Category Archives: The Cold War

Articles on Australia’s Cold War era

Battling the Reds in Adelaide

How many of us were in my Willagee branch of the Communist Party in Perth around 1960? Maybe six or eight. We bonded well but we weren’t powerhouses of the intellect. We’d gloat about the impending world revolution, nut out ways to get it started, and then pivot to the contentious stuff – whose turn was it to letterbox Garling Street?

I can now assume one of our tight-knit band was an ASIO informer. From 1956 ASIO’s Operation Sparrow aimed to put an agent into every Communist Party branch. The best-known informer is Phil Geri, who kept reporting on the Ballarat branch while its membership declined to four (or maybe five, Geri included).

My mother and stepfather, who did high-level CPA work, were confident that Party vigilance screened out would-be informers. “I can spot one a mile off,” my stepfather would say, with a sardonic grin. In reality ASIO riddled the Party with spies, probably to Central Committee level. Once in, they were seldom outed because the Party never thought to check: Who volunteers for dreary tasks? And who pays their Party dues on time? Tick the two boxes and there’s your ASIO agent.

My favorite historian is Professor Phil Deery of Victoria University. He specialises in ASIO-CPA relations and refreshes my memories of a politically mis-spent youth. I stumbled across his latest revelations about ASIO’s Adelaide spy, Anne Neill, in Labor History (11/2018), “A Most Important Cadre”: The Infiltration of the Communist Party of Australia during the Early Cold War. Deery’s stuff is too good to lie unread in Labor History, hence I’m giving it an audience here. Thank Deery, not me.

For reasons unexplained, ASIO released 13 files on Anne Neill totalling 2,664 pages, with various redactions. Deery could hardly believe his luck: “On no other agent has anything like this occurred,” he writes. (There’s several pages about Neill in David Horner’s official ASIO history, published in 2014, but it’s rather mundane).

Deery’s tale is about middle-class, religious and patriotic Adelaide widow Anne Neill. From 1950-58 she was a trusted and hard-working secretary and aide to the Party leaders, slipping an extra carbon sheet into her typewriter roller and embracing what her sister disparaged as “a life of deceit”.

She almost wore out Rod Allanson, the agent-runner in ASIO’s Adelaide office, a tough character who had survived the Thai-Burma railroad. In 1950 he had slotted her into an unpaid typist job for Elliott Johnston, a top SA and federal Communist who also ran the SA Peace Council front.

Johnston eventually gained some respectability as a Supreme Court Judge and a Royal Commissioner into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1987). It is normal for Communists to become judges, although I was somehow overlooked. War-time waterfront slacker and Trotskyite Ken Gee (aka “Comrade Roberts”) later graced the bench of the NSW District Court for a decade.

Anne Neill’s career and my own do have some eerie parallels.[1] Her first undercover job was to help run the Stockholm Peace Appeal of 1950 to ban atom bombs. Like Neill I gathered signatures, corrupting ten-year-old playmates at Nedlands Primary School. Neill and I helped generate the purported Australian tally of 200,000 signatures, which in turn helped generate the purported 475m signatures worldwide. That was one in every 40 Australians and one in every five humans in the world. Stalin knew how to get things done.

Two years later, Neill caught the train from Adelaide to represent SA at Sydney’s Youth Carnival for Peace & Friendship. I did the same from Perth at 12, as WA’s youngest delegate, raising high the banner of the Junior Eureka Youth League.

Neill slaved over costumes for the Communists’ New Theatre production of the Reedy River musical – it must have toured to Perth, as I can still hum, “Ten miles down Reedy River one Sunday afternoon/I rode with Mary Campbell to that broad, bright lagoon…

That’s enough about me. A surveillance photo of Neill in the doorway of Adelaide’s “People’s Book Shop” (above) shows a dumpy woman about 50 with flimsy white hair, thin lips, a strong jaw and a determined expression. Her main concession to femininity is a whitish necklace topping her baggy cotton dress.

As one Party person put it, “Comrade Anne – it beats me how she gets through all the work she does. She makes costumes for the opera, is in charge of costumes for the New Theatre, makes jars of pickles and marmalades for Party fairs, as well as writes letters and is Secretary of other organisations.”[2]

By late 1952 ASIO was calling her its “most prolific source”, as she supplied a succession of three agent-runners with hundreds of reports rated highest-grade. One case officer noted that her morale was “surprisingly high” and that she was an “absolute inspiration”.

ASIO’s Allanson recalled, “Anne Neill was so active that she demanded much of my time and attention. And when I had finished my normal day’s work, I found it necessary to have clandestine meetings with her, night after night, so that I could record all the detail she provided and also brief her on further action required.”

She was raised a devout Christian by conservative and imperial-minded parents and took on her spy role as a responsible citizen keeping track of subversives as a duty to her country and the Crown. She tracked not only the Party and the Peace Council, but at least seven other Communist fronts such as the Union of Australian Women and Realist Writers’ Group. At times she would be at their meetings seven nights a week.

She fooled the Party largely because she looked so guileless –“the middle-aged lady with the beautiful, innocent blue eyes”, as one Party wife recollected. SA Party boss John Sendy found her “well-mannered, unassuming and quite charming” but after she was outed, he modified his assessment: “a b….. [sic] old bitch – she was so nice all the time.”

So nice  she didn’t have to worm her way into the Party, having been told the Party “would be pleased to welcome you”. This slack security was when the Party was under siege by Menzies and notwithstanding Neill’s previous overt membership of the Liberal & Country League! The Melbourne Herald later called her “a white-haired widow 
with a kind face. She could be the woman from the house across the corner.”

After the Sydney Peace Carnival, she wangled her way onto a deputation to another “Peace Conference” in Peking. She loaded the dice by saying she could pay her own fares, thanks to a £400 insurance payout which in fact was ASIO money.[3]  En route she wrote letters to her family disclosing ASIO secrets, which alarmed ASIO when it opened them. The Catholic News-Weekly even quoted one of her travelling companions saying Neill was unsympathetic to Communism – luckily for ASIO, Party leaders didn’t read News-Weekly.



When she blabbed to the Australian Trade Commissioner in Hong Kong that she was a secret agent, he thought her claim ”outrageous”. But she came home with a swag of materials for ASIO on Communist policies, issues and personalities. The Party was just as delighted with their delegate and she was lionised on lecture tours, enthralling the faithful with 90-minute inspirations. Indeed, her status was so high that the Soviet Embassy in November 1953 gave her a half-hour private audience with Vladimir Petrov. He and wife, Evdokia, deferred her invitation to stay with her in Adelaide. Her hob-nobbing backfired when the Petrovs defected in April 1954: Party bigwigs wrongly suspected she had a hand in it.

Without warning they interrogated her twice within two days, probing for holes in her ASIO-provided cover stories. They particularly demanded documents to authenticate her (ASIO-sourced) £400 windfall. While she stalled for time, ASIO alerted her solicitor and another friend to lie about this money if required. Ever scrupulous, ASIO added a marginal note to “make sure this matter is fully insulated so that there is no possible chance of perjury.”

Using considerable psychological skills, ASIO briefed her to “Threaten to resign from the CP of A and frontal organisations, and indicate indignation at the continual questioning.” Her inquisitor, Elliott Johnston, fell for this ruse, soothing her, “Now, don’t be upset, don’t get angry, all I want is that written paper to prove where you got that money”. The CPA State Secretary, Eddie Robertson, feared she might tell the Party to “get f—” if they pushed her too hard.

Deery writes that Neill’s health deteriorated. “Within two days, she had undergone a two-hour grilling, a three-hour briefing with ASIO officers, a long meeting/dinner with Marjorie Johnston (Elliott’s wife) that Neill apparently recorded, and the interrogation by the CPA Control Commission.” The historian attributes her success to “calm steadfastness in the face of interrogation, the careful handling and shrewd advice by her case officer, and the stonewalling of repeated requests to supply documentary proof.”

After a considerable sick spell, she returned to the Party fold and resumed her mind-boggling industriousness, working long hours on costume-making for June’s production of Reedy River. Party leaders promoted her to delegate to the State Conference and she spoofed them for a further four years. By mid-1958, however, eight years late, suspicions arose. It was likely through Party women’s intuition rather than male Party intellect. A female ASIO agent discovered from the mother of CPA boss John Sendy that Neill had been too darn curious about too many Party issues, and the documents about the £400 had, after all, never been produced. Mrs Sendy said Neill was

In everything … [She] goes about getting information from people and she is so charming and so nice about it … She gets paid to do it. Actually, I hate mentioning the word, but it is Security … She was put on to me by Security. She must know that I spoke to John about it … I did have my suspicions when she came here to pump me [about John Sendy, when he attended a training school in China] … John said, “Look, Mum, there is nothing we can do at present … [but] we will hold her back from getting in too far.” We know she only gets a widow’s pension, yet she can have a trip abroad … I couldn’t do it. How does she do it? She is always ready to pay her payments to the Party. She will give anything to the Party. You or I couldn’t do it … We are watching her closely now. John has suspected her for some time, but it is only recently that he told me that he was now fairly certain about it. The Party had “tried all ways to trap her but we couldn’t” and her house was watched for 14 days and nights, “but she wasn’t seen.

By this time Neill was religiously involved in the Commonwealth Revival Crusade and boring her case officer with tales about godly revenge on Russia and faith-healing miracles by American evangelist Billy Adams.

Both the CPA and ASIO were happy to see her eased quietly out of Party work. It left quite a gap, as Adelaide by then had fewer than 20 members. ASIO presented her with a pricey cutlery set as a memento. But with her visceral hatred of Communists she spent another three years writing to order scores of highly personal “character studies” of Party figures, up to eight typed pages long. She also rejoined the Liberal & Country League.

In December 1961, in a bizarre denoument, she went public in Adelaide’s Daily Mail with tell-all features about her ASIO career, under headings like “Secret Service Housewife”, “I Spied for Security”, “I Join the Party”;, “I Go Behind the Iron Curtain”; and “I Talked Alone to Petrov”. Sub-headings included “How she tricked the Reds” and “Mixed with top men in Kremlin.” The pieces were to be syndicated before the December 1961 election but Sunday Mail editor K.V. Parish held them over until after the election. Menzies scraped home with a one-seat majority. Deery doesn’t comment on whether Parish’s decision was good or bad form.

Neill’s revelations left the Party with an emu egg omelet on its face. ASIO taps recorded bigwigs now calling their Stakhanovite ex-worker a police pimp, traitor, provocateur and shameless stool pigeon. “Personally,” stated one Party leader Alan Miller, “I would rather hang myself than do what she has done.” Another, Graham Beinke, thought, “It is a pity she is old because by the time Communism comes to Australia she will be dead and we won’t be able to do anything to her.” There were suggestions of retaliation ranging from psychological pressure to physical violence. These were quickly suppressed by Party leaders, who adopted a wait-and-see policy, Deery writes.

She went on a TV panel but gave rambling answers and factual slips. ASIO was discomfited and for next time, considered that “a prior approach should be made to a trusted, loyal and discreet member of the interviewing panel.”

Menzies praised her work and her decision to publish the articles, saying that she’d done a “good service” to Australia because she awakened people to the role of “innocent-looking communist ‘front’ organisations”.

Neill next became a celebrity of the far-right fringe, such as Eric Butler’s luridly anti-Semitic League of Rights. She became a Holocaust denier (“Only propaganda – Jewish lies”) and Protocols of the Elders of Zion truther. She even alleged that a Zionist was calling the shots top-level within ASIO. Her late years devolved into fantasies about Russian spies and retributions and she went into care in 1980 at age 81.

Deery hedges his bets on whether Neill’s unmasking of CPA plots had any point. It depends on whether the “peace movement” was genuinely subversive or merely political, he says. In 1977, Royal Commissioner Robert Hope defined “subversion” to include criminality, severely cramping ASIO’s style.

Retrofitting the “criminality” definition, Deery says little in those many hundreds of Neill’s assiduous reports could be regarded as “subversive.” With CPA membership in SA totaling only 220 in 1953, Neill and ASIO were tilting at windmills. “Threats to national security from Communist subversion may have existed elsewhere, but not from South Australia in the 1950s,” he concludes.

