Bartholomew Augustine (Bob) Santamaria (1915–1998) was a political activist, ardent anti-Communist, committed anti-feminist and devout Catholic.
While his intelligence and leadership always inspired enormous loyalty in his followers and admirers, he was condemned by his enemies as Machiavellian and destructive.
He was interviewed for Film Australia's Australian Biography series in 1997.
Interviewer: Robin Hughes
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project.
Well, it won't mean very much to you, but the address was 219 Sydney Road, Brunswick. It was about three doors from the Brunswick Town Hall. It was a very small fruit shop. There were three rooms upstairs, so that physically describes the household. For the greater part of my life - well until I was married - the ... in those three rooms we used to have my father, my mother and I think there were about four of us before we left there.
I had ... now let me get this right. I had five: four brothers and one sister.
They came from a small group of islands north of Sicily, which are really ringing around the volcano of Stromboli. The central island is Lipari, and they came from the next island, which is known as Salina. I don't know whether you've read The Leopard by Lampedusa, have you? Well, you might remember that the hero was the Prince of Salina. We claim relationship, but I don't think it's really very authentic.
They came because pretty well everybody on those islands were close to starving. It was the poorest part of Italy. It had been part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilys, under the ... originally the Spanish Bourbons. And the people on those islands were even poorer, I think, than the people of Naples on the mainland. And so the emigration was almost complete. I think that between the year 1900 and 1913, eight million Italians left Italy and pretty well all for the same reason and more than half of those came from the south. Well my parents were part of the southern migration.
Well he worked on the island only. They ... my father's family were fishermen, and he used to help his father with fishing lines and so on. When he was a young man - I don't know exactly at what age - he migrated with his brother to the United States but they found the situation of Italians in New York, and Brooklyn in particular, so bad: it was not only poor, but the beginning of criminality and so on, that they wouldn't take it and so they went back to the islands, and later on the whole of the family migrated to Australia.
Well, for some generations. I don't know how far back that went but they were traditionally fishermen.
My mother actually came from the same island. My father's family, being fishermen, of course, came from the part nearest the sea. Her family came from a part near the mountain, which was in the centre of the island and they had a very small vineyard. But although they were better off, it was still a pretty poor existence. While my father migrated to Australia with his family, she didn't. She didn't know my father in Italy at all. Her two brothers had come to Australia, and they had a shop in the Victorian country town of Maryborough, but they had nobody to look after them. And so at the age of - I think it must have been fourteen or fifteen, although I'm not quite sure - my mother had to come out with friends on her own to look after her brothers and she went to live in Maryborough, and it was through that that she met my father.
I really can't answer that. When he came out, as a single man with his family, his father bought a greengrocery, also in Brunswick and I think then the normal thing was for the sons, as the ... two sons as they married - to go into the same line of business.
Well, there was no alternative but to help. The hours in that shop were on three mornings a week my father had to go to the market, and be in at the Victoria Market, at the latest, at three o'clock in the morning. So he had to get up at two o'clock. That meant then getting up at two, it meant preparing the horse and the cart. There were no cars as far as they were concerned. And then going in there and then he'd come back and unload the fruit and so on. Thereupon, late in the morning, my mother would look after the shop while my father had a rest and when I'd get home at about half past three - because the school was straight behind our shop - then it was my turn for a couple of hours to look after the shop. And then you'd go into the kitchen and do your homework.
Well, I suppose I'm lazy. I don't like work, I never have. No, that's the only reason that I didn't like it. [Laughs] I never liked work.
No, no that didn't affect me at all. Everybody, all my school friends and so on, were ... If it's possible to conceive of a lower social status than being a greengrocer, they were of lower social status. Their fathers worked in the railways and in foundries and so on. So we were all socially all of the same group. You would never think of the point that you've made.
Well, we had not very much money at all, because the turnover in a very small fruit shop in an industrial suburb, the monetary turnover would be small. But of course, the time that I remember most was the time of the Depression. It was building up to the Depression in 1927-28 but of course, the Depression in full came from '29-'33. But although the money was very short, somehow we were never lacking food, and never lacking good food. We had Italian food and the good food was largely due to the fact that my mother could make good food out of anything. We were much better off than a lot of my companions at St. Ambrose's. I would think that about, during the Depression, forty per cent of the people in Brunswick were unemployed during the Depression, and I would think that among my friends at school, about a third would come to school every day without any lunch. And those who had lunch would have to share it with the others and I was one of the fortunate ones who had a lunch to share.
Well, my father was typical Italian peasant. He was strong physically. He had only four years of education, but he was very strong intellectually. He had a strong intellectual interest and was interested in foreign affairs, in ... in ... in politics in Australia, and so on, which was quite extraordinary for a person of his background. I don't know any Aeolian islander of the families in Brunswick - there would have been about twelve - who would have had the same interest. I hope that wherever he is, he won't mind my saying this. He was a person of very quick temper. But the most interesting thing about him was this, that he would always use the table to try to get my sister, who came after me, and myself, to discuss public matters with him, when we knew nothing about them. He would discuss foreign matters and so on and the interesting thing was that in the course of that discussion, his ... his ... his opinions would often vary very much from ours, because ours were worthless. But although he had a quick temper, I never knew him once, on those occasions, on which he had brought about a conversation, to use his parental authority. And I always regarded that as a very big thing to be said in my father's favour.
I can't say that, I don't know. I really don't know. I wouldn't have had any real knowledge, I think, until I was at St. Kevin's, when I was about thirteen or fourteen and then you started to pick up some knowledge of European history and so on. But without remembering any particular discussion, I would say that the standard of my knowledge would have been abysmal.
I'm sure it did. I'm certain that it did.
No. No, we were never that self conscious. It was just a relationship, if you like, of having a meal around the table. He'd ask you questions and you'd answer.
Generally my behaviour.
Well, I was pretty self-willed, and he thought I was rebellious, which I actually wasn't, and labouring under that misapprehension he could be pretty severe.
Oh well, get a clip across the ears occasionally, which I don't think did you any harm. But it was nothing more than that and I don't want to give you any false impression. We were in fact a completely contented family. Like southern Italian families, there was a good deal of opera about it but, you know, fundamentally we knew how to get on with each other.
Oh, I think ... I think that I remember his strength of character, and as I ... the fact that although in financial terms we were pretty poor, that he always was able to make a living for his family. He never failed in doing that. His readiness to take a risk, to take a gamble. That had its bad connotations as well as its good one. He was a terrible gambler.
Well he used to love betting on the horses, and when he used to go to the Italian Club, the Club Cavour, and insist on taking me with him, as I was growing up, he was a great poker player, a skill which he never handed on to me, unfortunately.
Not really, no. I was very fond of playing poker when I was young, until the first wage I ever earned, which was five pounds, I was skinned one night, and I never played again.
Well, I wouldn't like to blame the rest of my life on my poker instincts. [Laughs]
Well, not consciously. I never look at things in that way. I mean the main thing is you try to make up your mind as to what has to be done, and you try to do it, and whether there's a risk or not a risk, doesn't make any difference.
Admirably. Every one of us loved her, as we loved our father, intensely. She had had only one year's education. And she - I think in this thing that I wrote recently, a memoir - I pointed out that although she had only one year's education, I would rely on her judgement much more than an academic I ever met at the university. I look back and hypothesise about it. I mean, she had the peasant woman's fundamental good sense. And, of course, nobody would defend her family the way - anybody's family - the way she defended her's.
Not really. She wouldn't have known what they were all about. But she was not lacking in interest. But it was not her metier at all.
Her metier was to be, if I can use a rather corny phrase, a wife and a mother, and particularly a mother. Does that tell you?
Very well, although I never realised it well. It was, you know, at ... the time that I realised it most was many years later, at the time of the Labor split. And you know, I left home in 1938 I think it was, and this was 1955 and she knew that there was something wrong. She couldn't read English. She could just barely read Italian and she used to see my name in the paper, and the connotations were never good. And so she'd ask me, and I'd tell her about it and she would offer an opinion and the opinion was always right as to how you should behave, so ... so that while she didn't have any real background in public affairs at all, her instincts were good judgements.
Always. That was never, never in question where she was concerned. But even in ... if you like, in the political sense, about whether you responded sharply or whether you took it moderately. She was generally right. Her great strength, which she shared with a person of much higher education, Archbishop Mannix, and they both said the same thing to me at different times, wildly different times: 'Never let yourself be provoked'.
Well, I flatter myself that I haven't but some of my daughters think that that's a mistaken judgement.
Yes, yes, that's right. One of my daughters told me the other night, when I said that I never shouted, she flatly denied that. But she had to go back twenty-five years to discover an incident.
Yes, yes there was. I'd have to say that. But you've got to understand it in the Italian way. There was never any doubt at all that we were Catholics, Catholics in the Italian manner. My mother would always go to mass. My father didn't, for many years, go to mass of a Sunday, but he had a very good reason because on Sunday morning, he had to do all the cleaning of the horses' stable and so on, so the reasons were completely understandable. But later on he did. So that all of the assumptions were Catholic assumptions and I grew up not thinking of anything else. The thinking about religion only came to me when I was about fourteen years of age and I was almost finished school by that time.
In thinking about who you were as a child, was the fact that you were an Italian, or the fact that you were a Catholic, the most salient feature of the way in which you could see yourself to be different from those around you?
No, they were indistinguishable. You were Italian and you were Catholic and you were a Catholic because you were Italian. [Laughs] It's not the other way around. But there is no doubt at all that your Catholicism went with your Italianness.
In so far as I was conscious of it. I mean, you don't think about those things when you're young. But later on, looking back, I see that that is how I thought about it.
Oh yes, yes, I remember that very well. I am greatly amused these days when I see people rushing to the Racial Discrimination Tribunal. We had plenty of reason to do that, but if it had existed, we would have despised having recourse to it. You could either defend yourself or you didn't want anybody else to.
Oh well, I remember the unpalatable words, 'dago' and so on, being used very frequently. The ... you handled that as best you could.
Well, it all depended on the size of the person who used the phrase. [Laughs] I mean if you felt that you could handle him, you handled him. If you didn't, well you changed the subject.
Yes. Yes, but never ... I could take that. But never as hurt as when I heard my mother called that. I thought that was unforgivable. But I don't want to exaggerate that, because although that was not infrequent, the truth is that my mother was very well-known in Sydney Road, Brunswick. And I can see, I can still see her going into some of the shops, Love & Pollard and so on, and I could see from the way that the shop assistants spoke to her that she was highly respected. So the truth is that you wrap it all up together and it didn't matter very much and I hate to hear people talking about racial discrimination when somebody uses names about them. It's making a mountain out of a molehill.
Not at all. Not at all.
Oh no, not most, but Brunswick had a fairly high Catholic component. But still, it was the typical Anglo-Saxon break up in the Melbourne suburbs. The majority were not Catholic.
I want to be very clear. People who say that they have spiritual experiences, I envy them, but I don't understand them. My life has been singularly bereft of spiritual experiences. [Laughs] But you naturally if you went to a school like St. Kevin's, which was only for the last two years of your scholastic life, and what we used to call Leaving and Leaving Honours, just the two years before university, one half hour each day was always devoted to religious instruction, as they called it, and part of the religious instruction was the philosophic foundations of your faith. And it was at that time - and I was already about fourteen - thirteen or fourteen - that I began to think autonomously if you like, about God and about religion. But as for spiritual experiences, I'm afraid I'm not given to them.
Well nothing ever transfigured ...
Oh yes, I do.
Well, my mother taught us always to say our prayers at night. You did it as fast as you could. And, you know, it was part of the normal life of the Catholic family. When I married myself, my wife and I would always say our prayers with the children at night time. So that was our normal routine. It didn't mark you off as being particularly pious.
Well, the first school that I went to was just behind our shop. It was St. Ambrose's Christian Brothers. Well, the very first I went to was the Sisters of Mercy in Sydney Road, Brunswick. But that was only for a year. Then I went to the Christian Brothers. And what I remember about that was that it was a characteristically Christian Brothers school. We were all socially of the same group. I suppose that if you want to put it in class terms, it was a very working class area. The education that the Christian Brothers gave us, which depended a lot on discipline and hard work, which was often enforced, nevertheless was a very disciplined education, which laid the foundation very effectively for your university life later on. I can't say much more about it than that, except that you've heard a good deal to the detriment of the Christian Brothers in recent times. I can only say that in all of the years that I was at a Brothers' school, which was from the age of five until the age of fifteen, I never once came across the slightest suspicion of any of the incidents that we've heard about. Nor have I ever met any of our school mates, although there may be some who never spoke to me about it. My recollection of the Christian Brothers was entirely different. I saw a group of men who'd given their whole lives, and their life was a very hard life in every way, deprived of family and, you know, from the time that they were young boys really. And they sacrificed the whole of their lives to making sure that people like myself and my mates at school, whose foot was not even on the lowest rung of the social ladder, would get up to the first or the second step. So I look back on them with a sense of great responsibility.
No, not really. I was no good at all until I got into the Fourth Grade, and then when I got into the Fifth Grade, suddenly five child ... boys finished equal first and somehow my name was there. Nobody got as much of a shock as I did. And after that I realised that I could do something. But I was not among the brightest at all.
I'd like to be able to answer that, but I don't really know what to say. It was important in this sense, and I knew that it was important: my father was always extremely determined that we'd go to university, but we didn't have the money and you had to win your way by scholarship. So I knew I had to do that. And therefore you had to work. And I know that some time ago you interviewed a friend of mine, Jim McClelland, and we went ... we were in the same year, and we went for the same scholarships, and both got them. But I would think that his impetus was the same as mine. That when you had no money, if you wanted to go to the university, you had to win your way.
Well, the primary school only took you the Seventh or Eighth Grade. There was a certificate called the Merit Certificate. Then that took you on to two years at the North Melbourne Christian Brothers. That was to the Intermediate class. Then the Brothers had very wisely - long before I was there - worked out that the best thing that they could do for their pupils was to have a central school for those who'd passed their Intermediate. So the half dozen Christian Brothers colleges, like North Melbourne, would send those who wanted to go on to university to St. Kevin's and they had the best teachers that the Brothers had, for the last two years of your life. It was a very good, successful experiment.
This kind of selection, which used to also happen in government schools, became then subsequently very unfashionable, and opposed by many people interested in education: the notion of selecting out people who were destined for university ...
Well, they didn't select them. You were perfectly free to go on if you wanted to but if you wanted to go on, you had to go to St. Kevin's because there were no other later classes in the Christian Brothers schools. But it was not a matter of selecting those whom they thought was the best. It was your choice.
Yes. But at the end of the day you knew that unless you won what was known as a Senior Government Scholarship, of which there were only forty, you couldn't go on.
No. No. No, I never had any temptations to the religious life.
Not really, no. I thought about it. I suppose that if you went to a Brothers school, with people speaking about the religious life and the necessity for enough people to embrace it, you had to think about it, but I can't say that it was ever a serious preoccupation.
Oh, without any doubt. But that was everybody in the class. There was no particular approach to a person. It was simply that periodically, two or three times a year, a Christian Brother would come around, or a priest would come around, and talk about religious vocations, to the whole class. There was no point of discrimination between the bright and the less bright.
I didn't reject it, I never pursued it. I never thought it was for me.
I didn't think anything in particular. My father did the thinking. He had the idea that I was to become a lawyer and I ... I just went along with that. I had no particular enthusiasm for it, but I did go along with it.
Oh, it's ... you take it far too seriously. It just was the way it rolled on. No, it was rebellious in whether you obeyed or didn't obey in your ordinary domestic relationships. I think that happens in every home, doesn't it?
Yes, I wasn't opposed to it. I just ... even from the time that I was very young he'd talk to me about the law. I didn't know what he was talking about in the very early stages but it became second nature to me, to think that that was where I was going to go.
Yes, I did. I did Arts and Law.
Well, I never thought that any other decision would have been better, I'll put it that way. I simply kept going down the same line but it seemed logical, and I seemed to be all right at it.
Well the answer to that is ... depends partly on the subject and partly on the lecturer. I have always been a great devotee of history and I still think that history is one of the most essential disciplines. Perhaps the most essential. And what children today are being robbed of - and I see my grandchildren being robbed of it - is history. And I think that is theft. But the subject that I enjoyed most, basically because of the lecturer, was a thing that we used to call Modern Political Institutions. And the lecturer was McMahon Ball and he was the best lecturer I ever had and so he aroused a great deal of enthusiasm. He was flatly opposed to my views. He ... I won't tell you what he called me one day ...
He himself was a left-wing socialist. But I must say this, I liked him and at the end of the year he gave me the exhibition in the subject, which I regarded as really generosity of the highest type. But it was the subject I enjoyed most but I think it was because of him.
Oh, he was a man of the Left, without any doubt, and I ... coming from an Italian family, and I was at the university, I went to the university in '32 I think it was. Mussolini was in power in Italy and I had done a lot of study of Italian history and I found that nobody knew anything about post-war Italian history here, and I don't see why they should have. But you see, between 1918, the Treaty of Versailles, and 1922, which was the year of Mussolini's march on Rome, Italy had no less than eleven governments and the country was just descending into total anarchy. There was fighting in the streets and so on, and in the first years after Mussolini came to power, he hadn't evolved, or rather he'd partly evolved the sort of political philosophy of fascism, which was never a political philosophy at all, and I admired what I regarded as the strength of government, that introduced superficially at least, a measure of social peace. So it was because of that that McMahon Bore was flatly opposed to me.
Yes, I was. In my last two years my basic interests were in history - in European history and Greek and Roman. Unfortunately, Greek and Roman was also Jim McClelland's main metier for ... how would you call that? And he beat me for the exhibition in it. So I remember that very well. But it was European history that really gripped me most, and I used to go to the public library after school and look up new books that were coming out and that helped greatly. But if you're referring to what I've said already about Italian history, that was really in my university period because I did my thesis for [an] M.A. on the origins of Italian fascism, and I therefore had to do a great deal of reading on Italian history, at least from the unification of Italy in 1870 onwards.
Yes the ... I think that the decisive turning point in the period of Mussolini's regime in Italy was about 1936. And prior to that, however, when I heard the almost unanimously disparaging remarks about the march on Rome and so on, I often thought that it was all very well if you were English. You had, more or less, a relatively easy and peaceful constitutional transition. But if you'd come from a country that was drivingly poor, and anarchic at the end of the First World War, in which at the Battle of Caparetta they had lost half a million men, it was all very well to be theoretical about that. And suddenly, after eleven governments that couldn't succeed, a government came to power that, whether you laughed at it or not, and the pretensions of the black shirt and so on, nevertheless did restore a degree of ... a high degree of political and social order for a number of years. So my view was the English can laugh as much as they like but they haven't been through this experience, so that was very broadly the theme of the thesis that I wrote.
Yes, yes that's right. That's right.
No, it doesn't follow. It could equally follow that nobody else was any good. [Laughs] But there was somebody who was good. The person who ran second was a girl called Dorothy Davies, who later married Brian Fitzpatrick and she was good and you had to know your way around to be up with her.
To this extent: once Mussolini was allied with Hitler, well then that was crossing the Rubicon as far as I was concerned. But it didn't happen in a clear sky. The person whom I hold as responsible for the choice that Mussolini ultimately made - every man of course is responsible for his own choice - was Anthony Eden. Anthony Eden ... When Mussolini invaded Abyssinia, the invasion was quite unjustifiable, but Anthony Eden made a kind of crusading polemic against it to drive Mussolini out of the ranks of civilised Europeans. It was deserved in way. But Mussolini had always been very clear in the danger which Hitler represented and Mussolini had formed, with Britain and with France, an alliance called the Stresa Front and if the Stresa Front had been maintained, I don't think Hitler could have gone to war in the end. And so the ... what I regarded as the ill-judged actions in all of the circumstances of Anthony Eden, pushed Mussolini in the direction of Hitler. Now I'm not exonerating Mussolini for that. After all, you've got to make your decisions in the end and he made the wrong decision. But it's got to be understood in its historical context.
No, I don't think so. It's a hard question to determine of course, but Communism was always a consistent ideology. Hitlerism, which was based upon the concept of German racial supremacy, in that sense, was a consistent ideology but if you studied the theories of fascism, as I had to for this uncelebrated thesis, you realised it was a bit of a mix. It was the nationalism of an Italian philosopher called Rocco, it was the syndicalism of Sorel. And I have the impression - I can't be sure of this - that Mussolini felt that he had to have an ideology, and these were mixed up to form an ideology. I don't think that there was anything very similar. There was no sense of the racial superiority thing. And in fact, until the very end, really elements in the fascist regime defended the Jews in Italy against Hitler's attempt to pick them all up.
I saw Communism as something to be reprobated from about 1934-35 in an accidental ... through an accidental set of events. Of course, I had known in principle it was a bad thing but it didn't affect me very much. But one day, by the purest accident, I was wandering round a suburban library, and by mistake I picked up a book that turned out to be Malcolm Muggeridge's Winter In Moscow which he published in 1934, and as I told Muggeridge many years later, I said, 'I blame you for everything that's happened to me in my life, because that book changed my life'. So it was about '35, I think, that I suddenly realised that Communism was a problem. The ... I wasn't very clear on the Moscow Trials, which were taking place at the same time. The reporting was pretty scattered. But the Spanish Civil War, in which Russia came in on the side of the Republicans, and then tried to destroy them, in order to take over at the end of the war, that congealed my opposition to it. Until about that time, I had always believed, as a consequence of the Depression and its impact upon people living in Brunswick, that the real problem facing western society was capitalism. I don't like using cliches like that, but you know what I mean. But by 1939, when the Second World War broke out, and when the Communist Party of Australia, like the Communism parties in every part of the world, went over to Hitler's side, I suddenly realised that there was something more. And then that tied up with what was happening in Australia in the union movement. So you could say that around to about '36, '37, '38, I still believed that capitalism, to use a cliche, was the central problem. But with the outbreak of war and the choice made by the Communists throughout the world to go with Hitler, my view, as to priorities, changed. I'm not saying that I modified my view about capitalist philosophies and policies and institutions but I believe that they took second place compared to the problem that Communism represented.
I was fifteen when I went to university. I couldn't sit for my first exams until I was sixteen. I don't know exactly what year that was.
And yet, during this period that you were at university in the thirties, you were in fact very intellectually confident, weren't you? Was that something ... You were forming opinions that you held quite, you know, clearly and working out where you stood on matters. Was that confidence in one so young supported by any other connection in the university?
Oh yes, you could very easily say that what you regard as confidence was an excessive regard for my own opinions. But it was part of an environment. I belonged to a Catholic organisation called the Campion Society. It was [made up of] a university graduates and undergraduates. There were only about thirty in it. But it's the subject ... They were, in general, people of pretty of high IQs. I was the youngest and the meanest intellectually of them. It was that environment that gradually, over a period, gave me a certain confidence - not confidence, an attitude if you like, and we needed it. When I went to the university, the Labor Club, which was really the university branch of the Communist Party, really was in the ascendant throughout the Melbourne University, and it had first class minds belonging to it, who later some of them became judges. One of them became a supreme court judge and so on. They were very formidable people and as you encountered them, you realised that either you kept quiet or you entered the lists, and you really had to develop a feeling that you could handle it.
Oh, because I was asked to. My history teacher at St. Kevin's was a man named Frank Maher, and he was one of the best teachers I ever had, and as I came to leaving St. Kevin's, he asked me whether I would join, and I said, 'Yes'. I remember it very well, because the first two meetings I went to I slept through both of them.
I would never, at that time, have had any temptation to join the Labor Club. My sympathies were always Labor, but the Labor Club was Communist and I was anti-Communist.
Oh yes, yes. I think that what made me understand that was not only what Muggeridge had written in Winter in Moscow, but the experience of the Spanish Civil War, which was really, I think, as intense, perhaps more intense, than the political ramifications of the Vietnam War.
That of course came later, and I suppose what I was interested in was that, I guess, the sort of way in which things get shaped, because you came up to the university, you know, very young and ... and before those events, and before you'd read Muggeridge and you went into the Campion Society.
Yes, but that had nothing to do with politics. That was about your religious background. You studied politics and economics and philosophy. When I say studied, that's a pretentious word, but it was all in the background of the relevance of those to your religious faith.
That's right, yes.
Well, I suppose that my views about the Spanish Civil War were formed about ... formed around two central themes. One was the anti-religious persecution by the republicans in general, and not only the Communists and the anarchists in the republican forces. And the atrocities, on both sides, were simply quite frightening. And I'm not saying that the anti-Communists didn't indulge in atrocities, they did. There is a book called Blood of Spain, I think, that has a study - and it's about twenty years since I've read it - of about 500 villages and towns in Spain, and how they divided and the divisions in Spain were things that you couldn't imagine in Australia. But the atrocities against Catholics, and I was a Catholic, was one thing. The other thing was that, as I studied political institutions and became aware of Communism, I could see that if the republicans won in Spain, the republicans would be swept aside, as the Social Democrats were in Russia in 1917, and the Communists would come to power, and if that happened, not only would the problem of religious and civic persecution be continued, but the Communists, having control of the eastern Mediterranean, would have control of the Straits of Gibraltar as well, and that would have made it impossible to win the Second World War, which wasn't envisaged at the time. So my reasons for seeing the interpretation that I actually took of the Spanish Civil War, was, if you like, on the one hand ideological, on the other hand strategic.
Well, oh, in quite a number of ways. Your existence at the university at that time was a permanent civil war of meetings and counter meetings. But in 1936, with a few friends, I started a paper called The Catholic Worker and this, you know, I expected it to last one issue, but in fact it took on, and by the time I left it, it had a circulation, a monthly circulation, of 70,000, which was pretty big. That was the medium largely through which the views of my friends in the Campion Society, and myself, were expressed.
Terrible. [Laughs] It was very amateurish. I've got a copy of it as a matter of fact. It looks awfully produced, and I remember the editorial, which I wrote, was called Why We Fight and I tried to explain why I thought, in 1936, that the Communist probably was secondary to the Catholic ... to the capitalist problem. And a lot of people who think that the difficulties I had with the moment with economic rationalism are of late development only have to go back to that editorial to discover that they go back to '36.
Well, what I said was, in that editorial was, that there was no doubt that Communism ... Communism affected everybody from my position, with a real challenge. But that the real challenge that was faced by young Catholics at the time, when still about thirty per cent of Australians were unemployed, was the capitalist problem, which had brought about the Depression and that's what we should concentrate our minds on. And of course, a lot of people have said since then that I've been inconsistent, that I changed, but I simply went where the priorities seemed to me to be.
Oh yes, we did that, to a lesser extent in the The Catholic Worker, but there was a great deal of public debate at the university about that and that came to a head with a thing that was thereafter known as the Great Spanish Debate. I think it was in 1937, in the Melbourne University's Public Lecture Theatre. I really don't remember how that was constructed at the time, but there was said to be 1,200 people there that night. It much have been remodelled. It couldn't hold more than three or four hundred now. But that was extremely passionate I can tell you. And there were three of us - Kevin Kelly, who later became ambassador to Portugal, Stan Ingwersen, who became a doctor, and myself - were the team on the one side. And there was Nettie Palmer, Doctor Gerald O'Day, and who was the other one? There was a third one. I forget who the third one's name was. It aroused great enthusiasm on both sides, I can tell you, and it finished up by the Left, who were given the hoses by the students of Ormond College, turning the hoses on us and drowning us almost. But I think we won the debate, even if we didn't win the fight.
Yes, he did.
I don't think I influenced him very greatly. [Laughs] But he said, I think in that quotation that you're referring to, that that night represented the dividing point in his life. He had to decide which way he went. And I think he went the wrong way, so I wasn't very effective.
Yes, he said he was swayed, but he never swayed enough.
