ACCESSION NUMBER: S01524
TITLE: PROFESSOR GEOFFREY SAWER - HEAD OF RADIO AUSTRALIA,SECOND WORLD WAR
INTERVIEWEE: PROFESSOR GEOFFREY SAWER
INTERVIEWER: DR ERROL HODGE (RMIT now 1992 QUT)
RECORDING LOCATION: GUERILLA BAY, NSW
DISCUSSION OF MAC BALL WHO PRECEDED GEOFFREY SAWER AS CONTROLLER OF RADIO AUST; EARLY UNIVERSITY TEACHING; MEMBER OF MILITIA; MEDICALLY UNFIT FOR WAR ZONE SERVICE; JOINED SHORT WAVE DIVISION OF RADIO AUSTRALIA (ABC); BRITISH AND AMERICAN INFLUENCE ON CONTENTS OF BROADCASTS; AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT DIRECTIVES ON BROADCASTS; DOC EVATT; 'ALLIED TRANSLATOR IN INTELLIGENCE SERVICE'; BROADCASTS TO ASIA/PACIFIC REGION; END OF WAR AND WITH IT THE END OF DIRECTIVES FROM THE BRITISH, AMERICAN AND AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENTS; BRITISH TROOPS RECEIVING SURRENDER OF JAPANESE FORCES ON INDONESIA AND PROBLEMS WITH INDONESIAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT; AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT DIRECTIVES AND POLICY ON HOW RADIO AUSTRALIA SHOULD COVER THE INDONESIAN SITUATION IN 1945; DISMISSAL FROM RADIO AUSTRALIA BY BEN CHIFLEY 31 DECEMBER 1945; SHORT DISCUSSION ON THE ADMINISTRATIVE STRUCTURE OF RADIO AUST. (57 MINS)
DUTCH GOVERNMENT BROADCASTS TO INDONESIA DURING WAR; RECEIVING ORDER OF AUSTRALIA; FORMATION OF RADIO AUSTRALIA; POLITICAL WARFARE AGENCIES; PROPAGANDA; BATTLE OF BRISBANE; COWRA BREAKOUT; JAPANESE SUBMARINE ATTACKS ON SYDNEY HARBOUR; ATTACK ON DARWIN; PREPARATIONS FOR ADMINSTRATION OF NON-CITY REGIONS SHOULD AUSTRALIA BE INVADED; JOHN CURTIN; POSSIBILITY OF AUSTRALIA BEING OVERRUN BY THE JAPANESE; MAC BALL'S RESIGNATION AND GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE; AMERICANS SUPPLYING WEAPONS TO THE DUTCH GOVERNMENT TO RESIST ACTIONS BY THE INDONESIAN INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT AFTER THE WAR. (47 MINS)
TRANSCRIBER: SUSAN SOAMES
TRANSCRIPTION DATE: OCTOBER 1992
START OF TAPE ONE - SIDE A
Identification: Dr Errol Hodge of QUT (Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane) interviewing Professor Geoffrey Sawer who was head of Radio Australia during World War II.
Yes, I was saying that Mac decided to resign from the headship of the Short-Wave Division, which in effect he had really founded and got going, it was for a number of reasons, some of which were very personal to himself. But the two main grounds of principle were that he had a view that the BBC was highly respected throughout the world including the enemy countries because it claimed to have and was known in fact to have a high degree of separation from the British Government. Lord Rees had been responsible for getting at this sort of thing. It was independent by statutory force but of course that by itself would not be enough. It was also recognised that this had been respected in wartime conditions and even in the most desperate straits the British, the BBC, had gone on having this independent stance. And he thought it was therefore better for the Australian similar enterprise to be associated with the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which he regarded as having something of the same reputation, rather than to have it being directly run by the Commonwealth's Department of Information. And he had a point there.
The other reason was that he didn't trust Calwell or, I think, even Bonney, though I don't think he had such strong feelings about Bonney but he certainly didn't trust Calwell. And, again, he had a point because Arthur Calwell certainly at that stage in his career at any rate had a reputation which his behaviour justified of being a born interferer, a chap who wanted to be master of whatever it was that was under his control. Whereas the Australian Broadcasting Commission people with whom Mac was on friendly terms were in any event not motivated to interfere with him at all but were only too glad to leave, generally speaking, the running of that particular activity to Mac. And so these were the two main reputable grounds so to speak on which he wanted to go.
I have a feeling that there was a less reputable point involved in it because I think it became apparent in other aspects of Mac's later career and that is that he was not a man who would gladly take direction from anybody on anything. He demanded to be very much his own man. And, of course, that became apparent particularly in the Japan enterprise which has now been so much illuminated for us by Alan Rix's excellent editing of Mac's Japan diary which has just been published - oh you must read this - which has just been published by the Melbourne University Press under the title 'Intermittent Diplomat' which has an excellent, affectionate life of Mac which I now find - I didn't know until recently - was actually written by Peter Ryan, the Director of the Melbourne University Press, who was an old of Mac's. And Rix's edits of the diaries both of Mac's Batavia expedition - short one - and then of his longer Japanese expedition when he was our man on the Allied Council to run Japan. Both of those diaries again make this plain that Mac was determined to run ... he would take a general purpose directive, 'Your job is to see to it', this is Bert Evatt speaking to Mac, 'Your job is to see to it that we get a reasonable social democratic peaceful peace-loving regime in Japan, you know, re-educate the Japanese and reform their political institutions and all the rest of it, you go ahead and do that'. He would take general direction like that but then he demanded to be left alone as to the manner in which he was to carry it out. So, anyway, for these various reasons he retired and I took over.
I by the way have now completely forgotten, blessed if I can remember, the precise date when that happened.
I've got it.
You have got it? Good. I'd be most obliged if you'd let me have it because I have begun to put together the beginnings of an autobiography for myself. Now whether I'll go ahead with this remains to be seen. But at any rate I'm prepared to try it out and I'd certainly like to get some of these dates from you.
Yes. So I stepped into Mac's job in effect. To some extent, and again this is typical of course of the difference between Mac and myself, it was a matter of putting the job into commission rather than replacing Mac. I wouldn't have regarded myself at my then age and degree of experience as being fitted to take over Mac's job. Mac wasn't all that much older than me but he was very much older than me in terms of experience and background and the habit of running things. And I'd never been anything but a quite subordinate sort of character.
You'd been a lecturer up till then?
Yes. Well, I was first of all, after I'd finished my law course, I went to the Victorian Bar and practised as a barrister for seven years. During those seven years I was also living at Ormonde College and was resident tutor in law at Ormonde College. And it was the ninety pounds a year and free board and lodging at Ormonde College which made it possible for me to even think of going to the Bar because in those days, and even still in our days to some extent, the young barrister can't expect to make a living, or couldn't then expect to make a living at the Bar until six or seven years starting off.
So after that then when the war broke out and I very nearly got myself involved with the 39th Battalion in which I had been a company quartermaster sergeant and of course they were the characters that went of on the Kokoda Trail and got shot to pieces. I certainly would have got shot to pieces because I didn't have the physical durability that that required. However it so happened that one of the reasons why I'd left the voluntarily leadership during my university course, I'd been under compulsory training of course in the first place.
That's how you became a quartermaster sergeant.
That's right. Exactly. Then when Jimmy Scullin abolished compulsory training and they brought in the voluntary scheme, I elected to stay under the voluntary scheme partly because of the romantic memory of my father who finished up as a major with the MC with the First World War and died on active service.
Where did he fight?
He was at the landing in Gallipoli and then he was in France and it was along the Somme that he was gassed and contracted the [lung?] condition which resulted in his death.
Yes, it was partly that, and partly and partly because I'd rather enjoyed the military, the little bits of life, and the going off to camp once a year and once a fortnight drill hall appearance and all of this sort of thing. And playing poker with the regimental sergeant major and the adjutant. Yes, so I quite liked the military life and therefore continued with it but halfway through my law course I contracted a very serious pleural effusion and was in hospital for three months and then in a convalescent hospital for a fortnight and then had to go off and to work on a citrus orchard in northern Victoria for another three months on medical advice and this of course interrupted my law course and also it left me with a spot on my lung but ...
