2018: The Road Ahead

Salvete, readers!

Happy new year!

I’m a bit on the fence about new year’s resolutions. They never seem to work out, because they tend to be unrealistic. At the same time I’m also a big believer in having a clear sense of the path I’m on, so I do make concrete plans for the year ahead.


In terms of my writing career, my ultimate goal is of course to reach the point where I can write full-time. But it takes a lot of work to get there, and that’s what this year is all about. So here is my list of writing and research priorities for the new year!

On the research front, I’m teaming up with classical archaeologist Dr Amelia Brown to co-write a really exciting academic book! Our project will feature the first translations of the early sources associated with St. Nicholas of Myra, along with a commentary. Yes, that St. Nick! For me, this all started when I went to do some research for an historical novel about St Nicholas, and then I was shocked to discover that most of the sources for his life hadn’t been translated from Greek. This is the first time research for my historical fiction has led me to produce original academic research. I’m looking forward to sharing what we discover.

In the world of commercial fiction, the Ashes of Olympus trilogy kicks off mid-2018 with the first instalment, The Way Home. I am gearing up to work with my editor and market the book. I’ve already contacted a few bookstores in my local area, and they seem interested in stocking it. Yay, Dymocks! Yay, indie bookstores! You guys are the best. I’ve also devised a pretty thorough plan to promote the book online and have set aside a budget for advertising and a book launch. Oh, the book launch! I’m looking forward to organising that, it’ll be so much fun. You’re all invited, of course! The more the merrier! And though I will be attending a few cons and such to promote it face-to-face, the bulk of the promo will take place online. Makes sense, as I’m working with a digital-first publisher. The strength of the story is probably the biggest factor in attracting readers, or so I’d like to think. People fall in love with your characters and your world. That’s why one of the keys to promoting the book online is a prequel short story, which I intend to release for free to all the major online retailers via Draft2Digital. Keep your eyes peeled!

I’m also going to start seeking a publisher for The Black Unicorn, my middle-grade fantasy in which Celtic myth meets steampunk. I had initially intended to publish it independently, but I’m taking the advice of a few people in the industry and seeking a traditional publisher before I go down that path. Finding readers is an uphill battle to begin with for an indie author, and just about impossible for children’s books. The market for children’s ebooks just doesn’t seem to exist. I’m really excited to start the next leg of my publication journey. And I have a feeling won’t be quite as tough to get published this time, because I have a foot in the door. I’m just about finished the first draft, which I have been serialising via Wattpad. The serial has been on hiatus over the Christmas period, but I look forward to continuing the updates next weekend. I’ve written loads which I haven’t yet shared. Once the serialisation is complete, I’ll probably leave it up for a month or so before taking it down and giving it a good polish.

But mostly, I am really looking forward to getting a copy printed and bound and giving it to my son for his birthday. Without him, the story wouldn’t exist. Even if it doesn’t get published, it will all be worthwhile to see the look on his face when he unwraps it.

After that, it’s time to get cracking on the next Ashes of Olympus, whose working title is The Ivory Gate. Guess what? I have about 60,000 words down on it already, so that will largely be a matter of refining what I’ve already got. I’ve got my work cut out for me. I’m looking forward to making my story the best it can be. After June, that’s probably where the bulk of the writerly work will go.

There are also a couple of projects which have been in the works for a long time, but which I haven’t discussed much online. Probably the most exciting for me is The Ravenglass Adventures, an audio drama series I’m co-writing with my friend Chris Spensley. It’s a pulpy sci-fi serial about a teenage space archaeologist named Philia Ravenglass. After some very helpful and encouraging notes from an experienced screenwriter, we’re doing a few tweaks to the pilot script. After that, we plan to record later in the year and release it for free as a podcast. We have assembled an amazing cast, and I can’t wait to share the story with you. Post-production will be a lengthy process, and we’re doing this in our spare time, so I cannot say yet when the show will be released, but you’ll be the first to know when it becomes available.

That’s about it, as far as the major projects go. At least, that’s as much as I can share for now. I do have a couple of little surprises up my sleeve… Short stories and interactive fiction and the like. Whew! It’s going to be a great year. It does seem like a lot, but much of it is bringing work to completion which has been in the pipeline for a while. Stay tuned.

Until next time,


Adventures with Centaurs!

Salvete, readers!

You know that bit in the 2014 movie Hercules where our heroes spot horsemen from a distance and mistake them for Centaurs? As a classicist, I’m probably not meant to admit this, but I have a real soft spot for that movie. But then, I also have a soft spot for my childhood dog, who is an idiot.

Turns out that this motif of misunderstood sight has a very long history. Earlier this year, I worked with Dr Greta Hawes and Prof Minerva Alganza Roldánin on a research article which deals with that tradition. It has just been published in the 2017 edition of Polymnia. I’ll give you the basic run-down here.

In the fourth century BC, the Greek writer Palaephatus wrote a treatise called On Unbelievable Tales, in which he refuted many of the Greek myths as scientifically implausible and then postulated his own theories about the origin of the stories. Basically, he argues that mundane events were misconstrued and wound up being exaggerated to the point where ridiculous half-truths come to be accepted as realities.

Here is what he says regarding the Centaurs, as we have translated it in the article (pp 234-35):

It is said about the Centaurs that they were beasts and that they had the appearance of a horse, except for their head, which was that of a man. Even if someone believes this beast existed, it is impossible, since human and equine natures are entirely incompatible, their food is different, and it is not possible for the food of a horse to pass through the mouth and gullet of a human. If a creature of this appearance had once existed, it would still exist now. Here is the truth: at the time that Ixion was king of Thessaly, a herd of bulls gathered on Mt Pelion, cutting off access to the other mountains. The bulls would come down to where humans lived, ruin trees and crops and destroy their farm animals. And so Ixion announced that he would give a great amount of money to whomever killed the bulls. Some young men from the foothills, from a town called ‘Nephele’, contrived to teach their horses to carry riders. (Before this they did not know how to ride horses, only how to use them to draw chariots.) They then mounted their horses and rode to where the bulls were, and attacked the herd by hurling javelins at them. Whenever they were rushed by the bulls, the youths would manage to retreat – for their horses could outpace them. But when the bulls came to a stop, they would turn and hurl their javelins. Using these tactics, they killed them, and earned the name ‘Centaurs’ since they ‘pierced the bulls’. (The name did not come from their having the appearance of bulls, for Centaurs do not have the appearance of a bull, but of a horse and a human). So the name came from this event.

The Centaurs got money from Ixion, and their pride in their achievement and their wealth grew into arrogance: they committed many brutal acts, especially against Ixion himself. Ixion resided in what is now called Larissa, although at the time the people who lived there were called ‘Lapiths’. The Lapiths invited the Centaurs to a feast; the Centaurs got drunk and carried off their wives: they bundled the women onto their horses and fled homeward. From that position, they made war on the Lapiths, descending onto the plain by night, they would hide, then burn and pillage by day before returning to the mountains. When they rode away in this manner, all that was visible to those watching them from a distance were their backs: like a horse but without a horse’s head, then the rest like a human, but without the legs. Onlookers, describing this strange sight, would say: ‘The Centaurs, from Nephele, are attacking us!’ And from such statements, and their appearance, the unbelievable myth was fabricated, that from a cloud a ‘horse-man’ was produced on the mountain.


