The ‘dominant minority’: doctors, poets, and psychoanalysis: 1940s Australia


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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

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.

The knitting needle and a new life – Dr Suzanna Taryan, Melbourne, Australia


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When I was a little girl in Budapest, one of my father’s prize possessions ( along with ‘Mari neni’, the skull sitting on our bookshelf) was a globe of the earth with a light in it. I loved that globe. ‘See just here, if you put a knitting needle in it from Hungary, it will come out in New Zealand,’said Dad. He claimed that New Zealand was a land of eternal spring, geysers and naked Maoris, and then he remarked, ‘That is where I would like to go‘ – as far away from the hated Communism of the 1950s, as possible. ( Suzanna Taryan, 2020, p. 11).

There are all sorts of ways to make history. This book by Suzanna Taryan is about the living and the writing of it – from her Hungarian childhood, her escape to New Zealand with her parents, and eventually her role in the early establishment of the professional branch in psychiatry, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, and Infant Mental Health at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne Australia. Her story is part of the larger refugee story – as Settler Australia and New Zealand evolved from Britishness to becoming culturally diverse nations – and all that this might mean.

I had interviewed Suzanna for my Clara Geroe project late in 2019, before the pandemic. Among other matters I am seeking to understand the Hungarian emigre experience – and its influence on the development of the psychoanalytic culture in Australia. Suzanna, just ten years old when the Hungarian Uprising occurred in October 1956, was happy to oblige. And in a sense this book, written for her family, signals the completion of her own personal project, a task triggered by my interest. She has a story to tell.

At the time of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 Suzanna and her parents were living in an apartment next door to the AVO – the secret police building in Budapest. They did not want for an electricity supply… other Budapest households were apparently not so endowed. But when the people marched on the AVO building and dragged the police out onto the streets, and killed them, Suzanna and her family saw too much. Enough to decide to escape. Suzanna’s parents had experienced enough during the war. Her mother’s family perished in Budapest at the hands of the Hungarian fascists when the Russians swept in to liberate Budapest in 1944. Her father had spent time in a forced labour battalion. Of the Russians, Suzanna recounted her father’s words: “The Liberators forgot to leave after the war”. He opposed anything to do with Communism. Even though as he explained to his daughter, knowledge of that opposition had to remain within the walls of the family. Outwardly there would be conformity.

I have come to admire this man, Suzanna’s father. I like his wisdom and chutzpah! He was a survivor. He saved Suzanna’s mother’s life. I hope someone will make a movie about him.

And so the family escaped from Hungary, late in December 1956. They took buses and trains. They walked, with a few possessions and clothes stashed in backpacks, from Budapest all the way to the border between Hungary and Austria. Ten years old Suzanna carried the precious brew intended for bribes along the way. They tramped through deep snow, lost their money to unscrupulous guides, walked around in circles in darkness and eventually were found by Austrian people who provided shelter, food, and rest before the bus trip to Vienna.

Then there was the journey from Vienna to New Zealand where the family settled, and, eventually for Suzanna, Australia -all told through vignettes that mirror the people and culture of the time – their Britishness, smug superiority and their shock at Suzanna’s difference. There is Suzanna going to school without knowledge of English, being put into a class lower than her ability, shooting to the top and eventually making her way to medical school in New Zealand before undertaking psychiatry training in Melbourne. Suzanna tells her story through short descriptions of her encounters with senior professionals, the seminal moments in her life. Her battle to become a child psychiatry trainee – she had to qualify as a psychiatrist first – is told with wry humor as she overcomes one hurdle after another. Dr R, Director of Psychiatry at the Royal Children’s Hospital had put the ‘no vacancy‘ sign up when Suzanna applied for a registrarship there. She ended up at Prince Henry’s Hospital then in St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Her cultural difference was one matter to contend with. There was also the assumption of male superiority… has it gone away?

There are personal stories along the way, marriage, family, illness – all the things that constitute a life. Suzanna finally makes it to a consultant psychiatry job at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. She is appointed to the Craniofacial unit alongside Dr L, the Chief Psychologist. Together they became pioneers. They built a body of experience and literature, about early parenthood of children born with facial deformities. It is creative, ground breaking work as the two devise research projects, observational studies of mother infant interactions, write it up and publish articles. Their collaboration is worthy of further study – it was part of the early development of the Infant Mental Health unit at the Children’s. Suzanna also lectured in this field at international conferences – part of the team brokering Australia’s reputation world wide.

