Australian Dictionary of Biography

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William Alexander McRae (1904–1973)

by Marion Dixon

This article was published:

William Alexander McRae (1904-1973), sportsman and psychotherapist, was born on 18 June 1904 at Geelong, Victoria, eldest of four children of Alexander McRae, a Scottish-born commercial traveller and later real estate agent, and his wife Caroline Lilia, née Lamb, who came from New Zealand. When Bill was aged about 7, Caroline left her husband, taking the two girls. He and his brother Arthur were raised by their father. A sickly child, Bill was taught to run to build up his strength. He boarded at Haileybury College, Melbourne, where, in 1921, he was school captain, dux, and captain of the cricket and football teams. He worked for the hardware firm, James Hardie & Co. Pty Ltd, continued to play cricket and Australian Rules football, and served as a youth leader in the Young Men's Christian Association.

McRae travelled to Western Australia and played for West Perth Cricket Club in 1924 before moving to Adelaide in the autumn. Back in Perth in 1927, he worked for Clarksons Ltd, and played thrice for Western Australia—scoring a century against Victoria (1928)—and once for an Australian XI against the touring Marylebone Cricket Club (1929). He also captained West Perth Football Club briefly in 1928. In the following year he went to the United States of America to attend the International Y.M.C.A. College (B.S., 1932), Springfield, Massachusetts, and Yale University (B.D., 1935), Connecticut. He was made a minister of the Congregational Church on 18 June 1935. While studying psychology at Columbia University (M.A., 1937), New York, he experienced persistent headaches which led him to consult a psychoanalyst who relieved his pain. McRae became interested in the connection between emotional problems and physical illness.

Returning to Perth in 1937, he served as a minister of the North Perth Congregational Church. McRae soon left the Church and set up in private practice at 224 St George's Terrace as a psychotherapist, specializing in psychosomatic complaints. At the Congregational Church, Leederville, on 31 July 1939 he married Anne Millicent Davey, a 23-year-old commercial artist. During World War II he helped to treat returned soldiers suffering from shell-shock, battle fatigue and other war neuroses; he also assessed the fitness of trainee pilots for combat. His book, About Ourselves and Others (Melbourne, 1941), was based on his lectures at the University of Western Australia's adult education classes. He published four more books in Melbourne in quick succession: Sex, Love and Marriage (1941), The Psychology of Nervousness (1942), Adventures in Self-Understanding (1945) and The Foundations of Behaviour (1945). His writings showed the influence of leading psychoanalysts, particularly Alfred Adler, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Georg Groddeck.

At Zurich, Switzerland, McRae worked with Dr Liliane Frey-Rohn at the C. G. Jung-Institut in 1958-59. In the 1960s he was persuaded by the orthopaedic surgeon (Sir) George Bedbrook and Archbishop (Sir) George Appleton of Perth to set up a three-year training programme in psychotherapeutic methods for doctors and clergymen. He published his last book, My Pain is Real, in 1968, and in 1972 began to appear regularly on television.

Sturdy and full-chested, McRae had luminous brown eyes and a warm smile. He had again played (1937-46) for W.P.C.C. and was State squash rackets champion in 1947, 1948 and 1949. Survived by his wife, son and three daughters, he died of cerebrovascular disease on 25 July 1973 at St John of God Hospital, Subiaco, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • West Australian, 26 July 1973
  • family papers (privately held)
  • private information.

Citation details

Marion Dixon, 'McRae, William Alexander (1904–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 18 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 June, 1904
Geelong, Victoria, Australia


25 July, 1973 (aged 69)
Subiaco, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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