One day ASIO’s cutlery gift to Anne will turn up on Antique Roadshow. I’m putting in a bid.

Tony Thomas’s hilarious history, The West: An insider’s tale – A romping reporter in Perth’s innocent ’60s is available from Boffins Books, Perth, the Royal WA Historical Society (Nedlands) and online here

[1] The parallels weren’t really ‘eerie’ but we journalists always add ‘eerie’ to ‘parallels’. It’s like all our contrasts being ‘stark’ ones.

[2] This 1958 quote was recorded by an ASIO agent at a meeting who was unaware that Neill was also an ASIO agent.

[3] The Australian delegation of five was led by Dr John Burton, ex-secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, known as the Labor Party’s ‘pink eminence’.

An Old Scrapbook’s Reminder of the Prague Spring

Fifty years ago this month, Alexander Dubček began the ill-fated bid to reform the government of what was then Czechoslovakia. In August, 1968, the experiment was crushed by Soviet tanks. Today, with communism’s apologists still peddling myth and equivalency, a refresher course in tyranny

prague tankI’ve had a couple of non-tourist encounters with Czechs from the Communist era. One I recall well from seven years ago; the other more spectacular encounter was 50 years ago and I have no memory of it whatsoever. Still, it’s detailed in print in The West Australian of June 14, 1969, so it must have happened.[i]

In late 2010, my wife and I were on a slow train from Munich to Prague and got talking to an elderly Czech lady, who gave us her potted life story. She told it all as though it was nothing exceptional. Her husband was arrested in the Communist era for saying something uncomplimentary about the regime and was sentenced to two years hard labor digging out underground coal from seams little more than half a metre thick. On release he couldn’t get a normal job anywhere and in desperation he took work in a uranium mine. After a while the uranium dust gave him cancer and he died, she said.  Their five children also couldn’t get higher educations or jobs because they were tainted by their father’s prison record. Four got out to West Germany and settled there. She’d just been visiting them.

She was talking about the time before the “Prague Spring” of liberalization that began in early 1968 and ended abruptly in late August when the Soviets and their Polish, Hungarian and Bulgarian allies invaded with 200,000 troops and 2000 tanks. There was only minor resistance  but 70 Czechs were killed and about 250 wounded. Passive resistance continued well into 1969.     This is the background to my other Czech encounter.

To suppress any vestige of free speech, the Soviets’ first target was the Czech TV, radio and press. Editors were forced to agree to a new ‘temporary’ censorship regime where the media’s prime role was to support the new hard-line Communist leaders. Any dissent led to closure of the media outlet or worse. By April 1969 censorship became total and continued until the ‘Velvet Revolution’ twenty years later, which brought democracy to the republic.

Forty years before our chat with the lady on the train, I had spent an afternoon interviewing a young Czech journalist stuck in Perth a few days on his way back to Prague. At that point the last liberties in the Czech republic were being snuffed out by the pro-Soviet regime.

I was 28, he was 25, and being in the same profession, we had a lot in common.  But he was braver than me by an incalculable amount. He talked with total frankness about the Soviet suppression of the Czech people, and was keen that I should publish what he said. He didn’t care one jot about consequences. I just moved on to writing my next article, about teachers’ union pay claims. But he would have landed in Prague and faced punishment in terms of career, and maybe liberty, for telling truths to the bourgeois press.  Here’s what I wrote:        .

 “Publish all of it!” – Czech journalist

Ales Benda is a 25-year-old Czech  journalist with an athlete’s build, bushy sideboards and a quizzical expression. He is assistant foreign editor of a Prague newspaper Mlada Fronta – at least he thinks he is.

Mr Benda’s English is a pleasant drawl, with ‘plarz’ for ‘plus’ and ‘moof-mends’ for ‘movements’. With his blue pullover and grey slacks, he looks quite Australian except that his lips are red and he wears socks with sandals. He would often frown, screw up his nose and laugh at the same time – an attitude savoring of ‘what the hell’.

To questions about the past and the present he replies volubly: asked about the future he  changes the subject.

He has been held up several days in Perth sorting out a visa hitch, and we talked for a few hours on a back lawn in the weekend. After, I asked, “Is it all right if I publish some of this?”

“Publish all of it,” he said. He gave his amiable chuckle. A contact had already remarked, “Oh boy, when you get back you will get into big trouble.”

This is what he told me. His paper swung from  conservative  to way-out crusading liberalism a few years ago, to the annoyance of the Russians and others.

A few days after the Russians arrived in August 1968, his editor Mr Jelinek got a phone call. “It’s General So-and-So here, we’d like you to come to Soviet headquarters for some discussions.”

“No thanks,” replied the editor. “Our paper is not your paper. Don’t give me orders.” He had been christened “The Trojan Horse” by Moscow newspapers and had nothing to gain from “discussions”.

The same morning an armored car roared into the car park but Mr Jelinek hid successfully in the attic. Three searches later the Russians got tired of hunting Trojan horses.

However, Mr Benda concluded, he had read during his month in Australia that the editor had been sacked, and if that was true his own days as assistant foreign editor were numbered.

On the fatal night in August, he was telephoned at 3.30am about the Russians. He wanted to rush to the paper but was shaking too much to do up his buttons and tie his shoelaces and took half an hour to get dressed.. When he arrived the power had been cut off and they couldn’t use the presses. They had to wait in the dark, with the sound of gunfire coming nearer and nearer.

“At 5.30am there came a little Mongolian with  an automatic rifle. “What do you want here?”  a bloke asked him. He just pointed his rifle. More Russians herded about 60 newspaper people into one room. The Russians were only kids, conscripts,  and they were worn out from three days on the road. Whenever they began to sleep we would wake them up and say: ‘Hey, you are supposed to be guarding us.’ Finally a colonel came down and kicked us out.

“They shut down our paper for three weeks but they didn’t know about  our provincial presses and we put out underground papers there.

“I sneaked between the tanks and got to our printing presses at Brno and was editor there for a few days – though we didn’t even have telephones. The  Russians caught up with us, and our main paper was still closed, so I thought it was a good time to take my annual holiday, and went to London.  I kept ringing day after day to see if the paper was going again. On this Australian trip my boss has told me he will dock every reverse charge from my pay.”

By now the occupation was largely symbolic and the threat was from Czech officials – either collaborators  or those under Russian political pressure.

Inflation was rife. Russian troops would go through the shops spending their accumulated pay, and a soldier  might buy ten pairs of shoes in one hit. Czechs, seeing trouble everywhere, were drawing their money out of the bank and buying a washing machine or fridge that would keep its value. There was quite a bit of black marketeering between troops and Czechs who were not loathe to run their cars on petrol from Russian armored cars.  

His most affecting experience was attending the funeral  of a 16 year old lad shot off his motorcycle  by Russian guards; the most  surprising experience was watching the arguments between Czechs and  bewildered young Russians in tanks. Within a week the army had replaced the youngsters with  occupation troops from East Germany and other tough professionals. No-one argued any more.

“The funniest thing about the business was the invitation we never gave to the Russians to invade us. They’d lined up two blokes to invite them, our minister for communications and someone  from the official Czech newsagency. But when they arrived at Radio Prague the technicians refused to broadcast the message  and the Russians had to come uninvited.

“The Russians set up a pro-Soviet TV station in the grounds of their embassy, But the two announcers were hopeless – one was a Prague official who was always sozzled, and one was a lady from the Central Committee who had never been before a TV camera in her life, and we split our sides every time she tried to perform. Then the Russians tried to set up a Czech radio in East Germany, but all the Czechs had ferocious German accents…”

Mr Benda is a graduate in economics, and I got a lecture on the needs of the Czech economy.

First, the Stalinist stress on heavy industry and steel production had harmed the country’s chance in international trade. To make steel, Czechoslovakia imported iron ore thousands of miles from Russia. This made it expensive and it had to be exported at subsidized prices.

 Workers had been given a social status with coal miners and foundry workers on top, then factory workers, and people in consumer industries  came last. The factories got a stranglehold on the government and decisions were all in their favor.

Things like housing were in a dreadful state – you waited ten years in Prague for a flat, and meanwhile had to live under a bridge, or with your parents, who were probably living with their parents, in a little flat. The overcrowding was even sending the divorce rate up. But construction work was almost all for the confounded factories – each one was a little empire in itself. The only solution would be to freeze investment in industry altogether till consumer shortages were overcome.

Heavy industry was not much use to Czechoslovakia in any case. It should be building up the plastics and chemicals industries and using its concentrated manpower on craft-work like glassware, and labor-intensive production like watch-making.

An unpleasant by-product of heavy industry was war equipment. South American juntas were lording it with Czech hardware; both sides used it  in Biafra and both sides used it in Egypt.

“Everywhere in the world you can find a Czech machine-gun,” he lamented. “Business is business, I suppose.”

The country was united against the Russians. But there were violent argument between Czechs about what resistance should be made; whether one should leave the country or not; what constituted collaboration; and whether the government should be   influenced from within or opposed.

“Generally it would be good for you to write this,” he said, “to show that Communists as a whole are not monsters, that they are not worse or better than other people – that they are just people.”

What happened to Ales Benda in Prague? Is he alive or dead? I have no idea.

UPDATE: Do read the comments, where Tony Thomas’ question about Mr Benda’s fate is laid bare — that and the insidious nature of communism. Far from being a disciple of Liberty, he was actually a regime informer. Now readon ….

Tony Thomas’s book of essays, That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print, is available here



[i] There is no electronic search possible of The West Australian for the 1960s, owing to some unresolved copyright hassle. It can only be searched via microfiche, which is near-impossibly laborious unless you have a good idea of the date involved. I found the above article only when, for other reasons, I was  leafing through my musty scrapbooks which have followed me around for 60 years.

Spy v Spy in Australia

February 28th 2017 print


Moscow gold or comedy gold? At this distance in time, it’s possible to enjoy the Cold War in Australia as entertainment, even if it was rather serious for forty years.

A bad habit of communist parents in the 1940s was to name their infant sons after Joseph Stalin. An Adelaide friend of mine, Joe Lane, who now does archival research on Aboriginal history, was named after Stalin. A worse case was Patrick Brislan, who became a distinguished player of the tenor horn. Pat’s father Tom in 1940 registered his new infant as Patrick Stalin Brislan. Patrick was mortified whenever asked officially for his full name. After Stalin died in 1953, “he lived on in my middle name”, Pat laments. It was not until he was nearly eighteen that his father changed the middle name officially from Stalin to Sean.

It could be said that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation was over-diligent in pursuit of communists. In the November 1950 ASIO file on the feminist Lucy Woodcock is this report: “Mrs Reed very militant, active … Son Johnathon (4½ years old) an active school propagandist … Organises groups away from teacher’s grasp.”

ASIO so riddled the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) with agents that in the 1960s they comprised 10 to 20 per cent of total party membership. ASIO mobilised them to stir up rancour during the Sino-Soviet split in 1963. They would call for party-room debate and then some would take a pro-Soviet line and others a pro-China line.

Another operation, coded “Curried Chicken”, involved ASIO encouraging a wide group of supporters to write letters to the editors of newspapers, supporting ASIO and condemning the CPA. In Perth, two ASIO agents in the CPA, to curry favour with party bosses, were writing to the newspaper supporting the CPA, while other ASIO contacts were orchestrating letters attacking the CPA. None of these letters were published, so “Curried Chicken” was a waste of time.

In the 1950s, through no fault of its own, ASIO found itself with four agents in the Australian-China Society in Brisbane, none of whom were aware of the others. This came about because all four had been infiltrated into the CPA in Brisbane. The party had then selected them to join the small Australian-China Society branch and turn it into a party front. ASIO exfiltrated three of them to other tasks, taking the view that one agent was sufficient for promoting Australia-China friendship.

Mark Aarons is the son of one-time CPA president Laurie Aarons. Mark’s ASIO file started when he was thirteen, when cunning ASIO agents acquired his entry forms for the 100 and 220-yard races at a young communists’ sports carnival. By the time he finished high school in 1969, his file had reached 300 pages, and ASIO operators were conducting spoiling operations against his girlfriends.