I spent a brief period at the Children’s early in my professional career and was aware of this work, albeit from a distance. Dr L was also very influenced by the psychoanalyst Dr Clara Geroe during the 1950s.

This little book by Suzanna is a about courage, luck, and fighting to make opportunities happen despite the odds. It is an excellent contribution to the understanding of the Antipodean refugee story, and the Australian development of international mental health practice for infants. If you wish to obtain a copy of Suzanna’s book please send an email to

Imperial fossils, a piece of enlightenment, and a small triumph: a cathedral adventure – OR – Do statues float?


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During our British sojourn in September 2019 we trecked from Durham to Carlisle to visit the cathedral there. Carlisle Cathedral, is the seat of the Anglican Bishop of Cumbria. Wikipedia tells me it was founded as an Augustin priory and became a cathedral in 1133. It is also the second smallest cathedral in the British Isles and renowned for its ancient stone choir and for its vaulted blue ceiling.

BBC Choral Evensong: Carlisle Cathedral 1985 (Andrew Seivewright ...

Our guides there have told us two stories about this deep blue ceiling. The first is that it is a restoration of the Cathedral’s medieval ceiling. The second is that it is a Victorian decoration. We await the true story.

Cathedrals are important. A journey along their walls, floors and rooms tell us about the people who lived in the city in times past. It is about displays of family wealth and power, as well as grief, loss, and the community. Middle class Britain was built, for some, on eighteenth century slavery, or the monies realised with emancipation. The Church, particularly, the Anglican Church, was its expression. The Anglican Church was also a centre of Missionary activity at home and abroad.

It is probably not the done thing to climb up onto the lectern from where the minister preaches. But there was no apparent barrier. It seemed OK. The result was my letter to the Bishop and a reply from the Dean of the Cathedral.

My letter:

30 May 2020

Dear Lord Bishop

I visited Carlisle Cathedral during September 2019… my second visit from Australia, and a return visit  after discovering the Cathedral in 2018….I am interested in the way the Church represents itself to the people and is also an expression of contemporary culture.

During my visit to the cathedral last year I chanced to clamber up to the lectern from which the minister preaches. Upon this was a document, an account of the Britishers marvelous defeat of a rebellious African tribe during the nineteenth century. It was good British imperial stuff… extolling the virtues of the British Empire and all that.

Historiography has moved on. Historians today are immersed in the darker side of Empire. They are thinking about and exploring the appropriation of land and culture of indigenous people. They want to understand what the African, and indeed, indigenous people, were fighting for. And they are finding that the experience of invasion and objections to it to be valid concerns. 

The document on your lectern in 2019 is of historical value for its triumphalist story of empire. We need to know that this is what people of the Empire actually thought to be the truth. And we need to examine why this was so. Imperialism and colonialism are complex issues. Indeed for as many triumphalist stories of Britain’s place in the world as there are, including the one on your lectern, there are many documents querying these stories if not the the basis upon which Empire was built.

I suggest that the document on your lectern needs to remain but to be placed alongside a more  critical, if not revisionist, account of the very destructive activities of missionaries and others in places like Africa and India. My fear is that by not doing so the members of the Cathedral will show themselves to be locked in the past, and maintaining the nineteenth century/ early twentieth century phantasy that all is right with the world as long it is British – and white.

I leave this for your consideration and look forward to your reply”.

The Dean of Carlisle Cathedral replied on 18th June 2020.

Here is the text.

“Your email to the Bishop of Carlisle has been forwarded to me as the person responsible for Carlisle Cathedral. I am very grateful to you for writing as you have done. I am glad you climbed into the lectern and took time to read the notice that customarily rests there.

I have made enquiries. I understand that the text on display is the one received and put in place here when the lectern was lent to the Cathedral by Ivegill parish in 2003. It has not been reviewed since –not least, perhaps, because when the clergy mount the steps of the lectern to read a lesson at one of our services, a full size bible is in place that covers the paper with the notice on it.Your letter reaches me at a very timely moment. Across this nation, and much more widely, an important debate is running which shows us how important it is, as you suggest, to continue to interrogate the way the past is understood and interpreted.

Your helpful comments ensure that we will think again about this and any notice we have on display and how it might be interpreted. The Cathedral Chapter does not want to be thought to be locked in the past or to maintain a view of imperialism and colonialism which many used to hold as you set out in your email. I shall have time do this work before the Cathedral opens to the public again after the restrictions we have been observing during the Corona virus pandemic”.

Good for them!!