Our article examines the way in which this passage by Palaephatus affected later traditions about the Centaurs in classical and early medieval sources. We examine medical texts, epic poetry, manuals on rhetoric, and Christian histories.

The article is freely available via open access. Merry Christmas! I really hope you enjoy reading it. It was a blast researching and writing this, and some of what I discovered might just wind up being worked into one of my historical fantasy novels in the near future…

Until next time, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year!



Bibliomancy was a form of divination which was popular in the Middle Ages. First, you picked up a sacred or significant text, like Homer or Virgil or the Bible. You laid the book on its spine, allowing it to fall open. Then you shut your eyes and picked a passage at random from the open page. This passage supposedly revealed something about your future.

When you try it these days there is a chance you’ll get stuck with the copyright page, which is very confusing. I suspect this is how many copyright lawyers found their start.

Museum memories

Salvete, readers!

One of the best experiences of my life was working as an education officer at a small antiquities museum. I loved seeing how different people reacted to artefacts…

Archaeologist: Well, we can clearly see the fertility motif, and our most accurate dating technique puts it somewhere in the late Archaic period, and the decorative style and clay are consistent with Attica. But without knowing the exact provenance, I’d hesitate to identify the artefact more precisely. Let’s call it a ‘ritual object.’ Please don’t cut my funding.

Historian: I can’t find any reference to this object in the literary sources. Are you sure it exists? Please don’t cut my funding.

Historian 2: Wait! If we interpret it *this* way, it fits my hypothesis! And this obscure German scholar published a paper on it 84 years ago, and that proves it! Please don’t cut my funding.

Philosopher: Well, existentially– Oh, I’ve lost my funding.

Museum patron: Gosh, how much is this stuff worth?! Your discipline must be really, really well-funded! Wait! Are you sure you should be displaying that in a museum? Think of the children!

Adolescent museum patron: When’s lunch?

Pre-adolescent museum patron: Hee hee, doodle!

Thirty-three year old museum patron: Hee hee, doodle!

Until next time,


My writerly month: June, 2017

Salvete, readers!

It was a tumultuous month, to say the least.

One of my old friends passed away a few weeks ago. Dealing with this ended up being a large focus of my month. I had planned to attend a local writer’s event, but the funeral was organised for that afternoon. Theoretically, I guess I could have attended the event in the morning and then gone to the funeral, but I thought it was better to focus my energies on helping out my friend’s family that day. Then I delivered a eulogy at the funeral. That’s one of life’s less pleasant story-telling exercises, but really vital. Stories can help people heal. The important thing, as always, is to speak from the heart and make it real. This person was an important character in your life, so you want it to be as genuine as possible. A few people came up to me afterward and said how much they appreciated my speech, so I guess I did okay.

I decided to take a week off from blogging after that. Sorry about that. I needed some head-space.

In the end, finances prevented me from attending this year’s CYA Conference in Brisbane, but I’m really thrilled to see that some of my writer friends have experienced such success this year in the pitch sessions and learned so much from the panellists. And gosh, I’m particularly happy that somebody to whom I gave some encouragement at last year’s conference did so well in the competition! Well done to everybody, but particular congratulations go to the organisers for making this conference as special as it is.

Things are steaming ahead on my current novel. It’s going in a rather different direction to what I initially envisioned, because the characters aren’t quite who I thought they were. Initially I had intended to retell the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf from the viewpoint of a teenage girl. Beowulf was going to be a love interest. However, after spending about 10,000 words developing the female protagonist, I realised it would be a real disservice to her if Beowulf came sweeping in. She doesn’t need a male love interest to be a well-defined character. If anything, adding a male protagonist was in this instance going to undermine her characterisation by robbing her of agency. The solution, of course, is to remove the Beowulf framework and let the story stand on its own. It’s inspired by Beowulf, but is no longer an adaptation. The novel is an original historical fantasy whose heroine is a Viking girl. Stepping away from the canonical text is absolutely exhilarating. It has given me the freedom to create something wholly new, and to take my characters to places they never could have otherwise.

Meanwhile, my amazing co-authors and I are pretty much ready to submit our article for peer review. I’ll keep you posted on that one. I also got some good writerly news last week, which could lead to some better news in the future… But that’s all I’ll say for now.

Until next time,


Historical howlers

Salvete, readers!

I’ve written a few posts now which talked about the ideas of historical authenticity vs historical accuracy. Here’s the long and the short of it. Basically, I don’t think the concept of ‘accuracy’ in historical fiction is all it’s cracked up to be. What’s important is that the story feels real and remains sympathetic to historical sources. Anachronisms are a problem insofar as they undermine the reader’s ability to buy into your world. In fact, there are instances where careful and conscious employment of anachronism can result in strong story-telling.

Good gravy, it reads like a manifesto, doesn’t it?

That said, I do want to stress there are definitely instances in which anachronism can have a disastrous effect upon the sense of authenticity. I’m not talking about the decision to, say, invent a scenario in which two historical characters meet when they couldn’t have. I’m talking about silly mistakes that make it glaringly apparent that the author hasn’t thought about their world deeply or done a lot of research. For a lot of readers of historical fiction, that can be a deal-breaker. On a deep and fundamental level, historical howlers can undermine an author’s voice. The illusion that this story could be true falls away to reveal an author who is visiting the past like a tourist. When anachronism undermines the world-building, the entire story is going to fall down. Let’s have a look at a few examples.

For whatever reason, food is one of the most common places where howlers occur. I don’t know why descriptions of meals are so galling when the author gets it wrong—maybe it’s because sharing a meal together is such a universal human experience, and because it is a classic setting for character development. So when I read stories of, say, peasants in early medieval Ireland tucking into potatoes… well, suddenly the story doesn’t feel real any more. Potatoes, after all, come from the Americas and were hence unknown in Europe until after Columbus. But they quickly became common fare, so I guess they’ve become shorthand for peasantry. Gosh, I remember grinding my teeth when I saw peasants hurling tomatoes on Merlin for much the same reason.

Leaving the middle ages aside, howlers like this really grate when the author is writing about historical experiences within living memory. Kathryn Gossow (author of the contemporary fantasy Cassandra, which is really good and I recommend it highly), pointed out on one of my previous posts that it doesn’t make sense for a story set in 1950s Australia to feature a working class family sitting down to a hearty meal of mac and cheese. Really it should be meat and veg. A really clear sense of world history is your best friend when it comes to writing about food—not just the nitty gritty details of a particular time and place, but a clear sense of the ‘big picture’ of history around the globe.

