2001 conference – Good vibrations: An exploration of ‘new age’ socialism in Australia 1890-1914

Frank Bongiorno
University of New England


This paper explores a neglected strand of Australian radicalism, which I have called new age socialism. Socialist activists influenced by various forms of mind cure (or “new thought”, as it was often called) were a minority presence in socialism around the turn of the century, but they brought to the movement a distinctive set of ideas and practices derived from transcendentalism and the medical unorthodoxy of new age healing. These ethical socialists were preoccupied with the relationship between mind and body and the possibility of transforming human selfhood in all of its spiritual and physical aspects. Their ideas and activism, however, ultimately contributed to that set of discourses concerning racial degeneration that spawned eugenics.


…each individual who would aid in sounding forth the great Socialistic paen must be himself in tune.
Hypatia, Socialist, 9 March 1907.2

In August 1907, 886 delegates met in Stuttgart for the seventh Congress of the Second International, the first on German soil. Among this gathering was a tall and handsome twenty-three year old named Victor Kroemer. The only Australian present, Victor was the son of a Barossa Valley storekeeper and his wife, both South Australian-born. His paternal grandparents had been among the thousands of immigrants who flocked to “Paradise of Dissent” from Germany in the middle decades of the nineteenth century—so, like many a young antipodean sojourner in Europe before and since, Victor could have seen his tour as a pilgrimage to an ancestral homeland. The newly-formed Socialist Federation of Australasia had provided the necessary credentials, but Victor was travelling at his own expense and intended to remain overseas for a couple of years. One suspects that his Melbourne comrades, who had thoughtfully presented Victor with a travelling rug before his departure, eagerly scanned the columns of their morning newspaper each day in August, awaiting some crumb of news from the assembly at which they were being represented by this fine product of their movement and Commonwealth.3

Kroemer’s performance in Stuttgart was indeed memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. In an extraordinary contribution to a debate on immigration and emigration, Kroemer announced that he was a clairvoyant, and, at a gathering that included most of the world’s leading socialists, he allegedly went on to predict that the world revolution would commence in South Australia! The Reuters correspondent called the speech “an extraordinary mixture of blasphemy and inconsequence”, while HM Hyndman, one of the British delegates, wrote to an Australian socialist leader demanding to know why Australia had chosen such a stupid dreamer as its representative!4

Unfortunately, the records of the Congress are silent about the more bizarrely utopian passages in the speech, but an article written by Victor for the Melbourne Socialist early in 1907 might provide a flavour of his prophetic vision. In this piece, a revolutionary uprising of the workers against capitalism in an unnamed country in 1910 provoked a violent response from the military. The soldiers, however, eventually decided that enough was enough, ended the slaughter, and turned their weapons on their officers. The nations of the world were soon ablaze with the flame of revolution, and before long “[n]ature herself joined in the struggle, and the earth rocked and swayed as if with some violent emotion, and the massive buildings and enormous structures that Capitalism had built up were hurled to the ground”. Nevertheless, Australia herself was hardly affected because there “vast strides had been made towards establishing new conditions”. When the first blast of revolution had been heard, the ruling class was overthrown, the Anti-Socialists fled the country, and there were moves towards social democracy. Consequently, millions of people flocked to Australia so that by 1920, “a great international community [Kroemer refrained from commenting on whether or not they would be exclusively white] of an enormous size” had formed in which the land was collectively owned. The rest of the world followed Australia, “proclaiming the land the property of the people, and working their industries collectively for the benefit of all”.5

The argument I shall advance in this paper is that the events in Stuttgart were not simply a case of a young Australian finding himself overawed and making a fool of himself among the giants of European socialism. Rather, Kroemer represented a minority “new age” strand within Australian socialism that has so far been neglected by historians of Australian radical thought.6 I do not wish to make exaggerated claims for its overall importance. Several of the activists whose ideas I explore in this paper evidently had some influence in radical circles, but what is significant about their “new age” thought is not that it gained large numbers of socialist adherents—it quite obviously did not—but that it was a presence that was at least tolerated within the movement and contributed to a broader sense of socialism in the years around the turn of the century as an alternative system of belief. In other words, “new age” socialism was one of the strands that made up the ethical socialist tradition, which has been widely and correctly recognised as a significant influence on the socialist movement in Australia.7 There has been some awareness among historians of the ethical strand in Australian socialism, and even occasionally of an esoteric one, but this area of radical thought remains largely untapped. The paper will focus on some individual socialists who were also interested in what I shall, for convenience, call “new thought”. Kroemer, as we shall see, was an adherent of this movement and practised as a healer. Nevertheless, the landscape of new age thought is complex, and individuals who identified with new thought were invariably involved in allied movements and organisations. Kroemer, for example, seems also to have been a theosophist and a vegetarian.This combination of affiliations was typical of those in the orbit of new age religion in the years around the turn of the century.