‘The continual inner search: the life of Roy Winn’ – Australia’s first practicing medical psychoanalyst (1890-1963)



Margaret Winn (2020) The continual inner search: the life of Roy Winn, Melbourne, Kerr Books.


Margaret Winn, Roy’s grand daughter, has compiled this biography, published by Kerr Books in Melbourne in 2020. It is a labour of love, a task that has consumed a number of years, off and on. Margaret has sought to understand the rather remote figure of her grandfather who died in 1963, when she was 11 years old. He was not very interested in what she had to say, she recalls. But he was remembered by his psychoanalytic colleagues for his integrity and his contribution to the development of psychoanalysis in this country. This book, written for her family, is also Margaret Winn’s contribution to the history of psychoanalysis in this country.

Roy was born into a privileged family in Newcastle, New South Wales in 1890. He was the third of four sons of William and Janet Winn and a member of a leading, ‘God fearing’ family, members of the Primitive Methodist Church. His father and uncle Isaac Winn were active in church affairs but are also remembered for Winn’s Ptd Ltd, a super emporium store located in the middle of Newcastle. William Winn the deputy president of the Temperance Society – and young Roy took the pledge at the age of seven. Not unusual for young children in this age of evangelical Christianity. As a young man Roy wanted to be a medical missionary – the Australian Methodist Church had a mission in Fiji.

A significant section of the book is devoted to Winn’s war service… from his decision to sign up as a Medical Officer in 1915 until the war’s end. Winn lasted until the end of the war. After losing his foot towards the end of the war, he returned home and, eventually found his way to psychoanalysis. Reg Ellery, another psychiatrist interested in psychoanalysis, returned home at his own expense within a year of signing up. Winn’s Melbourne colleague, Paul Dane struggled with illness contracted in the field. And, like Winn, went on to use his war service in his later work with veterans.For her grandfather’s story Margaret Winn has consulted historians and libraries to trace her grandfather’s path through the war. Winn’s novelised version, ‘Men may rise’, is her guide. She thus contributes an account to the increasing pile of such family histories to the Australian historiography of war… and the foundation pile for historians of psychoanalysis in this country. For it is in Winn’s reflections, recorded in Men May Rise, that he comes to understand that he is both doctor and patient.

In 1920, newly married and with a child in tow, Winn and his wife travelled to England for Winn’s analysis with Robert Riggall, a member of the recently formed British Psychoanalytical Society. He returned to Australia in 1922 and tried to interest colleagues in the application of psychoanalysis to medical work. It did not work out and, in 1931, Winn left hospital practice altogether, and established his own practice in Macquarie Street Sydney. Margaret Winn also notes that her grandfather was not a trained psychoanalyst: he made use of what he had learned through his own analysis and reading, with patients. He was appointed as an Associate of the British Psychoanalytical Society in 1935.

Winn was actively involved in the effort to bring European Analysts to Australia during the 1930s. He was a liaison point for Ernest Jones in London, who, in one of the twentieth century’s great rescue efforts, found places in the United States, Britain and in some Dominion countries for a large number of psychoanalysts potentially trapped in Europe as the Nazis took control. Alone, and together with a number of leading figures in the Australian milieu of that time, lobbied the Australian government for their admission. Of the six who applied, only two succeeded: Andrew Peto and Elisabeth Kardos who were granted visas late in 1939. They decided not to emigrate. Clara Geroe, granted a visa with her husband, arrived in March 1940 and was subsequently appointed as Australia’s first training analyst through the British Psychoanalytical Society. Winn continued as an Associate until 1952. At this point he funded the establishment of the Sydney Institute of Psychoanalysis. By then Andrew Peto had arrived and, like Geroe, was working as a training analyst.

It was one of Winn’s colleagues, Janet Neild, who referred to the ”continual inner search’ that he carried through his life. This may have been his public face, or his working persona, or the place where he could carry out his own internal mission. Margaret Winn, a family member with a different experience of Roy, wants to understand her grandfather’s mind, as much as she can. She speculates about his ‘autistic’ side: wondering whether this contributes to him being something of an ‘outsider’ – and thus able to strike out on his own. ‘I am not sure he was autistic’, Margaret Winn wrote to me in an email. ‘ He might be the source of the genetic thread to later generations who do manifest high functioning autistic characteristics’. This is, after all, for the family’s understanding.

In another, professional, sphere, Roy Winn’s contribution is important for Australian psychoanalysis. He helped bring it into the medical fold and held its place within Sydney’s medical world. In a sense his work and dedication to seeing psychoanalysis established in this country was his quiet – and greatest- achievement.