I particularly like the way ASIO agents tripped up the CPA’s top-secret leadership school in the bush outside Sydney in 1958. The CPA was annoyed with ASIO’s penetration of its regular meeting places, and bought a property at Minto which it re-birthed as the “Bush Lovers Club” for revolutionaries revelling in Georges River eucalypts. ASIO kept a watching brief on the bush-lovers, who included at least one of their own agents. On a Sunday night, ASIO launched “Operation Black Snake” as a spoiler for an important Marx School seminar on the Monday public holiday.

Agents Ron Richards and Max Monkhouse drove to Minto with specially-prepared signage: “Communist Training School, 10 miles.” They attached these signs to existing street signs on the way in. ASIO telephone taps later found one party member congratulating Eric Aarons, then secretary of the CPA’s South Coast District, on this help with directions. Aarons was nonplussed and the member said, “It is very nice—nice big letters in black and white. The Main Roads put it up I think. It is very handy. I have been trying to find that place.” ASIO tipped off the press, but party president Richard Dixon denied all knowledge of bush-loving Marxists.

The clubhouse, still active in 1971, hosted a weekend conference of anarchists and libertarians. Fifteen of them, including one agent, arrived on Friday night. The agent reported superfluously that Paddy McGuinness (Quadrant editor, 1998 to 2008) was “a big drinker”. He added that the meals were the most “atrocious” he had ever eaten, being “frankfurts camouflaged in three different ways”. The agent continued, “Sex and drugs were blatantly displayed and there were rumours of quite a bit of swapping going on.”

These low-life episodes can be contrasted with a high-life one, or at least a potentially high-life one, from two decades earlier. It involved CPA secretary-general Lance Sharkey. Sharkey was a one-time lift-driver, short, scruffy, stodgy and unsociable. He rose through the CPA ranks before the Second World War as an ardent Stalinist and purveyor of mind-numbing communist dialectics, after occasional setbacks like being tossed into a creek by factory workers during a state election campaign.

While claiming, “We have no personal ties in the Communist Party,” he jostled with Sam Aarons for the hand and other parts of beautiful young member Esme Odgers. Not being a good loser, Sharkey forced her to publish a grovelling Soviet-style self-criticism for the romancing Aarons.

Sharkey would deliver anti-Semitic rants during rum-fuelled binges, which didn’t go down well with the Aarons clan, and at one large CPA gathering he fell on his face dead drunk. He generated his own personality cult, including such improbabilities as “temperate in his habits”.

Nonetheless, in the run-up to the young Queen Elizabeth’s 1954 Australian tour, there was press and ASIO speculation: Would Sharkey be given the opportunity to dance with the Queen at the Royal Ball at Sydney Town Hall? The speculation arose because in similar circumstances in London, the Queen had made a point of talking to communists. ASIO warned, “Possibly Communist leaders would like to meet the Queen in order to further their United Front policy.”

For his part, Sharkey did not want to don black-tie and quick-step with Her Majesty while making small talk about the class struggle and social fascists. Au contraire, he warned members to avoid the royal progress to avert any “red scare” stories in the press.

ASIO ran rings around Sharkey. On one occasion he flew to Canberra to pick up from the Soviet embassy some sensitive documents about the latest Soviet party congress. Two ASIO agents were at Sydney Airport’s carpark to tail him on his return. Sharkey drove off to the city but stopped at a betting shop to put some money on a horse. He left one car window slightly down and the agents used a wire to open the door and remove his briefcase with the documents. By day’s end the briefcase was at ASIO’s Melbourne headquarters and Sharkey was perplexed about what happened to it.

CPA security was often woeful. ASIO checked the garbage after one important party national congress and pieced together close to forty documents from scraps that delegates had torn up. Pat Clancy of the Building Workers Industrial Union left his conference notes in his unlocked car while he went to the pub. ASIO agent Ernie Redford nicked them, got them copied at Sydney headquarters and put them back in the car, with Clancy none the wiser.

An important ASIO target was Sharkey’s secretary Jessie Grant, who was also a central committee member. When ASIO noticed that she was drinking and playing darts regularly at a local hotel, it sought a “darts champion” among ASIO staff to insert at the hotel. While ASIO people had many talents, darts was not one of them and the plan had to be dropped.

I mentioned “Moscow gold” earlier. Happening to read Mark Aarons’s memoir The Family File the other day, even I was surprised at the extent of this gold, and its esoteric transmission routes.

In 1952 the CPA suggested to Vladimir Petrov that the Soviets donate US$140,000 (no harm in asking!). Moscow came good with US$25,000 a year later, partly in US$25 banknotes, Petrov told the 1954 Royal Commission on Espionage. Such $25 banknotes had never been printed but the Commissioners accepted that CPA boss Lance Sharkey got the US$25,000 from an embassy official.

In 1958 Laurie Aarons was in Moscow rattling the CPA can for more fraternal funding. “The Soviet comrades were rather bureaucratic and crude in their methods and I wasn’t impressed,” Aarons confided later. Early in 1959 he got a message to be at his Fairfield home at a certain day and time, Laurie’s son Mark Aarons says. The house had a tall paling back fence with double gates and through them came a car that pulled up in the backyard. Out came a Romanian with a suitcase. He went inside with Laurie and they pointedly shut the door. But the handover hit a snag: the suitcase was full of bank­notes, but they were all five-pound sterling notes, almost impossible to change to Australian money. Laurie had to send them back. Eventually a suitcase arrived with Australian pounds. In that year the Soviets paid over $US112,000, a hefty AU£45,000 equivalent.

The Soviets’ golden showers continued in 1961 (either US$168,000 or US$180,000), 1963 (US$80,000) and 1966 (US$130,000). In 1967, Laurie Aarons wheedled a further large sum out of Moscow, despite knowing that the CPA was about to publish criticisms of the Soviet line on the Czechs. “I suppose you could say it [getting the money] was a rather reprehensible thing to do,” he said later, “but frankly I’m proud of it.” The money helped buy the CPA a new national headquarters in Day Street, Sydney. When the pro-Soviets in the CPA split to form the Socialist Party of Australia in 1971, Moscow sent the SPA US$40,000 via the Romanians.

The Chinese chipped in later with a slush fund for their own Australian followers, involving $60,000 in used Australian notes.

In Life of Brian, you can enjoy the sniping among the various Judean People’s Fronts. The spoof hardly touches the sides compared with the real-world Australian communists. Numbering some 3000 in 1980, they had split into eight camps—two in the mainstream, two pro-Soviet, two pro-Beijing, one ultra-Left group of young radicals and a breakaway among the Stalinists.

It was hard for ASIO people in a small city like Canberra to maintain their cover stories about who they worked for. One section’s officers were young, had money and drove nice cars, and neighbours were convinced they were a clandestine group of homosexuals.

Worried about its image, ASIO in 1959 fantasised about a television fiction series starring one of its own as an antipodean James Bond. In at least one respect, sex obsession, ASIO’s later director-general Peter Barbour (1970–75) fitted the Bond mould. According to Molly Sasson, long-time UK and Australian intelligence agent:

He was a tall male with heavy-lidded eyes behind horn-rimmed glasses, often described as having “bedroom eyes”. His conduct did not befit his position. He certainly was not the gentleman that his high office demanded. He was a creepy individual whom I instinctively avoided … He was a very complex character with airs and affairs. He betrayed his office by chronic mismanagement and exploitation of his position for sexual favours. He had a voracious sexual appetite which offended many people’s moral and professional perceptions …

Whitlam sacked Barbour after Barbour returned from a lengthy but unproductive overseas trip reviewing counterpart agencies, accompanied by his beautiful Eurasian secretary.

CPA offices had their own share of pheromones. Perth’s CPA headquarters in London Court had a “Marx & Boon” or maybe “50 Shades of Red” quality. Sam Aarons arrived in Perth as new state boss around 1948, under yet another cloud in the Party over an affair with a young married woman. “I find him totally irresistible,” wrote playwright and party worker Dorothy Hewett:

A passionate, highly intelligent, charismatic man with a glamorous history … He bends me back on the desk in his office, but before we can consummate our affair we are interrupted by the old Party caretaker, locking up for the night.

Sam tells her, “Sharkey has already told me that if there’s any more gossip about me and other women, I’ll be on the outer. He’s had it in for me ever since I stole his girlfriend in Spain.”

Dorothy and Sam lived in a ménage à trois with Sam’s unwitting wife, until Dorothy found another lover while Sam was on Party business in the eastern states.

Molly Sasson worked for ASIO from 1969 to 1983. She arrived to find Canberra headquarters infested with public service sloths in an ambience of complacency, unawareness, inefficiency, indiscipline and incompetence.

Long lunches were followed by afternoon snoozes until knock-off time. Vital intelligence was tossed straight into unlocked drawers and left there for months. Her suggestions for anti-espionage activity were brushed aside as make-work.

One new recruit was an enthusiastic ex-RAAF wing commander. Sasson gave him the job of delivering a highly secret tape in a box to another department. She watched him from the sixth floor dashing to his car, but the tape fell out of the box onto the road. She got the doorman to collect the tape and the wing commander didn’t return till next morning, sheepish and apologetic about losing the tape:

Flying aeroplanes had been his business, distinctly different from this office where very little moved at all. After this episode, some of his eagerness disappeared and he reverted to reading the newspaper in the office, drinking coffee and doing crosswords before lunch. He kept well out of the way of anybody who was likely to give him a job. He had understood it was the safest way to get ahead without upsetting anyone. This was the way to get promoted.

Sasson’s reference to ASIO drawers full of neglected intelligence had its counterpart at Communist Party headquarters in Melbourne. The Party’s captain of security was its control commission leg-man Ernie O’Sullivan, a shuffling snoop who was dedicated, ignorant and paranoid. Like a toothless version of Stalin’s “bloody dwarf”, the later-executed Yezhov, O’Sullivan scribbled semi-literate “unmaskings” of loyal Party members accusing them of being spies and wreckers.

One weekend O’Sullivan, on orders from chairman Ted Hill, came in and removed 100 drawers from party workers’ desks, to check for security breaches. He parked twenty of the bulky drawers at the Surrey Hills home of CPA executive Bernie Taft, and to this day no one knows where the other drawers went. Party workers arrived on Monday and mourned their lost drawers. Over the years, observant visitors wondered why the party’s desks were all drawerless. Bernie Taft, a one-time state executive member, writes: “I suppose O’Sullivan must have thought that, after the revolution, which he confidently expected, he might be able to put the drawers back in our desks.”

Among Party people in the Victorian branch, perhaps the most heroic was the wife of Bernard Heinz Jr (Heinz Sr was assistant secretary with the Building Workers Industrial Union).

The Party in the early 1950s decided to create, yet again, a secret wing that could carry on if the Party got banned. Bernard was nominated to become a “sleeper”. He had to resign from the Party and cut links with all his leftist friends. What’s more, he was told to accommodate a senior Party sleeper plus a printing press in an underground bunker at his suburban home in outer-eastern Melbourne, where he had just settled in with his new wife. The project meant laying a concrete slab and then digging a big hole below for the literally underground operations.

Initially, Party members dropped by to assist in the dig. But not all the workers’ friends have horny hands, and soon Bernard was left to dig unaided. He dug till the 1970s but his important guest and the printing press never turned up.

This was all very well for Bernard and the Party, but what about Mrs Heinz? Did she mind? Apparently, she never complained, at least officially.

A touch of paranoia in Party offices was understandable, given ASIO’s constant bugging and occasional raids in quest of documents. Similarly, some ASIO paranoia was understandable given Ted Hill’s advocacy of caches of buried weapons, armed struggle and protracted guerrilla warfare in the jungles of northern Australia (wherever such “jungles” may be).

The ninth-floor CPA (Vic) headquarters had a drama in 1952 when Hill pressed an alarm button to signal all rooms that an ASIO raid had started. State President Ralph Gibson emptied his person of all useful documents, and ate them. Party functionary Gwladys Bourke could not work out how to get rid of her sensitive financial records. She prepared to dive out the ninth-floor window with them, a human sacrifice to the betterment of the working class. Just in time, she discovered from Hill that the alarm was only a test.