This paper builds on the work of historians of Australian socialism such as Joy Damousi, Verity Burgmann, Bruce Scates and Race Mathews who have emphasised the richness and diversity in Australian socialism in the years around the turn of the century.9 In the Thompsonian tradition of “history from below”, these historians stress the inadequacy of “linear” or “whiggish” accounts of the development of socialist thought by drawing attention to individuals, discourses and movements that seemed to be on history’s losing side. Nevertheless, the impact of the occult on Australian radicalism has been either ignored or underestimated in the major accounts of Australian socialism. Although the religiosity of radical culture has not escaped historians’ attention, the combinations of enlightenment rationalism, materialist scepticism and millenarian religious ideas that Iain McCalman has explored in relation to late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century London remain a dark corner in Australian historiography.10 This neglect may ironically be related to the contemporary popularity of new age religion, which seems to have little to do with socialism, and maintains a fairly ambiguous attitude to any form of radical political engagement—except perhaps in relation to Tibet.


If the remarkably eclectic movement that travelled variously under the names of divine science, science of life, mind- cure, mental science, or new thought (to name only a few of its designations) had a patron-saint, it would have been Ralph Waldo Emerson. Although the movement spread rapidly in the last couple of decades of the nineteenth century across and beyond the United States, it was, like the “sage of Concord”, essentially a product of the mind-orientated culture of New England. Its proponents believed in the sway of human thought over the body. If men and women engaged in the right sort of thinking, they could cure themselves by gaining access to the creative energy within themselves and the universe. A healthy mind—a mind attuned to the infinite—would produce a healthy body; disease, sorrow and evil were unreal because they were inconsistent with the omnipresence of God.11 Humanity was free by “divine purpose”, and men and women should claim the true liberty of their “inner or spiritual nature”—the divinity within—as their birthright. New thought urged them, moreover, to focus on “the ideal” rather than “the actualities” of their “natural existence”, to develop self-reliance and “inner powers”, and to believe in their “own experiences and intuitions”: “To change or improve one’s conditions, one must then change the inner centre, adopt a different attitude, make other and better affirmations, look out on life with more optimistic expectations”.12

While new thought has generally escaped the attention of the historians of believing in Australia, its rival sibling, Christian Science, has begun to attract their notice.13 There were, in fact, great similarities between the two movements, the differences between them having possibly been exaggerated in the often bitter rhetoric that accompanied their “warfare” of the 1880s, when they competed for legitimacy and followers. Both believed that mind and spirit were the ultimate reality, while matter was secondary or unreal. They each stressed the connections between right thinking and bodily health, although they conceptualised this relationship rather differently. Both believed in thought transference. Both were, to varying degrees, hostile to orthodox medical practice, and claimed to be able to heal via thought or prayer.14 New thought was, however, much more obviously a part of the freethought movement than Christian Science.

It eschewed dogma in favour of “a liberal eclecticism that stood firmly opposed to all religious authority”, and looked to the world’s great religions and esoteric traditions as sources of wisdom and inspiration.15 By contrast, Mary Baker Eddy, the founder and ruler of Christian Science, insisted that Christian revelation was the foundation of her own teachings, and that the Bible and her own divinely inspired writings were the key to healing and salvation.16

One might reasonably ask what possible relevance any of these ideas could have to the history of socialism, especially in the land of “Ten bob a day!”.17 After all, new thought was founded on an idealist philosophy and a rejection of materialism, and its ethos was strongly individualistic—traits possibly inherited from transcendentalism, and especially Emersonian idealism. Yet transcendentalism also proclaimed “that autonomous individuals cannot exist apart from others”, and it contained a strand that “stressed the importance of communal effort and larger-scale organization for institutional and economic reform”.18 Thus, while transcendentalism and Emersonian idealism have been seen as alternatives to collectivism, it is not difficult to see why liberal socialists might have envisaged the possibility of a synthesis. As Robert D. Richardson has remarked, “[t]ranscendentalism’s commitment to the individual and to the principle of individuation is a commitment to the soul or spirit that each person possesses in common with all other human beings”.19 Or, as Emerson said in his essay, “The Over-Soul”, “within man is the soul of the whole”.20 The same idea found expression in verse by Bernard O’Dowd, the Melbourne lawyer, poet, socialist and proponent of new thought. In his poem “The Silent Land”, O’Dowd asked rhetorically:21

Is there behind all men that live
One all-containing Soul,
Where symbols, apt for each one, give
A transcript of the Whole?

He answered his own question with the claim that

We are not all the Self we seem;
We are twined around with men
Who once performed this mortal dream,
And dream in us again.

