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A `menace to the community': mental defectives in Queensland mental health legislation, 1938 *.

In 1938, the Queensland government passed two Bills relating to mental health care in the state: the Mental Hygiene Act of 1938 and the Backward Persons Act of 1938. During the debate in parliament prior to the passage of this legislation, Arthur Moore, a member and former leader of the Country Party, described backward persons as 'a menace to the community, particularly in the propagation of their species' and argued that the only solution 'in the interests of the community and in the interests of these mentally affected people' was sterilisation--an extreme view which, although opposed by the Secretary for Health and Home Affairs, was by no means an isolated opinion in the Queensland parliament. (1) This paper will examine the debate in parliament surrounding both the Mental Hygiene Bill and the Backward Persons Bill. It will argue that the opinions expressed during this debate about the treatment of people with mental disorders encompassed a full range of opinions, from the most optimistic environmentalist arguments to determinist hereditarian ideas. These competing ideas were expressed not only by both sides of politics, but sometimes by the same person. It will further argue that the fact that the government considered it necessary to pass two separate pieces of legislation (one for the mentally ill and one for mental defectives) indicates that a distinction was drawn between these two groups of people; a fact which is benign enough in and of itself. The debate in parliament, however, revealed that while humanitarian sentiments were expressed towards both groups, there was actually a significant difference between attitudes towards and tolerance for those with a mental illness which could potentially be cured and those with a defective mentality, an incurable condition. In some cases, the same person who could advocate the most careful treatment of the mentally ill could express support for the sterilisation of the mentally defective.

The 1938 mental health legislation was the final stage of a series of reforms of the health care system of Queensland. These long overdue reforms were undertaken after 1932 by the Queensland Labor government, under the leadership of William Forgan Smith. (2) The main architect of the reforms was Edward Hanlon, the Secretary for Health and Home Affairs, working in close consultation with Dr Raphael Cilento, who in 1934 became the Director-General of Health and Medical Services. (3) Both Hanlon and Cilento were enthusiastic in promoting and carrying out their ideas. In drafting the Mental Hygiene Bill and the Backward Persons Bill, the two men also worked closely with Dr Basil Stafford, who at this time was the Director of Mental Hygiene. (4) In contrast to community support for general reform of the health care system, the Queensland public was largely indifferent to the treatment of the mentally ill and sometimes even resentful as to the cost of caring for them. (5) The 1938 legislation, and particularly the Mental Hygiene Act, was intended in part to address such attitudes. In his notes on the Mental Hygiene Bill, Hanlon stated that the two Acts together would represent the completion of 'the efforts of the Government to provide a co-ordinated Health Service to all branches of the community, in all classes of illness whether mental or physical.' (6) He thus emphasised both the modern nature of the legislation and the idea that physical illness and mental illness should be treated in comparable ways.

The drafting of this legislation was almost certainly influenced by the mental hygiene movement, as the very title of the first Act indicates. The mental hygiene movement was largely focused on the preventive treatment of mental illness although, at a deeper level, its adherents were concerned about the debilitating influence of modern society. (7) Psychiatrists in Queensland had been promoting the idea of early and preventive treatment of mental illness for many years and by the 1930s these ideas were becoming popular. (8) It is also possible that the 1938 legislation was influenced by the eugenics movement although, if this is the case, it was almost certainly indirectly, through the medium of the mental hygiene movement. There were strong links between the mental hygiene and eugenics movements and many of their goals overlapped. (9) The eugenics movement was not popular in Queensland, compared to some southern states. In contrast with New South Wales and Victoria, no formal eugenics organisation was ever established in Queensland. Several historians have argued that a generalisation can be made that eugenic ideals were most popular among middle class professionals, although there were always exceptions. (10) Daniel Kevles has listed industrialisation, the growth of big business, and the sprawl of cities and slums as being among the 'essential' conditions for an acceptance of eugenics. (11) While these factors were present in Queensland to some degree, they were not nearly as advanced as in Europe or America, or even the southern states of Australia. (12) During the early twentieth century, the period of the greatest international influence of eugenics, Queensland politics was dominated by rural concerns and policies. (13) Medical professionals in the state supported the idea of preventive treatment, but pastoral interests had much greater weight in the Queensland parliament. Finally, the Labor party's domination of Queensland politics between 1915 and 1957, combined with the disproportionate influence of the Catholic Church, one of the major opponents of the eugenic s movement internationally, on Queensland Labor, must also be considered as reasons for the lack of a eugenics movement in the state. (14) All of these factors worked against an acceptance of eugenics in Queensland. Despite this, more than one Queensland parliamentarian expressed support for eugenic principles during the 1938 debate.