ASIO bugged Hill’s office and in 1956 leased an office on the eighth floor as a listening post for a husband-and-wife team. This office was disguised as a “market research business”. The bogus firm wrote sheafs of letters to overseas suppliers purely to get letters back that would be noticed by the ninth-floor dwellers. Rather cleverly, ASIO technicians made the cable from the ninth floor to the eighth floor twice as long as required. The ASIO woman was listening in when the line went dead because Hill’s people had discovered it, and she had the presence of mind to disconnect the cable and drop it down the wall cavity. The communists measured the cable and deduced that it went to a firm of investigators on the seventh floor. They not only accused the people there of being ASIO agents, but outed the firm in the party newspaper Tribune. ASIO’s “marketing firm” on the eighth floor continued for a couple of months and then quietly closed down.

ASIO’s snoopy coups against Ted Hill were often ingenious, not to mention illegal. In 1972, for example, ASIO specialists created a duplicate secret key to the Melbourne offices of an accounting firm, W. Alexander Boag, in Goodwin Chambers, Flinders Lane. ASIO was then able to enter secretly at will for the next eighteen months to photograph Hill’s tax and financial records. To aid the exercise, ASIO set up an office on the same floor for a front company, Kalamunda Mineral Reserves.

Not all bugging went smoothly. In late 1960, ASIO bugged the home of two of its main agents in the CPA in Sydney, in the hope of listening in to social conversations there with CPA leaders. There was a microphone in the lounge room wired to a tape recorder in a cardboard box under a workbench in the garage. But as David Horner puts it in Volume One of ASIO’s history:

Unfortunately, dogs destroyed the wires that ran under the house, rats chewed the tape in the garage, wood shavings fell from the workbench onto the recorder, and the fluorescent light in the lounge room interfered with the recording. Nothing of intelligence value was gained …

ASIO never lacked ingenuity. For example, it needed covert photos of communists among Labour Day marchers in Brisbane, but its subjects were facing the wrong way from the camera post. On a pre-arranged signal, an ASIO officer lit a big cracker behind the crowd. All heads turned towards the bang, and the cameramen got their snaps.

ASIO ranks were not solidly conservative. At least one ASIO officer bravely joined the Vietnam Moratorium march in Adelaide in 1970 as a supporter rather than an agent. Instead of getting into trouble, he got knowing looks from the special branch police, who assumed he was “on the job”.

One of ASIO’s constant problems was agents’ expense claims. Its all-time prolific plant was Czech immigrant Max Wechsler (code-named Bosch), who generated 702 reports from 1973 to 1975, meeting his handlers initially thrice-weekly and then every weekday. He passed through communist and Trotskyist security barriers as if they didn’t exist. On February 21, 1973, according to historian Dr Phil Deery, during a single day, Wechsler, then twenty-three, applied to join the CPA, was accepted and was given the task of answering the phone on behalf of Party president John Sendy. Wechsler also acquired the part-time job of cleaner for the Party offices. Penetration doesn’t get any better than that.

However, ASIO had failed to notice that Wechsler’s wife in 1972 had been convicted in Brisbane on thirteen forgery and theft charges as a result of her infatuation with slow horses. Wechsler successfully conned ASIO into lending him $300 in June 1973 to buy a motorbike “to improve his agent role”, but he sold the bike for $200 in a fit of desperation over his wife’s continued losses.

His ASIO pay within two years shot from $10 a month (plus expenses) to $90. He was living better than he should as the Party’s cleaner on $18 a week, and ASIO had to tell him to stop taking taxis. He was also instructed, being “impoverished”, to badger the Party for a pay rise. At one point the ASIO Assistant Director-General noted: “This file is becoming cluttered up with the financial dealings with [Wechsler]. I thought that when the last request was made, this would be the end.”

Wechsler eventually turned rogue and in 1975 sold the story of his exploits to the Sunday Observer for $2000. The newspaper made the mistake of hiding Wechsler at the Wrest Point hotel and casino, where he went on a further spending and gambling binge at the newspaper’s expense.

Wechsler was not the only Eastern Bloc ASIO recruit with personality problems. In 1960 Dezio Rapaics, a former Hungarian general, demanded to see Lord Casey, who had just retired as Minister for External Affairs. The ASIO man present reported that General Rapaics virulently attacked the security service because one of its members had called him a “chap”. “I am not a chap,” Rapaics protested to Casey. “I am a Knight and a General, and I come from aristocracy. I am a member of the Liberal Party in your [Casey’s] district—you know my son-in-law …”

Party membership did not preclude people from becoming part of the establishment. George Zangalis was a full-time organiser for the CPA from 1961 to 1969, then a central committee member, CPA candidate for Brunswick in the 1973 state elections, and president of the communist-controlled Railways Union. With such a background, he was selected in the early 1980s for the ABC’s State and National Advisory Councils and the SBS Board. “Choosing Zangalis for the national council was a sign that the new board wanted to cast its net wide in the search for counsel from the ABC’s audience,” Ken Inglis wrote in Whose ABC?

Zangalis in his early years with the Party was nearly undone by a spelling mistake. He recalled painting “Out with Fascism” signs one night in 1950 on the Russell Street walls of the Queen Victoria Women’s Hospital in Melbourne. “We did the job all right, we thought, but when looking back we realised we had left the ‘c’ out of ‘fascism’. We rushed back to correct it and the cops promptly got us, brushes, paints and all.”

Quadrant readers like a happy ending, and I can supply one from Mark Aarons’s Family File. In 1988, when the CPA/ASIO struggles were over, Laurie Aarons got a friendly “Dear Laurie” letter from his ASIO opposite number, former head of counter-espionage Michael Thwaites:

You may be surprised to hear from me, in view of our former occupations. But I recently heard your interesting interview with Caroline Jones in the ABC series The Search for Meaning, and found myself in agreement with much of what you had to say. Your rejection of a society in which money becomes the measure of all things, is particularly timely. The book which you said you are writing could be a valuable contribution just now … A change in human motivation seems to be the need everywhere. Good luck with your book.

Thwaites’s son Richard confirmed to Mark Aarons in 2009 that he had read Laurie’s reply to Richard’s late father: “I was quite moved by it, knowing the sincere beliefs that had divided our respective fathers along ideological lines, while they shared similar underlying hopes for humanity …”

Tony Thomas includes many Quadrant essays on the Cold War in his book That’s Debatable: 60 Years in Print (Connor Court, 2016).


Quick-draw capers at a 1960s H-bomber base




RAF electrician Kevin Durney at the height of the Cold War used to work, eat and sleep in one-week stretches alongside two Canberra bombers, each loaded with a 1 megatonne American H-bomb. The planes were ready to go at 15 minutes’ notice.

He and his older brother Blaise were at the RAF’s 3 Squadron base at Geilenkirchen near the Dutch border. Kevin, now 73, did aircraft electrics there from 1963-66; Blaise 76, did ground electrics like equipment and runway lights (1962-65).

They’re both retired, Kevin in Perth and Blaise at Gowanbrae Retirement Village near Essendon. I got their story because Blaise and I play social tennis nearby.

The Canberras were kept under adjoining     huts like carports. “The   B28 H-bomb filled the bomb bay. We could see the lower fin sticking out,” says Kevin. “Only the Americans   had the code to arm them.”

Ten other Canberras   in the squadron could in theory be loaded with an H-bomb within half an hour.   During the Cuban crisis in October 1962, the regimental sergeant mustered the men. “He was 6ft six and he had a handlebar moustache and he could throw his voice right across the parade ground.   He told us, “All right you horrible lot! The VIPS are in their underground bunkers. You lot are unimportant. At any moment the Russians may lob   missiles on this base. You will get no notice or chance to say goodbye to your families. You will all be dead.” Blaise says he was annoyed because erks like himself had done all the electrical servicing of the equipment down below. The briefing didn’t improve morale, but the sergeant was just being realistic.


Did they worry about the H-bombs? “Never gave it a second thought,” the pair agreed.   Kevin: “We were about 21. We just had a great time, the best time of our lives.”

Blaise adds, “Of course, we remember the good times, not so much the RAF crap we had to put up with.”


Kevin’s real fear concerned the pairs of American guards, called “Custodians”, who guarded the   H-bomb on each   Canberra.

The Custodians rotated in four-hour shifts. There was a painted white line at the entry to the   bombers’ huts. This marked the “No Lone Zone” boundary, meaning no single person could cross. If one did, the Custodians would use their     sub-machine gun. Pairs of base workers could cross, but the guards would follow one pace behind.

The brothers agreed, “Those guys were crazy!”   Bored and getting through piles of Playboys, the guards played a little game while doing escorts. They wore a loaded pistol on each hip, a la General Patton, in specially cut-down holsters. They practiced quick-draws on their escortees, making Kevin   sweat. “At Brugges   base near us, we heard they killed one of their own guys,” he says.

“During alerts we’d be issued with .303s to protect the base, but the magazine was bandaged with Sellotape. It would have taken   us five minutes to unwrap the bullets.”




The base’s three squadron commanders each happened to have female sounding names—Carroll, Adrian and Jean. Blaise says, “At monthly parades they’d greet each other with upright swords, ‘Hello Carroll!’ ‘Good morning, Jean!’ and we’d snicker. They never understood why.

“We hated Carroll, he was so vain. He had a little dog called Dudley. Dudley had a hard time because any chance we got, we’d give him a kick up the arse.”

One time Albert, one of our dog handlers, stopped Carroll for ID when he was walking down the tarmac smoking a pipe. “God man! Don’t you know me? All those planes are mine!” Carroll said.

Albert: “Sorry, you’ll have to get in the Landrover and I’ll take you for identification.’ Carroll went to get in the front seat and the German Shepherd was already there and went ‘Grr!’ at him, and made him leap into the back seat. Albert drove him to the flying officers’ blockhouse which was a shambles – they were all fed up and boozing. They leapt up as if they were spring-loaded.

“Tell this blithering idiot who I am!”

“Sorry sir, you had no ID. I was just doing my duty.”
“Corporal, if my men can be half as efficient as you are, I’ll have a good squadron, but don’t you ever cross me again!”


Blaise’s wife Shirley was also on the base, working as assistant to the commander and with a higher security clearance than Blaise. She knew when there would be a practice alert; he didn’t. He might propose a romantic dinner out followed by the movies and she would go along with it, although aware of an alert scheduled for 8.30pm. However, Blaise says the Germans on the base somehow always got wind about the alerts and would   tip him off.




The Canberra’s huts were next to an entry guardhouse, a blockhouse for crew living quarters , and a surrounding pair of fences, with guard dogs trained to lope around between the fences. The inner one was electrified.

The area was floodlit all night. Ground crews lived on-call in the blockhouse for 7 days straight, waiting for an alert. “We played cards and did silly things. Our sport was indoor croquet,” Kevin says.

When a “Quick Readiness Alert” siren went off, ground crew would plug in the auxiliary starters, take the chocks away, and the planes would taxi 20m to the first runway gate. Kevin says, “I’d go out under escort with my key and   open it. The plane would then sit between the gates idling. We knew that if someone else got the call to open the second gate, it was for real. We were always told to ‘stand-down’, then the Canberras got towed back.”


The real thing would be a suicide mission for the pilots, because the H-blast would take the Canberra down with it. Kevin says, “They were supposed to use LABS – low altitude bombing system – flying in really low, and spiralling upwards at the target. A ram would push the bomb out sideways and they’d roll over and try to race away from the shock wave.”

“For practice, our other ten Canberras would suddenly come down the strip and get ready to be loaded up with H-bombs from the armoury. Each bomb weighed about a tonne.”

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) had a line of bases from Turkey through Italy and France all the way up to Norway.

We were just one British base. The other four were Wildenrath, Laarbruch, Bruggen, and Gutersloh, the   same as ours, a couple of hundred miles away.   And this was just the Brits. The Germans, the Italians, the Belgians, the Dutch, six squadrons of Canadians, even the Greeks, they all had planes on alert with the American H-bombs. The French had the same deal   but de Gaulle later told the Americans   to get all troops off French soil forthwith.” [Secretary of State Dean Rusk made the famous reply, ‘”Does your order include the bodies of American soldiers in France’s cemeteries?”].