Kokoda would have been disastrous.
It would have been disastrous, that's right. And, any rate, I was still sufficiently affected by this medical history which of course the Government Military authorities had at their fingertips for me because I remained a potential reservist with the Militia. But they had all these records why I had left the service at that point and they re-examined me and they said that they wouldn't recommend me for service in the war. So that when the war came along in 1940 I spent a time in army education and went around telling the troops that Hitler was a bad man and it was high time we dealt with him.
So that's how I came to work for Mac in the shortwave division. And that's the point at which I'm at present quite upset with my own memory as to precisely when that was; whether it was 1940 or '41.
When you joined?
I haven't got that date I'm afraid.
And that's the date I can't quite remember. I can't remember how long it was that I was still continuing to ... Oh, by the way I should mention at this point that immediately before the war started I had abandoned the Bar, given up my post at the Bar because I'd been invited to become senior lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University at Melbourne. An invitation which came completely out of the blue; a the xxx more than anything.
At a very young age too.
That's right, yes. And this was the product partly of my having been tutoring at Ormonde through those years and on various occasions doing some relief lecturing. When a lecturer was sick or when on one occasion Ken Bailey was away in England for a year and I gave the lectures in constitutional law in his place. So, for these various reasons, Ken Bailey had in effect been keeping an eye on me and when he decided to appoint a senior lecturer, instead as I think he should have done calling for applications, he inquired from me whether I was prepared to take the job. And of course that suited me because I'd by that time had enough of a foot in the university on the teaching line to compare the two. And I decided that I would sooner be a teacher than a practitioner because of the uncertainties and the extremely hard work, killingly hard work which was necessary, at least in those days, if you were to maintain your position at the Bar at all. You either had no briefs or you were grossly overworked. I believe that's still true to some extent of the very good junior barristers.
Is it? Mmm.
Yes, still true to some extent. They so easily lose their solicitor clientele who will brief if they start knocking briefs back and knocking briefs back is the only way of being able to regulate your working hours. Yes, so comparing the two, I was quite glad to accept this positions as senior lecturer and that was just before the war started. And, then when the war started and after the stint with army education and then this invitation to start work with Mac Ball I got leave of absence from the university about which there was no difficulty because I was able to arrange to continue to give the lectures in one subject so long as the Short-Wave Division was situated in Melbourne.
I used to turn up at eight o'clock in the morning or five o'clock in the evening for at first it was two subjects and then I got them to cut it down to one subject when the short-wave work began to get much heavier than it had been to begin with.
So that's how I got into short-wave broadcasting in the first place and I of course learned fairly rapidly from Mac the sort of routine, daily routine, that one went through. It was very largely a matter of following general directives which came from (to) us after the Americans were brought into the war by the Japanese and so forth from two directions, one being from London representing in effect the European end of the war and the European views and predominantly I think British views about what general things to say to enemy countries or to neutral countries that were in the firing line and what sort of encouragement one could get or could not get from the current state of military affairs and which things to perhaps not mention at all and other things to perhaps give more attention to them than they really deserved. These were the sort of directives.
Then, of course, when the Americans came in we then got a similar set of directives, somewhat better expressed I might say, but somewhat more clearly expressed, from Washington. And then we were left to work out in detail of what happened. Now these came to us through the Department of External Affairs as it then was which of course after the Labor Government came to power meant Evatt's Department. And theoretically the Australian Department was perfectly at liberty to add its own comments to this or indeed make its own directives if it so wished.
In practice it was a fairly rare event, even under Evatt, it was a fairly rare event for that to happen. For the most part they pushed the overseas directives to us and left it to us in effect through reading such information as we could get about Australia affairs from newspapers and so forth to make our own picture of the extent to which, if any, Australian industry was contributing to things or the extent to which Australian forces were involved in things if we didn't get enough of that from the news overseas. Occasionally we made specific inquiries from External Affairs. We said we'd like to have ... information or directive about so-and-so. But on the whole it was surprising how little direct aid or guidance of that sort that we did get Australian governments through the years of the war and how very much we relied upon these overseas sources.
Of course the Australians were making an input into these overseas sources to the extent that they were involved.
On the Allied Political Warfare Council.
Yes, exactly. Of course, yes, indeed. And no doubt that was one of the reasons. Nevertheless I did regard it as rather uncharacteristic of Evatt and I dare say that it was because the Doc was so heavily engaged in so many other things that ... it wasn't until just after the war finished, as I'll come to later, that the Doc did take very close interest in xxx (laughs)
Now, John [de la Vallette] was the British representative on the Allied Political Warfare Council here, wasn't he?
Yes, he was.
Do you remember what his position was in the High Commission?
No, I don't.
I can probably find out.
Yes. No, I haven't the faintest idea what he said. I remember him. He was from ...
And there was an American called ...
Well, Colonel Mashbir was the American with whom we had the closest association. He was the head of that rather mysterious show called, 'The Allied Translator in Intelligence Service?' which was just in effect a cover name for a body that was running submarines into the north and putting them ashore and distributing radio batteries amongst the Indonesian population and all of this sort of thing. And John Proud who was the head of somewhat similar organisation with the Australian armed forces. But they worked in very close collaboration, Mashbir and Proud, and their shows.
How do you spell the name of the American?
Mashbir, I think.
I haven't seen that name yet. Does a name like Stevens or some ... no, that's not the name.
There's a chap who figures in that diary of Mac's by the way who was also I think was at a stage higher than Mashbir but further back. I think he became a general in the finish. And I think he was the chap who Mashbir answered and whose headquarters was in Honolulu.
Well, the other name I was going to ask you about was Stiver.
Oh yes, yes. That name rings a bell. Yes.
You can't remember his first name or anything?
No. No, indeed I can only remember the surname, Stiver. Yes indeed, he was one of the Yanks. But certainly the person with whom I had the most direct relations, because he did regular talks for us, was a Navy ... what the hell was his name? He was a fairly well-known author; he'd written a couple of books about Australian affairs. I think he'd been a journalist at one stage. Oh, what the hell was his name? I wish that Mac could have stayed alive because he would have known this well.
Yes. I believe he hadn't been terribly clear in his mind during the last few months of his life.
That's quite true, yes.
He'd had some terrible strokes, hadn't he?
Yes, he had. Yes, that's right. He was in a bad way for about the last two years of his life. Very difficult for Katherine because for one thing he resolutely refused to sell an inch of the land and they were running out of money. One of the unfortunate consequences of his very broken up kind of academic career was that his superannuation wasn't at all good.
Oh yes, he hadn't maintained continuity. Mmm. What a tragedy with such a distinguished man.
I can see the face of this chappie in Navy uniform, he was to come to talk [for us?] once a fortnight. But another chap with whom we had a lot to do with who is also now dead was Algie McDonald who ultimately became the librarian at the Australian National Library. He was a librarian ... assistant librarian at the library at the University at Melbourne. But before that he'd been a Duntroon boy and he'd specialised at Duntroon in Japanese affairs and had learned Japanese. And he then became one of the several Australians who were seconded to Mashbir's intelligence organisation. And so we saw a good deal of Algie because of the fact that he was an Australian he made it his business to come and talk to us from time to time about how things were going. Algie McDonald, a very nice bloke too, excellent chap.
So broadly speaking you were carrying out the directives that were coming from London and Washington with some input from External Affairs.
That's right. Some input from External Affairs. xxx
And this was the purpose in all the broadcasts, both the broadcasts to the Japanese and to the enemy occupied territories and to the Australian troops?
And to the Australian troops, that's right.
There was a constant line. You weren't telling different stories.
No, there was no possibility of discriminating between these things because there was just no way as the technology then as differentiating the spread of the beam.
No. Well, there isn't now really.
Isn't there even today?