Well, the next major development was that the Campion Society had proved very effective in arousing strong Catholic intellectual life that communicated itself to the Catholic masses who were working class. But I think that the Spanish Civil War created the ground for that, because it led to a great popular sense of popular revulsion and so on. This led the Catholic bishops, who had received a memorandum from the senior members of the Campion Society - and I remind you I was the youngest, I was not counted among them at all, I didn't even know they were presenting a memorandum - urging that a secretariat, a Catholic secretariat should be formed, to try to spread the Campion work and the Campion idea throughout Australia. So there was a synod of the Catholic bishops in 1937. They accepted the memorandum, decided to put aside the money to finance it and then they had to get two people to run it. Well, the obvious first choice was Frank Maher, the person who'd brought me into the Campion Society. I was barely conscious that this was going on, except I knew it was going on, but it was outside my experience. And I thought that the second person would be a person whose name I've mentioned, Kevin Kelly. Kevin Kelly was actually recommended by the senior Campions to Archbishop Mannix as the second man, but his mother was a widow and she looked after railway gates in Hawthorn or Tooronga and so Kelly took the view that his duty was to look after her, and he couldn't risk his job in the public service, and he continued with that. And so for some strange reason, Archbishop Mannix mentioned my name. I'd only met him once. And they accepted it. I don't think they accepted it with great enthusiasm. But one day - it was on the day that I signed the solicitor's roll, having just got my law degree - I got a phone call to go up to the cathedral to meet Archbishop Mannix, which I did, and he asked me if I'd take the second job. I'd never dreamt, so I said ... I said, 'Yes', because I would have said yes to anything that he said. And then, as I walked downstairs I had the terrible thought that I had to go home and tell my father, whose great ambition was his son should be a lawyer, so I thought of the speech I'd make, and I pointed out that it was only for two years and then I discovered that my father was enthusiastic, because he would do anything Archbishop Mannix wanted, so he caused no difficulty at all. But unfortunately the two years were extended. That would have made it 1940, and this is 1997.
No, it's a totally different role now because ever since 1957 we ... In 1957, through other reasons, my associates and I ceased our connection with the Catholic bishops and have gone ahead on our own.
It was the start. Yes. Yes.
No, it sounds crazy, doesn't it? Because I had a living to make, I knew that possibly I would marry one day and so on, I was just stupid. But simply because he said, 'Will you do it?' I said, 'Yes'. You really have to understand the man to know that.
I had met him formally, you know, just to shake his hand, on one occasion, I forget which year. It was in the thirties. I was at the university. It was at a Campion Society annual gathering. But I can't emphasise enough that I was the youngest and nobody took any notice. But then I ... when we started The Catholic Worker - before we started it - because we were using the Catholic name I felt I had to ask him did he have an objection. So in 1936 I went up to the cathedral with one friend, talked to him about it, and he kept us talking there for an hour and three-quarters. I remember it very well, and [it was] then I met him. That was the beginning.
What I thought of him?
I thought of him then exactly the same as I thought of him on November 6, 1963, when I was with him the night he died. I thought, without any doubt, he was the greatest man I've ever met and I haven't met any greater. That's all I can say.
Well, it's very difficult to ... you know, to analyse that. First of all, by the middle thirties, he was a legend. He had been engaged in the great public conflict with Billy Hughes over the conscription issue. He'd become a great leader, even of the Left, in Australia. Lloyd Ross's father - I forget his name - he was one of the strongest left-wingers in Australia, but he had an enormous appreciation of Mannix. So he had a history behind him. The Australian Government under Billy Hughes had tried to get him expelled from Australia. He'd been arrested by the British when he tried to visit Ireland in 1921. And then, when the Campion Society was formed, he was one of its strongest protagonists. So I had every reason for thinking well of him. But as I got to know him, I discovered that he was completely lucid in the sense that that word 'lucid' is really meant, in his intellectual mechanisms. You know, he went to the heart of a matter right away. He knew what you were talking about. I never knew him to make up his ... and I got to know him very well indeed - to make up his mind out of any emotional passion or anything like that. I never knew him to be ungenerous. In other words, I thought he was pretty good.
[Laughs] If you don't mind my saying, it's a silly question. I don't know the answer to that.
No, he wouldn't be as ...
No, oh no, never. But he didn't have to. I mean you don't say that to the person you're closest to, do you? And we were both pretty close to each other.
Oh well, it really ... my impression of him started before the first encounter, because he was a legend. You know, he had addressed a hundred thousand people in the old Richmond Racecourse in 1917. You've got to be pretty hot stuff to do that. So in every Catholic home of the time, he really was a legend. Remember, it was ... the Catholic community at that time was [of] Irish Catholic background. I didn't belong to that, but I always felt at home in it and so my instincts were that way.
I suppose what I'm after is not for you to say something about your relationship that's self-flattering, but rather to try and describe, because you see, you can tell us what it was about him that you admired, and why it was so essential for you to, you know, go with what he ... what he wanted of you at that moment, and that your father supported. I guess what I'm really trying to say, was that out of all the people that he could have clicked with and worked so effectively with, he chose to do that with you, and there must have been some connection there.
I don't think he chose it. I don't think he chose it. I think it grew. I think it evolved. I think it was quite possible that he would have found out many of my Achilles' heels, at any time from '38 onwards. He could easily have done that, and gradually moved himself aside, sidelined himself and sidelined me in doing that. But it just broke that way. We seemed ... we seemed to have some sort of chemistry, if you like, together. But what I can't tell you why he went that way, but I can tell you why I did: simply because that in addition to his great capacities for ecclesiastical and political and intellectual leadership, I found out a generosity and purity of spirit, that ... I never knew him to be unjust to anybody. And to me, who later on grew to see that not all bishops were the same, that really was the sort of leaven of my life. I don't think ... I'm not describing him very well, but somebody ...
Well, the answer to that is that I didn't know what we had to do. My idea was that he and some of the other bishops were quite impressed with this idea of discussion groups, which examined political, economic and philosophic matters from a Catholic viewpoint and so that was a form of advanced adult education for Catholics who had none at that time. I thought that that's what we were supposed to do. But in fact, the situation changed that very quickly and we ... somebody made a suggestion. It was the deputy leader of the Labor Party in Victoria whose name was Bert Cremean, who was a very good Catholic fellow. He said it was very important for the Australian bishops to come out decisively on what we called the side of social justice, examining Australian problems in the light of the Depression, which was still there, even at the beginning of the war. And so the idea of a social justice statement, technically issued by the bishops every year, developed and I think the first one was '39. Well, with the exception of the one that was issued in '39, which was written by Dr. Mannix's coadjutant archbishop, Justin Simmons, I drafted all but about two, or three at the very outside, so I had to gradually familiarise myself with a lot of Catholic social doctrine, with a lot of economics and politics that I wasn't ... I was only broadly familiar with. And then somebody had the bright idea that if these Campion discussion groups went on in the vicinity of universities, because they were the people in Melbourne and Sydney and Brisbane and Adelaide, who were most closely affected by that concept, what about the people in the country, weren't they entitled too? So out of that developed a thing that was called the National Catholic Rural Movement. Now if ever there was a Collins Street farmer, I was it. I couldn't grow a lettuce. But they said, 'You organise it', and I thought, you know, if there was ever a lunatic, the person who said that was it. But anyway, I think started to organise the Catholic Rural Movement and I think that was the happiest thing I ever did in the whole of my life. So I was working along both of those lines and then, in 1941, Cremean again, but representing some of the leaders of the Labor movement, including Percy Cleary, who was president of the ACTU, the secretary, Broadby, and a few others, then said that the Communist problem needed to be dealt with, and they looked to the churches to do something about it and I was asked would I do something in that field. I thought to myself that was almost as crazy as getting me to do something with farmers. So that's how it developed.
Simply because ... I was called up, I got my uniform and I got my gun, and then the Department of Labour and National Service seconded me, because of my Rural Movement connections, to help with the formation of what were known as the War Agricultural Committees. These were bodies that developed cooperatives in country areas, so that farmers could pool their labour and their machinery and we'd already been doing this before then. So I was seconded to do that.
Because I thought that ... I had never met farmers before. I thought that the farmers that I met, and I ... you know, we had something over 270 branches of that in all the eastern states, and South Australia and Western Australia too. I thought that they were the finest people I've ever met and I've never lost my affection for them, although there are far fewer today. And the purpose of that was to apply the same: to form branches, to form study groups within the branches, and to adapt the principles of social justice, which we were trying to adapt to industrial life, because of the Depression and so on, to the rural situation: problems of rural debt, problems of erosion and so on, a totally different set of problems, but the principles were perfectly capable of adaptation, and so gradually your mind, your conscientiousness, developed along those lines.
Well, I thought then that the problem of rural debt needed to be tackled. I thought rural debt was too onerous and that there should be writing down of debts. There was the old Judaic business that every ten years - was it every ten years? - was a year when debts were written off. I thought that the system, the level of interest rates for farmers on the land ... for farmers, should be founded on entirely different principles, from interest rates to industrial activities and industrial production. And I had my authorities for that. There was a very good report from the League of Nations on that. I thought that if those things weren't done, the problem of soil erosion would become - which was becoming extremely urgent at that time - would simply grow out of control.
They couldn't afford to take care of it, and they were being driven by the banks to produce the maximum on the farm and not to have the rotations and so on that they should have. And I've never ... I've never changed my views about that.
Yes, they were. Yes, they were.
Nothing. Nothing, except that the rate of interest is much higher. Farmers today are paying fifteen per cent, and I regard that as theft, and Australian agriculture today has no prospects whatsoever unless that is changed. In 1960 - if you don't mind my statistics - there were over two hundred thousand agricultural holdings in Australia. We're down to a hundred thousand and thirty farmers leave the land every week. And I think that the two major political ... the three major political parties, including the National Party, who simply do nothing about that, have a lot and a good deal to answer for. But we've gone on too far, haven't we? This is 1997.
Yes, it is. Yes, it is.
So during that time that you were involved in that, and you got involved in the war effort, relating to rural activity, what again were you actually doing? Were you leading these discussion groups or were you organising them?
You were organising them, but you very quickly discovered that if you organised a group and you didn't have a trained leader who knew what the subject was about, knew how to conduct discussions, was respected and regarded as the natural leader, that the thing would fail. So the training of leaders was a key part of the formation of groups, and so you gradually grew to recognise those people who had leadership qualities in them, and to pick them out and to do some special work on them.
Were you working in these country areas in the same kind of way? When you were talking about the context in which you were doing it, with Catholic people working and living on farms, was this part of the sort of movement that was a kind of lay apostolate?
Yes, that's what it was regarded as. It was regarded as the rural part of that.
Now, before we go into detail and start on the long story of the way in which you were working in the cities, can I go back to you for a moment, and say, what was happening to you? Because here you were, really a very young man to be taking on these responsibilities. What was ...
Not taking them on - being conscripted.
... Being conscripted for these responsibilities and agreeing to take them on. What was happening in your personal life? Were you ... had you discovered girls yet? Where were you in the social scheme of things?
Well fortunately, everything was more or less unified geographically anyway. In the Campion Society, before we started The Catholic Worker, I was asked to produce their monthly bulletin and I did. It was pretty terrible, but I produced it. The difficulty was to get it typed and there was a girl at the Central Catholic Library who agreed to type it, and one thing developed into another.
Well, her name was Helen Power and she came from an Irish family who'd been hit very badly by the Depression. And oh well, we became friends and I married her. I was never able to work out why she married me, [laughs] but that's another question.
Well, it's ... I can't answer that.
But I mean it's interesting, the reason that I'm asking you that question [laughs] ... I can see you're about to say that's a silly question, but I suppose because I'm trying to get a picture of the way you were making your choices, and who you were, what sort of a person would have attracted you, what you were looking for in a girl?
I wasn't looking for anything in a girl. I wasn't looking for a girl.
Well, it's very difficult. I would have married her two years before then if I could have. I ... it's very easy to say that I've always been a sucker for a pretty face, but there was much more to it than that. We had the same ideas, and she was by no means ... she was by no means as conscious of the things that I've been talking about in the past but she knew what we were doing because basically she was typing out our bulletin for us and so on. And I ... you can't ... you can't explain things more deeply than that. You know what I mean.
... Because one of the things that's often said, in the present context of today, is that, you know, it's important to choose a partner after you've had a lot of experience and moved about and I guess really you were coming from a completely different perspective on the way in which you went into marriage and with what sort of commitment, and I suppose that was really the sort of thing that I was wanting to ask you about.
Well, I think that you might have seen that in relation to other things it didn't take me long to make up my mind about things, rightly or wrongly. And it didn't take me very long to make up my mind about that thing. And there it was. I want to say about her that I don't think that many other girls would have entered into that sort of relationship at that time, because I was getting four pounds ten a week, which wasn't ... a lot today, but wasn't much then. It was a completely insecure existence, as was proved later on when I had to make a choice whether I continued to work with the bishops or not, and decided not to. So she was taking great risks, and I didn't realise the risks that she was taking, otherwise I don't think I would have asked her. But anyway, that's ... she decided to take them.
We married in 1939, and she died on December 16, 1980.
Yes, we had eight. We had five girls and three boys.
And did you approach that marriage with a sort of sense of ... no, I'm not going to ask you that. I'm going to come back to that, because I got off on a bad foot with this. [Laughs] We'll leave it to one side and come back and talk about it. So we'll go back to the work that you were doing at that time. So it wasn't long really after you were married that you went to work with Mannix or had you already started?
I went to work at the beginning of 1938 ...
... although I had accepted the position in 1937 and we were married ... we were engaged in '38, and married in '39.
One point that I do want to make in relation to everything that I've said to you, you have asked me questions on a personal basis, and I answer, 'I did this' and 'I did that' basically because I'm answering your question. But in a sense, it wasn't ... it wasn't a personal thing. There were plenty of other people around me, and I wasn't even the sort of leading figure in them. I want to make that perfectly clear. They were as important as I was, which wasn't very important. And it is the same in relation to the fight against Communism. My interest in it - it was a rather remote sort of interest - developed, I think in '38 or '39 when the person whom I've mentioned to you already, Bert Cremean, who was deputy leader of the Labor Party, took me along to a meeting at the Trades Hall Council, which was being addressed by the former general secretary of the Communist Party in Victoria. His name was Dinny Lovegrove. And Dinny Lovegrove, who'd been known in the party as Jackson, had left the party. He'd been beaten up and tortured: not thumbscrews or anything like that, but with lighted cigarettes and so on. He gave the story of what his experience had been in the Communist Party and why he'd left it and so on, and he was a very good speaker, and a good leader, and I was very impressed. But I didn't do anything about that. But within two years - I can't work out the exact number of months - Bert Cremean came to me again, because we were friends, and he pointed out how a considerable section of the right-wing leadership of the Labor Party in Victoria were concerned that they were losing control of the Labor Party, because they'd lost control of the trade unions, which were affiliated with the party, and he said to me that unless we did something about it, they'd lose control and the Communist Party, through the popular front technique, would control the Labor Party in Victoria. And he thought that something ought to be done about it, and I said, 'Well you ought to go and talk to the Archbishop about it', which he did. And the Archbishop called me in and asked whether I could work with him to have a shot at handling this. I was as ignorant of that problem as I was of the rural problem. And so I said, 'Well, if you want me to', and that was the beginning of the work against Communism in Victoria. Later on I discovered that there were people working ... Catholics working against Communism in New South Wales, in a very different way from the way we'd started in Victoria, because what we did was to begin work in the trade union movement. The Liberals were ... the Liberal Party, then as now, were saying that you could handle Communism or unionism - they often found it difficult to work out the difference between the two - by government action. And I discovered that they didn't mean it. They didn't know what they were talking about. That there was only way, if you were going to take unions away from the Communist Party, and that was the critical issue, if you wanted to save the Labor Party, and that is that you had to go into the union movement. You had to organise ironworkers to meet the Communist cell in the ironworkers' union, railwaymen, engineers and so on. And that was the only effective way. So I've jumped a bit from the point where Archbishop Mannix and Cremean asked whether we could do something about it. I really didn't know very much what they were talking about, except from what I'd heard from that Lovegrove lecture and so on. Cremean, to increase my enthusiasm - I wasn't feeling very enthusiastic about it - introduced me to the president of the ACTU, Cleary, and the secretary, Broadby, to Calwell, to Pat Kennelly, who was assistant secretary of the Labor Party, and a few others, to show me that they wanted something done, so I felt that there was a necessity. And so the question then arose, how do you do it? What do you do? You had to analyse what the problem was. They controlled practically all of the unions in Victoria and how did you get them away from them? I thought to myself at the time, there's no better way of knowing how to fight the Communists than to have a look at the constitution of the Communist Party and I suddenly saw the way. In other words, we would mould our constitution on the model of theirs so that if they believed in training cadres, we believed in training cadres. If they believed in forming union sells, we'd form union sells. And if they believed that you needed central direction, we'd have central direction. It was a pretty good idea. I don't think that ... I don't think I could have done better than that. Anyway, that's how it began.
No, it wasn't. The bishops made it very clear that it should not come within the framework of official Catholic action, basically because they were ultimately responsible for the conduct of Catholic action movements. They were part of the church and they realised, much better than I did, that what we were going to do in the union movement would have implications in the Labor Party, and therefore there'd be a political expression. They didn't want to be in that. So they said, 'You do it, with our blessing. We'll support you, but it's your baby'. And that became the issue at the time of the Labor split in the fifties, on which the split developed in the Catholic Church, as to who should run this movement, because Cardinal Gilroy and his Auxiliary Bishop Carroll believed that they should. And that wasn't part of my original bargain at all. So it wasn't meant to be part of Catholic action in an official sense, and ultimately it wasn't exclusively Catholic. You see, I knew that as long as it was exclusively Catholic, we'd be beaten, because the Communists could always use the sectarian issue against you. So what we wanted to do was to get the Labor Party involved officially and that's the how the ALP Industrial Groups developed.
Well, I think, you know the Industrial Groups didn't have an official membership. The people were members of the Industrial Groups who, on the eve of a union election, would go out and put how to vote cards in postal boxes and so on. And in the big elections, like the Ironworkers' Federation election in '51, there would have been thousands who were doing that. Now I would say that it is true that about eighty-five to 90 per cent of those would have been Catholic. But the leadership of the Industrial Groups - men like Laurie Short of the Ironworkers', Lloyd Ross of the Railways Union, Arthur Horsborough of the Engineers, George Neale of the Miners, none of those were Catholics. So we in fact were the PBIs. Do you know what a PBI is?
The Poor Bloody Infantry. [Laughs] And they supplied the leadership. I worked with them, of course, very closely and so that we had this input. And I think that, to be fair, a lot of the contribution to strategy came from our Movement circles. But it is a mistake to say that the Industrial Groups were an exclusively Catholic sort of organisation.
Yes, yes, they were, certainly, but sometimes meetings were held in Catholic halls that were addressed by non-Catholic leaders. The issue of religion was not a point of division or anything like that. See, I can remember Lloyd Ross. Lloyd Ross had been a member of the Communist Party. He became the industrial group leader in the Railways Union. He addressed the people that I'm talking about at a Catholic social week, so that the fact that a meeting might be held under Catholic auspices didn't mean that the participants were all Catholics.
It was absolutely vital. You see, I remember a person who was a director of one of the banks - I don't know many directors of banks - and he asked me once, he said, 'I want you to tell me the truth. Is this Catholicism versus Communism or is it Labor versus Communism?' And I said, 'Why are you asking me?' And he said, 'Because if it's Rome versus Moscow, I'll support Moscow rather than Rome'. Couldn't have been straighter. So I said, 'It isn't'. I said, 'The ...' - I didn't use the word infantry, but you know what I mean - '... maybe Catholic, but the leadership represents the whole of Australia'.
I wouldn't ... I wouldn't exaggerate that. Yes, I did a good deal in thinking out moves and so on but there were others who were just as much part of it as I was. There were men like Frank McManus, who later became a DLP senator, Jack Cain became a DLP senator, Lloyd Ross, former member of the Communist Party. Laurie Short was obviously the strategist in the Ironworkers' Federation elections. I think, unfortunately, one of the things that happened at the time of the split was that Evatt found it useful to use my name, because it was Italian and Catholic, and in addition to the general ignominy heaped on my head at the time, people developed the impression that I was the strategist. No, it was a collective effort.
And so with the way the ... that it was ... I suppose it would be interesting to have on record from you the details of how in fact the groups operated. They were matching the Communist groups. How did you marshal the forces? How were people recruited to help?
Well, in the first analysis, you've got to get an army. You can't be in a war without an army. And the agreement, the deal with the Catholic bishops was this: We said or implied, 'You want us to fight, now what are you going to do to help?' and they gave us a certain amount of financial help. It wasn't very great in relation to what we had to raise ourselves but their moral support and their organisational support was very strong, very important. And you'd build up your forces in this way. For instance, in Melbourne there would have been about - I'm guessing now - let's say there were a hundred and twenty Catholic parishes. We probably would organise in about ninety of those hundred and twenty. And what you would do, the parish priests knew that the archbishop wanted them to help. So you'd go and visit a parish priest. You'd say, 'Can you give us the names of half a dozen people who you think will be interested in this work in your parish', and they always could. And so you'd move among them and you'd form them into a group or a branch, and then their job was to get a census of all of the union members in that parish and out of that census you'd find out who were the ironworkers, who were the railwaymen, who were the tramway men and so on. And you'd be doing that on a city wide basis. So gradually your forces would become fairly clear. And then on top of that parochial organisation you'd build an industrial organisation. You'd have a group of ironworkers, a group of tramway men, and so on, and they'd carry out the election battle. Is that clear?
No, I didn't say exactly that. It was similar to that. I would say this: if I had been on the other side, the first weapon I would have used was the sectarian ... would be the sectarian weapon. And that's what they used. They knew if they said this effort is Catholic, that they'd mobilise non-Catholic opinion in the support of Communism, normally a lot of non-Catholics would not support. So that's the first and obvious thing. It happened at the time of the conscription campaign. And it happened at the time of the split. So it was obvious. So the thing that had to be done was to convince the Labor leadership that if you want this done in your self-protection, which they did, you had better gradually make sure that the Labor name and Labor authority comes to the head of the party, as it were. And it took years to get that done. So it was absolutely indispensable.
Well, the value was, the value was ... there were two or three aspects of the value. The first was that if you started to talk to them on the Communist issue, they knew what Communism was. They remembered Spain. So the community as a whole wouldn't know what you were talking about in the majority of cases. To them a Communist was an ordinary Labor man. Secondly, you ... if you indicated that Communism was anti-religious, they would believe that they had a religious duty to fight Communism, so that you would mobilise their deepest instincts. And thirdly, you had the normal structure of the parishes to act as the foundation stone on which to work in order to gradually build up your forces.
Oh, there was nobody else. It was not only crucial, it was almost total until, in the middle of the forties, the Labor Party decided to lend its name officially to the fight and then you had men like Lloyd Ross and others who came into it. But before then there was nobody else.
Well they had, in a sense, initially had the demand for something, and then I have to say that they leaned ... When we started to win, a few of the unions, small ones that nobody had ever heard of, blacksmiths, boilermakers and so on, they then started to sit back comfortably. Because the pressure on them was easing. But the pressure on us wasn't easing because, by this time, we were moving into the bigger unions, and it was realised that unless they leant the name of Labor to the effort, the whole effort would be frustrated in the end by the use of the sectarian weapon. And finally they came to the party.
Oh yes. I ...
It wasn't, in a sense it wasn't a ... it was official and non-official. And Archbishop Mannix lived at Raheen in Kew, and I lived in Kew, and on my way home at night, a couple of nights a week I'd drop in and talk to him. We could talk about anything, but I would always tell him how things were going. I wasn't reporting to him or anything. We were talking. And he never said, 'I think you're making a mistake on this, do it that way'. He knew that he ... he wouldn't have known enough about it. But he always wanted to know and his interest was intent, because, as you know, he always had a deep interest in public questions.
Well, the first thing of course was that there was a great depletion of available manpower, because the call-up, particularly in country areas, and what were regarded as non-essential industries, simply took hundreds of thousands of men out of currency. In addition, very many of their wives were engaged in war production and, of course, that had problems of physical tiredness, exhaustion and so on. So that the ... if you like to look at it inanimately, the human reservoir was greatly depleted and therefore it became much more difficult to engage the attention of the individuals to recruit them for work and so on, because they were working very hard already. That, I think, was the fundamental factor: the depletion of human capacity to respond to the challenge. Because you have to remember that by 1942-43, the Communist Party was already in possession of every major trade union in Australia, with the single exception of the Australian Workers' Union. So they were in possession. They didn't have to do much about it, whereas somehow we had to find the people who would work to dislodge them and there were far fewer people.
Well I was deferred, not because of the work in the unions, that was irrelevant to them, but fundamentally to do the work of trying to help to organise war agricultural committees. And the main official who was responsible for that originally was the secretary of the Department of Commerce, a man named Frank Murphy, whom I knew quite well, and it was through that actually that he recruited me to do that work.
And what in fact did you do that assisted? I mean what was the difference between what you were doing with the organisation of a buffer against Communism and the work that you were doing that was appreciated by the war effort?
Well, the work against Communism was totally irrelevant to the war effort, from any organisational or administrative viewpoint. What they were interested in was exclusively in the rural areas, because you had an enormous depletion of rural manpower, and you also had great difficulty in manufacturing agricultural machinery, basically because the factories were going to war production. Therefore they were interested one idea with two branches, that we had developed before the war. The Rural Movement had the idea that a great deal of wastage of capital, which was short in country areas, was going into the duplication of agricultural machinery and there were many things that could be done by cooperative effort, by pooling of machinery. With the call-up, that then also involved the pooling of manpower. We had some experience of that, and nobody else did. So Frank Murphy asked me whether we could see if we could this on a wider basis. We had previously only worked on that basis with our own members, but this involved dealing with communities as a whole.
Now, staying with your work in the rural area, at that time also you wrote some books which expressed the view, and I was interested to see that the title of one of them was The Earth, Our Mother, which is a phrase that we've heard in many other contexts since.
Yes, well I wrote that in, I think, it was published in '46 - '45 or '46, but I wrote it in about '43 or '44. That was during the war.
Well, fundamentally, although as I mentioned to you already, I regarded myself as a complete tyro in the field of agricultural matters, as I was. But if you studied it, what you noticed was the gradual and increasingly rapid depletion of the reservoir of agricultural holdings going on in Australia. Of course, I admit that the war was a main factor in that, but I saw it as a permanent factor and it struck me that there were a number of things that were wrong. One was the specialisation of agricultural production. In other words, if you had a wheat farm, you had a wheat farm and the pressure of finance was such that you had to produce as much wheat as possible, which mean that rotations were disrupted and so on. I had an idea, I don't know how I got it, of the European background. The European farm was a much more self-contained thing, a much more diversified thing. And the more I discussed it, the more it seemed to me that on the one hand that really was the only principle on which the fertility of the soil could ultimately be maintained. And secondly, it was economically, much more reliable because it didn't mean that you put all your eggs into the one basket. And that was one of the ideas expressed in that book. The other idea which was important, or a second idea which was important was that of course, the banks were always trying to funnel money out and I think that the indebtedness of the Australian agricultural industry has been the result of a deliberate policy. And already the problem of rural debt by 1940-41 was very grave indeed. A lot of farmers obviously couldn't ... couldn't survive. So we tried to import knowledge of the cooperative principle. Now a good deal of European farming was really based upon cooperative finance from the credit union movement. We picked up the same idea in studying of what was happening in Canada. There was a university in Nova Scotia, the University of Antigonish, that specialised on cooperative organisation, not only in the field of finance. So I imported that into the book. The third thing that seemed to me to be important was that the whole of Australian education was oriented toward city occupations, so that very many of the best people on the land, their children were going to leave them, simply because their mind was directed elsewhere. Therefore the importance of getting a rural orientation to some education was important. Those were the things and therefore, when you looked at it and you said, 'Well now, what philosophic principle is there, if there is one, that reconciles this?' Well, the earth, our mother, was the philosophic principle. So I maintain that historically I'm the first greenie in Australia. I don't mean that seriously.