This idea of the oneness of humanity evidently appealed to some ethical socialists’ aspiration to uplift the suffering masses, but it helped them to avoid confronting the realities of contemporary capitalist society. Indeed, in its stress on self-reliance and the importance of meditation, new thought embodied an idealism and individualism that eschewed systematic explanation of class-based exploitation. Consequently, despite the best efforts of radical intellectuals such as O’Dowd, the transcendentalist ideas associated with new thought were unable to provide Australian socialism with the democratic imaginary it so desperately required during this formative period. The authoritarianism of much twentieth- century socialism in Australia might perhaps be understood in the context of this failure.

Beryl Satter, in a study of women’s involvement in the new thought movement in the United States, has argued that there were close connections between new thought and middle-class progressivism there. Likewise in Australia, the texture of the movement does seem to have closely resembled the tradition of bourgeois reform and vitalism that Michael Roe has explored.23 In a 1907 issue of Progressive Thought, a magazine of the movement published in Sydney, an anonymous article on “Individualism and Socialism” included the comment that “if by socialism in meant the doctrine of human equality, the idea is, on the face of it, absurd; for Nature knows no such thing as human equality”. The author defined the state as “a well-ordered and disciplined union of individuals”, while the aim of evolution was “not to level down, but to level up; not to produce a rabble of undisciplined and irresponsible talkers and doers, but to realise the aristocracy that Plato wrote of—the rule of the best”.24 There was nothing in this statement that was inconsistent with the tenets of the meritocratic liberalism dear to the hearts of bourgeois Australia since the middle of the nineteenth century.

Indeed, even in its recognisably socialistic guises, new thought crystallised some major preoccupations of middle-class reformers in the years around the turn of the century. An articulate minority of Australian socialists, some of them influenced by new thought, saw the production of healthy human bodies as a precondition of the ideal society of the future. This object called for the most strenuous efforts of “progressive” thinkers, since socialism would not triumph unless enough minds and souls were attuned to the great ideal, nor would the body beautiful result from unhealthy or undisciplined thought. In line with Damousi’s work, I shall indicate that these ideas, which were frequently (although not always) accompanied by a concern with racial purity, had some influence on the development of the Australian left—we might perhaps call their project an “embodied socialism”, in its stress on the negative impact of capitalism on the bodies of the exploited classes and the significance of physical and mental health for social justice and human happiness. These ideas need to be seen in the context of widespread fin-de siècle fears of racial degeneration. As such, they contributed to the range of what Stephen Garton has called “population management discourses” that were available to reformers in the years around the turn of the century.25


Kroemer was already a committed socialist and proponent of new thought by the time he went to live in Victoria in 1903. In other words, his attitudes had been largely formed in South Australia’s atmosphere of protestant religiosity, with its strong dissenting flavour. He recalled an early brush with the surgeon’s knife as having been crucial in shaping his outlook. At the age of eleven, after an accident at school and two years of suffering, the doctors had decided to remove one of Victor’s eyes. On the night before the operation, he recalled “a wonderful cooling influence come over the face”. The next day, according to his own account, the doctors found the eye so improved they decided not to proceed with the operation, and within a few weeks it had healed. 26

After leaving school a few years later and entering the printing trade, Kroemer undertook a course of intensive evening reading of “religious, scientific and philosophical literature” in the Adelaide Public Library. He joined various literary and religious organisations, but his membership of a young men’s class in a Baptist Sunday School came to an end when his freethought ideas became known to the superintendent.27 In the early years of the century, he was secretary of the Christian Metaphysical Society, and then, just before his departure for Melbourne, a member of the Clarion Fellowship, a socialist group.28 Here, as we shall see, he came into contact with others who were interested in combining socialism with mental science and healing. By this time, however, Kroemer had been leaning towards mysticism for many years. As a youth, he often found himself “surrounded by a bluish or violet light”; and in 1905, while living in Melbourne, “there came to him…an outpouring of the force of which later he was destined to achieve such conscious mastery”. Kroemer developed a healing technique that drew on this force. After spending several years overseas, which gave him the opportunity of considerable contact with leading figures in the socialist, theosophical, spiritualist and new thought movements, he returned to Australia and began treating patients in a small way from 1916. He expanded his practice considerably in the following decade and became a prominent healer in Sydney until he experienced that change called death (to use “new age” phraseology) in 1930.29

Earlier in the century, Kroemer had professed a socialism in which bodily health was a major preoccupation. Writing for the Melbourne Socialist in 1906, he nominated the practice of medicine and the use of drugs and stimulants as one of the chief causes of sorrow under the capitalist system. It would only be remedied by “[l]iving in harmony with the laws of nature”.30 There was no natural reason for illness, since the functions of the human body had been so organised “that unless interfered with they will work smoothly and harmoniously throughout life”.31 The problem was capitalism. In the first place, it ruined the bodies of both workers and their exploiters through, on the one hand, “excessive toil”, and on the other, “excessive luxury and laziness”.32 Capitalism also promoted an ignorance of the laws of nature that was a direct encouragement to disease. Finally, the capitalist system gave rise to a medical profession paid not for keeping people healthy, but for treating them when they became ill. Hence, there was no incentive for doctors to cure their patients. Medicines—especially patent medicines—were sold solely for profit; and vendors invented diseases in their advertising in order to help sales along.33

