Astrological predictions in the media became popular in Australia from the 1920s, following similar trends in the United States and Britain. This coincided with the post-World War I expansion of popular culture and increasing social receptivity to alternative forms of spiritualism and pseudo-scientific explanations for global and everyday events. In 1925, the Australian Astrological Association was formed, soon followed by the Sydney Lodge of the International College of Astrology. Specialist booksellers opened, and local predication annuals were produced, complete with astrological charts for the southern hemisphere.
Maurice Champion is credited with giving the first radio lecture on astrology on 2BL Sydney in 1927. The Australian Theosophical movement, at its most vibrant in Sydney during the inter-war years, supported discussion of astrology through its publications, lectures and own radio station, Sydney’s 2GB. In Melbourne between 1936 and 1944, well-known Theosophist John Farquharson organised the Jadasa program on 3AK. The increasing professionalisation of astrology during the 1930s resulted in dedicated astrology programs on radio, newspaper columns and media advertisements for clairvoyant and horoscope readings.
Astrology’s capacity for guidance meant it was targeted particularly at women. For example, on 2UW, the Personal Service Bureau featured advice from astrologer Jean Hull from 1931, and the Women’s Magazine of the Air ran an astrology segment from 1937. In 1935, the Australian Women’s Weekly introduced its ‘Written in the Stars’ column by June Marsden—perhaps Australia’s first celebrity astrologer—who had studied astrology in North America and was president of the Astrological Research Society of Australia.
In 1939, NSW trade union leader and politician Jock Garden began publishing the weekly Today’s Astrology, changing the magazine’s name to Review in 1942. Much of the magazine’s content was syndicated from the United States. In 1957, Garden and his son Harcourt were charged with the offence of fortune-telling after a reader complained about paying for, but not receiving, a personal horoscope. Fortune-telling was illegal in most Australian states for most of the 20th century until the laws were repealed. However, the legal situation appears to have had little impact on astrological material in the media. The Review was purchased in 1979 by astrologer Ray Webb and later renamed the Astrological Monthly Review; it is the longest-running astrological periodical in the world.
Despite astrology’s growing popularity during the 1930s, there were many sceptics. In the 1940s, Smith’s Weekly published exposés of the veracity of horoscope predictions. On ABC Radio, writer Dymphna Cusack and zoologist Professor William Dakin were among those who expressed concern about astrological readings in newspapers and on the radio.
Following World War II, Sydney Piddington and his wife Leslie Pope performed a telepathic act on 2UE Sydney and 3KZ Melbourne. Piddington was a vaudeville artist who refined his mental powers while a prisoner of war in Changi. In 1949, the Piddingtons went to London, where they had a successful mind-reading program on BBC Radio.
In 1949, the first national astrologers’ convention was held in Melbourne, but astrology in Australia did not regain its pre-World War II mass popularity for two decades. There were almost no new Australian books on astrology until Human Destiny: The Psychology of Astrology (1969) by Gwyn Turner, who also wrote for the Australian Women’s Weekly. Despite the decline in public interest, horoscope predictions had become a standard, and somewhat unremarkable, feature of the media.
In the 1970s, there was an explosion of interest in the New Age and astrology, reflected in increasing print space and broadcast time, including on television. Arthur Bowman issued a series of personal horoscope booklets in 1973, heralding a new wave of popular texts and a new generation of celebrity astrologers. These included Doris Greaves, columnist for New Idea, and Milton Black, an astrologer-numerologist who regularly appeared on the Mike Walsh Show for the Nine Network. Uri Geller, Doris Stokes and broadcaster Kevin Arnett regularly appeared on The Don Lane Show, and at one point host Lane even evicted sceptic James Randi from the set. Ray Webb scripted Your Day by the Stars for Independent Radio Services and Grace Gibson Productions from 1981 until 2007, making it the longest continuously running astrology program on radio. Melbourne-born Athena Starwoman gained global recognition as an astrologer for numerous newspapers and magazines, including Woman’s Day and Vogue. Her niece, Astrogirl, has also carved out an international career.
The expanding interest from the 1990s in psychic readings and personal guidance has supplemented and even supplanted conventional horoscope columns in much print media. Talkback psychic radio programs have attracted high ratings around the nation. Television has also been important in bolstering the careers of professional psychics, who regularly give media advice as well as running private consulting practices. Broadcast media has also focused on the ‘truth’ of psychic knowledge. The Seven Network’s The One was developed in association with the Australian Psychics’ Association with the aim of locating Australia’s most accurate psychic. Its first season in 2008 attracted considerable controversy when it featured a hunt for the body of murder victim Peter Falconio; a second season did not appear until 2011.
Despite being a ubiquitous presence in the media for almost a century, astrology and New Age content has attracted little comment from media scholars, with the exception of an essay by Theodor Adorno on the irrational in culture. However, it is clear that astrology and psychic content in the Australian media have a long and vigorous history.
REFs: FAA Jnl, vols 2–3, 1972–73; B. Griffen-Foley, Changing Stations (2009).