Outside of time:Free Associations from the Antipodes

This article was previously published in The Bulletin of the British Psychoanalytical Society, Vol 49, no 4, p 46-51 2013, and reprinted in the Annual Bulletin of the British Psychoanalytical Society, Vol 4, p 56-61 2014.

The poem 'Outside of Time' was previously published in the Australasian Journal of Psychotherapy, vol 27, 2008 

For my outline sketch of the history of psychoanalysis in Australia I have relied in particular on Maria Teresa Hooke’s 2010 address to the EPF, The tyranny of distance, and Frances Thomson-Salo’s chapter: The Australian Psychoanalytical Society: the evolving relationship with the IPA. In 100 Years of the IPA.

Australia has a number of different species of cockatoos, but here in Sydney the Sulphur-crested variety are the noisiest. Big pure white birds with a wedge of sulphur yellow crest feathers which spring up when they are anxious, agitated, aggressive, or just intrigued. With their characteristic gravelly squawk they are raucous and rumbustious. Gregarious birds, they have unmistakeable capacities for play and provocation.

Across the road from my analyst’s rooms was a park frequented by the local gang of cockatoos. One day they were especially noisy. I commented that they seemed such ‘timeless’ birds. ‘Outside of time’ came the suggestion from behind the couch. That felt right, time just didn’t seem a relevant dimension. 

The phrase lodged in my mind, eventually shaping itself into a short poem:

     Outside of time

     White fragments of alarm,
     the fleeting cockatoos 
     beat and weave
     mending the rent air.
     They flock and forget.
     Looking out from nowhere
     they dream blue-gums,
     red earth, the blue vault
     Outside of time,
     toward oblivion,
    they are searching
    for themselves; their own
    unbearable whiteness.

A poem perhaps about psychoanalysis, that peculiar indefinable process which, in many ways, resides outside of time. As far as I understand the thinking of Wilfred Bion, he seems to suggests that if we are searching for ‘invariants’, psychoanalytic ‘truths’, the noumenon, ‘O’, we will need to be looking somewhere outside our known space-time dimensions. 

Paradoxically we also expect analysis to confer a sharper awareness of the passage of time, and ‘training’ analyses these days, at least in Australia, tend to be lengthy undertakings. The person who ‘finishes’ is probably a different one from the person who began, and a decade or more of a lifetime will have passed in the process. We are likely to be left with an acute sense of time passed, and opportunities gone. 

I came to Australia from New Zealand with the hope of pursuing psychoanalytic training, which wasn’t, and still isn’t, available in New Zealand. Now, with an established life and practice in Sydney, and involvement in our local Sydney Institute for Psycho-Analysis, it has become difficult to find a way back ‘home’, yet I will always feel something of an outsider here in Australia. But perhaps, as a witness to the stories of others, the position of outsider is to some extent inevitable for a psychoanalyst. 

Australia, at least as a colony of Great Britain, came into being as a land of ‘outsiders’ and in many respects remains so even today. Characterised by Robert Hughes (1988) as a ‘fatal shore’ for that first wave of arrivals; the convicts transported, in the hope of purging Britain of its criminal class, to a terra nullius, out of sight and mind on the other side of the globe. With the convicts came their gaolers, and a whole mercantile and administrative structure; a new colony was established. Successive waves of arrivals soon followed: adventurers and gold diggers, outback farmers and entrepreneurs, and since the second World War the ‘multicultural’ influx of migrants from all parts of the world, especially Asia in recent years, and increasingly asylum seekers and refugees, today. Many of those who have made Australia home will have, to varying degrees, some ‘trauma of dislocation’ (Akhtar 2007: 165) in their personal or family history. In this process of colonisation the only true insiders, Australia’s Aboriginal people, with a culture dating back more than 40,000 years, have tragically become the most dispossessed, and in this sense the greatest ‘outsiders’ of all. Under the impact of an aggressive alien culture many would seem to have lost touch with their ‘Dreaming’. For the Aborigines ‘Dreaming’ was a lived reality; for us today the word denotes an intriguing concept of a collective cultural reality ‘outside of time’.

So, how has psychoanalysis fared in the space-time of this ‘New World’ downunder; the antipode of Great Britain? 

