The Australasian Journal of Psychotherapy has just published my article about the history of psychoanalysis in Australia.
The Australasian Journal of Psychotherapy has just published my article about the history of psychoanalysis in Australia.
I have been tracking newspaper items about foundlings – newborns abandoned by their mother – from the late nineteenth into the early twentieth century. The state: New South Wales although I am sure the other states had similar matters to consider. Foundlings were newsworthy. This entry is not atypical but it is rather more fully reported than many such items. It was published in 1879.
A strange discovery was made on Saturday night at Ashfield, by a gentleman living near the Foundling Hospital, who found attached to the gate of his private residence a red carpet-bag containing a healthy-looking female child, apparently about 2 week old,wrapped in a piece of soft flannel. The other contents of the bag were a glass feeding-bottle and the following letter written in a neat female hand, and addressed to the matron of the Foundling Hospital:—
—Please to be kind to this dear little girl, for it is hard, hard, for me to part with her; but I am a poor girl and have not the strength to work for its support; but if things turn out better than they are at present I will send money for its maintenance. Please call her Hilda McCarthur, and a fond mother’s blessing will be your reward. For the present, I do wish it was in my power to keep the dear little lamb, and the great God above, who is the only witness to my sorrow at this moment, will forgive me for this cruel act; but I hope I may yet, perhaps, in after years, show her a mother’s care, for a mother’s love she has already. And now I once more beseech you to call her the name mentioned above, and to be kind to her, for she is very good. And I remain, my dear Madam,
— A mother in sad, sad trouble.” (The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954) Monday 7 July 1879 p 5).
One line of interpretation might be to consider the mother’s background – single, holding a secret, torn between her love for her baby and social expectations of her; hoping, vainly, most likely, that she might find a way to support her infant. Perhaps she was an educated lass, of the middle classes where education was more than basic reading and writing. She wanted a particular name for her child: what does that mean? In a society with so very few rights for single mothers, where illegitimacy was a mark of doom; a sign of inherited degeneracy, this mother was giving as much as she could to her child.
We can only imagine what might have happened next. Little Hilda would have been taken in and cared for, perhaps in a large nursery. Perhaps she was boarded out, Maybe her mother was able to find a position – as a servant or governess. It is clear though that she was one of many that the government of the day was turning its mind to – at the urging of a group of leading women and, indeed, if this report is indicative, sympathetic newspaper editors.
In 1881 New South Wales was one of the first of the Australian colonies to pass legislation making provision for state children to be boarded out – fostered – with families. The government, led by the venerable and colourful Henry Parkes, was influenced by a group of women – including Lady Mary Windeyer whose concern for the well being of orphans and foundlings was awakened by British reformer Florence Davenport Hill through her friendship with South Australian woman reformer, Caroline Clark. Hill had written of children living in workhouse and barrack style conditions, their uniformity, the subsequent loss of individuality and the ‘idiocy’ resulting from lack of parental care and bonding. Caroline Clark whose advocacy of boarding out also determined the direction of South Australian government policy. In her little book published in 1907: ‘State Children in Australia’ South Australian author, reformer and also a friend of Caroline Clarke, Catherine Helen Spence wrote of the value of boarding out for these abandoned children. Not only was their vitality apparent but the bonds formed with their foster families continued beyond these formal arrangements. Far better, she affirmed, for the stability of the state.
Hill, Clark and Spence all argued for the contribution of environmental factors as these interacted with inherited traits. They challenged popular notions of abandoned and illegitimate children being of inferior genetic stock – a position affirmed by American sociologist Richard Dugdale in his 1877 study of five generations of a New York family – which he called the Jukes family. Seeking to understand the origins and intergenerational transmission of ‘crime and dissipation’ Dugdale, I suggest, affirmed the importance of environmental factors in early infant development… traces of thought taken up by Freud and later theorists of the infant mind: D W Winnicott and John Bowlby.