Blaise says, “The aircraft of the NATO countries would often drop in on our base. They were all compatible so I knew what to expect regarding power supplies, servicing, fuels and so on.”



Both NATO and the Soviets   teased each other with overflights,   monitoring fighter responses, Kevin says. “Near us we had some little Pembroke twin-engine prop planes. They would cut an engine and accidentally wander into East German space taking photos. A couple of fighters would arrive and the pilot would re-start the engine and scamper back.”

The base had 12 Canberras (3 Squadron) and two squadrons (5 & 11) of Gloster Javelins, 24 delta-winged fighters billed as “all-weather interceptors”. In reality, they were the biggest rubbish in British aviation – in heavy rain they couldn’t even take off, Blaise says. “Our response time was   pathetic, but the Americans were   right on the ball.”

One morning a Javelin ran off the runway on landing, skidded through the crash barriers and up-ended itself on the Dutch side of the border – while carrying a full load of live missiles. The two crew escaped with bruises and Dutch civilians took them to a pub and they were having their first drink to settle their shaky nerves. Two Dutch customs officials suddenly arrived (this was before the Common Market) and demanded, “Have you any goods to declare?” Blaise says they might at least have asked if the airmen wanted a doctor.

Blaise often had to go out in bad weather to fix floodlights and runway lights. “In one blizzard the two guards didn’t want to go out with me, so they said to their German Shepherd, ‘Go boy!’ and he escorted me instead. I was crouching down trying to get the waterproof cover off, with my torch in my mouth. My British woolen gloves were useless and my fingers were frozen. All the time, this dog was inches from my face snarling at me.”


Blaise’s tales usually have a wry twist. He says there were always special days at the bases where top NATO brass would drop in and get a parade, aerobatics and fly-past. “At an American base near Frankfurt one time, a big NATO delegation arrived and they had more gold on their sleeves than at Fort Knox. They were put with their women-folk in the viewing stands with top ranks in the best rows. During the aerobatics a Super Sabre crashed and there were bits of it flying everywhere. The top brass trampled over the womenfolk in the panic to get out of the stands.”


The Yanks were on a dream wicket in Germany. Kevin says. “Their pay was double ours, they got cheap tickets for Paris nightlife,   they could buy cars not just duty-free and discounted but flown over free.   Their camps had bowling alleys, movie theatres, dance halls that converted to ice rinks. Back in the States they’d be worse off so lots volunteered to stay in Germany for extra terms.

Blaise: “Brits’ conditions were really poor. If you got sent home injured, there’d be raffles and charity drives to look after you. The idea was that you’d been privileged to serve Queen and Country.”

Of course, the Brits in turn were far better off than the Soviet forces across the   border in East Germany freezing in their trenches, ice and slush, he adds.



After 10 years with the RAF, Kevin eventually ran his own successful business KD Instruments in Perth, and retired in 2001.  Blaise came to Australia in 1967 and served 21 more years with the RAAF Reserve

Australia taught them the folly of British class distinctions. Kevin: “RAF officers and men didn’t mix, we lived in parallel worlds. At one base, officers in chairs would watch a film while we had to watch it in reverse from the back of the screen.”

They kept these distinctions up even after they left the RAF. Blaise went back for a Battle of Britain anniversary four years ago, and at the Duxford air museum when they found he’d been a flight sergeant, they took him into a volunteers’ lounge room exclusive to former sergeants and warrant officers. “In Oz they never kept up such distinctions,” he says.

The British left   Geilenkirchen in 1968 and the Germans converted it for Pershing theatre nuclear missiles, again with the US controlling the warheads. Today the base runs early-warning (AWACS) aircraft. The Cold War is long over, but the US still has about 500 nuclear bombs in Western Europe.

Stalin’s Lost Sparrow

Stalin’s dissident daughter might well have found sanctuary in Australia. Instead, it was a publisher’s rich advance that drew her to the US, where she eluded the same Soviet gorilla who tried to bundle Mrs Petrov back to Moscow, but never the curse of her father’s infamy

svetlana and pop IIIIn the comedy Children of the Revolution (1996) Judy Davis’s character bonks Joe Stalin in the 1950s and their  love child, Joe, gains a career in the Australian police union. In the real world Australia came quite close to adopting Stalin’s daughter, Svetlana, as a political refugee in 1967. Svetlana, then 41, was an unwelcome arrival by taxi at the US Embassy in New Delhi, demanding asylum. The US was trying to mend fences with the USSR, and Washington wanted her thrown back to the unforgiving Soviets.   

Too late, they were told: she was already on Qantas to Rome.  Actually, the flight had been delayed two hours and Svetlana was still in the departure lounge. The sequel is laconically described in John Blaxland’s  “The Protest Years: The Official History of ASIO” (Vol 2, 1963-75), published last October.

Occasionally ASIO was approached by the Americans to consider resettling defectors.  Generally, the Australian Government looked favourably on requests to resettle such people but there were instances when it objected. 

In 1967, for example, the Americans approached [ASIO director-general Charles] Spry to see if Australia would be prepared to grant asylum to Svetlana Iosifovna Stalin, the daughter of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.  Spry advised the Minister for External Affairs, Sir Paul Hasluck, and the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department, John Bunting, that a number of factors had to be taken into consideration before agreeing to the request, although  ‘the difficulties  of looking after her would not be insuperable’. Australia had plenty of experience looking after the Petrovs. 

Hasluck acknowledged that the principal argument in favour  of granting the request was ‘to please the Americans’, but believed that acceding to the request would have significant repercussions on relations with the Soviet Union and South-East Asian countries. Hasluck saw more disadvantages than advantages, and Prime Minister Holt agreed. In the end, soon afterwards, she settled in the United States. 

Svetlana defected on March 6, 1967. The flurry of memos began when Svetlana was holed up in secrecy and stateless in Rome. New Zealand  turned down a concurrent US request to take her. South Africa offered residence but she refused. Moving on to Switzerland, she had a US-organised disguise  as “Fraulein  Carlen”, an Irish tourist. The cover was so weak that an ex-Soviet circus performer, now an Australian citizen, mailed her a marriage proposal.

petrov mrsSvetlana made it to New York on a six-month tourist visa. She’d been hiding  her manuscript   Twenty Letters to a Friend and a US publisher offered $US1.5 million for the rights. This windfall meant she needed no official subsidies and could enter and live in the US as a  private citizen.

Australian connections keep popping up. When Vladimir Petrov defected in 1954, two burly Soviet agents at Mascot frogmarched Mrs Petrov onto a plane to Moscow. In the famous tarmac photo, one Soviet minder was unidentified; the other was burly, moustachioed Vasily Stanko (on the right).

The day before  Svetlana made it to New York, the same Vasily Stanko also arrived, as “a chauffeur” with the Soviet Mission to the UN.  Svetlana’s entourage hastily hired six minders from the Fidelity Detective Bureau. tanko’s failure to, presumably, effect her return to Moscow had repercussions. Brezhnev fired KGB chairman Vladimir Semichastny three weeks later, and replaced him with Yuri Andropov, the next Soviet leader.

Svetlana and her brother, Vasya, were the offspring of Stalin’s second marriage, to Nadya Alliluyeva, who shot herself  in 1932 after a dinner-party row when Stalin flirtatiously threw bread rolls at her romantic rival.  Svetlana was only six.

Stalin’s son by his  first marriage, Yakov, surrendered or was captured by the Germans within days of being sent to the Smolensk front in 1941. Stalin in 1943 refused to exchange him for Stalingrad’s Field Marshal Paulus. Yakov suicided or was shot by guards at Sachsenhausen.

svetlana with pop IIStalin had an often affectionate relationship with his “little sparrow”. All the same, he wiped out most of her mother’s kin in purges.  Not many girls grow up with the mass murderer of their own family. Svetlana married four times. Her love life began badly with her teen crush getting ten years in the gulag.

Marriage #1 to Jewish fellow student Grigori Morozov lasted three years. Stalin pushed her into marriage #2  to Yuri Zhdanov, son of Stalin’s offsider, Andrei Zhdanov. The latter’s alcohol-fuelled demise became Stalin’s pretext for the post-war “Doctor’s Plot” pogrom. Yuri himself got into trouble with Stalin by criticising the crackpot genetics of Trofim Lysenko, but grovelled his way to safety. In 1962 Svetlana briefly married Johnik Svanidze, raised in an orphanage for children of executed parents.

From her teens she was disgusted with Soviet brutality and conformity, and in 1966, shortly before her defection, openly supported the dissident writer (and one-night lover) Andrei  Sinyavsky, who got seven years hard labor.

Her defection arose because of her de facto marriage in Moscow to Brajesh Singh , the son of the rajah of Kalakankah in Uttar Pradesh. They met when both were hospitalised in Moscow, but permission to marry was refused. When Singh died in 1967, the regime  allowed Svetlana to go to India to scatter his ashes in the Ganges. She seriously overstayed her visa, and then tricked her minders into giving her back her passport, skipping to the US Embassy. She abandoned a son, then 22, and daughter, 17 in Russia.

In the US, Svetlana denounced her late father as “a moral and spiritual monster” and likened the KGB to the Gestapo.

svetlana ancientIn 1970 she made her fourth   marriage to architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s  associate (and ex-son-in-law) Wesley Peters. The three-week courtship was orchestrated by Lloyd Wright’s widow, Olgivanna, who had a nose for Svetlana’s royalties fortune.  The pair had a daughter, Olga, before divorcing.

In 1984, when  Olga was 13, Svetlana  (now known as Lana Peters)  decided to rejoin her adult offspring in Russia. In Moscow she denounced the tyrannical West. She regained Soviet citizenship but, amazingly, was allowed to return to the US in 1986, and died a recluse in Wisconsin in 2011, not long after the photo at right was taken.

She had a distinguished career as writer and translator, despite her unfortunate paternity. In a rare late interview, she said of Stalin, “He broke my life.  Wherever I go — here, or Switzerland, or India, or wherever, Australia, some island — I will always be a political prisoner of my father’s name.”

author’s note: Rosemary Sullivan’s excellent 700-page biography Stalin’s Daughter (Fourth Estate, 2015) is the source for many of these details. Svetlana’s reference to Australia is in the book’s first paragraph.

Australia’s (almost) Civil War – Part 1

Australia’s Civil War, Almost

by Tony Thomas

October 15, 2012

Last June I did a tour of the Gettysburg battlefield, marveling that such fratricidal slaughter had taken place on those now-tranquil   Pennsylvanian paddocks. “Could a civil war ever have occurred in Australia?” I mused. “Unthinkable!”

However, the question nagged, and later I re-visited a passage in the memoirs of ex-WA Premier Sir Charles Court, a war-time Lt-Colonel.[1] He writes of the late 1940s:

“The Communist Party in Australia was strong, having built up tremendously during the war. A great number of men and women throughout Australia who had held positions in the armed forces and had the training, experience and understanding of what subversive elements meant, were very concerned that the Communist Party was seeking to undermine the elected government.

A group of us came together. Most of us were politically conservative, but we were just as determined to do what we could to protect Ben Chifley as the elected Prime Minister as we would have been had it been Menzies…

There were kindred groups in other States. We had clandestine meetings with people who were prepared to go to extreme lengths to defeat the Communists. We had reason to believe that Chifley knew what was going on and did nothing to stop our covert activities. In fact it was reported to us that he said, ‘You know I can’t condone it, but don’t stop it’…

Not all the people concerned about Communism were from the forces. Some were senior in industry and commerce and hadn’t been able to go to the war. There were no paid positions. It was a watchdog type of organization to make it clear that if the Communists moved in any way to upset the elected government, there were plenty of people in Australia who would be prepared to go to the barricades to defend the right of the elected government to govern.”[2]

This passage is elliptical, as if Charlie couldn’t decide how much to disclose or to conceal. In fact, he was one member of a secret force called The Association, put at 100,000 to even 130,000 men. The WA troop was led by Brigadier Eric McKenzie, concurrently WA’s Chief Scout (Motto: Be Prepared).[3]

Was that national stand-off the civil war we almost had? I next came across this pregnant paragraph in Dr Frank Cain’s “Terrorism & Intelligence”:

“On the day immediately following the passing of the [Communist Party] Dissolution Act…Menzies ordered the establishment of a secret organization under military command, identified by the code name “Alien”, which would rally mainly civilian forces to counter the effects of possible industrial actions and demonstrations in protest against the banning legislation.…”[4]

Curiouser and curiouser! Was there not just one secret army tolerated by Chifley, but another formally established by Menzies? Secret armies are, well, secret, so confusion is understandable.

