William Dibden AM
Although he was born and raised in Sydney, Dr William Dibden is remembered as a proud South Australian. Graduating from the University of Adelaide in 1939 he persuaded the military authorities to let him serve as a medical officer at an army training base during WWII, despite a bout of tuberculosis which left him unfit for service. After this he joined the Parkside Mental Hospital in Adelaide.
In the early 1950s Dr Dibden spent several years in London at the famous Maudsley Hospital working under Sir Aubrey Lewis, himself an Adelaide graduate and one of Australia’s most distinguished psychiatrists. On his return to Adelaide Dr Dibden opened a private practice with a particular interest in the emotional disorders of children. He started the South Australian Association for Mental Health and with a group of dedicated volunteers raised $43,000 to found and fund, a Chair of Mental Health at the University of Adelaide.
In 1967 Dr Dibden gave up his thriving practice to become the Director of Mental Health Services in South Australia, a position he held until 1978. During this time he rewrote the outdated mental health legislation, empowering an independent guardianship board and increasing rights of appeal for detained patients to mental health tribunals. He was also influential in formalising the role of the mental health visitor for the chronically ill and improving housing conditions for people with mental illness.
Dr Dibden’s concerns for training and the community were demonstrated from an early stage in his engagement with the College. He represented the AAP at the World Federation for Mental Health’s first international conference in Geneva in 1949, and was a key advocate for the development of a national Diploma of Psychological Medicine in the 1960s. In 1961 he was the first Liaison Officer of the AAP and later the ANZCP, given the responsibility ‘to deal with the correspondence between the AAP and such community-oriented mental health organisations as Council shall direct’. He also shared the duties of Honorary Secretary with Dr Ian Martin before becoming the third President of the new College in 1965.
In 1978, Dr William Dibden was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for services to mental health. In Melbourne, Dr Dibden’s contribution to the College is recognised by a meeting room named in his honour. The Dibden room is on the 12th floor of 313 La Trobe Street office.
Presidential address: Into the Looking Glass