No, because you can pick up things that aren't intended for, say, the Pacific. They're Asian transmissions but by some quirk they've gone to the Pacific and vice versa.
And of course we have the double bind in the case of Australia because the only regular reliable broadcast was the night-time ones because then you could go up on a band of darkness as far north or as far south as you could but there was no way of getting across this way. Do you see what I mean?
So, partly because in any event we were broadcasting to Indonesia and the Philippines and Thailand and to Burma and so forth, all of which are to the north or north-east or north-west slightly [xxx] but in an area we could only get them in the band of darkness which came across in that fashion.
I remember at one stage reading that you were being asked by External Affairs, I think it was, to play up the desperate need of Australia for more forces and more resources in your broadcasts to America ...
... but not to tell this to the Japanese. And I remember Mac Ball replied that this was impossible.
Exactly. Of course. Quite impossible. That's right.
You'd be found out.
That's right, exactly. Oh yes, yes, indeed. No, that had to be done from America and indeed of course it was eventually.
Any rate, just to conclude ... Oh well, first of all, a little thing that will amuse you. I can only remember one occasion when Bert Evatt came down to see us in the Short-Wave Division. I was a personal friend of Evatt's. It was a fairly accidental way that I got to know him, it was while he was still a judge on the High Court. I was an active member of the Melbourne University Labor Club which was a united front organisation. We had some very eminent communists amongst our midst. I was tempted by communism at one stage because it looked as if the communists in Europe were the only people who were going to stand up to Hitler. But I couldn't stand Karl Marx's prose-style and I was bored stiff by the chap ... by the intolerably dull lecturing style of the chief teacher of Marxism to us in the Labor Club. A chap called Guido [Baraki]. Have you ever heard of him?
He's still alive, a very old man in Sydney - Hunters Hill. Guido was the son of the first Victorian meteorologist - Baraki. I forget his christian name. Do you know Gavin Souter's excellent book called 'Acts of Parliament', just recently come out.
No. Haven't read it.
Oh, it's a magnificent book. Oh, it really is. It's his masterpiece - 'Acts of Parliament'. It's a bicentenary publication sponsored by the parliamentarians and the Parliamentary Library. They produced the dough to hire Gavin to write it. And of course he is an excellent writer. He wrote that beaut account of the Australians in Patagonia, the utopia and the account of the Sydney Morning Herald, 'The Company of Heralds'.
He's written a nice book on Sydney too, a sort of coffee table.
That's right, yes. Any rate, Gavin starts off - this is typical of his inimitable style - he starts off his account of the Federal Parliament, how it was founded and all the rest of it, with the row between the Australian meteorologists, of whom this elder Baraki was one, as to what were the forecasts for the weather on the occasion of the Lord whoever-he-was, Tennyson I think his name was, opening what it would be like when he opened the first parliament in Melbourne. (laughs) Baraki was to have said that the weather would be goodo but the most successful forecaster was a very odd man in Queensland called Ragg and he said that it was going to be terrible weather and that there would be a cyclone coming over Victoria at the time which he - he used to christen the cyclones which he detected from his methods of observations - he christened it Moloch. (laughs) So this first chapter of the [xxx xxx] there's this heading [xxx]. It is very well put together.
Yes, well at any rate, this Baraki had only the one son and he made a hell of a lot of money by speculating in land. He bought up land around Kew and those parts and sold it at an enormous profit. Left all his dough to young Baraki who went to the University of Melbourne but interrupted his course there when the old man died and left him all this dough. It was just towards the end of the First World War. And Baraki dashed over to Europe, enjoyed himself in England for a bit, and then, as the war was coming to a close, got himself into Russia and enlisted as a Bolshevik with the Bolsheviki. Got himself employed in their magazine called 'Imprecor' - and I've never been quite clear what that means - 'Imprecor', probably from Latin, which was a journal in English distributed to their agencies all around the world, you see. And then in 1921 they sent him back to Australia to be one of the founding members of the Communist Party of Australia.
You would have been disillusioned with European communism too when Hitler's xxx destroyed so many people who were already communist, didn't it?
Oh indeed it did. Yes, that's right. That came later. However, do you know Baraki amongst other things, amongst other people that he'd picked up an acquaintance for was Doc Evatt. I think that was through his then wife, a gorgeous creature called Neura Baraki. I think that Neura Baraki was a Sydney-sider to begin with and was a friend of Mary-Alice Evatt. So Baraki introduced me as a bright young coming law student to Doc Evatt who was then Mr Justice Evatt and Evatt was extremely kind to me and I liked the man; I liked him very much. I found him good company and considerate and he certainly was always on his best behaviour with his wife and two adopted children. He never produced any of the signs of other bastardry which he [xxx] in later career in so many ways with so many people. Yes, so I quite liked Doc and I saw him outside of running the Short-Wave Division on various social occasions through this wartime period when he had to me in Melbourne. Every time he was in Melbourne he'd give me a ring or send me a message and we'd have a bit of a meet and talk about ... have a meal together and talk about general political affairs or legal affairs and whatnot. He never even mentioned my work in the Short-Wave Division though of course he knew about it until one day Bert came down and to my surprise came and visited me at the Short-Wave Division during the day, which he'd never done before, and said that he'd like to be shown around and introduced. So I introduced him to the blokes around the place and amongst the people that I introduced him to was an Englishman - I've forgotten his name. He was an ...
END OF TAPE ONE - SIDE A
START OF TAPE ONE - SIDE B
... because we had a supervisor of Japanese broadcasts who was a trusted non ... total non Japanese and that was this chap whose name I can't remember.
Yes, but you can find that.
He was very good indeed and an extremely nice bloke and his own Japanese, Oki would certainly have been recognised by any Japanese as the Japanese of a foreigner, but nevertheless would understand it perfectly. And of course they had no difficulty whatever in understanding Oki's Japanese. And Evatt, I introduced these various people you see and of course this bloke had an ... he was an Oxbridge graduate and he had a very English pommy accent, after we'd got rid of them Bert and I settled down to have a talk and Bert said to me, 'Did we have to have to have that pommy bastard around here?'. (laughs) I put up a strenuous defence of this pommy bastard and said that if he could produce an equally capable replacement I suppose that we could ask the British Government to take whatever his name was back into their service which they'd originally intended to do. They had originally intended to employ him in Britain.
Do you know something almost exactly the same as that happened when Gough Whitlam met Peter Homfray. Did you ever meet Peter Homfray?
He was director of Radio Australia in the late fifties and early sixties and right through to 1975 I think it was. Peter is a very well spoken Englishman and when Margaret Whitlam ran into him at a social gathering and found out who he was she took him up to her husband who was on the stage at this function and said, 'Gough, come over here, you must meet Peter Homfray. He's the director of Radio Australia'. And Peter said, 'How do you do Mr Whitlam'. And Gough said, 'Director of Radio Australia, with a voice like that!' and turned rudely and walked off.
Well Peter didn't last long after that. That was the beginning of the end for him.
Well, I'll be dashed. Yes. Well, I'll be blowed. Any rate that was that. Now, coming forward then to the general period when in a more definite way [the dirt] certainly interfered with the running of Radio Australia. The truce, the armistice with Japan, June 16th - something like that - 1945.
August, that's right. It was August. That's right, it was August.
The bomb was dropped on the 7th I think.
That's right, yes, August. On that day all of these directives shut off like that. After that we didn't get a word either from the Brits or the Americans or from the Department of External Affairs. So we carried on doing what we could. I got in touch with I think it was really John Burton in Canberra and I don't think he was at that stage as yet Secretary of the Department of External Affairs but he certainly was a very powerful and high-up bloke you know, and I told him what should we be doing? Should we be doing anything? What will be carry on with? I only got the most muddled sort of response to this saying, 'Oh well, you know, do what you can. There's troops all over the place who're listening to your broadcasts. Keep up your news items'. And, in effect, turn yourself into a sort of newspaper. And if there is any particular thing we want you to do we'll get in touch with you.
Were those his words: in effect turn yourself into a sort of newspaper?
That's your interpretation.
