'A menace and an evil': Fortune-telling in Australia, 1900-1918
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Fortune-telling was hugely popular in Australia in the early 1900s. Frequently employed as entertainers at society and charity events, fortunetellers across the country plied their trade from shops, street-stalls, private homes or travelling sideshows, and advertised their businesses in the daily press. Yet fortune-telling was also a criminal practice under legislation inherited from England. Up until the early twentieth century, however, it seems to have been seldom policed. In contrast, the dawn of the new century saw spates of prosecutions against practitioners and decisions by a number of Australian states to affirm the practice's criminal status under new laws. Divining the future was treated as 'a menace and an evil', and as an embarrassment in the face of the scientific and intellectual advances of the era. At a time when Australia was entranced by a vision of itself as a rational, forward-thinking nation of white males, fortune-telling was not only considered a relic of old-fashioned ignorance but was associated with female credulity, working-class superstitions and incursions by foreign cultures. The history of fortune-telling therefore offers new ways of understanding how questions of gender, race and class inflected the national identity developed during the Federation era.
Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)