As background to all this, Communist general secretary Lance Sharkey in March, 1949, had affirmed his support for any Soviet invaders of Australia; the Soviets exploded their first A-bomb in August, 1949; North Korea invaded South Korea in June, 1950; and in March, 1951 Menzies was warning the electorate that Australia had less than three years to prepare for World War III. 

The point of the secrecy about the “armies” was to conceal from the Communists the opposing strength in planning, manpower, money, armaments including machine-guns, and leadership. Some indecent exposure occurred when William Morrow (Lab, Tas) rose in the Senate in June, 1950, to denounce a subversive and fascist secret group called “The Association”. He said it had bought a large number of .303  rifles, and he correctly named Brigadier Frederick Hinton  as a leader. Hinton adroitly denied involvement in “fascist” activities.[5]

Even now, be careful what you say. A newspaper in 1989 paid up for defamation over an article on The Association. This brave article tries (Part 1) to elucidate “The Association”, and then (Part 2) to look at Operation Alien and other plans to defeat red “fifth-columnists”.

Far from being unusual, secret right-wing armies have been part of the Australian landscape since 1910. The closest we came to a pre-war civil war was in May, 1932, when the Old Guard of anti-Bolshevists was within 24 hours of ordering its 30,000 members onto the streets.[6] This right-wing insurrection was headed off when Governor Sir Philip Game dismissed NSW Labor Premier Jack Lang and his ministers. (The New Guard was a 1931 breakaway from the long-standing Old Guard. In contrast, the New Guard gave little care to secrecy and hence is better known, especially after Captain de Groot’s swording of the Harbour Bridge ribbon in 1932).


Part Two: “Operation Alien” and internment camps for Communists

Post-war, General (later Field Marshal) Blamey was titular head of the revived right-wing army, The Association. When he fell terminally ill in 1950 Lt-General Sir Leslie Morshead, hero of Tobruk and second-Alamein, took charge of it.

According to historian Associate Professor Andrew Moore (University of Western Sydney), the Chifley government’s Commonwealth Investigation Service (CIS), viewed The Association as a potential threat to the Labor government.

The Association’s credo was honour the King, uphold the Constitution, and resist regimentation of the individual. But the CIS reported that there were some “real Nazis” within The Association’s ranks who were “prepared for any sort of ‘putsch’”[7]

Charles Spry, later head of ASIO, told Blamey biographer John Hetherington privately: “I tremble to think what would have happened in a crisis when I think of some of the odd people in it.”[8]

The CIS, according to another Blamey biographer David Horner, said The Association had up to 73,000 men in Victoria, 55,000 in NSW and 1,000 in SA. Its chief of staff was Major-General Colin Simpson. Other leaders included Brigadier Hinton (NSW); Colonel Charles Withy (Qld); and Lt-Col Alexander Pope (SA) All were retired officers.[9]

Blamey got the Queensland wing going while ostensibly on a fishing trip there in 1948. It may even have had a Ladies Auxiliary. A somewhat over-excited CIS official reported that Blamey believed there were 200 Communist military officers in Australia backed by trained saboteurs. There were also, supposedly, two divisions of Sukarno’s fully-equipped Indonesians ready to invade on 24-hours notice in support of an uprising.[10]

Hetherington lamented that his account is largely hearsay because the movement took care to not write anything down. Even its emergency battle orders were verbal and memorized. 

Hetherington says “The Association”, also known as “The White Army”, had peak strength at 100,000 war veterans, including blue-collar and Labor men. They were prepared to hold the line against any coup d’etat by Communist irregulars, pending counter-attack by the slower-moving constitutional forces. Serving officers were excluded, but army intelligence was well aware of what was going on.

Administration devolved to State and then area and sub-area commands or secret cells, such that meetings were generally kept under 20 men. Even then, they parked their cars in scattered places and walked to their venue. Senior officers did not know their opposite numbers in other States, although they had the “keys” to communication channels in any emergency.[11] (This may explain Charlie Court’s vagueness in his account).

Blamey’s rationale was that a red uprising would come in the wake of a general strike, coupled with a Red threat to vital community services. The “White Army” would be sworn-in at short notice as special constables and then counter-attack. Prime targets for both sides would be traffic junctions, water channels, bridges, power pylons, fuel stores, phone and telegraph stations, arms stores including gun retailers, and newspaper offices.

“Well-trained combat teams would use all necessary force. Many of the members had rifles and shotguns, and knew they could get more firearms, including machine-guns if necessary,” Hetherington wrote.[12] Others would make do with pick-handles. Each man could respond to the command within minutes, knowing exactly what to do and where to go.

Hetherington’s view was that the “army” originated from a conversation in about 1947 between Blamey and Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Sir Raymond Connelly about the Communist threat. Blamey said he was hamstrung by lack of funds; Connelly then did a whip-round among wealthy businessmen and community leaders to produce the funding. (Dr Andrew Moore of University of Western Sydney puts the funding at 100,000 pounds, an astounding amount in 1949).[13]

Blamey’s job was to be top planner and also to satisfy members that their army was not a rightist subversive plot to seize power, Hetherington said.

According to historian Moore, the Communist-backed coal strike in June, 1949, brought The Association to the brink of mobilization. Brigadier Hinton was initially cool-headed, but within days was acting as though a red coup was imminent. Instructions went out to engineer battalions to safeguard infrastructure such as water and sewerage, and create barricades, trenches and barbed-wire barriers. Explosives, gelignite, and detonators were to be furnished. In the event of casualties, named replacement leaders were to be installed.

Hinton then visited the NSW Police Commissioner, Scott ‘Nugget’ MacKay, and NSW special branch chief Len Jones to inform them that The Association would be mobilizing in two days.

Jones told Hinton to calm down as there was no evidence from agents within the Communist cells that an insurrection was pending. Hinton on June 29 backtracked and told his paramilitaries to stay quiet and beware of provocations. The same day, Chifley legislated his draconian response “Operation Kangaroo” against the striking miners. On August 1 regular troops began work in NSW open cuts.[14]

Moore wonders if Chifley’s response might have been related to The Association’s latent threats. The head of the Commonwealth Department of Transport, A.W.Paul, had gone to great lengths to warn Chifley personally of a planned paramilitary or ‘fascist’ takeover of infrastructure and possibly, of power.[15] Chifley himself has left no records of his private thoughts on his coal-strike intervention

On The Association’s origins, Moore’s view, based partly on a cache of Brigadier Hinton’s documents that he discovered in western NSW, is that The Association was largely a re-birth from 1947 of the 1930s “Old Guard” paramilitaries of the 1930s. The Old Guard, like The Association, was led by Generals Blamey and Simpson (Vic) and Hinton (NSW). Former members, and sometimes their sons, were re-mobilised as leaders.[16]

Moore also cites a CIS report claiming The Association was set up after Blamey had watched a group of 8,000 unionists moving off efficiently in 30 minutes. Blamey then wondered at the unionists’ efficiency were they were fully armed: they could defeat the regular forces, the CIS report said.

Yet another CIS theory was that The Association was the antipodean spawn of a meeting of imperial defence chiefs in 1946, headed by Field Marshal Montgomery and calling for right-wing guerilla resisters in the event that the Soviets conquered Britain and Western Europe.[17]

Moore’s believes that The Association started in 1947, led by a Lt-Colonel Penrose, a pre-war “New Guard” alumnus. The CIS noted that a high army informant described Penrose as “vicious with a cruel temperament which would suit him as an officer of Hitler’s Gestapo.” [18]

While Brigadier Hinton in NSW professed that The Association would always obtain constitutional approval before acting, its country members were less fastidious. In Bairnsdale, Victoria, a member reported that because even the police force harbored Communists, an independent armed body was necessary to take control “in the best interests of the community”.[19] 

The CIS, with its primary loyalty to the Chifley government, tracked and infiltrated the movement. CIS people staked out the Association’s Melbourne headquarters in the not-so-aptly named Sunshine House in Bourke Street, and even prepared a floor plan of the offices used by the chief of staff, Major-General Simpson.

In Sydney, the CIS headquarters were in the Mercantile Mutual Building at 117 Pitt Street and the rival headquarters were directly opposite at 84 Pitt Street.[20] Because the 84 Pitt Street office was small, the White Army leaders would sometimes run their conferences in the board room of the Mercantile Mutual, to the delight of the CIS co-tenants.[21]

The CIS was soon reporting that The Association, whatever it professed, was a danger to the Chifley government. It appeared to be answerable to no-one but its own leaders, who thought Chifley and Doc Evatt were undercover Communists One CIS executive reported that The Association was “prepared for any sort of a ‘putsch’”.The Association responded with such mistrust of the CIS that one CIS infiltrator feared for his personal safety.[22](Conversely, The Association had infiltrated the CIS).

The Association’s infrastructure allegedly included first aid posts to be run by the British Medical Association, and a trucking magnate’s fleet, used to take members for rifle and drill training 60km out of Sydney.[23]

The NSW police were thick with The Association. Commissioner MacKay wanted Association members as special constables in any emergency. He addressed a meeting of The Association in January, 1948, claiming he had dossiers on 45,000 Communists [total party membership at the time was only about 6000].[24] The Chief of the General Staff, Lt Gen Sturdee, said at the same meeting that he expected war with Russia in 18 months. Liberal politician Richard Casey (later Governor-General) was another bigwig lending The Association high-level support.[25]

Among The Association’s irregulars were schoolboys from Scotch College, Melbourne, who were enlisted in a “youth division” and one night assigned to guard the school cadets’ armory against Communist onslaught.[26] Senior journalists, sympathetic to The Association, were prepared to assist through their reporting or non-reporting. The Association’s Intelligence chief was a former Asian Airlines employee J.M. Burgoyne, assisted by J.M. Prentice, the former Director of Military Intelligence, Eastern Command.[27]

Quality of the intelligence varied. For example, there was a chain of art deco coffee houses in Sydney called Repins Cafes, founded by a White Russian refugee Ivan Repin in the 1930s. An Association report claimed, implausibly, that the cafes were managed by imported trained men and the staff were all card-carrying Communists.

Perhaps the cafes’ clientele of European-style roasted-coffee-lovers, such as Vienna-born journalist George Munster and Hungarian-born cartoonist George Molnar, aroused suspicion.[28]

The Sydney University economics faculty was another purported hotbed of revolutionaries, and the suspected top leader was the proprietor of the Coronet Chicken Grill.[29]

Moore writes that The Association was frustrated by the CPA’s failure to insurrect, and itself went in for some vigilante violence, although his only example is an elderly shearer who got bashed. His other examples are more of intimidation and vandalism. In Cowra, a Communist public meeting was under way about that hardy perennial “the coming depression”. An Association mob arrived but found the audience was only six.[30]

The Association lingered on after the Menzies government came to power, ready to assist Menzies with the internment of the thousands of Communists and fellow-travellers in camps. The detention process was even designated “Order No 1” by The Association. 

Writer Martin Boyd recalled that at the 1950 Melbourne Cup, a senior member of the Association had told him that in the event of any “trouble”, the secret army was ready to “rope in every shade of pink”, which Boyd feared could even include himself.[31]

The Association also re-channelled its energies into issues like civil defence mechanisms against nuclear strikes.

