Gen Activist

A network of Green groups are mobilising our children for the climate wars

9 February 2019

The strike by schoolchildren to halt climate change is on again for Friday, March 15. If you are five years old and reading this, gird your loins or trainer pants, according to one website that encourages climate activism from ages 5-17. The official kids’ strike page considers more savvy older kids, at age 7, to be ready for the renewables and Stop Adani crusade. The Schoolstrike4climate site says some students will strike not just on the Friday but for a week or a day per week, or ongoing.

The strikes are inspired by the one-girl Swedish strike of Greta Thunberg, 16. She told a TED talk on December 12 that because of politicians’ inaction against fossil fuels, she suffered depression at 11, stopped eating and talking and lost 10kg. She says she was later diagnosed with Asberger’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder and ‘selective mutism’ – meaning that she only speaks when she thinks it is necessary. Greta needs our symapthy, not a global megaphone. Instead, she took the stage at the UN climate fest at Katowice, telling delegates they were immature for leaving climate burdens to children. She turned up again (by train) at the Davos conference in January, telling well-heeled and applauding attendees they were sacrificing priceless planetary values ‘to continue making unimaginable amounts of money.’

Australia’s previous school strike week from November 30 generated positive pile-on from a mostly complaisant media. Fiery claims like Greta’s were bruited by a 14-year-old spokesgirl from Castlemaine, who told a Spring Street rally: ‘If we continue to live the way we do, then by 2050 climate scientists predict that half a billion of the 9 billion who will be living on this planet will survive. The chances that I will survive that are very low and the chances that everyone and everything I love will survive that are practically impossible.’

The renewed kids’ strikes are part of the assault against the Coalition in the 2019 election, plus the Adani coal project in Queensland. The March 15 organisers blame global warming for local heat waves and (strangely) for flash flooding in cities, and in their rallying email claim, ‘Half of the Great Barrier Reef is dead.’ They write, ‘We are in the thick of the climate crisis. Prolonged drought is crippling farming communities. Catastrophic bushfires and severe cyclones are threatening people’s homes. Heatwaves are sweeping the nation.’

The anonymous authors don‘t mention Queensland’s un-drought conditions or the late-January cold snap of minus 50 degrees Celsius in the US Mid-West, colder than at the South Pole (-30 C).

All strike text is in ad agency dialect. So who’s writing the script? The kid organisers say some parents, teachers, friends and supporters are helping but it’s all student-led: ‘After all, when we’re not striking we’re at school for at least 6 hours per day.’ The kids or ersatz kids also ask adults to ‘put deniers in their place’, deniers being ‘just a noisy shrinking minority’. The reality on strike leadership shows Victoria’s green backers of the strike all formally cross-linked but prone to run their own races.

The media-savvy Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), was official helper-in-chief for December’s strike. But it’s now on a near-invisible profile to preserve the kid-power narrative.

AYCC is a registered charity with 70 staff, 1,000 volunteers and a budget of $2.9m. It got $310,000 from grants last year, likely via taxpayers. AYCC executives, a decade past teen-hood, specialise in prose like this from National Director Gemma Borgo-Caratti: ‘Coal companies are using big money to silence everyday voices and hold us back from climate action. Even as communities pick up the pieces after a bushfire or sweat through another 45 degree day, fossil fuel companies are profiting from making this problem worse. It is sickening that fossil fuel companies are allowed to donate millions to our politicians… Companies with such a clear vested interest should be banned from donations that influence politics’.

AYCC big backers include the Purves Environmental Fund, run by aged-care/radiology tycoon Robert E. Purves. In 2017 the fund allocated $746,000 jointly to the AYCC, the Climate Council and two other green groups (2016: $1.3m). Another backer is the Kimberley Foundation (from the Just Jeans tycoon clan).

Non-charity GetUp! with 60-70 full-time staff had $8.4m revenue in 2017. GetUp! provided links to the kids’ December strike teams in 26 cities. GetUp! director Alex Rafalowicz is a co-founder of AYCC. The co-founder of AYCC, Anna Rose, is married to GetUp! founder Simon Sheikh. And so on.

AYCC and GetUp! are signed on with top-level charity Environment Victoria (EV), with 50 years campaigning experience. EV’s latest report shows 21 staff and $2.74m revenue, mainly via fund-raising. From 2016-17 it ceased accepting government money. EV lists about 110 partners. They include the Trades Hall Council and the Electrical Trades Union; hard-liners and Greenpeace; nearly 20 city councils; Uniting and several other churches; Anglicare, Brotherhood of St Laurence, and Smith Family; and Melbourne, Swinburne and RMIT universities. EV is also campaigning to get the voting age lowered to 16 (non–compulsory), and for 14 and 15 year-olds to start enrolling. EV says, ‘It is in this [high school] environment that the most positive voting experience can possibly take place.’ EV campaigned for 12 years against what it called Australia’s ‘oldest and dirtiest’ Hazelwood power station, which shut (or ‘stopped polluting’) in March 2017. EV’s annual report said, prematurely, ‘As we predicted, Victoria has adapted well to the closure of Hazelwood power station’. The report described Victoria’s risk of blackouts as ‘non-existent’, no comfort to 200,000 blacked-out Victorians on January 25 and all Victorian households averaging $500 added electricity cost for the day, payable on lay-by.

EV has spun off an entity Repower Australia dedicated to 100 per cent renewables by 2030. Repower lists among key partners AYCC, GetUp! and 350 Australia. Its home page, which still promotes the December strike, pictures supporters as young as about eight. Its hellfire prose damns greedy power polluters hoarding profits from making people sick and poisoning the planet.

Victoria’s green spiderweb illustrates why conservatives are in a sorry state. Immersing oneself in this Green success story is like entering a post-sane era. Only a placard from the previous kids’ strike lightened my mood:

‘Sorry I can’t tidy my bedroom, I have to save the planet’.


Peter Ryan, Crimebuster

Peter Ryan, Crimebuster

Quadrant readers knew the one-time head of Melbourne University Press, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 92, for his columns, mellifluous prose and erudite wit. Many light-fingered former Melbourne University students and staff harbour less cheerful memories. With MUP once again in the headlines, here a reminder of a steward who not only eschewed trash but also turned a profit

book thiefPeter Ryan,  a hero of  WW11, of publishing and of authorship, ran Melbourne University Press (MUP)  from 1962 until 1988. He died at 92 on December 13, having delighted Quadrantreaders for years with his back-page essay and sterling sentiments, always in the prose of a master story-teller. I met him only a couple of times, and on both occasions was amused by how often this frail old gent’s stories involved desires or threats to punch hypocrites and equivocators on the nose.

He was not just physically fearless. He also delivered powerfully written punches. Best known is his demolition of the MUP’s own pet author, historian Manning Clark. Less known is his exposure of the culture of thieving by students (and occasional academics) at Melbourne University during his MUP days. This involved the virtual tolerance of larceny by the university’s Grand Pooh-Bahs and student union.

Peter Ryan’s Final Proof: Memoirs of a Publisher
can be purchased here

When he arrived at MUP as its director, book thieving from the MUP’s on-campus bookstore was out of control. His fight against the thieves was thwarted at every turn by soft-spined overlords. Between the thieving and the university’s bureaucratic incompetence, he estimated that the financial performance of MUP during his tenure was degraded by some $20 million. In the Sixties, when dollars were worth something, Ryan estimated his bookshop was losing $250,000 a year to thieves.

Moreover, the thieves’ victims were not the university per se but the honest students who had to pay book prices inflated to cover “shrinkage”.

Here I’ll confess to some thieving of my own: I’m drawing all my material from his book Final Proof: Memoirs of a Publisher(Quadrant Books, 2010).[i] So sue me, Keith Windschuttle!

The index to Final Proof has only names, so the accounts of the thievery are to be found scattered among the 200 pages. Apart from campus thieves, Ryan also had to deal with authorized and forcible extraction of the public’s money via papermakers’ cartels and monopolies. Those cartels were rife through every section of Australian business until the Lionel Murphy anti-cartel legislation of 1974, striking down literally thousands of trade-association’s price-fixing agreements.[ii]

ryan coverYet another legal variety of enforced money-extraction was the frequent refusal of the big publishers and book retailers to pay their MUP bills, not merely when due but sometimes only at the point of a summons. After one successful court action, Ryan had to visit the offending publisher/customer and wait outside the CEO’s door until the cheque was grudgingly produced. He then hurried to the bank with it in order to ensure its validity.

So let’s begin. On first arriving at MUP, Ryan learnt of the uncontrolled shoplifting at MUP’s Bookroom. This was no small bookshop. It had 25 staff and, at one stage, ranked as the biggest single-store retail book outlet in Australia. Ryan at once persuaded the MUP board – despite some timidity – to hire  private detective Ernie to assess the situation.