On Clara Lazar Geroe’s personal library: thinking about biography


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And so Clara Geroe’s personal library landed in my storage unit. Her son’s family home is being cleared for sale in due course. He kept everything and now all is on its way to a new home. Some of it was distributed to her patients by Clara’s husband, Willi, after her death. He invited each to choose a book as a memento.

Libraries are personal collections of a life: books are connected with moments, an outcome of a small story that resulted in the decision to purchase, or borrow, a book. They are clues to a conversation, or a private moment. It is amazing to learn that Clara seems to have liked detective fiction. Or that she had an eye for political cartoons – at least she did when she visited Britain in 1961. There is a collection of books focussing on events during the holocaust – including an English edition of George Faludi, a Hungarian poet and essayist’s account of his experiences during the war years. In Australia, a thoughtful purchase made during her holiday in Queensland, was Arthur Groom’s 1949 One mountain after another – a travel book, perhaps, but also a commentary on settler’s role in indigenous dispossession, and the environment.

Clara’s professional books date from the early 1920s when she was doing her medical training. And so we find a handbook on medicines and mixes in Hungarian. She was interested in psychosomatics, was a student of Pal Ranschberg and contributed a paper to the neurology section of Ranschberg’s Fetschrift: Psychologische Beobachtungen bei Hyperventilationsversuchen an Epileptiken : Psychological observations on hyperventilation experiments on epileptics ( Google translate). Leopold Szondi was also a contributor to this section with a paper: Uber die klinische und pathogenetische Zweiteilung der Neurasthenie – in English, About the clinical and pathogenic division of of neurasthenia. It is worth noting that by 1928 when the Fetschrift was held, Clara was undertaking her psychoanalytic training. That three of the four sections of the Fetschrift focussed on Modern experimental psychology, Child psychology and pedagogy, and child psychotherapy, show that this arena of psychology was well developed when she decided to focus on child analysis and pedagogy during the 1930s. She brought her collection of Hungarian journals in this field with her to Australia in 1940, anticipating that she would develop this area of practice.

Scattered through the collection along with articles in Hungarian – including papers gifted to Szondi and to herself – how did she come by Szondi’s copy? – are various psychoanalytic journals from the 1940s. Possibly they landed on her book case and stayed for ever: The British Journal of Medical Psychology and The International Review of Psychoanalysis, among them. Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham’s publication: on Children and War – in German. And of course Sandler’s final publication of the child psychology indexing committee. Some publications by Freud: Moses and Monotheism, and another of his selected essays, gifted by Kata Lev,y are also there. Towards the end of her life, she seems to have become interested in feminist literature although these books are not signed as being hers. Then there is Bowlby, Melanie Klein, Klein and Riviere, Bettelheim, and even Russian text – in English – on Pavlovian Psychology published in 1950. This is an important book for our understanding of the Stalinization of psychology in Hungary as well as the USSR. And more… Clara was interested in socialist thought. She was also intrigued by anthropology.

A most interesting item among all of this is the 1935 copy of the International Psychoanalytic Association Membership list. There are no representatives from Australia in the British section although Mary Barkas, from New Zealand, who became an Associate in 1923, is listed. Roy Coupland Winn from Sydney was either about to become an Associate, or was too late for the listing. In the Hungarian section Clara Lazar ( she did not use her married name) is listed as a full member of the Hungarian Psychoanalytical Society alongside 20 other full members – among them the Balints, the Levys, Vilma Kovacs, Hermann, Hollos, Almasy, Geza Roheim. Two Associates, Edit Gyomeroi and Maria Kircz-Takasz are listed. Endre Peto who emigrated to Australia in 1949, and Erszebet Kardos are absent… perhaps they were still in training.

These books are the relicts of a life, indicative of the complexity for a biographer – neither to rehabilitate nor damn, but to understand how a person represented herself to herself and others, within the realm of her particular social unconscious.

When the building burned down… Drummond Street Relationship Centre, Melbourne, 2000-2001 OR… Some questions about managing the frame in the time of Covid.


In these terrible days of Covid19,  when everything is under threat this little bit of history from my days at Drummond Street Relationship Centre in Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria comes to my mind.  “Drummond Street” formerly known as the Citizen’s Welfare Service of Victoria and, before that, as the Melbourne branch of the Charity Organisation Society of London,, has a long history of psychoanalytic work with couples and individuals. From the late 1970s Social  Workers were the main providers. Many of them were supported by Melbourne’s psychoanalytic community including members of the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis.