Its official demise was in late 1952, when ASIO seemed to have the red threat under control. Some Association members joined ASIO. There is one indication that a Colonel Neil McArthur kept a Collins Street office going for the “White Army” until his death in 1961.[32]

Dr Moore concludes his study: “The secret army was an understandable response to the tensions of the period. But for all its links with formally constituted authority, it was a mendacious enterprise, a reminder of the extent to which liberal democratic freedoms were threatened during the Cold War in Australia. Having fought a world war in order to crush fascism, some soldiers remained ambiguous about the merits of liberal parliamentary democracy. In the final resort, powerful members of Australia’s military and commercial elite threatened democratic values and practices far more than supporters of that detested ‘foreign ideology’, communism.”[33]


Tony Thomas is a (sort of) retired journalist.


[1] At war’s end, with only 70 troops, Court took the surrender of 20,000 Japanese in Bougainville.

[2] Charles Court: the early years. Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1995. P277-78

[3]  Horner, David, Blamey: the Commander-in-Chief, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1998, p576-8

[4] Cain, F., Terrorism & Intelligence in Australia. Australian Scholarly Publishing, N.Melbourne 2008. p106

[5]  Moore, A, The Secret Army and the Premier, NSW University Press, Kensington, 1989, p245. Morrow’s own credentials as a democrat were not all that flash. He supported the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 and left the Labor Party in 1953 to become a stalwart of the KGB-controlled World Peace Council. In 1961 the Soviets awarded him a Lenin Peace Prize and the ruble-equivalent of 5000 pounds


[6] Coulthard-Clark, C, Soldiers in Politics, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1996, p172

[7] Moore, Andrew, Fascism Revived? The Association Stands Guard, 1947-52. Labour History, 74/1998, p108

[8] ibid p118.

[9] Op cit Horner, p576-8

[10] Op cit Horner p577.Brigadier Hinton foresaw Stalin arranging a ‘super Pearl Harbour’ attack against the West using local Communist cadres. Locally, red-run unions could initiate “H-Hour” — paralysing strikes followed by overnight seizure of vital infrastructure as prelude to a putsch.

[11] Hetherington, J., Blamey, Controversial Soldier, Australian War Memorial, Canberra 1973, p389-92

[12] ibid

[13] Op cit Fascism Revived, p111

[14] ibid p115

[15] ibid p116

[16] Op cit Secret Army, p5, 241

[17] Op cit Fascism p110

[18] ibid p107

[19] ibid p112

[20] When Petrov’s political seducer Michael Bialoguski visited the CIS premises on the sixth floor, “I found myself in a large empty-looking room. A counter opposite the door and a wooden bench near the entrance were the only pieces of furniture. Nobody was in the room. On the counter was a very much used sheet of blotting paper and an inkpot with a pen protruding from it…” The Petrov Story, p26-27.

[21] Op cit Fascism p108

[22] ibid p108

[23] Secret Army p242-3

[24] ibid p243

[25] op cit Fascism p113

[26] Op cit Fascism p111 School cadets also featured in September 1974, when the Defence Department confiscated 175 weapons from a school armoury to keep them from possible anti-Whitlam vigilantes.

[27] Op cit Secret Army p242

[28] The Association included anti-Semitic elements, and in Queensland, there was even an anti-Catholic undertow.

[29] Op cit Secret Army p242

[30] Op cit Fascism p113

[31] ibid p117-18

[32] ibid p117

[33] ibid p118


ASIO vs The Communist Party Part 1

Spy vs Spy: ASIO and the Reds

by Tony Thomas

September 25, 2012

The scene: 9th Floor, headquarters of the Communist Party of Australia (Victorian branch), 49 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne.

Date: About 1952.

Victorian CPA Secretary Ted Hill presses an alarm button to signal through the party’s rooms: An ASIO raid has commenced!

Party members know what to do.[i] State President Ralph Gibson empties his person of all useful documents, and eats them.

Party functionary Gwladys Bourke cannot work out how to get rid of her sensitive financial records. She prepares to dive out the 9th Floor window with them, a human sacrifice to the betterment of the working class.

Just in time, she discovers from Hill that the alarm was only a test.

Actually, I wonder about the efficacy of Gwladys’ plan:had she simply scattered the documents out the window, she would not have needed to jump; but if she took the documents down with her, they could be recovered from the impact site.

A touch of paranoia in party offices was understandable. In July, 1949, the Commonwealth Investigation Service had used 24 operatives to raid Marx House, the NSW party’s headquarters, but found little and suspected the party had been tipped off . The raid attracted a crowd of 3,000 passers-by and with considerable aplomb, two party women left Marx House and mingled with the crowd selling copies of “Tribune”.[ii]

Life was never dull in the CPA (Vic). The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation had an office some floors below to listen in to the Reds upstairs. Taft worsened their workload by switching between French, German and Russian in any phone chats to cosmopolitan colleagues.

Party officials were confident they had the upper hand over ASIO (how wrong they were!) They had their own captain of security, the party’s “control commission” leg-man Ernie O’Sullivan, a shuffling snoop who was dedicated, ignorant and paranoid. Like a toothless version of Stalin’s “bloody dwarf”, the later-executed Yezhov, O’Sullivan scribbled semi-literate “unmaskings” of loyal party members as spies and wreckers. After Hill got himself expelled in 1963, O’Sullivan’s poison-pen tracts fell into the hands of the rival Bernie Taft faction. Pity no-one’s published them yet!

One weekend O’Sullivan, on Hill’s orders, came in and removed 100 drawers from party workers’ desks, to check for security breaches. He parked 20 of the bulky drawers at Taft’s Surrey Hills home, and to this day no-one knows where the other drawers went. Party workers arrived on Monday and mourned their lost drawers. Over the years, observant visitors wondered why the party’s desks were all drawerless. Taft writes: “I suppose O’Sullivan must have thought that, after the revolution, which he confidently expected, he might be able to put the drawers back in our desks.”

Perhaps the most loyal and heroic of all the Victorian party people was the wife of Bernard Heinz Jr (Heinz Sr was assistant secretary with the Building Workers Industrial Union).

The party in the early 1950s decided to create, yet again, a secret wing that could carry on if the party got banned.[iii] Bernard was nominated to become a ‘sleeper’. He had to resign from the party and cut links with all his leftist friends. What’s more, he was told to accommodate a senior party sleeper plus a printing press underground at his suburban home in outer-eastern Melbourne, where he had just settled in with his new wife. The new project meant laying a concrete slab and then digging a big hole below for the literally underground operations.

Initially, party members dropped by to assist in the dig. But not all the workers’ friends have horny hands, and soon Bernard was left to dig unaided. He dug till the 1970s but his important guest and the printing press never turned up.

This was all very well for Bernard and the party, but what about Mrs Heinz? Did she mind? Apparently, she never complained, at least officially.

These true tales are all drawn from Bernie Taft’s memoirs “Crossing the Party Line” (1994).[iv] He was a one-time joint national secretary of the CPA and for decades on the state executive of the Victorian branch. He recounts his growing distaste for the party’s Stalinists and Maoists. He left the party in 1984, and the party as a whole collapsed in 1991. Today Taft would be 94. His son Mark Taft SC, after co-running the Socialist Forum with Julia Gillard as the paid staff in the mid-1980s, in 2008 became a Judge on the Victorian County Court.[v]

Bernie Taft’s memoirs haven’t had much attention. One noticeable thing is how much overseas travel party leaders did, in an era when overseas trips were a rare prize. In 1968-69 Taft did five trips in 18 months. On one trip in 1968 to Moscow, he had an enjoyable dinner, as one does, with the British spy Donald Maclean, “an impressive person — pleasant, reasonable, and serious.”[vi]

THE MEMOIRS get really interesting when Taft describes a pro-communist mole within ASIO who betrayed would-be infiltrators groomed by ASIO to enroll into the party.

For an equivalent mole in earlier times, one would have to go back to the war-time security service, when counter-intelligence on NSW communists was run by a police officer Alfred Hughes, a secret Communist code-named BEN by the Soviets. Hughes adroitly protected top Communist official, Wally Clayton, from scrutiny while Clayton and his group fed valuable documents to the Soviet Embassy. Hughes would sit for hours at the Special Branch HQ reading files about Communists and the party, to which he had unlimited access.[vii] Apart from writing a predictably anodyne report on Clayton for the security director-general in 1945, he provided Clayton (Soviet code-name: KLOD) with Clayton’s own security file, along with the security files on the Soviet embassy’s senior spies Mikheev and Nosov.[viii] Hughes retired as Det Sgt 1st Class in 1960 and died in 1978.

Did the CPA really have an ASIO source? Bernie Taft writes that during the early 1950s, “we often knew the identity of ASIO agents who were about to infiltrate the party. [State party secretary] Ted Hill told a number of us that someone in ASIO would contact him every now and again, and give him the names of people whom ASIO had selected to infiltrate the party…weeks, sometimes up to two months, before they actually did.”[ix] Sometimes the party allowed them to join and then kept them under tight supervision. Others were rejected, to the indignation of sponsoring members impressed by the applicants’ enthusiasm.

After the party expelled Hill in 1963, a man calling himself “Bluey” got in touch with party contacts and said that now Hill was out of the picture, he would keep sending notes about the incoming infiltrators. These notes naming new “plants” continued for a year and then suddenly stopped, Taft says.

Taft also describes the party’s Melbourne double-agent in ASIO, Duncan Clarke, a bon vivant and serial annoyer of party women. Wesley-educated, Clarke worked as journalist on the Sunraysia Daily, the Daily Telegraph (Sydney), and then the Herald (Melbourne), where he was a favorite of Sir Keith Murdoch. Clarke then made an ungrateful departure to join the party’s organ Guardian.

The Clarke affair was top secret until Taft’s memoirs. Clarke was a double agent from 1951-53, on ASIO pay of ten pounds a week. He would meet ASIO handlers in the city and sometimes early on the beach near his Brighton home. He kept Ted Hill fully informed, and supplied ASIO with a regular flow of documents, unbeknownst to other party members. He wrote reports for ASIO on party policies and personalities; and on which journalists were sympathetic. He gave ASIO reports by party leaders before the leaders had even presented them to inner meetings. Clarke claimed that Hill ensured that all the material Clarke supplied would not actually damage the party.

ASIO’S PLAN was to boost Clarke’s prospects in the party and even help him become State Secretary, where he could do wonders for ASIO.

Clarke said he had left ASIO with Hill’s agreement, when ASIO pushed too far by asking for the keys to the Guardian office so it could be scoped out at night. (I thought ASIO could pick locks, especially as it employed “Leon”, a former Chubbs employee who was one of the best lock-pickers in the country, but apparently keyed-entry was preferred).[x] Clarke continued to meet ASIO contacts socially for months afterwards. “Apparently, I was all right with Security,” he told Taft.

Clarke had become infected with Hill’s paranoia, wondering if ASIO had a second undisclosed plant in the party. That agent could blow the whistle on Clarke to Clarke’s ASIO handlers. Clarke also used to fret about whether party mishaps were accidents or successful wrecking exercises by ASIO plants.

Hill himself often labelled his inner colleagues as “security agents”. Taft speculates that ASIO could have been stoking Hill’s suspicions with disinformation. (Such tactics were used by Hoover’s FBI from 1956-71 with great success against radical organisations).

Taft, who must have absorbed a lot without shuddering, writes,

“It makes one shudder to see how that sort of thing works – how ‘evidence’ of subversion, of deliberate damage to the party, is produced…They [party vigilantes] would argue, ‘Clearly he is an enemy, or he wouldn’t do that when the party is under attack.’ (Of course, the party was always ‘under attack).”[xi]

Clarke wrote for Ted Hill a 200-page report on his ASIO dealings, which went into the snoop O’Sullivan’s archives. The archives were accessed by the Taft faction after Hill, O’Sullivan and Clarke decamped in 1963 to set up the Maoist splinter group. Clarke died in 1991.

Taft says Hill must have had his own ASIO contact while master-minding Clarke as double-agent. Taft reserves judgment on Clarke and what his real activities and impacts were, pending release (unlikely) of ASIO files: “Only then will we know the name of Hill’s source and how much he really knew.” Taft hints that Clarke and Hill could have been using ASIO resources to damage their internal party rivals.