A good operator, Ernie turned up in a tweed sports jacket with authentic leather elbow patches, puffing a pipe and browsing the shelves with a learned tome tucked under an arm. On other days he wore or carried a white lab coat. No customer paid him any mind. Ernie also loitered in the student union café, overhearing details and names. He was able in short order to provide Ryan with a report on how MUP was being robbed blind.

The two-dozen staff were unfazed by thievery. The Bookroom was so badly designed and operated that customers were almost invited to by-pass the till. Customers were even allowed to carry in their bags and attaché cases, the better to carry away plunder en masse. Many of the staff took the view that they were “professional book people, not policemen”. Ryan read them the Riot Act, and half-a-dozen departed with severance pay the same afternoon.

To purchase your copy of Peter Ryan’s Final Proof, click here

The thieves were largely male, enrolled students, but students imbued with ill intent from other establishments of higher learning also were frequent visitors. “Several members of Melbourne’s [University] teaching staff were also apprehended, and some later convicted in the Carlton Magistrate’s Court”, Ryan writes. (p112).

Student thieves included casuals, but the real damage was inflicted by students stealing textbooks to order for other students and commercial customers, usually at 50% of list price. The student union’s “book exchange” facility became at times little better than a whitewashed fencing operation. “There was a regular and substantial trade in stolen books which went into second-hand bookshops off campus,” he says. Students even staged two night-time break-and-enters, carting away multiple copies of valuable textbooks by truck, “later to appear as stock on the shelves of commercial bookshops,” Ryan wrote with some bitterness.

Ryan knew MUP could even be bankrupted by the thieving and sought exemplary punishments for those caught. In that pre-scanning era, he  tightened supervision   and put up notices saying thieves would be referred to the police.

To the police? This caused outrage, even with his own MUP board. Un-spined professors lamented that it would be a sad day whenever police came on campus to monster students and blight their careers with convictions for theft. Fortunately, the MUP chair William Macmahon Ball told them politely to shut it. Staff were  directed to refer all cases to Carlton police. A few students were convicted. Ryan: “The news spread like a bushfire; shoplifting sharply diminished.”

Problem solved? No way! Melbourne University’s governing council stepped in and forbade MUP to refer any more enrolled students to the police. Instead, these wayward lambs in the university’s flock would be handled by the university’s own Disciplinary Committee (non-students could still face court).

A stream of alleged malefactors was subjected to the internal processes. All were either acquitted or fined a paltry $5. In 20 years, the largest fines were a $50 penalty and $25. Again, word spread. Tough and realistic student thieves swung back into action, confident that the worst case would involve a small-change “licence fee” while their cash upside was unlimited. Morale of the bookshop staff plummeted.

In vain the MUP board argued its case for severity to the university council, the argument being that students were a sacred species. “Over the two decades a limp-wristed university allowed millions of dollars of public money to filter through its feeble fingers to thieves. If Council had made ‘sending down’ [expulsion] from the University the standard penalty for stealing, shoplifting would at once have become a rarity.” P114.

Next, Ryan was asked from on high to “discuss” the problem with the Student Representative Council. The SRC President was a “slim and gingery young man” who argued against any blighting of thieves’ future career prospects. Moreover,  said the student president, in the cause of student autonomy prosecutions should not even go to the University committee but to the SRC’s own disciplinary committee. That aggrieved young man was Gareth Evans, currently ANU Chancellor. His plea to Ryan was that, “Students would appreciate being judged by their peers” (P114-15). Ryan asked what sort of conviction rate the student committee might exact, but the young Gareth, now AC and QC,   hadn’t thought that far ahead. The two men left with a polite  agreement to differ.

So for 20 more years the theft industry boomed. Each student caught involved MUP in preparing a legal case for University Council, involving a typical cost of  $100 (in what was then real money).

  • One non-student was caught and a police car drove on campus to take him away. Students rioted to free the oppressed prisoner, who was too traumatised to actually make his escape from the car.
  • One Arts student was caught stealing exactly 90 minutes after he enrolled for studies. An overseas law student racked up 35 book-theft charges in his first term of study.
  • Twenty irate students invaded the Bookroom, occupied the manager’s office and stole some of his own books.
  • A Monash student visitor was convicted by the Carlton court and given a 12 months bond. One day after the good-behaviour bond expired, he was arrested again for book theft – but from Monash University’s bookroom.
  • A showcase of MUP’s latest books was displayed in Wilson Hall for the public’s benefit. Within months the glass was smashed and the specimen books were stolen, presumably by students, Ryan says, though no-one was caught.

Ryan happily conceded that most students were honest and hardworking, but chided them for supine attitude towards dishonest peers and  ineffective representatives.

“I feel sad that 26 years service in the University of Melbourne inspired me with no very exalted view of undergraduate idealism or aspiration,” he wrote. “This judgment may be unfair, and perhaps unduly influenced by daily exposure to costly and degrading student dishonesty in the Bookroom.”

Ryan waxed at length about the University’s money-wasting through absurd bureaucratic processes, but that’s another story I won’t steal today.

(editor’s note: this piece was first published by Quadrant Online in 2015)

Tony Thomas’s new book The West: an insider’s tales – a romping reporter in Perth’s innocent ‘6os, is available here

[i]   Peter in his facing-page inscription  to me wrote, “Peter Ryan, 3/12/2101”. Would that he had written essays for so long.

[ii] When Ryan wrote a Financial Review piece accusing paper-maker APPM among others of  holding the entire printing and publishing industry to ransom, APPM issued a libel writ but did not follow up on it.

Poor Fellow My Dinner Party

When Mary Durack hosted a soirée for Xavier Herbert her guests included Paul Hasluck and other Western Australian luminaries. What followed was less a meal than a circus, one that very nearly culminated in a punch-up between a famously unpleasant egomaniac and a soon-to-be Governor-General

When  you see a movie’s leading lady lovingly preparing a dinner-party meal, there’s a disaster in wait. The guest of honor, usually drunk, creates a horrid scene. Candelabras fly. The  laden tablecloth is snatched away or the table is upturned. Our hostess, who meant so well, cries a bucket amid the smashed crockery.

An equivalent in real life occurred at Bellevue Avenue, Dalkeith on Wednesday, April 29, 1964. The hostess was Mary Durack, 51, (later Dame Mary and AC), noted author of Kings in Grass Castles. This was the epic history of her family’s seven million-acre Kimberley cattle holdings.

There were two guests of honor. One (good), was Paul Hasluck, 59, at the time and Menzies’ defence minister, also a fastidious man of letters and later our 17th Governor-General. The other (bad), was Xavier Herbert, 63, ratbag narcissist and ham actor. He was author of the pre-war prize-winner Capricornia and future author of the 1463-page Poor Fellow My Country, often cited as Australia’s longest novel.

Other guests included Hasluck’s historian wife, Alexandra, Mary’s sister, the artist Elizabeth Durack, author and Patrick White Award winner Randolph Stow (To the Islands, Tourmaline), historian-author Henrietta Drake-Brockman OBE who ran the local Fellowship of Writers and dived on the Batavia wreck using an aqualung, and eminent naturalist Vincent Serventy.  There were two youngsters, Mary’s daughter, Patsy, and her pal David Haselhurst, a reporter and crony of mine at the time.  He later achieved fame as “Speculator” in The Bulletin where over decades his penny-dreadful stock picks outperformed the annual index by ten to thirtyfold.

At this point alert readers will complain that I mentioned this dinner party already in my Quadrant Online piece about Herbert  last October, recalling how Herbert climbed a gum tree and wouldn’t come down. In my defence, this new account is much more detailed than the former mere mention. It is cross-checked from three sources: Mary Durack’s diary, daughter Patsy Millett’s recollections (she still lives at the Bellevue Avenue address) and Haselhurst’s account in the Bulletin  of January 17, 1995. Haselhurst had promised Mary not to disclose what happened, and gallantly waited 31 years until her death before going to print a month later. It is remarkable that any large-ish and chaotic dinner party is so well documented by participants.

The background is that Herbert (above) had just published his autobiography, Disturbing Element, with its bush-braggart fantasies of an ever-successful Lothario.  Herbert was doing a Adult Education Board (AEB) lecture tour of his old WA haunts. AEB boss Hew Roberts had to fire him  for abusing genteel audiences. In turn Herbert gave me an interview insulting Roberts, his well-meaning host. Roberts recorded whimsically how Herbert would let Roberts’ cat eat off his plate during their meals.

Mary Durack, who ran a salon for artists and literary lions at her  home, organised a gathering for Herbert “before he leaves to spread terrible stories of inhospitable old Perth.”

