OPINION: Why Do We Condemn Senator Fraser Anning But Celebrate Lady Cilento?


Lady Cilento

In Queensland Senator Fraser Anning’s maiden speech to the Senate this week, he called for, among other things, a return to predominantly European migration and described gender diversity as “garbage”. Senator Derryn Hinch described the speech as “disgraceful, racist, homophobic, divisive, misogynist, spiteful [and] hateful.” But Anning’s opinions are the same as those of a woman after whom a prominent Queensland institution is named, Destiny Rogers writes. Should we name a children’s hospital after Anning?

Premier Anna Bligh lost government before one of her pet projects came to fruition. Campbell Newman gained power in time for the completion of the Queensland Children’s Hospital and decided to name it the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital after a renowned Queensland doctor who he has described as, “a fantastic medical pioneer.”

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Lady Phyllis Cilento was a good doctor – a very good doctor according to many – who specialised in the treatment of women and children. She recommended fresh nutritious food, a healthy lifestyle, vitamin supplements and she advocated for dads to attend the birth of their children.

Her husband was also a good doctor. Raphael Cilento worked for the Queensland government in tropical medicine and medical administration. He campaigned for the introduction of a public health system and was knighted in 1935. His later work with refugees in post-war Europe for the United Nations earned much admiration.

In addition to her full-time job as a doctor, Phyllis Cilento reared six children (with the assistance of domestic servants) and worked as a journalist, writing medical columns for Queensland newspapers from 1928 until 1984. Touted as Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s medical advisor, he named her both first Queenslander of the Year and first Queensland Mother of the Year.

With that resume, it would seem a no-brainer to immortalise her ladyship by naming the flagship Children’s Hospital after her. But there was much more to the Cilentos, husband and wife.

After his stint at the UN, Raphael struggled to find further well-paid work because of his racism. He advocated for White Australia from early in his career, but in later years, as governments progressively dismantled the programs designed to exclude people of non-European descent from the country, he became more strident.

‘The dilution of our racial blood’

Raphael and Phyllis Cilento both supported the Holocaust-denying League of Rights and believed in racial purity, subscribing to the long-discredited 18th century ‘science’ of Eugenics on which Hitler’s Aryanism was based.

Raphael said in a speech prepared for the League’s 1971 Seminar, “… we must be constantly vigilant, and we must be careful and repeatedly examine the dilution of our RACIAL blood to avoid any incompatible racial clots that may result in disaster.” (Caps are Cilento’s own.)

Arguing against government-funded child care that same year, Phyllis said, “This Commonwealth propaganda to get more mothers into the workforce will mean they don’t have so many children and that is real race suicide.” Real ‘race’ suicide!

She went on to say that more babies were needed, “homegrown is better than imported” and every woman’s most important function is childbearing and rearing. (She made an exception for herself.)

In an address to the Royal Historical Society of Queensland the year before, Raphael banged on about the dangers of immigrants, blaming the “multi-racial scum from Greece and the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean” for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.

He intended to reinforce the assertion he had made for decades, starting with his 1925 book The White Man in the Tropics in which he argued that white men could conquer and hold northern Australia to the exclusion of other races by the simple expedients of tropical medical knowledge and sensible clothing. (He believed Australian Aboriginals to be a doomed race.)

In 1959, in a book commissioned for Queensland’s centenary, Triumph in the Tropics, he and co-author Clem Lack Sr told, “the story of the triumph of the white man over a tropical and subtropical environment.”

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In the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Mark Finnane commented on Cilento’s “offensive commentary on Aboriginal societies” and added that “The book’s language reflected attitudes that emerged strongly in his private correspondence.”

It wasn’t only non-Europeans the Cilentos regarded as a danger to Australia. During the 1950’s, Phyllis recommended the authorities stay alert to the danger of homosexuals flooding into the country to escape a wave of prosecutions in England. She worried homosexuality might become commonplace.

“The danger now is that after the first revulsion of feeling against homosexuality in all its forms, people will become used to the idea, and come to take it for granted as ‘just one of those things’…

“Many quite intelligent people are inclined to consider that, after all, these personal relations are matters to be left to the individuals concerned, and, as long as they do no harm, why should we interfere in their private affairs? … ‘tolerance,’ I think it is called.

“People do not live to themselves alone… any country which depends for its preservation on its manpower and womanpower, and on its children for its continuance and progress – we cannot afford biologically to waste our adult men and women in their fertile period of life in the physical sterility of perversions.”