That's my interpretation. That was the substance of what he had to say. So we carried on in that fashion. Then of course came the business in Indonesia when there was something of a stand-off situation as between the Australians, the British who were carrying all of the expense of the very unpleasant military duties of taking the surrenders in Indonesia and at the same time trying to keep the Dutch and the Indonesians from flying at each other's throats.
Why was that very unpleasant work, taking the surrender?
Because of the fact that the Japanese were so apt to disembowel themselves and it was hard to negotiate with them. Some of them just wouldn't believe that it was all over and so forth. And, because, at the same time as doing that which was the only task that they'd been sent there to do, they found themselves willy-nilly. Just in order to keep reasonable order in the place, to act as some sort of a check on [President] Sukano and the Indonesian nationalists who were wanting to kick the Dutch out forthwith and not to let any more Dutch in. And the Dutch who were insisting on bringing in more and more of their people, including troops. So the British had that task cast upon them as incidental to their main job which was just taking the surrender. Yes, and so there was a stand-off then as between the British view - the British were on the whole, even though Attlee was already in power, the British were on the whole inclined to favour the restoration of Dutch control over Indonesia.
That's right, exactly, fellow colonialists. But of course on condition - since it was Labor Government remember - on condition that the Dutch bona fide entered into negotiations to ensure that was self-government of the Indonesians by the Indonesians in the same way as of course the British themselves were embarking on a program of that description in India. So that Mountbatten and his general on the spot, Christianson - very nice bloke he was too - they were very worried because (laughs) they couldn't get any clear directions from the British Government in the circumstances, the British Government itself was dithering. And the Americans were dithering even more because undoubtedly MacArthur's personal ambition would have caused xxx to participate in these Indonesian xxx. And of course he had much better facilities than the British there - ships, troops hanging around doing nothing, aircraft, and particularly aircraft ... aircraft in particular. But the Roosevelt Government of course was a professionally anti-colonialist government. They, if anything, were objecting to the Dutch going back into Indonesia more strongly than the Australians. And of course the Australian Labor Government necessarily was also anti-colonialist but also 'White Australia'. And Evatt and Calwell were at loggerheads on these things and poor old Chif[ley] was in between them.
Is this because Calwell was more militantly anti ... well, pro white Australia?
Pro white Australia.
Whereas Evatt wasn't.
No, not at all. And Evatt was much more militantly pro Indonesian republican. Any rate I didn't want to buy into this. I was well aware of the row that was going on; we got a certain amount of information about it in one way and another. In fact I think I did get ... I think I rang up a few blokes in the External Affairs and asked them how things were going about this and they did give me some guidance about the problems but with none at all as to ...
What to say.
... what to say. And then Doc Evatt rang me up one day, and this must have I think been in October or November, and after pleasant exchange he said, 'Geoff, what are you broadcasting about the business in Indonesia?'. So I said, 'Well, we've really been leaving the whole thing alone, Bert, since there doesn't seem to be any very strongly agreed policy between the United Nations or even between the Allies in the war on the subject I really don't know quite what to say, what to do about it'. 'Oh well', said Bert, 'I think we ought to be criticising the Americans. Here's the Americans, they won't take any responsibility for it. We know that they're supplying the Dutch with weapons but we've been told that they're having American markings removed from them'. Oh, and he want on about this. He was very agitated about this, you see. He said, 'I think we ought to be mentioning this in our broadcasts. Be careful of course you see, we don't want it to offend MacArthur or anything like that but we certainly should be suggesting that it's up to the great powers to come to an agreement of the matter and that obviously the agreement should be for as rapid as possible development of self-governing institutions in Indonesia, the Indonesians govern themselves and so forth and the Dutch understand their position. They have their own difficulties as well and whatnot but they've simply got to accept it'. So I said, 'Well, okay. You'd like us to say something like that?', so Bert said, 'Yes'. So I proceeded to cook up a series, I think it was five or six talks. I gave a great many talks myself right through this period and in fact quite regularly and I think I recorded and broadcast two of these and they were particularly cautious. They in effect did little more than outline the sort of difficulties that were facing the British in Indonesia and the fact that the Americans were embarrassed because they favoured the de-colonising of the colonies, but on the other hand they understood the practical problems of the British in taking the surrenders.
This would have been still '45?
Yes. And then I went on in another three in various forms because I was uncertain about what to do at that stage.
Did you mention the American arms in the first two ...
No, I didn't. This is the whole point. I then drafted some that suggested that perhaps the Americans should reconsider the extent to which they were understandably assisting Dutch forces in the area or should at least be prepared to take some of the responsibility which at present which was unfairly falling on, to some extent on Australian shoulders, and particularly on British. Now in some way or other the Melbourne Sun got hold of this series of five scripts. My theory about it, and it was never more than a theory, I had no evidence to support it whatever was this: the Dutch had an agency in Australia through the [chairs], Van Mook had been one of its head men and of course at this time he was the Dutch - what did they call him - Governor-General I think was the title, Governor-General in Indonesia. I think Governor-General ...
Yes, that's right. M-o-o-k, that's right, Van Mook. He wasn't the director in Australia at this time, he'd already gone off with the Dutch xxx. And this Dutch agency was a mixture of, to some extent, representing Dutch commercial interests in things of that time that had been effected by the German occupation. And to some extent it was something in the nature of a foreign affairs agency maintaining liaison with the Australian Department of External Affairs. And they were in the same building as we were, [Caple Court] in Melbourne. We occupied four floors I think it was at Cable Court and they had floors I think above us. And my theory is that the Dutch had got wind of or suspected that we might be doing something about the Indonesian situation and that in some way or other they contrived to get it. So of course we hadn't taken any particular security precautions or anything of that sort. We didn't behave like a security agency. We weren't even remotely like ASIO or even like the Department of External Affairs in Canberra.
But those talks would have been translated into Malay and Dutch, wouldn't they?
Yes, they were.
So perhaps one of the translators into Dutch was responsible for the leak.
That's also a possibility; that's also a possibility. What made me think that the things had been pinched you see was because of the fact that they didn't only have the two talks which had gone out, they had the three that hadn't. It was only for that reason otherwise I certainly would agree with you. Of course there were several ways and many ways in which they could have got the first two which were, oh, probably objectionable even though moderate as they were, most objectionable from their point of view, but nearly so much as the other three. And the Melbourne Sun got all five. (laughs) The Melbourne Sun came out with the great headlines about this obscure character called Sawer who seemed to be obnoxiously assaulting our - of course they were very pro Dutch, the Herald and Weekly Times, all of their papers were very pro Dutch, very anti Indonesian republican, very pro American too. (laughs) Anyway this then got itself transmitted up to Canberra and Chifley sent out orders that Sawer was to come up and talk to him - him and Bert. So up I went to Canberra. I had made visits to Canberra.
Had you met Chif before?
Oh yes, yes I'd met him before but only on very official introduction on shaking hands terms. Chif as a man had be interpreted to me or conveyed to me to a considerable extent by Mac, because Mac had a very great regard for him and he knew him very much better than me. Yes, so I was ushered in to the presence of Chif and Evatt and of Calwell.
Because he was the Minister for Information, yes.
