Did they see this coming? How fortune-telling became established in Australia

Did they see this coming? How fortune-telling became established in Australia
28 March 2024 J.W.H

In the primary decade of the twentieth century, Australians focused on the long run. It was the start of a brand new century and a newly formed nation.

Perhaps this glimpse into the long run was one in every of the explanations fortune telling was hailed as the latest “shawl” in local newspapers. Fortune tellers filled stalls, shop aisles, traveling shows, private homes, social functions, and even church festivals, using teacups, crystal balls, cards, or spirit guides to look into people's futures.

But there was fortune telling illegal under laws inherited from England. A couple of feisty futurists questioned the legality of those laws prohibiting fortune telling. In response to this query, in the primary a long time of the twentieth century, legislators throughout Australia confirmed in statutory law that fortune telling had criminal status.

It was not until the twenty first century that the majority Australian jurisdictions repealed these laws. Even today I do fortune telling for a fee stays crime in South Australia and the Northern Territory.


Fortune telling for financial gain was punished because such motion was seen as fraud. Attempts have sometimes been made to defend against accusations of fortune telling by arguing that the clairvoyant has real abilities – or truly believes in them – and subsequently his actions are usually not fraud. However, the wording of the laws prohibiting fortune telling was so definitive that judges deemed such issues irrelevant; by law, divination was an automatic form simulation.

According to Australian newspapers of the twentieth century, the predominant “victims” of this pretense were women. Paternalistic editorials advocated police punishing fortune tellers to guard “representatives of the weaker sex“from myself.

Excerpt from 'Making a Fortune', an episode of the History Lab podcast from Impact Studios on the University of Technology Sydney.

Although men also visited fortune tellers, they were depicted as doing so less ceaselessly and frequently to acquire answers to practical questions on investment opportunities or the situation of lost property. Women's reasons for visiting fortune tellers were portrayed as more frivolous and rooted in inherent flaws in female character.

Women apparently became hooked on visiting fortune tellers for a reason classes with affairs and gossip, or because theirneurotic impulses” left them naive.

Newspapers warned of the damaging consequences that fortune-telling could have for “weak-minded women“. Suburban matrons were accused of wasting household funds on quackery.

It was he was joking that maids would quit their jobs based on prophecies in regards to the soon arrival of rich husbands. Marriages they reportedly broke down when clairvoyants confirmed their wives' suspicions about their husbands' infidelity or advised them that separation would bring higher prospects.

It was also feared that fairies provided a conduit to abortionists and knowledge on contraception for ladies who worry that their future will hold children conceived out of wedlock or that they can not afford.

However, for a lot of, visiting a fortune teller was probably just an affordable pastime in an era before the appearance of “talkies”, much less Netflix. For others, fortune telling consultations were perhaps a positive outlet where they may speak about emotional life events; a sort of informal advice long before such services can be found.

Long before the appearance of talkies, fortune telling was an inexpensive pastime.


The typical cost of a fortune reading through the Federation period was two shillings and sixpence (now corresponding to the worth of a cinema ticket). A clairvoyant with several dozen regular clients could expect to earn around 4 kilos per week, twice the typical salary of a maid.

Some famous seers earned far more. Until her death in 1928 Mary Libraan illiterate washerwoman turned fortune teller amassed a fortune that today could be corresponding to several million dollars.

Divination practitioners, just like the clientele, were mostly women. It was occupation that ladies could undertake at low business costs by working from home.

Abandoned wives and widows with children support occurred disproportionately amongst those prosecuted for fortune telling. The same was true for older women, especially those that suffered from illnesses that not prevented them from taking over more physically demanding work in factories or domestic services.

Newspapers expressed resentment that ladies – especially working-class women – needs to be paid well in a career that was technically illegal but openly practiced and even advertised within the newspapers themselves.

It was funny, one paper he statedthat “the fact that yesterday she was a laundress will not prevent the stupid crowd from believing that today she is a sorceress.”

Another journalist he insisted women to limit themselves to household chores or, if forced to earn a living, to hunt more distinguished occupations. Dog walking was considered a step forward.

Many women who love dogs but dislike the vital care and exercise for them are blissful at hand over these responsibilities to another person and it could seem that any of the modest ways of creating a living are preferable to the palmistry, fortune telling, medium and phrenology industries.

Of the 247 reported cases of fortune telling in Australia between 1900 and 1918: 82% they were against women.

Several of the accused men were accused of being complicit in taking care of the shops of wives or relatives who ran a successful fortune-telling business. Most of the remaining got here from non-Anglo-Saxon backgrounds, and the association of divination with “foreign” superstition was one other consider the prevailing prejudice against it.

Association with “foreigners” increased opposition to fortune telling.


Despite public criticism of fortune telling, fortune telling was only occasionally scrutinized. This is since it just isn’t enough that an individual is often known as a fortune teller and even advertises himself as a fortune teller; the prosecutor's office required a witness to exchange money for the reading.

The collection of this evidence involved officers going undercover to pose as customers, and police in large cities carried out such operations every few years through the twentieth century.

However, because the police force on the time was all male, fortune tellers became increasingly suspicious of male clients. Some began to err on the side of caution and only date female clients.

In a cartoon by Ben Strange (1868-1930), an undercover policeman visits a psychic.
National Library of Australia

To combat this, the police began hiring women to pose as cops customers during periodic fortune-telling. When women were later introduced into policing throughout Australia during World War I, they quickly began pursuing clairvoyants.

Pressure has increased to crack down on fairies attributable to fears that they prey on soldiers' family members or that predictions of a dire future could undermine recruiting efforts and national morale.

Ultimately, the decline in fortune telling within the Twenties was not the results of police motion however the rise of other entertainments. Both divination and laws against it continued to exist, leading to occasional criminal prosecutions throughout the twentieth century. Only within the last 20 years have most states decriminalized the practice, recognizing that cases where actual victims have been defrauded might be adequately handled under existing fraud laws.

Creating a Fortune was created by Impact Studios on the University of Technology Sydney – a brand new audio production house combining academic research and audio storytelling. This podcast is obtainable for download via the award-winning website History Laboratory podcast. This is the second episode in a four-part series, “The Law's Way of Know.”

Image Source: Pixabay.com

  • J.W.H

    About John:

    John Williams is a Reincarnationist paranormal Intuitive freelance writer...he is living proof of reincarnation existence, through his personal exploration, he has confirmed its authenticity through visits to the very lands where these events transpired.

    Through guided meditation/s using hemi-sync technology he has managed to recollect 3 previous lives to his own, that go back to the Mid to Late 19th century.

    JWH - "You are the GODS! - Inclusion of the Eternal Light of Love and you shall never die”.

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