I think howlers become a serious problem when they undermine characterisation. I’m going to use another example from a very popular historical fantasy series set in ancient Rome—I’d rather not say which one. It’s a first-person narrative. We are inside the protagonist’s head for the duration of the novel, and so I’d argue that it is extra important to keep the story feeling authentic. One of the subplots revolves around an infected wound. And that’s fine, infection was rife before the age of antibiotics. You could die of a broken bone in antiquity. The issue is that the protagonist describes it in terms of ‘infection.’ As in, he seems to be aware of bacteria. Now, the Greeks and Romans were well aware of the process of corruption. Aristotle devoted an entire treatise to the subject. And yet to have the character diagnose himself using the modern medical term has an effect like crunching gears on a car. It’s unpleasant to the ear and bad for the mechanics. The protagonist doesn’t sound Roman anymore—it’s become a generic fantasy with Romanesque costumes. Sometimes historical authenticity comes down to something as simple as word choice.

To avoid howlers, I always recommend digging into the primary sources for the period—newpapers, diaries, and especially novels from the time you’re depicting. Not just to mine for details, but to get a sense of the voice, the way people talked and thought.

And you know what? I’m also going to recommend a resource: Susanne Alleyne’s Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders. It’s an awesome little reference guide. The examples used in this book do tend to gravitate strongly toward a European and American context, which makes sense given the author’s historical interests. However, it also gives a really good, solid grounding in the methodology for avoiding historical howlers. And, you know, if you want to know a bit about medieval undies, it’s a great place to look.

And on that lovely note…


Essay: Changing views of mental illness in WWI

Salvete, readers!

With ANZAC Day fast approaching, I thought I would take a short break from my usual ramblings about classical history and historical fiction to share an essay on how the phenomenon of shell shock affected Australian medical attitudes toward psychiatry and mental illness during and after World War I.

World War I was catalytic in the history of Australian psychiatry. The war’s epidemic of shell shock prompted the gradual acceptance of Freudian ideas of the subconscious, and moreover altered medical perceptions of insanity. Prior to the war, Australian doctors followed their British counterparts in treating mental illness under value-laden terms such as “insanity” and “madness.” The mental hospital was yet to emerge as a facility for treating the mentally ill. Rather, the asylum system prevailed. Similarly, early psychiatrists were viewed by the medical community as immoral charlatans. However, the failure of traditional medicine and military discipline to cure shell shock pushed a few radical Australian and British doctors to experiment with Freud’s techniques and adopt his principles of the unconscious. However, Australia’s medical community was not willing to accept Freud wholesale. The urgent call for a cure made it necessary to streamline Freud’s ideas toward a more practical, therapeutic approach. Physicians also dropped the sexual component of Freud’s theories to render psychiatric principles morally palatable. Ultimately, the acceptance of psychiatry by Australian doctors would result in the abandonment of the asylum system in favour of the mental hospital, and the adoption of a more sympathetic attitude toward the mentally ill. As a result of shell shock, the nomenclature of mental illness became less judgemental and more clinical. These changes would have lasting effects in not only the military medical world, but also the civilian.

To contextualise shell shock within the history of Australian psychiatry, it is worthwhile first examining attitudes of the pre-war medical community toward mental illness. The Australian medical community followed that of the British in dealing with the mentally ill from the nineteenth century onward, as most doctors practising in Australia had trained in England, and were heavily influenced by British medical literature.[1] Australian physicians tended to view neurotics through the lenses of British modernity and moralism.[2] To this end, they treated neurotics as failures of mental and moral fibre. In men, mental illness was seen as a manifestation of “hysteria,” an effeminate weakness caused by personal lapse in masculine virtue. In the case of women, however, doctors viewed hysteria as an organic problem originating in malady of the uterus.[3] Social Darwinists also pointed toward madness as the result of supposed genetic predisposition toward, as Dr. Wolfsohn put it in 1918, “feeble-mindedness.”[4] Neurosis could be blamed upon degeneracy in subjects’ pedigree.

Doctors during the early twentieth century thus diagnosed mental illness by attaching labels to its victims, such as the aforementioned “madness” and “hysteria,” and also treated mental cases as “insane” or “lunatic.”[5] The employment of such a value-laden system of nomenclature in dealing with neurosis led physicians to view the mentally ill with contempt. At best, the insane were objects of pity, to be supported by community charity and the state. At worst, doctors viewed neurotics with scorn, a blemish upon the face of Australia.[6] Indeed, a limited minority of Australian doctors advocated a eugenic program of selective breeding, segregation, and state-sanctioned sterilisation of lunatics to breed out mental feebleness. This observation should be qualified, however. The idea of eugenics certainly held notoriety, but only a handful of doctors took it seriously.[7]

However, there can be little doubt that mental illness was little understood or appreciated in the years leading up to World War I.[8] Though some doctors felt compassion for lunatics, there was little question of curing them. The mentally unstable were treated as lepers– one may see this in the application of the term “alienist” to asylum doctors.[9] Asylums were often used not only to look after lunatics, but also to keep them safely away from society.[10] The asylum system thus provided a convenient rug under which the nation could sweep its mad men and women. To be committed was a crippling social stigma which was to be avoided at all costs.[11]

The application of the asylum system becomes immediately apparent upon examination of early reports on shell shock in the Medical Journal of Australia. As the nation’s most influential medical publication, the MJA was a cornerstone in shaping medical opinion on the treatment of the insane. The MJA’s first mention of shell shock comes from early 1915, in a brief sidebar:


It appears that a considerable number of recruits who were enlisted in Lord Kitchener’s army were found to be insane. These recruits are brought before the Medical Board, of which Dr. Milns is the Lunacy expert, and in all cases in which insanity in one or another form is discovered, are sent to the County Asylums or to their friends, after the necessary formalities are complied with…[12]


As the above passage illustrates, commitment to lunatic asylums or to private care were routine methods of treating madness at the war’s beginning. In the majority of cases, asylums were not the sinister places of legend. However, the asylum system was open to abuse, vividly demonstrated by inquiries into maltreatment and neglect in Britain’s infamous Bethlem Hospital and York Asylum.[13] Lunatic asylums were state-financed facilities, usually run by a small staff under a medical superintendent, most of whom lacked psychiatric training and were uninterested in psychiatry.[14] Essentially, asylums were caretaker facilities which theoretically provided care and sanctuary for the committed.[15] However, they were often overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded.[16] Maintaining the physical health of the insane was not a high priority for Australia’s state governments.