In this discourse—associated particularly with William Morris and Edward Carpenter and popular among socialists at the time—capitalism was an interference with the natural order. The role of socialism was to overcome “civilisation” and restore harmony to the cosmos by bringing people into closer touch with nature. It is likely that this kind of hostility to orthodox medical practice had a resonance in radical and working-class culture at this time; in some respects, it tapped into an older popular attachment to folk medicine.34 In this connection, the case of William Maloney is instructive. Maloney, a qualified medical practitioner, was a colourful socialist member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly from 1889 and a fixture in Victorian radical politics until his death in 1940, at which time he was still a member of the Commonwealth parliament. In the mid-1890s he established the North Melbourne District Medical Club, which was later called the Maloney Medical Institute; it offered cheap treatment for “a pathetic assortment of human wreckage”.35 Maloney travelled to India in 1896 to develop a practice in electric treatment, unorthodox behaviour that attracted the attention of the Champion newspaper, a Melbourne rag run by English émigré socialist Henry Hyde Champion. The Champion (and probably Champion himself) remarked that “[d]emocracy in this country has a good deal of weight to carry already, and must not be hampered with this fresh burden of venal quackery”. Yet interestingly the paper was at around this time carrying advertisements of a herbal practitioner named HE Kugelmann.36 He claimed to possess “the extraordinary power to tell his patients what is the matter with them without being informed of the nature of the disease, and will tell at once if the case is curable, and the cost for a complete cure by his new method of treatment”. Quackery, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder, a point made by “DEMOCRAT” in the following issue of the paper. While admitting Maloney to have been foolish, this correspondent defended the Little Doctor’s integrity and pointed out that he was “known to have espoused the methods of electricity long before he ever thought of going to India, because he earnestly believed them to be best”. “DEMOCRAT” also called attention to the large number of “duly qualified quacks” around, and asked if “it is not to a large extent this damnable respect for professional etiquette that provides a cloak for their boundless incapacity and astounding audacity?”. Maloney went on to give demonstrations of his electrical healing techniques in Belfast and Edinburgh; during a performance in the latter city, he was “hooted by medical students” who believed that he “was insulting the profession of which they hoped to become members”.37

This episode may perhaps be read as a demonstration of the tendency for various forms of heresy—religious, economic, political and medical—to attract one another.38 Indeed, Maloney was not the only qualified medical practitioner of socialist inclinations to move in this world. Another, Rosamond Benham, the product of a talented Adelaide family, was a poet, sex reformer and graduate in medicine from the University of Adelaide.39 “[E]ugenics is something like a religion to us”, she told the Bulletin’s AG Stephens in 1906, “To me it is the science above all others worth working and living for”.40 Rosamond’s juxtaposition of “religion” and “science” in this remark neatly captures the amalgam of enlightenment rationalism, occultism, and missionary fervour that motivated her own and her mother Agnes’s activities and ideas.41 Indeed, while most accounts of the eugenics movement in Australia have emphasised its claim to scientific credentials, its links with new age spirituality and esoteric belief are more apparent in the case of this extraordinary mother-and-daughter team of social reformers.42

Both Agnes and Rosamond were active members of the Clarion Fellowship in Adelaide, a socialist group inspired by English socialist Robert Blatchford’s popular newspaper, the Clarion, and the diverse range of organisations and activities which it had spawned. Kroemer, as we have seen, was also a member of this group for a time, while Bernard O’Dowd was chairman of the Clarion Fellowship in Melbourne.43 He served as president of the Melbourne New Thought Club and was briefly editor of its monthly journal, Mind and Body.44 Much of his poetry of the period after 1905 was influenced by mental science, an inspiration that scholars have recognised but underestimated.45 Like Kroemer and the Benhams, O’Dowd saw no essential contradiction between socialism and new thought. Emerson and Whitman were, for him, better guides to a democratic socialist practice than Bellamy or Marx.

In 1895 Agnes Benham had published a pamphlet First Steps in Mental Science in Adelaide. As such, she must have been among the earliest Australian adherents of new thought, which in her opinion would unlock

the door to accomplishments hitherto undreamed of, possibilities of power and happiness lying latent within every one of us. It shows us how to conquer disease, pain, infirmity, and poverty, and teaches us that man is not intended to be the slave of circumstances but the master of them, and to be the ruler of his own fate; that he can, indeed, make of his life what he chooses it to be.46

Agnes also practised as a healer; she was an advocate of “Electro-Homoeopathy” and claimed to have had “great success in restoring many, some almost helpless cases to health by this means”.47 Naturally, she believed in telepathy, and was willing to declare its reality in the pages of a labour newspaper, the Herald, to which she was for a time a regular contributor:48

