Profile of a Psychoanalyst (Including eulogy by Shahid Najeeb)

(16 October 1916 – 12 April 2006)

While many people in the Australian Psychoanalytic Society knew of Prof. Reg Martin, a founding member of the Society and its Foundation President, few people knew much about him as a person. He was a very private man and almost never spoke about himself. Despite his enormous reluctance, I did manage to persuade him in 1994, to write something about him for me. So rather than me writing a profile about him, I will let my collated remarks from his letters to me, speak for him. At the end of this profile I append a brief address I gave to a gathering of family and friends on 29th of April 2006. This address is a very personal tribute to Reg Martin.

Shahid Najeeb

“Dear Shahid … I have given a lot of thought to your proposal and the more I think about it the more convinced I become that to do as you suggest would be an exercise in vanity that I find not entirely to my liking. If I were convinced that there was a good reason for writing about myself I would feel less reluctant but frankly I cannot believe that anyone would be the least interested in the story of my life except perhaps for reasons of prurient curiosity. It is not as though I were a famous or notable figure. While you may personally feel that knowing more about my development may round out your picture of me, I cannot believe that this would the view of most members of the Society …..

When you suggested that I might put on record some of the events of my life that lead to my present position apart from being somewhat embarrassed I realised how much of this brief biography might be described as the history of a late starter and a liberal thinker who has, for a variety of reasons, been involved in a great number of social and moral movements and who, as a consequence, was ever at variance with the prevailing dominant morality and culture and therefore never at one with popular thought …

I came from a large and poor family: two brothers and two sisters … My mother was a product of her time and her family who never believed that a woman’s life was meant to be other than a mother … From her I had a constant assurance and demonstration of her belief that I would be successful, that no matter what the obstacles, I would overcome them and succeed. No doubt many of her views were unrealistic and based on her affection and hopes for her children, but they were views that were never doubted by the child and forever remained an indelible impression … My father was an intelligent man whose background had always been something of a mystery to his children. He left London, where he was born, and what I can only imagine as a young man’s revolt, abandoned his medical studies to join the British forces in South Africa for the Boer War …He was essentially a sociable man fond of company, optimistic and feckless in all his responsibilities … My father’s personality, his optimism that was expressed in the belief that something would turn up (though it never did) and his great need to be liked, meant that he was never able to provide financial or emotional support for his family … As a child of the 1930’s depression era whose family suffered greatly I had little formal education, leaving school to commence work on a baker’s delivery cart when I was barely fourteen … I was the only one of the children who was able to find some employment … (yet) I never considered that I might be unemployed, this despite the fact that in the midst of the great depression, the prospect was ever present. I never doubted, indeed the thought never entered my head, that I would remain a menial employee nor that I would, in time, gain promotion that would assure me of the seniority I saw others enjoying …

My formal education was seriously handicapped for I suffered from gross myopia … which unbelievable from today’s perspective, was undiagnosed. Not only was it undiagnosed by others but as the handicapped one I had no realization that I was in fact handicapped. I took it all as a matter of course, even my failure at school subjects ….for it (was) impossible for me to see what was written on the class blackboard … How I discovered that I was handicapped I honestly cannot remember. I can still remember waiting for the tram to take me home and having to walk to the front of the stationary tram car to read the destination sign. It never occurred to me that there was anything unusual about this. I think I was 17 when I first consulted an optometrist. It was somewhere in lower George Street, for I can still remember when the spectacles were placed on my nose, the staggering realization that I could see clearly what was happening on the Eastern side of Circular Quay; a vision that hitherto had never been in my experience. My visual world had been restricted to about six feet. From that point onward my world opened up. It opened up primarily through books which had never been part of my world. It was as though I suddenly realized that the world had passed me by and that I must catch up with it. We were living in a house at Watson’s Bay where the former occupant had left a library which, among others, had the collected works of Walter Scott. These I systematically read as I omnivorously devoured everything I could lay my hands on. Fortunately the City Council’s Public Library in the Queen Victoria Building kept me amply supplied. By the time I had turned nineteen I not only had read widely, but the discovery through literature, give me an intense interest in people and their motives and behaviour … my world was increasingly defined by what I read … gradually literature opened up a new world to me, a world of characters portrayed by others. But I gradually came to realise that all that I read, all that I came to understand about characters in literature, did apply to me. In that sense I not only found without recognising it, my interest in object relations through literature, but I also found myself … Reading Russian literature and Dostoyevsky in particular set in train an interest in the pathological and inner world which led, fairly naturally to my initial interest in the work of Freud. Random house had recently published “The Basic Writings of Freud” in one volume. The understanding and excitement I gained from reading “The Psychopathology of Everyday Life”, “Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious” “The Interpretation of Dreams” is difficult to describe today. For me the relation between literature and Freud’s work was profound. It was of little consequence to me at the time that Freud was concerned with clinical issues. For me it was simply that he had succeeded in accounting for the hidden meaning that permeated characters in literature.