The medical community also looked upon psychiatrists and their profession with a suspicious eye for much of the early twentieth century.[17] Psychiatry was at this stage a largely untested field. Recent European advancements through the works of Freud and Jung were considered only pseudo-scientific by the British medical community.[18] Due to the aforementioned influence of British medical opinion over Australian, Australian doctors followed suit.[19] Freudian psychiatry was often rejected for nationalist reasons. Imperial loyalty to England forbade endorsement of radical “Teutonic medicine.”[20] Doctors also dismissed psychiatry as a quack profession. To an extent, this opinion was justified: the majority of psychiatrists of this era were not registered doctors.[21] Moreover, the medical community saw Freudian techniques of deep analysis of the subconscious as time-consuming, ineffective and wasteful.[22]

However, by far the greatest cause for concern for British and Australian doctors was the immorality of Freud’s theories regarding sexuality as the driving force behind human endeavour.[23] The Freudian principle that neurosis stemmed from repression of “infantile sexual libido” hardly gelled with Victorian or Christian moralism.[24] As Dr. Paul Dane put it in a furious letter to the editor of the MJA, the progress of psychotherapy was hampered even in 1926 by “the absurd criticisms and childish opposition of certain armchair philosophers.”[25] Though he had his adherents in Australia, Freud and his followers were seen as a corrupting force.[26] For this reason Australian medical schools did not offer psychiatric or psychological training until 1925.[27]

The sudden epidemic of shell shock during World War I, however, challenged such perceptions of psychiatry and dramatically altered Australian views regarding mental illness toward a more empathetic approach.[28] These changes were the result of a long, bitter dispute in the medical world between those who clung to the orthodoxy of traditional medicine and those willing to experiment with psychiatric therapies to treat shell shock.[29] The following paragraphs will outline this dispute and its results.

Shell shock posed a baffling dilemma to doctors at the front lines.[30] Men who had appeared rational were reduced to a state of being “acutely hysterical” after suffering trauma under fire.[31] Close observation of patients revealed that “….they are usually quite reasonable, and, strange to say, are capable of giving a lucid account of their condition in writing.”[32] Stranger still, victims often did not manifest physical symptoms.[33] While civilian psychiatrists immediately pointed to Freud’s theories, most military physicians clung to traditional organic explanations for war neurosis.[34] Initially, doctors surmised that sufferers of shell shock had “their nerves completely shattered by shell fire.”[35] Many surmised that the concussive effects of shell fire were to blame for the strange symptoms. It was reasoned that the effect of being buried, thrown, or blown up, had the effect of desynchronising the central nervous system, causing physical shock.[36] By the war’s ending, however, this theory was disproven, as many cases had not faced shell fire.[37]

Nonetheless, Australian doctors continued to seek an organic explanation for shell shock. The most striking example of this development comes from Dr. Sydney Penn, who in 1918 vehemently argued that “infection of the tonsils, sinuses, antra, or teeth” was to blame for shell shock.[38] Though this seems laughable by contemporary standards, accurate anatomical knowledge of the central nervous system was scant at the time.[39] On the other hand, it is also worth considering prejudice in the medical system against experimentation with psychiatry for the reasons described above. Bias is evident in the MJA’s reviews of medical literature: until the 1920s, the anonymous reviewers gave glowing praise to publications which provided an organic explanation for shell shock, while condemning psychiatric treatises as “exaggeration or simulation.”[40] Military doctors who clung to the tenets of traditional medicine attempted to find other causes for shell shock, and thus avoid the corrupting influence of psychiatry.

The British army, however, tended to view shell shock as the result of a lapse in military discipline.[41] This is highly significant, as Australians suffering from shell shock on the Western Front were treated in British hospitals by British doctors during the war.[42] However, the Australian Army Medical Corps were allowed jurisdiction in regard to the health and wellbeing of Australian troops.[43] The compassion exhibited by Australian doctors in their treatment and diagnosis of war neuroses is striking. Romanticisation should be avoided, however. During the war’s early years, the AIF followed the British line closely, though this never extended to executing shell shocked troops as cowards or malingerers as it sometimes did in the British army.[44] Empathy for Australian troops under the “hell of fire” was not the only cause, but also to a sense of confusion in dealing with neurosis.[45] Uncertain as to the correct treatment, yet unwilling to inflict the indignity of commitment or punishment upon the neurotic Anzac, Australian doctors were more inclined than the British to offer medical discharge to shell shocked patients.[46] The contrast between British and Australian treatment of shell shock may be attributed to their motives. In wartime, the British were foremost interested in quickly returning wounded soldiers to the battlefield: this was perhaps justified, as England faced the threat of invasion.[47] The AIF, though no less committed to the war, were not so pressed. Moreover, Australian soldiers were all volunteers. Australia’s rejection of disciplinary action as a countermeasure against shell shock is fortunate, as the results could be disastrous.

The prior failure of discipline and traditional medicine to deal with shell shock left a vacuum which psychiatry could fill during the interwar years. No doctor serving in Australia’s military during the war was a trained analyst.[48] Indeed, though shell shock taught doctors “as never before how immense the influence is of the mind upon the body,” many still remained sceptical of psycho-analysis due to the repugnancy of Freud’s sexual theories.[49] Freud argued that the roots of shell shock lay in childhood and were strongly influenced by sexual impulses.[50] Such ideas gained little currency even among Freud’s Australian followers. Of more interest to military doctors working with psychological trauma were the concepts of emotional repression and mental defence mechanisms as causes and treating shell shock victims using Freud’s “talking cure,” the precursor of modern counselling.[51]

Yet the moral stigma of psychoanalysis’ predilection toward sexuality remained.  Once more the answer came from England, in the pages of the Lancet.[52] In a revolutionary 1917 article, Dr. W.H.R. Rivers coolly argued in favour of psychoanalysis– with caution.[53] In his opinion, moral outrage was no excuse to neglect a potential cure for shell shock. He argued that psychiatry’s “undoubted merits are in serious danger of being obscured, or even wholly lost to view, in the conflict produced by the extravagance of Freud’s adherents and the rancour of their opponents.”[54] A more moderate approach would produce results. To a large extent, Australian doctors heard his plea. Before the year’s ending, articles discussing the treatment of psychological casualties abounded in the MJA. This shift may conceivably have never occurred if the British Lancet had not advocated it first.

            Such conciliations toward psychiatry came at a cost to its practitioners. Unsurprisingly, Freud’s concept of sexuality was first bogeyman to be exorcised from the practice of psychiatry in Australia: as J.W. Springthorpe said, “the war neuroses have completely shattered the original perverted notion of a sexual basis and has driven such Freudism into oblivion.”[55] The removal of the sexualised dimension of psychiatry ultimately proved a boon for psychiatrists, as it allowed them the freedom to explore psychiatric treatments without the condemnation of their peers.[56] Hypnotism as a means of exploring patients’ subconscious was another treatment experimented with, but ultimately dropped. Hypnotic suggestion ably treated the symptoms of shell shock, but did not address the disease.[57] In fact, hypnosis could do more harm than good. While showing immediate outward signs of recovery, a patient could be left with a festering psyche as hypnotic suggestion urged further repression of the problem.[58]