…it is possible to think your ideas into people without saying a word. Thought transference is a proved fact. It all depends upon the quality of your thought. If you think hazily and dimly you have very little power. But if your thoughts are clear, sharp and well-defined, and especially if they are directed by strong emotion, they will make themselves felt…49

For Agnes, the mind, soul and spirit were the most powerful forces in the universe: only they could “subdue opposing circumstances”. “[B]rute force” was “of no avail” because humans were essentially spiritual beings “though clothed in a garb of flesh”.50 The transition to socialism required intensive self-development: it would ultimately emerge as the expression of the divinity of men and women, the God within. Hence Benham could proclaim that “individuality” was “the most precious thing life holds…the flower of human existence”.51 The existence of social classes was unnatural, for the oneness of humanity was the deepest reality: “we are all one and our interests are one. We can no more afford to sever ourselves in thought from even the exploiting class than they can afford to do without us.”52

The problem with her creed, however, from a socialistic and working-class perspective, was its tendency towards extreme individualism. She declared on one occasion that

…there is no need for any one to be poor…each one can, if he or she chooses to learn the way, THINK himself or herself OUT of poverty, out of ill-health, out of diffidence and distress, INTO health, wealth, serenity, and constant hopefulness. The reason we often do not get what we desire…is because we do not expect it sufficiently.53

Yet her remarks on this subject in another place suggest that she sensed the problem with new thought as a foundation for socialism. “[M]an is a magnet”, she declared, “and himself attracts and builds up all his surroundings. This may seem a little hard upon those who are unfortunate through no fault of their own, as they think. But the fact cannot be gainsaid, that it IS through fault of their own. We ourselves, and no one else, have to reckon up our own lives”. Sorrows, losses, privations, sufferings of all kinds were the penalties men and women paid for misdirected methods.54

All of this must have been of cold comfort to the poor, and it is striking that in her later writings in the labour press, Agnes seems to have moved away from this position to some extent. By 1903, Benham’s individualism had been somewhat tempered by an intense humanitarianism. “The benefits of our so-called civilisation”, she declared, “are somewhat too dearly bought at the expense of the life-blood of millions of our suffering, sentient fellow-creatures”, with even children being pressed into the service of Mammon. There was no cause more sacred or urgent than socialism, which was “equally a science and a gospel” devoted to the deliverance from “industrial slavery” of “the perishing bodies and sinsick souls of millions of our fellow-creatures”.55

Agnes was particularly concerned about how to breed happy, healthy and moral people, an obsession she shared with other mental scientists. Kroemer, for example, was a staunch defender of a White Australia, and remarked that “[n]ever before in the history of the world, perhaps, has a young nation been given an island continent in which to commence its evolution as a race.” He looked forward to the creation of “a virile, pure people”.56 Bernard O’Dowd was similarly preoccupied with the development of a virile, pure people although, as a courageous opponent of the White Australia policy, would have had a rather different understanding of these ideas to Kroemer.57

Meanwhile, in her booklet Love’s Way to Perfect Humanhood: An Appeal to Thoughtful People, Agnes asserted that men and women needed to obey “the suggestions of Nature” by only marrying for love.58 Indeed, unless there was an affinity between a man and woman, no true marriage took place. Her principal concern seems to have been the effect of bad unions on offspring. “[T]he results of uncongenial mating”, she declared, were made “manifest in the very blood and bone, as well as in the form and appearance, of…unhappy children”. On the other hand, “the children born of Love” would “rule the world”.59 In the course of this argument, which may be conveniently described as “new age” eugenics, Benham drew heavily on theosophical ideas and imagery. The great charm of “intercourse between the sexes” was “the inter-blending of sympathetic elements in the aura of persons attracted to each other”. This aura was made of “magnetic elements, ethereal emanations proceeding from the individual, always intensely representative of the inner Self”. Observed by the psychically sensitive as a halo of light—and generally of a certain colour reflecting the particular mood of the person it surrounded—it was nevertheless “incessantly vibrating with changing hues, according to the play of thought and of feeling”.60 Where this affinity did not exist, Benham advocated easy, no-fault divorce.61 She emphasised that she was not advocating sexual licence, but rather a system of marriage consistent with cosmic law, and therefore in the best interests of the race.