No, because we'll come back to that, because subsequently the environmental movement took off and I'd like to talk about that later. But some of the ideas in the book were then taken up and put into practice after the war, weren't they? For example, the notion of cooperatives and a concept of closer settlement was one that you advocated later. So following through on your work in the rural area, could you tell us what happened with the idea of closer settlement and cooperation?
Well, the ... the ... One of the difficulties about the spread of the cooperative movement in states like Victoria was that there was no legislative framework into which you fit cooperatives. There was a Companies Act into which you could fit companies. On the other hand, in New South Wales, although not utilised, there was a Cooperation Act and this had a legislative and administrative structure for all types of cooperatives, and I did a bit of work on trying to get that introduced in Victoria, preliminary to having it introduced into other states. This became possible at the beginning of the fifties, when the Cain Government, Labor Government, came to power in victoria. Cain was the father of the later Cain who became Premier of Victoria in the seventies, I think. We had one or two members of the Movement in that Cabinet. The main one was a person named Frank Scully and I interested him and I got him to interest some members of the Cabinet in Victoria passing a Cooperation Act, to provide that framework for cooperatives. So a fair amount of work went into that.
Oh yes, there were many cooperatives and the whole credit union movement in Victoria, which is very widespread today, depends upon the passage of that Act. Unfortunately the credit unions here in victoria now, which are numerous and profitable and prosperous, they have gone down the wrong line. They simply follow ... they have tried to transform themselves into normal banks, and they have the same sort of interest rates and so on as banks. They serve, to my mind, no particularly unique purpose. Whereas the purpose of the credit union movement proper was to have local control and low interest rates. So, unfortunately, that went along the wrong lines, like a lot of other things.
Yes, well that was a bit ... that was a bit, you can call it an eccentricity if you like. One of the things that I picked up in the course of reading ... There was a book called Rural Roads to Security, which was published in the United States and one of the parts of that was devoted to this: in the state of Iowa there was a coal mining district called Granger and Granger had been hit by the Depression and so unemployment among the miners was quite widespread. There was a Catholic parish priest there who was an Italian. He was Father Luigi Lagutti [?] and this book told, among other things, the story of what he'd done. And I got in touch with him. Basically what he did at Granger was this. He said there is a sufficient amount of activity in the mining industry left to provide half time work. There is a lot of land, and so instead of the miners working and living in tumbledown housing, as you would get in Cessnock and Currie and so on, he gradually developed cooperatively a home makers' scheme in which he put houses on about an average of five acres of land. The result was that the miners would spend half their time earning a money income in the mines and the remainder of their time developing local production in the rural areas. Well, I thought that ... in the rural holdings, well, I thought that was a pretty good idea and it remained abstract. There was a priest in Melbourne named Father Pooley, who became very enthusiastic about this. He was a very good parish priest with a prosperous parish. He asked Archbishop Mannix would he second him to start a settlement of that type. And so he did without any argument. And he started a settlement of that type forty miles from Melbourne, which they called Maryknoll, and it's still in existence. But it's different. The basic idea was that there would be these small holding, which were simply for home production. The men would also maintain a part time occupation in industry, which they did very largely in carpentry, in neighbouring Dandenong. The architectural plan of Maryknoll was very well conceived. They had the church and the recreation hall and the library in the centre, and the houses rotated around, and they built up a very strong community. It was excellent while it was in his hands, but then he died unexpectedly. Well, that continued and there are some of the same families still there. But two things happened. One thing was that he died and there was no successor and he was the inspiring figure, and you need them. But the second thing is that as Melbourne grew outwards into the direction of Dandenong, the value of that land went up and the children and grandchildren of the originals decided they'd be more prosperous if they sold the land. So it's still half there. But that was really simply an exception to what we were really trying to do. But it was a very nice exception.
You've got to understand that I'm what they call a Collins Street farmer. I am no good at any of these things. If you ask me why I'm interested, I can't really answer the question, except that I suppose it goes back to my Italian background, which was in some senses a city that my father's family were fishermen, but my mother's family had [a] small, small vineyard. And I was broadly familiar with how those islanders lived, and I was always taken by it. I think it could be that. But this is trying to psychoanalyse yourself, which is no good.
Well, except that you can fall into a mass of illusions, you know.
Yes, I noticed yesterday that some of the ... four or five of the largest land holdings, grazing land holdings in Queensland were bought by Prudential Insurance Company yesterday, which I don't regard as a good thing.
Well, it's a mixture of a couple of ideas, isn't it? The family is important to me, psychologically and spiritually. The ... it is also, I think, the soundest way, if you can maintain it, of running economic enterprises. For instance, I think I mentioned to you, that only a few weeks ago I was in northern Italy, and I parked myself and the few people I had with me in Verona, and if you go from Verona to Venice and north to the Alps, you will find an enormous profusion - enormous, of, not only family farms, but family industrial enterprises - highly modern, modern technology and so on - but all based on family ownership. Ninety per cent of the economic enterprises of the Lombardy plain, or the eastern side of the Lombardy plain, are owned by family enterprises. And the result of that is, not merely has Italy got the best export market in new technology products in Europe, but the family was very strong in Italy. It is not as strong today. So I see the ... I see the spiritual and cohesive civilising influence of the family strong - resting on a strong economic base, where the economy doesn't pull the children away from the family, and at the same time, a strong base for economic development that is vastly superior to total industrialisation. So, those are the ideas that I had in my mind. I don't want to give you the impression that they were very successful. They weren't. I ... I never really achieved much in that area.
One of the arguments against that kind of farming in Australia has been the land itself, that unlike the land in Europe, the yields per acre are of a quantity and quality that makes such a concept much less viable here.
Well, there are large parts of Australia where it's inapplicable, basically for climatic reasons. But that disguises the fact that there are large parts where it's thoroughly applicable. And the fact that you've had extensive, rather than intensive agriculture in Australia is due to the historical developments from the first beginnings and then also to the financial policies that were adopted by the people who originally financed farming, which were the English banks. It needn't have been like that. And there is, I think in the end, you will find that in the north-west of Australia, around the Ord and the Fitzroy, we've got water resources that I think are about a third of all of Australia's water resources. If we don't develop agriculture along those lines, with markets just over the water in South East Asia, I think that one day an Asian power will do it for us.
That was a view that you had a long way back, wasn't it, because you did propose a plan, post-war, to bring out European migrants to settle the land. Could you explain how that arose, and what you did with that?
Well, as a matter of fact, you see in my life a profusion of plans that never come to reality. It seemed to me that in the immediate aftermath of the war, of course, a very large number of Italians, Germans and ... Italians and Dutch in particular came out to Australia and immediately they could be employed in things like the Snowy Mountains Scheme. But ultimately it was obvious that they would be simply drawn as by a magnet into the cities. Now at that stage, quite a number of those came from a rural background and it struck me that the Italians and the Dutch, in particular, came from a rural background there, and we had tons of land here that was well-watered, why not try to marry it? And so I tried to get a pilot project going, which would really marry migration to land settlement. And the pilot project was to be here in Victoria in Gippsland. It was not a very good moment to do it, because soldier settlement was under way and, of course, the issue of foreign ownership of land was very strong. But I tried to make the point that all we wanted was third class land, which solider settlers wouldn't use. And finally I got agreement of the Victorian Government that they would make some land available. I got agreement from the Italian and the Dutch Governments that they would make finance available, and that was in the early fifties. And that plan turned out to be the spark that ultimately set off the split, because it was quite consciously used by elements opposed to my whole idea, to say that what I trying to do was to establish in Australia Italian colonies, based on three acres and the cow. It was quite ... if you look at the Victorian papers at the time you'll see that all over them ...
Oh yes, exactly, exactly. As a matter of fact I didn't give a damn whether they belonged to a Catholic Church or to the Buddhists, as long as we did what had to be done.
Oh, it would have been very desirable, but it was never a primary point in my mind. I will admit that in so far as they were Italians and Dutch they would inevitably be, very largely, Catholic, although from Holland they would be Protestant as well. But I never had any particular orientation in that direction. I'm not saying that my Catholic religion wasn't important to me in the private sense, and in what I was trying to do, but what I was trying to do in that field, which was a monumental fiasco, was really for the country.
Oh, they wouldn't be natural recruits. No. You see they came from a totally different environment, with different problems and if they hadn't been successfully settled on the land, they would have ... they would have been intent on settling themselves. They wouldn't have been available for work. But in the end, of course, although I eventually did get the support of the Tasmanian Government, I couldn't get the support of the Queensland Government. Even a person who was a close friend of mine, Gair, who became Premier of Queensland, wouldn't make any land available. But nevertheless, the whole thing was directed really to show a different pattern of future development in Australia, which I think would have been better.
Was one of the reasons why they were sceptical about it because of the fact that the soldier settlers were, many of them, finding it extremely hard to make a go of it, even on land that was better than the land that you were asking for?
That was used as an argument. I don't think it was a reason. I think that the fundamental impetus for the opposition came from a section of the community that was opposed to Catholicism as such, and they believed that there were going to be Catholic colonies and all of this sort of stuff. And that was where the real opposition came from.
Oh, of course. Of course, because I always believed that the development of Australia should be on the basis of an agricultural hinterland and strong country towns. I believed in Ballarats and Tamworths and Dubbos and so on. I didn't believe that we should have what we've got today, ninety-five per cent of the people on the seaboard.
Yes, that concept of disbursement and decentralisation has been strong with you. But why do you think the soldier settlers failed, because some of them worked extremely hard and still couldn't yet make a go of it?
Well I ... really I ... I can't tell you about that any more than you can read in the papers. I mean there were failures of markets, difficulties of getting loan capital and so on. All of those things. One of the ... one of the real problems of rural settlement of any type in Australia is this - that with the centralisation of all facilities, especially educational facilities, schools and universities, in a few cities around the seaboard, when a family has children they've got to educate them, they've got to send the kids away. And that is sort of a magnetic pull away from the farm. That's very powerful too. And you notice it very much today as all of the facilities are drained out of country towns. Public service departments go, the banks go, the doctor goes. The town can't live. And I think that was also a factor.
I was told to do it.
Oh, as soon as I ... as soon as I began to understand of course. And there was no question of being conscripted as I went along.
So can you talk about that process, because I'm quite interested that somebody can be asked to do something, not really being sure what it was, but then when they get into it, really get a concept of what it's all about and become committed. So after you were conscripted by Archbishop Mannix to do this work, what made you realise just how important it was going to be, and kept you with it?
Well, first of all, I hadn't understood what the problem really was. I told you that the ... the single excursion into studying the Communist problem in which I'd taken part before then, was that single lecture by Dinny Lovegrove, who had belonged to the Communist Party and then I more or less forgot about it, or put it on the back burner. But once I was given the job and I had to immediately to study what is the situation? Are these men, Cremean and Calwell and Cleary and Broadby, are they exaggerating? Is it only that their power position in the Labor Party is being threatened by the Communists and they're only interested in that, or is there a real problem? So I had to very carefully study the position in the trade union movement, the relationship of the trade unions to the Labor Party, where three quarters of the delegates to a state conference and federal conference of the Labor Party were union delegates. And I realised there is a very strong interconnection. Who runs the unions runs the party and the party becomes the government. And I could see that the problem was very much advanced. And, sort of, as I saw that the problem was very well developed, I mentioned already that the Communist Party ran every major union bar one, and all the attempts to disparage that comes from people who were never there. Then it sort of got hold of me and it was serious. And my real problem then was how do I keep the work in the Rural Movement, which I really loved, going, and at the same time do this? And you sort of acclimatised yourself. I was very fortunate in the sense that my secretary was a girl who had started to work for me, I think she would only have been about fifteen year of age. Her name was Noreen Minogue and she had no university education, which proves that university education is of very little importance. And as I moved over into the trade union thing, she knew the people in the Rural Movement very well and she really carried the whole burden of that. And I can't say how much she carried it. Ultimately she became assistant national secretary to the Red Cross. So she was pretty good.
Now that brings us to talking about the day to day nitty-gritty of, as it were, the hard yakka that had to go into this organisation. Many people appreciate that ideas have to be thought through and you have to come to grips with the philosophy behind things. But the actual organisation is something that they don't appreciate the necessity for in the kind of detail that you did. Two questions: how did you go about organising it, and I suppose at the same time, why did you make those choices? Where did it come to you that you had to do that kind of detailed organisation?
Well, you know, ideas without organisation don't get you very far, unless ... unless you're an intellectual who writes books and all of this sort of thing. But I've always believed, like Gentile did in Italy, that intellectualism is a disease of the intelligence. So I don't believe in intellectual installations on their own. What do you do about it? What ... Lenin asked the question in 1902: what is to be done? That's always the critical question. So, in the Rural Movement, if you wanted to spread those ideas about which we've spoken, you had to go physically into country districts. You had to organise what we used to call NCRM Branches, rural groups and so on. And gradually you simply built up the organisation. When the Catholic Church decided to support it very strongly, then of course bishops would appoint what they'd call a diocesan director and I'd work with them and they would go and do the grass roots work of rural groups and set things under way. That's the way in which your build any organisation. As far as the work against Communism was concerned, the key was who ran the unions? If the Communist Party ran the unions they would run the Labor Party and the Labor Party would one day become the government, as it was the government during the war of course. If, therefore, you intended to do something about taking Communist power out of the unions you had to go into the unions. Now I think I have already mentioned that you would use the Catholic parochial structure, where you had to get the support of the bishops, and that didn't always bring about the support of the priests. Quite a lot of them exercised their own private judgement. And you'd go into the parish and you'd ask the parish priest could he give you six men. He might call a meeting and you'd have to explain what you were about, and you either won them or you didn't win them, and very fortunately, with the support of the church, we did win them in the most cases. So you had that basic structure in largely metropolitan areas, although you had to go to country towns later as well. Out of that basic structure you then found out who in Brunswick, North Brunswick, North Melbourne, what was a list of good practical Catholics who were union members. Were they in the ironworkers', were they in the railways, and then you had a meticulous work of administration to put these together all over Melbourne and then later all over Australia. You see, there's a lot of detail in that. Then, in order to keep them informed - the daily press wouldn't tell them what was happening - we had to start a paper. We started a paper that we called Freedom, which later became News Weekly, and that kept them informed on what was happening in the trade union movement. You had to produce that. Then you had to get the money. All of those things you've got to do.
Well, it was originally what you'd call a broadsheet, about the same size in superficial covering as the Sun News Pictorial, as it used to be. It was about eight or twelve pages, I forget which it was, and it was kept like that for many years. Later on, we transformed into magazine size, which it is today, although it is called now News Weekly. And as to content, it was ... the central factor about it was the political and trade union reporting and it was very detailed. I think it had better, more detailed reporting than any trade union newspaper in Australia because we had very good sources of information from people who were active in all the unions. So that was what it was originally built on, and then later you added film reviews, philosophic articles, and so on ... foreign affairs.
No, to inform them rather than motivate them. You see, they didn't know what was happening in the union movement. The media didn't report it, or in general if they did report it, they reported it from the viewpoint of those who held them - those who held the unions. Otherwise they wouldn't get access to it. In other words, it paid them to have dealings with Thornton and J. J. Brown and so on. So you would get a totally uniform left-wing picture of what was happening in the unions. It was important for us to give the other picture.
At its peak, in 1955, we used to sell 30,000 copies a week. Then after the vicissitudes of the Labor split and so on, it, the circulation varied. It continues today and it's got a page circulation of 12,000.
Well it started in 1943 and we're now in 1997, so it's fifty-four years.
No, it's changed its character basically because the nature of our interests have changed. The clearest example is the immediate one. When Gorbachev wound up Communism as an international movement in 1991, the emphasis that we used to give to Communism in international affairs naturally was no longer relevant. Different problems were developing. From the beginning of the sixties, the problems that really began to develop in all western countries were problems of what I call the cultural revolution, which showed itself in the field of population, the field of feminism, and the field of environmentalism and so on, so that if you felt that there was something that needed to be done and that you could achieve in those areas, it was important that the paper followed where the interest was. And so that's what has fundamentally happened.
So in setting up the Movement you had organised what you might ... what they'd call these days your human resources, and you had organised a voice for the Movement through the paper. What did you do about finance?
Well, the finance came in two ways. When the Catholic bishops said that they would support the effort that we were making in this field, if I remember rightly, they made an allocation of 10,000 pounds a year. But I suppose that to run everything - and here I'm guessing, because I don't remember - but you would be up for fifty or sixty thousand a year, then in those days: pounds, not dollars. And you had to go and get that yourself. And so side by side with the actual formation of branches in different districts, you would run financial appeals in those districts. Your members would get their friends and those who couldn't help you in an organisational sense would help in a financial sense. And we've had to do that ever since. We ... The financial support that we got from the church, at the time of the split, when there was a split in the ranks of the Catholic bishops as well, in the end we decided to go ahead on our own. We didn't want to have any responsibility in that regard, and we've had to raise all of our own money ever since.
Arduous is hardly the word. We ... well when you look back really it was quite remarkable that you succeeded at all. It's ... you look at the movements that the Keating Government financed here in Australia, whether it was the feminist movement or the environmentalists, or the union education things. They were given millions of dollars, you know, of public money. We have never got a penny of public money. We've had to do it ourselves. And we still have to do exactly what we did then, at a time when the world situation has changed completely. While Communism was a persistent threat, it was much easier to get financial support, because people had all sorts of reasons why they wanted to oppose that. Today, with a different and much more varied interest, it's much harder.
No, we didn't invest it at all. [Laughs] We needed it from week to week to keep going. There was no possibility of investing.
Well it was very simple. I went to my father and I said to him that we were going to start this paper, but we didn't have any money and he said, 'How much do you want?' I said, 'I want 700 pounds, but I'll hand it back to you', so he gave me the 700 pounds. He never expected to get a penny back, but I paid him back in two years. So that was how that started.
Oh well, he, you know ... he had ... well no, he was still working. Yes, well he was working many years after that, but you know, in an Italian family, savings are very important and he had it and he was very generous about it.
Well he didn't give it all to me. That was ... you know, he had that and he gave it to me.
Yes, well yes, I think he was. I think he was crazy to give it to me, but nevertheless he did.
And so you ... you were very busy with all of this. Now for somebody who ... who said that he was a boy who didn't really like to work, you hadn't chosen the best of jobs. You must have been working extraordinarily hard at this time.
Well, I was working, yes. You know, I hadn't ... I didn't choose to work. I mean, you chose to go down a particular line and found that you had to work.
Oh well, I suppose as far as office hours were concerned your day was like anybody else's. I mean it would be nine to about six o'clock, but you'd have to work every night. All your organising work, apart from central administration, was done at night because basically the only time that you could get at people was when they were home. So I would say that you did five or six nights a week out of the seven, and the real problem of that was that after about 1940 our family began to come and naturally my wife was minding children and I believed that it was very important for me to help and so we made very clear choices. We realised that our time was going to be ... had to be shared. You had to raise a family, I had to do my work. She had her work at home. And the third thing that most people had was a bit of social life. We realised we couldn't do that. We didn't, on the one hand, have the money, and secondly, we wouldn't have had the time. If you decided to see your friends a couple of times a week, you couldn't do your work. So we decided we would rather be together and do the other two things.
It was very hard for her, very hard, because we had a large family, and I don't know how many women could have done it. Which is amazing to me, because she was, she was certainly not a very robust woman. I remember she weighed herself on the day that we were married. She weighed exactly seven stone. So from that sort of background, I really have to say, that just as in all of my work, you see this session is personal and you're talking about me, but it gives you a totally wrong picture if you think that I did this. In my work there were very many people who were critically important. The secretary of the Movement was a man called Norm Lauritz, who would have become, he would have become manager of one of the largest agricultural companies in Australia, but he chose to come. There was a man like Frank McManus. There were many like that and their contribution was just as much as mine. And in our family, well, her ... it was my wife's work. So if you like I was a presiding genius, who lived off everybody else.
No, I was in charge of the Movement from the moment it began.
Right, right. Wrong fact there. And so those were people that worked with you in a supportive capacity. Do you think that both at work and at home, a lot of it had to do with common purpose, the fact that you had agreement about where you were going?
Oh yes, it was ... without that, we could never have done anything. Without that common purpose, that sense of shared values and ideas, it would have been a waste of time to try anything. That's still fundamental.
Yes, it was. The turning point ... there were certain turning points. I realised in the middle of forties that we might be able to, in the end, out-organise the Communists. I wasn't sure of that. But it didn't matter much if they counted the ballots, because they rigged the ballots and so you had to get clean ballots legislation, which we ultimately persuaded the Chiefly Government to begin, and then Menzies expanded it. Then secondly, I realised that as long as you were open to attack on the basis that you were largely Catholic and therefore open to sectarian attack, you had to get the support of the Labor Party. So that the aegis of the fight ... you would be under the aegis of the Labor Party through the Industrial Groups. The first thing was got in about '45 or 46, the clean ballots. The second thing was about the same time, the Industrial Groups, supported by Labor and really the wins ... We won in a lot of small unions, but the big unions were the ironworkers, the engineers and so on, the miners. The Communists pulled the miners' strike in July-August 1949, but they'd had two years of almost continuous striking. Right down the eastern seaboard from '47 to '49 and there was a very strong consciousness by this time, of the Communist problem. Well once the miners' strike was beaten, and following on that, the Industrial Groups won the northern district of the Miners' Federation, then Laurie Short's work in the Ironworkers' came to fruition in '51, when the court decided that there were false ballot papers and so on, put in. And there was a pretty wholesale collapse on the Communist side from, I would say, '51 to '53.
Very strong position, yes.
But don't forget ...
Well don't forget that you're in a strong position when you won, and everybody - not everybody - but a number of people have said and have written, 'Well why did you continue?' The fact that you continued showed that you had other objectives. But of course, the point is, having won, if you pulled out, they'd win next year. It's a ridiculous proposition. You have to maintain an organisation as long as there is an attack. And really, that attack lasted until the end of the seventies and the beginning of the eighties in different ways. But a number of opponents said, 'Well having won, you remained in being, you were really after control of the Labor Party', because just as the control of the unions would give the Communists control of the Labor Party, if the Industrial Groups controlled the unions, they'd control the Labor Party. Well, there's no doubt at all about that. I mean who wins the unions - it's less so today - controls the Labor Party, and the question that you had to face was, if you went down that line in order to defend your victories in the unions, what did you do with your influence in the Labor Party? And of course that became the great issue at the time of the split.
My answer to that question is quite simple. All the people who were members of the Movement, and people like Laurie Short and like Lloyd Ross and others who were in the Industrial Groups, were what you would call today, old time Labor Party members. There was a Labor Party philosophy. The Labor Party philosophy had been an amalgam of the efforts of left-wingers like Lloyd Ross's father, Catholics like Scullin and Calwell and so on. There was a Labor Party ethos. It was working class and lower middle class. And my ... I had no real problem, we continued. That's what the sort of party that you would dedicate yourself to maintaining. Not what it is today, when it's a party of the more or less academic middle class. And that's why they, in the last election, they lost 600,000 votes. So that was my answer.
You've said that you were conscious of the fact that you had to deal with the need to keep ballots clean, so that the Communists wouldn't rig, and you did that through legislation. And that the other thing that you had to do was to make sure that you were, as it were, legitimised as a non-sectarian force by your association with the Labor Party leadership. Can we talk now a little bit about your relationship with the Labor Party leadership. First of all, what was Arthur Calwell's relationship to the Movement?
Well in the very early stages when the Movement was formed at the beginning of the forties, Arthur Calwell was one of the people who wanted to bring it into existence and I would say that from 1941 to 1944 I thought I was on a very friendly and confidential basis with him. He was a Bert Cremean's close friend and I used to discuss matters with him as I would ... he wasn't a member of the Movement, with any member of the Movement. Around about '44 his attitude changed. I thought that it changed because I didn't have the same attitude as he did to the referendum on Commonwealth powers. I don't know whether that was '44 or '46. It might have been '46. He wanted, and the Labor Party wanted, the transfer of sixteen powers belonging to the states to the Commonwealth. I was in favour of that, not that it mattered whether I was in favour of it or not. But we used to write along that way in News Weekly as it was then. But we said we wanted a guarantee that there would be no industrial conscription. In other words, that in pursuit of an economic plan, you wouldn't compulsorily call up men as they had been in the Allied Works Council during the war and send a man living in Melbourne up to Darwin. Calwell's attitude was that was no good to him: he didn't want any conditions. And from that moment he became quite hostile and it became quite difficult at the end. His secretary, Jack Cremean, who was Bert Cremean's brother, told me that I was mistaken, that actually his antipathy to me began much earlier than that but I wasn't aware of that. So my relationships with him until about '45-'46, whenever that referendum was, were I thought, perfectly friendly.
No, not really, but he did do one thing that was very important. During the war, you couldn't start new papers, because of newsprint controls and therefore we couldn't have started Freedom which became News Weekly. Well he was a main factor in making, bringing representations to the government that we should be given a newsprint licence and I was very grateful to him for that.
I wanted to, but he didn't want to. I have told this story before, that I found it quite a shattering thing really. He hadn't spoken to me for a number of years, and he was quite hostile and I understood that because he gradually became opposed to the Industrial Groups and he adopted an opposition line to us, within the Labor Party, which is perfectly legitimate. He had a different idea. But although we had not spoken for a number of years, he had a young son, and whether he was nine or eleven of age I forget, but this young boy got leukaemia and died, and not long after that I ran into Arthur Calwell in Robertson & Mullins bookshop, and I knew it was taking a risk, and I went up to him and I said, 'I know that you don't want to talk to me, but I want to say to you that I understand what you're going through and I really am sorry', because I had my own children. And I was amazed. He said, 'I don't want sympathy from you', and I knew how deep it was. And it was just like that. I think about him, it was a great misfortune, because in many ways he was a very considerable man. He would have made a good prime minister.
Yes, I think he ... I think he was.
I think so. I think that there was another aspect to it and I'm not sure about this. He had been, during ... He was older than I was. During the conscription period he had been a very loyal supporter of Dr. Mannix, and I think he idolised Dr. Mannix and I think that as he went into public life and got into the Curtin ... or the Chifley Cabinet, and he was away, and as I got to know Dr. Mannix better, and became quite close to him, not consciously - it just happened - I think he resented that. But I may be wrong, but I think it's right.
There were a lot of people at that time who were very torn in their feelings, especially Catholics who weren't part of the Movement. [Santamaria: Yes] Do you think that people who were Catholics, who weren't part of the Movement felt a little bit like second class Catholics?
I think ... I don't know how many of those there were. I really believe that there's a difference between what you call practising and non-practising Catholics. I think that the great majority of practising Catholics were pro-Movement. I think. We didn't take a poll to prove that, but one of the things that I was conscious of was that when Evatt attacked us, and precipitated the split in October 1955, I knew that this was going to be as big as conscription and the conscription campaign, and in the conscription campaign a lot of Catholics were very badly hurt: dismissed from their jobs and so on. And I thought it could be the same. And while I could have taken the Movement down the particular line of resistance and to ... in which it ultimately went, I realised that a lot of other people could be hurt in this, and I remember saying to Dr. Mannix on the night that Evatt attacked us, 'This is going to be the problem. Others are going to be hurt if we go down the line of resistance and so while it ought to be our decision, I'd rather you took the decision, because you represent them, I don't'. And he wouldn't do that. He said, 'No, you have got to work out what you're going to do yourselves. You make the decision'. We argued for over an hour. And in the end he insisted. I had consulted all my associates, and we had to make the decision. And I remember Dr. Mannix saying, 'I want you to remember that you made the decision, but now having done that, I want you to know that I would have made exactly the same decision'. But it was after, not before. But the point that I'm trying to make is that I understood the position of those who might be injured and who had no responsibility for what we were doing.
No, it was the other way round. The other way round
Sorry, sorry, we'll start that again. With Dr. Evatt as leader of the ... of the Labor Party ... no before that. Sorry I really am thrown. Let me get this succession right. What was your relationship with Ben Chifley, and what did you think ...