The government was anxious to portray the new legislation as modern and humanitarian. During the first reading of the Mental Hygiene Bill, Hanlon stressed the timely nature of the legislation and expressed the belief that it would bring Queensland from being 'hopelessly out of touch with modern developments in mental hygiene', to placing it ahead of the rest of Australia in provisions for the care of the mentally ill. (15) Hanlon was also anxious to show that the government was utilising the latest international ideas about mental health, stating that Stafford had advised the government on aspects of the legislation following a trip to Europe and America, during which he met with leading specialists from both continents and had attended a mental hygiene conference in Paris as the official Australian representative. (16) The final Mental Hygiene Act followed many provisions of the British Mental Hygiene Act 1930. (17)

The Mental Hygiene Bill, 'a bill to consolidate and amend the law relating to the care, treatment, and control of mentally sick persons', was introduced into the Queensland parliament on 14 October 1938. (18) The main objectives of the Bill were to make provisions for early and preventive treatment of mental illness and to change the terminology relating to mental illness. It was this second point which was the focus of debate in parliament. Under the Mental Hygiene Act, all older terms such as 'insane', 'lunatic' and 'unsound mind' were removed from legislation and replaced with various permutations of the new term 'mentally sick'. (19) The Bill also contained provisions for admitting voluntary patients and changed the focus of treatment of mental patients to early treatment and preventive medicine. These provisions were clearly influenced by the ideas of the mental hygiene movement. It was in these aspects of the Bill that Hanlon saw its modernity; and indeed, the legislation did bring Queensland up to date with the latest ideas of mental hygiene and treatment of mental patients, although the claim that they were ahead of any other state in Australia was exaggerated. (20) The provisions for voluntary patients received support and even praise from the opposition; it was the change in terminology which generated controversy. The removal of 'old-fashioned' terms and their replacement with the new, scientific language of mental illness and health, was intended to effect a change in attitudes towards the 'mentally sick'. The discussion of the Mental Hygiene Bill in the Queensland parliament was a discussion about language and its effect on attitudes and behaviour.

The question of terminology was central to the new legislation; and central to the question of terminology was the debate over the 'curable' versus the 'incurable' population of mental institutions. The very fact that the new official term contained 'sick' in the title implied that the people who were referred to in the Bill could be cured. Hanlon expressed his belief that, by changing terminology, the government was placing mental illness 'on the same plane in the minds of the people as physical illness, in order to make them realise that a mental illness may be treated successfully if attended to properly, like other forms of bodily illness'. (21) It was at this point, very early on in the debate, that Arthur Moore first spoke up; he was concerned with the fate of 'those persons who eventually prove to be incurable'. Hanlon's response was that 'if they are not cured we have to care for them'. (22) While Hanlon may have felt that the answer to this question was self-evident, Moore apparently did not, as was revealed by his later statements on the topic.

For the most part, the Bill received support from all parties in the Queensland parliament. The majority of people who commented on the Bill praised its humanitarian aims and approved of the change in terminology. (23) John Duggan, the Labor member for Toowoomba, expressed his pleasure that steps were being taken to provide occupational therapy, particularly farm work, for the permanent inmates of mental institutions (such as the one in his electorate), whom he described as 'a group of people who appear to be forgotten by the majority in the community'. (24) Herbert Yeates, the Country Party member for East Toowoomba, commended the Bill, but advanced the argument that, since 'prevention is better than cure', the government had better undertake 'a thorough investigation into the causes of lunacy'. (25) Yeates approved of the change from 'insanity' to 'mentally sick', calling it a 'wise and humane thing' and stressed the 'humanitarian point of view' in his speech. He believed that in addition to the provisions of the Bill, it was of very great importance that children should received 'proper' advice on sex and biology before they left school and called for ministers of religion and the medical profession to provide advice on the topic, and possibly a printed booklet. It is more than likely that these provisions of the Bill, and the statements in support of them, reflected the influence of the mental hygiene and eugenics movements in promoting the value of physical training and the importance of sex education for the future good of the race. Many in these movements put at least equal priority on such education as they did on legislation for the segregation or sterilisation of the unfit. (26)

