Dr Eric Cunningham Dax (1908 – 2008) became head of Victoria’s Mental Hygiene Authority in 1952 and continued in this position until 1968. He had graduated from London University in Medicine in 1932 and had undertaken broad and relevant psychiatric training in the U.K. In 1935 he married Katie and they had four children. When he moved them all to Melbourne, they took up residence near Kew Mental Hospital in Princes Street.
Dr Cunningham Dax visited the Victorian mental health facilities and met the patients and considered that the whole enterprise was sadly neglected. He recommended that the patients receive much more compassionate treatment. He organised the de-commissioning of padded rooms and stopped the mandatory seclusion applied to some of the psychiatric patients. He did not support harsh or brutal physical treatments for mentally disturbed patients but fostered outside exercise and occupational therapy, especially artistic activities, to help in treating and healing these people. He moved to Tasmania in 1969 as Coordinator in Community Health, returning to Melbourne again in 1989.
The Cunningham Dax Collection of artworks of psychiatric patients is located at the University of Melbourne. The collection showcases and maintains the history of and relationship between mental health rehabilitation and artistic pursuits. The University provides educational resources and exhibitions in memory of Dr Cunningham Dax and his philosophy.
By Kathy Andrewartha
Bircanin, I. and Short, A. (1995) Glimpses of the past: Mont Park, Larundel, Plenty, The Authors, Melbourne
Robson, B. (2000) The making of a distinguished English psychiatrist: Eric Cunningham Dax and the mythology of heroism in psychiatry 1951 to 1969. Ph. D Thesis, University of Melbourne, Parkville.
Cunningham Dax Collection http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/22993/download-report