I never had any relationship with Ben Chifley, I never met him. I admired him, because I think he was a great prime minister. I don't think that he was sympathetic to us, until in 1949, at the time of the miners' strike, he realised what the Communist Party was trying to do to his government, which was to destroy it, and then he became strongly anti-Communist in his public statements. But I don't feel that he had much sympathy for what we were doing. And on the other hand, although I didn't know him, I had a high regard for him. But I didn't know him.
Well I had none. I certainly was out of sympathy with ... [INTERRUPTION]
I met Dr. Evatt in 1953 at a function. He had been leader of the Labor Party, I think, since 1951, when Chifley died. This function was in the Exhibition Building in Melbourne. There was a reception given to two cardinals by the Catholic archdiocese of Melbourne, and there were 25,000 people there that night. And I had to move the reception, a vote as it were, and that was supported by Casey, who was Minister for External Affairs, and Evatt. And afterwards he came up to me and introduced himself and said, 'We must talk', and so on. You know, I thought I can put that on the long finger. In 1954 - I think that was the year of the Queen's visit to Australia - I got a phone call from his ... one of his secretaries called Albert Grundeman that the great man wanted to see me, and he would be in Melbourne, and I didn't want to see him. So I discussed it with Dr. Mannix who said I couldn't refuse an invitation by the leader of the Opposition. So I did meet him at the Windsor Hotel, and we had a very long discussion and I was confirmed in my view that I'd rather not have met him.
Well simply because I didn't believe him. I found him ... he was a very strange man. You see his ... while he was not ... I think, he was not a Communist or anything like that, he had always been on the left-wing side and I regarded him with a bit of suspicion. But when I got into this discussion with him, nobody could have been more supportive of every Movement attitude. When he came to power, which he thought would be soon, he would solve the Communist problem in forty-eight hours. He would introduce legislation that would put all union elections on the one day and make them compulsory voting, which he couldn't do. And by doing that, he said, 'Once you bring the mass of unionists into the vote that'll be the end of them'. And then he was very keen on my plan of land settlement and he promised strong financial support for that. [Laughs] He said to me ... oh he was going to solve the problem of state aid, and he said, 'Well now, I will need people in my Cabinet who will be strong for these positions and can defend them when I move in this direction'. He said, 'Would you have any particular people in mind?' and I said, 'The one that I'd have most in mind was Stan Keon'. I said, 'He's outstanding'. 'Yes', he said, 'He could be Prime Minister of Australia'. So, you know, it was a feast of love and I remember going home to my wife that night and I said, 'For the first time in my life I've met a man without a soul'. I knew that if he had views they were the opposite but he said all of this with the greatest sort of sincerity.
Well he wanted Industrial Group support in case he became leader of the Labor Party and, of course, it paid us that a man like Evatt should be saying that the Industrial Groups were good things. To have Calwell saying it - well Calwell's support could always be dismissed that he was a Catholic and it was really fraternal feeling. But nobody would suspect Evatt of fraternal feeling. So it really paid us to have Evatt there, rather than Calwell. And that is why the attack on us, except for one reason, was quite irrational on his part. If you were to talk to one of his members then who became a minister in the Whitlam Government, Clyde Cameron, Clyde Cameron says, and he will repeat it to you, that if Whitlam [Evatt?] had won the '54 election or the '55 election - well, the '55 election was after the split - if he'd won the '54 election he would have been in a position where he would have had to do anything that we really asked him to do and therefore he must have been desperate in '55 when he attacked.
Oh no, his attitude had changed. Oh the '54 election? No, he said that it was. He said that we set out to defeat him in the election, which was crazy. It was important to us that he be there, and important if he became prime minister, that he be there. No, what ... the way he changed was that the attack that he was brought under as a result of the Petrov Royal Commission, where it turned out that three of his secretaries - Grundeman was one, Allan Dalziel was another, Fergan O'Sullivan was I think his news man - that they had all had contacts with the Soviet Embassy. Now I'm not saying guilty contacts. I don't know whether they were guilty or innocent but it was blazoned in the paper and the fact that the leader of the Opposition would have on his staff three people who'd had relationships with the Soviet Embassy was really death to his political ambitions and he was then immediately brought under attack in the Labor Party caucus. And again and again they tried to get rid of him. But that wasn't us. I didn't want to get rid of him. I was ... well by that time, of course, a lot of other things had come into it, but it paid us to have a person like Evatt there.
Well I thought what he thought, that it was a great advantage to him to have the Industrial Groups obviously thinking well of him because really it led a group of people who would never have voted for him in a fit to consider voting for him. And I think that if it hadn't been for the desperation which was induced by the Petrov Commission, that he would never have done what he did. But underneath ... as I think Hayden points out in his autobiography, underneath Evatt was always and was suffering increasingly from a kind of schizophrenia and I think he could be two people at different times. But certainly, the point is that if the Industrial Groups thought that he was a good thing, it was politically advantageous to him. And just as it was politically advantageous to the Industrial Groups that Evatt should be praising them. Therefore, here, the Petrov Commission was a shot that nobody had anticipated, that led him in a different direction.
But given that the Petrov Commission was making him look more and more like a Communist sympathiser, and pointing that finger out at him, distancing himself from the Groups would only have enhanced that view of him as a Communist. One would have thought that it was a very poor strategy for him to ...
No, it was ... it was a good strategy for a man in a desperate situation who had a good knowledge of history. At that moment, I don't know how many people thought that he was a Communist sympathiser. The case against him was that three or four of his secretaries had those close relationships with the Soviet Embassy. And ... but when he was in a position in which now, as a result of the cross-examination in the Petrov Commission, he was being threatened in his own caucus, and there were two or three attempts to dismiss him as leader. He knew that the tide was running against him and whatever might have happened outside, there was nothing that could have stopped the caucus' attacks on him. Now I think that at that point, in one of those moments of illumination or lunacy, which only a person with strong historical knowledge has, he suddenly ... he realised that he had to get on an entirely new tack. He had to get new forces behind him, to save him. And what he did was, was to go back to the left-wing forces of the Communist Party, because they were the other big force in the Labor movement and the way of engaging their support completely was to attack the Groups. Now, if he attacked the Groups, of course, he would forfeit their support and so he had to have a way in which he could get the support of a lot of people, who had thought well of them. And he knew that the sectarian issue was the issue that he could import into that struggle and that's why he focussed a great deal of his attack on myself personally, because of my name. He knew me quite well by this time. He was apparently thoroughly approving of the line of activity we were undertaking. But as the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, John Douglas Pringle, said at the time to me, he said, 'If your name had been Smith and not Santamaria, he couldn't have got away with it'. But he understood it, and this is where Evatt, the historian or the intellectual, was so clever. He wrote a history of Heffron, the Labor Premier of New South Wales. It's called Australian Labor Leader. It's not a very well-known book, but Heffron was an associate of Billy Hughes at the time of the conscription campaign and Heffron, in his notes, unpublished notes, which Evatt publishes, says that Billy Hughes deliberately attacked Dr. Mannix during the conscription campaign, in order to make a sectarian fight of the conscription campaign. In other words, he would get support, by attacking Catholics that he wouldn't otherwise get, for conscription. And if you look at Evatt's book on Heffron, all of that is quoted in full and Evatt says, at the end of his description, that he wasn't convinced that Hughes had lost votes. You can see that he believed that Hughes gained votes as a result of making conscription a sectarian fight. And I'm quite convinced that he had that in mind when he attacked us, and I think he did say in one press - in one statement - he was quoted as saying that for every Catholic vote he lost by attacking us, he would gain two Protestant votes. In fact, he got only one Protestant vote, and it wasn't enough. I don't know whether that's clear or not to you. It's a bit involved.
Exactly, yes. The Amalgamated Engineering Union, which had got back ... fallen back into Communist control published 250,000 copies of a leaflet called Santamaria: Cloak and Stiletto Strategy or something like that. You can see the word 'stiletto'. So that I am quite sure that Evatt had that in mind when he decided to make the attack. He needed Communist support. He had to forfeit our support, but the danger was that he would lose other support in the community, but he thought he could pick it up by making it a sectarian attack.
Well, it wasn't very brilliant. I had never been in that situation before and I had never been known publicly or anything like that. It was that really that made my name public for the first time. And, of course, even that was used, that the fact that my name hadn't been public - there was no reason why it should be public - was shown as a sign of sinister, secret conspiracies. If they'd known how many letters I had sent to the press on different things which had duly been thrown into the wastepaper basket without publication, it would have been hard to make that stick. But my response was quite simply that you had to answer, on the defensive, on the back foot all the time, simply trying to bring out facts. But that was not a very rewarding strategy. Now, the real answer came, of course, when he set out to expel from the Labor Party - attacking is one thing, but to expel the leaders of the Industrial Groups. And they were partly concentrated in Melbourne. So what he did was - and I could foresee this - he would get the federal executive of the Labor Party to meet. He would ... he would launch his attack at that executive. He would put an official complaint in against the people, McManus and others, and he would seek their expulsion from the Labor Party. That was clear to me on the day that he attacked. It was clear that that was the only way that he could go. And that was on the 5th and 6th of October. I had to think out, you know, where would you go in that eventuality. You could have two clear choices. I could try to influence the Movement to bow the head, let the storm blow over our heads. That meant that all your friends on the executive would be expelled and you would have proved yourself a coward really. The alternative was, whatever strategy you chose, that you would meet the attack head on in the Labor Party, apart from publicity. And it was those two alternatives that I put to Archbishop Mannix on the night of the 6 of October. 'Which way do you think we ought to go?' and it was there that he said to me, 'No, that's your decision, it's not my decision'. And it was then that the answer really came, because it meant that you'd fight his complaint on the federal executive, you'd fight it at the federal conference, and you didn't know where that would lead you to, in the end, but you'd made up your mind you'd fight. Is that clear?
Well I decided that for two reasons, and when I say 'I decided', I again go back to the fact that I did submit the matter to Archbishop Mannix, because of my recognition that there were Catholics who had nothing to do with this, who would be damaged. But I also had to discuss it with all my colleagues and they were consulted as fully as I was, in it. But my own ... but if you're asking for my personal view, I thought if you go down the line of bowing your head, they will expel all of those who are of any ability from the Labor Party. And if you want to start again, well they've all gone anyway. Secondly, you would have betrayed your own friends and that wasn't a romantic view. Your followers won't have any time for you either. So you've really got no alternative. You've got to fight.
I rang ... the people that I had to ring were the state secretaries of the Movement in every state, who were the national executive. I rang them on the morning of the 6 October. I said to them that I wanted to get them to get together as many members of the state executive as they could by lunchtime, if they could, that it was an emergency, and to put the alternatives to them, and I wanted a report in the afternoon. I got a report from every state secretary by five o'clock, so that I was able to see Archbishop Mannix at seven-thirty with our mind made up. And there was not a dissenting voice at that point.
The next significant event was the meeting of the federal executive of the Labor Party, which took place in Melbourne. I had envisaged that, and I thought that Evatt couldn't win at that federal executive, basically because I thought that we were six all, and he couldn't therefore carry a resolution expelling my associates. We could stalemate it. What I didn't know was that one of our six had gone overseas and, unfortunately, had either been unable to or had not undertaken ... not looked after the matter, but I think he had been unable to make sure that his proxy was of the same view as himself. So that when that federal executive met in Melbourne, where I thought we would be six all, we were down seven - five, and that seven five was quite critical. I was a little disappointed.
Yes, and it's a strange thing. I had no knowledge at all that he had gone overseas and I still don't know how it happened. But it didn't ... that's how it turned out.
Oh no, oh no. Then it went right through, I think all the details would be absolutely boring and it would be very difficult for ...
Yes, well the critical issue, there were many things. That was in December, 1955. The Hobart conference took place in March 19 ..., December '54. The Hobart conference took place in March '55. And I knew that ultimately that's where it would get to and that would be the decisive forum. So I had a look at the numbers there, and I was quite convinced in January that we'd win that because what would happen would be that at Hobart the federal executive, having expelled the Victorian ... the whole Victorian executive, and reconstituted the Victorian Branch of the party, would then send to Hobart those whom they had put in place of the old Victorian executive's representatives. Is that clear? There were six from each state [who] used to go to federal conferences. So they would all turn up at Hobart. We would send our six on the basis that we had been invalidly expelled. Evatt would have his six. Now the convention of the Labor Party in that situation was well established. It had been established at the period when Lang was expelled from the party. It was that both disputed delegations were kept out. The remainder of the conference then voted on which delegation should be admitted and I knew we had a majority. The interesting thing was that one of the two great architects of the numbers - one was Kennelly, the federal secretary of the party, and the other was Clyde Cameron of South Australia. I thought that persons like Cameron and Kennelly would have worked that out as well as I had. But Cameron says, and has published in his reminiscences, that when he got to Hobart he was devastated. He discovered that they were down. And so he had to do something. He says, I think, that he said to Chamberlain, the federal president of the Party, that they couldn't leave it there, he said, 'We would be bloody fools to leave it at that', and they would have been. So what did he do? He simply overrode the convention of the party. He called the federal executive together and the federal executive validated their nominees. Now the federal executive didn't have the authority to do that but they acted on that by main force and therefore they had a majority at the federal conference. And they then proceeded to abolish the Groups and so on. So as I've pointed out to him since - in very amicable discussions, because these are old things - to that point, 'As far as I was concerned, I was perfectly happy that the issue should be decided within the framework of the party's constitutional structures but if you are going to rig a federal conference against us, that's the end. There is no other court of appeal that we can go to. And then we had to consider whether we began a party that ultimately became the DLP'. In other words, in the electorates, to fight a war of attrition, that you might be able to win the conference by using those methods, but you'll never be the government and I said, 'It was your decision to override the constitution that led to the formation of the DLP'.
Well you couldn't. We were out by that time. There was no hope. See, without the Victorian representatives on the federal executive you'd always be in the minority. No, there was no alternative but either to give in right away, and there were people who wanted to give in, or ultimately to say, 'Rig the conference and we'll start something else. That will mean that you can't be the government, until you come to terms with ... we've got no desire to keep Menzies there, we've got no desire to keep Labor out, we're Labor people. But you can't tear up the constitution and do us over and think that that's the end of the day'.
Well fundamentally, only whether it was possible. It's all very well as a bright idea: cowboys and Indians, if you like. But could you get away with it? Could you get branches of that party in each state? Could you get a sufficient vote behind it? All of those questions were extremely doubtful. I remember the person who became our main opponent, was our opponent at that time, was the auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Bishop Carroll, who was Cardinal Gilroy's adviser. He said to me, he said, 'Who do you people think you are?' He said, 'Lang wasn't able to establish a breakaway party in all states. Do you people really believe that you can do what Lang couldn't do?' and I said to him, 'I don't know. But somebody's got to make the attempt'.
How concerned were you at that stage, because by that stage it was becoming clear that New South Wales, that the ... that the Church in New South Wales was of a different view from the Church in Victoria. How ...
Not only the Church in Victoria, the Church in every other state. Every one. Bishop Carroll and the Cardinal decided to go down that road on their own at that stage.
Well, there are various reasons which have been given. One reason is ... given, is that they were trying to preserve the existence of the Cahill Government in New South Wales. A second reason that has been given was that this was due to the fundamental hostility, antipathy that had existed between Sydney and Melbourne. They were determined that a Melbourne organisation wasn't going to give the final decision. And the third was that being clerical in mind, they were quite determined that the final voice would be the bishops, not laymen. Now I have thought that out very carefully over the years. I'm quite sure it wasn't the preserve to Cahill Government, because I knew what the Cardinal thought of the Cahill Government, which wasn't much. He'd told me. Secondly, as for the hostility between Sydney and Melbourne, well it's an influence, but not good enough. But the determination that lay people were not going to give final decisions in political matters was good enough and I'm quite sure that that is so. The interesting thing is that Professor Patrick O'Farrell, who I think is emeritus, or still professor of history at the University of New South Wales has written a number of books on the Irish Catholic influence in Australia. He was not in Australia at the time so he wasn't involved. Now he's considered the whole thing, and he has come to the same verdict: that it was the determination to impose clerical control on political patterns, rather than anything else and he says that what happened in Australia was parallel to what happened at the time of Parnell crisis in Ireland, before the turn of the century. I think that's right.
The other suggestion that's been made was that in New South Wales there was a great sense that Catholics were generally doing better in the Labor Party hierarchy than they were in other states, so that there wasn't so much a sense that there had to a resistance to an effort to control the Movement.
No, that really is not so. If you ... after the intervention in Victoria and after the Hobart conference, I had warned my friends in New South Wales that it was inevitable that Evatt would attack them too. And if we had not had the Australian Labor Party anti-Communists, which became the DLP in Victoria, and defeated the Cain Government as a result, they were gone. But if you look at the history of the time, the opposition to Evatt's intervention in New South Wales was as strong there, on the executive, as ever it was in Victoria. There was no sense of 'I'm all right, Jack'. It was only when the Cardinal and Bishop Carroll got to each person, man by man, and were able to swing them personally on a single issue, which was told to me afterwards by one of the leaders in New South Wales, that the opposition began. I have no doubt that at that time the reaction in New South Wales was exactly the same in Victoria.
The single issue was this: the person who had been state secretary of the Movement in New South Wales was a person called Roy Boylan. He was a friend of mine. And Roy Boylan, ultimately faced with the issue went with the Cardinal, as we used to say at the time. Now I didn't again into Roy for about six or seven years. But about six or seven years he came to me in my own office and I was very glad to see him naturally, despite the history, and the discussion got around to the fact of what had persuaded him to play his part in the defection of New South Wales and he said, 'You've got to understand what was put to me'. He said, 'I am a convert', he said, 'I wasn't born a Catholic. And it was put to me quite clearly, to whom was I going to be finally loyal? To the Cardinal or to this layman in Victoria', myself, and he said, 'You can understand in the end I had to go the other way', and I said, 'I can understand'.
Oh, by that time, once the thing started and Bishop Carroll was really operating very powerfully in New South Wales, I think that the bulk of the Movement in New South Wales were with us until it was put on that basis. That's a very powerful thing to say to a Catholic: 'Are you going to be disloyal to your own Bishop in order to be loyal to a layman in another state?' It's very powerful.
Oh no, there was no question of ... well later on they raised the Mannix issue and so on because there were two stories that ultimately ... there were two stories about Dr. Mannix that ultimately gained currency. One was that it was actually his policy and I was simply the executor of the policy. And the other one, when that didn't work out really well - nobody really believed that - was that Archbishop Mannix, who was then - what in 1955 - he must have been about, he was over ninety - that really he was senile and he was in the hands of a Machiavellian layman who was determined to purse his interests, even to the point of splitting the church. So they had five bob each way.
Well it sits naturally with Santamaria, doesn't it?
Well, we had the basis of the Movement. In Victoria, the Victorian executive had been effectively replaced by the end of February 1955, before the Hobart conference. But the Industrial Groupers, including the Movement, controlled - and it's a long time ago so my numbers may not be exactly accurate - there were under 300 branches of the ALP in Victoria, and the Industrial Groupers, including the Movement, controlled between 250 and 270 of them. So the branches of the ... old branches of the ALP, on the basis that they were loyal to the old executive, which a Supreme Court judgment had said was the valid executive, they simply became the foundation of what was known as the Australian Labor Party Anti-Communist. In April, I think it was, 1955, the Labor Government, the Cain Labor Government, was split on the floor of the house. There was an election, and the Australian Labor Party Anti-Communist put up candidates as well as the ALP in all electorates, and gave its preferences to Bolte. And the result was the defeat of the Cain Labor Government. That was the Achilles Heel in New South Wales, because if that happened in New South Wales exactly the same would happen to the Cahill Government and that led Evatt to pull a back a bit, and take another year before he attacked them. So at that point it became important to start the DLP in New South Wales, what became the DLP. But, of course, they still had a hope of winning in New South Wales and they were resisting ... all of our forces were resisting, and it took another year, pretty well, before Evatt got rid of them, only because he had the Cardinal onside. So once that happened, the question in New South Wales came: do we get another - set up another branch of the Australian Labor Party Anti-Communist? And there was a lot of toing and froing about that as to whether it could be done with the whole of the church against you. One of the people who was most keen that it should be done was John Kerr, who became Governor-General of Australia later on, and he used to be pressing me very strongly that we ought to do something. He was, at that stage, a queen's counsel, who'd appeared in the Ironworkers' case and had been of very great help to Laurie Short. So finally, ultimately, when the Evatt forces had taken over the Labor Party executive in New South Wales, we decided to set up the DLP. We didn't set it up in Queensland, because, while Gair was Premier and friendly to us - he was in government, he controlled the executive there - there was no point in doing anything about that. But I knew that in the end they'd go for him too. They couldn't afford to leave him there. And when they went for him, I think it was in '57, then Gair founded what was known as the Queensland Labor Party. It wasn't in the DLP but ultimately it joined the DLP, so it spread throughout Australia. That's rather boring, isn't it?
Well Kerr had been a very strong supporter of the Industrial Groups. [Coughs] And I believed that if we started the DLP in New South Wales he'd join it and there was quite a historic occasion, when Jack Cain had agreed that we'd start the DLP in New South Wales, that I went to Sydney on a Sunday and I saw ... with Jack Cain, I saw John Kerr, Jim McClelland and another person whose name I won't mention because he became a judge of the Supreme Court and he's still alive. And I thought that I was going to give them the liberating news that we were on the march, and I thought that they'd put themselves at the head of the band. But one after another they said, 'No'. Jim McClelland has said that he didn't believe we had any chance. John Kerr's attitude was slightly different. John Kerr told me, many years later, that he didn't come from the same background as us. John Kerr was a Protestant. As long as it was a clear division within the Labor Party, he would have been with it but in New South Wales, where it was very largely Catholic, he just wouldn't have felt at home. And I could understand that too. So he didn't join us. So that's how it happened.
No I'm not.
Once the DLP was up and running as an organisation, you were saying that one of the major concerns that you had was whether or not it was possible to organise it in every state, and you eventually achieved that. Can we talk now a little philosophically? What was the central purpose of the DLP?
The central purpose of the DLP was to use the weapon of electoral attrition, since we could no longer fight within the party without having the conference rigged against us. ... To use the weapon of electoral attrition to force the ALP to come to a discussion and to arrange terms, so that the developments that had more or less accidentally developed with Evatt would be undone. That was the central purpose. It was not to form a third party like the Social Democrats in England. I never had any belief in third parties. And here I was different from Stan Keon, who ... Stan Keon was the most gifted of the federal parliamentarians, and as Evatt had said, he was capable of being a prime minister. But he believed that you could ... there was room for a third party. Now there's always room for a third party in the sense in which the Democrats have become a party, but not a third party that does anything. The only sort of party that is of any value in a country facing the vicissitudes that I knew that Australia was going to face, was a party that could govern.
Yes, that's right.
I had no idea about that. You can't predict that. First of all I had no idea that we could get to that situation. The idea that you could keep them out of office was completely gratuitous. It had to be proved. Lang had not proved it. But in fact, we kept it going and they did set out to come to terms in 1965, when I received an approach from the leader and the deputy leader of the Labor Party in the Senate - the leader was Senator McKenna of Tasmania, and the deputy leader was Senator Kennelly of Victoria - to see whether we would be interested in discussing coming to terms. The approach was made indirectly, strangely enough by a newsagent whom I didn't know in Yarraville, a suburb here in Melbourne, named Sheehan, who was a friend of Kennelly's. And so I simply mentioned the matter to the DLP leadership, because I respected their autonomy as a political party. Did they want that to be explored? They discussed it and they said, 'Yes, you explore it, unofficially for us, but if you get to the point that you can come to an agreement, it's got to be handed back to us and we'll make the final arrangements'. I said, 'That's all right'. So the result of that was that - I think it was in the second part of 1965, that's subject to recollection - there were six meetings on six consecutive Saturday nights, between McKenna and Kennelly, and between ... I took another person with me, the secretary of the Movement, Norm Lauritz and myself, so that I'd have a witness. And in these six Saturday nights at this newsagent's house in Yarraville, we discussed the whole possibility. And finally on the fifth Saturday night, it was completely possible. We could come to terms. We'd agreed on the terms and the terms did no injury to them or to us.
The terms were quite simple. We had established a certain date in each state, and they had established a certain date. We would take those votes which gave them a majority arbitrarily, and the state executives would be reconstituted in that exact proportion. And the federal executive and the federal conference would too. And after that, each side would take pot luck. So they agreed to that, but of course, they said to me, 'Do you believe that the DLP will accept those terms?' and I said, 'I've got to refer it back, but I'm quite sure that they will'. I said. 'What about you?' and they said, 'Well, the only way ...' - this was going to mean another split in the Labor Party, the left will break away - '... the only way in which we can get through with this is if we can give the four leaders of the Labor Party, the four parliamentary leaders to support it publicly'. They were two of them, and the other two were Whitlam and Calwell. Well, Calwell was leader in those days. So they said they'd go back and sound it out. So that when we came together on the following Saturday night I said to them that the DLP would meet them, they would come to terms along those lines, but they would have to discuss it with them. So they said unfortunately there'd been a jam. They said Whitlam would accept it. And since then, that has been carefully investigated by Norman Abjorensen of the Canberra Times, and there's no doubt at all that Whitlam did say that. although Whitlam indicates that he wasn't quite sure. But Calwell would not accept. So I said, 'Why wouldn't he accept it?' I said, 'It'll make him Prime Minster. He's leader of the Labor Party. If he gets the DLP vote he'll be Prime Minister', and he said, 'He will never come to terms with you on any terms whatsoever'. And that's how it blew through. Later on, although I wasn't present at this, I understand - and Jack Cain tells it in his memoirs - that they - Kennelly and McKenna - did raise the matter again with them. But in '69 - I think it was. but it didn't get very far. And in any case, in '69, you couldn't have done it, because Whitlam had gone to the Left by that time. But in '65 they were perfectly ready to do that, and it was only Calwell's veto that stopped it.
Well, I wasn't negotiating, I was engaged in informal discussions. The negotiations would be carried out by the DLP, but all the terms would have been agreed to because I'd kept them abreast all the time. I knew the limitations of my authority in the matter.
Given that this was a question of repairing the breach between the ALP and the DLP, why was it that you were conducting the negotiations? Isn't this a sort of indication of what was said, that you were the real force behind the whole thing?
It doesn't really indicate that. I wasn't technically in negotiations at all. I was in exploratory discussions. I think it's very important to maintain the distinctions in these matters because people's personal pride and prestige are involved. The reason that I was in it at all, at that stage, was that the original sounding out approach had been made to me, and I reported it to the DLP leadership right away and they authorised only exploratory discussions. And I knew very well that I had to go back to them if there was anything to discuss at the end of it, which I did do. And simply before they would have entered into final discussions, I got the answer that it wasn't on anyway.
How did you deal with the fact that you were confronted in Calwell's decision with the fact that he really must have had a very intense feeling of animosity towards you? It's always an odd feeling to be the subject of that kind of ... the object of that kind of animosity. How did you deal with it?
Well, it was pretty well par for the course by that time. It wasn't only Calwell who experienced that feeling. If you read the press at the time you'll find that it was a fairly general feeling. I had no illusions about the fact that many people have written about since, that I was pretty well the most hated man in the country so it didn't worry me that much. It worried me personally because I really liked him and we had worked together years before and I was just sorry that he felt like that, because I knew, on that incident that I have described of his son, the pain that his son's death must have caused him, that it caused him that much pain that he would give me that answer. But beyond that, as far as it affected me, well, [it was] just part of the game.
Now, in relation to the DLP and its position that it needed to keep the ALP out of office, in the event that was very effective, and the ALP was kept out of office for twenty years, and the coalition remained in office. Given that you were essentially, and have always maintained that you're essentially, a Labor man, how did you feel about that effect?
