Australia’s long history of LGBTIQ conversion therapy

LGBTIQ conversion

Within fifteen years of the word ‘homosexual’ coming into common usage, the search for a cure was in full swing. Indeed, LGBTIQ conversion therapists are nothing new. There is a long and undistinguished history of quacks attempting to profit from social prejudice against LGBTIQ people.

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In 1903 the Brisbane Truth mocked the most common remedy of the time — imprisonment.

“Only the most ignorant fools imagine that sending these characters to prison can cure their perversion.”

But the search for alternatives proved futile.

By 1923, the Adelaide Daily Herald could list a number of ‘treatments’ thus far attempted and discarded.

  • doses of potassium bromide
  • incarceration in mental asylums
  • hypnotism
  • psychoanalysis
  • loveless marriages

Yet, the lack of success failed to dissuade ‘researchers’ from ongoing experimentation.

In Charters Towers in 1930, the Northern Miner reported on persistent attempts to cure ‘a certain sort of sexual perversion’ with already disproven methods.

“Drugs have proven to be useless, but hypnotism has met with some success.”

I will count from one to three and, on three, you will open your eyes and lust after the opposite sex!

However, in 1936, a publication felt at last able to lay claim to a proven cure.

The Australian Christian Commonwealth trumpeted a successful outcome to ‘decades of research’.


You heard it right. Nothing new in that particular bit of nonsense.

The paper claimed a simple incantation would do the job.

Last thing every night and first thing every morning a homosexual needed to kneel beside their bed and repeat a magical mantra twenty times.

“Day by day, in every way, by God’s grace, I am growing better and better.”

The publication gushed over the successful cure of an anonymous patient.

“This young man is today married, the father of beautiful children, and a success in every way.”


But success can turn out illusory. The chanted incantations proved an ineffective long-term antidote. The publication quietly dropped the subject. Indeed, it never mentioned the miracle cure again.

Whipping or life-long segregation?

Queensland considered how to rescue sinners who strayed from the righteous path of heterosexuality at the 1944 Sexual Offences Inquiry.

Detective Frank Bischoff, later Commissioner of Police, testified that there was only one effective cure — whipping.

However, Professor Duhig disagreed. He was Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Trades and Labour Council and nephew of the local Catholic archbishop.

Duhig scoffed at the supposed therapeutic benefits of floggings.

“Floggings are brutal and will not cure sex criminals. The homosexual is incurable. Homosexuals are diseased.”

Instead, he recommended segregation.

But the government medical officer disagreed. He interjected to insist segregation would only work if it lasted a lifetime.

“Well, do that!” responded Duhig.

Throw away the key.

Also sitting as a member of the inquiry was Lady Phyllis Cilento. In the thirties, she argued for the sterilisation of homosexuals. However, she now advocated for imprisonment. Later, she explained homosexuals required jailing because they failed to breed and propagate the British race.

Especially the sterilised homosexuals, one would assume.

In the end, nothing much came of the inquiry. With Queensland’s best and brightest involved in the war effort at the time, perhaps the government only held it to give the also-rans something to do.

However, neither Cilento nor Bischoff ever allowed a chance for self-promotion to slip by. Both remained entrenched establishment tormentors of the LGBTIQ communities for decades to come.

A miracle cure.

The Mackay Mercury reported in 1947 that a doctor in the USA successfully treated a homosexual by making him inhale carbon dioxide. The paper reported the patient as ‘well on the way to recovery.”

By now, making someone inhale carbon monoxide seemed rather benign.

But yet again, after the initial success, the treatment joined the likes of dead animal poultices and heroin cough syrup in the archives of obscure medical failures.

Money, Money, Money

As post-war society began to talk more openly about men who practiced the ‘horrid, detestable and sodomitic crime (among Christians not to be named)’, the market for ‘cures’ grew.

As the NSW Minister for Health predicted back in 1930, “Some men would pay untold sums to be cured.”

Riches awaited those who held out promise of extinguishing homosexuality — a pot of gold for the end of the rainbow.

Gay men faced increased social and legal pressure to conform.