When I turned sixteen I was given a job in the Department of Labour issuing dole tickets to unemployed men in the Marrickville area … As a consequence of what I now can see as a recognition of my brightness I was offered a junior position in the Psychology Unit of the Department of Labour and Industry when I was 19. There I had the good fortune to find myself in the company of a number of vary able graduates who were eventually to become Professors of Psychology and Deputy Vice Chancellors of two of Sydney’s leading universities. The friendship that developed with these graduates stimulated and encouraged my reading so that within a year, I had embarked on a programme of reading that encompassed all the basic works of Freud and an enormous amount of English and Russian literature. By the time I was 20 I was associated with a group of bright young graduates in psychology and philosophy who were later to become important names in Law, Philosophy, Psychology and Academia. This group which met regularly for some years introduced me to Andersonian philosophy and it was there that I first studied and was profoundly influenced by such articles as “Mind as Feeling” “The Knower and the Known” “Empiricism” etc.

My first excursion into a public arena was in 1936 when I was 21. I then gave five lectures to the Sydney Rationalists Society on “A psychological versus a religious approach to human life and mental illness.” In 1938 I enrolled as a first year evening student at the University of Sydney. Perhaps foolishly I did not first matriculate but at that time I was more interested in things of the mind than in what I saw as the routine study of secondary education … (so) despite the fact that I had majored in Psychology and done extremely well in that and all other subjects, university regulations at that time were such that I could not be awarded a B.A.

In the early days of the war it was compulsory to register in the Armed Services. As a University student I was permitted to enrol with the University Regiment. I encountered difficulties when I refused to take the oath of allegiance and temporarily was classified as a conscientious objector … in the midst of war I was a pacifist at heart … After some negotiation it was possible to have this rescinded and for me to sign a declaration of allegiance.

I was appointed as a Psychologist in the Department of Labour and Industry when I was in my final year at the University … In 1942 I was offered a choice of Captaincy in the Army Psychology Unit or “banishment” to Newcastle as officer in charge of the Psychology and Guidance Unit of the Department of Labour. I chose the latter … In 1942 I was approached by the University of Sydney to accept a part time appointment as University Tutor in Psychology … (On account of my readings) together with my already developed philosophical interest meant that the lecture courses I gave in the Newcastle area were essentially based on a Freudian theme. I was then approached by the University to write a fifteen lecture course on Freudian theory. This course was used for many years by the University and was finally withdrawn at my request. Many of the observations I made in those lectures I, as my knowledge increased, recognised to be of doubtful veracity …

In 1946 I was appointed as Research Scholar in the University of Sydney and also granted an Arts Degree scholarship. Apart from 1946 when I was a full time Research Scholar all my University studies were as an evening student which meant that at the same time as I was doing my University courses, I was working in the daytime in one or other organization … The net result of my eight years work at the University of Sydney was that I had majored in three honours schools Psychology, Philosophy and Anthropology, achieved distinction in a number of other courses and gained an Honours Arts degree and Diploma of Public Administration.