Other parliamentarians noted the strain of modern life in producing a greater number of mental disorders. This idea was commonly expressed during this period and was a particular concern of both the mental hygiene and eugenics movements. (27) The influence of the Great War was considered particularly corrupting in terms of mental hygiene. George Taylor expressed these opinions when he stated:
 Many men returned from the war mentally impaired; others who were
 suffering from shell shock later on married and reproduced their
 kind and some increase in mental illness has resulted. (28)

However, Taylor did not only see hereditary reasons for the increase in mental illness; he also blamed the 'vicious social system in which the law of the survival of the fittest holds sway more than ever before'. Taylor's argument illustrates the complexity of many opinions about mental illness during this period. People were not necessarily either environmentalist or hereditarian. Many believed that both could influence mental states and that both could have a potentially debilitating effect on the race, although this opinion was largely confined to beliefs about mental illness.

The leader of the opposition, Edmund Maher, provided one of the few dissenting viewpoints during this debate. Maher did not approve of the change in terminology and was particularly concerned with the classification of people with nervous disorders. His argument also advanced the contemporary view of modern life as a producer of mental strain:
 ... under the stress and strain of modern life, a great number of
 persons in the community suffer from some form of nervous disorder.
 These would be horrified to think they were being classified under
 the heading of mentally sick, with people who are idiots. (29)

He argued that the present system was better, as there was a clear distinction between the 'insane' and those with nervous disorders. He did not want it to appear, however, that he did not support the Bill:
 we shall support any Bill designed to help or improve the conditions
 of the unfortunate section of the community who have become mentally
 afflicted through shock, or because of any unfavourable environment
 or heredity. (30)

Maher, like Taylor, believed that mental disorder could be the result of either environment or heredity. He appeared to be suggesting though, that a distinction in patient treatment should follow from the recognition of these causes.

Thomas Nimmo, the member for Oxley, was one of the members to completely reject the Bill, describing it as 'nothing but a playing with words' and characterising the promises of the government as propaganda. (31) Nimmo argued that the number of persons in mental institutions who were able to be cured was 'not great' and that most of those discharged were people who should never have been admitted to an institution in the first place. (32) He mocked the provision of the Bill which aimed

to provide a certificate to people who were mistakenly admitted to a mental institution, or who were admitted for a temporary condition and discharged completely recovered. Nimmo did not believe that a certificate would do anything to remove the stigma of being in an institution. He also expressed concern about the potential effects of the stress of modern life on the mental health of Queenslanders. He was particularly concerned that people were suffering nervous disorders due to malnutrition because they were spending their money on the Golden Casket, instead of food.

In all the discussion and praise for the humanitarian aims of the Bill, it is interesting to note that a 'proposal to have facilities in public institutions where people who can afford to have it may engage a private nurse or attendant' found favour with all parties, for the reason that it would reduce the 'very great' cost associated with mental hospitals. (33) This suggests that financial considerations were never very far from the discussion over the treatment of mental patients. Such considerations were expressed even more clearly in relation to the mentally defective.

In introducing the Mental Hygiene Bill, Hanlon drew an explicit distinction between the mentally sick, those who had an illness which 'might possibly yield to treatment and be cured', (34) and mental defectives. He described this latter group as being the 'naturally mentally handicapped ... whose mental deficiency cannot be cured by medical treatment.' (35) Since medical treatment was useless, the State had to accept liability for such people and provide care and training for them. In contrast were the people who were born with 'normal' mentality, but who suffered injury or illness which affected it; these people were mentally 'sick', not mentally 'deficient' and could potentially be cured by medical treatment. Thus a clear line was drawn between curable and incurable mental problems. Thomas Nimmo summarised this position as follows: 'People should not be sent to a hospital for mental deficients until it is proved that they are incurable.' (36) Those with a mental illness had to be treated; those with a mental 'deficiency' could only ever be cared for; and some people argued that the state should not even have to go this far.

