(Discretion is advised, graphic pictures are in this article)

In January 1788 Australia was first settled by the British. At this time the only form of circumcision was practiced as a male initiation ritual by several of Aboriginal nations in Arnhem Land and the desert areas of Northern Territory as well as parts of Western and South Australia.

In 1865 Sir John Lubbock reported in his study ‘Prehistoric Times’ on the initiation ritual of the Aboriginals as “horrible rites” as well as indicating that it is proof of their seclusion from civilization. He noted the detail of sub-incision (slitting the underside of the penis), found in some tribes in Latin due to its gruesome nature. White culture was not influenced by this, and limited knowledge was known about these practices up until the studies of Baldwin Spencer in association with other anthropologists at the time of the turn of the century.

These studies by Baldwin Spencer noted a variance in each of the Aboriginal Tribes. “[T]hey may be divided into three groups: (1) those such as the Larakia, Kakadu, Geimbio, Iwaidji and allied tribes on the northern coast, together with those inhabiting Melville and Bathurst Islands, in which neither circumcision nor sub-incision is practised, (2) those, such as the Worgait, Mandot, and Djauan, in which circumcision alone is practised, and (3) a very extensive group occupying the whole of the Central area and extending westwards into West Australia and eastwards into Queensland, in which both circumcision and sub-incision are practised. This group of tribes includes the Arunta, Kaitish, Warramunga, Worgai, Yungman, Mudburra, etc., and amongst them the women are subjected to the rite of cutting the hymen with a stone knife, the cut often extending through the perineum.”1


Penile circumcision and sub-incision
Penile circumcision and sub-incision.

Here in Australia the rise of circumcision was led by the British standard, although the practice lasted longer and impacted a larger proportion of boys. It was not a surprise that they continued those traditions of their medical colleagues as most doctors were British, completed their medical training in Britain or were taught by British teachers.

During the late 19th century circumcision was spoken in favor of, primarily as a cure for spermatorrhea (a condition of excessive, accidental ejaculation) 2. It was also thought to prevent masturbation and nervous complaint in youths. In approximately 1900, the requirement to treat “congenital phimosis” in babies and boys as well as offering protection against the later likelihood of venereal disease became a primary reason for the procedure. As the First World War escalated so did the rate of circumcision between 1910 and 1920 due to fears of syphilis. By 1920 most doctors and child care manuals recommended circumcision to parents for their young boys. It was then that Routine Infant Circumcision (RIC) became a common procedure on healthy infants before they even left the hospital after birth.

In the mid-1950s Australia took the lead of the United States and the incidence continued to increase to approximately 85% then decreasing to 50% by the year 1975 and an estimate of 10% in 1995 (today the rate is still the same). As Australia continued to follow the trend of the U.S, Britain’s circumcision rate subsided during the late 1940s and New Zealand during the 1950s.3

Today the rate of RIC in Australia is between 10-12% and it is all but outlawed in the United Kingdom. In New Zealand the rate is less than that here in Australia, it is believed to be approximately 5%4.



1 http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/spencer/baldwin/s74na/complete.html

2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spermatorrhea

3 http://historyofcircumcision.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=category&sectionid=6&id=71&Itemid=50v

4 http://www.circumstitions.com/NZ.html

Picture source – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Full_subincision.jpg