ASIO had mixed fortunes recruiting student agents. In 1975 it recruited a Lisa Walters to infiltrate the youth arm of the Socialist Workers’ League (SYL). Nine months later she “came in from the cold” and denounced ASIO’s machinations, and was re-admitted to the SYL as a bona fide member.[xii]

In the late 1960s, ASIO recruited Monash engineering student Peter Higgins to report on Labor Club doings and student activism. He got annoyed about being asked to report on some students’ sexual affairs, and about ASIO’s complicity with Santamaria’s National Civic Council, and told all to the student newspaper Lot’s Wife.[xiii]

In some of the Eastern bloc, security files became public after the fall of the Wall. Perhaps one day we will have a “Canberra Spring” and be able to read the real deal.

Tomorrow: The second of Quadrant Online’s two-part series on the quiet war between the comrades and the spooks

Tony Thomas is a (sort of) retired journalist.

[i] Taft, Bernie, Crossing the Party Line. Scribe, Newham, 1994. P141

[ii] SMH 9/7/1949

[iii] The same policies were implemented in 1939-40 and 1947, including the hiding of printing presses

[iv] Op cit, Taft


[vii] Ball, D. and Horner, D., Breaking the Codes, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 1998. P243-4


[ix] Ted Hill’s younger brother Jim Hill was identified by the Venona code-breakers as the important Canberra spy TOURIST


[xi] Op cit, Taft, p143

[xii] Deery, Phillip, A Double Agent Down Under,


ASIO vs the Communist Party Part 11

Spy vs Spy — Part II

by Tony Thomas

September 26, 2012

The mythology of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) in the Cold War era includes the assertion that members could “smell out” agents from the security forces. In fact, the party was riddled with successful ASIO plants.

In 1950, ASIO was employing 30 people just to look after the agents. That year it inserted 10 agents (in addition to those already inside the party). In 1951, new agents inserted were 27; in 1952, 43; and in 1954, 52.[i]

That’s 132 new agents, milling around in a political party with only about 5,000 members. Little wonder that, by 1951, ASIO was reading insider accounts of five out of the six state party conferences.[ii] ASIO’s released files even note that a lover of Ironworkers’ Union boss Ernie Thornton had gold fillings in her teeth. When the party’s political committee scolded Miners’ Federation President Idris Williams for excessive drinking, ASIO heard about it straight away.

One agent appeared to be on the CPA’s central committee. He reported on one of its meetings on October 16, 1953, even though, as a (failed) security measure, the party had called that meeting at such short notice that other members only just discovered it was on. [iii]

At executive meetings of the Socialist Workers League (SWL), there would sometimes be two ASIO agents unwittingly represented, filing reports about each other. There was definitely overkill. By the 1960s, the Bendigo branch of the CPA still had its ASIO plant Phil Geri, even though the branch’s total membership was three (or four, depending on how you count Geri).[iv]

ASIO’s snoopy coups were often ingenious — and illegal. In 1972, for example, ASIO specialists created a duplicate key to the Melbourne offices of an innocent accounting firm, W. Alexander Boag, in Goodwin Chambers, Flinders Lane. ASIO was then able to enter secretly at will for the next 18 months to photograph the tax and financial records of Boag client Ted Hill, head of the pro-Chinese CPA (Marxist-Leninist). To aid the exercise, ASIO had set up an office on the same floor for a front-company, Kalamunda Mineral Reserves.[v]

It is “very likely” that leading Melbourne communist and president of the Australia-Soviet House, John Rodgers, was an ASIO worker. [vi] The party’s own plant in ASIO, Duncan Clarke, was reporting on Rodgers, under the impression that ASIO viewed Rodgers as a person of interest.[vii]

Bernie Taft, long-time Victorian state executive member of the party, claimed he could detect agents because of their faked emotions and ignorance about party mechanisms. He cites in particular a party member who wanted to become the office cleaner. Taft claimed that such people were easy to spot.[viii]

Yeah right! This ASIO agent, “Bosch”, was Czech immigrant Max Wechsler, an Houdini of anti-communist espionage. He came (in); he saw; he reported. Indeed he furnished ASIO with 702 reports within two years, 1973-75, meeting his handlers initially thrice-weekly and then every weekday. He passed through Communist and Troskyist security barriers as if they didn’t exist.

The Wechsler ASIO details became public after ASIO in 2006 released 10 normally redacted files to Professor Phillip Deery at Victoria University, much to Deery’s surprise. Wechsler, a fitter, told our immigration officers in Vienna that he had been a resister to the Soviet invasion in 1968. ASIO liked the cut of his jib and he migrated in 1969.

In 1971 he was hospitalized in Queensland for six weeks with anxiety and neuroses. His wife, a nurse, was convicted in Brisbane in 1972 on 13 forgery and theft charges as a result of her infatuation with slow horses. ASIO was unaware of those matters when Max applied for a spy-ship in Melbourne in November, 1972. Peter Barbour, ASIO’s then director-general, still viewed Wechsler as a dubious and implausible candidate, and was eventually proved right.

On February 21, 1973, during a single day, Wechsler, then 23, applied to join the CPA and Taft enthusiastically signed him on. Wechsler had hardly arrived inside the Victorian CPA before he was answering the phone on behalf of party president John Sendy. [ix] He also acquired the part-time office-cleaning job, contrary to Taft’s memoirs.

His progress in the party, and then in Trot groups, was so rapid that his ASIO pay within two years shot from $10 a month (plus expenses) to $90. He was living better than he should as the party’s cleaner on $18 a week, and ASIO told him to stop taking taxis, for example. He was also instructed, being “impoverished”, to badger the party for a pay rise.

He successfully conned ASIO into lending him $300 in June, 1973, to buy a motorbike “to improve his agent role”, but he sold the bike for $200 in a fit of desperation over his wife’s losses at the local TAB.[x]

At one point the ASIO Assistant Director-General noted: “This file is becoming cluttered up with the financial dealings with [Wechsler]. I thought that when the last request was made, this would be the end.” Wechsler’s handlers, however, were sympathetic. For example, they “strongly” recommended an expense claim by the “extremely hard working” Wechsler, and noted that “Agents in other States who are [Socialist Workers’ League] members receive far in excess of what this agent receives”.[xi]

Wechsler’s mystique included amazing ability to sell the party newspaper Tribune, despite its mind-numbing party jargon. As the party newsletter put it: ‘A new member, Max, a migrant to this country, has energetically taken up selling on the city streets and at public meetings. In about six weeks he has sold some 260 papers. How about more comrades joining the sales drive?'[xii]

My suspicion is that he was actually dumping the newspapers and getting reimbursed by ASIO for the cover price. But top official Bernie Taft saw with his own eyes Wechsler selling 15 Tribunes in 90 minutes, which Taft surmised was “something of a record”. Maybe I’ve been reading too much Le Carre, but could other ASIO operatives have been mustered to pose as Clarke’s newspaper customers? Did ASIO have the resources for such a sophisticated operation? Was it coincidence that, when Wechsler later infiltrated the Trotsky-minded Socialist Workers’ League(SWL) and Socialist Youth Alliance (SYA), he also won cred there for his ability to sell (or dump) Direct Action?[xiii]

Taft gave Wechsler (whose name translates as ‘Changer’) two Russian cameras for an extra role as party photographer. ASIO then had to rush Wechsler through a photographer’s course, incidentally enabling Wechsler to take high-class portraits for ASIO’s rogues’ gallery of the CPA.[xiv] ASIO files record that Taft and Victorian President John Sendy “value his work” and “seem to trust him without question”. Taft was “pushing Agent as fast as he can into the industrial side of the C.P. A.”

Wechsler’s reports, according to Deery, ranged from briefings on AMWU faction meetings, the protest movement against US bases (especially the Omega station in Gippsland) and a planned demonstration against the Signals Intelligence Unit at Albert Park barracks, local travel arrangements of an Italian communist, Guiliano Pajetta, reports on the CPA State Committee Conference, the particulars of donors to the CPA’s ‘fighting fund’ and subscribers to Australian Left Review, “the identities of all secretaries of CPA branches in the metropolitan area, a list of financial members of the Victorian Branch of the CPA and much of its financial and banking arrangements, details of the electoral campaign of a CPA candidate, George Zangalis, and additional profiles of Party leaders.”

Wechsler’s rise was so meteoric that ASIO began to worry that he might be a “push-in” to ASIO, i.e. a double agent. The Victorian ASIO office demurred: he was “a likeable little fellow who is proud of his Australian citizenship and simply wishes to assist the A.S.I.O.” He moved into the Socialist Workers League in late 1973, and became a full-time activist, a State executive committee member and even its Minutes Secretary, a handy job.

In mid 1974, he helped arrange a demo against the visiting Shah of Iran. He persuaded the other members of the organizing committee in the Trades Hall to concentrate the demo at a spot which happened to be the best focus point for hidden ASIO photographers in a building overlooking City Square. He also furnished keys to the Adelaide offices of the Trots, enabling ASIO to do “black bag” break-ins. (Editor’s note: The Shah’s 1974 tour of Australia was covered in Iran, where the footage below went to air. Look closely and, to the right of Melbourne’s Town Hall at the clip’s 3:00 mark, you can just catch a glimpse of what appear to be the protesters Wechsler positioned for ASIO’s convenience.)

The Trots had rented and renovated premises in Peel Street, North Melbourne. Wechsler tipped off the real estate agent about the movement’s nature and the agent cancelled the lease.[xv] Wechsler identified influential SWL members inside the Labor Party, which then proscribed the AWL and expelled its members.

Despite ASIO’s solicitude, the Wechsler story ended in tears. On February 16, 1975, Wechsler went to journalist Chris Forsyth of the Sunday Observer to sell his story for $2,000, and a few days later gave his resignation to his ASIO minders in their official rented room at the Southern Cross Hotel. Wechsler’s gripe was that the Whitlam government wasn’t responsive enough to his reports.

When Forsyth’s story ran in the Observer, the embarrassment of ASIO was matched only by the embarrassment of the CPA. The Whitlam government and the CPA both lied that Wechsler had not been their paid employee and each denied that they had given Wechsler the slightest credibility. Now that Wechsler was unfrocked, both government and CPA echoed the succinct and independent judgment of the Brunswick CIB that Wechsler was “a nut”.

Wechsler, meanwhile, had unwisely been parked by the Observer in the Wrest Point hotel and casino, where he attracted attention for his lavish spending and gambling. Even journo Forsyth got his private parts caught in the Wechsler wringer. Someone successfully sued the Observer for libel and as proprietor Max Newton was bankrupt and overseas, Forsyth was eventually ordered personally to pay the $15,000 damages.

Wechsler ended up in Bangkok as a drug spy for Commonwealth police, where his successes included fingering Ananda Marga activists. In 2002 he made local news there as victim of a robbery of his 4m baht in cash and three Rolexes. The cash at least was recovered.

The last reference I can find to Wechsler is in January 2010, where he pops up as a freelance journalist for The Bangkok Post, with a piece involving an interview with an Iranian intelligence defector forecasting the early downfall of President Ahmadinejad. At that time Wechsler would have been 59.[xvi]

The Trots in Melbourne made the best of a bad job and claimed that because of good party discipline, Wechsler had been unable to influence policy. Wechsler, despite his sterling service to ASIO, never got an OAM for it.

Tony Thomas was a member of the CPA from age 18 to 21, and became a leading pamphlet letter-boxer around Willagee, Fremantle. He left the party as part of a futile plan to improve his low success rate with women.

[i] Cain, F., Terrorism & Intelligence in Australia. Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne 2008. p105

[ii] ibid, p105

[iii] Deery, Philip, Communist, Security and the Cold War.

[iv] Deery, P., ASIO and the Communist Party

[v] McKnight, D., The New Left and the Old Moles.

[vi] Deery, P. Communism, Security and the Cold War.

[vii] Taft, B., Crossing the Party Line, Scribe, Newham, 1994. P140

[viii] ibid. P139

[ix] Op cit, Deery, iv.

[x] ibid

[xi] ibid

[xii] ibid

[xiii] Deery, P., A Double Agent Down Under

Click to access 15470.pdf

[xiv] Deery, op cit iv

[xv] ibid

[xvi] This piece is no longer on-line at the Bangkok Post but a copy is at