One sunny day at the end of a long summer, just as the universities were about to open,  a terrible event occurred… and one that challenged what I had been taught about the management of the psychoanalytic frame… How does one think when the building in which one works is burned down. How do people cope when they have lost their space? I put this reflection forward for consideration… not because I know the answers. But this is what I remember of what was in my mind, then…


In late February 2000, at 9.00 am one Tuesday morning, I arrived at my workplace, a government funded counselling and therapy organization, to find that a fire had destroyed its interior overnight. I can still recall the fire engines. The boss was looking rather stunned and people from everywhere had gathered around. My precious notes, preparation for a couple therapy training course I was presenting that afternoon were trapped in my office on the third floor…There was not a chance that I would be allowed in. The stairs were falling down.

The organization’s employees were clinicians practicing psychoanalytic couple and individual psychotherapy. The damage was extensive. The buildings were not usable for over a year while repair work was carried out. ‘Drummond Street’ was a large three storey mansion created from three conjoined  terrace houses  built during the 1890s Melbourne property boom. They were linked together by a corridor. The arsonists had planned their hit well. They had set the fire where it would do the most damage.  I do not know the motive. My colleagues and I fantasized about a neighborhood dispute over a car park at the back of the building. At the very least the Fire was a massive intrusion into the therapeutic space we had all developed with patients. It is not as if the reality of the event could not be spoken about. We also had to continue to work with our patients through this disaster.

Be that as it may. In the weeks before we were able to secure another building for our work the fire raised a question for all of us… What was the organization? What is the therapeutic space? Where is it located? What is the nature of the space between patient and therapist/ analyst? And what is the relation of the physical space of the consulting room to the interior world created by the patient and analyst together? For is it that relationship and the meaning of it for the patient, and the analyst,  the real phenomenon that can bring relief and change. My analyst at this time was very helpful as I delineated these issues for myself. Had the organization died in the fire? Or not? There were some in my collegial group who said it did. Was the organization the building? And what happens when there is no building, or physical space, a consulting room, to symbolize the analytic relationship?

What did analysts do in the London Blitz when their buildings were damaged if not obliterated? Today the virus confronts us with similar questions as we quarantine ourselves and our practices and go online.

The theories we use these days have emerged from experience… Some people are not gifted with the capacity for theory…others are… it is something that Melanie Klein pointed out.

In these troubled times when so much is at stake as the virus moves through our communities as much as we try to prevent it… it offers an opportunity to explore this question about where, and how, psychoanalysis is located and managed.

Foraging in the Geroe archive: Finding Aileen Palmer’s lost thesis


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Archives are relicts of a life. Bits of paper, shopping lists, advertising fliers for stoves, oil heaters and cars, personal messages and notes, are clues to the day in day out matters that people think about. Clara Geroe’s archive has many such things, all tossed into a suitcase and left for posterity. One smiles to discover a note in Geroe’s handwriting scrawled upon the back of some learned paper:  ‘Would you like to dine with us tonight?’ To whom was it addressed? Probably the person was sitting next to her, both of them lulled into boredom by some psychoanalytic conference speaker or other. Was it the end of the day? Or just after lunch with another three lectures to go? Did she disagree with the speaker? Or had it  occurred to her that she had forgotten to extend that particular invitation?

These are the little things found woven into correspondence from colleagues, poems, a paper for her interest, books, pamphlets and even a recipe collection. Archives are treasure troves of oddments. Some discoveries are totally astonishing and unexpected.  Archive work is a risky business.

In her early years in Australia Geroe’s English teacher, the author and literary critic Nettie Palmer, introduced Geroe to her family: Vance, her husband and a leading Australian author, and her daughters, Aileen and Helen. It is a side story in Sylvia Martin’s excellent biography of Aileen Palmer, Ink in her Veins. Geroe, a  cultured woman, and deeply interested and knowledgeable in literature and the arts, may have appreciated the Palmer’s friendship. Aileen Palmer’s work during the Spanish War, and her driving ambulances in England during the blitz, would have been known to Geroe. Aileen Palmer also studied French literature at the University of Melbourne and wrote a thesis on Proust. At the time of publishing her book, Martin said, no copy of the thesis was to be found. When Aileen broke down after her return to Australia from London, it is possible the Palmers sought advice from Geroe. Martin discusses Aileen’s hospitalization and psychiatric treatment at length. For a time she was a patient of Geroe’s – something Martin also discusses in her book. Perhaps Aileen liked Geroe enough to give her a copy of her thesis. Maybe it was a forgotten loan only to turn up almost thirty two years after Palmer’s death in Geroe’s archive…

Here is the link to Aileen’s story retold  in Martin’s piece, The Lost Thesis, ‘published last week in the online journal,  ‘Inside Story’.