It looks tedious at first. Part of the dry stuff that goes into academic journals detailing nuances of cultural development and debate. Not that I object as such: I research and write history in my spare time. But the fight, in 1911 over doctrine between the Rector of All Saints Church in Brisbane, Douglas Price, and the Anglican Archbishop of Queensland, St Clair George Alfred Donaldson that threatened to diminish, if not extinguish Donaldson’s mission and authority is the stuff of drama and tragedy.The entire event was reported across the nation. It was the subject of a number of letters to the editor as observers struggled with the nature of Canon Law, the divinity of Christ and persons. For Price’s contention, that the divine rests within us all refused the divinity of God in and of itself. The Archbishop did not agree and asked for Price’s resignation at his own convenience. On 10 January 1911 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Archdeacon had stepped in to force Price’s immediate resignation.
Price was followed by a number of his congregation who eventually invited him to head a new church – the modernists. He eventually died in 1916. His followers attempted to keep the flame alive through a series of memorial lectures held between 1920 and 1924. After that he faded into obscurity.
Price was a writer, too. He published his sermons along with several novels in which he attempted to explore the mind of his subjects. One of a Crowd: The Story of a Queensland Girl Drawn Mainly From Life, published, it seems, just before his death in 1916, explores the nature of vocation and mission. It is a highly sympathetic portrait of a young woman finding her way – within herself – in contrast with those expectations of women were frequently limited to marriage and motherhood. He begins with Karen Petri, a child orphaned and institutionalised at the age of five. But before this point she had already learned a central lesson as Price vividly portrays in this argument between two small children. Here he is also granting consciousness to small children – a new thing in those days – as well as his intention to study the growth of a young woman’s mind through her emotional experiences. Nature has its own place in Price’s work; its place is akin to Sophocles Greek chorus, explaining moods, moving the story forward. We live in relation to nature within and without. This is Price’s first chapter – in full.
It was her birthday, and she was three years old. The full tide of the day had come, and Noon, weary but victorious, lay basking in the garden, while the sun yawned lazily over the world, sleepy with sunshine, dreaming its dream of creaseless, incredible blue.
On this first day of her memories Karen Petri sat in the garden, all among the yellow daisies which June had dipped so lavishly in liquid gold. A little lizard, lithe and cunning, looked at her cautiously as it sunned its sacred body in the light. But she paid no heed to the lizard, she had something more interesting to do. She was singing softly to herself, and making imaginary tea in an old cracked teapot filled to the brim with sulphur coloured sand.
On either side of the teapot there were groups of quaint Chinamen everlastingly engaged in the drinking of invisible tea. Time wrote no wrinkle on their brows, nor as yet had aught disturbed the even tenor of their enamelled plasticity. Nevertheless, the Finger of Fate caught even now at the threads of their blameless existence.
Within the teapot’s glossy depths there was something cabalistic, occult; it was a well of mystery, lit by flashes of rare colour and richness of shade, with a glassy polish smoother even than the child’s own skin. Doubtless some fairy dwelt within this burnished cavern, by whose enchantments silver water was transmuted into amber tea.
Karen loved her teapot better than any doll, and upon rare occasions when she could surreptitiously fill it with real water her delight knew no bounds.
‘Tea, tea, beautiful tea,’ she sang; and the breeze, drunk with pollen, caught her words contemptuously and scattered them into the air. Presently a step – O eyes of me! – a stranger: a small boy in a sailor suit, with a pink pugnose and a face flecked with freckles. His mother was calling on hers, and had bid him ‘run away and play’. He ran.
The gilded flowers beckoned him mysteriously, the brown bees sang their sweet songs of toil, the white fire fell from the sun, overhead a bird was calling to its mate; but the boy cared for none of these things.
He had secured a stone to sling at a butterfly when, suddenly he saw Karen. Their eyes met, and fell, and met again. Both were dumb, and the Spirit of Shyness sheltered them for a time. The Curiosity entered the garden, and whispered slyly to the boy.
