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A little note appears in the Australian Medical Journal – as part of the proceedings of the British Medical Association. The date is January 27 1945 and the page number is 93.. A correspondent want to know ‘what qualifications would be necessary before recognition would be granted to enable him to work in collaboration with a medical practitioner as a psychoanalyst’.

The reply was brief and to the point. ‘The Council stated that the holding of a medical degree would be essential’.

This little note marks medicine’s claim upon psychoanalysis in Australia in the mid twentieth century. It goes some way to answering the question about why its uptake was so slow. Of course, Freud wrote on the matter of the ’lay’ analyst. Ernest Jones, President of the British Psychoanalytical Society for many years preferred the medical influence even as the Society was constituted by a number of lay professionals – Anna Freud and Melanie Klein among them.

But I digress. The question for Australia is as much about the slow uptake of psychoanalysis as it is about who had the right to practice,

There is a view that the languid bushman, eschewing intellectualism, was hardly likely to consider psychoanalysis as something to pursue. And that in the quiet domesticity of urban Australia, so far from Europe, and real culture, psychoanalytic ideas were hardly likely to take hold.

Such a suggestion clearly affirms Russell Ward’s argument that the Bush Legend was just that.. a myth emerging from Settler Australia culture as it members grappled with a new and different environment so far from Home in Britain. Yearning and grief takes many forms, particularly if it is complicated by the ‘whispering’ thought that settlement had cost the original inhabitants their land.

This view of one’s fellow people- past ones -is rather thin, I think. That young white kids, living in the bush, and back blocks in the early to middle decades of the twentieth century, were making their way through schools and universities through scholarships certainly counters such ideas of anti – intellectualism. Their parents stepped aside for their kids education, shouldering the burden of the family farm while their kids studied or went off to boarding school. The Australasian Society for Philosophy and Psychology founded in 1923 held regular monthly meetings around Australia. It published a journal discussing philosophy, psychology and psychoanalysis for over two decades before the journal editors decided to focus on philosophy. By the end of the 1950s, psychoanalytic training was well enough established and taught in universities as well as the Australian Society of Psychoanalysts. The medical fraternity had relaxed enough to accept non medical professionals seeking professional training. Still, there was the sense psychoanalytic training was the province of an exclusive club – an uneasy inheritance, perhaps?

You don’t have to practice psychoanalysis to know about it, or be interested in its workings. . When the psychoanalyst and educationalist Susan Isaacs visited Australia in 1937, lecture halls across the country were filled to capacity when she spoke. She reached country women on the radio – possible a women broadcaster in Australia and not Britiin. Her ideas promulgated in the press, and taught at the University of Western Australia, prompted several young and talented women to seek opportunities for study in Britain and the United States. It was slow, as time is needed for youngsters to work their way through undergraduate years. But the British Council, a significant scholarship provider, enabled two young women to train as psychoanalysts in London. One of them, Ivy Bennett, returned in 1952 and establised the first lay psychoanalytic practice in Perth, Western Australia in 1953. She stayed for five years, returning to England, she said, for further qualification so as to stand up to medical professionals when she returned. Cecily de Monchaux, who left in 1947 decided to stay on, following her research interests and working to establish a psychoanalytic studies department at University College London. Ruth Thomas who left Australia in 1933 after eight years as a psychology lecturer at the University of Western Australia. This is the problem of the expatriate, the scholar, Ann Rees shows. There was not much for them to return to. Men, maybe, had a better time of it.

Psychoanalysis also had its place in literary circles even as it was explored, resisted, misunderstood, or not – and sometimes mocked!!! The Australian poet, Alec Hope’s 1942 poem, The Return from the Freudian Islands, ( Published in his ‘Selected Poems (1973), satirizes the ‘worship’that had come to surround Freudian ideas, likening these to imperial notions of civilizability. Hope clearly stands for poets and poetry if the venture of undestanding the human mind is to be accomplished. It’s biting satire, eventually imagining ‘ Saint Sigmund’ giving a lecture on his field. There is the discovery of Freud and the unconscious

For a time they thoroughly enjoyed/the brisk intolerance of the purified, In sects and schisms before The Holy Freud/Self-torn – while lesser saints were deified./

Till Faith, which never can let well alone, from heresy and counter heresy/Prompted the saint to bare beneath the bone/ The Ultimate Visceral Reality.