Despite Hanlon's specific statements that the Mental Hygiene Bill was not intended to deal with mental deficients, who were to be cared for under separate legislation, the discussion quickly turned to these people. Moore was the first to raise the issue. He did not use the phrase mental 'defectives' however, instead describing them, rather more circumspectly, as 'that class of persons we often read about--concerning whom a judge sometimes remarks that they are mentally sick, but he has no place to send them to'. (37) Hanlon once again stated that these people were to be dealt with under separate legislation, thus indicating that he understood Moore's somewhat oblique reference. Moore was 'glad to hear' that something was to be done about them, as it seemed 'a pity that a person who is not a criminal should have to go to gaol because there is no suitable place to which he can be sent.' He commended the Minister's idea to trace the family history of mental patients, but hoped that it would go further. Moore then referred to 'a very interesting book' by Drs Nye and Bostock, (38) where the 'question of the continued increase in numbers of the mentally deficient, and the need for some action' were discussed. Moore was concerned with what would happen if no action were taken, asking:
 what will happen to a nation, particularly a young nation like this,
 if it is necessary to provide a continually increasing number of
 institutions for the mentally sick? This is something that is
 creating interest and demanding action not only in Queensland, but
 all over the world. (39)

Hanlon rejected Moore's argument, noting that the 'continually increasing number of institutions' was not due to any actual increase in the numbers of the mentally sick, but rather due to improvements in care and the greater willingness of people to seek help. (40) He also pointed out the difficulty of gathering information to estimate the size of the problem. Moore, however, went on to argue that there should be more institutions for children, who should be 'taught to occupy themselves instead of merely leading an aimless existence' and Hanlon agreed that often, when people came to institutions, it was not until after the death of their parents, when they were 'too old for us to do anything with them.' Moore's most explicit eugenic statement received no comment at all. He argued that the real value of the government's Bill would only be realised if the investigations were followed to their 'logical conclusion':
 that is, if after discovering the cause of the illness he [Hanlon]
 endeavours as far as possible to remedy it and so prevents its
 extension. It might mean segregation and it might mean
 sterilisation. (41)

Either way, Moore appeared to believe that something would have to be done, and quickly.

During the debate over the Mental Hygiene Bill in the Queensland parliament, there was discussion of the difference between 'curables' and 'incurables' and the question of sterilisation of the 'incurables' was raised. However, the greatest debate over these issues was reserved for the first reading of the Backward Persons Bill, as this Bill was intended to deal with mental 'defectives', the so-called incurables, rather than the mentally sick, whose illness had an environmental cause and could therefore potentially be cured.

The Backward Persons Bill was introduced as complementary legislation to the Mental Hygiene Bill and was described as a Bill 'to make provision for the education and care, treatment, and control of backward persons.' (42) The idea of a Bill dealing specifically with 'backward persons' was based on the idea that such a class of people required permanent 'care and control', separate from 'mentally sick', or insane, people. A 'backward person' was defined under the Act as:
 Any person, other than a mentally sick person as defined in 'The
 Mental Hygiene Act of 1938', the development of whose mind has been
 arrested or is incomplete, whether such arrested or incomplete state
 was innate or induced after birth by disease, injury, or other
 cause, and who on account of such arrested or incomplete development
 is incapable of adapting himself to the normal environment of his
 fellows in such a way as to maintain existence independently of
 care, treatment, or control. (43)

Although the Bill itself did not focus on hereditary causes of mental deficiency, it did focus on incurable conditions and the debate in parliament was directed towards these issues. The Bill followed similar legislation in Australia and in England, which distinguished mental 'defectives' from the mentally ill, and appeared to hold out little hope of such people ever becoming 'normal'. (44) The debate surrounding the Backward Persons Bill revealed, even more strongly than that over the Mental Hygiene Bill, the difference in attitudes towards those who had a mental illness and those who had a 'deficient' mentality.

In his notes on this Bill, Hanlon again mentioned the overseas visits made by Stafford in preparation for its drafting, stating that Stafford had 'made particular investigation into this aspect of mental hygiene' whilst overseas and 'visited many of the leading centres and newest institutions dealing with this particular phase of medicine.' (45) He also claimed that the legislation was not only more advanced than any other Australian state, but also more advanced than many overseas countries. According to Hanlon, the Bill provided the 'machinery to treat the backward person according to the most modern and advanced methods employed both in this country and abroad'. (46) This was an exaggeration, as the definition of 'backward' was not really very different to mental deficiency as it was defined in English legislation and legislation in other Australian states. (47) In his notes for his speech introducing the second reading of the Bill, he emphasised this point again, stating that the Backward Persons Bill, as distinct from the Mental Hygiene Bill, dealt with 'an entirely new aspect of mental hygiene', without precedent in the state. (48) It is interesting to note though, that he does not appear to have delivered either of these speeches to parliament. The record of his speeches shows that he instead focused almost entirely on the practical applications of the Bill in identifying and caring for backward persons. The provisions of the Backward Persons Bill, like those of the Mental Hygiene Bill, were representative of modern thinking about the preferred treatment of these people. It contained provisions for segregation, but also for education and training.