‘What you got?’ he demanded.
‘Teapot’, she replied.
‘Give ‘um me’.
‘Give ‘um me, I tell you. I’m older than you, an’ if you don’t I’ll grab it’.
‘You shan’t! You mustn’t touch it! Mine!’ Greed and fear began to form in their minds like hail in the heavens ready to fall.
The boy made a swoop, and Karen fled with her treasure clasped tightly in her hands.
In and out among the bushes he chased her impetuously, till her foot caught on a stone and she fell to the ground, winning scars on her forehead which she would carry to the grave. The teapot was shivered into nine hundred and ninety-nine pieces; its destiny was fulfilled and the Chinamen at last broke up their age-long party.
Then blood, screams, tears, hurrying footsteps and general consternation – while flowers looked coyly at the bees and the leaves murmured lovingly to the breeze, and the sun shone benignantly amid the everlasting splendour of the sky, caring no more for Karen and her woes than for the fly in the tent of the spider, or the bird in the clutches of the hawk.
”Tis ever so’. Even our prettiest dolls are stuffed with sawdust. We cling to things that make us happy till someone stronger than ourselves snatches them from us, or causes us to shatter them to bits.
Thus did Karen first encounter Ahriman, all beneath the shining of the sun.
Karen is orphaned and institutionalised – subject to the whims of adults for whom she works as a servant before she enters a convent – for a time. Her musical ability – her singing and playing the piano sustain her as she leaves the religious life and moves to the city to work and music lessons. Price reveals the human underside of the religious life – Karen is no more a servant to the Mother Superior and her assistant than she was before. After an overseas voyage to London with them she is sent back to Australia, alone, although she befriends the author on this return journey. Finally there is love and marriage and retreat to an idyllic Garden of Eden island in Northern Queensland. Still, Karen struggles…
She had made so many changes, had been uprooted so often before, that she felt confident of being able to adapt herself to the new conditions. Love had brought her an immense happiness, but would it really solve the secret of life? Already she was conscious there was a great part of herself which she could not give to the impetuous Basil, and that with some of her sympathies and thoughts he would probably have but little sympathy.
This troubled her a good deal, for in the books she had read, love was pictured as leading to a perfect understanding, and she wondered whether she herself were at fault. The sacrifice of a possible artistic career had seemed to her no light thing, but Basil had waved it aside almost unfeelingly. He appeared, man-like, to regard himself as her deliverer, whereas to her it was an offering she had made solely for his sake.
But what did these things matter in the presence of the great dream of love? Doubtless they were not very important; nevertheless they were present as a slight dischord, like the occasional whizzing of the wire on the G string, when some masterpiece is played on the violin. Fortunately this feeling was only audible to herself. Never for a moment did she contemplate speaking of it to Basil.
Karen’s inner vitality remains hidden, even as she and her husband, explore the physical bounds of their small island. It is a ‘conceit’, a device among many that occur in this book as Price develops his theme – the nature of the divine within – that a storm occurs…when Basil, along with a group of Aboriginal fisherman, disappear in a huge storm while out at sea. Karen is left entirely alone. The dead body of a wood-pigeon washes at her feet.
Then it was that she remembered her loneliness upon the island. basil, perhaps might never come back. At first she felt stunned and incapable of realisation. She almost wanted to laugh.
Karen passes through periods of fear, desolation. She is terrified her mind will give way before reaching the solace of tears before reaching a realisation, and perhaps Price’s central thesis:
Were all her prayers and her tears emptied into bottomless space, and cast like dead lumber into the abyss? No. No. She knew better than that. Somewhere she had read that the true God is within the wise man’s heart. If that were so, she must try to be brave, for help was within herself, she must not give way to outrageous fears.
With a great effort of the will she tried to control her mind. ‘Come, come’, she said to herself, “I will not be a fool. I will be brave and practical and wise. Whatever happens, I can face it calmly, and just now I was acting like a silly child’.