Doctors further streamlined the talking cure during the interwar years. To a large extent, doctors were pushed to reject Freud’s laborious methods of deep analysis—examination of complex tensions between patients’ id, ego, and super-ego— to resolve emotional traumas faced throughout life, in favour of a more expedient approach.[59] The immense pressures of time and resources upon wartime doctors had prompted a shift toward a new treatment, “abreaction.”[60] Abreaction served to resolve the suppression of a single traumatic event in patients’ lives. Unlike deep analysis, abreaction involved sessions over the course of weeks or months, rather than years.[61] The techniques of abreaction would evolve toward modern civilian counselling techniques over the course of the 1920s. Discharged military doctors who had embraced psychotherapeutic techniques were already pushing for their application in the civilian world by 1917.[62] One of the main results of army doctors’ experimentation with shell shock treatment was the development of occupational therapy; the process of removing the patient from their usual surroundings and allowing them to vent pent-up feelings and offering objective advice were key features of occupational therapy adapted from treatments developed during the war.[63]

As psycho-analysis acquired a foothold upon Australian medicine, so too did the terminology of neurosis evolve toward medical jargon and thereby redefine psychosis as a medical rather than moral problem.[64] No longer would the sufferer of shell shock be labelled as hysterical or insane. The medical community came to view psychosis as a treatable clinical problem instead.[65] This new mode of nomenclature came about as doctors began to view mental cases with a less judgemental eye.[66] It was such a shift in attitude which prompted Drs. Smith and Pear in their seminal handbook on treating shell shock to suggest that:


The essence of the mentally afflicted patient’s trouble is some particular form of anxiety or worry which is individual and personal. The aim of diagnosis, therefore, should be not merely to determine the appropriate generic label for the affliction, but rather to discover the particular circumstances which have given rise to the present state.[67]


To an extent, this shift in attitude may be traced to issues of class. Those committed to asylums during the years leading up to the war were mostly vagrants, unemployed or itinerant workers. Madness, it appears, had been a condition almost exclusive to the poor.[68] Shell shock, on the other hand, did not discriminate between socio-economic classes. Well-educated officers too were susceptible to neurosis. One may argue, therefore, that shell shock for the first time presented Australian doctors with challenges of mental health from their own class.[69] Thus, the medical community came to the problem more sympathetically than they might have otherwise.

Such an attitude is clearly demonstrated in a 1919 MJA review. The author points out the “interesting fact that officers are especially prone to anxiety states, while most cases of compression hysteria fall among privates.”[70] Under terms later described in the MJA, these conditions amounted to essentially the same thing.[71] However, while the officer class was afflicted by a lamentable condition, the private was labelled under emasculative term of hysteria. If war neurosis did not afflict officers as well as privates, one may speculate that it would not have been such an over-riding concern for military doctors.

The most profound sign of the swing toward a clinical viewpoint is the replacement of the asylum system with that of the mental hospital. Indeed, the post-war treatment of shell shocked veterans was the main driver for the shift away from the asylum system. Among the earliest designated mental hospitals were those developed by the army for ex-servicemen in the mid 1920s.[72] The abandonment of the asylum was in the interests of returned Anzacs, as army’s Repatriation Department did not want its shell-shocked men made pariahs by the Australian community. Voluntary commitment to a mental hospital would carry less shame for the returned serviceman than the ignominy of the asylum.[73] To an extent, this was the case: numbers of patients treated by the repatriation hospital system soared from “1,570 in 1926 to 4,891 by 1939.”[74] The rise of the mental hospital was also a reaction to the medical community’s observation of the treatment of war neurotics in conventional hospitals, which caused some to rethink the curative befits of the asylum system.[75] As Dr. Paul Dane espoused,


Separate wards or special hospitals should in my opinion be provided.  If these psycho-neurotics are treated in an ordinary hospital, they are subjected to a good deal of uncalled-for criticism by the other patients who class some of them as “macroon;” the authority of the doctor is also gravely undermined by the same kind of criticism.[76]


The humane concern doctors such as Dane expressed for the wellbeing of their patients is commendable. However, it should be noted that other factors influenced the development of Australian mental hospitals. The Repatriation Commission hoped to ease the financial burden of pensions awarded to shell shock victims by curing them in such facilities.[77] Moreover, it was hoped that the research undertaken in state mental hospitals would be contusive to a psychological screening process in future wars, in order to avert the potential re-emergence of similar strains and increase the fighting effectiveness of the AIF.[78] The abandonment of the asylum system was a slow and steady process, the main beneficiaries of which were men. While mental hospitals were the preserve of male veterans during the interwar period, admissions of women to asylums increased dramatically.[79] It would take another World War for the psychological lessons learnt from the First to be cemented in the broader Australian community; nonetheless, the first steps had been taken.[80]

Shell shock in World War I redefined medical attitudes toward mental illness and led to the legitimisation of psychiatry in Australia. The epidemic challenged the conceptual validity of “madness.” The failure of traditional medicine to treat the problem pressed medical practitioners to adapt Freud’s theory of the subconscious mind and experiment with his techniques. This experimentation necessitated some changes to Australian psychiatry. However, the urgent call for a cure and strains upon resources led doctors to streamline Freudian notions in favour of an expedient, curative model. Australia’s medical community almost immediately exorcised Freud’s theories regarding human sexuality. This resulted in a sanitised version of psychiatry, which allowed Australian doctors the freedom to experiment with psychotherapy without the stigma of immorality. Such changes also aided the legitimatisation of psychiatry in Australia practitioners couched the practice of psychiatry in jargon acceptable to the medical community. No longer would mental cases be viewed as weaklings to be consigned to the asylum, but as patients suffering from curable illness. This shift in perception led to the gradual replacement of Australia’s asylum system with that of the mental hospital. Moreover, the psychiatric treatments developed by a handful of radical doctors in response to the crisis of shell shock would have lasting ramifications not only in the military medical world, but also the civilian. World War I thus marked a distinct turning point in the history of Australian psychiatry, leading toward public acceptance of psychiatric principles, and a greater medical awareness for the mentally ill.



Primary Sources

Carbery, A.D. “Some Medical Aspects of Recruiting for War.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol. 2, 3 August 1927, pp. 365-70.

Dane, Paul. “Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 2. 18 December 1926, p. 853.

Dane, Paul. “The Psycho-Neuroses of Soldiers and their Treatment.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 1, 25 April 1925, p. 427-30.

Downey, M.H. “The Management and Treatment of Early Insanity.” Australian Medical Gazette. Vol 2, 20 Dec 1911, pp. 719-24.

Freud, Sigmund. “Introduction.” In E. Jones (ed.), Psychoanalysis and the War Neuroses. Psychoanalytic Press, London, 1921, pp. 1-4.

 Jones, S. “Experiences in the Treatment of Voluntary Patients at the Psychiatric Clinic, Broughton Hall.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 2. 4 September, 1926, pp. 316-19.

 Jones, W.E. “A Case of Shell Shock.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 1, 4 March, 1916, p. 203-4.

 Jones, W.E. “Naval and Military News.” Medical Journal of Australia. Vol. 1, 16 January, 1915, p. 58.

 Lowson, J.P. “The Treatment of War Neuroses by Abreaction of the War Shock.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol. 2, 6 November, 1926, pp. 621-626.

 Maudsley, Henry. “Australasian Medical Congress, Brisbane, 1920.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 2, 25 September 1920, pp. 324-6.

 McWhae, D.M. “Neuroses.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 2, October 20, 1919, pp. 337-43.