Hasluck was scheduled to arrive late, flying in from Canberra.  But Herbert seemed a no-show. After an hour and a half of  drinks Mary began serving soup. Close to 10pm, a motorbike’s roar heralded Herbert’s arrival – down the drive and up the ramp to the wide veranda. The French doors to the dining room fortunately were open and Herbert braked with his front wheel protruding inside. It was his second grand entrance that day, as he’d come at lunchtime by mistake and taken Mary for a spin on the pillion.

Mary Durack at about the time Xavier Herbert stopped by.

Mary, as dinner hostess, was gracious but Herbert wasn’t. His drunken state was probably aggravated by amphetamines and methyl testosterone. “Why did you invite all these people to my dinner?” he complained. He rejected soup, demanded beer and rounded on the gentle soul Henrietta Drake-Brockman, shouting, “Get out of my way you ugly old bag, I want to talk to the beautiful Elizabeth”. He called the AEB’s Roberts a liar and, leaving his plate half-finished, organised a trunk call to a mistress in the East, loud enough for the intimacies to titillate or repel the guests. Thereafter he made frequent exits into the darkness. Randolph Stow found him urinating against the house wall. Griping to Stow, Herbert “rubbished just about everyone at the party and in the country and in the world”.

The Haslucks in Canberra some four years before the dinner party from hell.

The evening’s high point was Hasluck’s late arrival with wife Alexandra. He took his top place, greeting Herbert politely. Herbert snorted, and turning to Henrietta, accused her of plagiarism. She burst into tears. So did Alexandra. Mary as peace-maker said,  “Now, Xavier, you don’t mean that.”

But Hasluck lost his temper. He stood menacingly and announced to Herbert, “I should punch you in the nose.”  Haselhurst remembers, “We all expected the worst – and I secretly thought (as the only newspaper journalist there) what a terrific scoop it would be.”

Both Hasluck and Herbert had cred for fisticuffs. The dapper Hasluck had courage and staying power. At 21 he was police roundsman for The West Australian, he recalled in Mucking About. One night half a dozen larrikins stalked two girls from a funfair back to St George’s Terrace, where the girls were rescued by two young coppers.

The youths felled one of them, booting him in the ribs and head. Hasluck pushed through and stood over the fallen constable, trading punches with the larrikins, who were “kickers not fighters”, he said. He held the jeering mob at bay, “in an intoxication of excitement” until  reinforcements led by a burly sergeant saved the day, or night. The police said Hasluck fought like a tiger. “I had never been compared to a tiger before,” the modest Hasluck said.

Curiously, Herbert tells a similar tale of  defending a prostrate sergeant, “silvery bullet-head gushing blood” as a savage mob whacked him with pickets. This was the day after the Fremantle inter-union wharf riots in 1919 where wharfie Tom Edwards was killed – the ‘how’ still subject to debate. Herbert says he became the centre of the reprisal violence “taking blows from all round, going down, getting kicked up…” until a copper fired his revolver into the air: “The smoke cleared to reveal the mob struggling in frantic retreat.” (I’m not sure a revolver actually generates a smoke cloud).

Herbert thereafter proudly called himself Broken-Nosed Sam, at least until 1946, when he got it fixed from fear the misalignment was putting a hex on his sex life and giving him writer’s block.

After this form guide for the pugilists, let’s return to Haselhurst’s account.

Confronted with the undoubted integrity of the Cabinet minister’s proposal, Herbert also burst into tears and fled to Mary’s backyard. There a ladder stood against a gum tree. In the fork of the tree  was a substantial cubby house in which Mary did most of her writing.

Herbert shinnied up the ladder and pulled it up behind him. The entire dinner party was now assembled in the garden. Despite all Mary’s entreaties, he would not come down, although he lowered a rope for a bottle of Swan lager to haul to his makeshift eyrie. He also demanded that we stand back while he lowered the ladder for  Patsy to join him in the loft.

Eye-witness Patsy says everyone had their own perspective on the night. Her mother’s diary doesn’t mention Herbert up a tree. In another account, Hasluck grabbed Herbert by the foot, the shoe came off and Herbert fell onto the defence minister. Patsy: “I don’t have a strong memory of going up the tree to join Xavier. I think that’s BS. I do remember finding Xavier crouching behind our incinerator.”

Mary diarised that whether the night was a success or disaster, it was certainly memorable. As for the Hasluck/Herbert match-up, the winner was Hasluck by forfeit. Mary Durack’s soiree obviously qualifies as the dinner party from hell. I’m bidding for the movie rights.

Tony Thomas’s new book The West: an insider’s tales, is available here from Connor Court.

Leftist wonderland


Leftist wonderland

26 January 2019

9:00 AM

Kerry O’Brien in his mammoth memoir argues that his decades of ABC TV presenting were not Left-biased. It’s an easy accusation as he was press secretary to Gough Whitlam and Lionel Bowen, and wanted the same role with Bill Hayden. But he says no-one has yet demonstrated a Labor bias in his interviewing.

Here, for example, is his opening question to Prime Minister Rudd, mid-2010:

O’Brien: Can you clear up a puzzle for me first…

Rudd: I’ll try, mate.

O’Brien: … You’ve spent the best part of two years building up your political capital. How have you managed to damage brand Rudd so comprehensively in such a short time this year?

Interviewing Paul Keating, O’Brien, who had interrupted, got this back: Why don’t you have this interview by yourself? You could talk for the whole program… Maybe I could just sit here and you could carry on with a monologue. (Amusingly, O’Brien’s Keating biography is only 816 pages long, shorter than his own.)

O’Brien 73, fronted Lateline for six years, 7.30 Report for 15 years and Four Corners for 5 years, collecting six Walkley Awards. For decades political tragics followed federal events and elections as filtered through O’Brien. His memoir covers (excessively) his family ancestry, his own life story (plenty of revelations), political history and my-best-interview transcripts from Obama and Mandela down. He finishes with a slab of his own political views which will have any conservative retching.

He was educated in a Catholic school in Brisbane with class sizes of 80-110. One kid in Grade 7 got 17 cuts in a single day.

After a delayed start he learned fast by job-hopping between print, radio and TV. He has some macabre stories such as watching his TV station’s coverage of the  Viscount airliner crash near Winton in 1966, with 24 fatalities. The director rolled in the next scheduled ad break. Up came an advertisement for Viscount cigarettes, accompanied by a jingle: ‘Light up a Viscount, a Viscount, a Viscount, light up a Viscount, and light up your day.’ We all just looked on, incredulous.

Even worse reading today: At the 1971 State Labor Conference at Surfers Paradise, the young politician Bill Hayden moved two resolutions: one to ban professional boxing, and the other to legalise homosexuality. His state president, Jack Egerton, calling for a count on the second, remarked: ‘Gawd, I can’t follow delegate Hayden. He’s opposed to a bloke getting a punch on the nose but doesn’t mind if he gets a punch in the bum. Those supporting the chairman to the right, poofters to the left.’

On joining Opposition Leader Whitlam as press secretary in 1977, he dropped in to the next-door office of Whitlam’s deputy Tom Uren to say hi. He was ushered out with the advice that Uren and Whitlam weren’t on speaking terms and Uren’s chief of staff had banned all contact with Whitlam’s staff, as stunning an illustration of dysfunction as you could imagine.

As for the current crop, he blasts Bill Shorten as a weak leader installed by the same faction that despatched Rudd and Gillard, and as one respected senior Labor figure told me recently, has now stacked the Labor side of the Senate with party hacks. He loathes Tony Abbott and implores the Liberal party to return from the right to the Menzian centre. He writes, It is still startling to contemplate how Malcolm Turnbull built the nation’s hopes so high with his manifesto for a better nation when he challenged the Popeye of Australian politics, Tony Abbott; and how quickly he destroyed those hopes because he wasn’t a strong enough leader. Popeye ate spinach, not raw onions, and if O’Brien thinks Turnbull embodied the nation’s hopes, he needs to get out more.

Another whom O’Brien likes is John Hewson, Liberal opposition leader 1990-94: relaxed, personable, broad-thinking and today, potentially, a much more attractive proposition for the electorate. No wonder the ABC has Hewson on every five minutes.

O’Brien offers the government an even more poisoned chalice. Oozing compassion for ‘refugees’ – no mention of drowned ones – he pleads for a bi-partisan solution team led by our best-credentialed, most respected international elder statesman – to wit, Labor’s one-time foreign minister Gareth ‘Biggles’ Evans. O’Brien suggests, That would show intent. That would be leadership. Perhaps a truly bi-partisan effort with another ex-Foreign minister, Julie Bishop.

