Raphael Cilento in Medicine and Politics

Visions and Contradictions


  • Mark Finnane Griffith University




Raphael Cilento, federal politics, House of Representatives, Darling Downs


At the end of his working life as a medical bureaucrat, Raphael Cilento twice tried his hand at Australian federal politics. After an initial joust at a Senate seat, he was encouraged by the fledgling Australian Democratic Union to try the House of Representatives. His choice of electorate was heroic. The seat of McPherson (Qld) was held by Arthur Fadden, one time prime minister and perennial member for this Darling Downs electorate. Standing as an ‘Independent Democrat’, Cilento targeted the Italian community in Stanthorpe, a district where he picked up half the vote in his otherwise unsuccessful campaign. His candidature attracted some notice. Brisbane's Truth described Sir Raphael as ‘the most distinguished Queenslander to ever enter the Federal political arena’. This might seem a little hyperbolic, but seen in the larger context of Cilento's national and international work, it was a defensible proposition. Seen literally, it is slightly less defensible since Cilento was not Queensland born. Rather, he came to adopt Queensland — and to seek to advance its standing as an example of successful white settlement of the tropics.

Author Biography

Mark Finnane, Griffith University

Mark Finnane is ARC Australian Professorial Fellow and a Professor of History at Griffith University, where he is a Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS). He has published widely on the history of criminal justice, policing, punishment and criminal law in both Australia and Ireland. His most recent book, with Heather Douglas (University of Queensland), is Indigenous crime and settler law: white sovereignty after Empire, published in 2012 by Palgrave Macmillan.


Roe, Michael, Nine Australian progressives: vitalism in bourgeois social thought, 1890–1960 (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1984).

The biographical details that follow draw on the author's entry for Cilento in the Australian dictionary of biography as well as Fedora Fisher's larger study: Mark Finnane, ‘Cilento, Sir Raphael West (Ray) (1893–1985)’, Australian dictionary of biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, n.d., http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cilento-sir-raphael-west-ray-12319/text22129; Fisher, Fedora Gould, Raphael Cilento: a biography (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1994).

Fisher, Raphael Cilento, p. 69.

See, e.g., Cilento at University of Queensland celebration of inauguration of Malaysia, 20 September 1963, National Archives of Australia (NAA): A1501, A4681/2.

For the Institute and its context in Australian political discourse on the future of the tropics and Australian administration in the Pacific, see Anderson, W. P., The cultivation of whiteness: science, health, and racial destiny in Australia (New York: Basic Books, 2003); Cameron-Smith, Alexander, ‘Australian imperialism and international health in the Pacific Islands’, Australian Historical Studies 41, 1 (2010), 57–74; Roe, Michael, ‘The establishment of the Australian Department of Health’, Historical Studies Australia and New Zealand 67 (1976); Dixon, Robert, Prosthetic gods: travel, representation, and colonial governance (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2001).

Denoon, Donald, Public health in Papua New Guinea: medical possibility and social constraint, 1884–1984 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989); Fisher, Raphael Cilento; Roe, Nine Australian progressives.

Bashford, Alison, ‘“Is White Australia possible?” Race, colonialism and tropical medicine’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 23, 2 (2000), 248–71; Yarwood, A. T., ‘Sir Raphael Cilento 1893–1985: A third-generation Italo-Australian’, Queensland Dante Review (1983), 15–22; Dixon, Prosthetic gods.

Mary D. Mahoney, ‘Cilento, Phyllis Dorothy (1894–1987)’, in Australian dictionary of biography, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cilento-phyllis-dorothy-12318.

Bashford, ‘Is White Australia Possible?’.

See, e.g., his sesquicentennial history of Queensland, Raphael Cilento, triumph in the tropics: an historical sketch of Queensland (Brisbane: Smith & Paterson, 1959).

Fisher, Raphael Cilento, pp. 81–2.

Dixon, Prosthetic gods, pp. 36–47.