 Morgan, Idris. “Hypnotic Suggestion.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 1, 15 January 1927, pp. 85-92.

 Review. “Shell Concussion and War Neuroses.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 1, 1 March, 1919, p. 173.

 Penn, Sydney. “A Plea for Adequate Recognition of the Part that can be Played in Shell-Shock by Septic Foci.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 2, 10 August, 1918, pp. 115-6.

 Regnell, W.R. “The Psycho-Neuroses of War.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 1, 7 June 1919, pp. 455-60.

 Rivers, W.H.R. “Freud’s Psychology of the Unconscious.” The Lancet. Vol 1, 16 June, 1917, pp. 912-14.

 Smith, E. and Pear, T. Shell Shock and its Lessons. Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1917.

 Springthorpe, J.W. “Twelve Months Service at the Front.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 1, 29 April, 1916, pp. 355- 61.

 Springthorpe, J.W. “War Neuroses and Civil Practice.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol 2, 4 October, 1919, pp. 279-83.

 Summons, W.  “Medical Work Seen in the Australian Military Hospitals.” The Medical Journal of Australia. Vol. 2, 22 September, 1917, pp. 244-7.

 Wolfsohn, J.M. “The Predisposing Factors of War Psychoneuroses.” The Lancet. Vol. 11918, p. 177.

 Secondary Sources

Barham, Peter. Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War. Yale University Press, London, 2004.

 Butler, A.G. The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-18 Volume III: Special Problems and Services. Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1943.

 Cooter, M. Malingering in Modernity: Psychological Scripts and Adversarial Encounters in the First World War.” In M. Cooter and R. Harrison and S. Sturdy (eds.), War, Medicine and Modernity. Stroud, Sutton, 1998, pp. 125-9.

 Damousi, Joy. Freud in the Antipodes: a Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in Australia. Sydney, Sydney University Press, 2005.

 Finlay-Jones, R. “The Effect of War on the Theory and Practice of Psychiatry in Australia.” In H. Attwood and R.W. Home (eds.), Patients, Practitioners and Techniques. University of Melbourne Press, Melbourne, 1985, pp. 43-55.

 Gammage, B. The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War. Penguin, Hammondsworth, 1975.

 Garton, Stephen. “Asylum Histories: Reconsidering Australia’s Lunatic Past.” In Catherine Colebourne and Dolly MacKinnon (eds.), ‘Madness’ in Australia: Histories, Heritage and the Asylum. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2003, pp. 11-23.

 Garton, Stephen. The Cost of War: Australians Return. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996.

 Garton, Stephen. Medicine and Madness: a Social History of Insanity in New South Wales, 1880-1940. New South Wales University Press, Kensington, 1988.

 Kosky, R. “From Morality to Madness: a Reappraisal of the Asylum Movement in Psychiatry, 1800-1940.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. No. 20, 1986, pp. 180-7.

 Leese, Peter. Shell Shock: Traumatic Neurosis and the British Soldiers of the First World War. Palgrave McMillan, Hampshire, 2002.

 Lewis, M. Managing Madness: Psychiatry in Australia 1788-1980. AGPS Press, Canberra, 1988.

 Lloyd, C., and Rees, J. The Last Shilling: A History of Repatriation in Australia. Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1994.

 Luckins, Tanja. “Crazed with Grief? The Asylum and the Great War in Australia.” In Catherine Colebourne and Dolly MacKinnon (eds.), ‘Madness’ in Australia: Histories, Heritage and the Asylum. University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 2003, pp. 169-83.

 O’Neil, W.M. A Century of Psychology in Australia. Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1987.

 Shephard, Ben. A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists 1914-1994. Pimlico, London, 2002.

 Stone, Martin. “Shell Shock and the Psychologists.” In W.F. Bynum, Roy Porter, Michael Shepherd (eds.), The Anatomy of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry Volume II. Tavistock Publications Ltd, London, 1985, pp. 242-71.

 Tyquin, Michael. Madness and the Military: Australia’s Experience of the Great War. Australian Military History Publications, Sydney, 2006.

Wessely, Simon. Shell Shock to PTSD. Taylor and Francis Press, Haboken, 2005.



[1] Michael Tyquin, Madness and the Military: Australia’s Experience of the Great War, Australian Military History Publications, Sydney, 2006, p. 87.

[2] M. Cooter, Malingering in Modernity: Psychological Scripts and Adversarial Encounters in the First World War,” in M. Cooter and R. Harrison and S. Sturdy (eds.), War, Medicine and Modernity, Stroud, Sutton, 1998, p. 126.

[3] This idea is perhaps best illustrated in M.H. Downey, “The Management and Treatment of Early Insanity,” Australian Medical Gazette, vol 2, 20 Dec 1911, p. 724.

[4] J.M. Wolfsohn, “The Predisposing Factors of War Psychoneuroses,” The Lancet, vol 1, 1918, p. 177; Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 34.

[5] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 18.

[6] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 46.

[7] Stephen Garton. Medicine and Madness: a Social History of Insanity in New South Wales, 1880-1940, New South Wales University Press, Kensington, 1988, p. 60.

[8] E. Smith and T. Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1917, p. 94.

[9] Peter Barham, Forgotten Lunatics of the Great War, Yale University Press, London, 2004, p. 105; Simon Wessely, Shell Shock to PTSD, Taylor and Francis Press, Haboken, 2005, p. 50.

[10] Garton. Medicine and Madness, p. 4.

[11] Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 84.

[12] W.E. Jones, “Naval and Military News,” Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 1, 16 January, 1915, p. 58.

[13] Garton. Medicine and Madness, p. 14.

[14] M. Lewis, Managing Madness: Psychiatry in Australia 1788-1980, AGPS Press, Canberra, 1988, p. 35; Martin Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists,” in W.F. Bynum, Roy Porter, Michael Shepherd (eds.), The Anatomy of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry Volume II, Tavistock Publications Ltd, London, 1985, p. 242.

[15] R. Kosky, “From Morality to Madness: a Reappraisal of the Asylum Movement in Psychiatry, 1800-1940,” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, no. 20, 1986, p. 181.

[16] Garton. Medicine and Madness, p. 60.

[17] Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 266.

[18] A.G. Butler, The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914-18 Volume III: Special Problems and Services, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1943, p. 61.

[19] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 87.

[20] Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 255.

[21] Garton. Medicine and Madness, p. 84.

24 J.P. Lowson, “The Treatment of War Neuroses by Abreaction of the War Shock,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol 2, 6 November, 1926, p. 621;Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 71.

[23] Joy Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes: a Cultural History of Psychoanalysis in Australia,Sydney, SydneyUniversity Press, 2005, p. 32.

[24] Paul Dane, “Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol 2, 18 December 1926, p. 853; Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 255.

[25] Dane, “Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy,” p. 853.

[26] Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes, p. 35.

[27] W.M. O’Neil, A Century of Psychology in Australia, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1987, p. 27.

[28] Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes, p. 35.

[29] Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 246.