Cultural historian Joy Damousi notes that upon the establishment of the Melbourne Institute for Psychoanalysis in 1940, Melbourne’s Sun newspaper reported: ‘ “Europe’s loss is Australia’s gain” ’, and ‘The Sun was full of praise for its director, the Hungarian psychoanalyst Clara Lazar-Geroe, one of the founders of the institute and “one of the world’s 25 most distinguished child analysts”.’ (Damousi 2005: 179).   

‘I came to Australia because Hitler came to Europe’, said Geroe in an interview in 1977 (quoted in Hooke 2010). However her arrival in Australia had also been the outcome of considerable determination and hard work on the part of Ernest Jones and several Australian figures, in particular the Sydney psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Roy Winn (Damousi 2005: 180). Winn had trained with the British Society, before returning to Australia in 1931 (Thomson Salo 2011: 346). While the United States received a steady stream of refugee analysts from Europe in the years leading up to the Second World War and following, Australia would initially receive only a few. Its ‘White Australia policy’ appears to have been a contributing factor; migrants other than the British were mostly excluded. The policy would not begin to shift until after the Second World War. Apparently, in 1938 six analysts applied to come to Australia, five Hungarian and one German. Only two of the Hungarians received a visa, Clara Geroe and Andrew Peto. Peto would not arrive until 1949 (Hooke 2010). He became head of the Sydney Institute for Psychoanalysis established in 1951, but eventually decided to leave Australia in 1955, apparently as a result of the Australian government’s failure to recognise his qualifications (Damousi 2005: 195).

The five Hungarians had in fact previously applied to migrate to New Zealand but, recalled Geroe in 1977, ‘with all the assistance from Jones, Princess Bonaparte and leading medical people in New Zealand, we were twice refused.’ (quoted in Hooke 2010). So, if fate had ordered things differently, there might have been a psychoanalytic training established in New Zealand today.
In order to make training possible in Australia, Ernest Jones arranged for Geroe to be accredited training analyst status within the British Society, and Melbourne was authorized to function as a branch of the Society (Hooke 2010). It has, however, been suggested that Jones’s motives were not entirely straightforward; that he was particularly keen on the Hungarians migrating to the antipodes because he did not wish them to bring the Ferenczi influence to London! (Hooke 2010)

In order to train candidates Clara Geroe would be obliged to act as analyst, supervisor and teacher (Thomson Salo 2011: 347). It was an arrangement broadly compatible with her own experienced Hungarian model of training, but fraught with potential problems.  

Training became possible in Sydney briefly, during the time Andrew Peto was available as training analyst, but could not be sustained after his departure. Then, in 1958, Harry Southwood, an analysand of Clara Geroe, moved to Adelaide, and training also began there (Hooke 2010). Up until this time the British Society had remained responsible for training in Australia, but the three centres were developing somewhat distinctive and differing psychoanalytic cultures, and disagreements became problematic. In 1967 The British Society would hand the task of supervising training over to the IPA, and in 1968 a ‘Sponsoring Committee’ from the IPA visited Australia in order to establish standards for training and facilitate progress towards Provisional Society status. Finally, in 1973 the Australian Psychoanalytical Society (APAS) was approved as a component society of the IPA at the Paris Congress (Thomson Salo 2011: 349).

Distance and geographical isolation were probably factors contributing to the problematic differences in perspective and approach which continued to develop, and led to threatened splits between the now three IPA accredited training centres, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney. The resulting conflicts became intense, and would eventually lead to two site visiting committees from the IPA (Thomson Salo 2011: 350). It was the last of these in 1986, consisting of Dr Arnold Cooper from the United States and Professor Joseph Sandler from Britain, which, working in conjunction with the local groups, was eventually successful in beginning to restore a measure of unity. A new constitution for the APAS as a federation of three branches, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney, was established. The overall responsibility for training would henceforth rest with the Executive Committee of the APAS (Thomson Salo 2011: 351). Cooper and Sandler also identified a stultifying authoritarian culture of conformity within the APAS, and suggested a series of measures to address these problems. If their site report is to be believed, in 1986 the APAS was very much restricted by what Australian ‘bush poet’ Banjo Paterson had described as the ‘yoke/ Of staid conservancy’ (see below). 

