Ron Brookes - Remembering the Sydney "bush" psychoanalyst

Ron Brookes
22/1/1930 – 26/3/2014

Ron Brookes lived a long and productive life as a much loved husband, father and family man. He was an esteemed colleague who spent most of his working life as a practising psychoanalyst and as one of the early members of the Sydney Branch of the APAS he did much to help establish and promote psychoanalytic understanding and practice in Sydney and also in the APAS branches in Melbourne and Adelaide.

Ron was born in New Zealand and educated in Sydney where he gained his medical and psychiatric qualifications. His long professional life sprang from his keen interest in psychological aspects of health and illness, and led him to train in London to become an adult and child psychoanalyst – his own training analysis was with Pearl King. Thus equipped he set up practice in Sydney in the 1960s which were early days for psychoanalysis in Australia, and being the first analyst with formal child training in Australia became an effective and passionate advocate for the important work with children as well as ‘the child in the adult’. As part of a small committed group of analysts Ron’s knowledge and commitment to developing the necessary and valuable work of understanding psychological processes within families led him to be part of the training of new analysts as well as teaching and supervising many health professionals at Arndell Children’s Unit and at the Children’s Hospital at Camperdown encouraging the development of psychoanalytic psychotherapy in the Psychiatry department. With Mr David Buick – also a trained child and adult analyst Ron introduced infant observation as an integral, important part in the early analytic training programme. Later, training in child psychoanalysis in Australia was developed and Dr Alan Bull was
the first to graduate. The effective and dedicated fostering by these early analysts and by others following in their footsteps in turn led to a proliferation of many well-trained psychotherapists, child and adult, who owe their development largely to the enthusiasm and endeavours of those analysts including Professors Reg Martin and Ian Waterhouse.

There were difficulties and challenges to be met in those early days in such a small group, carrying out private and public practice while developing a training programme with the inevitable boundary constraints involved. In those days when training was being established distressing matters had to be contained, but the Branch members to their credit stood firm and came to hold and not only survive but grow from these painful and controversial matters.

In the 1960s Ron arrived back in Sydney with his wife Eileen and set up his initial practice in Willoughby. He built a home in Killarney Heights where he raised his family on the border of his much loved national park bushland. He soon moved his practice there to a consulting room, a beautiful space overlooking that bushland. One felt the psychic presence of a caring couple and a growing family and later came to know the extent of that loving connection. Ron was always available with integrity and honesty to patients and supervisees alike to share openly thoughts and feelings in that analytic setting. Years later the loss of his beloved wife Eileen was a terrible blow but was borne with his usual fortitude and openness.

In that Australian bush setting where he practiced for many years there happened to be a large low-overhanging branch of a wise old- man banksia tree which guarded the uneven, uncertain, rocky pathway to his door. In response to comments about this he decreed ‘not all who tread this path and enter this domain lose their head’. This was one of his many legendary ‘one liners’ which one came to expect, and at times dread for their acute perspicacity and acuity, but were always ‘to the point’ and transformative. For another, the legendary banksia tree offered caring enfolding arms. In this, at times, challenging setting fertile, natural life and growth whether flora, fauna or human was fostered to good purpose – even the green tree snake had a confronting but valuable place in sessions (usually).

I came to know Ron Brookes first as a patient and then as a GP wishing to explore my inner life and again some years later after having finished that analysis, as a trainee in the early 1980s and eventually as a graduate and colleague. Over the many years that I was fortunate to have that contact I came to know and respect this unassuming man of many talents, sensitivity, wisdom and integrity.

The exploration of my inner life with Ron Brookes in my first and later analysis feels to have been a rich experience of visiting many rooms on many levels recovering lost parts of the self. Helped along the way but absolutely required to re-explore, re-think, re-experience where something did not ring true, often with acute shock by way of one of those arresting, at times acerbic ‘one liners’. Love and hate were both allowed and processed in that analytic space. An early dream of a fairminded investigative journalist Peter Couchman who mediated with goodwill and integrity between two apparently irreconcilable longstanding feuding forces set the scene for the analytic journey with him, for which I am very grateful. Ron was a man of few words, but words which carried great weight and consequence and often cut to the deepest quick - they hurt and shocked at times but the reward was that deepest most primitive fears and nightmare horrors as well as a real life tragedy could be known and contained and worked on in that analytic space.

Under his watchful, thoughtful and deeply understanding gaze, unrealized creative life-full parts of the self, often surprisingly, emerged like in his surrounding native bushland. I have known that same comment to emerge from other analysands, colleagues and supervisees who respect, admire and love what he shared and also learned, with so many in his work life.

Some analysands, trainees and colleagues have offered memories of Ron:

‘My experience of infant obs was quite extraordinarily valuable to me. His sensitivity, wisdom and knowledge about mothers and babies was something I will never forget. It was above all so completely enjoyable for me – what I learned from him was to highly respect –celebrate and admire maternality - the ordinarily good enough mother – not idealise it – but value that capacity and that cost to the woman as well as the reward.’

‘John Bowlby came to visit Sydney and the Superintendent of the Children’s Hospital asked me to come and have lunch with him. Of course I was delighted and told Ron all my plans for the hospital. I was high on my own ideas. ”I would throw away all those plans if I was you” said Ron. ”The most anyone can do in life is put in one brick. If you build a castle in the air it will be just that. Go and pick one area of the hospital and put all your energy into one small model.” I howled through my whole session that day and finally said “Well, smart arse what have you got to say?” A very quiet voice came through the silence “I think you’ve had your session for the day”. I still use that model.’

‘I so miss him. He did not take care of us so we could belong to a special group or for selfaggrandisement of any kind. I so often was so sure he did not care at all, or did not give the human caring I so thought I needed. How wrong I was. He will always be with us. We so miss him. Thanks so much Ron Brookes. Are you still laughing at our foibles from out there?’

For the last two years Ron had been struggling with lymphoma and the debilitating effects of treatment, but even so Ron continued the work he so passionately ‘loved’ and continued to attend his clinical peer group showing the same determined spirit, bravery and understanding for which he will always be remembered, respected and admired. He will be greatly missed by all those fortunate enough to have been in the orbit of his life – whether family, friends, colleagues, analysands or trainees. He will especially be remembered for his deep and sincere interest in each and every one of us which as a patient, later a trainee and eventually a colleague and friend I increasingly appreciate.

A dream following his death suggests his spirited influence lives on. Many primitive stone-built beehive dwellings springing out of apparently harsh hard ground spread out into pristine bushland beyond his consulting room, and proliferate into a beautiful parkland.

Ron Brookes’ unique and valuable life contribution lives on.