Oh, it didn't worry me a bit. What I was concerned about was the intrinsic nature of the Labor Party and there never was any problem about coming to terms with something which was the Labor Party and there was never any problem about opposing something which my colleagues and I both believed had gone over to the pro-Communist side.
Calwell would not have wanted that. But in fact, that's what they were doing in union elections. Labor Party candidates and Communist Party candidates stood on the same ticket against those who still called themselves Industrial Group candidates. They did that in election after election. If you looked at the total revision of foreign policy that they undertook after the expulsion of the Industrial Group people, there was no question at all that in relation to China, where the Communists had come to power in '49, that their general position was ... I suppose technically you could call it a neutralist position - somewhere between the Communists and the United States and Britain. But in fact, they were doing, at that time, what the Communists International would have wanted them to do. So I had no particular problem about that. I didn't know any of the ... I think it's true to say I didn't know any of the Liberals at that time. I certainly didn't know Menzies. But when I look back today, in 1997, and I look back at the accidental consequences of doing whatever we did to keep Menzies in power, and I look at the degree of economic progress, I look at the rate of employment and unemployment, I look at the rate of the interest rates, of gross domestic product, and compare that with what an alleged Labor government under Keating did, and there is no doubt at all the better Labor government was Menzies because he maintained full employment, he kept interest rates low. There is no question at all of the advantage. But it was an accidental advantage. We weren't concerned with that.
But at the time, as a Labor person, keeping the coalition in power meant that programmes - leaving aside the foreign policy issues - that social programmes that presumably you would have endorsed, were prevented also from happening.
Well, the social programmes were adopted by Whitlam in 1972-73. The result was sixteen per cent unemployment and a twenty-one per cent rate of inflation. I naturally of course wouldn't have looked at it like that at the time, but in fact we sacrificed nothing. There is no doubt at all that Menzies Government was a better Labor government than any Labor government since. I don't know, there's quite a funny story about that, if you like. There was a Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time, his name was Archie Cameron. Archie Cameron was a member of the Country Party. He was a Scot who talked with a broad Scot accent. And I had met him, I forget how. Anyway, I went to see him in hospital in Canberra. He was actually dying, although I didn't know it at the time, and the discussion got around to Menzies. This is in this period that we're talking about. And he didn't like Menzies at all. So when I happened to mention Menzies' name, who'd done some good thing, I forget what it was, he said, 'Oh of course', he said, 'Menzies'. He said, 'Menzies is a bloody socialist'. He said, 'Only he's too much of a snob to belong to the Labor Party'. So I think that's rather important.
Who, Menzies? No, Cameron saw him as a socialist. I didn't.
I believe that Menzies did what Hawke and Keating never did. Menzies always believed in what the Labor Party believed in, which was interventionism, that the government should maintain control of the economy in the last analysis. Menzies would never have accepted the deregulation of the financial system, any more than Fraser did, you know. So that to me is the vital difference. And if the Labor Party was formed to intervene in the economy, not to allow the financial interests to run it, then he was a better Labor man than his Labor successors.
While we're speaking about socialism, socialisation, and all those distinctions, I wonder if you could just explain exactly what your views were about this, particularly vis a vis, Australian government policies during that long period from, I think, where you wrote a paper on socialisation, way back at the beginning, through that period.
It was about 1949 I think. It was before the split. Again, don't hold me to the exact year, but I think it was about '49. The issue was this: a certain group of people headed by the editor of the Catholic Weekly in Sydney, Brian Doyle, began a campaign - again I think it was '49 - in which they were saying that Labor's socialisation objective was opposed to the social teachings of Pope Pius the XI and so on, against the social teaching of the Catholic Church. And this was persisted in. Now, it was perfectly [obvious] to me at the time that if they were allowed to persist in that, the drive of that policy was to break away Catholic votes from the Labor Party. And I regarded that as nonsense in '49. There was no reason for that to happen, and that had been their traditional home. So I suggested to the bishops - I've mentioned the social justice statements - that a social justice statement should be written, authorised by the bishops which would point out the difference between socialisation and total socialism, that total socialism meant the complete nationalisation of all property. Socialisation simply meant what we were traditionally accustomed to in Australia, [which] was the control of national monopolies like gas and water and so on, by the government, and that while total socialism was inimical to the Catholic social programme, socialisation was not, and Catholics had lived with that in the Labor Party always. So the bishops accepted this and authorised me to proceed with drafting a pamphlet called Socialisation. We did that, and it was issued I think in the year that I've mentioned. It adopted that interventionist thing that Catholics need have no problem about the traditional policy of the Labor Party, which was limited in its application. It sold 200,000 copies. It is the most successful of all of the social justice statements, and I think it killed that move thoroughly. Accordingly, it seemed to me quite absurd when, many years later, Clyde Cameron wrote that the real reason why he'd opposed us at the split was that we had been against socialisation. This was fairly recently that he said that, so I sent him a copy of the pamphlet.
I hold it today. And I am flatly opposed to the policies of privatisation that both the Labor and the Liberal parties of today proceed with.
Talking too of foreign policy and your differences with the Labor Party over foreign policy, you nevertheless had a ... an attitude to Asia and to Australia's independence in the region that was ahead of its time. Could you tell me a little bit about your views about Asia and what you actually did about links with Asia?
Well, of course, I was in no position to do anything about links with Asia, I couldn't strut the platform and say, 'We're part of Asia', which I think is garbage anyway. No, my view was that with the end of the Second World War and the breaking up of the colonial regimes in east and south-east Asia, and particularly with Communism's victory in China in December '49, that what we were going to face in the Pacific was the rise of powers of enormous population. I had very grave doubts that the Americans would enter another Pacific conflict, certainly not in the south-west Pacific, because they had no strategic interest down here. And therefore it became clear that we had to define our position in relation to the emerging nation powers, and without making all the hoo-ha that Keating has made about it, I tried to do the little that I could to set the attitude of the church along this line, and whatever we could through the DLP, the attitude of the country. The DLP was the party which first urged the modification of the White Australia Policy. Neither of the major parties did. It believed originally in a quota system, and then gradually that was adopted by other parties but the issue arose strangely enough in that conversation with Evatt that I've spoken about. Evatt, in that conversation at the Hotel Windsor, asked me as we were getting to the end of it, 'What are your views on foreign policy?' and I just laughed at him. I said, 'You've been president of the United Nations. You've forgotten more about foreign policy than I'll ever learn'. 'No, no, no', he said, 'I'd like to know'. So I said, 'Oh well, in the broadest definition, we are against Asian Communism, but in favour of Asian nationalism'. And he said, 'I'd be very careful of that. I would be very careful about Asian nationalism', and of course he was quite right. It's not only Asian Communism, but Asian nationalism that can spread, [and] cause us a lot of difficulties in the future. But that's certainly what happened.
Well I didn't do ... Well, yes, a couple of things. First of all, the important thing was to try to influence the thinking in so far as I could, of the Catholic bishops in this country, and they very quickly bought the idea that, you know, on the White Australia Policy and so on. And in fact, I ... the years defeat me a bit - I think it was in '51 or '52 - we were the first organisation to bring out a Japanese bishop to Australia. That caused a great deal of perturbation. And he spoke at the Rural Movement conference. Then the bishops originally came out with the modification of the White Australia Policy. The DLP did the same then. And at that stage things were moving on to a different base. But what was coming to a head in south-east Asia at the time, especially after the Communist victory in China, was a drive by the Communists International in Asia, and they brought about revolutions in Malaysia, you know, the Emergency. In Singapore, there was the Madayung [?] Rebellion in Indonesia. Then there was the Korean war in 1951. And the danger was that Asian nationalism would be overwhelmed by Asian Communism. Now, I knew that these issues were far beyond us but nevertheless, you did your little bit if you could and my view was that in every one of these countries there were infinitesimal Catholic populations, but they were well educated and they could have some political influence in their countries and so I took up again the issue with Archbishop Mannix. And the result of that was that at the beginning of the fifties we called together a conference of representatives of the Catholic Church from India and Ceylon over there, to Japan and Taiwan over there. And even to the United States, an American bishop came to it. But by the time that that conference met, of course, we were involved in all of the troubles about the split, and I wished that it'd been in Hades by that time. But we did bring together a thing that rather ambitiously called the Pan-Pacific Catholic Conference and the purpose of that was to see if we could get a uniform set of proposals, on the one hand to fighting Communism in each country, and on the other hand to propose programmes of social reform along particular lines. And it had made a little, a little gain, certain little gains when the split in Australia, of course, simply overwhelmed us.
Well, my position in relation to the Vietnam War was twofold. On the one hand, I did regard South Vietnam as, in a sense, pivotal to the Communist position in Asia. In other words, in 1954 as a result of the - was it the Paris Peace Conference in '54? There had been a division, a line of division drawn in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese had gained their freedom from the French and were trying to take South Vietnam, but the line was drawn just north of the city of Hue, and in a sense it was exactly the same as had happened in Korea. Korea was divided into North and South. Germany was divided into East and West. And my view was, let it stop there. There are insoluble problems in each of those countries. Let every side freely stick to what it's got. But of course, the North Vietnamese tried to overthrow that and to grab South Vietnam. Now, my view was that when the Americans engaged in that, it was always going to be very difficult for us to keep the Americans in south-east Asia and if we allowed the Americans to be done over in South Vietnam, the chances of keeping them in south-east Asia were negligible. So not only as a result of the fate of the South Vietnamese, which has now been seen - everybody knows how many people died after the successful takeover - but also in order to keep the Americans anchored in this region, which Indonesia now wants, every south-east Asian power wants, we should help the Americans to win. And I regarded that as a perfectly logical position. Of course, not everybody accepted that. I think that they could have won as a matter of fact, but they mucked it up themselves. The American method of warfare is not a very pretty - no warfare is pretty - but theirs is a very unpretty method, because they believe in saving as many lives of their own men as possible, and therefore, they believe, as a method of war, in using overwhelming air power and artillery power. Now at the battlefield of South Vietnam, which was their own ally, they were destroying the battlefield of their - and the villages - of their own ally, and I thought in the end, this will be self-defeating. But nevertheless, we were committed and I think the commitment was correct.
Right through. I never changed on that.
Now, in relation to things back at home with the position of the DLP, one of the Movement still, one of the things that you had done very successfully was to publish a newspaper, and a very important aspect of everything you did was the dissemination of information. By 1956 television had arrived in Australia. Did you see that as a very useful outlet for what you were about?
No, I didn't, because I didn't see any way at all in which we could use television. I mean television was either the ABC, which wasn't very favourable to our viewpoint, or belonged to private proprietors, who had no reason to be interested in us even. Nevertheless, I was able to get some use out of television by pure accident, like so many other things. In the middle - I think it was, of 1960 - the Catholic Church had a session on Channel 7 in Victoria, which was called The Catholic Hour
My particular reason for accepting it was this: with the press opposed to what we were doing, and very strongly opposed, there was no way of getting our story out to the mass of people, and this was just a little thing. But I felt that if you established a position of some regard by dealing with internal matters and foreign affairs and so on, you were likely to be ... more likely to be accepted in the issue which was at stake, which was the split. And that went not badly. The limiting factor was it was a Catholic session. In 1963 Dr. Mannix died. He died on the 6 November and the priest who had done the first part of the session was a Father John Carr, who was a friend of mine, and I took a bet with him on one occasion. I said in the make-up room - he was a close friend of Archbishop Simmons, who succeeded Dr. Mannix - and I said, 'Look, when Dr. Mannix dies and Archbishop Simmons comes to power in Melbourne, I won't be on this session within twenty-four hours'. And he said, 'Oh, you misunderstand the man completely. He's not like that'. I said, 'I've got two quid that says he will', and we had two quid on that. Well when Dr. Simmons came to power I was off that session in sixteen hours, not twenty-four hours and I collected the two quid. Then this caused a great deal of hoo-ha, you know. This was meant to be the end of DLP and so on. And I got a phone call from Sir Frank Packer, whom I'd never met, who asked me if, on the following Sunday night, I would like to tell my part of the story, he said, on Channel 9. And I said, 'No, I wouldn't tell my part of the story, but I have something that I would like to say, that while I thoroughly acknowledge Archbishop Simmons right to exclude me from this ...'. - and I do. It was his session - '... it will have no effect whatsoever on the DLP vote'. I wasn't too darn sure that it wouldn't, but nevertheless, he said, 'That's all right'. He said, 'We'll put you on at six-thirty', which was prime time. So I went on the following Sunday night. I wondered why he did it and as soon as I finished, Menzies came on and I could see that he was trying to link the DLP and the Liberals together. So that was all that he'd promised to do. But then he said would I like to continue for the next few weeks, because there was still a few weeks to go to the election. I said, 'No'. I said, 'Only if you'll let me continue for three months', and he said, 'Yes', and three months extended to thirty years. So that's ... and my aim there was - because we had an Australia wide distribution network, and actually it used to go to the Sepik River in New Guinea - that this gave me an opportunity of presenting our side of affairs in general, to people, the Catholics in New South Wales, who had been told that we were villains unhung. And so it went into New South Wales for all of that time. That's a rather long way of going about it.
No, I'm not saying that he thought I wouldn't be successful, he had very grave doubts. And he had good reason for that. One, I had no experience, and it is a technique of its own, and the other one is that the three or four people whom he'd had before me hadn't succeeded so he had no reason to believe that I'd be any better.
I thought also that perhaps, because your interests were quite intellectual, your analysis quite detailed and rigorous, that the feeling that a popular audience, such as a television audience is, might have difficulty relating to what you were talking about.
Well, it could. But in self defence, I did have an eleven per cent rating in Canberra, which was better than the ABC's.
Yes, but I think that in the community, and I don't know if it's the same in every community, I think that in the community there are ten per cent of people who feel very strongly that they're treated like dogs intellectually and if you talk to them in their own language, you'll get their respect, if not their support. I'm sure of that.
Not of ninety per cent of the audience, I don't think it underestimates them at all, but ten per cent it does. I'm not a great believer in vox populi where television is concerned.
Quite critically important, because well, I don't think it changed sentiment in any way. I think that even the opposition had to come to terms with the arguments and no longer felt that they could override you by main force. So I think it had that importance.
My objectives were, to present on the one hand a critique, but always to accompany the critique with practical proposals. I don't believe that criticism qua criticism ought ever be left there. You ought to be able to say, to give the answer to Lenin's question: what is to be done? And to cover the areas of main concern, which would have been what was happening to the political parties here in Australia, what was happening to the struggle in the unions, what was happening economically, what was happening in terms of foreign affairs, what was happening in the churches. And I sort of moved over all of those fronts, over all of that period, and there was long enough to do that, because as I say, it lasted thirty years every Sunday.
Well the DLP could never have succeeded in so far as it did succeed without the core of the Movement and later NCC members. There were always say ten per cent who weren't, but I would say that ninety per cent of the people who handed out tickets, who collected money, who did all the work that the DLP had to do in the locality, would be Movement members.
Well, basically because the objectives of the Movement, which later became the NCC, were wider than the purely political objectives of the DLP. The DLP was a political party with a purely political objective, but there was work in the unions, there were issues arising in relation to the church after the Second Vatican Council and so on. And you always had to have the understanding that history changed, epochs changed, and the epoch that had bred the DLP might one day bury the DLP. But the question of handling the new problems that were going to arise, as they did arise in the sixties, still required some body, so it was necessity to keep a distinction.
Well, I think a number of things. It's a fairly complicated question. One is that the DLP was always in a comfortable position while Menzies was there. Menzies had considerable intellectual and political powers, and he understood very well that to a large extent he depended on the DLP. In fact, he told me later on - because I only met him after he'd ceased to be prime minister - that he'd twice voted DLP. He said, 'That's the party I thought I founded'. They're the words that he said. [Laughs] Now ...
He would have voted for the DLP in 1969 and in 1972. I think, he might have also voted in '74, I don't know. I'm pretty sure he voted for Fraser in '75. But that's what he said to me and his family confirmed it to me.
He, on one occasion ... we'd run an annual fighting fund - he sent us 150 pounds so he supported us, yes. But he understood the significance of the DLP and he was very sympathetic to its objectives, quite apart from its usefulness to him. But after his resignation, I knew Holt and Holt understood the significance, but he wasn't the same as Menzies, and he was only there for a year anyway - a year, that's about all. But Gorton wasn't like that at all. Gorton believed that - and MacMahon I think believed - Gorton believed that if the DLP went out of existence, all of its members would vote Liberal. And I remember saying to him on one occasion how mistaken he was. They ... two-thirds of them were Labor people, and that has been borne out. But in the last analysis, I think that the reason that the DLP had to be terminated, which was a decision taken to do that, was on the one hand, that you didn't have people in the Liberal Party that you could comfortably work with any longer, in Gorton or Sneddon or MacMahon, whereas with Menzies you did. But secondly, in so far as the DLP depended on the Catholic vote, and I think that about two-thirds of its voting supporters would be Catholic, the transformation that came across the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council, which began to represent the fragmentation of its old formation, I could see that that was sapping up. It was not only destroying the church in itself, but destroying the electoral base of the DLP, and so when you got down to about five per cent of the vote, instead of the ten per cent that you were more or less used to, and seven to eight per cent Australia wide, you could have either have let it fritter on, or you could impose a limit. And I thought, with my colleagues, that in the interests of its historical report, it was better to impose the limit.
I think it was wound up in '75 or '76 - '75, I think. You must always give me a leeway of one or two years, but I think it was '75.
Well, I would say that the Movement initially began exclusively to fight the Communist penetration of the Labor movement. That it was diverted into political, as well as trade union channels, as a result of the split, but that was purely accidental. It would not have happened otherwise. And that as it helped to maintain the DLP, the Movement - or some people in the Movement - gradually became aware of the fact that there were profound transformations in Australian society during the sixties and that the question with these profound transformations, which you noticed at the time of the Vietnam War, in university life then, which you noticed with the rise of the feminist movement, which you knew with the growth of all the minority movements that grew up at that time, that you had to make up your mind whether there was any point in trying to meet those problems in so far as one could, or whether it's best to say that now that the trade union fight and the DLP fight is over, and Communism is no longer a major problem in Australia, whether you shouldn't wind up. That would have been a perfectly proper decision to take. But, of course, the reason that we didn't take it was this: it was all very well to say that with these new problems arising in the structures of Australian society, they weren't our particular baby. But whose baby were they? And you could never get to the point of conscientiously taking the decision to pull down quite a strong structure for nothing.
Oh yes, yes I suppose. You know, these are drawing distinctions that you're not very well aware of at the time but the social base of the Movement was quite strongly religious. It was quite strongly family, even before the family issue arose. And those values were defended, even if they didn't become specific. But then, in the beginning of the sixties, they started to become quite specific. So the philosophy was exactly the same. The problems were different.
Yes it did, yes it did.
I believed that there should be an extension of objective, and I really began to believe that at the beginning of the sixties. The Vietnam thing told me that something new was happening. Then I remember it was in the middle of the sixties, I had a friend who was an economist, Colin Clarke, and Colin said to me, 'Look, something which I can't explain is happening', and he pointed out that it was a quite catastrophic decline in the birth rate throughout the whole of western society, which was not only due to the introduction of the Pill in 1959, because it had in fact started just before then. He said - and he acquainted me with the works of a French demographer called Chanoux, whose writing in the middle, or the end, of the sixties said that the population loss from the decline in birth rate had exceeded the population loss at the time of the Black Death. So, you knew, there was something fundamental happening. Then in 1962-65 you had the Second Vatican Council and the turmoil that this introduced into the Catholic Church showed that what I regarded as a broad cultural crisis, had extended to the field of religion. And then it entered into the area of the family. Germaine Greer had written The Female Eunuch in 1963, and the other stuff came out in '69 and this began to transform consciousness about the family radically, with the whole of the sexual revolution and so on. To me, at least, it became perfectly obvious that we were going through a period that strangely enough I thought was very similar to the fifth century of our era, which witnessed the internal disintegration of the Roman Empire, and I'm quite convinced that that is right. So it was something big and different. And again, the question was, is this our business or not? And ... because it seemed to be nobody else's business.
No. There were people in the NCC and they were friends - they'd been close friends and collaborators of mine for thirty years - who felt very strongly that I was leading the thing along the wrong lines. That it was still important to concentrate absolutely on the unions and on the Labor Party. My argument was that the unions were going to cease to be critical to anything that we were interested in. As long as we could ... had enough strength to hold Communism, or a revival of Communism, at bay, I thought that the union movement would decline in importance, and it has in fact. When today you've only got - what is it? - about twenty-five per cent of the workforce who are members. And I think that that will inevitably happen, although I'm opposed to it happening. I believe in the union movement. So that was ... and they left us. And it was a very bad blow to me. That was about 1978 to 1980.
Yes, that was the end of that, when the thing got to quite an extreme situation and there were questions of who owned the property and so on. It was very distressing, because the people concerned had been my friends for many years. I respected them and still respect them but they had a different idea, and what could you do about it?
Yeah. Yes we did. It was a mini one though, it was not to be compared with the one in the fifties, but it was much more distressing because of the personal identities involved.
Well, as far ... I really can't understand, even today. I can't understand why what eventuated did eventuate. But in so far as I can rationalise it, and putting the best colour I can upon those who naturally opposed what my general line, because my general line was strongly supported right through by the majority on the national conference and so on, but looking at the best, they believed that the really practically work was still to be done in the union movement in so far as you could be an influence in the union movement, you would be an influence, politically, in the Labor Party. They were dealing with Hawke, and since then I've discovered that they were dealing with Richardson. You find that in Richardson's memoirs. But that was their honest and conscientious conviction. I believe that history had passed that by. I believed that you had to keep an eye on the unions and the political parties but ultimately it was the cultural cleavage that was the problem. Now, I could have been wrong.
Oh yes, overwhelmingly.
Did you have a little bit of a sense that while you'd been doing all of this, and while the attention had been focused on those political and industrial issues, that this enormous change that had occurred in the Catholic Church had, in a sense ... and in society generally, had in a sense, sort of crept up on you, that it took everybody a moment to realise what was happening?
No, I think I should say this - I was aware of it from the beginning. I knew that something was happening. I might not have been able to identify what was happening until about '63 or '64, but it didn't creep up on us, but I knew that we couldn't handle the consequences very easily, because if our recruitment came very largely from the Catholic community, and if the Catholic community was fragmenting, where did you go for the people that you were hoping to work with in the future? That was the practical issue and I saw that as early as the middle of the sixties.
Yes. The methods when you were fighting predominantly in the unions was to train people as what the Communists used to call cadres, you know, the self-starting individual; to build the organisation around cells; to have a strong centre of national unity in the policy decisions of the national conference. Now, you had to develop different organisations. If there was a family problem, and the family became a critical part of the whole of the problem, you ... we've had to develop a thing called the Australian Family Association. If the religious crisis became part of the problem you had to develop something that would defend the structures of orthodoxy within the Catholic religion - not only the Catholic, but the Christian religions in general. And we developed a thing there called the Thomas More Centre. We produced then a new magazine. We still had News Weekly. We produced a new magazine, AD 2000, to carry on the cudgels in ... or carry the cudgels in that. You had to develop an organisation for undergraduates and - well, during the Vietnam War - for academics. We called it Peace With Freedom, under the presidency of James McAuley, to handle the crisis in the universities, as far as we could. So instead of a structure that was based on the cadre, the cell, and national organisation, you can best envisage it as a wheel. The hub in the centre was the Movement, the NCC, the spokes were the Family Association, the Thomas Moore thing and so on, and the rim of the wheel was that part of public opinion that you could influence, so it's a different concept but it's an adaptation to a new problem.
Oh, well yes. You ... I mean it's all very well to say you've got an organisation. If the organisation has got no people, you've got no organisation.
Yes, that's right.
Pretty hard. Pretty hard. You see, at the peak of the Movement's powers, when the fight against Communism was on in the ... until the middle of the fifties, and until the secession in Sydney, you had about five or six thousand people who would give you three or four nights a week. That's a lot of hours. Now, I would say that in every state it would be approximately two to two and a half thousand. And that doesn't sound much, but if they're ready to make the same effort it's pretty formidable. But that means you've got to keep state offices going, you've got to keep your papers going, you've got to keep your finance going with much less potential for financial support that you had before. And it means that you've got to work hard. And very fortunately, you have seen this office here, you've seen some of the people walking around, you can still get people. I know that a friend of mine put on a stenographer in a law office last week for 36,000 dollars a year. Nobody here gets more than thirty. So you've got to get people who are ready to do that. Now, your basic ... your base is so greatly narrowed as a result of the general collapse in the Catholic Church, that you've got to work ten times as hard to get one person as you used to years ago. But still they're there. And the important thing is, I think two generations - those who went to the universities at the end of the sixties and the beginning of the centuries [seventies?] are lost. You couldn't talk the same language but the youngest generation is open, and it won't be easy, but we still get a quota.
I'd like to turn now and start talking about some of the people who've been an influence in your life. One person that you've mentioned in the course of our talk, was the poet, James McAuley. How did you meet him and what part has he played in the work that you've undertaken in the course of your life?
Well I naturally - at the beginning of the fifties - had heard of a poet called James McAuley. I'm not poetically inclined, so it didn't mean that much to me but I'd heard of him. When things became very nasty after Evatt attacked us, we had nobody defending us at all. Until one morning, in January or February 1955, there was a letter in the Sydney Morning Herald, which was an absolutely admirable defence of our position, signed by Jim McAuley. I'd never spoken to him and I was amazed that he knew so much about the essence of what the issue was about. So out of the blue I wrote to him, just to thank him. And I got a very nice letter from him saying that he would like to meet me. And we did meet, we met at a place called Belloch House in Sackville Street, Kew, which was run by the Jesuits. We spent two days together - only the two of us, nobody else - and we talked at length. And he was trying, really, to find out what we were really about. And I didn't know what he was going to do or if he was going to do anything. He went home and he hadn't committed himself to anything. He just said he wanted to think about it, but then he wrote back to me and said that he wanted to be in it. And we just developed our friendship from there, but it became a very close friendship. And I think - although I don't know what is good poetry and bad poetry - that some of his best poetry was written about that. He ... when he wrote the letter saying that he would like to help, he sent me a copy of a poem that he'd written called In A Late Hour and I think it's beautiful. And I don't ... I can't remember all of the words, so I won't mess it up. But there were two other things, but the best thing that he ever wrote was a thing called Retreat. I've got an idea it was 1968. We got into the habit of meeting a Christmas time and we'd go down to Mornington and spend a couple of days together. And in '68 I think he was feeling a bit down and I wasn't feeling too bright if it came to that, but I was trying to make plans for the following year. And he went home and he sent me this poem called Retreat and what he was saying was, 'Look, the whole of life isn't action. Step back and think before you take any further step'. He said it beautifully - I just said it terribly - and he sent this to me. Well, those three poems are really, I think, beautiful poems. He wrote an epic called Captain Quiros, and it was the story of the struggle between Quiros, who wanted to embark on the exploration of the Pacific, and the Cardinal of Seville, and his Auxiliary Bishop. And in two stanzas, the Cardinal of Seville was Cardinal Gilroy, and the Auxiliary Bishop was Bishop Carroll. And he said to me in the letter, he said, 'Only you and I will understand this', and I wrote back saying, 'Yes, and about five thousand others'. [Laughs] So that poetry was a small part of our ... but we were, he was my closest friend, and after the death of Archbishop Mannix in '63, he was very important to me to talk to. And he lived 'til '76, and so I had thirteen years of his friendship and since then I've had nobody like that.
It could have been catastrophic but it wasn't.
Malcolm Muggeridge had a very important influence with the book that he wrote, [Snatmaria: Yes] that really turned your mind to Communism. You subsequently met with him, and he wrote the introduction to your autobiography ...
Yes, he did.