Geroe family archive goes to the State Library of Victoria -its final destination


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Finally after almost eighteen months of waiting, the State Library of Victoria has completed its extensive renovations. It is ready to receive Clara Lazar Geroe’s archive together with those of her husband, Vilmos Geroe. I had custody of these boxes of material while waiting, and of course, researching. But it was also a worry, particularly as the bushfire season hit. The boxes were safely stored in fire resistant storage units but… what if….? One lot of 18 boxes, as much as could be carried in the vehicle, was taken away ten days ago. The remaining 12 boxes were collected yesterday. I slept well each night following. Looking after such an important collection is a responsibility.

We know that Clara Geroe, Australia’s first training analyst, qualified in Hungary in 1931. She kept her membership paper, a study of the analysis of a young girl with anxiety neurosis,  articles she wrote while studying neurology in Budapest, publications made later when she was working as a child psychoanalyst. She had to leave her library behind when she came to Australia but brought a few precious items including a copy of Alice Balint’s original ‘Psychoanalysis of the Nursery’. Copies of Imago, articles and papers written by Hungarian colleagues, were stored alongside her drafts of papers and drafts of drafts. And of course there were letters, fliers, circulars, and all the bits and bobs of her world. How interesting it was to find the original program for the 1936 Olympics, for example. Was it a quick dash over to Berlin for the event? Most probably. And a diary of a journey through Austria in 1929. There is, of course, material about psychoanalysis in Australia, the original reason for my interest. But the condiments to this,  that make up a life, are irrevocably threaded through the boxes.

Willi’s work as a travel agent complements his wife’s work. He acted for members of the Hungarian community from Melbourne, on their trips home after the war. He focussed on Africa as a destination, and kept ever so detailed notes of everything he did.

We must pay Homage to Willi Geroe and his and Clara’s son George for the preservation of this archive. Alongside Clara’s basic sorting, Willi gathered things together, sorted and bundled everything together. He was something of a hoarder it seems, or was he a meticulous if not obsessional collector of information. Tax returns from 1940 onwards were all bundled together,,, and conveyed to the library..

This is a gathering of interest to scholars of immigration, culture and psychoanalysis across the world.

‘They could not take my soul’…Lydia Tischler 2017 – and inpatient psychoanalytic treatment.

The British based child psychotherapist, Lydia Tischler, is an editor of the classic text: The Family as In-Patient: Working with Families and Adolescents at the Cassel Hospital. The Cassel Hospital in Kingston upon Thames, was originally established for the treatment of shell shock patients during the Great War. Under the directorship of psychiatrist Tom Main who developed the practice of psychosocial nursing, the work evolved into psychoanalytically orientated inpatient treatment of families. 

Tischler and her group also had an effect in Melbourne, Australia. During the late 1980s the Melbourne Clinic in Richmond in Melbourne under the directorship of Dr Brian Muir, a psychoanalyst, who came from Britain and the Cassel Hospital for the job. He was the head of the adolescent and family unit there during the 1970s.  Joan Christie then the Clinic’s Director of Nursing, and a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, was also involved. Patients with multiple and complex problems can need the supportive structure of the hospital in their psychotherapeutic journey. At least for a time. Some people with complex presentations cannot be worked with without such support. Their emotional world, so fractured by early, and accidental experiences, requires the consistency and availability of a safe secure environment.  As Marion Milner noted in her book, ‘The Hands of the Living God, an account of the analysis of a woman lasting more than twenty years, psychoanalytic treatment can enable the living of a productive life. Otherwise means a considerable demand on the public purse. It is one part of a complex policy debate over treatment efficacy, evidence and as others have pointed out, the reluctance of psychoanalysis to represent itself. 

The workings of the Melbourne Clinic project and the factors contributing to its ending are matters for historical research. I get the impression, at least as far as my memory goes, that this was an exciting and hopeful moment for psychoanalytic practice in this country. Why it ceased I do not know. 

These musings and  memories surfaced at the moment when I discovered Lydia Tischler’s interview online. Published in 2017 she speaks of her early life, the family’s arrest by the Nazis and the loss of her mother. Mengele’s nod to the right was enough to seal Lydia’s mother’s fate. Lydia Tischler was nodded to the right.

‘They could not take my soul’, she says.

Here is this most moving of interviews.