And the quacks and snake oil salesmen came running. ‘Doctors’ proved willing to inflict any torture on their patients in pursuit of the reluctantly pink dollar. Treatments included chemical castration, electric shock treatment, nausea-inducing drugs, and lobotomies.

Neurologist Walter Freeman performed 2,500 ice-pick lobotomies on homosexuals in the USA during the 1940s and 1950s despite a complete lack of surgical training.

A man unqualified even to snip off a foreskin, nevertheless sliced and diced the brains of living human beings.

And just like that, a world rightly horrified by Nazi wartime experimentation on human guinea pigs suddenly accepted comparable research on homosexual subjects.

Despite no proven positive results ever, the gay conversion therapy industry boomed in the 1960s and 1970s.

Deaths, like that of brilliant English scientist Alan Turing after enforced chemical castration, never deterred the ‘therapists’ for a moment.

Neil McConaghy

In Australia, Dr. Neil McConaghy, an ‘aversion therapist’ experimented with both nausea-inducing subcutaneous injections of apomorphine and electric shocks. Sadly, the Australian government contributed funds to subsidise his ‘research’.

Doctors at Sydney’s Callan Park Hospital experimented on homosexual patients, among others, with electric shocks that generated supposedly beneficial lesions on the brain.

Harry R. Bailey

Probably the worst LGBTIQ conversion therapist Australia ever saw was Dr. Harry R. Bailey MB, BS, MANZCP, DPM (Syd). Bailey practiced in Macquarie Street, Sydney.

He specialised in brain surgery. In 1973, he estimated he performed 15% of his operations on homosexuals. When pioneering gay activist John Ware rang Bailey to ask about the treatments, the doctor told him some of his best subjects came from the courts.

He treated his patients at the Chelmsford Private Hospital. He also experimented with narcotic induced comas and electric shocks.

Later investigations linked 85 deaths to those ‘treatments’. At least 19 of his patients committed suicide. The dead ranged in age from 14 to 66.

Because of adverse findings against Bailey during a 1961 Royal Commission, he allowed very few outsiders to witness the goings-on inside Chelmsford. However, he did allow the mother of a 14-year-old boy admitted in 1969 to visit her son. Evidence given to a 1988 Royal Commission into Chelmsford quoted her observations.

“He was placed in a large dark room,

“There were men and women in bed side by side with no clothes on, some with restraints, with tubes up their nose. They were making incredible moaning noises.”

The Royal Commission heard patients commonly lay naked on bedding soiled with their own urine and excrement, unable to complain or escape due to their drug-induced stupor.

Investigators later noted that Bailey sometimes “operated on homosexuals and people facing criminal charges in circumstances suggesting consent was not wholly voluntary.”

Dr. Bailey killed himself during the investigation.

LGBTIQ Conversion Therapy today

It is unlikely doctors continue to electrocute or lobotomise patients to change their sexual orientation in Australia today.

However, attempts at LGBTIQ conversion continue via intensive ‘prayer sessions’, retreats, and even exorcisms.

With Victoria and Queensland set to ban LGBTIQ conversion therapy, the main opponent to the banning is the Australian Christian Lobby(ACL).

However, aware of the public unease with conversion therapy, they word their opposition carefully.

Nobody can ban conversion…yet Dan Andrews wants to.

Conversion is “the power of God, for salvation to all who believe…

Comments on the ACL Facebook page indicate followers take that statement to read that the Andrews government plans to ban converting people to Christianity.

Why wouldn’t they?

That’s the impression given.

Daniel Andrews: Antichrist

“Daniel Andrews is an antichrist in Australia especially Victoria! Be careful what you believe. Don’t be deceived!’ screams one poster.

“He is the devil that Jesus talked about in the scriptures,” says another.

Some posters attempt to alert the followers that the proposed legislation refers to ‘conversion therapy’, not conversion.

Rachel Bennetts explains, “It clearly DOES NOT mean converting to Christianity. Anyone with half a brain 🧠 knows that.”

But there are none so blind as those who cannot see.

The sheep continue to bleat.

For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at

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