Not long before the Covid-19 shutdown, a 1937 publicity photo of astrologer and radio broadcaster June Marsden came into the Library’s collection.
Perhaps Australia’s first celebrity astrologer, ‘June Marsden’ was the pseudonym of Sydney socialite Mrs Erica Ingram-Moore who, in later life, would also be associated with Australian ‘ufology’ (the study of UFOs).
While the woman herself has long since slipped from public memory, astrology and psychic pursuits hold an interesting place in Australian media history.
In times of uncertainty people often go in search of answers from unconventional sources. The interwar period saw a huge upswing of public interest in alternative forms of spiritualism and pseudo-scientific explanations for global and everyday events. These new ideologies found an outlet in popular culture via newspapers, magazines and the radio.
The birth of Princess Margaret Rose in August 1930 — almost a year after the Wall Street crash — was a chance for Britain’s popular press to print a ‘good news story’. Looking for a new angle, the editor of the Sunday Express commissioned a horoscope to predict the baby princess’s future.
The idea was copied by newspapers around the globe, triggering requests for further forecasts, and the modern horoscope column was born. By the end of the 1930s reading your ‘stars’ had become a way of life.
On 16 November 1935, the Australian Women’s Weekly launched its first ‘Written in the Stars’ column. Authored by June Marsden and produced ‘in response to repeated appeals from readers’, it ran until 1949. Marsden was already well known to the Australian public through her popular horoscope broadcasts and ‘bestselling’ book, Follow Your Stars to Success, which included astrological charts for the southern hemisphere.
Heralding its ‘attractive new astrology feature’ under the enticing headline ‘How to Chart Your Life Course’, the Weekly declared that ‘none is better qualified than Miss Marsden to undertake this task’. Readers were advised that, ‘Astrology is almost as old as the stars themselves, but its interpretation in the light of modern developments and conditions rests with a gifted few.’
Born Edna Grace Goode in the Sydney suburb of Glebe in 1896, Marsden had studied the ‘last developments of astrology’ in the United States, where her First World War veteran husband Eric Ingram-Moore worked in radio construction.
Marsden’s reputation in the North American radio and newspaper world had preceded the couple’s return to Sydney in 1932, where her ‘amazing horoscopes’ and ‘remarkable anecdotes about important places and famous people … gleaned through her astrological career’ soon found an enthusiastic local following.
The couple were also members of the Australian Theosophical movement, which was at its height during the interwar years in Sydney. The movement provided platforms for discussing astrology in print and through its own radio station, 2GB.
But despite astrology’s growing professionalisation and popularity in Australia during the 1930s, there were many sceptics. When asked for clarification about her predictions, Marsden stated that ‘the average life is as complex as a many-colored tartan because of the varied planetary influences which happen to be in operation at the time of the individual’s birth’. She went on to define astrology as ‘the science of starry-vibrations and the sub-conscious response to those vibrations by human beings’.
From 1936 Marsden’s presidency of the Astrological Research Society of Australia affirmed her as the country’s foremost astrologer. By April 1937, she was reporting in the Sunday Telegraph that leading American businesses had astrologers on staff and wouldn’t attempt any venture ‘unless the stars are propitious’. The Weekly began printing a disclaimer against the statements contained in Marsden’s column, which was ‘presented as a matter of interest only’.
Marsden was widowed in 1940, and her Weekly column came to an end in 1949, after which she travelled overseas. Spending 1949–50 in the troubled European city of Trieste, she helped save 700 Australian–Yugoslavs caught on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, operating with the local underground under the code name of ‘The White-Haired Pimpernel’. Back in Australia by 1951, she reported the dangerous political situation in Cold War Europe through her eyewitness accounts.
A final chapter in June Marsden’s extraordinary public life is linked to the Australian visit in February 1959 of controversial American ufologist George Adamski, who had documented his sensational encounters with a man from Venus in the Californian desert in his book Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953). Marsden had met Adamski in the US in 1957 and offered to host him during his Sydney stay.
Marsden claimed to have seen unidentified flying objects herself three times — twice near her home at Palm Beach, on Sydney’s northern beaches, and once in America. ‘The first time was in February 1951. It was huge,’ she told the Daily Mirror, ‘about the size of a battleship and going through the air at a terrific rate. It was travelling horizontally to the ocean and in a straight line between Sydney & Newcastle and it would have covered the distance — about 30 miles — in about eight seconds.’
UFOs had been a matter of public interest in Australia since 1947, when witnesses began to declare their sightings and experiences openly, forming scientifically focused voluntary associations to record and investigate sightings. Adamski’s visit was a big event on the local saucer scene, although the spectre of unscientific contactees — like June Marsden — was seen to put ‘serious’ research efforts at risk.
Marsden’s linking of astrology and ufology was seen as problematic. According to her, ‘Nearly all the people who see flying saucers are born under the sign of Aries, Taurus, Libra or Scorpio and are under the influence of either Mars or Venus.’
Adamski later wrote that his hostess was ‘an astrologer … endeavouring to associate astrology with the space people and their craft. I explained to her that no connection existed between the two, but she refused to accept the logical facts.’
Margot Riley, Curator, Research & Discovery