Many of Rosamond’s ideas on the relations of the sexes were similar to her mother’s, although, as a qualified doctor, she offered more “practical” advice to married couples about how they might achieve the marital bliss and children of love foreseen by Agnes. The new thought foundation of her philosophy was made clear in her comment that “a mother can deliberately use her mind-power to overcome any of the weaker less admirable qualities in herself and her partner”. Indeed, she went so far as to suggest that a maternal course of self-improvement in mathematics, languages, art and music would leave its beneficial mark “on the child’s plastic and unconscious brain” so that it would “probably be clever even to brilliancy”.62 Like Agnes and much of the women’s movement, Rosamond was an advocate of voluntary motherhood, the idea that a woman ought to have children only when she desired them, and never as the unwanted by-product of male lust. Accordingly, she criticised husbands” “over-indulgence in physical delights”.63 While she believed that sex should be a pleasurable experience for women as well as men, her ideas on sex reform were invariably directed to eugenic concerns: “It is too much to ask of outraged Nature to give true health and sanity in the offspring of what are really unhealthy, insane sexual practices, however concealed under the cloak of the marriage licence.”64

The central dilemma that Rosamond addressed was how modern couples could enjoy a fulfilling sexual relationship without the harmful effects of male “animal passion” on husbands, wives and their offspring (the race). Were voluntary motherhood and an embrace of sexual desire compatible? Rosamond turned to some possible solutions. She was unenthusiastic about the method of withdrawal before ejaculation, which was in her opinion “only a step removed from masturbation” and therefore liable to lead “…to mental enfeeblement, even insanity, and…loss of virility”.65 Mechanical contrivances, meanwhile were unhealthy and inconsistent with the sacredness of sex: “How can Love and Love’s outward sign keep their fresh romance in the presence of the thought of a hasty sequence of cell-slaughtering methods?”66  Benham here tapped into a discourse that cultural historian David Walker has identified, connecting seminal loss with the decline of personal and national vigour.67 Spilt sperm, in Rosamond’s view, was “a discharge not only of material but of force and vitality”: physical and mental vigour depended on the “absorption back into the blood of the mysteriously complex material the sexual glands alone are able to manufacture”.68

So she turned to Karezza, or practicable continence, as advocated by the American proponent of new thought and sex reform, Alice Bunker Stockham.69 Rosamond recommended that the couple should begin by embracing each other in a nude state one or twice each twenty-four hours for a week or so, but without “sexual connection”. This process would cultivate their self-restraint, give “their love free play in caresses” and develop “a frank acknowledgment of delight in the human form”. The couple needed to overcome shame, and rejoice in the beauty of the human form. Once they had achieved this object, they should “effect a quiet union, no more”.70 In an echo of her mother’s theosophical imagery, Rosamond believed that those who refrained “from the final orgasm” would “experience the highest delight through a thorough exchange of magnetism”.71

These kinds of ideas have not generally been seen as characteristic of Australian socialism, possibly because they seem to lead in directions other than those identified as most significant in twentieth-century left-wing thought, such as state socialism, syndicalism and Marxism. Yet the idea of socialism as a “new life”, which Stephen Yeo has seen as a powerful impulse in British socialism around the turn of the century, was also a significant presence among the antipodean comrades.72 In some cases, as we have seen, there were direct connections between the socialist movement and new age believers who were seeking personal transformation and, by implication, the spiritual and physical renewal of humanity. We should not exaggerate the significance of this connection—such esoteric thinking was never more than a minority taste among the Australian comrades—but the toleration and more that was accorded figures such as Kroemer, O’Dowd and the Benhams says a great deal about the openness and eclecticism of socialism in the years around the turn of the century. By paying greater attention to such activists and groups, historians may well find that those they have habitually if sympathetically regarded as history’s losers were in reality the prophets and harbingers of a very modern sense of embodied selfhood.