The Bill established a survey board to deal with backward people. (49) The Survey Board was to consist of the Director-General of Health and Medical Services (to be the chairman), the Director of Education and the Director of Mental Hygiene. They were to be commissioned to make a survey of the number of backward people in the State, in order to report recommendations as to their classification, education, vocational treatment and control. A psychiatric clinic established under the Act was to be responsible for investigating 'all matters relating to backward persons' and the instruction of special education teachers. (50) Hanlon's notes indicated that the clinic was also intended to 'disseminate knowledge to the public', in order to aid early diagnosis and thus curative treatment. (51) Although he did not mention this specifically in his introductory speech, he did emphasise that early and preventive treatment was a feature of the Backward Persons Bill as well as the Mental Hygiene Bill. (52) The Bill also provided for the establishment of a training farm at Dalby to provide vocational training for 'backward' youths, an idea which was based on overseas models. The mental hygiene movement advocated vocational training as the most beneficial way to care for and treat mental defectives, and the idea that physical activity could have a beneficial effect on mental status was also influenced by the eugenics movement. (53) In introducing the Bill into parliament, Hanlon focused heavily on the proposal to establish a training farm for backward youths. (54)

The Bill also contained special provisions relating to children. (55) Any person in charge of children was required to notify the Director of Mental Hygiene of any backward children over the age of six years and, where it was apparent earlier, notification was to be made earlier. The director was then required to examine the child and report the result to the Director-General of Health and Medical Services, who had the power to have the child removed to an institution. The compulsory notification of 'backward' children was officially intended to help the children. Hanlon argued that nothing could be done for them until exact numbers were known, a difficulty which, he said, had been encountered all over the world. (56) He emphasised that many backward children who were currently unable to compete with 'normal' persons for employment would benefit from special education and vocational training. Hanlon argued that training was essential, because it would enable at least some backward youths to find 'productive work' and 'to do something useful for society instead of being a burden on it.' (57) This focus on the unproductive nature of such people and the consequent economic loss to the community which they represented, was a constant refrain in eugenic propaganda and reveals something of the government's motives beyond the constant reiteration of humanitarianism.

Hanlon, in introducing the Backward Persons Bill, described it as intending to deal 'with those persons who are either born without the normal or usual standard of intelligence or whose mental development becomes arrested or retarded'; those persons, in other words, who were generally categorised as 'mental deficients'. (58) Hanlon emphasised yet again that these persons were distinct from the mentally ill. Unlike insanity, 'backwardness' was usually discernible in early childhood, but there had previously been no planned method for the treatment or education of these people, nor any endeavour 'to alleviate [their] sufferings'. In Queensland, the only provision had been to provide special classes, called 'opportunity classes', for backward children. Even though the Bill contained comprehensive measures for the education and treatment of 'backward' persons, especially children, the government did not propose to implement all the provisions of the Bill immediately. They would only establish the system and appoint a board to collect information about 'the number of children--we are aiming to reach young people particularly--who would be available for treatment, and also as to the various degrees of their backwardness'.

During the initial debate Maher, who had been very sympathetic to the plight of the temporarily mentally ill, questioned 'whether after all the expense and effort it is possible to do very much to rectify some of these deficiencies of nature', as most, if not all, these children 'have inherited their shortcomings'. (59) Hanlon responded that many cases were due to glandular deficiency, but Maher did not accept this, arguing that by far the greatest percentage inherited their 'backwardness', and that it could usually be traced 'to a condition prior to birth, an inherited condition, perhaps to a weakness of strain.' Maher argued that it was impossible to do anything for the majority of cases and that therefore the State should not become involved, but should leave the child with their parents. Thomas Nimmo once again supported Maher's point of view and also argued for marriage restrictions for backward persons, as defined in the Act.

