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Meares, Ainslie Dixon (1910–1986)

by Ann Westmore

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Ainslie Dixon Meares (1910-1986), psychiatrist, was born on 3 March 1910 at Sandringham, Melbourne, eldest son of Victorian-born parents Albert George Meares, medical practitioner, and his wife Eva Gertrude, née Ham (d.1926).  Ainslie’s grandfathers, George Meares and C.J. Ham, were both successful businessmen and lord mayors of Melbourne.  Taught by a governess at home at Toorak until aged 10, Meares then attended Melbourne Church of England Grammar School.  At first shy, introverted and gangling, he built his self-confidence through boxing and debating and in 1928 became a school prefect.  He was orphaned that year.  His report of a school tour of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and India, written for the school journal, showed his sensitivity to social inequalities.

As the Depression hit, Meares spent a year working on country properties owned by his extended family, before proceeding to the University of Melbourne (B.Ag.Sc., 1934).  On 18 June 1934 at the MCEGS chapel he married Bonnie Sylvia Byrne, who encouraged him to return to the university to study medicine (MB, BS 1940; DPM, 1947; MD, 1958).  Appointed as a captain, Australian Army Medical Corps, Australian Imperial Force, on 1 November 1941, Meares served mainly in Australia.  In 1944 he was medical officer of the 7th Battalion in New Guinea.  He transferred to the reserve on 10 August 1946.

Intrigued by hypno-analysis, during which patients were encouraged to air sublimated feelings of conflict, Meares served as a clinical assistant in psychiatry at the Alfred Hospital (1947-50), assistant psychiatrist at the Royal Melbourne Hospital (1946-57) and honorary psychiatrist at the Austin Hospital (1949-53).  Having completed the diploma of psychological medicine, he began private psychiatric practice and in 1955 delivered the annual Beattie Smith lectures.  A turning-point was a visit in 1956 to Nepal, where he spent several days with an elderly yogi who taught him how to induce profound relaxation through meditation.  Immersing himself in psychological therapies that went beyond orthodoxies of the time, he devoted himself to learning Eastern approaches to calmness of mind and control of pain—approaches tested in his own experience of having teeth removed without anaesthetic.

Already the author of a volume of poetry, How Distant the Stars (1949), he published in 1958 The Door of Serenity, a version of his doctoral thesis.  Although a foundation fellow (1963) of the (Royal) Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, he broke away from the practice of most colleagues.  As president (1961-63) of the International Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, he continued travelling to remote places, exploring local customs and non-drug-induced states of mind that were capable of transcending pain, tension and anxiety.  He drew on these experiences in his best-selling work, Relief Without Drugs (1968), as well as in Strange Places and Simple Truths (1969).

Although describing himself as 'a conservative person' with, in the main, 'an orthodox way of life', Meares increasingly departed from convention in his professional and private lives.  Challenging the prevailing schism between private and public psychiatry, he befriended the chairman of Victoria’s Mental Health Authority, Dr Eric Cunningham Dax, and regularly attended educational meetings of State mental hospital doctors.  Despite arriving in his Bentley or Rolls Royce, and dressed sartorially, he earned grudging respect for his interest.

Meares was one of the first Australian psychiatrists to write self-help books for a general audience:  they included Student Problems and a Guide to Study (1969), The Way Up (1970), and Dialogue with Youth (1973).  In his self-described 'humble attempt at community service', from 1973 to 1979 he held 'meditative self-hypnosis' classes—sometimes in the 'Quiet Place' of his own premises—attracting over a hundred people a week.  Participants sought inner calm as he walked among them, murmuring soothing sounds, and touching foreheads, arms, shoulders and chests.

Away from work, Meares marched against Australia’s involvement in Vietnam, warned against drug use and experimentation with homosexuality, walloped with an umbrella cars that infringed his right-of-way, and ordered patients he thought impertinent to leave his office.  He grew his hair long, became a media celebrity and dined out on the day when someone, who saw him rummaging through a rubbish bin for duck food, gave him a dollar.  As he acquired the status of Australia’s best-known psychiatrist, some colleagues alleged self-advertising, and in 1973 he requested that his name be removed from the Victorian Register of Medical Practitioners, citing difficulties discussing his work on television and in other media.  As a non-medical consultant in mental relaxation, he wrote prolifically from his personal and professional experience, producing titles including The New Woman (1974), Why Be Old? (1975), The Introvert (1976), Let’s Be Human (1976), Marriage and Personality (1977), Cancer – Another Way? (1977), The Wealth Within (1978) and Hidden Powers of Leadership (1978).

In such works Meares claimed a biological basis for the influence of intensive meditation on serious conditions, reported better results when patients were not also having chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and suggested that psychological mechanisms might cause some cases of cancer.  Although many specialists advised patients not to see him, Meares defended his stance, saying that while few of his patients with cancer were able to repress the disease completely, many lived longer than expected and died with a better quality of life.  Although saddened by conflict with his peers, he regretted only the time he had lost in not fully pursuing his hunch.

After his wife died in 1978, Meares no longer entertained at home, eating most meals at the Melbourne Club and engaging friends in fierce games of tennis.  Continuing to write, speak publicly and teach, he described himself as a 'workaholic'.  He died on 19 September 1986 at Fitzroy and was cremated.  His son and two daughters survived him.  Several of his books were published posthumously, including Let’s Be At Ease (1987), Life Without Stress (1987), Man and Woman (1987) and The Silver Years (1988).  A portrait by Louis Kahan is held by his family.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Zwar, Doctor Ahead of His Times (1985)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 11 September 1971, p 6
  • Age (Melbourne), 15 August 1972, p 2, 24 December 1973, p 2, 6 June 1986, 'Good Weekend', p 39
  • private information

Citation details

Ann Westmore, 'Meares, Ainslie Dixon (1910–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/meares-ainslie-dixon-14944/text26133, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 20 March 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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