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)