Yes, that's right. And I knew ... I'd seen more of Calwell but it was remarkable how little he had taken interest in the business. Anyway, Mac certainly was quite wrong in imagining that any of those people, Bonney or Calwell or Evatt, or any of them would have, as he thought they would have done, hang around the place and give orders and to interfere with my [xxx]. Nothing of that sort happened. I think that this was the first time that I had seen Calwell on anything but social terms. I knew him better than I knew Chif, but of course I knew the rest of the three. And Chif did all the talking. Neither Calwell nor Bert said a word through this. He asked, you know, why had done this and I said, 'Oh, well, I understood from conversation with Doctor Evatt that there was an Australian view on these matters and we should be to some extent conveying it'. And I told him about the fact that two of these broadcasts had appeared and three hadn't. Chif took all of this in a very cheerful sort of way and said, 'Oh, Professor ...' - he called me a professor, I wasn't one but he called me a professor - 'Oh, yes, Professor, I can see that you're probably endeavouring here to construct a policy where in fact policy doesn't exist. I don't altogether blame you. However,' he said, 'We are now getting to the point where we obviously must do something about Radio Australia, Short-Wave Division. We have various reconstructions in mind. I understand that you're on leave from the University of Melbourne?'. So I said, 'Yes, and it's only partial leave at that I think [xxx] to give lectures'. He said, 'Would you like to go back to the University of Melbourne?'. I said, 'At the end of the year would suit me all right if that gives you time enough to make other arrangements'. And he said, 'Yes, that suits me find. You carry on the way you're doing. Don't say anything more about Indonesia and the Dutch'. I was expecting Bert you know to intervene and perhaps to say something in my defence but he didn't, he didn't. But it wasn't necessary as it turned out. Chif was quite charming.
A very gentle sack.
Very, that's right, indeed. And I was indeed quite glad to get back. It suited me down to the ground because I knew that the University was going very soon to be faced with very large problems with the influx that had already started, the influx of the returned soldiers coming back to get tertiary education and under Chif's various schemes of that sort. And so I went back there. (phone rings) Severed my connection with the Government from 31st December of that year.
Who succeeded you?
I'm blowed if I can remember. I don't think I can remember now.
I haven't come to that ... so perhaps he's succeeded you. I'll find out.
That's quite possible, that's quite possible. Yes, I had political affection for Tom because he played an important part in the career of my young brother, Derek, seven years my junior. He'd been off to the war. He finished up as a captain. Been to xxx and Tobruk and whatnot. And his managers, as he used to like to refer to them, steered him in the first place into a job with the Melbourne Argus and Tom Hoey was very influential in getting that position for Derek. Derek was his assistant.
Was he a journalist?
Yes, he was a journalist. Yes, Howy was a journalist and he knew the Melbourne journalist scene very well. Yes, Tom and Derek became quite good friends.
Oh now I remember. Of course, this is a point that I tend to forget. The first job that Derek had when he came back was not with the Argus, it was with the Short-Wave Division. That was it. And Tom Howy steered him into that because Tom was very friendly with a chap whose name I forget now who had been Derek's commanding officer in the AIF. They in the meantime had been rounding up the Japs on Bougainville. And then Derek was discharged and the first job that he got was with Radio Australia with Howy, but he wasn't there very long before Tom steered him into this job in the Argus. That's right. And that was the beginning of Derek's fortune as he turned out because he finished up as the chief publicity merchant for BHP.
Yes, and retired three years ago. Yes, he was successively with the stock exchange, with Poppers and then with BHP.
What did they call you position before you succeeded Mac as controller?
I think the official title was officer in charge of short-wave broadcasts to enemy and enemy occupied territories.
One reference I found to you describes you as officer in charge of the political warfare section, Short-Wave Division.
Yes, that may well be it. That may well be it.
It sounds like it.
That sounds like it, yes. I can't say that was ever very conscious of these things. You remember that I said to begin with that after Mac went in effect the job that he had been doing was really put into commission. But there were four of us: me, the chief news man Bob Horne, the chief manager of the studios and getting together of the troops for the purposes of putting it on air and whatnot Arthur Dibley, and the head of the listening post ...
... Reg Drake. That's right, exactly. The five of us - is that four or five?
That's right. The five of us were really in it pretty well equal with each other but I had a vague kind of chairman position. That is to say that in the regular meetings of all five of us which occurred at pretty frequent intervals, every second or third day, we'd have a sit down together of the whole five of us and I was the chairman.
But you were called the controller, weren't you?
Because Mac Ball had been called the controller.
Yes, he had been called the controller. I don't think I was ever called the controller. I don't think I was. I think that this may have had something to do with Mac's departure that this sort of reconstruction of the thing so as in effect in this used to reduce his seniority and in effect to have somebody from the Department of Information being a bloke equivalent to what Mac was. That was one of the things that he was objecting to.
Oh yes. But in your team of five you didn't mention a Department of Information person.
No, there wasn't, no. In so far as this made any difference to the position in relations with the Department of Information it was that Dibley was most effective. That is to say that in his position as controlling all of the technological aspects of the business he hardly ever had occasion to go through me. He dealt directly both with the ABC people who were supplying a great deal of the actual studios and landlines and all the rest of it and with the Department of the Postmaster-General who were supplying other parts of the business and in particular the actual radiating aerials up in north of Australia and around the Western Australian coast and of course as time went on there were things that they took over into Indonesia and whatnot. That was a mixture of the Post Office directly and with army authorities working at the front-lines. Yes, Dibley was the bloke I would say, although he habitually came to our joint meetings and participated in the discussions and whatnot, he had practically no communications directly with the Department of Information through me. Whereas the others as a matter of course, if they had occasion to communicate with the Department they would do so through me.
Do you ...
He was, yes, sure. He was one of our chief news writers. In fact I think that he was the chief news writer. Bob Horne was the chief news editor and that Goss was the bloke who put a great deal of the stuff into the form that was required.
But he was working for Foreign Affairs.
Was he? Yes.
Yes. I'm not sure whether he was at that stage. He certainly was later.
He certainly wasn't then.
He became their plant in Radio Australia.
I see, did he?
Oh, did he indeed. I see. He certainly was ...
END OF TAPE ONE - SIDE B
START OF TAPE TWO - SIDE A
You've got two doctorates then including the honorary one. You'd be Doctor Doctor in Germany, wouldn't you?
That's right. Yes, in fact I've got three.
Professor Doctor Doctor Doctor. That's right. Where's the other one from?
From Sydney, the University of New South Wales and the ANU.
You mentioned the Dutch during the war. That's the NEGIS, isn't it? The Netherlands East-Indies Government (Information) Service?
That's right. That's it.
Now I've come across some documents which suggest that the Dutch and Malay broadcasts were prepared by officers of the NEGIS, is that right?
I believe that that was so but there was a separate arrangement by which they were given so to speak radio time. I think that was before the Japanese came into the war.
No. Judging from the files they were doing this when the Japanese had already occupied the Netherlands East-Indies and presumably they were telling the natives, 'Never mind, we'll come back and rescue you'.
Probably they were. I've absolutely no recollection of any such activity. Arthur Dibley is still by the way alive and kicking as far as I know.
Oh is he?
Living in Sydney?
Yes, living in Sydney.
I must get in touch with him.
I think that Arthur could probably tell you more about that than I could. Because if they were using our facilities it would be through Arthur that they were doing it.
Right. Oh, I could ask him at the same time whether he was the Arthur Dibley my mother used to know at St Marys Church Waverley.
All I can say is that I can't believe that at the time that I was responsible for this business, a separate activity of that sort would have been going on without my knowing ...
You mean ...
... because there would have been such obvious opportunities for saying different things - contradicting each other. There would have to be some kind of coordination.
And you're not just talking about after you'd taken over from Mac Ball, you're talking while you were involved?
Yes, indeed. I just have no recollection. Certainly I'm quite sure that the people who were occupying these offices adjacent to me in Melbourne were not doing any such thing. It would be a different matter altogether if this was an operation going on under army auspices up around the perimeters. That could well have been the case because the Dutch certainly had independent troops stationed here and there.
Yes, but this wasn't part of Radio Australia. By the way when did it become Radio Australia?
I couldn't tell you. My memory is hopelessly mixed up. There are two terms, the Short-Wave Division and Radio Australia have got so mixed up in my mind.
Oh yes. But the initial broadcast was called 'Australia Calling' and it seems to me that that phrase almost immediately was replaced by the Short-Wave Division or, on air, Radio Australia.
Yes. Now, that again, is something that Dibley could tell you much more about than I could because he was earlier than me in the establishment.
In fact what I've found so far suggests that the French were the first to use the phrase 'Radio Australie' because there's a message which went out on all transmissions in all languages - I forget for the moment what it was about - and the English version simply said, 'This is Australia' and so did the Dutch and so did the Malay, Indonesian, but the French said, 'Radio Australie', not Australie. But that's just a by the way. Now there was ...