O’Brien’s an encyclopaedia of Leftist clichés and memes. He even seems equivocal about the fall of the Soviet Union which left capitalism exposed. It no longer had an enemy to point at and say, there’s an ism that’s worse than us… He had wondered if capitalism would get even nastier because of its baser instincts and hunger for profits.

Trump derangement? You bet. Mr Mueller can wrap up his inquiry – O’Brien has confirmed Russian collusion.

He quotes an obscure third party, a ‘Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times’, to warn that fascism is now a clear and present danger with the pre-fascist Trump giving it a trial run assisted by an advanced propaganda machine: One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections—we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump. Says O’Brien, I hope your interest is piqued enough to read the rest on-line, but you get the idea.

He also suffers derangement about that supposed extreme ideologist Rupert Murdoch and he laments the moral decline of the Australian, which loves to shut down important policy debates. The Age and SMH, by contrast, sit vaguely around the centre in their political coverage.

O’Brien almost flew high. He writes that in the early ‘90s, he declined one offer to become editor-in-chief of the SMH, and another to become 2IC at the ABC as head of news and current affairs.  When David Hill departed as ABC managing director in 1995, O’Brien made his run. He figured management involved mainly informed common-sense and anyway, he had interviewed a lot of managers and management theorists. I felt I understood the ABC implicitly and, like any good manager, would organise the talent around me to fill in the gaps. Brian Johns won the tussle, with O’Brien believing he placed third or fourth out of 11. An ABC under O’Brien would be a Leftist Wonderland to behold. He hopes in retirement to become a gentler character. Journalists, he concludes, should not only bear truthful witness but ask what society might aspire to be. I’m not sure your aspirations would suit everyone, Kerry.

The Inglorious Tenure of a Vice-regal Couple

The Inglorious Tenure of a Vice-regal Couple

Sir Hughie Edwards arrived to assume the governership of Western Australia as the nation’s most decorated war hero, his socialite wife a presumed adornment to his term. As Perth soon discovered, the Queen’s representative was an alcoholic, his spouse no better and a Jew-hater to boot. To say their term didn’t go well would be an understatement

Sir Hughie Edwards VC, DSO and DFC was  a fearless wartime bomber pilot and Australia’s most decorated warrior of World War II.  He became Governor of WA in January, 1974, but his 15-month tenure was a disaster. His war-hero status has caused  his vice-regal mishaps to be covered up. His only full-length biographer, Arthur Hoyle, skips across the period in only six paragraphs,  remarking (p199), “Success in the job eluded him”.[1]

Hughie Edwards’ second wife was Sydney socialite Dorothy Carew Berrick, nee Nott. “The good thing about Hitler, he got rid of those Jews,” she remarked to me and my then-wife Carolin when we overnighted with them in mid-1973. Here’s how it happenened: Carolin had told me Hughie (pictured above in his final years) was her godfather. Somehow we got the invitation to their Darling Point apartment.

Hughie’s first wife, Cherry, died in 1966, and he’d married  Dorothy (“Doff” to her friends), in September, 1972, at the registrar-general’s office. He was her third husband after Gerald Armit  (from 1939) and Major Robert Hugh Asquith Berrick aka“Beau Berrick” (from 1947).

At the time Hughie was Australian resident director and door-opener for the UK mining giant Selection Trust. He’d become wealthy because Selection Trust had tenements in the middle of the Poseidon nickel field. When Poseidon ran from 33 cents to $280, Selection Trust shares took off too and Hughie’s investments in the company soared.[2] He and Dorothy moved in elevated company, particularly race horse owners and business VIPs such as Gordon Jackson, chief executive of CSR.

I was raised in Willagee, a WA Housing Commission suburb,  and had no experience with Sydney high society. I didn’t find a  snapshot by a Sydney Morning Herald gossip writer (5/5/68) all that helpful: “On the whole, Sydney Society is a kind one – not too bitchy, and everyone seems to love each other  madly.” Maybe Dorothy invited us because my Canberra by-line in The Agesuggested useful contacts.  I was 33. Hughie was 59,  and Dorothy 55. Hughie died in 1982, Dorothy in 2000 and Carolin in 2016. So I’m the sole living witness.

The apartment in a small tower block  had a direct view down to the Harbour Bridge. It was full of Dorothy’s antiques and art. She greeted us with practised and excessive enthusiasm. She was tall and slim, with high cheekbones, a strong jawline, an aquiline nose and cut-glass diction. Hughie, tall and heavily-built, was stolid and reserved.  Both were downing drinks in strengths and quantities far beyond the abstemious Thomas couple’s experience. Both limped slightly, Hughie (in uniform at right) from a 1938 RAF crash (left leg) and Dorothy from a 1970 street accident (also left leg).

I’d recently acquired a box set of 33rpm vinyl records of English actors doing Shakespearean readings. They  bowled me over.  I brought the box as a show-and-tell ice-breaker. In a lull  before dinner, they seemed happy to hear a sample. I chose Shylock’s   speech from The Merchant of Venice ending, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge?”

There was an awkward silence. Dorothy said off-handedly, “The good thing about Hitler – he got rid of those Jews.” My wife and I exchanged appalled glances. Hughie didn’t react – maybe he didn’t hear it or it didn’t register. We found it beyond bizarre that Australia’s most decorated warrior had married a woman who thought nothing of popping an obscene appreciation of Hitler into social chit-chat.[3]

Hughie’s black Mercedes was in the basement car park. I thought Dorothy would drive, as she seemed more sober, but Hughie took the wheel and we somehow made it to the restaurant.  He continued drinking and, sad to say, passed out, his head slumped among the plates. Waiters joined Dorothy in bringing him round, more or less. We all helped tug him back to the Mercedes. My wife and I got into the back seat. Dorothy opened the driver’s door. I assumed she would be driver.  To our renewed horror, she organised for the barely conscious Hughie to be pushed behind the wheel.

Hughie turned the key for the trip home, fortunately only a few kilometres. Traffic was light. Hughie weaved the car to the apartment block. He dipped down too fast into the basement, missed various obstacles and with a resounding crash, piled up on a pillar. It was a big heavy car and even the low-speed impact was considerable.

None of us was hurt. We sat for a few seconds collecting our wits  as glass tinkled and the radiator hissed from the crumpled front.   Arthur Hoyle’s biography of Hughie includes: “He was always a poor  car driver who, over the years frightened family, friends and subordinates … it was considered to be extremely dangerous to be a car passenger in any vehicle which he drove.”[4]

Dorothy  sprang into action. With our help she dragged Hughie out of the car and shouted, “Get out of here fast!” He disappeared via a basement door.

The impact on the pillar had sent  a tremor through all storeys of the block. Dorothy took up a pose by the driver’s side door. Doors opened and residents swarmed in  with a hubbub of questions and concern. Dorothy maintained her sang froid, apologised for her poor driving and promised that car debris would be dealt with next day. Given that the three of us were merely  shaken up, the crowd drifted off to draw their own conclusions, and soon after, we re-united with Hughie in the apartment.

The couple resumed drinking and we went to bed – it had been quite a day. But it was also a long night. Through the walls we could hear Hughie and Dorothy in altercation into the small hours, fuelled by their day’s massive intake of alcohol. In any marriage, including mine, domestics can be noisy but this one was off the scale.

From the moment we woke next morning, we packed our bags for instant departure as soon as  we could mouth a polite goodbye. The Edwards were equally keen to see us go — unwelcome eye-witnesses in any fall-out with co-residents (not to mention insurance assessors) over the prang. Plus, our visit had not really been a hit.

A few months later, on October 13, The West Australian reported that the appointment of Hughie Edwards VC was imminent as Governor of Western Australia. The Tonkin (Labor) government had chosen him to replace Sir Douglas Kendrew, who retired in October 30, 1973. Knowing what I knew, and with my Sandgroper background (including a decade with The West Australian), I followed events from my perch in Canberra.

HUGHIE took office on January 7, 1974. He got off to a terrible start and within three months, Dorothy had brought the vice-royalty into total disgrace with a criminal offence. A year later, Hughie resigned on health grounds and the pair, with no formal goodbyes or public thanks to anyone, departed Perth secretly on a Saturday night east-bound Ansett flight.

I’ll first provide some background on Dorothy, a nonentity relative to her famous husband. She was born in England to a leading Adelaide couple. Her father, sought-after medico Dr Harry C. Nott,  had a two-storey mansion in Hutt Street. He was a cricketer and an international-standard golfer. He was also prominent in the city’s Aero Cub, when aviation was a dare-devil hobby. On Boxing Day 1930, for example, he set off with four other Gypsy Moths to Kangaroo Island. Someone had forgotten to fill his tank and nearing hilly terrain at the coast, the engine died. He managed to skilfully force-land, emerging unhurt from the wreck.