Long time he mused before the Sacred Id, Lomg prayed, before he finally began/ And, purged, impersonal, uninhibited, Produced at last The Basic Freudian Man.

And so Hope continues in this vein, in this poem of twenty, four-lined stanzas, reducing a body of ideas, arguing the case for poetry as the way to address emotional tensions in society and individual.

‘Sigmund, so that none of them should miss/ The beauty of the new world he had made,/ Explained the Triumph of Analysis:/Pimples and cramps now shed with pelt and thews,/ No dreams to fright, no visions to trouble them, For, where the death wish and self knowledge fuse, They had at last the human L.C.M…..

Here the saint paused, looking modestly at the ground/ And waited for their plaudits to begin./ And waited… There was nothing!. A faint dry sound/ As first a poet buttoned on his skin.

Clearly there is room for research about the way settler Australians construed themselves and about who talked with whom. Does Hope making a claim for his own discipline for understanding what makes us human, also point out how such matters can become siloed into groups, each defining their boundaries, and claim to knowledge?

As I write this I am reminded of Wilfrid Bion’s invocation of Toynbee’s concept of the ‘dominant minority’ in his 1948 paper, Psychiatry in a Time of Crisis. You will find it in the British Journal of Psychological Medicine. Bion describes Toynbee’s argument, that the ‘ailing civilization pays the penalty for its failing vitality by being disintegrated into a dominant minority, which rules with increasing oppressiveness but no longer leads, and a proletariat ( internal and external) which responds to this challenge by becoming conscious that it has a soul of its own and making up its mind to save its soul alive’.

More research is needed, particularly about the way ‘Medical men’, were positioned in mind twentieth century Settler Australian culture, thus able to assert their claim upon psychoanalytic knowledge. Perhaps it was about authority – and part of a broader debate about who, in fact, ruled in Australia. For alongside that little note in the Australian Medical Journal were other more immediate questions and discussions as the Australian Medical Profession was forced to share their space -with refugee doctors. There was also the curly question of socialized medicine which would, potentially, remove their right to practice as they wished.

Bion with his thoughts about the dominant minority, and Hope’s about the function of the poet in society, are addressing groups described by Bion as ‘psychiatrically disinherited’. It is possible for Society to be organised that way, Bion says. That people are prohibited access to their full emotional development, structured, socially, in such a way to prevent this. In what he called the Áge of Plastic, Hope critiqued the overvaluation of technological change splitting from emotion, as he reached to articulate the encessary taslk of restoring individuals or groups to a critical part of their inheritance. In 1966 Maurice Dunlevy, a critic for the Canberra Times described Hope’s mission:

From the beginning he has tried to reject its synthetic allurements; he has revealed the absurdity of its values and exoosed the quackery of its tribal psychologists, who have shown man’s soul as a bottled abortion.

He is ready to accept nothing at face value: My evening bus seeks out her north-west- passage/ And I my hero in the comic strip/. In every age the hero has taken ship/ Away from the Newer Deal, the Nobler message…

It’s seems Bion and Hope had a lot in common in their battle with the ‘establishment’.


Iron poet of the plastic age (1966, March 19). The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), p. 11. Retrieved January 9, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article105892384

W R Bion, Psychiatry in a time of crisis, British Journal of Medical Psychology, 21(2), 81-89.

AD Hope (1943), The return from the Freudian Islands, in AD Hope (ed,), (1973) Selected Poems, Sydney, Angus and Robertson: 11-13.