Well, I read his book in '34 or '35. I think it was published in '34. I didn't meet him until '55. He was brought out to Australia, I think by the Sydney Morning Herald, to do a series of television interviews on Channel 7 and it was [during] the very heat of the split. And he interviewed me one night on Channel 7. We'd had lunch together and I found him very friendly. I'll never forget, as we were going into the studio at Channel 7, he turned round to me and he said, 'Don't mistake whatever friendship I feel for you for what I'm going to do now', and what he intended to do was carve me up. And for the first twenty minutes of that half hour session, I felt the water closing over my head. But then he made a mistake, and that saved me more or less. Anyway ...
It was a tactical mistake. You see, what he'd been trying to say was this: what right had the Catholic Church got to intervene in politics? Isn't it an aggression against the democratic society, and all of that stuff. And then when we got to the about twenty minute mark - and of course it's a very difficult argument to have on television - he said, 'Look, where the Catholic Church intervenes in politics, as in Spain, look at the situation. Look at housing, look at the wages'. In other words, the Catholic Church is responsible for the poor social conditions. So I saw my chance and I said 'Well, no wait a moment, I really can't follow your argument. What do you want, do you want the Catholic Church to intervene, or not to intervene? When you answer that question, I'll answer'. And I think he faltered. It was a pure chance, and I think I saved myself. But other than that I was gone. Anyway, he came down to Melbourne and we had lunch together and he asked me what had influenced me in this line of fighting Communism, and I said, 'I blame you for finding myself where I am', and I told him about Winter in Moscow. He said, 'That's a strange thing'. He said, 'A book written by an agnostic could get you because you're a Catholic to put up an implacable opposition to Communism whereas the Communist goes through the agnostic like a knife through butter'. That's exactly his phrase. So, well, we laughed and then he went home. He came back to Australia, I think at the beginning of the sixties, or in the middle of the sixties. By this time he had met Mother Theresa in India, and she had a profound influence on him. We went for a walk one morning down at Albert Park, right along the waterfront here, and we were just talking, and he told me that he had become a Christian, which surprised me, because in that earlier lunch in 1955, he had said it was inconceivable that he could ever have any religious belief. So he mentioned this and I had an inkling of it, but I was surprised. And I said to him, 'Well look, I'm not likely to see you again, ever', although I did. I said, 'You've become a Christian, why don't you go the whole way, and become a Catholic?' and he looked at me, and his eyes were sparkling, and he said, 'Have you ever heard of a rat joining a sinking ship?' [laughs] and they were sort of his famous last words. But then I met him later on and the rat had joined the sinking ship by this time. So there we are.
Very important. If I could introduce a caricature. I used to live near the Brunswick Town Hall. Fifty yards to the north of the Brunswick Town Hall was St. Ambrose's Church. I used to go to mass there of a Sunday. Less than fifty yards behind was the school, where I had to go every day and about half a mile to the south was the Carlton football ground, and I went every Saturday, and those were the parameters of my life. So does that answer your question?
As far as I can remember - and I don't remember this, my father told me - he took me to my first game in 1921. So that's seventy-five years, seventy-six years ago. So I don't remember that game, but I remember at about that time.
Oh, my word. Yes. We don't encourage any other than Carlton supporters in our family.
Well, we regard Hawthorn and Melbourne supporters as pansies really. Carlton, Richmond, Collingwood, Essendon, they were the real supporters. I think you'd better rub that out in case I offend 22,000 Hawthorn members or whatever it is.
Oh, yes, I don't like to hurt them.
Well, I want to say that it has much less of an attraction today. I still go every Saturday, but it has much less because it has been taken over by an economic philosophy that I don't like in any aspect of its life. It's been taken over by people who now produce football for television. In other words, it's no longer a game, and the players are no longer really faithful to a club. But originally, what it was, it was part of your local loyalty. The conflict between Carlton and Richmond, for instance, or Carlton and Collingwood, was a matter of the blood, and it was, I think, largely due to the fact that they were all pretty well working class people who used to go, except the Melbourne barrackers, who weren't. And it was a conflict of localities. And that's what I dislike most in what happens today. It's not a conflict of localities any longer. It's a conflict of incorporated companies.
Well, I like to labour under the illusion that anybody who put on the Carlton guernsey would, if necessary, die for it. I think it was an illusion, but some went pretty close. [Laughs] I don't believe that anybody would today. Look, it's a tribal thing. It's tribal.
Oh really, you're intellectualising it. It wasn't like that at all. We didn't think those grandiose thoughts about it. It was just that we liked to be there and liked to win. And I still like to win, but it's not the same. A couple of Saturdays ago I saw the Carlton team who've got, I think - and I think most people think - the most aesthetic of the guernseys of all of the football clubs because somebody offered them 200,000 dollars, appear in pastel blue uniform. And I nearly sent back my ticket. And I probably will by the time I finish. In other words, there is no longer any bottom line. There is nothing that you won't do for money.
No. She couldn't ever even understand what it was all about. I tried to persuade her to come to the football with me in the thirties. Carlton hadn't won a premiership in all the time that I'd followed them, from 1921. And we were finally ... in 1938, they were in the Grand Final. And I finally persuaded her to come with me. We were engaged at about that time. Anyway, we went into the Melbourne Cricket Ground, and it was before it had been remodelled as it is at the present moment. But there were still 90,000 people there. It was just ... it was packed to the gills. And so she duly fainted and as she was very light, I picked her up and put her over my shoulder. I looked around for somebody to help. Nobody wanted to even know you. So I took her outside and got some water, and resuscitated her, and then we turned round to go into the ground again, and they'd closed the gates, and Carlton won the premiership. And I didn't see them win the premiership til 1945. [Laughs] It was a great strain on the engaged relationship, I can tell you.
Not really, no, no. She was too civilised.
You've got to be, yes, you've got to be either a Celtic tribal or an Italian Mafioso, I think.
You said that you don't see metaphor in it. I heard you make a wonderful description of what it was that you liked about football, which I was hoping you might mention when you talked about how it was really a kind of concept of good and evil, and your side was good. Anyway I don't want to ...
No, well that is true. No, I don't want to exaggerate it. Let's put it into a proper ... into a proper perspective. But one of the incidents in my life that I prize more than any other was that, I think Carlton won the premiership in 1982 or '83 and the following year I was asked by the club to present the guernseys to the new players, and I thought that was the high watermark of my life.
Now, I want to go back and pick up on a few things in telling the story of your life we've sort of missed out on and I need to go right back to your childhood, and ask you what language did you speak in your house?
The first language I ever spoke was the Aeolian dialect, which is a mixture of Italian, Spanish, a bit of French and a bit of Arab, I think, and my parents used to speak that. And that was the very first language I ever spoke. And my mother told me the story of the embarrassment I caused her when I was three years old. We were in a train going from Brunswick into the city and I was talking loudly, as a kid of three would talk, in Italian, and everybody was scowling at me, I understand. And she was trying to hush me down. And she said, 'Look, don't forget these are Australian', and I said to her, 'What does it matter? We're Italians, aren't we?' and she accepted that and said no more. But that was the dialect I spoke. Then of course I spoke English at school. But later in life, in some way I picked up what we call the real Italian. I don't know how, but I did, and the trouble with the lack of familiarity with people now, who belong to the Aeolian - see, all those families are gone - is that I've forgotten a lot of the words in the Aeolian dialect, and I find myself, when I talk to my aunt, for instance, who's over ninety, at a loss for words, because she doesn't speak what we call the real Italian. But I know that better.
In Brunswick? Oh, I suppose there would have been about a dozen Aeolian families. That was about all there were.
I am sorry to say no. The ... None of them ... none of them actually speak Italian. You can't really, because my wife was Australian, and we used to always speak English naturally and unless you have that familiar background, you don't. One of my daughters studied Italian at the university, and to the great disgrace of the family, failed first year, which we never let her forget. [Laughs] But beyond that, nothing.
Last night I saw a film. We had some visitors and we showed them this film. I don't think any of them liked as much as I did, but I've seen it umpteen times. It's called Avanti and it's got Jack Lemmon in it. And I can't tell you the plot, it doesn't matter. But one of the characters says, 'Italy is not so much a country as an emotion'. That's what I feel about it.
Oh, beautiful emotion. I can't think of Verona or of Ischia or Amalfi without wishing I were there.
There is no problem. I have never felt any problem at all except at one particular moment of my life it was a problem, but I feel if you're going to split yourself up into compartments, I feel aesthetically an Italian. I mean I like Italian music, I like Italian food, I like Italian literature but it has nothing whatsoever to do with your patriotism. I mean you're an Australian and that is it. And of course, you can understand that when Italy entered the Second World War on the other side, it was very difficult. I'm not talking about legalities, I'm talking about the emotions that one felt, but it solves a problem for me. I know who I wanted to win: it was my own country.
Oh well, no. You see I've got too many things tying me to the ground here. I've still, thank God, have eight children. I've got thirty-odd grandchildren, and some great grandchildren, and there's nothing I can do about that. If that were not so, I think I might.
Well, look, I ... I have just been there as a matter of fact, only for about six days, but while I come from ... my parents come from the south, and there are some beauties in the south that you really couldn't even dream about. But the cities of the Lombardy Plain are superb. And Verona is really out of this world. But even ... there's a city like Mantua in which Dante was born, and which I discovered that Virgil lived a lot of his life. It's very hard for me to describe, but when I saw that statue of Virgil, and three lines of the Aeneid that I hadn't read since my school days underneath, I just felt this is where I really belong.
Well, I'll tell you what I feel about Australia. I think that Australia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I think that we don't understand how fortunate we are to be born here. We could have been in Africa, we could have been in Rwanda, we could have been born in Yugoslavia, and nobody really realises it or thinks about it. And I think that we've made a complete mess of the country, which was avoidable, and I think we probably will lose it.
We've made a mess of it economically, in this sense, that we have pursued policies under governments of both political parties, that unless they're forced on the governments, are absolutely lunatic. Their policies that the economists, of whom I don't count myself one, thank God, would call deflation. And anybody who studies the history of the Great Depression knows that what was fundamentally wrong was the deflationary policies: cutting and cutting and cutting. And this is what we're doing today. The result is that we haven't got eight per cent unemployed, as the statistician tells you. He defines a person being employed as one who works one hour a week. That person is employed. The truth is, that among the unemployed and the underemployed there are fifteen per cent. And we will soon rise to twenty per cent, who will be on the outer edges of Australian society. And we when I see Liberal and Labor members of parliament preening themselves, and talking about the wonderful record we have with inflation and so on, I'm driven to rather primitive reactions.
Well, you have got to look at it strategically. We are 10,000 miles away from London, and we're 10,000 miles away from Washington. We are of no strategic importance to either of them. We now have independent powers. You've got Japan with 120 million people. We've got eighteen million. You've got China with over a billion. You've got India with a billion. You've got Indonesia with 250 million, I think it is. It is inconceivable, historically, that one or other of those powers looking at this country, that has got enormous agricultural and mineral wealth still, and can't exploit it, which is exporting its capital overseas for investment instead of developing it, that they're going to let that continue to happen, while they are under the pressure of population which they have. And what's more, I don't think we deserve to hold it under those circumstances. But I hate to think of the alternative.
Well, you know scenarios are ridiculous. I mean, because you're just simply imagining things, aren't you?
One positive scenario is this: in the north-west of Australia ... First of all I've got a friend who was with me at school. He's one of Australia's most distinguished soldiers. He's now retired. He's as old as I am. He lived in Western Australia for nearly ten years. He headed the Australian Expeditionary Force into Vietnam, the first one. He said it would take 400 troops to take Western Australia and you could do nothing about it. And that's true. Now, the north-west of Australia, up in the Fitzroy and in the - what's the other one?
... the Ord, has got I think half of the water supplies of Australia. The mineral resources are endless, and the agricultural resources are endless. Now, Indonesia is only on the other side of the water. Now, that's one scenario. And there's nothing you can do about it, simply because nobody wants to do anything about it. And I don't like that. I mean I think that this country is so wonderful in its wealth and in its beauty and so on, that for us to surrender it, as we are, seems to me to be a crime.
Well, it's a bit late, isn't it? I mean you don't wait until six o'clock in the morning to ask what you're going to do the next day. But the first thing that you would do - acting on the assumption that time will be given - the first thing that you would have to do, would be to put the economy into order because unless the economy is in order, you cannot develop a defence structure that will defend your country. You've got to put the foundations in first. And to put the economy in order, you would have to pursue identically the opposite policies to those that are being pursued today, which sometimes are called Keynsianism, which sometimes are called expansionist and so on. And it's not difficult to do that, as long as you are ready to use the credit resources of the country to finance your development, without borrowing at ten per cent. It is the rate of interest on which we tried to found all of our development that makes it impossible to develop the country and there is no more reason why we should build a ... you know, when what used to be known as the transcontinental railway was built, between Port Augusta and Kalgoorlie, to link up the two railway systems, from 1913 to '17, the Commonwealth Bank, which was founded in 1911, advanced the money to do that at one per cent interest. And got its money back. And there is no reason at all why you should do any more than that. But the banking interest in Australia has erected the fantasy that they are entitled to expand credit as much as they like, at whatever rate of interest they like, while the Reserve Bank representing the wealth of the community mustn't do that at all, because that's inflationary. Of course, that's a superstition. But, of course, they've now got all their consultancies and God knows what, where they pay people between 100,000 and 200,000 a year to develop these, what the Marxists call the superstructure of ideas, to justify their deprivations.
Well, that's the celebrated sixty-four dollar question. I have always rejected conspiracy theories of history, because I don't think there are conspiracies, although you don't know, and therefore the idea of a wealthy bankers' cabal who is enforcing policies on us, I normally reject that. But if the rate of interest at which ... with which we hamper this country, which means that if you start a small business you'll pay thirteen per cent. If you go on the land you'll pay fifteen per cent. You can't succeed at that rate. If you want to borrow money for commonwealth bonds, you'll pay nine per cent to ten per cent. All of that ultimately is decided in Wall Street, it's not decided here. And it's enforced throughout the world by the International Monetary Fund. And that talks of sound economics and so on, and to me it's a great nonsense. Now, I find it very difficult to believe that neither Mr. Howard nor Mr. Keating can see that. It is impossible. And one can only come to the conclusion that they are coerced into. And I can see what the weapon of coercion is. We have now allowed ourselves to borrow just under 200 billion dollars abroad and the rate, the interest volume is altogether about eleven billion a year. And if you tried to break free of that - and there are some ways in which you can do it - you'd be afraid that the existing loans would be pulled out quickly and your currency would collapse. It would be worth facing, because there's no way out in what we're doing.
Yes I would, doing a lot of other things as well.
Well, one thing is this: you have got what are officially recognised as just under a million unemployed. There are actually much more than that. But, what happened at the time of the Depression in the United States, when you had a similar thing and Roosevelt came to power, was that he immediately began a major programme of public works, which he financed at very low interest rates, in order to put people to work. We've got a necessity for public works in this country, all over the country: ordinary roads and so on. But for instance, the north-west. For instance, the linking of the Clarence to the inner inside river system in Australia. All of these things can't be done, because you can't afford to pay the interest on them. Well you could very easily, to begin with, employ three or four hundred thousand people on those things. We organised that sort of thing at the time of the war through the Allied War Council, of which Theodore was the first chairman. That can be done. But it won't be done unless you can destroy this monumental delusion that the rate of interest has got to be fixed by overseas bankers.
Well, I hope you're speaking personally. I wouldn't.
Privatisation is ... let's be perfectly clear on it. Privatisation is simply a technique whereby the mortgagees enter into possession. In other words, the people who've lent us the money, and who've got documents to verify it are no longer satisfied with the documents. They're afraid of a financial crash too. So they want the real thing. That's all that privatisation means. And they're pursuing that policy throughout the world. All of the talk about greater efficiency and so on is nonsense. Of course you can have greater efficiency. You sack a third of your work force and you'll get greater productivity. All you've done is to transfer the cost of keeping those people from their work to social services, which strikes me as, you know, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
One of the objectives of the National Civic Council was to do something about getting aid for the Catholic school system. How did you go about that, and could you tell me the story of state aid in Australia?
Well, I'd better begin with a corrective about your question. It wasn't to get aid for the Catholic school system, it was to get recognition of the claim to aid of all independent schools. I never believed that there was ... it was either possible or desirable to distinguish between the Catholic schools and the other independent schools. That of course had a difficulty, simply because the Catholic school system was very like the state school system, in the socio-economic group that it catered for. They were generally working class or lower middle class, and, of course, to say that you were aiming to get equal recognition for all independent schools meant that you had to take in Melbourne Grammar and Scotch and Shaw and places like that. And, of course, quite a number of people would say that's quite unfair, those people didn't need aid. And my argument was that the relationship should be between the state and the child. It had nothing to do with the socioeconomic condition of the parents. And if, of course, that money went to very wealthy people, well the state was entitled to reef it off them in ordinary income tax. You would simply devise a system where you would add endowments and so on to their normal income and so you could get to a just situation in that way. So with that framework, and that's quite fundamental to the approach that I had, the position that was taken by the Menzies government in the later part of the fifties - this was after the split - was basically - and I think Menzies said it on one occasion - that it was constitutionally impossible for the Commonwealth to provide for schools. That schools were - and education - really belonged to the states and therefore the Commonwealth was not in it. I thought that's a very good lawyer's argument, but it's not like that really. I ... there was no political device that you could use in order to bring about the solution of the state aid problem. Basically, what the DLP had to trade was its preferences. Its preferences determined who went into government. And the preferences had to be given according to a set of principles and the principle was that you would do nothing for Labor until it got rid of its Communist, or pro-Communist associations. That was the fundamental principle. The preferences were not to be traded for state aid. Of course a lot of people didn't believe that, but it was fundamental. Even if you attempted to do that - and I can say that I never was - you would lose your support. You can't go to people and say that the Communist issue is the main issue, and now let's trade that away for money. So [coughs] the thing lay dormant. The first time in which some opportunity appeared was in 1963 - oh, in 1961. There had been an election, I think at the beginning of 1961 and there had been an inflationary situation, and the Menzies Government, despite the DLP preferences, got the fright of its life. It got ... had a majority of one or two, no more than that, and it could have easily been destroyed if a member died and you had a bi-election. Because the tide was moving against it. And it was obvious that the DLP preferences might not help it. So, I thought to myself well, there is an argument here to talk to them about it. Before talking to them, which happened to be the Federal Treasurer, Mr. Holt, I spoke to Archbishop Mannix and said that I would like to put up a case to Holt. And my case - he agreed with that - and my case was this: I said to Mr Holt, whom I actually knew, 'Look, I am not here to say to you that the DLP preferences would ever be traded for state aid, they never would be, but you're in a very difficult situation and so are we. The tide is moving against you. There'll be a temptation on the part of DLP voters who come from an ALP background, [coughs] to be tempted by the economic situation to thrust ... not to follow the ticket. Now if you want to consolidate that, my view is that while I couldn't guarantee it, if you do something about state aid, that's also very dear to them, and you will consolidate it. It mightn't be good enough, but it's a sensible thing to do'. Holt listened. He actually gave me the impression of a person who was quite poleaxed, because he got the blame, as treasurer, for what had happened to the government, and he said that he would consider it and he'd talk to Menzies about it, and he'd come back to me. He didn't come back for a very long time. But then he asked me to see him and I saw him on a couple of occasions. Finally, as we got to ... it was in 1963 when the next election took place, there had been a lot of spectacular sort of events: the Goulburn Catholic school strike, where the Catholic schools were closed in Goulburn, simply because they couldn't accommodate them, the financial pressure was too great, and a lot of press attention had been given to the question. Anyway, he discussed the matter with me once again soon after that, and then nothing seemed to be happening. But on the eve of the 1963 election - and that took place, I think it was on the 22 November, give or take a day - he got in touch with me and asked me to see him. And he said that he'd discussed the matter again with Menzies, and Menzies intended to make some gesture - that's all that he said - and that I could tell Archbishop Mannix that something would be done to acknowledge the principle of state aid in the Liberals policy speech. But it was very interesting. I spoke to Archbishop Mannix about it, before the end of October as far as I remember, and it was lucky that I did. I could see that he was naturally delighted, because he had campaigned for state aid ever since he came to Australia in 1913, and he said, 'I have worked all my life in Australia for this. But in the end it's not due to my efforts, it's due to the efforts of the men', - was the phrase he used - by which he meant the DLP and so on. What was lucky about it was that I told him this before the end of October and he died on November 6, before Menzies had given his policy speech. So if I had not mentioned it he wouldn't have ever known. So he was quite happy about it. He died. And Menzies, in the policy speech, said that he would grant Commonwealth aid for the erection of science blocks in the independent school system, and there was one or two other minor things. Now the science block issue was not a very big issue, although it was becoming big, because there was a lot of emphasis being placed on the development of scientific studies in the schools, and this was very expensive expansion. The big schools like Scotch and Melbourne Grammar, they could have afforded it quite easily. But the Catholic schools would have been run out of business on that. So by giving the science block concession, he was doing something. So he duly mentioned that in that in his federal policy speech. I didn't get to know Menzies until many years later, until after he'd - well, it was some years later. He resigned in 1966. This was '63. And I ... without exaggerating it, I got on to fairly familiar terms with him, and on one occasion I said, 'How did you reconcile your grant of state aid for science blocks with your earlier statement that it was beyond the Commonwealth's power to', and he said, 'There are some things better not discussed'. And so that was the end of that. So the principle had been conceded and it was a matter of trying to expand the principle. To me, the vital expression of the principle would be if Commonwealth and or State Governments gave per capita aid, so much per year, towards the education of every child in the independent school system, Catholic and Protestant. And there seemed to be not much chance of that. The chance developed though - it just shows that chance does play a part - in 1967, four years later. In 1967 there was a state election in victoria. Previously, there had been a friendly-unfriendly relationship between Bolte's Liberal Party, which was kept in power in Victoria exclusively by the DLP preferences. I don't think Bolte's Liberals ever got more than thirty-six per cent of the vote, or thereabouts. And in the meantime there had been a quarrel of some sort between Bolte and the Country Party, which was under the leadership of a man called Moss. Moss was a very engaging man. His trouble was that he bent the elbow a bit and I think this might have had something to do with it. Bolte said that he was going to run the campaign on the his own. He didn't want the assistance of the Country Party or anything like that, and suddenly, when there was a division between the Liberal Party and the Country Party, who had worked in coalition, in effect, I saw that there was an opportunity, because if ... the DLP could never give its preferences to the ALP until they changed their policy on the Communist issue. But if you gave your preferences to the Country Party, rather than to the Liberals, it had an extraordinary effect. Bolte had a majority of twenty, as it was, but if you gave the preferences to the Country Party who were now his enemies, you could reduce Bolte's majority from twenty to one. And of course, that was a fate worse than death, because he would then be very much in the hands of the Country Party. So it was allowed to be leaked to the press that the DLP was thinking of giving its preferences to the Country Party, which avoided giving preferences to the ALP. Now, you kept your principles, but of course Bolte's situation would change quite radically. I forget on what day this was leaked to the press, but Bolte woke up immediately. And he got in touch with a very close friend of mine, who was the leading Catholic in Victoria, Sir Michael Chamberlain, and he was absolutely shaken by this proposal. So he said to Sir Michael Chamberlain that the matter had to be discussed and it had to be discussed within twenty-four hours.
When Bolte said to Sir Michael Chamberlain that the thing had to be fixed in twenty-four hours, Sir Michael Chamberlain said, 'Well, we'll meet at my home in Kew at eight o'clock that night, and I was to be there. The knock duly came on the door at about eight o'clock, and Sir Michael went to the door, opened the door, and I was behind him. And Bolte, who was rough, but polite, just ignored Sir Michael Chamberlain and he looked at me and he said, 'Do you think you can blackmail me?' and I said, 'Yes, I do', and he said - he didn't bat an eyelid - he said, 'All right, how much?' and we had a friendly discussion afterwards. [Laughs] And it wasn't very much, but at least the principle was conceded and per capita payments came in in that election and then were spread to other states. So really, that's how it sort of ... It's all told in Tom Prior's book called Bolte On Bolte.
Now, those who opposed the principle of state aid were committed to the concept of a free, secular, public education, available to all, and one of their reasons for that was that they saw schools as a nationally binding institution, where people, [coughs] whatever their backgrounds - religious, race, whatever, could in fact receive a certain standard of education, and their great fear was that the diversion of funds away from the state system, which was available to all, to systems that were based on creed, would in fact, in some way, subvert this objective. I ... were you ... how did you feel about that argument?
I could understand their argument, but I didn't agree with it, because in the first place I didn't think it would subvert the system at all. The people who had been in the Catholic school system in the First World War enlisted in as many numbers as anybody else. Their attitude to the country was the same as anybody else, and while I think that their argument was sincerely meant in many cases, I think it was also a discriminatory argument, because in the last analysis, it's a philosophic matter. And the question goes to who shall make the final decision as to the sort of education that a child shall get. Shall it be the state, or shall it be the parent? And I believe it's got to be the parent. You cannot say that a completely secularist system, which is what was envisaged, is not based on a philosophy. It is based on a philosophy. It may aim at national unity, but the philosophy is secularist, and, of course, from the viewpoint of the Catholic, it's an inadequate philosophy. So while I could understand their viewpoint, although I didn't think it would work out that way, I fundamentally opposed the philosophy on the basis that it was not the right of the state to determine the form of education given to the child. And I would hold that. If you had a Catholic state tomorrow morning, and the Catholic state tried to tell Protestant or agnostic or atheist parents that they had to have a system of education, which a Catholic majority had ultimately dictated, I would be on their side.
Well, my ideal system really is the system that really used to operate before the days of Medicare in the field of hospital benefits. If you went to the Melbourne hospital or went to St. Vincent's hospital, nobody said, 'If you go to the Melbourne hospital you can have vouchers, but you can't have them if you go to St. Vincent's'. What you did was, there was an equal medical benefit for everybody, and all you did when you went to the hospital was you signed a form indicating to whom ... who should collect the money. And that's my ideal, the ideal system, that there should be an equal entitlement in social benefits to everybody. But how it's spent and through whom, is at the indication of the beneficiary.
I want to turn now and go back to the whole time of the split, and what was happening inside the Catholic Church at that time, and just to pick up on some things that we didn't get as clear as we might have yesterday. [Santamaria: Yes, sure] Within the Catholic church itself, there were people who were opposed to the Movement.
Well, I suppose that there were many sources of opposition. I have no doubt that at every relevant stage, until the divisions in the church itself basically founded on the opposition of Bishop Carroll and Cardinal Gilroy, which was, as I indicated, for totally different reasons. But there were people who were opposed, who didn't belong to the Movement in the first place. We didn't take everybody. We only took those who were ready to work. And these were generally, although not always, people of very strong Labor background, as we were. And I know very good Catholic people, who when the division came and the DLP was giving its preferences against the ALP, were simply outraged by that, because it was against all of their traditions. And I think that that was quite a significant factor among a minority. And I think in Victoria it was a small minority. And originally I think it was a small minority in other states as well. So I could understand that their opposition was due to the fact of their Irish Catholic Labor tradition, and it's something that I can understand very well.
Well, there's a correction there. He wasn't the supreme authority. Every bishop, canonically speaking, in terms of canon law, is master in his own diocese. There is no primacy in Australia, as there is in the Anglican Church, or was in the Anglican Church, and as there is with the Archbishop of Canterbury in England. But nevertheless, he had a prestige due to the fact that he had the red hat. Well, of course, it always worried me greatly. But there was a problem. We had been given a sort of a commission to do a particular job. We had been told that, as far as the bishops were concerned, they did not wish to exercise any jurisdiction as to the policies, and suddenly, the law was being changed, now, or the understandings were being changed. They did want, or the Cardinal - and I think much more Bishop Carroll, his Auxiliary was driving - and his attitude was that in all trade union matters, the authority of the national conference of the Movement would be binding. There would be national uniformity. In political matters, no, the Bishop should be the final judge. Now, of course, if you followed that logically, there would be as many political policies as there were bishops. And that was a nonsense. Secondly, in the Labour Movement, you cannot dissociate the policies you pursue in the unions and the policies you pursue in the Labor Party, when one is affiliated to the other, and so I took my stand on the basis that I don't deny your right to withdraw from the agreement that you made at the beginning so many years ago, in 1945. You've got the right to do that as long as you give me time to disengage from the obligations I've entered into on the basis of your support, which you promised. And this was a very practical question. In the end, sixty-odd members of parliament lost their seats, because they supported the DLP. Sixty. Now that's a tremendous loss. And a lot of those had nothing but their ordinary pensions, not parliamentary pensions. Now very many of those had taken their stand on the basis of the fact that I had indicated there were certain supports behind them. And my view was, well you can withdraw your support, nevertheless you must discuss it and you must give me time to disengage. Well nothing like that ever happened. So while it was very unpleasant, as far as I was concerned, there was no doubt as to what should be done.