As a teenager Dorothy used to stop the traffic by promenading with two borzois, hefty Russian wolfhounds and recorded frequent mentions in the social pages (as at the Cheltenham races in 1934 at left, where she snapped studying the form).  She “came out” at 18 in 1937 with a ball for 150 at the South Australian Hotel.[5]Two years later a society wedding report gushed,

SMART and slight in a well-cut frock of black Angora, was ‘Doff’ Nott, who will so soon be a bride herself. She wore a little pancake of pleated black felt totally obscuring one eye, and topped by velvet bows in three shades of cyclamen, which gave it just that air of Parisian chic so necessary nowadays — and so difficult to achieve by all but a talented few. (Mail, 22/4/39). 

Her own wedding on May 9, 1939, got saturation Adelaide press  from uber-diligent columnists such as “Lady Kitty” .[6]  She married a Scot, Gerald Armit, an agricultural adviser in Soebang, Java. The wedding’s lustre is suggested by the task allocated to Adelaide’s Lady Bonython — to do the floral decorations for  the church.[7] Dorothy’s outfit was recorded in super-human detail. A small sample:

“Parchment toned satin, slightly gathered at each side of the bodice, with square neckline and long sleeves, a band of the satin round the bodice being finished with a flat bow in front; a long train trailed softly from the centre panel at the back. A tiara of orange blossom on the hair held in place the misty tulle veil, which fell to the edge of the train. The whole toilette effect was most striking.” (News, 9/5/39)

The five bridesmaids came up the aisle not with bouquets but with left hands linked by a “fong” – a gold cord and gold-leaf clusters forming a pendant between each link.

The plan was for the couple to spend two days at the family’s hills cottage  and then board the SS Otranto for England  for six months. The hills touring was interrupted next day when their car came upon a head-on collision between a car and a buckboard, and the couple drove two women to hospital with head and leg injuries. I wonder how Dorothy coped with the gore.

They eventually settled back in Soebang in the expat club lifestyle, amid tiger-infested forests. she was an amateur actress and played “Diana” in French without Tears in Soebang and Batavia, raising money for a Spitfire Fund. Events after the Japanese invasion in early 1942 are opaque. She got out of Java ahead of the Japanese invaders and found a job in Canberra as a typist. Later she was with the Australian Women’s Army Service  and the Ministry of Munitions as a driver in Sydney, uniform  being dark green with a beret. Gerald had been wounded and became a Japanese civilian prisoner of war.[8] I don’t know if he survived.

In 1946, Dorothy Armit was back in the UK and working in Australia House. In February, 1947, in Guernsey, she  married  Major “Beau” Berrick, 41, a Briton of Canadian origin. She returned with him  and their infant son, David, to Sydney in 1949 and by the late 1960s they were pillars of the Sydney smart and racing set: “Doff is a perfectionist. She’s fun, she loves color, loves people”, gushed one social item. Another put it, “Mrs Edwards, who wears  her hair swinging loose, schoolgirl-style from an Alice band, is vital and vivacious.” A fiftieth birthday present, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald, to Dorothy was “a plastic severed hand that when wound up, crawled across the floor”. SMH 8/12/68. In September 1972,  the hand of fate saw her married to Air Commodore Hughie.[9]

Soon after our visit in mid-1973, the front page of The West Australian leaked Hughie’s impending governorship. Premier John Tonkin had done the recommending the previous month but the Queen had not formally agreed. Tonkin was mortified and extremely annoyed. “The report puts me in the position of a breach of confidence,” he said. He thought he would have to apologise to the Queen.[10]

Sir Hughie outside Government House.

For his part, Hughie leapt at the vice-regal offer: “There’s not a chance of me bailing out of this one if the Queen has the recommendation,” he said. Hughie would have done better on protocol by declining to comment. Obviously Tonkin would have sounded him out earlier. The leak was attributed to “informed sources”. Hughie denied he leaked. There’s one clue to the leaker, the prediction in The West’s report: “The Governorship almost certainly will bring him a  knighthood from the Queen.” So who stood to benefit by leaking?  Dorothy knew of the impending appointment and was keen to  be   Lady Edwards, trumping all  female rivals for top-dog social status. Soon after, she was going public in advocacy for this knighthood.[11]

The appointment was for three years with a further two-year option. By mid-December,  a few weeks before appointment, Hughie confessed, “In fact I haven’t had a chance to think deeplv about it [the job]  yet”.  He had been aware of his impending elevation for around two months.

Hughie in his inaugural press conference as governor (8/1/74) not only announced that his lack of knighthood was “invidious” to himself and the State, but disclosed that he’d been lobbying the Premier Tonkin about it.  Tonkin  in fact was bound by federal Labor policy against overseas honours. So Hughie, the Queen’s representative, was   demanding an honor from the Queen that the then Premier couldn’t approve, and disclosing conversations Tonkin would have thought were confidential. (Walter Bagehot 150 years ago in his classic text The English Constitution ranked keeping State confidences as the third of top three duties of royalty [and hence vice-royalty]).[12]  All round, Hughie seemed either ignorant or heedless of his duty “to promote civic unity and high ideals”.[13]

DOROTHY’s previous and only two visits to Perth had  involved the Perth Cup. Her first presser in Perth as the governor’s wife started well,  as she chatted with assurance about things like her willingness to catch buses. In a haunting sentence she said, “I have no idea yet what is expected of a governor’s wife but I am willing to learn.”

Asked about Perth frock shops, she hit the softball right out of the stadium, saying she didn’t frock-shop at all: “I hate shopping and have all my clothes made by a Sydney dressmaker so I don’t think I’ll be changing. I had an accident in Sydney in 1970 and have found it difficult to find clothes to fit since.”

Hughie and Dorothy settled in to Government House (left). Three months later, on the afternoon of Wednesday, April 13, Dorothy walked outside and smashed the glass of a fire alarm a few metres from a permanently manned watchhouse. She pressed the red button and 15 firemen arrived from the nearby St George’s Terrace depot with a swivel ladder, two pumps and a resuscitation unit. Dorothy told them she just wanted to see how long they would take to arrive. Their quarter-mile sprint along St George’s Terrace took just one minute.

She claimed to be worried about fire safety at Government House. She hadn’t bothered to  phone the fire station first and she told the press later that she was well aware of having committed an offence. She offered to pay any fine involved, unaware that the maximum penalty was actually six months gaol with hard labor. Frankly I’d say she’d been drinking when she smashed the alarm glass.[14]

The next day’s West said  that fire prevention officers had inspected the building and found it was not a bad fire hazard.

Mrs Edwards’ action drew strong criticism yesterday from the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union and the Fire Brigade Officers’ Association. The acting secretary of the two bodies, Mr Ian Hills, described the action as stupid and irresponsible, particularly because it had been done by such a prominent person.

“It is this type of irresponsibility that hinders the eradication of a menace that plagues all emergency services,” he said.

“The Fire Brigade has no way of knowing if an alarm is false, and fire crews travel to these calls as quickly as possible through heavy traffic.”

Mr Hills said that firemen and officers were incensed at Mrs Edwards’ action. It could have caused tremendous disruption if the brigade had been engaged in genuine calls at the time.

He said: ‘As part of her further education, the Governor’s wife should visit the fire brigade  to see the difficulty that false alarms create.’

The union and the association believed they had a duty to warn the public against such foolishness, he said.

The maximum penalty laid down by the Fire Brigades Act for wilfully making a false fire  call is a fine of up to $100 and imprisonment for up to six months with or without hard labor.

“A prominent Perth lawyer said yesterday he did not believe that Mrs Edwards would be immune from prosecution.”

Justice not really being blind, Dorothy escaped prosecution. [15]

Hughie’s reaction to his wife’s (literal) clanger can only be imagined.  This was a man who had risen to within striking distance (a 50:50 chance, he was told), of making RAF Air Vice-Marshall, and whose Cold War fighter base had guarded the main US nuclear bomber force at Skulthorpe. After the alarm episode, Dorothy dropped out of prominence.

Hughie from the start had  dispensed clangers of his own. In his first press interview on November 8, 1973, he said ominously that he “did not intend to be a mere cipher… Certainly one should keep out of politics, but on matters which are not political, I feel that one should express a point of view.”

Still, he harried the hapless Labor Premier about his entitlement to a knighthood.  An ardent royalist, he said God Save the Queen should remain our national anthem. He also  put down  the  aggrieved faction in WA seeking secession, comparing the quest to “these African colonies” which had gained recent independence but lacked the  money  and “brainpower” to pay for their nationalist extravagances.