When the Psychology Department was established in the NSW University of Technology (eventually to become the University of NSW) I was appointed as Lecturer and Deputy Head of the Department of Psychology … As early as 1946 I had presented a paper to the Philosophy Conference of NSW entitled “A Critical Examination of the Freudian Theory of Repression”, together with Professors Anderson and Hammer I presented a series of lectures to the Freethought Society of the University of Sydney on Freudian Thought … In 1956 I gave the Freud Memorial Lecture on the anniversary of Freud’s birth to the NSW Branch of the British Psychological Society. I had met Roy Winn, the first analyst in Australia, and had been invited to the inaugural lecture of the Sydney Institute of Psychoanalysis in Stawell House.

For personal as well as theoretical interests I sought a personal analysis with Dr A Peto who after a short time informed me that he would be leaving the country. He suggested I should seek analytic training and that I should enter analysis with Dr Maida Hall. This I did although I could not afford to do so without working at a variety of unskilled part time jobs such as a builder’s labourer, delivery worker etc in addition to my university work …Maida Hall who had been analysed by Dr Peto, was at that time at variance with most other analysts in Australia in that she was interested and influenced by Kleinian theory, which at that time was a highly contentious theory … what I gained from my analysis with Hall was highly important. The turning point in my psychoanalytic career came in I think my third year, when one day while waiting for my session I espied a copy of “Developments in Psychoanalysis” which was a collection of papers by Kleinian theorists which were an edited version of the so called “Controversial Discussions”. I eagerly devoured these papers which to this day have remained for me as some of, if not the most, important papers in the whole literature of psychoanalysis. Reading these papers was for me a tremendously exciting and illuminating experience, for they crystallized for me many of the difficulties I had encountered in psychoanalysis. This gave me my first clear line into the personal, the human and the environment. Unlike so many commentators who, I believe, have mistakenly believed Klein to ignore the setting or the environmental influences, the papers in “Developments” opened up a whole new vista of just how the environment was introjected and became a part of the mind. I read as much as I could of Kleinian theory and from that point on most of the uncertainties I had about analysis disappeared. I became a dedicated Kleinian. In 1956 I … decided that when my analysis with Dr Hall had terminated, I would seek analysis with a Kleinian in London … which I saw then, as I do now, the centre of Kleinian thought … I eventually entered analysis with Dr L Munroe in London and immediately obtained an Honoraryship with Paddington Hospital which allowed me to see patients at the Tavistock Clinic … (After the first two supervised cases) the Training Committee of the British Society … agreed that if I analysed my third case in Australia they would grant me Associate Membership of the Society … This I did and was elected Associate Member in 1963 … In 1963 I was approached by the Dental Health and Research Institute of the University of Sydney to direct an investigation into difficulties the Dental profession was encountering. The report which was finally presented in 1965 and became known as The Martin Report, identified the major problem in the profession to reside in the Dentist-Patient relation and offered an explanation for the deterioration over time of the relationship between dentists and their patients.

In 1966 I spent 12 months in London. While there I read a clinical paper to the Membership Committee and was accepted as a Member of the British Society … I was appointed by the British Society to a) prepare a report for the British Medical Association on the teaching of Psychodynamics to medical students …b) Investigate group methods for selecting analytic candidates … c) Investigate problems of psychoanalytic training in Australia ….

When I returned to Australia in 1967 I was invited to take responsibility for clinical training in the Psychology Department and to accept the appointment of Director of Clinical Psychology in the University’s Teaching Hospitals. It was then that I was appointed to my professorial position. In a short time I had established the Post Graduate Clinical Course in Psychoanalytical Psychology, the only one of its kind in Australia. This course continued until I retired from the University in 1976. The graduates from this course have been instrumental in developing psychodynamic work in a variety of institutions in NSW and significant number have eventually been analysed and trained as analysts. Apart from writing papers and playing an important role in the establishment and development of the Australian Psychoanalytic Society, I was concerned to represent psychoanalysis in as many quarters as possible. I presented papers to the Australian and New Zealand Association for Science on Object Relations, published articles on Psychology and Medicine in the University Medical Journal and presented papers on Ethics and Psychology in the University … I was asked to appear as a witness for the defence in the now famous censorship (Tharunka) case in both the Police court and later in the Appeal Court. In both places I presented a case, which was finally accepted in the Appeal Court, which, based on psychoanalytic grounds rejected the prosecution case that the material in question was obscene or likely to corrupt.