Well, it came down on his side up to a point. Oh well, first of all, I understood it. I am, as a Catholic, and as long as I remain a Catholic, obliged to believe that the Pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals. I'm not demanded to believe that he's infallible in matters of political judgement. So my attitude was, I looked at the decision, which in form seemed to very much against us, and was intended to be against us. And there is no doubt at all that Bishop Carroll was trying to get the Vatican to suppress us. There were five points of principle, which I won't bore you with now but the last ... and basically two were important. What the Vatican was saying was, that bishops should not be engaged in party politics. Organisations that were dependent on bishops and simply an extension of the bishops' authority, should not be engaged in politics, but could be engaged in educational things. They said that the Movement was fundamentally dependent on bishops and therefore that should operate. But the fifth clause was interesting, and it said, 'Nevertheless, Catholics are free, and will feel obliged ...' - and I'm quoting it exactly, because I learnt - ' ... to continue the struggle against atheistic Communism'. Fullstop. And so I thought to myself, well as long as we are legally connected in any way at all with the hierarchy, while I think that they're wrong, that we were ... it was indicated that we were free, nevertheless it's a waste ... a waste of time to argue this question, so if we want to continue our work, we simply have to break from the hierarchy altogether, and transform the nature of the organisation into a purely civic organisation, like the army or RSL or something like that. I must say that when I mentioned that to Archbishop Mannix, he hadn't thought about that, and I don't think he'd really believed that we could succeed. But he ... and I remember Archbishop Young was there, and Bishop Henschke was there - they ... they were diffident about it, but they said, 'If you have made up your mind about it and are ready to do it, it's up to you'. So I went back to the national conference of the Movement, which was meeting in a different place, and put it to them, and of course, they were pretty worried because it meant an entirely different basis. But overwhelmingly, with two exceptions, they agreed, and so from that ... it was then that the Movement became the National Civic Council.
Well, you see we were changing that basis, and [coughs] there were always people who weren't Catholic in the Movement, although fundamentally they were. But the title is ... I don't like the title National Civic Council and actually it's Jim McAuley's idea. He moved it. I thought it was terrible. I still think it's terrible.
I still call it the ... I don't like the title. But nevertheless ...
Without any doubt at all, yes.
Oh, it's tradition, really. That's how we began. That's how I'd like us to end.
Oh, I wouldn't say that. But nevertheless, in this case I was. [INTERRUPTION]
Of course, many of the people who were sympathetic, not necessarily to Communism, but to some of its aims and objectives, felt that way because they saw that there were certain principles of Communism that seemed, to them, to be quite Christian. I would like you to tell me what it was about Communism that made you so hate and fear it as a force in the world, and what you'd have to say to those people who really saw in it a kind of form of politicised practical Christianity?
Well, I want to draw a distinction. You were talking a little while ago about the people, about Catholics who didn't agree with the Movement. And these were not Communists. These were Labor people. And I would not for a moment believe that they had any Communist sympathies. We're talking about other people now. I would simply believe that those who regarded Communism as a form of applied Christianity should have opened their eyes and began to understand what was happening in the Soviet Union. After all, you can excuse - I don't think you can excuse but you can understand - the Leninist excesses after 1917, from 1917 to 1921, in the period of war Communism. But by 1933, you had had the collectivisation of the peasantry, particularly in the Ukraine, and something between five and seven million people had been forcibly starved. In 1934 you had the show trials, when Bukharin and others were forced to condemn themselves, and to admit to things that they had never done as a result of totalitarian justice. And were foully attacked by Vishinski, the prosecutor. After the Second World War, or before the Second World War, you had the alliance between Stalin and Hitler, then in the Nazi-Soviet Pact. If later on, you took the question of Communism in China, which came to power in 1949, I think that the best estimates of the casualties in the period of the takeover of China by Communism, the period of the Great Leap Forward, the period of the Cultural Revolution, there are some estimates that up to 100 million people died. In other words, you've got to look at the facts. Looking at Das Kapital, which nobody ever read, or at the Communist Manifesto, you can say one thing. And I studied, not Das Kapital, I had better things to do with my time, but the Manifesto and a lot of the Leninist writings, [and] there was never any doubt about what they intended. Lenin I think said on one occasion, 'That a government which is prepared to use limitless terror can never be overthrown', and he meant it, because he did. So my argument was very simple. It's all very well for you, who have not studied what is happening in practice, to reach that conclusion but let's look at the facts.
Oh, there are things in the Marxist analysis of society that I'm not out of sympathy with, but not because they're Marxist. I think they ... existed and propagated before Marx. For instance - and this is a very abstract question - Marxist theory of the relationship between what, I think, he called the sub-structure, or the infrastructure, and the superstructure in society, which is simply this: that what really happens in the society is what happens at the grass roots. Who holds the power. That if the capitalist holds the power, he makes the final decisions, both politically and economically. And what a society tends to do, and perhaps it's done ... it's done deliberately, is to develop a whole ideology, a whole view of education, a whole view of philosophy, which is meant to justify what happens where the action really takes place. I think there's a lot of truth in that. I think you see that today. I think that the whole philosophy of economic rationalism is simply a justification for massive greed. The reality is the greed, the philosophy is simply the reflection of it. So in that sense, Marx said that. And I would have thought that was right anyway. It ... I didn't Marx to tell me that. So there are some things in the Marxist theory that I believe to be true.
Well, there was the ... Just to take one thing, there was the outright persecution of all religious beliefs. And whether it was the Russian Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church, there was the massacre of the bishops and a very large number of the priests of both churches, at the very beginning of the regime. There was no doubt that Marx said, 'Religion is the opium of the people', and Lenin set out to destroy religion. Well, that's all right if you can get away with it, but you can't expect my support.
Among Communists in Australia, did you feel that ... particularly those that were your direct opponents in the Australian context, did you feel that they were operating out of ignorance, out of idealism, out of ... how did you see them? Where did you see them as coming from?
Well, I think that a lot came out of the Depression. I mean I saw them physically to begin with, in my home suburb in Brunswick. The main street in Brunswick is a thing called Sydney Road that goes right through to Sydney. On one side, close to the Town Hall, there is St. Ambrose's Church. On the opposite side of Sydney Road, there is the Mechanics' Institute and in front of the Mechanics' Institute, there's a small lawn, and Communist meetings used to take place on the lawn. Public meetings. And I used to wander over and have a look and I ... there were some of those people whom I knew quite well. And they were good people. I have no doubt at all that they were driven to Communism by the Depression. I think that was a main factor. Communism got its stimulus ... it was an abstract sort of a ... and a divided sort of organisation before then - but after 1929 it grew very rapidly. So I would say that was the main factor in the growth in Communism.
Oh, it took me a little while to get used to it, but after a while, you know, you've got to make up your mind whether you keep going or don't keep going. And I never let it worry me.
Not really, I don't think so. As a matter of fact, my ... there were some of the Communist leaders who were extremely unpleasant men. One of them was Thornton. The best, still living, exponent of what Thornton was like, is Laurie Short of the Ironworkers. They didn't hesitate - people like Thornton - to beat you up, and a lot of my friends were beaten up in factories and workshops. Another who was like that was in the Seamen's Union, Elliot V. Elliott. One who was unlike that, but still quite ruthless, was Jim Healy, who was the secretary of the Watersiders, but he had a much more pleasant demeanour. No, for the majority, I didn't feel anything at all. We were just two armies in conflict, [laughs] and it's better to respect your enemies than to feel about them. I must say that I have much more feeling against what I [call] the masters of industry - not of industry, but of the financial system today, than I have against the Communist leadership.
Simply because they are quite ruthlessly determined to extract from society every financial and prestige advantage that they can get. They use political authority in order to impose systems like down-sizing, which has led to the disemployment of twenty million people in western Europe. And they know exactly what they're doing. They have no regard for what that means for the individuals who are concerned. I have quite a strong feeling about that. Mind you, when the Communists took power in Russia and in China they were much worse than that, but that was a long way away.
No, I think I can honestly say that I had quite a bit of personal feeling when I'd see friends of mine in the railway workshops being up for their opinions in their organisation, but that was more a natural reaction. It wasn't a class feeling, if you like.
No, I don't really. I didn't really feel that. I think they wanted to win, and winning meant the imposition of a system that would be utterly tyrannical, and in the end there was no doubt about that at all. After all, Gorbachev admitted it when he got rid of the Communist leadership in East Germany and so on. So there was no doubt about what would happen. But I didn't regard them as preferable, but I never had the feeling about them that I tend to have today.
I thought that was nonsensical. But there weren't very many. At least, when I say there weren't very many, I heard that commonly alleged. A person who said that was Arthur Calwell, for instance. He said that he ceased to go to mass in his parish, which I think was Flemington in Melbourne, basically because the priests were strongly DLP. Other people who were there have said that, 'Well, there was no doubt at all about the priests' political sympathies, [but] he didn't intrude them'. I don't know what happened, I wasn't there. But I ... I simply feel that that was exaggerated, that that was commonly said in order much more widely than it was practised, in order to win support.
Well, it all depends what you mean by McCarthyism. McCarthyism was ... was a campaign built around the personality of Senator McCarthy, and a fair amount of recent writing about him says that he was misrepresented. I don't know whether that's true or not. But you've got to remember that there were at higher levels in the American administration, Alger Hiss and others, who were betraying their country. So if you take away the 'boom' words if you like, like McCarthyism and so on, and say what was actually happening, in Australia we kept our minds strictly on two things. One was we would oppose - had no sympathy for, and would oppose - anybody in government administration who was betraying secrets, Australia's state secrets to the Soviet Union, and there were. There's no question of that today, that's fully admitted. And secondly, those who tried to use union power in order to take control of the Labor Party. These were scientific propositions, if you like.
The problem with McCarthyism, though, was that people talked about guilt by association. And there were all kinds of people who were named as being Communists who weren't necessarily Communists at all. And the notion of fellow travellers and so on came up. In Australia too, there was a sense, during some periods, that people who were not necessarily Communists, but who had left-wing sympathies, were in fact targets for the anti-Communist forces. Could you comment on that?
Yes. Well, there were fellow travellers. I mean there were members of the Communist Party, who had signed their membership forms. And there were people who were very sympathetic to the Communist Party or to Communist policies and Communist causes, who didn't join the Communist Party, but who generally worked with them in trade unions. They'd be on the same tickets. They would be at Labor Party conferences. I mean, there were people like Brian Fitzpatrick, for instance. When ... Brian Fitzpatrick was a historian of the Labour Movement. I remember writing at the time, there were a lot of people who said that Brian Fitzpatrick was a Communist. I wouldn't say that, because I had no proof of that. But there was no doubt at all that he was a fellow traveller. But since then it has emerged that he was a Communist. There were many people who carried membership tickets in both parties. Now, I always believed that you had to be careful about that, not because I was very virtuous, but simply because if you were blown out on one vital fact, the authority of what you said in other fields tended to be sabotaged as well.
I had always been opposed to banning the Communist Party by legislation, because - and that's a matter or record, you'll find that in News Weekly at all stages - basically because I believed that if you drove them underground they would be more difficult to defeat. If they proclaimed ... if Jim Healy proclaimed himself a member of the Communist Party, you didn't have to go and prove it. I changed from that on one instance in 1951, at the time of the anti-Communist referendum, when Menzies set out to ban the Communist Party. And my reason was simply this: it was in the middle of the Korean War. I had seen how, in 1939, the Communist Party in Australia went over to the side of Hitler, like the rest of the Communist movement, and sabotaged Australia's shipping to the Middle East. They believed in what they called revolutionary defeatism. In the middle of the Korean War, there was a quite serious danger that the Korean War would develop into a Third World War. And that has been proved from the Soviet archives that have been opened up, ever since the Gorbachev revolution. And in my judgement at that time, to go through another period in which - in the event of world war - there would be an attempt to sabotage the Australian war effort, was something that wasn't worth risking, and therefore, I said, 'Vote yes', in the referendum. The interesting thing about that was that Archbishop Mannix said, 'Vote no', and I had quite interesting contretemps with him on that. I had written an editorial for News Weekly in which I urged a yes vote, for what Menzies was proposing, which I emphasised was against the whole line of our tradition until that moment. And so I thought I should take this editorial to Archbishop Mannix and show it to him, because it represented a pretty drastic change in policy. So he read it. And then he produced a sheet of paper in which he had the notes of a talk that he was going to give on the following Sunday - he generally spoke to people at openings of churches and so on. Never from the pulpit - in which he said, 'Vote no', because he believed that the powers were unnecessary. So he looked at me and he said, 'What are you going to do?' and before I could give an answer - and I knew what answer I would give - before I would given an answer, he said, 'If you change what you've written in that editorial, because you know what I'm going to say, I'll have no respect for you'. So that's the answer to your question.
Can I ask you to talk a little about the place of politics in religion, and what you feel about that, because one of the serious principles that were under discussion at the time that decisions were being made within the church about the way things would go after the split, was that whole question of the relationship of politics and religion. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, it's very noticeable that the fashionable view about that has changed. The relationship between religious belief and political action, which was held to be illicit at the time of the split, that's completely vanished today. Everybody says - bishops say and people in the social welfare environment say - that it's very important that religion should have some impact on the social system, on taxation, on wages and so on. It always seemed to me, even at the time, that people had no real objection to politics and religion being mixed, as long as the religious factors were on their side. They only objected when they were on the other side. But to take it more seriously, if you look at the government of Germany, for instance, Germany's been under the Christian Democrats for years, and really it was the Christian Democrats under Adenauer who created modern post-war Germany. Now that wasn't a name just chosen for luck or whatever it was, or to get a particular line of support. The truth is that the viewpoint of the Christian Democrats on the economy, on the way in which the role of the state in the economy, is very different from that of the Liberals, or the Social Democrats. The Christian Democrats as against the free marketeers, believe that the role of the state in the economy is fundamental, that the religious values and moral beliefs establish the parameters. In other words, you don't pursue free market ideas if they destroy the family, as they're destroying the family in the our part of the western world. So religious, moral and philosophic ideas must describe ends. Now whether you give those political form or not, it really, I think, is an instrumental matter, and sometimes it's a good idea and sometimes it isn't a good idea. But there's no fundamental moral dichotomy.
One of the arguments [coughs] ... One of the arguments against it was that the concept of Christianity as being concerned with the world hereafter, rather than the world here and now, was a strongly held view in past times about the church, that in fact it was a preparation for another life, rather than trying to influence the life now. What was your feeling about that argument?
Well, I think the people who believe that haven't the vaguest idea of what religion is all about. If it's true that there is a personal judgement at the end of your life, and a Last Judgment for everybody, you're not going to be judged on the esoteric beliefs or principles that you've had, you're going to be judged on what you did. And therefore, religion is concerned not only with the next life, it's concerned with how you behave in this life. In other words, if one leads a particular personal life that is not in accordance with the Christian dispensation, if he pursues a pattern of law which is not accordance say under the Family Law Act and so on, not in accordance with the Christian dispensation, all of those things are not going to be separated when the weights go up in the final count. I don't believe that you can have that dichotomy at all, as long as you believe that religion must guide conduct, and political conduct is part of conduct.
Yes, and rejected it. The exact year I can't give you but it was early in the forties. The Member for Bourke, which included the suburbs of Brunswick and Coburg was Maurice Blackburn, and Maurice Blackburn was expelled from the Labor Party, so there was a vacancy in the seat of Bourke. And Bourke, I think, was the safest Labor seat in the whole of Australia. The presidents of the two leading branches in Bourke went to my father and asked if I would have a shot at it, and my father asked me and I said, 'Well there are only two problems: one is I don't want to, and the other is that I'm not a member of the Labor Party, or any party'. And they said well that was of no importance at all. They could easily give me a ticket, and predate it. But in any case, I said no because I was already engaged in trying to develop the Movement. And that was the only time I've got near politics, and it's not very near.
No, I've never been a member of any party.
Never been a member of the DLP.
Simply because I wanted to be in a position where, in the last analysis, I could exercise an independent judgement and didn't feel that that judgement had to be limited by my responsibilities as a member of a party.
Well, until the Labor split, I voted Labor. The Labor split took place in '55. From '55 until about '74, I voted DLP, and since then I've voted informal.
Simply because I wouldn't ... I wouldn't believe sufficiently in either political party to vote for them. And my belief has never been stronger, in that regard, than it is at the present moment.
Yes, I did. I think I can claim that we are friends. He mightn't agree with that but I think we are.
No, I didn't, no. No, during his period was ... his period was '75 to '83. No, I didn't. No, I just wanted to keep ...
I have never felt any ... any sympathy with the voting group that was represented by the Liberal Party. I had a lot of views in ... which were the same as Menzies' views. Menzies said that the DLP was the party he thought that he had founded. But no, I was born on the other side of the tracks.
Not threaten, no. It wasn't a threat at all. It was just a commonsense thing. McEwen was the one who suggested it.
To consider it, yes, not to threaten.
Oh, the Country Party then was quite different. I feel a lot of sympathy with the rural and country elements in society. And even that's got to be qualified, because McEwen told me that there was no such thing as a Country Party. He said that there were three Country Parties: the Victorian and New South Welsh Country Party, and Queensland, and they represented different things. And that turned out to be true as a matter of fact. It was the New South Wales Branch of the Country Party which represented the silvertails, which it doesn't in Victoria or Queensland, which prevented that amalgamation coming about. But, no, I have always distinguished between the country interest and the liberal metropolitan urban interest.
Well, I really wouldn't be the best judge of that.
I have observed them, yes. I think that a leader needs, first of all, great intellectual clarity so that he knows exactly what he's doing. Secondly, I think that he needs moral conviction, which is honestly held and not manufactured for the occasion, which he can communicate to the people to whom he is appealing. I think then that he needs certain technical qualifications. He needs to be able to express what his convictions really are, so that people have the opportunity of making up their minds about him. And I think he needs organising capacity too. In other words, you can't just do the purest things and dissociate yourself from the machinery that you've got to bring into being. Those seem to me to be four of the things that a leader really needs.
You've been a leader of a quite significant group within the community. Do you feel, judging on that, those ... that set of criteria, that you've just put together, do you feel that you've been able to fulfil that to your own satisfaction?
No, well look, it's not mock modesty. I'm not a leader in that way at all. No, please believe me. I don't even count those things by ... I just, I regard myself as a tradesman. There are certain jobs to be done and you do them.
I don't think so. I don't think so. I don't know how ... really I don't know how you define it. I mean I recognise there's such a thing as political leadership and I've never been a political leader. There's religious leadership and that really belongs to those who consecrate their lives to that, and I'm not in that. And in the field of intellectual leadership, well really, and it's not mock modesty, I regard myself as second class. I'm not an original thinker.
Well, you get your philosophy, if you like, which is the foundation of your ideas, out of the whole of the background of your existence, which comes from the family into which you were born, the schools to which you went, the educational developments you had at the secondary and tertiary level, and so on. Then whether you can get the quick solution to an administrative problem, or a political problem, really depends. Some people are champion footballers because they've got a certain muscular development. Other people have got a certain mental development. I've got a bit of that, but I don't want to exaggerate it, because sometimes I've made a lot of mistakes tactically.
Yes, but we ... I wouldn't regard ourself as a majority force, or a large force in the life of the Australian Commonwealth. I've always believed that we were a minority. I don't know whether that answers your question, but that's how I've looked at it.
That was how you experienced it, but looking back from the vantage of ... of having come to this point in your life [coughs] ... Looking back at the vantage point of now, I mean you do see that you influenced the course of events with the actions that you took.
Oh yes, yes, there's no question of that. But look, you're discussing a rather difficult problem. You're asking me to talk about myself, and of course, I have been talking about myself. But no, I ...
Well, it'd be very difficult to talk here for five or six hours and say you don't like to talk about yourself. [Laughs] But that's your fault, not mine. No, I really can't explain it. You can ... there's a great danger that you can exaggerate the significance of anything that you've done. And I really don't want to fall into that category. I just would rather say that the role of the tradesman is a little more than the role of the manual labourer, and a little less than the role of the professional. And that's where I'd put myself. [laughingly]
I'd like to ask you now about a few areas of your philosophy. One of the very important things that emerged from your analysis of the cultural revolution that took place in the sixties, was a renewed focus on concern for the family, and family values. That term, 'family values,' is thrown about and means lots of different things to different people. Could you tell us what you mean by it?
Well, I try not to use the term 'family values,' simply because it's been completely abused by people who are simply seeking political advantage out of it, but I regard the family as a natural organism that has existed since the beginning of humanity. It was before the tribe. When I look at it, it seems to me to be the centre in which children are born, children are educated, old people are cared for. All of the things that are needed throughout the course of the human life are better safeguarded by the family, where things are working in its favour - you know, sometimes people die and so on - than by any other agency. The alternative to the family in the modern state is social services. In other words, the state looks after your education, the state looks after old age and so on. I - who was it? Santayana, who, as far as I know, had no religious belief, defined the family as 'nature's masterpiece', and it's nature's masterpiece because it is the best way of looking after the human being at every stage of his or her life. Now, the ... Around that of course, values accumulate. There are the values in relation to marriage and all of that. But the one thing that is challenged, simply challenged by not being mentioned in modern times, is that if the family is to fulfil its function, it must have a firm economic base. And I believe that the biological structure of the family and the economic structure, which the family should have, really are parallel. In other words, I believe that it's normal - you know what I mean by the word normal - that the male should normally be the breadwinner, the woman should be the nurturer and the carer, and that the economic system should not ... while the woman should be perfectly free to choose whatever she wants to work in - I want to be clear on that - the economic system should not conscript the married women to go into the work force. In other words, if she chooses to go into the work force, as my own daughters, after they have raised their families, have done, that's her choice. But what is happening today is that I believe that sixty per cent of married women are driven into the work force, simply because the economic system has driven down the living wage of the family breadwinner to the situation where, without the supplementary assistance of the wife's income, you can't maintain a family, and that ultimately will destroy your whole family structure. So you see, I believe that the family's a mechanism that imparts, carries out certain functions at every stage of life, in which the member of the family, the child learns its values and so on. But if it's going to be more than words, it's got to be represented in the economic framework of society.
Well, yes and no. You know, that's a purist sort of definition. But yes, in a sense, it is the kind of family I grew up in. My father had a shop. He was in charge of the shop. My mother was in charge of the domestic economy, if you like, including the raising of the children. But because [of the way] we lived - the house and the shop were in the same premises - a lot of the functions were mixed. But nevertheless, there was a pretty clear idea as to where the priorities lay.
Because a lot of people point out that that division between the public and the private roles of the man and the woman are really post-industrial revolution, that if you have a family business like a farm, often the work is shared around.
Oh, without any doubt, and I come from that background. I mean, my mother's family, who had this vineyard in Italy, I mean the women used to help there as much. I understand all of that. But there was no doubt as to where the primary responsibilities were. The primary responsibility of the man was, in a sense, the economic responsibility of maintenance. And the primary responsibility of the woman was the management of the domestic economy, including children. I really believe that's the best. But I do make this point: I'm not here, and I never have been to tell the woman what her duties are or anything like that. But I am here to say that society has got no right to force her to enter the industrial work force if she wants to remain in the domestic work force. Now, Reagan, in the United States, achieved the presidency, twice, with this great emphasis on family values and so on, and introduced a taxation system that greatly favoured the rich at the expense of the poor, and, in fact, helped to weaken the whole family structure because of this industrialisation of the female part of the work force. So, if it is genuinely voluntary, it is not my business. But if society moves to make it compulsory, it is my business.
Well, I'm no philosopher. [Laughs] I ...
No, I'm not. No, the duties of the man in the family, first of all in the perfect society, is that ultimately he is the breadwinner, and his responsibility is to maintain the economic basis of the family. He is a, I think, the essential role model for his sons, although I think it's notorious that the link between daughters and fathers is closer than between sons and fathers. [Laughingly] And in the last analysis, he's got to be a person whose wife has confidence. She might have very different ideas and not agree with a lot of things that he says or does, but she is confident that ultimately not only will he want the right thing, but his judgements generally will be correct, so that she will be willing to associate herself with those judgements. You've asked me a very difficult question.
Of course he does. There's no question of that. I mean, there is no purely purist definition of functions. I would not for a moment say that I washed as many as nappies as my wife did, but I washed a lot of them. You see what I mean?
Well, his first responsibility towards his wife, in my judgement, is to idolise her, and then everything else becomes easy. But his responsibilities towards his wife are, first of all, to make sure that she hasn't got the final concern about the economic well-being of the family, he will look after that. He's got to make sure that he ... he deserves her favourable judgement in his judgements. And he's got to be ready to help her with a lot of the domestic economy as well and not just leave it to her. Here you get into frightfully intimate questions which are very difficult to discuss. But in the raising of a family, the function through which children are born, and conceived and born, I've always regarded that as pretty easy for the man, an incident if you like. But it's not easy for the woman. That incident can mean nine months' gestation, through years of being the slave of a particular child, and I believe that your responsibility is to do whatever you can to lighten that burden.
Oh, you're asking me to make my confession. Let me say I tried to do it.
Well, look, I'm not pretending to do something I didn't do. I was away from home a lot. I mean our Movement was all over Australia and ultimately became a bit international. I was away a lot. But in my view, while you were at home - it wasn't a matter of duty - I wanted to be with my wife. I think you can work it out, and we did work it out. You had to do your daily work. Secondly, there was what I've called the domestic economy, in which the man should help. The third thing was that people of a particular social group believed that you've got to spend time and money in entertaining in order to hold friends. We came to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly, that you couldn't do the three and so we sacrificed the friend part of the thing. We had intimate friends, but none of this entertaining stuff and so on, simply because there wasn't the time. So you could do two out of the three, and I preferred to do the other two.
Well, it's not easy, but it's vital. And ...
I think that marriage ... Again, you're asking me difficult questions, because I seem to be preaching and I'm not preaching, I'm simply talking about my intuitions. When you marry, you give your word that you will not only be faithful, but you'll want to be faithful. And it's very important to keep your promises. But there are difficulties. And it's very important to be aware of the difficulties. You look at the condition of the man in a modern, metropolitan, industrial, commercial society. Let us say that they have three or four children. That is extremely difficult and exhausting for the wife. It's all very well, the man swans off in the morning and goes into his office. And he goes home at night, and his wife is distressed and at her wit's end at five o'clock in the afternoon. And you've got to understand the temptations of the man. He goes into an office where there's a secretary who may be pretty and all of that, and well groomed. And the wife very often will not be, because of the difficulties of her life. That's when it's important to remember. And it's not easy. But nevertheless, the principle is the principle.
Oh, they're the indestructible foundation. Look, if they'd been different, I couldn't have done anything. Well, I don't think I've done much, but I couldn't have done anything. They are the foundation. And that's why - I'm not being romantic when I say it - I think a man mustn't respect his wife, he must idolise her.
Well, just think she's the best. That's all.
That must have meant that it was really quite difficult at the end of your wife's life, to be able to carry on, and I notice from the dates, that your wife died about the time that you were having difficulties internally at the National Civic Council. [Santamaria: Yes, yes] How do you deal with that, when your private life is throwing up something as massive as that, and you've got public duties to perform?