Almost immediately she became conscious of her strength, and though she still had to hold back her fears as with an almost physical force, she slowly gained the mastery over herself, and by sheer commonsense beat back the thickest battalions of dismay.
The power to help ourselves is ever within, That night she discovered her strength, Robbed of every other consolation, she found the spirit of true divinity in herself. It was then, in a sense, that she came of age; and she knew she could never again feel so helpless as hitherto. It is only in the soul that great things happen, and some of us have to be dipped in the deepest pits of calamity before we discover the fortitude of our real and innermost self. After that discovery we are never quite so feeble again.
Perhaps from the little we know of Price’s story this is autobiographical. Perhaps it is a sermon, veiled as a novel, designed for posterity, outside the censorship of the good bishop. Something beautiful shattered.
By the early 1920s public interest in psychoanalysis in Australia was broad, and certainly not restricted to medical circles. The president of the Victorian branch of the British Medical Association, Dr L.S. Latham used his retiring speech to warn that psychoanalysis should not be utilised indiscriminately. At the very least, he argued, psychoanalysis should be practised ‘under skilled medical direction’. It is clear that there was sufficient interest for the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald to publish Latham’s speech in the edition of 1 January 1924. Here is the text:
“The widespread and general interest in psycho-analysis is to be viewed with some concern. I am anxious not to indulge in cheap criticism, but it may be pointed out (what should be clear to anyone who has practised with any concentration psycho- logical method of introspection) that there are many pitfalls to be avoided in a logical tracing out of psychological associations. Follow a train of thought in your own mind and the associations are frequently most difficult to connect. The ideas would appear to be associated in time, but in little else.
Psycho-analysis affords by the “word association tests” a valuable means of examination of mind and determining the lines along which association tends to occur, but recognition of the occasional value of this method is consistent with the view that it should be but rarely applied, and that the Freudian symbolic interpretation of many phenomena thus observed need not be endorsed. The efforts of ancient philologists In derivations such as faba, fabaricus (fab-aricot-us) (h) aricot, and mus muris (mu-rat-us) rat, are ingenuous and simple in comparison with some of the psycho-analytic symbolisms.
Probably the whole profession makes use from time to time of suggestion, and many of our patients need above all things inspiration or, it may be, comfort, and these constitute a form of psycho-therapy.
It should be strongly emphasised that In cases of nervous disease psycho-analytic methods should not be employed by non-medical exponents alone, even though they may be expert psychologists, for it is necessary before application of such methods that the presence of organic disease liable to be aggravated by the employment of such methods be first excluded. Such conditions aro encephalitis and other inflam- matory states. Of course, the ideal method would be that persons suitable for this method of investigation should be handled by an expert psychologist in association with skilled medical direction”.
The National Library’s digitized newspaper collection has thrown up another gem worthy of further pursuit. On 4 July 1943 Perth’s Sunday Times reported discussions between the British Medical Association, the Perth Branch headed by Dr Roberta Jull, and the University of Western Australia about developing psychoanalytic training in that state. Australian cricketer turned psychotherapist, Bill McRrae, was another mover. McRae had returned to Western Australia three years beforehand after studying psychoanalysis in the United States. Perth, the capital of Western Australia is a long way from Australia’s eastern capitals. It was rare enough for news of the west to reach the east. Despite its isolation Perth’s intellectual and cultural climate was thriving. Clearly.
Members of the British Medical Association were keen to have psychoanalysis incorporated into the teaching of psychology, Perth’s Sunday Times reported, ‘so that qualified analysts’ might work alongside members of the medical profession. There was a dream: to make Perth the centre of psychoanalytic practice in the Southern Hemisphere. McRae, we learn, had established good relations with Perth’s medical fraternity. The Adult Education Board had invited him to give a lecture series: “The Foundations of Behaviour” – described as ‘outstandingly successful’ with an enrolment of 297. Prior to the lecture, Professor Fowler, head of the Psychology Department had raised a question with the University Senate. McRae’s course was not about psychology,as its title implied he said, but psychoanalysis. The Senate regarded the matter as unimportant. Two hundred and twenty-two pounds was not to be sneezed at! McRae’s lecture series was published as a book in 1945.
