Labour History

Women’s Work: The Professionalisation and Policing of Fortune-Telling in Australia

Labour History (2015), 108, (1), 37–52.


In the early twentieth century, fortune-telling was being heralded by Australian newspapers as the nation’s latest fad. It was enjoyed as a popular form of entertainment, particularly by women. For other women though, fortune-telling represented a source of income, and sometimes their sole means of support. At the same time, fortune-telling was actually a criminal offence, leaving women who practised it vulnerable to police prosecution. Yet while fortune-telling had long been illegal and associated with a variety of criminal practices, the federation period witnessed a growth in legal activity against it. This was due in part to the increased visibility brought about by the practice’s professionalisation, which prompted innovations in policing that opened up other areas of work to female involvement. This article thus probes some of the changes that took place in the culture of women’s work during this crucial era.

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*The author would like to thankLabour History‘s two anonymous referees. Google Scholar

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Author details

Piper, Alana