Monty Python put the same message to music: “Every sperm is sacred / Every sperm is great / If a sperm is wasted / God gets quite irate.”

Phyllis explained, “The awakening of a strong and well-informed body of public opinion against homosexuality will be the most effective means of preventing its spread, and of assisting the police in their efforts to control its practice.”

The Cilentos knew something about assisting the police. In the 1930’s, Raphael would wait with police outside the premises of suspected abortionists, nabbing any women that exited and whisking them away so he could examine them for any sign of a procedure.

Likewise, in North Queensland, he accompanied police on raids in the bush to apprehend Aboriginals suspected of having leprosy or venereal disease so he could consign them to isolated quarantine stations.

Cilento agitated for segregation of Aboriginals and succeeded in having the government incarcerate those infected with venereal disease or leprosy on isolated Fantome Island where there was an allowance of £100 per annum to feed the prisoners compared to £1,000 for whites in similar institutions.

Even the birth of an (unacknowledged) Aboriginal grandson during the 1950’s did not sway the Cilentos low regard for First Nations peoples.

On April Fools Day, 1982, Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen tabled a letter from Phyllis Cilento in the Queensland Parliament supporting his opposition to land rights for Indigenous Australians based on the potential for those lands to be used for subversive activities by other countries – the communist plot to secure a foothold in Australia.

Phyllis also opposed mini skirts, abortion, the contraceptive pill and making out.

Nor did she approve of lesbianism, though she believed “girls are far less prone to lesbian practices than boys are to homosexual ones. Their opportunities are less, their inhibitions greater. Fortunately, women are more readily changed by the wooing of an insistent lover.”

Such a lovely turn of phrase – the wooing of an insistent lover! Infinitely superior to the vulgar “all they need is a good fuck!” Even in 1984 when Phyllis wrote those words, the unwanted ‘wooing of an insistent lover’ was referred to in a court of law, depending on the degree of ‘insistent wooing’, as harassment, sexual assault, or rape.

Phyllis was for some things. Flogging, for example. “…Inadequate punishment acts as an encouragement rather than a deterrent. I favour flogging. There are many people who feel things through their skin.” Trust her. She’s a doctor.

All through her married life, Phyllis had to contend with a husband who constantly strayed. She always forgave Raphael’s infidelities and took him back, but at the age of 80, he began an affair with June Lea, an artist young enough to be his daughter. Ray (Raphael) spent days and even weeks with her at a beach cottage.

After a three year affair, he told Phyllis he was going to live with June part of the time. Phyllis panicked, worried that with the new more relaxed divorce laws, she might lose her husband and her title to the younger woman.

Money didn’t matter. She had contributed the lion share of income to the family for decades. But she cared about that title. In her autobiography  Lady Cilento M.B. B.S.: My Life, she made pointed mention of not receiving a royal gong in her own right. Their actress daughter Diane helped convince Raphael to end the affair. The morning after, June Lea shot herself dead.

A few days later, Phyllis put on a new hat to drive Raphael to June’s funeral. She wrote in her diary, ” Poor June is dead, but she lives on in Ray’s mind, a lovely hallowed memory.”

Queenslanders asked for their say

Queenslanders can have their say now on whether the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital should be called simply the Queensland Children’s Hospital.

Health Minister Steven Miles decided on a public consultation after receiving a petition from over 800 hospital staff asking for the change due to the public perception that the facility is a private hospital. The Children’s Hospital Foundation also supports the change.

QNews Magazine also supports the change – not only because of the confusion surrounding the status of the name but because of the insult to all Queenslanders subject to the bigotry of the Cilentos.

Queensland, like many former colonies, has a lot of things named after forgotten old men someone wanted to impress a long time ago. We even have a (private) university named for one of
Australia’s greatest fraudsters. It is refreshing to come across an institution named after a woman other than a British royal. But Phyllis Cilento is the wrong woman.

Deputy Opposition Leader Tim Mander, in defence of the name, said, “Lady Cilento should be celebrated and not wiped from the history of Queensland.”

QNews Magazine does not believe Phyllis Cilento should be wiped from the history of Queensland. In George Santayana’s frequently quoted words, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Nor do we believe she should be celebrated.

To have your say on whether the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital should be renamed the Queensland Children’s Hospital visit the website. Read more on the Cilentos in Issue 462 of QNews Magazine, out Friday August 30.

(Photos via State Library of Queensland)