Now Reg Drake, amongst other things, was one of our blokes who from time to time broadcast in French.
Yes. He was apparently quite fluent.
Yes, he was very fluent.
I'm sorry I won't have a chance to talk to Reg. He died only a couple of years ago I think.
That's right, he died quite recently, yes. At the time that I got the Order of Australia a number of the old Radio Australia characters wrote to me congratulating me and whatnot. And do you know they were all of them people whose positions at the time in the show were relatively junior, I couldn't remember the names of the people. They all came to me as a complete surprise. Along the lines of, 'Do you remember me?'. It's terrible the way in which one ... that the memories of old men. I had an experience of this which has made me very suspicious of oral history. Billy Kent Hughes was a chap with whom I picked up an acquaintance through various mutual friends and whatnot and, oh, going a long way back in the Victorian days. Billy was generally referred to amongst us young revolutionaries as Bill Kent Hughes. And, at any rate, in his much later days, when I was by now a professor in Canberra, he came to me and said that he'd been writing his memoirs and would I mind having a look over the draft of this to see if it stacked up with my knowledge of political events at the time that these things were happening. This must have been round about 1951 or '52 you see. I'd only recently come to Canberra. And so I agreed to do this, read the manuscript, and I kept coming across things that I thought, I don't think that that's right. It doesn't seem to be right. I think the order of events was different. It wasn't a case of A, C, D happening, it was D, C, A happening. And so I checked up things. In fact, I was at that time working on what eventually became the two volumes of Australian Politics and Law 1901-1929 and 1929-1940 so that I was fairly clued up on the things of this period. So I got in touch with Billy and pointed out about twenty of these things as to which I raised questions. I only raised questions and said that this doesn't sound to be quite right and if you've got a research assistant or whatnot, or can you get this checked up. Apparently, he hadn't got a research assistant at this stage. He'd been doing this all entirely off his own bat. So he then proceeded to get a research assistant who started to look into these things and the result was that he abandoned the whole bloody enterprise. I was very sorry about that because he was an interesting man and he'd had an interesting life and I think as far as the style of writing was concerned, I thought it was very good. But the memory of old men is very unreliable.
I'm afraid mine is often unreliable. I'm only fifty-one.
If I may say so you don't look as old as that.
Oh thank you.
[Nancy]: Yes, don't believe a word he says.
But an order of events is the problem. You can have a fairly fresh and reliable feeling about a certain contact but placing it is another matter.
I think the work I'm doing at the moment is sharpening up my memory because I'm concentrating so much on ...
Yes, that's right, indeed. And you've got to be right about the surroundings.
But when my wife and I are at a party she accompanies me and says, 'This is Moira and her husband Dick'.
[Nancy]: We go through this all the time. Or we look them up before we go, or we ring up a friend.
You've met this chap, his name is such-and-such.
[Nancy]: I'm very glad its xxx
I've got three stepchildren.
Oh, is that so. Oh yes.
I've got none of my own but I couldn't wish for more delightful children than these three.
Now more than children.
[Nancy]: How old were they when you married?
Oh, Hamish was eight and Robert was ten and Loise was eleven; now they're eight years older than that.
You got them at their best.
Oh yes. I've had such pleasure out of seeing them grow up and ...
[Nancy]: Fantastic. Lovely.
I've got two of my own and Nancy has three of her own.
[Nancy]: We pooled them.
That's right, we pooled them.
[Nancy]: xxx innumerable grandchildren or, in my case, various kids who arrived on my plate as grandchildren already made. You know, my son was married xxx and has three teenage daughters. So I got three at a blow, you know, new ones. I hadn't expected a seventeen, a thirteen and a seven in that order. So we've just got a stack of ...
[Nancy]: Yes. And Geoff's son has had a divorce and remarried and grandchildren to a previous marriage.
Well, according to the international Who's Who, George Ivan Smith was the first controller of the Short-Wave Division.
Was he indeed. Well, I'll be buggered. It's the first I've ever heard of that. The name rings a very faint bell.
Well that's probably because of his later involvement in the United Nations. He's the Australian who has reached the most senior position in the United Nations. He was quite active in the Congo negotiations and he recently got onto the front page of the Australian with some rather derogatory remarks about Waldheim as he remember him.
Oh, go on.
Yes. He's living in retirement in England and I've written to him asking him ...
I thought that Mac Ball was the first controller.
Well, I'm not sure that he wasn't. George Ivan Smith I think has exalted ideas of himself and of course he's the one who's primarily responsible for the entry about him in the international Who's Who.
Oh yes, of course. Indeed that is a commercial publication.
And he says that he was the controller ... well, the head of the Short-Wave Division of Radio Australia from 1939 until 1940. Now maybe he spent a few weeks setting it up or something like that.
Maybe he did. That's possible.
Because my impression ...
Was that under the aegis of the ABC?
DOI. The DOI wasn't established.
Oh no, wait a minute. It wasn't established until the Labor Government. It was under the ABC, it was, because John Royle was an ABC announcer and ... yes, that's true.
And then it was transferred to the DOI. And it was sort of half and half at one stage in your time wasn't it?
In that it was run by the DOI but with a lot of ABC input.
Yes, that's right. Yes.
And it wasn't until 1950 that it was finally handed back to the ABC when DOI was demolished.
Arthur Dibley may know something about George Ivan Smith's part. It's not a hyphenated name. I mean he always used the three names but the entry is under Smith. But he always called himself Ivan Smith.
The current Smith of Smiths.
Yes. Henry Stokes. I wanted to ask you about this interesting figure.
Henry Stokes, now that name rings a bell. Who the hell was Henry Stokes?
Well, initially he crops up as the chief sub-editor in effect, the chief news writer, for Radio Australia and then immediately after that, very soon after that, he becomes the DEA representative in Radio Australia, first in Melbourne and later in Canberra and he's identified as being from the Department and I'm intrigued to find whether he was an officer of the Department before he became the chief news writer or whether he entered the Department through that. I haven't any evidence about that. I think Noel Goss may be able to throw some light on that.
Oh is Noel still alive?
Yes, he is. Yes, I'm interviewing him next Monday.
Oh are you indeed. Give him my kind regards will you.
Yes. I'll make a note of that.
Yes, indeed. That's in Melbourne is it?
Yes. He's living in the same house in East Melbourne that he lived when his name was listed among the security clearances in 1942.
Well I'm blowed. Yes.
Okay. I'll make a note of this because one other person has asked me to give his regards to Noel and I like to honour these requests. Anyway, Henry Stokes then caused some problems for Mac Ball and in one of his memos he expresses some annoyance to say the least that this Stokes who was discarded by the short-wave service because he was considered incompetent was now trying to bludgeon Mac Ball into following the External Affairs line.
Go on. Is that so? Well I'll be blowed. The name rings a bell but I'm pretty certain that in my time as being primus inter pares, if you'll excuse the legal pronunciation, in my time Henry Stokes was not about. He is to me a name associated with Mac Ball.
Yes. I'm just getting to the stage in the Melbourne Archives where I'm following through the vituperation with which Mac Ball has written about Henry Stokes.
[Nancy]: What are you trying to do? Take some of the limelight from Mac Ball?
No. I think he was trying to heavy him. He was trying to really direct proceedings and Mac Ball wasn't having any.
I wonder whether he could have been one of the reasons why Mac resigned?
I think it's possible.
That could be.
I'm coming to that spot in the Archives. And he may well have been because I haven't come across any reference to Bonney in Mac's correspondence yet.
Yes. Stokes might have been the bete noir of the time. Bonney might have been a slightly later bloke.
Bonney was obviously a problem for him and that's a period I haven't come to yet.
I quite liked Bonney. He seemed to be quite a rational sort of a bloke and of course he never interfered with me.