1 My thanks to the two anonymous referees for theirt helpful comments.
2 Hypatia was Amelia Lambrick, “a remarkable Victorian public servant” and “pioneering social worker, active in various women’s organisations and peace groups, who lectured for the Theosophical Society”. See Graeme Osborne, “A Socialist Dilemma”, in Ann Curthoys and Andrew Markus (eds.), Who Are Our Enemies? Racism and the Working Class in Australia, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1978, p.113.
3Julius Braunthal, History of the International 1864-1914, tr. by Henry Collins and Kenneth Mitchell, Nelson, London, 1966, p.334; Bertha Walker, Solidarity Forever!…a part story of the life and times of Percy Laidler—the first quarter of a century… The National Press, Melbourne, 1972, p.54; Douglas Pike, Paradise of Dissent: South Australia, 1829-1857, Longmans, Green and Co, London, 1957; Socialist (Melbourne), 12 October 1907; Jill Staton (ed.), Biographical Index of South Australians 1836-1885, South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society Inc, Marden (South Australia), 1986, p.938; Frank Farrell, International Socialism & Australian Labour: The Left in Australia 1919-1939 , Hale & Iremonger, Sydney,1981, p.14; Socialist, 22 June 1907.
4 Age, Argus, 26 August 1907; Walker, Solidarity, p.55
5Internationaler Socialisten-Kongreß zu Stuttgart. 18 bis 24. August 1907, Berlin, 1907. (Reprint Detlev Auvermann KG, Glashütten im Taunus,1976); Congrès Socialiste International Stuttgart 18-24 Aout 1907, 3 volumes in 4, Minkoff Reprint, Geneve, 1978-1985 (I am indebted to Dr. Andrew Bonnell for his assistance with this research on the Stuttgart Congress, his translations from German reports of the event, and more generally for his advice about new age influences in the German socialist movement. I am also indebted to Professor Majella Franzmann for her help with translation). Socialist, 19 January 1907.
6 The relationship between new age and socialist thought is discussed in Jill Roe, Beyond Belief: Theosophy in Australia 1879-1939, New South Wales University Press, 1986. See esp. pp.31-2.
7 See my forthcoming article “Love and Friendship: Ethical Socialism in Britain and Australia”, in Australian Historical Studies, April 2001.
8 Walker, Solidarity, pp.54-5; Socialist, 22 June 1907.
9Joy Damousi, Women Come Rally: Socialism, Communism and Gender in Australia 1890-1955, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1994; Verity Burgmann, ‘In Our Time’: Socialism and the Rise of Labor, 1885-1905, George Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1985; Bruce Scates, A New Australia: Citizenship, Radicalism and the First Republic, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1997; Race Mathews, Australia’s First Fabians: Middle- class Radicals, Labour Activists and the Early Labour Movement, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1993.
10 Iain McCalman, Radical Underworld: Prophets, Revolutionaries and Pornographers in London, 1795-1840, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1988.
11 Horatio W. Dresser, A History of the New Thought Movement, George G. Harrap & Co., London, n.d.; Gail Thane Parker, Mind Cure in New England: From the Civil War to World War I, University Press of New England, Hanover (New Hampshire), 1973; Charles S. Braden, Spirits in Rebellion: The Rise and Development of New Thought, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, 1963; Stephen Gottschalk, The Emergence of Christian Science in American Religious Life, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 1973, chap.3; Beryl Satter, Each Mind a Kingdom: American Women, Sexual Purity, and the New Thought Movement, 1875-1920, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1999; and, most famously, William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, Collins/Fount Paperbacks, Glasgow, 1982, pp.92-136. For New Thought in Australia, see Jill Roe, “Dayspring: Australia and New Zealand as a Setting for the ‘New Age’, from the 1890s to Nimbin”, in David Walker and Michael Bennett (eds.), Intellect and Emotion: Australian Cultural History, No.16, 1997/98, pp.176-7.
12 Dresser, History of the New Thought Movement, pp.161-2.
13 Jill Roe, “ ‘Testimonies from the Field’: The Coming of Christian Science to Australia, c.1890-1910”, Journal of Religious History, Vol.22, No.3, October 1998, pp.304-19.
14 Satter, Each Mind, pp.3-4.
15 Gottschalk, The Emergence of Christian Science, p.99.
16 Satter, Each Mind, p.4.
17 Albert Métin, Socialism Without Doctrine, tr. Russel Ward, Alternative Publishing Co-operative Ltd., Chippendale (NSW), p.180.
18 David M. Robinson, “Transcendentalism and Its Times”, in Joel Porte and Saundra Morris (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, p.23; Robert D. Richardson, Emerson: The Mind on Fire, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1995, p.250.
19 Richardson, Emerson., p.251.
20 R.W. Emerson, “The Over-Soul”, in Carl Bode (ed.) in collaboration with Malcolm Cowley, The Portable Emerson, Penguin, Middlesex, 1981, p.210.
21Hugh Anderson, The Poet Militant: Bernard O’Dowd, Hill of Content, Melbourne, 1969, pp.94-7.
22Bernard O’Dowd, “The Silent Land”, in The Silent Land and Other Verses, T.C. Lothian, Melbourne, 1906, pp.16, 20. See also Anderson, Poet Militant, pp.94, 96.