The enthusiasm of the Melbourne Sun journalist at the arrival of Clara Geroe on Australian shores in 1940 was presumably hardly representative of public opinion. The stereotype Australian of that time was the practical man or woman, a do-it-yourself, ‘Jack-of-all-trades’, or Jill of the homestead, still imbued with the pioneering spirit of the first adventurers and colonist settlers. ‘Mateship’ was the doctrine of solidarity and identity which had grown up amongst Australian men, and which, with its equivalent ethos among Australian women, would prove a serviceable enough value system for the coming war. 

Such men and women tended to be self-sufficient and stubborn, with a highly ambivalent attitude towards authority, and an irreverent, sceptical approach towards the supposed ‘expert’. In his 1902 poem The old Australian ways, Banjo Paterson captured this ambivalence towards the ‘home country’:

       The narrow ways of English folk
       Are not for such as we; 
       They bear the long-accustomed yolk
       Of staid conservancy:                                     

The ‘ordinary’ self-sufficient Australian would hardly have been likely to perceive the relevance of a psychoanalyst to themselves and their way of life. Despite the enthusiasm of the Sun journalist, presumably the vast majority of people remained unaware of, and indifferent to, such developments.   

There were of course those who did take an interest and, as in most parts of the world, Australia had its vigorous advocates, vigorous critics, and some virulent detractors, of Freudian psychoanalysis. From the outset, Australian Psychiatry appears to have established an ambivalent relationship with psychoanalysis leaning to the negative, a situation not much changed today, except if anything the current climate is more hostile than ever. Psychoanalysis in Australia would remain something of a Cinderella; perhaps fortunately it never ‘enjoyed’ a period of institutionalized popularity within mainstream psychiatry, as it did in the United States. 

Despite the ‘conservancy’ of the past, today a certain independence of mind may be found amongst those drawn from varying different backgrounds to our training. Perhaps this is in part a consequence of the fact that psychoanalysis in Australia has avoided popularisation, and the absence of a mainstream and institutionalized culture of psychoanalysis within psychiatry. Certainly our training is not generally regarded as a pathway to recognition and status within psychiatry, nor within clinical psychology.    

Over the years the APAS has drawn its candidates and members from amongst psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists from a variety of different backgrounds and trainings. Membership has very slowly increased until the present, and today the APAS has between 70 and 80 active members and about 20 candidates in training. If, in the history of the APAS, geographical separation between the three training centres has been linked to a degree of difference in conceptions of the principles and practice of psychoanalysis, such differences constitute less of a problem today. There has been a long-standing practice of all candidates in training meeting three times a year as a group, once in each of the centres, Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney; our so-called ‘Interstate weekends’. Possibly the Society is now enjoying the benefits of this on-going attempt to facilitate the building of relationships amongst the candidate groups, and other initiatives towards establishing a more coherent working group.

As T.S. Eliot has emphasised, an individual talent cannot flourish outside a creative and intellectual tradition (Eliot 1919). Today, most Australian psychoanalysts would, I think, continue to see our tradition as lying within that of British psychoanalysis and our links as being with the British Society. However, a more local and independent ‘tradition’ may be beginning to flourish, and if a distinctive Antipodean position is to be identified, I think this might be characterised as the reluctance of many members to assume the mantle of any particular ‘identification’, whether with a theoretician, theoretical position, or group: ‘Freudian’, ‘Kleinian’, ‘Winnicottian’, ‘Bionian’, even the so-called ‘independent’ position. In recent times there would seem to be a movement away from attachments of identification. Attachment to, as opposed to relationship with, any psychoanalytic theory or ‘school’ perhaps inevitably compromises individual talent and creativity. If, first of all, we remain searching for ourselves, this is as it should be. 

In thinking about what I might write by way of a perspective from Australia, I read with interest the previous contribution to this ‘News from Around the World’ series: Minding the Gap in Changed Times: A View from Afar- Buenos Aires, Argentina, by Jorge L. Ahumada (2013). I also read the previous Bulletin articles on BPAS issues cited by Ahumada: Reflections on the Present Condition of the British Psychoanalytical Society by Michael Rustin (2012), and Thoughts about the Critical State of our Society by Philip Stokoe (2012). The problems of a ‘diminished availability of intensive psychoanalytic work and the decrease of candidates’ (Ahumada 2013: 41), are also, of course, realities we are having to face in Australia. It is however of interest to note, that despite an apparently diminished availability of patients seeking intensive work, our candidates continue to be able to find training cases meeting the minimum requirement of attending four times a week, albeit with some difficulty at times.