He had told West Australians he was “a democratic chap” but his knighthood demand  suggested otherwise.   His claim won the prompt support of Opposition Leader Sir Charles Court, making  Premier Tonkin look churlish. He evinced no knowledge of vice-regal protocol, conveniently set out by Governor-General Paul Hasluck. Sir Paul  advocated in late 1972 a foundation of knowledge about machinery and processes of government, and relations with  prime ministers and premiers based on “confidence, tact and firmness.”

Offended West  editorialists commented, “In taking up the cudgels with almost indecent haste in defence of the [knighthood] principle, Air Commodore Hughie Edwards VC has left himself wide open to criticism that his real concern – despite denials – is for the person, not the office.” But the editorial concluded that knighthoods should be awarded automatically to governors as first citizens. Hughie’s urgings were taken up by columnists – probably tongue-in-cheek –  and as far afield as The Times in London. Virtually any media reference to Sir Hughie thereafter – including his obituaries — included add-ons about his quest for a knighthood.

Hughie’s trouble-making was doubly painful to the Labor Premier because Hughie’s predecessor, Sir Douglas Kendrew (left), a British un-modern major-general, a few months earlier had meddled outrageously in favour of Opposition Leader Sir Charles Court. (Perth’s Governor/Government relations in the early 1970s had a High Noon quality). Tonkin had a bare one-seat majority in the WA Lower House and an Upper House minority. Kendrew was in league with Queensland’s reactionary governor Sir Colin Hannah (formerly the RAAF Air Marshall and a Perth boy). The pair was all for a state premiers’ revolt led by Charles Court against what Hannah publicly called “the fumbling ineptitude” of the Whitlam government. Kendrew believed “Court was the only man who could save Australia”. He therefore urged Court to  block Supply but Governor-General  Paul Hasluck  warned Kendrew off.[16]

On April 8, 1974, Court succeeded Tonkin as Premier. Within a month Hughie was somehow awarded a Clayton’s knighthood – a Knight of Grace of the Order of St John, which didn’t entitle him to be called ‘Sir’ and, possibly more to the point, left his wife still as Mrs Edwards.[17] Again came snide press comments, “Poor Air Commodore Hughie Edwards. All that fuss and bother…We believe, however, that even better things lie ahead,” noted the SMH. On August 26 Sir Charles finally transformed the vice-regal couple to Sir Hughie and Lady Edwards.[18] (Hoyle’s biography mis-attributes the knighthood to Tonkin).

The press again rejoiced with headlines like “No longer odd man out” – as if my louche reporter colleagues  gave two hoots about Hughie’s amour propre. Sir Hughie delivered another  of his ‘non political’ interviews, rubbishing the Whitlam government for dispensing with foreign honors. This was not only gross for a governor but pointless since premiers were free to recommend imperial honors through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.[19]

In an interview in Melbourne before taking up the post he said he “had been mixing with people all my life. I will be  looking forward to seeing as many people as possible.”  But now he confessed to finding continuous official listening, speech-making  and talking to people ‘extremely arduous’ .[20] These chores were the essence of the job, which included a $25,000 salary at May 1974 (today’s equivalent, $200,000 tax-free) plus Government House, staff and a stack of fringe benefits.[21]

A few months later Sir Hughie entered a three-month spell of ill health and sick leave. He had three operations for head and stomach conditions attributed to war injuries. On April 2, 1975, he announced he would resign on health grounds, although his doctor a month previously had cleared him fit for duty.[22] The West Australian (3/4/75) got it wrong by assuming his announcement was the same thing as his actual resignation.

His departure, like his arrival, was controversial, with The Westheadlining, “Sir Hughie flies out secretly”. For more than 40 years the public has accepted the  sanitised “medical health” rationale. The media accounts were based on official disinformation, though some elements were factual. The  real story is disclosed only in a sentence and a footnote in a   2008 book by University of Tasmania Professor Peter Boyce AO, a specialist in British Commonwealth vice-regalisms.

Sir Hughie notified his resignation while Premier Court was in Tokyo, and only several weeks before Sir Hughie and Lady Edwards were to host Princess Anne and Mark Phillips as live-in guests at Government House. The Deputy Premier, Mr McPharlin, had to dump a civic reception to attend on Sir Hughie, saying the summons  was a ‘big surprise’. When Sir Charles returned and organised a visit to Government House to smooth the departure issues, he was told that Sir Hughie  was too ill to see him.  Sir Charles had to consult  with Lady Dorothy and  Secretary Col J. Burt instead. (One wonders why no-one phoned the Premier to postpone his visit).

The Edwards’ late-night Saturday exit from Perth via Ansett was a further  curiosity. Far from doing gracious goodbyes and a thank-you to the government and people, they enjoined secrecy on Ansett and a handful of insiders. Their departure date had been officially left open — and suddenly they were gone, leaving Government House vacant and Premier Court ostensibly in the dark. Someone threw the press off the scent by leaking that the Edwards’ had headed for a NSW country property.

A strange West report (7/4/75) quoted Premier Court  saying he did not know where Sir Hughie had gone.

“He had not inquired because it was Sir Hughie’s private business and had nothing to do with the government…

The Government House Secretary, Colonel J. Burt,  would say only that Sir Hughie had gone interstate. He would not say to which State.

Col Burt said he did not think Sir Hughie had any chance of recovering his health till he could get away from all the mental trauma of the past few months.” 

Burt’s phrase “mental trauma” – of which the media had never published a word –  suggested severe conflicts of some kind. It could have appeared to Perth-dwellers that the pair’s relations with the State government had broken down, and that the Edwards were happy to cause Sir Charles maximum discomfort.

But Perth-raised Professor Peter Boyce, a one-time Murdoch vice-chancellor, writes, “In 1975 Sir Hughie Edwards, Governor of Western Australia, was quietly eased out of office by the Premier after just one year, because of erratic behavior possibly related to alcoholism”[23]  In a footnote to this, Boyce reveals, “Edwards was flown, without prior announcement and under the Premier’s direction, to a clinic in Sydney from which he resigned office.”

Boyce got these facts from Sir Charles himself, who had stage-managed the exit – or elements of it – to ensure minimum media intrusion on Sir Hughie. Apart  from that apparent lapse with Boyce, Sir Charles had kept the secret well. According to Boyce (p190) the only governors in  the British Commonwealth to have  been dismissed were three lieutenant governors in Canadian provinces.  A few governors have been quietly eased out, including Victoria’s Sir Brian Murray  in 1985.[24]  In Quebec, Lt. Governor Jean-Louis Roux in 1996 quit when it became known he had inked a Nazi swastika in 1942 on his medical-student lab coat. His successor Lise Thibault after her term from 1997-2007, got a new term in 2015 of 18 months in prison for having rorted $C700,000 while in office.

The Sir Hughie affair is nothing akin to those examples. The nature of what Boyce calls ‘erratic’ goings on at  Government House has not been revealed. Possibly there had been gatherings and formal dinners that had gone as badly as my own weekend with the Edwards in Darling Point a year previously. Dorothy’s fire alarm episode – a criminal offense – was not Hughie’s fault but had brought their tenure into public and especially union disrepute. And for any governor to be incapacitated by health issues for three months out of 15 is a serious matter.

I don’t know if the couple’s exit was timed by the Premier to safeguard Princess Anne and Mark Phillips from possible untoward incidents.

In the event, the Edwards settled back in Darling Point. Sir Hughie took up causes such as preservation of first-class cricket at the Sydney Cricket Ground  and was often guest of honor among air force groups.   He collapsed and died while walking to a Test cricket match  at the SCG in 1982.

Supporters financed a life-sized statue (above) of Sir Hughie that was unveiled in 2002 outside St Johns Church, Fremantle. It shows him standing  in pilot’s harness scanning  the sky for the return of his fellow pilots. That’s the Hughie to be remembered and honored.

Tony Thomas’s previous long essay was Cartel Capers in the Menzies Years (Quadrant, July-August 2017). His 2016 book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, and his 2018 book The West: An insider’s tales, are available from Connor Court.



[1]  Hoyle, Arthur, Hughie Edwards VC DSO DFC  – The Fortunate Airman. A. R. Hoyle,  Canberra 1999.

[2] Ibid p198

[3] Hoyle wrote (p185) that Hughie never expressed any ideological  hatred of  Germans and appeared to view his air opponents as fellow professionals. I found one comment by war pilot Hughie that his job was “killing Germans”.

[4] Hoyle  p203

[5] News Advertiser, 22/4/37

[6] e.g. News, 9/5/39

[7] Lady Bonython found the time despite her roles on 25 Adelaide committees. She went for “ creamy chrysanthemums and Arum lilies, arranged with gilded gypsophila and she-oak in white bowls, and set in the chancel on tall, white stands.”