On my retirement from the University in 1976 I established a full time private practice in psychoanalysis and continued to play an active role in both the Sydney Institute and the Australian Society … I did not take into analysis new cases once I had turned seventy but continued with those who had already commenced with me. The last analytic case was terminated in 1993. Since then I have been involved in consultations and supervision of both analysts and psychotherapists … Whether analysis in Australia develops as I hoped no longer rests with me, but depends on the younger generation.”

In Memoriam


Shahid Najeeb

I feel very honoured to be asked by Mrs. Martin to say a few words about Reg to this gathering. It gives me the opportunity to express the deep indebtedness that I and many of my colleagues feel for him. Though I speak personally I think I express in essence what many of my colleagues also feel. Today I can walk fairly firmly as a psychoanalyst, but that was not always the case. I remember Reg guiding my first faltering steps in the unknown land of psychoanalysis. His hand was firm but gentle. His eyes seemed bifocal as they listened attentively to what I said and then slipped into another reality deep within him. It was a way of thinking that was totally unfamiliar to me but absolutely fascinating. Behind him stood a whole lifetime of study, heavy with learning and reflection, but he dipped only rarely into it and then too very lightly. He preferred instead to concentrate on the emotional experience at hand. That is in essence what he taught me and that is what I still emulate. Over the 25 years or so that I knew him, I came to see and understand many different sides of him.

I know he was deeply influenced by Prof John Anderson ever since he joined a reading group in his early twenties, which examined Aesthetics, Ethics and Politics from an Andersonian perspective. He was to write much later of “the shattering experience for me when first encountering “The Knower and the Known”, “Mind as Feeling” and “The Non-existence of Consciousness”. It resulted in an internal revolution in my thinking.” It might be that these early experiences served to foster in Reg an intellectual vigour that was to be such a feature of Reg’s mental makeup. Reg brought this vigour and clarity of thought to psychoanalysis. He was never one for whom “anything goes”. He had very clear ideas that he could argue cogently for. This brought him into a lot of conflict with a lot of people but he was totally unrepentant. For him the rationality of the argument was what really mattered.

Then there was Reg of the psychoanalytic schools. I know he trained in the British Object Relations school, but I don’t know whether he regarded himself as a member of the Kleinian aristocracy posted out to this heathen land, but that is how he was regarded and consequently loved or hated, depending on which side of the Kleinian fence one found oneself in. But these were external perceptions. As far as he was concerned I think he saw himself arguing for a position that was neither nice nor reasonable, for it was based on a reality that was totally irrational. The subject of psychoanalysis, the unconscious mind, is irrational but its existence and manifestations needed to be argued for rationally. He saw this as being the unenviable task of any psychoanalyst and his intellectual rigour refused to let him capitulate to conventional reality and conventional modes of thinking.

Then there was the Reg I got to know at the level of the Australian Psychoanalytical Society, which he played a pivotal role in establishing and developing and of which he was the foundation President. There too he showed the same robustness of thought. I remember when I had just joined the Society and we were in one of our periodic bun fights, big guns were brought in from the International Psychoanalytic Association to quell the antipodean uprising. I remember Reg saying to them in a very matter of fact way “You have given us your opinion. We will think about it and do as we see fit.” He was not one to be cowed by authority or by any position that could not be rationally argued. But it must not be thought that Reg valued intellectual discourse at the expense of emotional truth; far from it. As I said at the beginning he gave absolute primacy to emotional communication. Probably the person that he respected most in our Society was our late member Vera Roboz. Vera could never be called an intellectual. She was so deeply grounded in emotional truth that she didn’t bother with social niceties or refined intellectual debate. The two of them could often be found chuckling together in a corner in Society meetings where profound matters of State were being debated. They made quite a couple. Reg was always the dignified, gracious and polite elder of the Society, while Vera it’s abrupt, impolite, nonconformist child, yet they both shared razor sharp minds, steely wills and above all, a deep commitment to emotional truth.