23 Satter, Each Mind, p.8; Michael Roe, Nine Australian Progressives: Vitalism in Bourgeois Social Thought 1890-1960, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1984.
24 Progressive Thought, 1 May 1907, p.648.
25 Damousi, Women Come Rally, pp.58-77; Stephen Garton, “Writing Eugenics: A History of Classifying Practices”, in Martin Crotty, John Germov and Grant Rodwell (eds.), “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, Faculty of Arts & Social Science, The University of Newcastle, 2000, pp.11-12.
26 The Federal Independent: A Journal of Applied Christianity, 1 April 1930.
27 The Federal Independent: A Journal of Applied Christianity, 1 April 1930.
28 Herald (Adelaide), 23 May, 4 July 1903. For the Clarion Fellowship, see Burgmann, ‘In Our Time’, pp.158-62.
29 The Federal Independent: A Journal of Applied Christianity, 1 April 1930; Roe, Beyond Belief, p.307.
30 Socialist, 8 September 1906, one of a series of columns written by Kroemer on “The Philosophy of Modern Socialism” and published in the Socialist between September 1906 and March 1907.
31 Socialist, 22 September 1906.
32 Socialist, 6 October 1906.
33 Socialist, 8, 22 September 1906.
34 F.B. Smith, The People’s Health: 1830-1910, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1979, pp.109-11, 334-42, 418-19.
35 Geoffrey Serle, “Maloney, William Robert (Nuttall)”, in Bede Nairn and Geoffrey Serle (eds.), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10:1891-1939, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1986, pp.389-90.
36 For Kugelmann, see Peter J. Phillips, Kill or Cure: Lotions, Potions, Characters & Quacks of Early Australia, Greenhouse Publications, Richmond (Vic.), 1984, pp.133-4.
37 For Maloney, see Champion, 14, 21, 28 March 1896; Argus, 9 January 1897. For the Kugelmann advertisement, see Champion, 23 November 1895.
38 Peter J. Lineham, “Restoring Man’s Creative Power: The Theosophy of the Bible Christians of Salford”, in W.J. Sheils (ed.), The Church and Healing (Studies in Church History, vol.19), Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1982, p.218; Smith, People’s Health, pp.333-43.
39 Alison Mackinnon, The New Women: Adelaide’s early women graduates, Wakefield Press in association with the University of Adelaide Foundation, Netley (South Australia), 1986, p.73.
40 Rosamond Benham to A.G. Stephens, 2 August 1906, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, ML MSS 4937/3, 667-71.
41 Alison Mackinnon and Carol Bacchi, “Sex, Resistance and Power: Sex Reform in South Australia c.1905”, Australian Historical Studies, Vol.23, No.90, April 1988, pp. 60-71.
42 See, for example, Mary Cawte, “Craniometry and Eugenics in Australia: R.J.A. Berry and the Quest for Social Efficiency”, Historical Studies, Vol.22, No.86, 1986, pp.35-53.
43 For Melbourne Clarion Fellowship, see Tocsin, 14 August 1902.
 44 Mind and Body, 1 November 1907; T.C. Lothian to O’Dowd, 1 April 1908, Lothian Papers, State Library of Victoria, MS 6026, 32/1.
45 See, for example, W.H. Wilde, Three Radicals, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1969, p.24, where O’Dowd’s engagement with new thought is “little more than a passing phase…a flirtation with esoteric knowledge”; and Victor Kennedy and Nettie Palmer, Bernard O’Dowd, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1954, pp.134-6.
46 Agnes Benham, First Steps in Mental Science, Scrymgour and Sons [Printer], Adelaide, 1895, pp.4-5.
47 Century (Adelaide), 16 January 1901.
48 Later, when Agnes was living in Melbourne, a woman visiting her at home found Agnes “in a psychic state…receiving some astral communication from her son”. See Constance Holloway to O’Dowd, 20 February 1908, H.H. Pearce Papers, National Library of Australia 2765/9/1/25.
49 Herald, 27 December 1902.
50 Herald, 3, 24 January 1903.
51 Herald, 29 November 1902.
52 Herald, 6 December 1902. See also Herald, 22 November 1902.
53 Morning (Adelaide), 12 December 1900.
54 Morning, 28 November 1900.
55 Tocsin, 12 March 1903.
56 Progressive Thought, 1 November 1906
57 I have explored the roots of O’Dowd’s opposition to the policy in “Bernard O’Dowd and the ‘Problem’ of Race”, in Robert Hood and Ray Markey (eds.), Labour and Community: Proceedings of the Sixth National Conference of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, The Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, Illawarra Branch, Wollongong, 1999, pp.32-6.
58 Agnes Nesbit Benham, Love’s Way to Perfect Humanhood: An Appeal to Thoughtful People, “The Century” [Printer], Adelaide, n.d. [c.1904], p.21.
59 Benham, Love’s Way, pp.21, 62.
60 Benham, Love’s Way, p.16.
61 Benham, Love’s Way, pp.55-6.
62[Rosamond Benham], Sense About Sex, By A Woman Doctor, The Century [Printer], Adelaide, 1905, pp.24-5.
63 Sense About Sex, pp.26-7.
64 Sense About Sex, p.35.
65 Supplement to Sense About Sex, p.52.
66 [Rosamond Benham], Circumvention: Or, Practical Continence: Sequel to “Sense About Sex”, By a Woman Doctor, Century [Printer], Adelaide,1905, p.6.
67 David Walker, “Continence for a Nation: Seminal Loss and National Vigour”, Labour History, No.48, May 1985, pp.1-14.
68 Sense About Sex, pp.42-3, 48.
69 Alice B. Stockham, Karezza: Ethics of Marriage, R.F. Fenno and Company, New York, n.d.
70 See “Part VI. Practicable Continence”, in Supplement to Sense About Sex.
71 Sense About Sex, p.48.
72 Stephen Yeo, “A New Life: The Religion of Socialism in Britain, 1883-1896”, History Workshop Journal, No.4, 1978. pp.5-56.