Let me ask you if you can throw any light on who wrote this and it's dated July '42 - the day after my sixth birthday in fact - and it's headed 'Political Warfare Agencies' and there's no indication of its authorship. And I've underlined in red on the second page a couple of distinctive phrases which might give you the clue as to its authorship. It might be Mac Ball himself but I don't think so.
That certainly sounds like Mac at the bottom there.
Some of those phrases underlined in red are rather individual.
Propaganda lines: I was intrigued by these propaganda lines. There was a memorandum to Henry Stokes who at that stage was officer in charge of Political Warfare Division, DEA, Canberra in '43 which said, and this was just a general instruction: The following propaganda lines were taken in the transmissions directed to the political warfare area during the week ended July 27. Generally the theme was the strength of allied naval and air forces in Sicily and the South Pacific campaigns. English: Have dealt chiefly with the strategic implications of the Sicilian campaign for the Far East. Minor themes exposing the thought of co-prosperity, the fall of Mussolini at the end of this period was used to show retribution for treacherous opportunism. Until the fall of Mussolini used current operations to refute the argument that allied successes had been minor. Since the fall of Musso we are urging parallels between Thailand and Italy and between Pibul and Mussolini.
Pibul, P-i-b-u-l - pronounced Pibul. Pibul Son Quat, the boss of Thailand.
Thank you. I left this document at home and my son read this to me over the phone today and I'd forgotten the spelling. So that's English. Japanese: We have played up to the pessimistic statements of Tojo and a whole series of others.
That's right. The enemy comes on with his great his equipment. Yep.
At the prefectural Governors' Conference, especially the illustration that allied forces have fighting courage as well as materiel superiority with illustrations from current operations. The fall of Mussolini is shown as the first political collapse in the tripartite structure. Now this apparently was the way in which the political warfare was carried out in that week of the war.
That's fairly typical of the way ...
Sure, indeed, exactly. That's just the sort of thing that we were getting all the time. I should say if anything that the directives were more cautious than the situation justified. That is to say that we had a standing instruction to under rather than overstate as we went along.
To under rather than ...?
Under rather than overstate the significance of these various things; to put them in perspective. To bring out, you know, the extent to which and showed how our fundamental position was superior but without raising undue expectations as to what was going to happen in the next fortnight sort of thing.
So that was diametrically opposed to the Goebbels propaganda pattern.
That's right, sure. This was part of the thing which I associate with Mac, as far as I'm concerned it was Mac who laid this down. But we want to get a reputation for being conservative rather than expansive in our projections as to the future. To some extent in this matter we differed from the Americans. The American was the example that was constantly held up to us by Mac and I continued to do this after I took over from him. The example of what they were doing from their bases in the Pacific through their radio emissions which was to try to project too much in advance what were the practical consequences of so and so, and so and so. But understate rather than overstate.
Yes, this tallies with quite a lot that I've read in the archives.
I have three specific events, whether they were reported on Radio Australia and if so, how, and whether they were reported in Japanese. The first is the Battle of Brisbane.
To the best of my belief that was never covered on Radio Australia. Not at all.
I'm not surprised.
In fact I don't think that I learned about it until considerably later, after it had occurred.
Well, one of the propaganda lines that Radio Australia was supposed to follow was to foster amity between the allies and ...
Or at any rate to suppress dissent.
No, I completely agree with that: we were at pains to suppress dissent.
The second incident is the Cowra breakout.
No, we never covered any of that. That was on specific and direct instructions from Canberra.
What? From the Department of External Affairs?
Yes, to say nothing about the Cowra breakout. We were briefed about it. We had a bloke who came along and explained it all to us what had happened and were left in the position of saying, well, you know, if the occasion did arrive to refer to this: this is exactly what happened, but until you get instructions say nothing about it.
There were all sorts of dreadful implications for the Japanese, weren't there? Would it have encouraged them to fight to the death?
Yes, exactly. It was the uncertainty. It was the advice of our own Japanese experts. They thought that this was by far the best thing to do. They said it would be almost impossible to give a credible explanation of this to the Japanese in terms which would do anything else than encourage them.
And the Japanese authorities of course were telling their people that there was no such thing as a Japanese prisoner of war.
Well, balancing the idea that this would have encouraged them to fight to the death, wouldn't the revelation that there were great numbers of Japanese prisoners of war in Australia have encouraged them to surrender perhaps.
Our advice was that this would be treated as lies.
No Japanese would believe it. They wouldn't believe either, (a) that they'd ever been taken prisoner, or, (b) that they should have been so incompetent and cowardly and all the rest of it as not to gloriously slaughter enormous quantities of whites before they in turn died. This was exactly what all three of our chief Japanese advisers said: 'Forget it. Don't touch it. Whichever way you do this it will be counterproductive'.
I haven't come to that period in the files yet but I have come to the period of the earlier New Zealand breakout on a much smaller scale and I know that what you are saying reflects the feeling about how that breakout should be reported and how the Japanese would react.
And the third incident I wanted to ask you about is the Japanese submarine attacks on Sydney. How were they covered?
Oh yes. We did give a fairly considerable reportage of them because we thought that the fact of our reporting it, plus so to speak, not only in Japanese ears but in the ears of the various - indeed at that time we weren't even sure that we had any Japanese ears - but in the ears of the various Thais and Indonesians and Filipinos and so forth - but that the promptness with which the matter was handled and the details of the way in which we dealt with it added up to a reasonably believable story, even in the ears of a Japanese - even in the ears of a Japanese. They wouldn't feel that they'd been let down but on the other hand it would give them a certain respect for the way in which the Australians had responded. Needless to say we did not report the hasty removal from Sydney of so many thousands of Sydney residents who came to the conclusion that the country was being occupied and the general state of alarm which this created, we made no mention of that. We just gave a reasonably accurate report of precisely what had happened.
Precisely. No details withheld?
No details withheld.
The deaths on the HMAS Kuttabul?
The Kuttabul deaths and so on. Yes, that's right. But the Japanese submarines had managed to get in there and that they in turn had been dealt with and that to the best of our belief the mother submarine from which they had been released was still unaccounted for, it got away and all the rest of it.
One of the midgets was unaccounted for too, wasn't it? It disappeared ...
Oh, is that so. I don't remember that part.
I'm speaking from memory.
Yes. I don't remember the detail either. But my memory is that, once again, our instructions, and we got this from the military censorship people, was to tell the whole story because they thought that on balance it was a credit.
Which leads me to the other ... far more significant Japanese attack on the Australia mainland during the war - this would have been before your time perhaps - but do you know how Radio Australia treated the bombing of Darwin?
No. That was before my time. I can't answer that question.
END OF TAPE TWO - SIDE A
START OF TAPE TWO - SIDE B
... and the people north of the projected line might indeed be forced to retreat from the coastal areas and that a situation would be brought about in which there were no major metropolitan centres in which the usual activities of maintaining law and order were centred. So that would become a very very decentralised system of government for such people in which the local justices of the peace would have to be relied upon to maintain the necessary degree of social discipline in such a circumstance. So I drafted a set of regulations for Alf Condon and they duly went up to General Blamey and were provisionally adopted as something that could be put into force if necessity arose. I can't remember the precise timing of that but it was certainly early in 1942.
Mmm. But this, as I say, was an accidental by-product of my working for Mac in the Short-Wave Division.
Did you ever meet John Curtin when you were working in Short-Wave?
Yes, a few times, yes.
This isn't remotely within the scope of my thesis but I'm just interested personally in what impressions you formed.
Well, the impression I thought of him was he was a very aloof sort of character.
Yes, indeed. Totally different from Chif. You could talk to Chif about, you know, the most ordinary things: the state of the weather and how he felt and how I felt and whatnot. But Curtin struck me at that time as being a very frozen sort of person. Terribly overwhelmed by the problems that were on his shoulders and so afraid of giving himself in any way to anybody around.
He'd had his marital problems which had contributed to that.
Yes, sure. And he then relatively recently given away grog. He was still I would say in late 1941 and early 1942 a reformed drunkard. I understand that later on he threw that off and that that no longer was a bother but it certainly was then.