[30] Butler, Official History Vol III, p. 106.

[31] Jones, “Naval and Military News,” p. 58.

[32] Jones, “Naval and Military News,” p. 58.

[33] Stephen Garton, The Cost of War: Australians Return, OxfordUniversity Press, Oxford, 1996, p. 143.

[34] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 28.

[35] Jones, “Naval and Military News,” p. 58.

[36] W.E. Jones, “A Case of Shell Shock,” The Medical Journal of Australia,  4 March, 1916, p. 203.

[37] R. Finlay-Jones, “The Effect of War on the Theory and Practice of Psychiatry in Australia,” in H. Attwood and R.W. Home (eds.), Patients, Practitioners and Techniques, University of Melbourne Press, Melbourne, 1985, p. 48. Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 21; W. Summons, “Medical Work Seen in the Australian Military Hospitals,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 2 22 September, 1917, p. 246.

[38] Sydney Penn, “A Plea for Adequate Recognition of the Part that can be Played in Shell-Shock by Septic Foci,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol 2, 10 August, 1918, p. 115.

[39] Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 99.

[40] Reviews, “Shell Shock and War Neuroses,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 1, 1 March, 1919, p. 175.

[41] Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 250.

[42] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 87.

[43] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 104.

[44] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 88.

[45] J.W. Springthorpe, “Twelve Months Service at the Front,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 1, 29 April, 1916, p. 359.

[46] Finlay-Jones, “The Effect of War on the Theory and Practice of Psychiatry in Australia,” p. 48.

[47] Peter Leese, Shell Shock: Traumatic Neurosis and the British Soldiers of the First World War, Palgrave McMillan, Hampshire, 2002, p. 70.

[48] Butler, Official History Vol III, p. 126.

[49] W.R. Regnell, “The Psycho-Neuroses of War,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 1, 7 June 1919, p. 455.

[50] Sigmund Freud, “Introduction,” in E. Jones (ed). Psychoanalysis and the War Neuroses, Psychoanalytic Press, London, 1921, p. 2.

[51] Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 256.

[52] Stone, “Shell Shock and the Psychologists, p. 257.

[53] W.H.R. Rivers, “Freud’s Psychology of the Unconscious,” The Lancet, vol.1, 16 June, 1917, p. 912; However, Shephard points out that Rivers was not the first to do this: in fact, the such first adaptation in the history of military medicine came from Dr. David Eder, while working with Australian snipers evacuated from Gallipoli. B. Shephard, A War of Nerves: Soldiers and Psychiatrists 1914-1994, Pimlico, London, 2002, pp. 85-6.

[54] Rivers, “Freud’s Psychology of the Unconscious,” p. 912.

[55] J.W. Springthorpe, “War Neuroses and Civil Practice,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 2, 4 October, 1919, p. 280. This response may also be seen in Dr. George E. Rennie’s speech at the 1920 Australasian Medical Conference, as reported in the MJA: “He stated that, while he had long recognised the value of psycho-therapy, he had been prejudiced against the doctrine… on account of the unjustifiable reference of almost everything to sexual impulses.” Henry Maudsley, “Australasian Medical Congress, Brisbane, 1920” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 2, 25 September 1920, p. 324; Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes, p. 36.

[56] Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes, p. 35.

[57] Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 40; Idris Morgan, “Hypnotic Suggestion,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 1, 15 January 1927, p. 87. Morgan reports a case in which his shell-shocked patient, having been subjected to hypnosis, suffered a relapse weeks later.

[58] Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 43.

[59] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 71.

[60] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 71.

[61] Lowson, “The Treatment of War Neuroses by Abreaction of the War Shock,” p. 621.

[62] Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 108; Springthorpe, “War Neuroses and Civil Practice,” p. 281.

[63] Finlay-Jones, “The Effect of War on the Theory and Practice of Psychiatry in Australia,” p. 51.

[64] Stephen Garton, “Asylum Histories: Reconsidering Australia’s Lunatic Past,” in Catherine Colebourne and Dolly MacKinnon (eds.), ‘Madness’ in Australia: Histories, Heritage and the Asylum, Brisbane: University of Queensland Press, 2003, p. 15.

[65] Butler, Official History Vol III, p. 56.

[66] Damousi, Freud in the Antipodes, p. 35.

[67] Smith and Pear, Shell Shock and its Lessons, p. 48.

[68] Garton, Medicine and Madness, p. 187.

[69] Leese, Shell Shock, p. 113. Although Leese exclusively focuses upon the British army, his argument that class shaped medical perceptions of shell shock is clearly echoed through the MJA article quoted below. Tyquin, on the other hand, suggests that this was not the case in the AIF, “where soldiers particularly recognised, and deferred to, ability before hierarchy.” Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 88. This may have been the case in the army, however it does seem to contradict the evidence exhibited in the MJA.

[70] Review, “Shell Concussion and War Neuroses,” p. 173.

[71] D.M. McWhae, “Neuroses,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 2, October 20, 1919, pp. 338, 339.

[72] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, pp. 100-101

[73] S. Jones, “Experiences in the Treatment of Voluntary Patients at the Psychiatric Clinic, Broughton Hall,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol 2, 4 September, 1926, p. 316.

[74] Tyquin, Madness and the Military, p. 148. However, Tyquin does not consider that these numbers are to some extent artificially inflated by the Great Depression. It is likely that the numbers rise so dramatically due to veterans’ desire for a war pension awarded on the basis of shell shock, as a partial replacement for livelihoods lost in the 1929 crash.

[75] Kosky, “From Morality to Madness,” p. 181.

[76] Paul Dane, “The Psycho-Neuroses of Soldiers and their Treatment,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 1, 25 April 1925, p. 430.

[77] Finlay-Jones, “The Effect of War on the Theory and Practice of Psychiatry in Australia,” p. 51.

[78] A.D. Carbery, “Some Medical Aspects of Recruiting for War,” The Medical Journal of Australia, vol. 2, 3 August 1927, pp. 365-70; Finlay-Jones, “The Effect of War on the Theory and Practice of Psychiatry in Australia,” p. 49.

[79] Tanja Luckins, “Crazed with Grief? The Asylum and the Great War in Australia,” in Catherine Colebourne and Dolly MacKinnon (eds.), ‘Madness’ in Australia: Histories, Heritage and the Asylum, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 2003, p. 169.

[80] W.M. O’Neil, “The Teaching and Practise of Psychology in Australia in its First Phases,” in Mary Nixon and Donald Taft (eds.), Psychology in Australia, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, p. 15.

Dear Twenty-Year-Old Me

Dear Twenty-year-old Me,

Right now, I’ve just turned thirty. Everyone assures me this is a huge milestone. Folks these days talk about turning thirty the way they used to talk about turning twenty-one. Apparently this is when real adulthood begins—when you settle down, get serious about your career, start a family. It sometimes seems like my generation spent its twenties lounging on the couch watching Spongebob and washing down fruit loops with vodka. That’s not going to be you. Sorry. In terms of life achievements, you’re going to pole-vault right over your twenties and land square in your thirties. It won’t be long now before you’re married and have two little people in your life who will argue with you on the correct way to use a lavatory.