During the second reading of the Bill, Maher again stated his view that 'backward' children should not be removed from their parents. (60) Although his speech began by arguing that removing children from their parents was a serious matter, which would probably do more harm than good to the children themselves, he quickly moved to the consideration of the expense to the rest of the community. He argued that if 'backward' children were removed to an institution, 'much expense may be charged to the State quite unnecessarily.' He also seriously doubted whether experts would 'be able to do anything that is worth while for the backward person'.

The tone set by Maher was continued by the member for Warrego, Randolph Bedford. Bedford expressed his approval of the Bill, calling it 'a commendable attempt to do something for the backward children', continuing 'the euphemism [backward] says something for the kindness of heart of the Minister.' (61) His approval, however, was not unconditional; he saw the Bill as 'only a palliative'. Bedford was:
 not prepared to state that lazy public opinion is yet in favour of
 the only way there is of not making this evil of backward children
 permanent .... I believe it is only superstition, laziness, and want
 of thinking that prevents us from taking the only step by which it
 will be possible, in time, to wipe out insanity and all the diseases
 that run with it.... I say quite plainly that I am in favour of
 sterilisation ... (62)

Maher believed that there was a 'solid' body of opinion in favour of such a step. Bedford continued with a long and somewhat confused speech advocating the sterilisation of backward persons, arguing that in modern, civilised societies, it was the most humane way to treat such people. In his argument he referred, somewhat surprisingly, to the Salem witch trials (arguing that the children who prompted the trials were of the type 'kindly called backward ... in this Bill', and should have been sterilised) and, more understandably, to the classic example cited by believers in hereditary degeneracy, the Juke family. He blamed the increase in mental 'defectiveness' in contemporary society on the stresses of war and the increased incidence of syphilis, departing from this subject to discuss the hypocrisies of the Victorian age and the healing power of prayer, to such an extent that he was called to order by the Speaker. (63) Returning to his point, he concluded that:
 Australia now has a chance of dealing with the incurable
 deficients--nobody can give them new brains--who will inevitably
 pass on their disease. They should be prevented by law from passing
 on their taint to the rest of the flock, which up to now is
 comparatively clean. (64)

Moore supported Bedford's opinions, claiming that general opinion in the community was that:
 far more drastic action is needed than the mere segregation of the
 mentally backward and opportunity classes for the defectives.... As
 the hon. member for Warrego virtually said, these people have all
 the desires of adults without the mental capacity to restrain
 themselves from satisfying those desires. That fact must lead to an
 increasing number of mentally backward and mentally deficient
 persons. (65)

Moore was clearly referring to the presumed promiscuity of mental 'defectives'. One of the biggest fears of the eugenics movement (a fear which bordered on paranoia and which, as Moore's speech illustrates, often contained an undercurrent of titillation) was that the 'unfit' were reproducing their kind at a much greater rate than the 'fit', due to their lack of control over their sexual appetites. This was one of the main arguments advanced for state-imposed control of their reproduction. (66) Although neither Moore nor Bedford made a distinction in their speeches between the insane and mental 'defectives', their language makes it clear that they did see a distinction between curable and incurable mental problems.

Moore praised the government for the establishment of the Survey Board. He believed that the investigation of the incidence of backwardness in the State was absolutely crucial, particularly in the country, where the families tended to be larger 'and the number of backward children are extraordinarily great.' This sentiment was hardly likely to endear Moore or his party to rural voters. He argued that backward people were a permanent danger to the community, even after being institutionalised and given opportunity classes, and that allowing them the chance to earn their own living would only lead to an increase in their numbers. The only solution 'in the interests of the community and in the interests of these mentally affected people' was sterilisation. (67) He went on to point out the 'waste' of resources spent on looking after such people and argued that they were a danger to the 'normal children' with whom they came into contact. There was very little reaction to Moore's statements. (68) Hanlon concluded the debate by stating that the government did not intend to spend public money on the work until more information on the 'problem' was gathered. (69)

Although this legislation was presented as the most modern and humanitarian available anywhere in the world for dealing with persons with mental disorders, the debate surrounding the legislation revealed that there was a considerable difference in the attitudes of parliamentarians towards the mentally ill, newly 'created' in the terminology of the Mental Hygiene Act, and the mentally defective, dealt with under the Backward Persons Act, a group which was considered a menace to the community and a threat to the future of the race. The debate revealed that attitudes towards the mentally ill, while still based on the idea that they needed to be controlled, were focused on the temporary nature of the condition. The legislation was therefore concerned with cure and rehabilitation as well as control. In contrast, the second group was characterised as irreversibly defective. While members of parliament expressed sympathy for both groups, the debate revealed that many perceived a difference between the mentally ill and the mentally defective. This perceived difference allowed the advocacy of permanent 'solutions' to the perceived threat to the future of the race posed by 'backward' persons.