Mmm. Something in common with Bob Hawke.
Yes, indeed. Yes. There's been a succession of them.
Frank Anstey was another. And Frank was a chap of great brilliance if only he hadn't had this xxx.
He's only a name to me. I'm afraid I don't know anything about him.
Well, you'll find him frequently quoted in this book of Gavin Souter's. He had a most marvellous capacity for encapsulating a person in a phrase. Very able bloke. Totally ruined by his addiction to the grog.
Could he have become Prime Minister?
Mmm. Yeah, any more of these questions?
No, that's the lot, thank you. That's it all. Thank you very much. Now I'm just interested to hear your impressions of the wartime years. Just one thing which is only peripherally related to the subject, the searching, and that is, do you think there was ever any serious danger that Australia would be overrun by the Japanese?
I don't think so but mind you this is not the result of any knowledge of mine at that time. At that time I certainly, and I'm sure Mac Ball too, was acting on the assumption that it was physically possible and militarily possible. That the degree of destruction of the American Navy at the outbreak of the war and the rate of which we might be able to depend upon any consequential recruitments of the necessary naval forces, either from the British Navy or from the American forces in the Atlantic was so small that there was a possibility of it. The main obstacle to it was that even the large Japanese population with the very, extraordinarily large intake into their military forces of their general population, was barely sufficient to supply minimal garrisons with the enormous areas which they had been occupying before they got to Australia. In China their commitment was in geographical terms enormous - continental. And then added to that was the very special problems of dealing with countries like Indo-China and Thailand and Burma and Indonesia and the Philippines so that it did seem to us, and we did discuss this and considered amongst ourselves as particularly in Alf Condon's collection of people, that the chances were against a mass occupation of Australia remotely comparable to what had happened in China. They just didn't have even the population of soldiers to undertake it, leave alone the naval equipment and so forth demanded. And that it was much more probable that you would get sporadic landings and attempts at holding parts of Australian territory for a diversionary purpose to attract to the assistance of the Australians in these areas a very much larger proportionate amount of America's then much depleted naval strengths and indeed military strength too so far as it could be transported. But that was the most that we really had to fear. That was our general impression at that time.
Thanks. I'm sure that was a widespread ... (blank on tape) ... last night after a few introductory remarks from you about whether Japan could have won the war.
And I neglected to turn it on again when you were talking about the perception of whether the war could be lost, the perception within Radio Australia is what is really important. How did you feel about the prospects?
I think that after the Battle of the Coral Sea we were pretty well convinced that Australia would not be invaded, that the total Japanese naval losses in the two great battles - the Midway and the Coral Sea - even although we had suffered probably equivalent losses, it so drained the Japanese resources for long sea journeys and supplyings and so forth and so exposed their supply ships to the depredations of in particular the American submarines that it was as much as they could do to contrive to supply and hang onto the enormous area which their armies by that time had conquered and were ruling and running. All down the China coast and inland and around through Thailand and Burma and Malaysia and Indonesia ...
And the Philippines.
The Philippines, exactly. That's right.
The Thais pretty well ran Thailand for them though, didn't they?
Well, yeah, but it required nevertheless a substantial garrison in the place because Thailand was a jumping off place, a secure base so to speak for the hanging on to Burma. And Burma remained a very doubtful proposition for the whole of the war. So that adding all these things up together, the advice that we were given by the service people with whom we were in contact was that from that time onwards the probability of the Japanese even trying to do something in the way of landing in Australia had become remote.
But up to that time between Pearl Harbor and the Coral Sea?
Oh, between that time we considered that the position was still extremely perilous.
And did you believe at any stage that the Japanese could have occupied the whole of the major Australian cities or just Brisbane and the northern cities?
What we assumed was that it was that all they were trying to do in the first place would be Brisbane and Sydney.
In Sydney, yes. And indeed we thought they may well try to do Sydney first rather than Brisbane first. You know, get at the real ... they would certainly regard it as the industrial heartland of Australia. And of course in those days Brisbane was very small beer as far as all those sort of things were concerned.
So you felt that you were playing a part in an effort to save Australia?
Yes indeed. Oh yes, we were distinctly gloomy when we didn't at first of course know the full facts about the Midway Battle but as we gradually were let in to where the Americans did come clean and tell about the detail about what the extent of their losses had been as well as the Japanese ones, we didn't feel nearly so secure. It was the Coral Sea Battle which changed our minds in this respect.
So any esoteric ideas of telling it like it is regardless of the consequences would have been naive.
Exactly, of course.
I wanted to ask you too: Mac Ball in your review resigned from Radio Australia "for reasons with which I disagree".
Oh yes. In two ways. In the first place I was more inclined than Mac was to think that having regard to what still in 1944 was a difficult world situation, the war was still on, and ...
Yes, carry on.
... and it wasn't by any means a situation in which we could be so certain of immediate victory. Of course we knew nothing at that stage, for example, about the prospect of a nuclear weapon. We had no notion about that. It looked as if the Japanese might well be about the carry on a rear guard type of war for a very long time yet. So I thought myself that under these circumstances you shouldn't fight with the government of your country over matters which really came down to a question of personal prestige and ambition and things of that sort. That was one point. Mac was prepared to quarrel with the government and I wasn't.
He said he wasn't prepared to be a lieutenant.
That's right, he wasn't prepared to be a lieutenant, exactly. But the other was that I had a closer acquaintance at any rate, even a degree of friendship, with a number of the people involved including Bonney and Calwell and for my part I thought that Mac was grossly exaggerating the risk that made him do what he did. That is, that they would be constantly interfering; that they wouldn't leave him a reasonable leeway of personal judgment as to was best to be done from time to time. I thought it extremely probable that things would go on very much as they had gone. And in point of fact that turns out to be the case, that the interventions from Canberra were so few, and the ones that did come were useful. It was never in my subsequent holding of that position in the war, and this was the opinion of the condominium of the five of us too, that we were getting it on very well and we were glad of the assistance that was given to us and that nobody interfered with us in an undue fashion. So that's that.
Can you give an example of one of the few occasions when there was interference from Canberra?
Oh well, of course I've told you about Bert Evatt's attempt to sack that Pommy bugger who was our chief Japanese advisor.
That you see was the sort of thing I should imagine that Mac would have had in mind.
But not to content? Not interfering into content?
Oh yes, he was probably afraid of content as well, but more on questions of administration and who we were to regard as trusted colleagues and who to regard as less trusted colleagues and things of that description in the small army of various people from various sources. He, for example, had complete confidence in Oki and was very happy about having Oki's services notwithstanding that we knew that he went on drunken benders every now and again whereas of course some strict public service overhaul got to hear about Oki's behaviour in this manner and insisted on his being sacked.
Can you remember any instances where they interfered in content though?
No. No, I can't. No, not in Mac's time and certainly not in my time either. Not in any sense of asking us to do something that we thought wasn't the right thing to do.
Or say things that weren't the right thing to say.
That's right. Yes, exactly. No, to the ever small extent that we got advice about particular things from Canberra they were useful supplements to the main stream of the lines of propaganda that were being suggested to us by these things from Washington and from London.
And one final question: I didn't quite clarify I think whether in your second ... or your third, fourth and fifth commentaries, the ones that never went to air, whether they mentioned that the Americans were supplying weapons to the Dutch?
And they mentioned that the identification was being removed?
No, I didn't put that in. I didn't put that in. After careful thought I thought that in the first place that this was in any rate only a newspaper rumour and I had no independent source for it at all. But that they were supplying weapons to the Dutch, that I did mention it in the newspaper form I said by saying 'and it has been alleged that they were doing this'.
And did the Sun pick up this point in its article?
So that was possibly the most inflammatory part that worried Chif and Evatt.
Yes, that's right. Well, it didn't worry Evatt at all because he kept thinking he couldn't care less about our relations with the Americans by that time.
But Calwell and Chif ... and Chif.
Yes, that's right.
Thank you very much.
END OF TAPE TWO - SIDE B - END OF INTERVIEW