The vision for this new psychoanalysis – was it McRae’s? – included a school with analytically trained teachers for students from kindergarten level through to leaving. There was to be adult and parent education – analytically orientated – a clinic conducted on a not-for-profit basis and, eventually a Psychoanalytic Institute for the training of practitioners.
Perhaps McRae was on a mission? Another article appeared in the press three weeks later. McRae’s lecture ‘How Psychoanalysis Can Help Children’ given to the Women’s Services Guild. Here, McRae told his audience that the most important phase of life was the child’s relationship with its mother. He
The fulcrum of the science centred around the proven fact that in the first few years of life, a child developed a goal, or an attitude towards his environment [that remained through life]. This meant that if there were any difficulties, causes were traced to his early life.
‘A child developed along two lines,’ Mr McRae was reported as saying.Firstly, he became confident in facing life and its problems, and secondly he viewed life with pessimism, or a fear to face life. The latter attitude, he said, developed a strategy of how to live and at the same time evade life.
So resulted such traits as selfconsciousness, shyness, depression, irritability and the individual who no matter what he took on, invariably failed. In other words, life was a threat and the mind developed a capacity to avoid things that were un pleasant. ‘So we find people who do not make a success of marriage, of getting on with other people, and who fail in their chosen task,’ said Mr McRae. A favourite strategy the mind used was to cause a person to become helpless, so that he tried to shift responsibility on to other people.
McRae added: ‘By giving schoolteachers, parents, social workers an opportunity of psychologically understanding the children they cared for, clinics would not be needed. But as this was rather an ambitious undertaking, we had to realise the need for psychological clinics with a stress on psycho-analysis’.
But this was war-time – fighting overseas and the fate of soldiers at war was also on peoples’ minds. McRae’s idea seems to have faded far from sight under the weight of it all…
Perhaps McRae eventually got his wish, after a fashion. His biographer, Marion Dixon, recounts that, after a stint in Zurich at the C. G. Jung-Institut in 1958-59, he was persuaded by the orthopaedic surgeon George Bedbrook and Archbishop George Appleton of Perth to set up a three-year training programme in psychotherapeutic methods for doctors and clergymen.
William McRae: Published Works
About Ourselves and Others, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1941.
Sex, Love and Marriage: Psychological Factors, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1941.
The Psychology of Nervousness, Melbourne,Oxford University Press, 1941.
Adventures in Self-Understanding, Melbourne, The Book Depot. (1945)
The Foundations of Behaviour, Melbourne, Oxford University Press,1945
My Pain is Real ( 1968)
The basis of this blog, Freud in Oceania, is the influence of Freud’s ideas within Australian culture and history. There has been some comment in the Australian Press that La Trobe University, my alma mater, had pulled Australian History this year due to low enrolments. It seems that, to the contrary, the subject is alive and well, building on the work of creative historians such as John Hirst, Richard Broome and Marilyn Lake among others. How Australia has found its way into the modern world is an extremely complex story. I am reblogging this post from the La Trobe University Bulletin for your interest.
Will our next generation end up knowing enough about the land they live in and what it means to be Australian?
That question has become an early contender in public debate about the possible long-term impact of student course choices under the new demand-driven higher education system.
While he admits Australian history may no longer be the most popular area with some of today’s students, La Trobe Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, Tim Murray says: ‘It is important for us as a nation that students have a good grasp of our history’.
The challenge for educators, he adds, is to change any such perceptions by redesigning courses that make Australian history more relevant for students in the 21st century.
And La Trobe – which has one of the leading higher education history programs in the country –remains committed to achieving that. Despite recent concerns, first year numbers are holding…
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