Then there was the Reg that we got to know as students. We knew absolutely nothing of the enormous hardships he encountered as he grew up in the Great Depression or how for many years he did soul destroying menial work, as he completed his secondary education and put himself through University by attending night lectures. Through our student myopic eyes we saw only his academic achievements and his great learning which impressed and intimidated us. He used to practice in rooms that were reached first by a steep stair case that opened to a landing where the waiting room was and from there another short flight led to his consulting room. To many of us this seemed a perilous journey up Mount Olympus to the abode of the gods. You can imagine my consternation when one day on coming for supervision, I climbed up the first flight of stairs and found a goat standing in the waiting room! Had Zeus cast a spell on some unfortunate student? Trembling I announced the presence of this unfortunate creature to Reg, but he was as surprised as I was. Together we tried to herd this misguided creature out but it kept heading for the consulting room. I’ll never know why! We did eventually manage to convince this animal that psychoanalysis was not for goats.

At least that is what we thought. What Reg didn’t realize then was that that goat was my alter-self in a contemporaneous incarnation that could not be shooed out so easily. In the years that followed I became as sure footed and as stubborn as that goat and gave Reg a run for his money. I argued, fought and butted him up and down every single psychoanalytic idea that he cared to bring up with me. I would not accept anything because he said so. I had to put my hand in the wound and feel for myself. I don’t know how much psychoanalysis I learnt, but I learnt a lot about this man that I gave such a hard time to. I learnt about his patience, his humour, his fine intellect and his respect for the truth. He went through some very painful times in those years that he bore with quiet dignity and which he took full responsibility for. Only in recent years, as he reflected on his life, he wrote about that time. “... now in the closing stages of my life I do not regard myself as ever having been a success, but I am satisfied that I have demonstrated to myself that I am responsible for myself and that it is I who must take responsibility for my life and actions and it is an escape to blame (anyone else) for where one ends. The important event in my professional life and the one that eventually destroyed my reputation with many of my colleagues and which finally terminated my involvement with institutional psychoanalysis convinced me that I alone was privy to the facts; that I knew what I should do and did it and that despite others opinions I did what was necessary and that to acquiesce and agree with my critics, while it may have proved less damaging to my reputation, would have involved an abrogation of all that I believed; that man should know himself and act on that.” The more I got to understand him the more I grew to respect him for this integrity. I was touched by his generosity in his dealings with me for he had a faith in me that I didn’t have in myself. We came from very different worlds and generations and we understood emotional matters somewhat differently, but he was generous enough to let me develop my own understanding which I think he respected. His generosity was of course confined not only to me, for he wanted to and did donate everything he had to the general good. His strong rational mind was never squeamish and he faced his declining health with the same robustness with which he approached everything else. He used to say with a wry smile that though we get very caught up with the various illnesses of our old age, it was a bit irrational, for if one didn’t go one way, one was sure to go by another, for one cannot just keep going on, that’s mad. Yet it was tragic to watch his decline, to see the swing go out of his stride and watch that fine mind lose its sharpness. He had nurtured my mind right from its inception into psychoanalytic training, accompanied it through its various vicissitudes, so that now it seems strange that he accompanies me no more as my friend, my teacher and my companion. He has taught me to walk and left me with gifts that I cannot hold out to show you. I hope the way in which I understand psychoanalysis, that he loved so deeply and that he devoted his life to, will be the way in which I will always honour him.