As in many countries in the world, Australian psychoanalysts are rubbing the sleep from their eyes as we wake out of a dreamless slumber; the assumption that our institutions will survive and thrive if we continue with business as usual. Voices amongst us, in particular past president of our society, Maria Teresa Hooke, have been pointing out that we faced a potential crisis of aging, but for many of us in Sydney at least, the reality of our local situation was only fully grasped as the result of a presentation to our Institute about two years ago by Dr Mark Howard. His presentation, ‘Thinking while Sinking’, spelt out the local demographic realities of our ageing membership, including of course training analysts, and also an older candidate group. In Sydney, we are not yet faced with a definite decline in numbers of candidates training, however taking into account the overall ages of members and candidates, the number of candidates currently being trained falls well short of what is needed if we are to maintain our numbers. Dr Howard offered a sobering projection of where business as usual will take us. Outside of the consulting room, it would seem we are no longer ‘outside of time’. 

There is a sense that, overcoming our desire to ‘flock and forget’, we are now collectively taking some action to meet the challenge of preserving our threatened species. Efforts are being made to improve ‘outreach’ programmes, increase recruitment into training in the different centres, ensuring expectations on candidates remain realistic and not excessive, and to facilitate candidates progress without compromising standards. This year The Sydney Institute for Psychoanalysis launched a one year, one evening a week, ‘Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Course’ for psychotherapist clinicians, intended to help deepen conceptual and theoretical understandings. It was fully subscribed for the first year, and will be run again next year. Our hope is that this and other local initiatives will eventually translate into applications for training. 

I found Ahumada’s article of particular interest in his analysis of the hostility towards psychoanalysis inherent in ‘current sociocultural changes’. Ahumada characterises these changes as a ‘passage from the culture of the written word to one of action-images’, which in his opinion constitutes ‘the most drastic global experiment that the human species has willingly submitted to.’ (Ahumada 2013: 41). Such cultural shifts must be extremely difficult to ‘read’ accurately, but it does seem possible, at least in so-called ‘Western culture’, that we are entering an era where psychic reality is ever more relentlessly enacted and evacuated; where –K (Bion 1962: 95) increasingly holds the field.

Ahumada further characterises this shift in terms of the gap between modernity and post-modernity (Ahumada 2013: 41). The tenets of the Enlightenment were a vital part of the intellectual tradition from which Freud’s thinking grew. Today’s psychoanalyst might, in turn, be described as born of the union between the Freudian revolution and the humanist-modernist development. But there is no reason why our intellectual and creative psychoanalytic tradition should remain in-step with the times. The essence of psychoanalysis is not a matter of fashion, and we can never become post-modernists; although of course ‘post-modernists’ might believe they can become, or indeed already are, psychoanalysts!  

Inherent in the fabric of psychoanalytic thinking is belief in the presence of a ‘truth’, however difficult to apprehend, that lies beyond individual subjective interpretation. Perhaps it is possible for contradictories to exist side by side in the unconscious as Freud suggested, but if it is to remain meaningful, discourse about the unconscious, like discourse about anything, cannot ignore the law of non-contradiction (nothing can be both A and not-A). For the psychoanalyst interpreting the text can never be a matter of ‘anything goes’, and post-modern and psychoanalytic positions are not simply two different vertices from which we might view the world. A fundamental logical incompatibility remains, and in this sense no dialogue is possible (Goldblatt 2006).

Ahumada suggests that current sociocultural changes ‘will increasingly impinge, on the practice of psychoanalysis as we have known it’, and may ‘redefine the function of psychoanalysis’ (Ahumada 2013: 41), but as he also suggests, they do not alter the essence of what psychoanalysis is; they cannot impinge upon the noumenon (Symington 2012).
Rustin and Stokoe cogently identify our collective need for our psychoanalytic ‘institutions’ to adapt to external realities if they are to survive. However, ‘institutional’ survival alone cannot ensure we maintain contact with a living ‘psychoanalysis’. The challenge for psychoanalysts in Australia, and perhaps throughout the West, would seem to be whether we can adapt to a changing world without losing contact with our ‘dreaming’; a greater catastrophe, I believe, than any loss of our socio-cultural profile. 