And you know what? It’s going to be awesome. Your kids will teach you to see the world through new eyes, to appreciate just how amazing life can be. You’re going to read them Narnia and Roald Dahl, and they’ll applaud when you do the funny voices. Don’t misunderstand me, it won’t be easy—basically, you’re going to get signed up for a fulltime job where you are on call twenty-four hours a day, get no sick leave and no holidays. Sometimes, when the kids wake you up at four in the morning because they can’t find their damned Pokémon cards, it’ll feel like this will never end. But you’re doing something amazing—building a life together, teaching and nurturing them to become the best they can be. You wouldn’t trade the feeling of having your children fall asleep on your chest for anything.

Right now, at twenty, you’re working two jobs to get yourself through uni. You didn’t achieve stellar academic results in your first year, and you wonder whether it’s really worth it, especially when all you want to be is a writer. Don’t worry—you’re going to start hitting your academic goals in second year. Uni is a learning curve, so don’t beat yourself up. Your parents assure you that an Arts degree is going to be your ticket to stability in life. Don’t hold that against them. Mum and Dad are just passing on the wisdom of their generation. They didn’t realise that they came of age in the heyday of the liberal arts, and they couldn’t have known. Don’t fret about the value of an Arts degree. In about eighteen months, this thing called the Global Financial Crisis is going to happen, and it will mean the end of stability for your generation, regardless of what you study. Economic neo-liberalism will come to be taken for common sense, and most of the jobs will be casualised. It sucks, but you’ll make the best of it. Getting out of poverty is going to be an incremental process, and it isn’t going to be because of your education so much as your willingness to work hard and take opportunities as they come along. In this, you will be no different from anybody else.

But, um, if you want to invest in these things called Facebook and Twitter, I wouldn’t object.

At one point, after finishing the PhD, you’re going to convince yourself that being a school teacher is the best and only use of your knowledge and skills. The bad news? This is going to be the biggest mistake of your twenties. The good news? This is going to be the biggest mistake of your twenties. Anybody who can make it in the secondary education system will forever have your respect and admiration, but a job which involves reprimanding kids about their socks isn’t for you. Luckily, it’ll turn out that you’re good at other things too, and you learned a lot from your experience working in schools.

Oh, and that ambition to become a writer? It’s going to happen, but not until you figure out why you’re doing this. You’ll turn your PhD thesis into a book and advance human knowledge by a micron or two. Go you, but remember it’s not the Nobel Prize. The real test is whether your research is going to make a difference in people’s lives and have an impact upon the world. Let’s see what happens there, eh? The greatest thing you’ll gain from your education is comprehension of how little you really understand, and how much of the world there is to see.

It’s much better than it sounds right now.

I also happen to know you’re working on a novel. You’re far too scared to show it to anybody, but you’re convinced it’ll be the next blockbuster. Hate to say it, Twenty-year-old Me, but the one attitude cancels out the other. And it’s not going to be a bestseller, and that’s fine. That poor, unfortunate, half-formed novel is going to be valuable as a learning experience. You’ll gain the confidence to experiment with language, hone your storytelling ability. Most of all, you’ll learn how far you’ve got to go. Don’t be downhearted.

You’ll apply what you learned from your first attempt when you put pen to paper on your next novel. In hospital on the day your son is born, you’ll start scratching out a first chapter while your wife sleeps. You’ll keep scratching at it until it becomes a first draft. By the time you get to draft four, you’ll show it to other writers, and learn how to deal with criticism—both constructive and otherwise. Eventually you will tally of your drafts and feel like a gunslinger notching his rifle. At writing conferences, you will make like-minded friends who want your story to succeed just as much as you do and give you thorough critiques. It’ll be strange and a little intimidating, but you will repay the favour in kind. That’s how it works in the writerly world. With every stroke of the red pen, you become stronger as an author.

And on the bestseller thing? Sorry, Twenty-year-old Julian, you’ve got it wrong. As much as you might love JK Rowling’s work and hope to walk in her footsteps, her career is the exception rather than the rule. And Rowling didn’t write with the intention of becoming a bestselling author. She had a story which she wanted to share with the world. C.S. Lewis once said that we read to know we’re not alone. The flip side, of course, is that we write to reach out to others. It shouldn’t just be about selling books. It’s about contributing something to the community, giving people something to enrich their lives. Achieving sales matters far less than reaching the people who need your story.

By the way, it won’t be long now before you see second-hand bookstores flooded with unwanted copies of this these books called The Da Vinci Code, Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. Learn well from this: you can sell a story to millions and reach nobody. Far better, I think, to reach a few to whom your story means a lot.

Over and over, you’re going to be absolutely bamboozled by the human instinct to tear each other down over differences. You’ll figure out over the next ten years or so that story is the answer: to have the courage to speak, and to listen. Story brings people together, binds us. Sort of like the Force.

Also, right at the tail end of your twenties, Disney is going to purchase Star Wars and release the sequel trilogy, and—don’t look at me like that, it’ll be loads better than you expect. Remember when Disney started making Marvel movies? Oh wait, that hasn’t happened yet. Disregard.

Read, Past Me. Read stories from as many different perspectives as possible. I know you love fantasy and historical and science fiction, and that’s cool, but even within those genres there’s a lot more diversity than you choose to see right now. You’ll go through periods where you choose to read only novels written by women, or by people of colour. The ones by women of colour will teach you the most! As you discover more stories grounded in the here and now, you will find the world is more fantastic than you ever realised. Hear other people’s stories, the stories of strangers you meet in the streets. When you develop the capacity for patience, you will discover every human being is on their own hero’s journey. Learn how complicated and wonderful and strange the world is, and be willing to acknowledge the limitations of your understanding. That is the first step toward growth.

Just a couple more messages, Twenty-year-old Me. Over the next decade, you’ll start to learn how to take care of yourself. I don’t just mean how to pick out your own clothes and cook your own meals. When you’re there for people, you throw yourself into their wellbeing and care for them with your whole heart. And that’s good, that’s fine, that’s a part of who you are. But sometimes you’re going to get hurt, and sometimes you’re going to get exhausted. Once in a while, your caring will get thrown in your face. A handful of others will care for you as much as you do them. Nourish these relationships, but be mindful of your own needs also. It’s true that love is not a finite resource, but time and energy are. Don’t waste them on people who treat you as though you’re a complication in their life story.

In the end, there’s going to be one person who sticks by your side, and she is the love of your life. Right now, Twenty-year-old Me, you’re thinking about asking Kelly to marry you. There’s plenty of folks who will tell you it’s a mistake. Don’t listen to them. Getting married is the best thing you’ll ever do. Cherish Kelly, adore her and love her with all your silly heart. That’s what’s important. You already know it, I think, though you don’t quite know what it means yet.

I’ll close with a timey-whimey wibbly wobbly quote from your future and my past: ‘We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?’

Until next time, vale.

Thirty-year-old Julian