On 17th August 1940 the Sydney based psychoanalyst Roy Coupland Winn wrote to Clara Geroe,the Hungarian trained psychoanalyst who had arrived in Australia on a refugee Visa five months earlier. ‘Considering the fact that there seems little likelihood of starting an institute in Melbourne, why not practise in Sydney? You, [Siegfried] Fink and I could commence a clinic’. Fink was a German born psychoanalyst, also refugee, who had arrived in 1938. Winn continued: ‘It may be a mistaken idea but I think that three analysts would make more rapid progress than two, just as two than one; I am of the opinion that analysts tend to advertise and feed each other, partly because as the practice of each is necessarily small each has to send any overflow that arises to be done by others; thus each also receives advertisement from each other’.
It was a tempting offer. Clara Geroe and her family had landed in Melbourne on the strength of a promise, a donation of five thousand pounds by a benefactor, Lorna Traill, for the commencement of an institute for psychotherapy. The family was on its way to Sydney, she wrote later. A place like Buda, with hills all around but close to the sea. But a Melbourne based psychiatrist Dr Paul Dane – a man with a dream – had argued, successfully, that the Traill funds were to be used to establish an institute for psychoanalysis along the lines of the British one headed by Ernest Jones. In Melbourne. Dane had written to Jones about it. Jones, in turn, always a supporter of psychoanalysis, particularly if it was a medical enterprise, encouraged its development. But the donation had not materialized. Traill had withdrawn her offer. Negotiations were continuing. Geroe had had to wait it out.
In her reply to Winn Geroe said that the Melbourne group had managed to retrieve a thousand pounds from Traill. Another five hundred pounds was promised if the Institute was opened on the benefactor’s birthday. It was barely a viable figure but Ernest Jones had given the project his blessing. Sydney though would be sidelined. It would be only a Melbourne Institute for Psychoanalysis, Geroe continued. Not the Australian Institute originally envisaged. Geroe would have preferred to start small she wrote in her notebooks. She would have liked to have built up a following before launching such a complex project as an Institute. But Traill had made the condition that an institute was founded with the funds. Geroe could do no more than shrug her shoulders and comply.
The Melbourne Institute for Psychoanalysis was duly opened on 11 October 1940, Lorna Traill’s birthday. Roy Winn made the long journey from Sydney to attend. Judge Foster from the Children’s Court led the proceedings. A coterie of psychiatrists – Reg Ellery, Norman Albiston, Albert Phillips among them, all attended along with local educationalists, nurses and workers from the Children’s Court Clinic. In July 1941 Geroe was made a member of the British Institute of Psychoanalysis and appointed as a training analyst. Jones, one might say, had captured the Australian Dominion for his Empire.
All the while Geroe was bitter, sad, and upset about having to leave the intellectual, cafe culture of Budapest. She was trying to settle into Melbourne, in a land on the other side of the world, far from the pastoral beauty to which she was accustomed. As far as she was concerned Melbourne was a back-water. If her husband’s decision to leave Hungary and Nazi Europe was prescient, Geroe was a trailing spouse. She was not accepted by the Australian government on the basis of the work as a psychoanalyst. In fact none of the six psychoanalysts with whom she had applied for a visa, first to New Zealand and when that was refused, to Australia, were considered eligible for entry. Her husband’s experience as an accounts manager in a factory making magnesium bricks was most probably the reason for the family’s acceptance. That, and his decision to seek the assistance of a local Sydney solicitor, Eric Jones who, somehow, managed to obtain visas for the family. Their own application made directly to the Australian government through Australia House in London had failed two weeks earlier. The Geroe family left Budapest on 20 January 1940.
On Friday 20 April 1945, about four years after the opening of the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis, three of the Board members met with Clara Geroe, at the office at 111 Collins Street, the rooms rented from the Union Bank of Australia by Dr Paul Dane. Dane, the founder of the Institute, along with psychiatrists Guy Reynolds and Albert Phillips had called the meeting ‘to deal with the matter of the renewal of Dr Geroe’s agreement with the Institute’.
Geroe was employed by the Institute as its resident training analyst on 14 January 1941. Her second two year contract expired on 14th January 1945. By April 1945 it was clear that the Institute’s financial position was such that ‘it could not be renewed’. At this stage it was agreed that Clara would continue at the Institute for a salary of four guineas a week. Of this she would pay three guineas a week a rent for the use of the rooms, telephone and so on. Five hours of her time would be devoted to the Institute’s Clinic, providing services on behalf of the Institute.
Matters did not improve. On 3rd August 1945, another meeting was held, this time to discuss Dr Paul Dane’s decision to resign as Chair of the Board. The Institute’s financial situation was more than perilous: Dane, it appeared, had fallen behind in his rental payments – perhaps a result of his absence through illness. He owed forty five pounds to the Institute. But Clara and her husband, Vilmos, a trained accountant, had compiled a financial statement and proposal showing that the Institute could continue for a further thirteen months. ‘It was decided to carry on’, the psychiatrist Reg Ellery noted in the Minutes. He continued, ‘Dr Geroe proposed to continue her work for the Institute without a fee’. This, of course, ‘was willingly agreed to’. Geroe took on Dane’s share of the rent and his rooms, with the proviso that he could return at any time. Frank Graham, Geroe’s first trainee was elected as a member of the Board.
On 23 September 1945 a third meeting was held between Geroe, Graham, Ellery and Guy Reynolds. Paul Dane had decided to take twelve months leave of absence on consenting to withdraw his resignation as Chairperson. An Acting Chairperson, Albert Phillips, was appointed. Clara Geroe was elected to the Board and, along with Dane and Graham, approved as a subtenant of 111 Collins Street.
Most importantly Clara Geroe was recognized by the Board as ‘no longer an employee of the Institute but ‘voluntarily agrees to give without any renumeration the same services [to the Institute’s Clinic] as heretofore; and that her previous agreement with the Institute is null and void since 3rd August 1945’.
And so Clara Geroe’s psychoanalytic career, begun in Hungary in 1926, entered its longest phase.
Roy Winn to Clara Geroe 17 August 1940
Clara Geroe – draft reply to Winn, c August 1940
Clara Geroe, notebooks in English language, c. 1940.
Minutes of the Board of the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis – No 20, 20 April, 1945;
No 21 undated; No 22, 3 August 1945; No 23, 28 September 1945.