[8] Trove: No Service Number, Wounded and Prisoner of War. Enquiry Card Index Number: 21705

[9] I assume Berrick had the Major rank in 1947. He was using the Major title in 1960.

[10] Canberra Times 30/10/73, article by Perth’s Athol Thomas (no relation).

[11] “His wife at the time… made some fairly loud calls in the media for Hughie to be recognized as a knight. The knighthood came several months later, I think it was public pressure.” UNE Historian Dr Nathan Wise, ABC radio interview. Dorothy was in line for “ Lady” but State Governors’ wives didn’t have their husbands’ further title of “Excellency”.

[12] Boyce, Peter, The Queen’s Other Realms: The Crown and its Legacy  in Australia, Canada and NZ. Federation Press 2008, Annandale NSW.   P48

[13]  Governors need “ to seize the few media opportunities available with gracious and well-chosen words or  gestures.” Boyce, p194

[14] “The community also expects incumbents of Government House to avoid scandalous or radically unconventional behaviour in their own lifestyles.” Boyce, p195

[15] Boyce says (p194), “Absence of scandal  from both one’s public life and private or family affairs is certainly helpful…But no less critical is the need for a combination of gravitas and warmth in one’s engagement with the citizenry.”

[16]  Paul Hasluck – A Life, by Geoffrey Bolton. UWA Publishing, Perth 2015. P447-8

[17] One of the 25,000 fellow St John holders was another RAF commander, the controversial NSW governor Sir Philip Game. They are entitled to robes and a coat of arms.

[18] Sir Charles’ own knighthood came by seedy means. Liberal Premier Sir David Brand, after losing the 1971 election, insisted before he left office on submitting a recommendation for Court’s knighthood. Brand’s successor Tonkin tore it up, whereupon Court sought the “Sir” from Prime Minister Gorton. Gorton also refused but his successor McMahon succumbed to Court’s lobbying. Sir Henry Bolte not only  gave himself KCMG in 1966 and raised it to GCMG in 1972, but made his wife, Lady Edith, a Dame Commander the same year. He failed at lobbying to become Baron Bolte.

[19] Until the 1980s

[20]     “A dignified bearing and a flair for public ceremony, accompanied by not merely a capacity for informal interactions with a wide variety of people, but a positive enjoyment of them, are still seen as major contributions  to the vice-regal office-holder’s personal standing in the community. Loss of dignity spelt disaster for Sir John Kerr as he struggled to handle the public abuse hurled at him in the months following his dismissal of the Whitlam government…Similarly it was Richard Butler’s undignified behaviour that fuelled much of the public antipathy and government anxiety in Tasmania during 2003–04.” Boyce , p194

[21] But no pension.

[22] “A Governor who lacks a robust  physical constitution will be seriously disadvantaged in the discharge of his or her  community leadership role  as well as in maintaining  an effective watchdog role over government.” Boyce, p196

[23]  Boyce p196

[24] Sir Brian was described by Labor Premier John Cain as “a shocking Tory” and after a controversy over   accepting free air travel he got an advice from Cain “to reflect on his position”.

  • en passant

    Unfortunately, I can support Tony’s description with an independent incident I witnessed in 1974:
    “Governor Hughie Edwards, VC was so drunk at the function he was literally carried through the room (without moving his feet once) and lifted on to his seat. He was incapable of making the traditional speech and was carried out again half an hour later.”
    I almost became a Republican, but Turnbull cured me of that option.

  • Doubting Thomas

    A retired RAAF senior officer friend made what I think was a very valid point in discussions about the, to us, strange behaviour of some of the senior RAAF commanders we had both served under in the 1960s. Like Hughie Edwards, these men had survived a very cruel war, having served in Bomber Command and lost many of their friends in horrific circumstances. It should be by no means surprising if their strange ways, particularly their alcoholism and brusque intolerance of what they probably saw as mere foolishness of their young subordinates, were symptoms of undiagnosed, but self-medicated post traumatic stress disorder. VCs are rare in any Service, but particularly so in the Air Forces, and one does not win such an award without experiencing mental trauma beyond the ken of us mere mortals. Back in the day, “Shell shock”, or “combat fatigue” in American terminology, was probably not recognised as a serious mental disorder (by civilians, at least) unless the sufferer exhibited gross behavioural dysfunction. (People old enough to remember the early years after World War II will have little difficulty in recalling many such people in their communities, often callously dismissed as mere “gibbering idiots”. We handle these cases much better today.

    Unless we have some significant evidence that Edwards was an alcoholic incompetent even before the war (highly unlikely), I think he deserves a little more respect and sympathy.

  • Salome

    So that’s why it’s called the Wild West.

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The Moscow Circus Comes to Town!

A news editor of Quadrant Online’s acquaintance once told a callow and incompetent cadet how ‘a chimp could write a better story’, the standard formula doing all the work. In 1968, when Tony Thomas visited touring Soviet circus stars, he didn’t monkey around with stock cliches. Fifty years after it was written, his piece remains as vibrant and idiosyncratic as ever

PERTH, February, 1968: Belatedly I got down to see the Moscow Circus people last week. The performers’ enclosure was littered with attractive Russian girls in microscopic bikinis, soaking up the sun. With circus interpreter Vladimir Zharikov, 25, in tow, we called on the silver caravan of director Joseph Dubinsky, grey-haired and with the characteristic Russian row of gold teeth.

He assumed I was avid for statistics and before I could call a halt, I was informed of Russia’s 100 circuses, 9,000 performers, 12 million spectators, tours of 20 countries and 50 new circuses to be built by decision of the government, with 50 new hotels for the cast.

“I’ve noticed a few slips in performances,” I said. “Is this normal?”

(I’d seen one of the Bernadsky girls somersault into the air, not get caught and land on her chin. On Thursday, Nikolay Goncharov aged 15 who is bounced high into the air off a see-saw, failed to land on his chair-on-stilts).

Hal G.P. Colebatch reviews The West: An Insider’s Tales

The director said he didn’t expect perfection. Sometimes electronic robots made mistakes – could more be expected of humans who were so complex? An opera singer who got out of condition could sing less loudly and with less emotion. But circus artists could not slow down as that could involve someone’s life.

“What’s the mortality rate?”

“There occur some casualties. Artists are good at surviving. Irina, from the Sputnik trapeze act, was performing in Tbilisi, Georgia several years ago and fell. She broke every bone. Doctors put every bone together but she was not allowed to move an inch for months. She took a special course of medical exercises and got better.”

The director used to be an actor but broke his left leg and had to go into administrative work.

Strongman Vyachslev Anochin mentioned that another strongman had been killed when one of his heavy juggling balls hit him on the forehead rather than the neck.

The clown Andrei Nikolayev’s arrival from shopping ended the morbidity. He said most people thought a clown was crazy all the time, though he did his best not to look like a clown when he was off-duty. He had a request from a powerful source, namely his wife, not to be so funny. He wanted to get his wife into his act, but would have to wait until she was older and less pretty.

“What’s your theory of humour?” I asked. “Is it that pain gives pleasure to others?”

“That is so in overseas circuses. They have a point of view that the more a clown is beaten, the funnier it is. I don’t agree. In my act, I beat, I am not beaten.”

His tactics were to concentrate on the sourpusses in the audience; the others would laugh anyway. The people who laughed easily did not interest him.

One of the basic features of humour was the unexpected. Most people scratched their right ear with their right hand. He would bring his left hand round his back to do it. He would dust off a chair and sit somewhere else, or walk away from a balloon to aim at it, instead of towards it.

“Part of the soul of each clown is the soul of a child. I still learn from children, like the little girl I saw on the Black Sea, fighting with a plastic crocodile. May I meet only plastic crocodiles in my bath!”

Inevitably, we were drawn to the air-conditioned lair of Ivan Ruban, the animal trainer. Small, mild and wearing a clerkish pair of rimless spectacles, he was exclaiming at the beauty of new hardboard floors just installed in the cages.

He gave his lion, Leo, a caress through the bars, crooning something at it.

His personality guide to his wild beasts was:

Lion: Dignified but as eager for smooching as any cat.

Tiger: Not as strong but could probably outfox a lion in a fight.

Black panther: Temperamental, stubborn and slow to train.

Snow leopard: Reacts immediately if it dislikes something.

Sumatran tiger: Unstable, as likely to bite his hand as lick it.

Brown bears: Deceitful, capable of feigning friendliness in order to attack you. The biggest, the Siberian bear, has a head the size of a 44-gallon drum but it’s so well trained that it carries Ivan’s whip around for him. (Ivan’s whip is more to impress the audience than the bears).

Polar bears: Jealous. It could be fatal to give one of the pair just one lump of sugar extra.