This article was conceived as a seminar paper presented to the History Department of the University of Queensland in May 2001. I am grateful for the comments I received in response to this paper, some of which have been incorporated into the text. Particular thanks in this regard must go to Dr Sarah Ferber and Dr Jonathon Lelliot.


(1) Queensland Parliamentary Debates (QPD), vol. 173, 16 November 1938, p. 1801.

(2) Ross Fitzgerald and Harold Thornton, Labor in Queensland: from the 1880s to 1988, Brisbane, 1989, pp. 110-12.

(3) Ross Patrick, A history of health and medicine in Queensland 1824-1960, Brisbane, 1987, pp. 98-103.

(4) Patrick, p. 79.

(5) Fitzgerald and Thornton, p. 108; P. K. Jordan, 'Health and social welfare', in D. J. Murphy, R. B. Joyce and Colin A. Hughes (eds), Labor in power: the Labor Party and Governments in Queensland 1915-1957, Brisbane, 1980, p. 321.

(6) Mental Hygiene Bill 1938, p. 10, A/27293, Queensland State Archives (QSA).

(7) Stephen Garton, 'Sound minds and healthy bodies: re-considering eugenics in Australia, 1914-1940', Australian Historical Studies, vol. 103, 1994, pp. 167, 176-7.

(8) William A. Isdale, 'The rise of psychiatry and its establishment in Queensland', Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, vol. 14, no. 12, 1992, p. 498. 9 Garton, p. 170.

(10) Daniel J. Kevles, In the name of eugenics: genetics and the uses of human heredity, New York, 1985, pp. 63-4; G. R. Searle, Eugenics and politics in Britain 1900-1914, Leyden, 1976, p. 113; Edward J. Larson, 'The rhetoric of eugenics: expert authority and the Mental Deficiency Bill', British Journal for the History of Science, vol. 24, no. 80, 1991, p. 45; Ross Jones, 'The master potter and the rejected pots: eugenic legislation in Victoria, 1918-1939', Australian Historical Studies, vol. 30, no. 113, 1999, pp. 322-3.

(11) Kevles, p. 72.

(12) David Cameron, An historical assessment of economic development, manufacturing and the political economy in Queensland, 1900 to 1930, PhD thesis, University of Queensland, pp. 1-2, 15.

(13) Cameron, pp. 34-36; Ross Fitzgerald, From 1915 to the early 1980s: a history of Queensland, St Lucia, 1984, p. 3.

(14) Fitzgerald, pp. 11-14. For opposition of the Catholic Church to eugenic ideas see Garton, p. 181; Larson, pp. 155-6; Searle, p. 113.

(15) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 948.

(16) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 940.

(17) Isdale, p. 500.

(18) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 940.

(19) Mental Hygiene Act 1938, 2 Geo. 6, no. 21, s. 2.

(20) Milton Lewis, Managing madness: psychiatry and society in Australia 1788-1980, Canberra, 1988, p. 40.

(21) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 940.

(22) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 940.

(23) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 946.

(24) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 942.

(25) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 943.

(26) Margaret Conley, 'Citizens--protect your birthright!: the Racial Hygiene Association of N.S.W.', Bowyang, vol. 6, 1981, p. 10.

(27) Garton, p. 177.

(28) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 947.

(29) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 941.

(30) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 942.

(31) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 943.

(32) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 944.

(33) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 942.

(34) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 940.

(35) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 940.

(36) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 944.

(37) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 945.

(38) John Bostock and Leslie Nye, Whither away?: a study of race psychology and the factors leading to Australia's national decline, by a psychologist and a physician, Sydney, 1934.

(39) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 945.

(40) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 945.

(41) QPD, vol. 173, 14 October 1938, p. 945.

(42) QPD, vol. 173, 15 November 1938, p. 1726.

(43) Backward Persons Act 1938, 2 Geo. 6, no. 30.