Rigorous, if not ruthless, self-analysis will be an essential part of our process of adaptation, but as Ahumada also suggests, ‘Grasping how culture has veered helps cushion disappointment and self-blame’ (Ahumada 2013: 42). If we are to adapt and survive, we will also have to accept and mourn external losses, and one of these would seem to be the loss entailed in the hostile shift in the socio-cultural climate. In the face of our diminishing profile, simply remaining self-critically and exclusively focused upon ourselves is only likely to lead to a melancholic attachment to better days, and a masochistic relation to the external world. We will need to remain realistic about that world, and in the face of hostility, need to have faith in an essence of something resilient within ourselves. This might be characterised in terms of our relationship with our ‘dreaming’; our psychoanalytic ‘truth’. Perhaps we can take a lesson from the Sulphur-crested Cockatoos, birds of the bush which have adapted to an urbanised environment and now thrive in the Sydney suburbs. I have no sense that they have lost anything of their essence in doing so. The cockatoos have not sacrificed their raucous and rumbustious selves. Probably it is these very self-assertive qualities that have ensured their survival; not only have they adapted to their new environment, but they have a way of insisting that the environment takes notice of, and accommodates to, them. 

‘Alone we are born/ And die alone’, wrote New Zealand poet, James K. Baxter (Baxter 1948). Psychoanalysis would seem to be one human way in which we attempt, through contact with a shared psychic reality or ‘truth’, to transcend aloneness and outsideness, and deepen the meaning of our brief journey between birth and oblivion. If, as individuals we have found this path valuable, what we can do to make it attractive to others is perhaps rather limited. Probably the most important thing we really can do is to continue our search; our attempt to find and be ourselves. This should help us become less self-conscious, more assertive, more playful, more adaptable.   


Ahumada, J.L. (2013) Minding the Gap in Changed Times: A View from Afar – Buenos Aires, Argentina. Bulletin of the BPAS. Vol 49, Number 1 (41-48)

Akhtar, S. (2007) The trauma of geographical dislocation: leaving, arriving, mourning, and becoming. In: The geography of meanings: psychoanalytic perspectives on place, space, land, and dislocation. Hooke, M.T.S. and Akhtar, S. (eds). London: International Psychoanalysis Library, 2007.

Baxter, J.K. (1948) High Country Weather. In: Collected Poems. Weir J.E. (ed). London: Oxford, 1979.

Bion, W. (1962) Learning from experience. London: William Heinemann, Medical Books.

Damousi, J. (2005) Freud in the Antipodes: a cultural history of psychoanalysis in Australia. Sydney: UNSW Press, 2005.

Eliot, T.S. (1919) Tradition and the Individual Talent. In: Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot.(37-44). Kermode, F. (ed). London: Faber and Faber, 1975. 

Goldblatt, M. (2006) Can humanists talk to postmodernists? On-line in: the webzine of personal stories. Issue 17: Summer 2006.

Hooke, M.T.S. (2010) The tyranny of distance. The early history of the Australian Psychoanalytical Society; a personal view. (available on-line) Oral paper delivered to EPF, London, 2010.

Hughes, R. (1988) The Fatal Shore. London: Pan Books. Previously published (1987) Collins Harvill.

Rustin, M. (2012) Reflections on the Present Condition of the British Psychoanalytical Society. Bulletin of the BPAS. Vol 48, Number 2 (31-35)

Stokoe, P. (2012) Thoughts about the Critical State of our Society. Bulletin of the BPAS. Vol 48, Number 4 (30-33)

Symington, N. (2012) The Essence of Psycho-Analysis as Opposed to what is Secondary. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 22 (395-409)

Thomson Salo, F. (2011) The Australian Psychoanalytical Society: the evolving relationship with the IPA. In: 100 Years of the IPA.(345-355). Loewenberg, P. and Thompson, N. (eds). London: The International Psychoanalytical Association, 2011.