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Dr Eric Cunningham Dax, AO, BSc Lond, HonMD, FRACP, FRANZCP, HonFRCPsych (18 May 1908 – 29 January 2008) was a British psychiatrist resident in Australia from 1952.

Clinical Work in England[]

In England during the 1930s and 1940s, Dax worked with John Rawlings Rees, Francis Reitmann and other biological psychiatrists who advocated the use of somatic (physical) treatments for patients with mental problems. He contributed to the development of chemical shock,[1] electroconvulsive therapy,[2] and lobotomy[3] while working at Netherne Hospital, Coulsdon, and continued to use lobotomy in Australia.[4]

Between 1946 and 1951, while the Medical Superintendent of Netherne Hospital, Dax pioneered the use of art therapy as part of mainstream psychiatric treatment. His interest was to research using art both for treatment and for assisting the diagnosis of mental disorder. He employed the artist Edward Adamson to facilitate the program. He published his findings in Experimental Studies in Psychiatric Art [5]. He began a collection of artworks produced by psychiatric patients[6] The Cunningham Dax Collection has become one of the largest collections of its type in the world, and is located in Parkville, Victoria.[7]. Adamson carried on the programs for 35 years, and went on to be one of the pioneers of Art Therapy in Britain [8].

Mental Hygiene Authority of Victoria[]

In 1952, Dax emigrated to Melbourne, Australia to take up an appointment as founding Chairman of the Mental Hygiene Authority of Victoria (later known as the Mental Health Authority). The Authority was formed as a response to public concern about the treatment and welfare of psychiatric patients,[9] and particularly as a response to the Kennedy Report of 1950 which highlighted the plight of these patients in Victoria in the immediate post war era.[10] Dax remained in this position until 1968, introducing major reforms of mental health services.[11] These included the moving of psychiatric treatment from asylums to community settings[12] and the introduction of art programs for patients. In 1961, the World Federation for Mental Health sponsored the publication of Dax's book Asylum To Community,[13] which describes the rapid expansion of community psychiatric centres in Australia. In his introduction to this book the Federation's Chairman, John Rawlings Rees, praised Dax's Mental Hygiene Authority as 'a major training ground in psychiatry and mental health work for all the English-speaking populations of the South-western Pacific region'. However, abuse of psychiatric patients was still occurring at such institutions as Newhaven Hospital.[14]

As part of his general strategy to expand psychiatric services, the teaching of psychiatry and the education of doctors in psychiatric principles, Dax lobbied for the creation of a chair of Psychiatry at the University of Melbourne; this was achieved in 1963. He supported the establishment of the Parkville Psychiatric Unit as a teaching unit of the University.[15]

Although health services in Australia were funded and administered at state level, Dax advocated federal intervention to coordinate and further resource psychiatric services.[16]

Opposition to Scientology[]

Dax used his position to campaign actively against the Church of Scientology in Australia, in response to that Church's criticism of the practices of shock therapy and psychosurgery.[17] In 1962 he wrote to the Minister of Health in each Australian state, warning of what he considered to be the dangers of this new religion.[18]

When the Government of Victoria convened a Board of Inquiry into Scientology in 1964, in addition to appearing as an expert witness, Dax conferred with other medical witnesses regarding their evidence.[19] He also instructed one of his staff, Dr. M.B. Macmillan, to recruit and coordinate other expert witnesses appearing before the Board.[20]

Later career[]

From 1969 to 1978 Dax was Community Health Services Co-ordinator in the Mental Health Services Commission, Tasmania.

On retirement he returned to Victoria and became a Senior Associate in medical history at the University of Melbourne. However, he continued to provide diagnoses and recommendations for Tasmanian patients including in 1984 Martin Bryant,[21] who went on to commit the Port Arthur massacre in 1996. Dax was admitted to the degree of Doctor of Medicine honoris causa at the university on 15 December 1984, and remained a Senior Fellow in Psychiatry at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.


  1. Dax, E. C. (1940) Convulsion therapy by ammonium chloride. Journal of Mental Science 86: 660-667.
  2. Dax, E. C. (1951) Indications for shock therapy. Journal of Mental Science 97: 142-144
  3. Dax, E. C., Reitmann, F. & Radley-Smith, E. J. (1949) Vertical and horizontal incisions in the frontal lobes in leucotomy. Proceedings 1st International Conference on Psychosurgery, Lisboa, 1949 pp. 119-122
  4. Freeman, W. (1965) Psychosurgery. American Journal of Psychiatry 121: 653-655.
  5. Dax, E.C. (1953), Experimental Studies in Psychiatric Art. London, Faber and Faber)
  6. Dax, E.C. (1998) The Cunningham Dax Collection: Selected Works of Psychiatric Art. Melbourne University Press 102 pp. ISBN 0-522-84768-4
  7. Cunningham Dax Collection [1]
  8. Hogan, S. (2001). Healing Arts: The History of Art Therapy. London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  9. Dax, E.C. (1981) Crimes, follies and misfortunes in the history of Australasian psychiatry. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 15: 257-263.
  10. Crowther, E. (1994) Education of Psychiatric Nurses in Minas, I.H. & Hayes, C.L. (eds) Migration and Mental Health. Victorian Transcultural Psychiatry Unit, Melbourne. [2]
  11. Robson, B. (2002) An English psychiatrist in Australia: memories of Eric Cunningham Dax and the Victorian Mental Hygiene Authority, 1951-1969. History of Psychiatry 13: 69-98.
  12. Dax, E.C. (1992) The evolution of community psychiatry. "Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry" 26: 295-301.
  13. Dax, E.C. (1961) Asylum to Community: The Development of the Mental Hygiene Service in Victoria, Australia. Cheshire: Melbourne 230 pp.
  14. Elias, D. (1992) 'Inquest to probe psychiatry of swinging 'sixties' The Age 14 March 1992
  15. History, Psychiatry Department, University of Melbourne [3]
  16. Dax, E. C. (1967) Psychiatry in Australia. American Journal of Psychiatry 124: 180-186
  17. Church of Scientology of California (1967) Kangaroo Court: An investigation into the conduct of the Board of Inquiry into Scientology. Hubbard College of Scientology: East Grinstead, England. p. 8
  18. Garrison, O.V. (1974) The Hidden Story of Scientology. Citadel Press: Secaucus NJ. ISBN 0-8065-0440-4 p.145
  19. State of Victoria (1965) Transcript, Board of Inquiry into Scientology. p. 3207.
  20. State of Victoria (1965) Transcript, Board of Inquiry into Scientology. p. 2976
  21. Mullen, P. (1996) Psychiatric Report on Bryant [4]
  • Dax, E.C. (1947). Modern Mental Treatment: a handbook for nurses, London: Faber.

External links[]

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