We have entrepreneur Michael Edgley 24, to thank for this 16-week Australian tour. He went through half a dozen circuses in Russia, picking out their best acts for an ensemble. He’s hoping for a million ticket sales to cover costs and make a profit.

The logistics alone are startling. The circus travels via 15 semi-trailers hauling, among other things, the (claimed) world’s biggest tent of one-acre extent. Erected, it’s green on top with red flags flying from four giant mastheads. The sides are red and blue.

This tent involves 4.5 tons of canvas, 2.5 miles of rope and (claimed) ability to withstand gales of 180mph. Now THAT’S a big top.

UPDATE: I can’t let the clown stories pass without adding today the unfunny story of two Moscow clowns Bim and Bom at a performance in 1918. They were prone to making outrageous jokes — like Bom toting portraits of Trotsky and Lenin, and Bim asking what he planned to do. “I’ll hang one and put the other against the wall,” Bom says. Whatever joke they made at this performance, some Cheka (Party police) present weren’t amused and climbed on stage to arrest Bom.

People tittered, thinking it was part of the act. But when Bom fled, the Chekhists began firing their Browning pistols into the air, panicking the audience. Bom hid in the stables behind. Next day they were both interrogated, still in costumes including Bim with a giant chrysanthemum in the buttonhole of his tuxedo. Luckily, they survived their mistake.

The dangerous nature of clowning in Stalin’s time is suggested by this joke: Stalin attends the premiere of a Soviet comedy movie. He laughs and grins throughout the film, but after it ends he says, “Well, I liked the comedy. But that clown had a moustache just like mine. Shoot him.” Everyone is speechless, until someone sheepishly suggests, “Comrade Stalin, maybe the actor shaves off his moustache?” Stalin replies, “Good idea! First shave, then shoot!

Tony Thomas’s book The West: An insider’s tales  is available here

In Praise of Tony Thomas, Journalist

Quadrant Online has been blessed by the curious mind, astute eye and gifted pen of Tony Thomas, who has just published the second volume of his collected essays, investigations and memoirs. When one looks at the sad state of the news business, it can only further darken the mood to realise the unfulfilled need for more like him

The West: An insider’s tales
By Tony Thomas

Connor Court, $29.95

Readers of Quadrant (and there is no excuse for not being one) will know what a splendid writer Tony Thomas is, with a rare blend of graceful style, humor, meticulous research, a steely commitment to the truth with intolerance of fashionable cant, and as indefinable quality that is all his own.

Growing up in a communist family, and for some years as a very young man a party member, he has become a deadly enemy of the left, particularly of fashionable “Green” idiocies and the global warming hoax, though not blind to the less-intelligent aspects of the Righy..

One gathers disillusionment came early. His essay here on Paul Robeson (brought to Australia by the so-called “Peace Council”) is a merciless expose of Robeson’s conscious (not naive) covering-up of Stalin’s murders.

I was a cadet reporter on the West Australian when many of these pieces were written. Tony, working a full shift as a reporter while turning out this seemingly effortless stream of memorable features in addition, was my journalistic hero. I turned the pages of his bulging cuttings books with awe. He took time to help me prepare my first important interviews and showed me how to frame questions so as to elucidate the most newsworthy answers. It was a better training in the craft than I think any latter-day college of media studies could provide. His features, many of them collected here, have not aged. They provide a wonderful and unique picture of Perth in the 1960s and were a local institution. My mother used to cut out some of the best and paste them in a scrap book, partly because she loved good writing but also in case I needed inspiration.

There was no one like Tony, though we did not lack talented reporters. It seemed to me then, as it does now, that if ever there was a natural-born writer, it was he. These pieces read as freshly as when they were written. They provide a wonderful, unique picture of life in Perth at a time when the great mineral developments of the North were turning it from a glorified country town to a city.

This book should provide hours of delight and fascination, but more than entertainment, it is a valid recording of social history, and it should be an enduring one. If in 100 years anyone is writing a history of these days and still reads English, this is one of the books they should turn to,

Some of the stories are tragic, like the tale of the last of the old Chinese market-gardeners, ending in destitute old age after a life-time of toil. When they were evicted from the South Perth foreshore to make way for development, the old “Charlies” cursed the land. Every development project since has failed there. For Wong Chew, the last of them, a collection was taken up so he could go home to Hong Kong to die and be reunited with the wife he had left there a lifetime before.

There were bee-keepers, desperately chasing back and forth across the state for gum-trees in blossom that might provide a “honey-flow.” Writing this involved investigating the bees’ somewhat brutal social life – a bee’s wings wore out in six weeks, after which it was thrown out of the hive to perish.

There were log-choppers and timber-jerkers, construction-workers on the sky-scrapers then going up, and the desperate struggles of the Playhouse Theatre to remain solvent in a community that basically wasn’t interested.

A feature on the West Australian Education Department’s monthly School Papers was particularly memorable for me. I knew the quaint old building where they were produced, and some of the people who wrote them, very well. While most of their content was bland, if informative enough, – “common objects of the seashore” always fascinated me – at school I had childish nightmares over a too-graphically illustrated poem, “Faithless Nellie Gray” by Thomas Hood. How did it get approved?

Tony risked trouble with the West by writing for the little University magazine The Critic on the taboo subject of homosexuality. However, nobody noticed.

Then there was official concern that children, and others, were getting drunk on liqueur chocolates. The Customs Department tried to interview him as to his sources on that one, which of course he refused to divulge. There were the adventures of a private eye before the Family Law Act dried up the business, and the annual burning by the industry of dud movies that could “no longer be sold even to country theatres.”

What gives this book both its historical value and its charm is that somehow Tony Thomas saw what others missed. Only he noticed something bizarre in the fact that Perth’s proud International Airport had kangaroo-paw flowers (a West Australian State emblem) growing in its gardens and a souvenir stall selling the chopped-off paws of real kangaroos made into bottle-openers and the like. He tried to find the supplier, but in this case failed. A truck-load of them arriving at the souvenir factory, he suggested, would have been an interesting subject for Salvador Dali.

These pieces weren’t produced effortlessly of course. Like any technique mastered to such a degree that it looks easy, there was behind them a great deal of hard work as well as an outstanding talent.

Tony was never, however, simply a writer of light features. He investigated the hard, dangerous lives of wood-cutters, and engine-drivers (with unreliable brakes) and other hard workers building, as Kipling put it, “rudely but greatly.” Some of this reminds me of Les Murray’s classic essay about “a working forest.” There were German anthropologists and bearers of theories that North-West Aborigines had borrowed words from early and forgotten European contacts.

Then there is his interview with visiting World Championship wrestlers, rejoicing in names like Gorilla Monsoon and his simian colleagues (actually highly-skilled tumblers, actors and acrobats). There was an interview with the “proud guardian” of the causeway rubbish tip, perpetually at war with “scroungers”.

He surprised many of us when he took the position of economics writer at The Age – it seemed too dry for him. But he had the intelligence to have schooled himself in a real understanding of economics. Coupled with his writing talent, it was a formidable (and rare) combination.

Perhaps every city is unique, but Perth in the 1960s was, if I may put it that way, perhaps more unique than some. Its atmosphere, with the subtle, pervasive influence of the Indian Ocean is captured authentically in these pages. He writes, too, of a skindiver bitten in two by a great white shark. Any deep green advocacy of the need to share the ocean with these purportedly gentle giants would not have got a good hearing then.

The book ends on a rather different note: Tony Thomas left his three-year-old daughter when his first marriage broke up and he took the job in Melbourne. His daughter, Ros Thomas, established herself in Perth as a successful and well-liked columnist and TV journalist. Tony writes frankly of his fraught, eventually successful, efforts to re-establish a relationship with her, not excusing his shortcomings or desertion of her, and she tells her side of the story here. By mutual arrangement, their two stories were published in her column in the West and are reproduced here. She recalls: “I never had a single photo of my dad … Actually, there was one dog-eared snap of us; lost now, but it was only of his hand steadying mine as a laughing toddler in the bath (I held that photo so many times as a kid, I thought if I looked hard enough, I would see love in that hand).” Lacerating.

But at least it seems to have ended happily. Tony says: “Over the last decade we’ve finally got to know a bit about each other … I love our odd new relationship.” To other absent fathers he says, “Stay in touch. Come what may. Keep showing your face. If you’re in another city, it’s harder to keep up the contact. Man up and do your best anyway.”

Great entertainment and a fine showcase of journalism at its best.

Online editor’s note: Many of the pieces referenced above have appeared in Quadrant and Quadrant Online and we would normally have embedded links to those articles. But not today. As Hal writes, the record of this observer’s eye is part of history’s record and they deserve more than the ephemeral attention of pixels flitting across a screen. Instead, buy the book. Tony’s talent deserves an investment in ink and paper, which can be made by following this link.