The Norman Haire Collection

The University of Sydney and Adam Matthews 

Danica Micallef, 2020

In early 2020 Abergower Sydney worked with the University of Sydney and Adam Matthew Digital to digitise the Norman haire Collection. Norman Haire (born Zions) was an Australian medical practitioner and sexologist of Polish-Jewish descent. 

As a young, gay man, he was anxious about his sexuality, however, his chance discovery of Havelock Ellis’ book Studies in the Psychology of Sex in Sydney’s Public Library changed his perceptions, and he resolved to devote his life to saving other people from sexual misery.


He studied medicine at the University of Sydney, graduating in 1915, after which he worked in several obstetrics and mental health hospitals until 1919. When a patient died under his care he was unjustly held responsible, causing him to leave Australia for London, where he would remain for the next twenty years. In London he changed his surname from Zions to Haire, masking his status as a poor, Jewish outsider. He gained notoriety in London, soon becoming somewhat of a celebrity with a flourishing gynaecological practice. He is described as “a feeling, thinking and doing man, equal parts hedonist and humanist; a tall, fat and flamboyant rationalist who was secretly homosexual and said blunt things in a beautiful voice.”

In 1948 Haire founded and partly financed the Journal of Sex Education, a periodical which focused on the “sexual enlightenment of adults”. The journal covered a range of topics, including artificial insemination (at the time a new technology), hygiene, prostitution, sex education for children, marriage and divorce, abortion and child adoption, among many others. As part of this project Abergower scanned copies of this journal, and our staff couldn’t help but stop to read the fascinating articles and questions within. In addition to the articles, Haire encouraged readers to write in with their sexual questions, which he would answer in the journal. In a time before the internet, and before sex education in schools was widespread, this was a truly valuable resource for people with questions about their bodies and sexuality. The questions ranged from funny, to shocking, to touching, and revealed so much about how people thought about sex during the 1940s and 50s. At times, Haire’s answers were very much of his time. When asked about sex changes, he states that “it is true that change of sex has been brought about in some lower animals...but it is quite impossible in humans.”[1] At other points, he displays an open-mindedness and kindness that is quite surprising for the time period. His opinions of various fetishes seems to be rather positive, telling many readers concerned of their or their partners “perversions” that if both parties consent, and it causes no harm then they should not feel ashamed to engage in such activities.[2]


However, one letter from a reader stood out to our staff. The reader wrote on behalf of her ‘friend’ who although married to a man “had always been emotionally excited by her dearest girl friend” and in recent years this physical and emotional attraction has become so overwhelming that “she could not restrain herself from attempting to have relations with the party involved” and now felt tremendous guilt.[3] Haire’s response shows great kindness and understanding. He responds “your friend, if indeed it in your friend and not yourself, is obviously either completely homosexual or bisexual… she did not choose to be like that, and there is no reason why she should feel guilty.” He suggests ‘her friend’ see “a completely broad minded, sympathetic and understanding woman doctor” whose contact details he privately sends to her.


On his death, Haire bequeathed his fortune to the University of Sydney for the study of sex to “annoy the wowsers”. He also bequeathed many of his books, papers and other publications to the University, however, the executors of his estate decided it was in the public interest to in fact ignore his will and destroy the papers, which they did so. The Norman Haire Collection scanned by Abergower Digital, exists because Haire was a prominent and well respected man in his field, with many famous and influential friends. They recorded their impressions of him, as well as collected photographs, correspondence and other writing.[4] The Norman Haire collection, which consisted of not only these journals, but documentation gathered from those who knew him is a wonderful collection memorialising the work of a a tenacious and brave man, who made many contributions to sex education, birth control, human rights, and Australia’s queer history. Abergower is proud to have been a part of preserving this history.


[1] Vol 1, No 1, p19

[2] Vol 3, No. 5, p202

[3] Vol 4, No 1, p5

[4] Diana Wyndham. "Norman Haire and the Study of Sex".Foreword by the Hon. Michael Kirby AC CMG. (Sydney: "Sydney University Press"., 2012).