From 1939 as Japanese forces made their way south through China and the Asian peninsula towards Darwin, the Australian government became concerned about the vulnerability of the coastal cities to Japanese bombing.The plans, overseen at a Federal level by the Minister for National Emergency Services, Mr Heffron, were delegated to each state government. In New South Wales State Cabinet approved its plan on 31 December 1941. In Victoria, the southern most state on the mainland, planning was coordinated by the Department of Emergency Services. The plan was that in the event of a bombing raid on the coastal towns via enemy ships offshore, children up to the age of fifteen years would be evacuated from coastal towns to safety in the country. There was to be no compulsion about these plans, the government was quick to assure people. Parents could choose whether to have their children evacuated, or remain with them.
In his letter to the Victorian Department of Emergency Services dated 11 December 1941, Dr Paul Dane, Chairman of the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis, offered assistance from Dr Clara Lazar Geroe. A Hungarian trained psychoanalyst, Geroe was appointed to Membership of the British Psychoanalytical Society and accredited as a training analyst in July 1941. She had brought her focus on childhood development and education from Hungary. And through her connection with Anna Freud, by then living in London, she had learned of the realities of the evacuation program in London. Despite the danger from the bombings many children had remained with their families, Geroe wrote. The problem was the resulting stress and exhaustion, not to mention the trauma, faced by these children. Anna Freud’s Hampstead ‘Rest Home’ for children had been a solution. Staffed by teachers, social workers, child psychoanalysts and psychologists, Freud had created a space for children to recover and heal. On the basis of this knowledge Geroe urged that a similar institute be developed in Melbourne.
Geroe was able to present her proposal to the Evacuation Committee – but in the end there was no invasion or bombing in the southern regions of Australia. But Dane’s letter, and Geroe’s notes, both found in Geroe’s correspondence highlight the peril in which Australians felt themselves to be enduring in the early 1940s.