Fisher, Raphael Cilento, Chs 5–8; Gregory, Helen, ‘Raphael West Cilento’, in Gregory, Helen, Vivant professores (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Library, 1987), pp. 23–6; Patrick, Ross, A history of health and medicine in Queensland 1824–1960 (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1987), pp. 98–116, 314–21.

Kidd, Rosalind, The way we civilise: Aboriginal affairs — the untold story (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1997), p. 115.

Wendy Selby, ‘Motherhood in Labor's Queensland 1915–1957’, PhD thesis, Griffith University (1992), pp. 309–12.

Fisher, Raphael Cilento, p. 319.

Moore, Andrew, The right road: a history of right-wing politics in Australia, Australian retrospectives (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 49. Moore's inference is drawn on the basis of an anonymous informant in wartime intelligence files later inherited in an ASIO file on Cilento: NAA, A6119, 229.

Dignan, Don, ‘The internment of Italians in Queensland’, in Bosworth, R. J. B. and Ugolini, Romano (eds), War, internment and mass migration: the Italo-Australian experience 1940–1990, Studi Sull'eta Contemporanea 3 (Rome: Gruppo Editoriale Internazionale, 1992), pp. 72–3.

Raphael Cilento, Blueprint for the health of a nation (Sydney: [s.n.], 1944); Fisher, Raphael Cilento, pp. 166–73.

Sir Raphael Cilento Papers, UQFL 44/133 (Fryer Library, University of Queensland); Fisher, Raphael Cilento, Ch. 11.

He recalled the circumstances and impact of this event in a 1974 interview with his biographer: see Cilento, Raphael and Fisher, Fedora Gould, The assassination of Bernadotte as related by Sir Raphael Cilento (St Lucia: University of Queensland Fryer Memorial Library, 1974).

The bitter politics of the Israeli refusal to take back the Palestinian refugees is richly documented in Morris, Benny, The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem revisited (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); for Cilento and Bernadotte's assassination, see Fisher, Raphael Cilento, pp. 247–50.

Fisher, Raphael Cilento, p. 260 and Ch. 13 for his Palestine service; see also Cilento Papers, UQFL 44/15.

Cilento Papers, UQFL 18/107 for the manuscript.

Fisher, Raphael Cilento, p. 230.

Goldsworthy, David (ed.), Facing north: a century of Australian engagement with Asia (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2001); Strahan, Lachlan, Australia's China: changing perceptions from the 1930s to the 1990s (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Walker, David, Anxious nation: Australia and the rise of Asia 1850–1939 (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1999); Walker, David and Sobocinska, Agnieszka (eds), Australia's Asia: from yellow peril to Asian century (Perth: UWA Publishing, 2012).

Radio script — ‘Australia looks at the World’, ABC, 6 January 1963, Cilento Papers, UQFL 44/18.

Moore, The right road.

See his lecture, ‘Modern government and community health’, Australasian Journal of Pharmacy 31 (1939), 675 in Cilento Papers, UQFL 44/122.

‘The conquest of climate’, Medical Journal of Australia, 8 April 1933, p. 421, Cilento Papers, UQFL 44/114.

Cilento Papers, UQFL 19 /130.

Yarwood, A. T., ‘Sir Raphael Cilento and the white man in the tropics’, in Macleod, Roy and Denoon, Donald (eds), Health and healing in tropical Australia and Papua New Guinea (Townsville: James Cook University, 1991), pp. 61–3.

In addition to the references cited earlier on public health and tropical medicine, Cilento is the subject of two recent doctoral theses: Alexander Cameron-Smith, ‘Doctor across borders: Raphael Cilento and public health from empire to the United Nations’, PhD thesis, University of Sydney (2011); and Gregory Watters, ‘The white doctors’ burden: the Australian medical profession and Asia’, PhD thesis, Deakin University (2011).



How to Cite

Finnane, M. (2013). Raphael Cilento in Medicine and Politics: Visions and Contradictions. Queensland Review, 20(1), 4–14. https://doi.org/10.1017/qre.2013.2