(44) This legislation included the British Mental Deficiency Act of 1913, and the Tasmanian Mental Deficiency Act 1920. For the British Act see, among others, Larson, pp. 45-60; for the Tasmanian Act see Caroline Evans and Naomi Parry, 'Vessels of progressivism?: Tasmanian state girls and eugenics, 1900-1940', Australian Historical Studies, vol. 32, no. 117, 2001, pp. 322-33.

(45) Backward Persons Bill: Minister's first reading speech, pp. 1-2, A/27291, QSA.

(46) Backward Persons Bill: Minister's first reading speech, p. 10, A/27291, QSA.

(47) Lewis, p. 149.

(48) Backward Persons Bill: Minister's second reading speech, p. 1, A/27291, QSA.

(49) Backward Persons Act 1938, 2 Geo. 6, no. 30, s. 4.

(50) Backward Persons Act 1938, 2 Geo. 6, no. 30, s. 8.

(51) Backward Persons Bill: Minister's second reading speech, p. 5, A/27291, QSA.

(52) QPD, vol. 173, 15 November 1938, p. 1727.

(53) Many in the eugenics movement idealised country and rural pursuits as the healthiest (and hence most eugenic) lifestyle: Stefan Kuhl, The Nazi connection: eugenics, American racism, and German National Socialism, Oxford, 1994, p. 29; Grant Rodwell, 'Professor Harvey Sutton: national hygienist as eugenicist and educator', Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. 84, no. 2, 1998, p. 170.

(54) QPD, vol. 173, 15 November 1938, pp. 1726-7; 16 November 1938, p. 1797.

(55) Backward Persons Act 1938, 2 Geo. 6, no. 30, s. 9.

(56) QPD, vol. 173, 15 November 1938 pp. 1726-7.

(57) QPD, vol. 173, 15 November 1938 p. 1726.

(58) QPD, vol. 173, 15 November 1938 p. 1726.

(59) QPD, vol. 173, 15 November 1938 p. 1727.

(60) QPD, vol. 173, 16 November 1938 p. 1798.

(61) QPD, vol. 173, 16 November 1938 p. 1799.

(62) QPD, vol. 173, 16 November 1938 p. 1799.

(63) QPD, vol. 173, 16 November 1938 p. 1800.

(64) QPD, vol. 173, 16 November 1938 p. 1800.

(65) QPD, vol. 173, 16 November 1938 p. 1800.

(66) Pauline M. H. Mazumdar, Eugenics, human genetics and human failings: the Eugenics Society, its sources and its critics in Britain, London and New York, 1992, p. 3; Conley, p. 10: The Racial Hygiene Association of New South Wales argued that segregation and sterilisation were the only way to stop the 'unfit' from reproducing at a disproportionate rate.

(67) QPD, vol. 173, 16 November 1938, p. 1801.

(68) QPD, vol. 173, 16 November 1938, p. 1801. Copley, the member for Kurilpa, replied to Moore's speech, agreeing with some of his sentiments. He did not address the question of sterilisation; the only issue raised by Moore with which he disagreed was the issue of payment of mental defectives.

(69) In fact, implementation of the provisions of both Acts was extremely slow, due in part to the disruption of the war.

* Due to the focus of this article on attitudes towards the mentally ill and the intellectually impaired as revealed by the language used in parliamentary debates, I have chosen to retain contemporary expressions to describe these groups. These phrases may appear offensive to modern readers, but are essential in illustrating the contemporary views of these people.

Department of History

University of Queensland

Emily Wilson is a PhD student at the University of Queensland where she is completing her thesis on eugenic ideology and racial fitness in Queensland, 1900 to 1950. Emily has previously published a chapter on 'Queensland newspapers and ideas of race and fitness in Queensland, 1910 to 1920', in A race for a place: Eugenics, Darwinism and social thought and practice in Australia: proceedings of the History & Sociology of Eugenics Conference, University of Newcastle, 27-28 April 2000 (Callaghan, NSW, 2000). She has a chapter in the forthcoming book 'Madness' in Australia: History, heritage and the asylum. She also has a chapter on '"Eccentric and idiosyncratic treatment philosophies": the therapeutic community at Townsville's Ward 10B, 1973-87', in a forthcoming special edition of the journal Health and history.
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Author:Wilson, Emily
Publication:Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society
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Date:Jun 1, 2003
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