic ideas would schlepp from Melbourne to the Victorian coastal town, Lorne, for the annual Freud Conference. They stayed at Cumberland House, an old, elegant guesthouse within walking distance of the township and close enough to the beach for morning and evening strolls. Some people had honeymooned there. By day everyone attended lectures on Freud and Co. in the assembly hall. On Saturday night the entire conference, divided into groups of various sizes and affiliation, converged on the township for dinner.The guest speaker was usually someone internationally known for their work in applied psychoanalysis. Among them was Juliet Mitchell whose 1974 book ‘Psychoanalysis and Feminisim’ remains a seminal work, the political activist and psychoanalyst Joel Kovel, and British psychoanalytic historian John Forrester. By the end of the 80s The Freud Conference was ‘a must’ on the psychoanalytic community’s yearly calender of conferences, seminars and meetings.
There was always a sense of summer just finished. Sometimes daylight saving had not ended, giving everyone an extra hour of warmth and sunlight. When Easter occurred in late April, chilly Antarctic winds and rain warned that winter was drawing near. Lorne though always reminded people that it is a town made for summer. Walks on the beach might give way to indoor conversations by late autumn. But the racks of tired looking beach clothing and gift shops that threaded along the shopping strip nearby never changed. For Conference members it was de riguer to spend lunchtime in a cafe contemplating one lecture or another and, of course, there was always ‘The Transference’ and various dual relationships to navigate. Melbourne’s psychoanalytic community is a small one. Lorne, luckily, had enough restaurants to accommodate everyone.
The first Freud Conference, held in 1977, emerged from the work of political science professor Alan (Foo) Davies at the University of Melbourne. Davies had begun the Melbourne Psychosocial Group comprised of psychoanalysts, academics and students. Sometimes referred to as ‘The Melbourne Group’, its members sought to explore the intersection between political processes and leadership with psychoanalysis anthropology and sociology. Two of Davies’ discussion group, Douglas Kirsner and Ron Gilbert organised the Freud conference as a kind of spontaneous ‘lets go to the beach and talk about psychoanalysis and politics’ event. It was intended to be slow, with time for reflection discussion and socialising between lectures. It brought together members of all disciplines interested in psychosocial issues. As with the Melbourne psychosocial group’s monthly Monday meetings, the conference was open to anyone who was interested in exploring the relationship between psychoanalysis and society.
Twenty-two years later, after Douglas Kirsner and Ron Gilbert decided they no longer wished to organise the conference, Christine Hill took up the challenge. She brought together member representatives of the main psychoanalytic bodies to form a small committee. The conference which had long since moved from Lorne to Melbourne found a regular venue at the Treacy Centre in Parkville. During the last five years the conference has moved to a new venue: The University of Melbourne’s Brain Centre which also houses the Cunningham Dax museum. And rather than filling the entire weekend the conference is held on the third Saturday in May. It’s webpage can be found here.
2017 marks the Freud Conference’s fortieth year and there will be a bit of a celebration. Hopefully there will be a gathering of the old hands, and, more than likely, a speech or three. But the business of the Conference will be its theme:
‘Psychoanalysis in the Technoculture Age: The Challenges of the Black Mirror ‘.
Speakers will be Allessandra Lemma who will be speaking from London and Dr Heather Wood. Here is some more detail.
“Two internationally renowned psychoanalysts will explore the impact of virtual reality on adolescent development and sense of body; the allure of internet sex and compulsive usage; and the increase in paedophilic sexual interests via the internet. From the broader to more specific view, psychoanalytic and socio-culturalissues over 40 years will be linked”. An initial mailout will occur in January.