Well, I knew that my wife was dying right through 1979 and these difficulties came to a head in 1980 and she died at the end of 1980. I remember saying to the head of the group with whom I had the difficulties in the organisation - he'd been a friend of mine for thirty-six years - I remember saying to him, 'Look, leave this. My wife is very ill and I don't think she'll survive'. I found out afterwards that he asked my brother whether that was true. He didn't believe me. So the difficulties continued, and they got quite massive and they really came to a head at about the same time. And you say how do you do it? I don't know how you do it, you do it. And it's not very pleasant, but both things had to be done at the same time. I think it's true to say that if it hadn't been for my concept of my responsibilities to the other people in the organisation to whom I owed a responsibility - they'd been faithful to the same things as myself - I think I would have thrown it in. I would have looked after my wife. I have no doubt about that. But I had the assistance of my daughters and my sons, and so you just battle through both at the same time.
Well, she worked with me for over thirty years. She was my secretary. And it came to the time when she came to the age of retirement and retired, and it was at about the same time that my wife died. And I thought that I knew her very well. And after three to four years, I thought it was pretty silly for her to be in one place and me to be in another place, and we could extend companionship to each other. And so that that's how it happened. I discovered, of course, that knowing a person as a secretary for thirty-odd years means you don't know her at all. But she is a very equable and understanding person with whom I find it very pleasant to live.
Well, that's stupid, isn't it? It's absolutely true. I have been very lucky, and why that should be, I don't know, because if you look at me physically, I'm hardly the answer to a maiden's prayer.
[Laughs] Oh well, I know my limitations too.
Not in particular as friends. You can't help, if you've worked ... there was, the first secretary I ever had, I mentioned her name yesterday, she cooperated with me in my work. If she hadn't looked after the Rural Movement couldn't have done anything in the trade union field. And naturally, I got to know her very well. And she still remains a friend. Well then, Dorothy, who is my second wife, worked with me, as I said, for over thirty years. But outside that, I've had friendly acquaintances, if you like, but not very intimate women friends.
No, I never found it very difficult, no. I ... no, I'm just the same as anybody else in that regard. But no, I don't think that's difficult, because you retain friendships to men, you know their wives, and you have a friendship with them to the limits that I think is desirable.
I think that's important. Yep.
Pretty lousy, I think. Oh no, I've been very lucky. My children, broadly, have the same ideas, pattern of ideas, as I have. To date, at least. You never know what the future holds, [what] their children have. We are very close to each other even in where we live. The ... I have two daughters who live a long way away from me, one in Canberra and one in Sydney. But the others ... and we're all in and out of each other's homes all the time. We get together every Sunday night: the children and the grandchildren. And it's not basically because it's a rule, it's because I think we want to get together. Anybody who doesn't want to come, doesn't come. And we eat together. I cook a plate of spaghetti for every one of them on the Sunday night. And in that way, the big thing is not only that I can meet my own children, but that the cousins know each other very well because that will attenuate over the years. But at least they start from a very close cohesion.
Well, racially, on her mother's side, it was Irish. On her father's side, it was Irish too originally, but there was quite a strong Indian Army background in that, so that there was a different sort of a culture, and my wife seemed to be a mixture of both of those, really. And that's about really all that I can say about it, in terms of the difference. Her family had been very badly affected by the Depression, and she had to work and help to maintain them from ... as soon as she left school. [coughs] And it was then that I met her. I really can't say much more than that.
Well, I can't answer that, because she never really told me, but she must have thought it was pretty strange. But she actually got on very well with them, and particularly with my mother. So there was never in problem in that regard at all.
Well, if I'd been in their position, I would have been very disappointed at their daughter's choice. Simply because ... well for the reasons that I've given you, basically. I had no real prospects. What I had done, humanly speaking, in taking on the job that Archbishop Mannix asked me to take on, was quite stupid. I didn't realise it at the time. I'm glad I didn't because I wouldn't have taken it. But I would have thought that the background and the lack of financial prospects and the fact that I'd put up ... the legal career that I thought I had, up for grabs. It wouldn't have been a very strong recommendation to a girl's parents. And I'm quite sure she had many better offers than I had ... than I was.
Well, they never said the opposite anyway. [Laughs]
I think so, yes, I think so. Silly enough to be.
I ask that question because before we diverted to picking up again on ... on the issue of your marriage, I was about to ask you, in relation to your own children, that I often notice that what people want for their children, and what kind of human being they feel that they're trying to raise, tells you more about what they really value, than a lot of other things. And I just wondered, in raising your children, what was your idea, what would you say would make you feel satisfied with the work that you'd done? How did you want your children to turn out?
I don't think I was ever really very conscious of that. I always regarded my wife and their mother as being the influence I wanted to have on their lives. I wanted them to be like her. And I knew that she could do that. So that I wanted what simply any father would want of his children, that they would be honest, they'd be truthful, that they'd work at their work, and then when they went to university, that they wouldn't go crazy. I must confess that one of my great weaknesses was that I was always extraordinarily nervous when the girls were taken out later on, about the time that they came home. I could never go to sleep. [Laughingly] But other than that, I was not very conscious. I just expected them to grow up, that was all. But I was able to do that, basically because I had implicit trust that their mother would guide them in the right way.
Well I know that some did, yes, but they were generally pretty well sheltered from it. I didn't ... I wouldn't talk much at home about what was going on. I would to my wife, but not while the children were about, basically because I didn't want to distress them and I believed that they should be protected. After all, it was my sins, not theirs.
Well, yes, if you want to look at it that way. In other words, I'd made my choices, and whatever came good or bad was the result of my choice. I didn't see that I had to visit it on them.
Oh, I think they must have. I'm not really very conscious of that, because they were all young and at school, when I think the events you're talking about [took place]. I'm not very conscious that ... oh, the name would have meant something to other people there, but I'm not conscious of it beyond that.
One of the sources of opposition to the Movement resided in the university societies - the Newman Societies, in both Sydney University, very strongly, and in Melbourne University. Your daughters, your sons, as Catholics going up to Melbourne University, would they have joined that society, and would that have had any effect on them?
Well I don't think it did. I ... the university societies were not really very ... Catholic university societies were not really very influential. It was the Newman Society here in Melbourne. I think it was the same in Sydney, although I'm not certain, but it was pretty feeble until about the end of the forties or the beginning of the fifties, and then it did gain a number of quite formidable people around. The poet Vincent Buckley was one of the them, and they became quite opposed to what I was trying to do.
One of them. My daughter Bernadette did. I always remember saying to her before she went to the university, 'I don't mind if you join the Labor Club, but don't join the Newman Society'.
No, I didn't. No, she goes round sort of traipsing around, protecting her independence and so on, but I think in the last analysis, we think pretty well the same. She was the one who went on furthest academically. She went to Cambridge and got her doctorate there and so on. I try to keep her feet on the ground.
No, I'm not proud of her academic achievements. I'm proud of Bernadette.
Yes, I do. There's no exception.
Well, what I would hope that I would have done would have been that it would have made no difference to the feelings that I had, to the welcome that that person had. I have always believed that it's a fatal mistake to exclude your children, either from your affections or from the home, because they take an entirely different course. Because if you do that, there is never any hope of influencing that child later on, and they're entitled to feel bitter, because there are certain fundamental attachments that go beyond ideas and so on. But I wasn't faced with that, thank God.
Can I ask you now about some of the broader issues that perhaps were issues of the time of ... during the course of your life, and I wonder what your attitudes to them are. You did say earlier that you were the first environmentalist ...
Well, I was joking when I said that.
Yes, well I wonder how you feel about the environmental movement, which has been one of the other great movements, to use that word, that you use in relation to your own efforts, that has occurred in the Twentieth Century, in ... in Australia. How do you regard the environmental movement?
Well, I think that I ought to say that fundamentally, on those rare occasions when I look at myself and say, 'What the hell are you, really?' I am a peasant. I have those values. And I think central to those values is the family and the land. I'm not pretending about that, because I've told you I couldn't grow a lettuce. But that's where my attachment is, and all my values really depend on those two things. And therefore I have always - and I mean the proof is in things that I wrote in the end of the thirties and the early forties - simply attached myself to those values. In pamphlets that I wrote, in the book, The Earth, Our Mother and so I'm not a late convert to environmentalism. What I don't like about the environmental movement is this - I think a lot of its values are right and the way in which the political game is played is natural - but there is a lot of exaggeration. I'm not very much in love with movements who depend on governments for the financial support, without which they couldn't exist, because that means that in the last analysis, a government will keep them in being as long as it wants to. And when it doesn't want to, it'll ... they haven't got any independent resources and the tap is turned off. So when I speak of the land, and the sea, because the sea is important to me ... My grandfather was a sailor. When I speak of that it's sort of a deep attachment but I don't want to make a fetish of it, or a science out of it. I don't know if that's what you really are asking me about.
Well yes, that ... that really tells me about your attitude to the fundamentals. I suppose in terms of the platform of the environmental movement, one of the important issues, which I would imagine would divide you from them, relates to population control ...
Yes, of course.
No, I believe in the preservation of the earth and the soil and the beauty of the sea and the natural environment for their own sake. The things that you're dealing with now, population, and the controversies that arise out of that, are in a sense, added things. And I don't agree with them, because I think they exaggerate. For instance, the statement that Australia can only maintain eighteen million people, and Ehrlich I think, once said that Australia was already overpopulated, that seems to me to be the most rampant rubbish. I've just come from the - a few weeks ago - from the Lombardy plain, where there are twenty million people living: no unemployment. Ninety per cent of the enterprises of this very wealthy part of Italy, family enterprises, and people are trying to tell me that Australia can't maintain more people than they can maintain on the plain of Lombardy. It seems nonsense to me. I ... so I am very strongly divided from them on that issue.
Well, global warming is not so much related to population growth, if it exists. See I am not a scientist and there are two diametrically opposed scientific schools in this regard and I don't know who's telling the truth. That's one of the difficulties that you have. You don't know where truth really lies. But when you look at the question of over-population, you'd better draw some distinctions. The two most ... by far the most populous countries in the world - are in China and the India. But if you look at Europe today, the truth is, that at the present birth rate in Italy - allegedly the most Catholic country of all, in Spain, in Germany, within fifty or sixty years, there'll be very few Italians, there'll be very few Germans. Europe, as such, will have ceased to exist. You know the statistics, that for the population simply to remain at a stationary level, the average number of children that are required is 2.1 for each woman. That's the statistics. Well, it's much less than that in Italy. It's I think 1.3. It's less than that in Australia. What you're going to face in Europe is - unless there is some radical change that we can't envisage at the moment - the practical extinction of the European populations. And the continent of Europe is going to simply become colonised from Africa and from ... well, not even from East Europe any longer, because Russia's population is smaller. But very largely, Europe is going to be Africanised. I don't regard that as a great gain.
In the course of your life, you've written a lot of ... you've done a lot about social justice issues and written about them and been active on them. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but one of the issues in Australia that I'm not conscious of your having taken up, is the Aboriginal issue.
No, that's perfectly true, I haven't. It's not for lack of sympathy, but I think that there's a great deal of exaggeration in that also. For instance, I look at the whole question which is current at the present moment, as a result of the Mabo and the Wik judgements, and when I looked at the statistics, there are no more than 44,000 people who are defined in the broadest sense, as Aboriginals on the land at all, and while one must be conscious of our responsibilities, which I don't deny, it seems to me that at a particularly critical moment of our history, the idea that everything should be subordinated to whatever the High Court judgements in relation to Mabo and Wik, seems to me to be quite nonsensical. There are certain things in the end, that you'd like to be able to determine on a strict definition of justice. But really, in the end you can't. If we were to go back to the beginning and say that there should be no European colonisation of Australia, but it should be left to the Aborigines, according to the - what do you call it? The method of agriculture - not of agriculture, of ... even the word doesn't occur to me at the moment - Australia really run according to the Aboriginal ...
Yeah, hunter-gather - would hold very few people. And let me tell you, it won't be maintained like that. If that had been the condition of Australia at the time of the Second World War, we would have had a Japanese occupation and the Aboriginal problem would have been solved very quickly, and very ruthlessly. So I think that justice is one of the elements that you've got to bring to a determination of the issue, but then the actual practicalities of the moment, which tend to be pushed aside by the Aboriginal movement, I think that's got to be brought into the formula, into the equation as well.
That's why I'm interested that you've kept out of it, because you're somebody who's very much concerned with trying to find practical solutions to immediate problems, and this is a very difficult one to find a practical solution to.
It is very difficult, and it's the fact that I can't see a practical solution that really stops me trying to participate, because I don't believe in just waffling around, or making popular statements. I just don't know how you best solve that problem.
There's plenty. This is one of them. No, I have an opinion. I really believe that, first of all, the vast majority of Aborigines and of the descendants of Aborigines are urban people. There is no human possibility at all that they will ever [clears thorat] revert to hunter-gatherer lifestyle. And the number on the land is 44,000. Therefore it ought to be possible to make sure that they have access to the ritual, the ceremonial uses of land and so on, but I don't believe that in the last analysis, the rights of 44,000 people have to take precedence over whether this country lives or dies.
Well, one of the reasons that I haven't expressed an opinion on that is that I don't know whether you can solve the problem by legislation. All that I do know is, that while I don't agree with the people who say that the High Court should not make law - High Courts always make law - nevertheless I believe that the High Court has left us in one unholy mess. And I don't regard them with very much affection. The ... It's very difficult. When you look at the Mabo judgment, I can understand the motives that underlay the High Court majority in the Mabo judgment, and what's more I sympathise with a lot of them, but, after all, the law of the country was quite different before Mabo. And what the High Court was called upon to adjudicate on was certain particular questions in the Torres Strait Islands, and the racial and cultural identity of those islanders is totally different from the Aborigines, totally different. They were a settled people with their own small holdings and so on, and the decision of the High Court, to use that as a fortunate occasion to extrapolate, if what the Murray Islanders, I think as they call themselves, to the Australian mainland, without calling any evidence on the subject at all, without hearing any witnesses, seemed to me to be quite arrogant. And nevertheless, after the Mabo judgement, it was laid down there and laid down in the Native Titles Act, that the grant of a pastoral lease extinguished native title, and everybody agreed to it at the time. Now, with the Wik judgment, with a different High Court, and a four-three majority, suddenly very many people reverse what they said then, and we are in a very difficult situation now. So I'm only pointing to the difficulties. I don't say to you that I know what is the solution that would end all acrimony.
Fundamentally, because I am not clear on what I'd like to say.
I don't think you've got to say something on everything.
Oh, I don't elevate the concept of battle to number one priority, as a matter of fact. I would envisage a totally different world if I were called upon to plan it, and if I do happen to meet God in the next life, which is possible but not very probable, there are a lot of questions I'd like to ask him, as to why exactly he organised things in this particular way. No, the sort of world that I ideally would like to envisage, is a world of family, and agriculture and small cities, all of the things that go with a decentralist vision. And of course, that's the very opposite to what we've got at the moment. So I don't look forward to the battle at all. But perhaps my life has been cast in different channels, where the battles have existed and sometimes have been landed on my lap. I haven't gone looking for them because I'm a coward at heart. But you've got to make up your mind whether you'll be in it or out of it.
Oh no, please. [Laughs] I told you, I am a coward at heart, and I'm not being modest about that. That's the truth. But there are some situations where, however you try to reason your way out of them, you can't escape them. I don't know if that applies to others, but it applies to me, and when you can't escape them, I don't think you could live with yourself later on if you'd just run away.
I believe that conflict is inevitable. I don't know that it's valuable. There are those who say that the highest qualities of the human being are demonstrated, come to the top, in moments of conflict. And they say that about war. I don't sympathise with that. I don't think that conflict ennobles. I think it leads to situations in which human beings are cast into opposition to others in which is often very unnecessary. But it's there all the time. And you just have to make your decision and make the best of it.
Well, it's inevitable in football. That's what football is about: conflict. Or it used to be. Now it's about money.
Oh, yes, without any doubt at all, because it was honest. I believe that in ... I'm talking about Australian Rules football, which of course is the only brand of football that there really is. But I believe that under the old system of the Australian Rules football, most players were playing for the club, and therefore they demonstrated qualities of loyalty. They demonstrated qualities of loyalty to the district. And even though you tended to regard supporters of Richmond and Collingwood as double died enemies, now that the whole concept has been destroyed and it's about money, I realise, really, that Collingwood and Richmond people really belong to the same breed as myself. [Laughs] That's a bad position to come to.
One of the ways in which you, and other people in your generation have parted company, is over the issue of authority. The Communists on the one hand, accepted a kind of authority. The church of course, the Catholic Church, is very strong on authority.
Within a limited area. Let's be clear on that. Because as we have transacted some of this interview already, I pointed out to you that it is in matters of faith, doctrine, and in moral teaching, but in matters of political judgement, it has no authority at all. The Communists say that in matters of political judgement, there's only one authority.
Well, it depends, doesn't it? I mean there's authority in the family, there's authority in the a country, there's authority in political parties, there's authority in a church. All of these have their own constitution. And my answer to that is very simple. If you decide to join a club, then you join subject to its constitution, and its constitution states where authority shall be placed and how that authority shall develop, and if you can't live by that, don't join the club. But if you join it, you take, warts and all. Now, there are two qualifications on that. One is authority in the family, which isn't subject to a constitution at all and I think it is best in the family that authority rests in the father and the mother, and that if you've got any sense, you will make sure that the woman is very much the ultimate authority in what I call matters of the domestic economy and raising of the family. And I really believe that the hand that rocks the cradle rules society. [Laughs] I remember hearing somebody a little while ago saying that 'I am the master in my own home, as long as my wife lets me be', and that's pretty well the truth, you know. But on big issues, like you know, whether you are in political life, whether you buy or don't buy a property and so on, if you've got any sense, you will talk it all out to the last. But ultimately, if there's a division of opinion and a decision has got to be made about those things, I think it ought to be - if a decision has got to be made - you will always to avoid that. You will try to create the situation where you're in agreement. But in the last analysis, somebody's got to make a decision, and about temporalities I think it's better in the hands of the husband. About the intimacies of family life, I think it's better in the hands of the wife.
I think for very good reason in many cases. I think that once authority is exercised tyrannically, you will breed opposition, not only to your exercise of authority, but to the whole idea of authority. I think that one of the reasons why there have been so many clashes on the issue of authority in the Catholic Church over the last thirty years, I believe that in the life of religious orders, for instance, particularly orders of nuns, I think that there was a good deal of tyranny. And, therefore, you find that exaggerations of the feminist movement are very strongly expressed among the present generation. Well, when I say the present generation of nuns, there are no nuns left except those who are sixty years of age. In other words, authority is something that is legitimate, but must be exercised in a humane and sensible way. If it degenerates into tyranny, it'll breed its own reaction and the reaction will be very bad indeed.
Well, I said that, he didn't say that.
If I were to look at the Catholic Church historically, I could come to this conclusion: I could say that every civilisation has got its distinctive, inspiriting, religious faith. China has got Taoism, Confucianism - which is not a religion. India and Ceylon have got Buddhism, and that either they created the civilisation or they're the product of the civilisation, I don't know. But as the civilisation dies, the religion will die with it. And I think that Gibbon's view was, and Toynbee's view could have been, that Catholicism was the central factor in the development of post-Roman, Greco-Roman European civilisation. And as that civilisation is obvious dying, and dying very rapidly, you could expect Christian religion and Catholicism to die with it. I could adopt that attitude, and that would make me an historical determinist. On the other hand, if I believe that that was the religion which Christ intended to establish, and that he was the son of God, then I will believe that what is happening at the present moment has got very great similarities to the Fifth Century, when after Constantine's declaration of Christianity as the official religion of the Empire in the Fourth, it suddenly fell apart. I will believe that if it is God given, then that we're going through a bad patch, but will ultimately reassert itself as it has in the past. Now you can take your choice.
Oh well, my choice is the second. I've got a very great temptation to believe the first. When I look at the fatuous decisions that have been taken by very many in authority, within the Catholic framework, I believe that that is a ... many of them are suicidal. But nevertheless, if I were a historical determinist, I would give it away. The only reason that I'm a Catholic is that I believe that that's what Christ intended to be.
Well, it doesn't matter whether it's fair or unfair, but it's not true. You can't examine the points that I've felt called upon to examine in the course of my life and believe that you can see everything in terms of black and white. After all, take the situation today for the Catholic in the terms of the conflict in the church at the present moment. I understand the viewpoint of those who might oppose very much because having asked for independence of judgement, and the right to independence of judgement in my own secular and civic life, in other areas I can understand that those, with whom I don't agree, demand the exactly the same thing in the moral and religious area. I'd be a fool if I didn't see that. But on the other hand, I have said that when you join or belong to a society, you are subject to its fundamental rules. If you don't believe they're right or if you don't want to live by them, well you leave. And I would do that. But, although I don't agree with my opposition, I can see the argument, and I do in most things. You're a fool if you don't see the greys.
Not at all. Not at all. I mean you apply that judgement in the course of a major conflict, whether it's political or religious, only in the last analysis, when there is no alternative, when your back's to the wall and you've got to fight. That's ... But you, if you have any sense, you do your level best to avoid a struggle always.
Now, talking of struggles, would you sum up for me, what for you was essentially the crucial things that happened during the period of the split between the ALP and the formation of the DLP? Could you give me a summary, really, of what happened as a result of the evolution of the Movement and its impact on the ALP, and then the subsequent division of the ALP into the DLP and the ALP.
Well, I suppose that to a greater or lesser degree, I was conscious of the fact - I'm not quite sure of the various years, but they took place roughly at the same time - at roughly the same time, three Labor Parties throughout the world split. It wasn't that there was only a split in Australia. The Italian Socialist Party split into two. The Japanese Socialist Party split into two. The Australian Labor Party split into two. And in Britain, in the end, the Labor Party split there. On a different issue. But of the three Labor Parties that split at the same time, the question which faced them all was Communism, and the relationship to the Communist Party, and the relationship of that party to the Soviet Union's political, industrial and other ambitions. So whereas everybody who seemed to me to be engaged in the struggle here in Australia, regarded what was happening in Australia as unique, uniquely great or uniquely terrible, I knew that it was a general phenomenon, and, therefore, while the Labor Party did split, and the issue was Communism and Communist influence, it was really a worldwide phenomenon that we were dealing with. Now, the ... a number of people have said that the tensions between the anti-Communist group, which was largely, but not exclusively Catholic, and the pro-Communist group, were so great that regardless of Evatt, the party would have split. I don't believe that. I believe that if as a result of the enormous embarrassment that Evatt was thrust into as a result of the Petrov Commission, in which his leadership was at stake, and he was going to be removed from the leadership, I believe that if he had not that sort of brilliant madness from which he suffered, decided to seek a totally new alliance, to go back to the Communists, to use the sectarian weapon, which he'd seen working so effectively at the time of conscription, I don't believe that there would have been a split. Because in the last analysis, there were profound personal antipathies, but the philosophies of the Industrial Group ... Groupers were the traditional Labor philosophies. So the second point that I'd like to make is that the split happened as a result of one man's determination to preserve his leadership. And that's no my judgement only. You may have read in Hayden's biography that he entered the Labor Party slightly after that, but entirely from Evatt's viewpoint, believing that Evatt was absolutely right, and believing, I think he said, that we were fascists. And he's come to entirely the different conclusion, to say that the responsibility for the split was the result of the decision taken by Evatt. Thirdly, the form which the split took would have depended entirely ... would have happened entirely differently if there had been no DLP. And there was a very good chance that there would have been no DLP in Australia, if the federal conference of the Labor Party at Hobart, in 1955, [coughs] had been run fairly and not rigged, and we had been defeated, there would have been no DLP, simply because we would have kept a defeat. But when, as Clyde Cameron points out, it wasn't run like that, then you had to make a decision, and it could easily have been the other decision, because you had no idea as to whether you'd succeed or fail in establishing an alternative party with sufficient strength to matter. But that was the third point, we made the decision. Those I think where the essential elements. In other words, we were dealing with a worldwide problem, which faced every Labor Party in the world, including the British Labor Party: that splits had already taken place, that the issue was exactly the same, and that whereas in Italy you had the development of a new socialist party that was anti-Communist under Saragat, and you had a socialist party that was anti-Communist in Japan, we didn't set out to establish a party, we set out to establish a blocking apparatus, in the end to bring about Labor unity again. I think that's about all that I can say about it in a short compass.
When you say 'you,' we should say more correctly, 'youse', because I had consulted all of my colleagues and they could have decided differently.
On that crucial night, when Archbishop Mannix left to the Movement the decision about which way to go, what do you think would have happened, had you decided to stay within the ALP, to accept defeat in the short term, and to work to persuade your colleagues - still your colleagues - to take your point of view, rather than to split and make them your enemies? What do you think would have been the outcome?
Well you must remember that that didn't depend on us. If we had decided to bow the head, all of my closest colleagues would have been expelled. I wasn't a member of the party, but they were. Men like McManus, and Jack Cain in New South Wales, and ultimately, since it did spread to Queensland, Gair in Queensland, and all of his cabinet went with him, you know, with one exception. All of the leaders would have been expelled, and once those leaders would have been expelled, two things would have happened. On the one hand, you would have no possibility of fighting back successfully or not. Things in political parties never depend on the grass roots at all, they're manipulated, so that all of the figures who would have had a voice in decision would have gone. And secondly, you would have been responsible for their political execution by not putting up a fight for them. It's one thing: people will forgive you if you fight and are defeated. But if you don't fight because you're betraying, even if you think it's in the interests of the long term, they won't forgive you for that.
Can I interrupt you. No, I didn't. I didn't decide that. I was asked to take on a job for two years and that's what my contract was.
And you went into another path in which you've stayed. Looking back, and thinking about your own talents, the talents that you were given, do you feel that that was a fortuitous event in your life, that you were set on that path? Or do you ever regret that you didn't become a lawyer?
Well, I suppose when you're getting a thrashing you tend to regret a mistaken decision but I ... I never had the luxury of choice. You see, I took this on in 1938 and I should have finished in 1940, and that's all that I thought that I was doing. But by 1940 we ... I was in the middle of organising the Rural Movement, and we were just about to start doing something in the unions. I couldn't bail out then. Once you move into that field, you've got to see that through, and it takes five or six years of work and five or six years have gone. And you're down to the end of the forties. And there you're in the middle of the coal strike, which Chifley said was a pre-revolutionary struggle. Can't bail out then. Within a couple of years you're in the middle of the Labor split. [Laughs[ You can't bail out then. So in the end you discover that you really weren't making a sensible choice at all. You simply are predisposing the critical moments later on and you can't bail out. Now, am I sorry that I didn't bail out? Well, in the bad moments I suppose I am, but if I'd bailed out I ... for the rest of my life, I would have known I'd run away. It's not worth it.
You've had, in the course of your life, two major battles. One against Communism, and then the second phase, which was really as you say, about the results of the cultural revolution that took place in the sixties. Which do you feel has been the most important battle?
Well, they were both critically important in different fields. But if you ask me which has been the most important historical phenomenon, well again, it's very difficult to say. You see, if Communism had not been defeated, and I'm not saying that we defeated Communism. Gorbachev and those factors ultimately defeated it. But I think that we can claim to have played a part in defeating it in Australia. If Communism had not finally been defeated and self-destructed, I don't know what form it would have taken. But overall, in the way in which things fell out, I think that what I call the cultural revolution of the sixties, with those elements beginning in the Vietnam War and going right through down the line, to the feminist movement, and to the struggle within the Catholic Church and so on, I think that this is as important as the cultural break up of Rome in the Fifth Century. I'm sure of that. Because you see what has happened to marriage, to the family, to religion and so on. These are huge things. So you're really asking me to make an abstract judgement in a historical situation, which is difficult to evaluate. But the cultural revolution is very big indeed.
Well, I hope that I'm not misunderstood when I say this. I'm not blaspheming or anything like that. But as an academic question, I ... you see I happen to believe that on the balance of evidence, the only rational explanation for the existence and the maintenance of the universe, demands the existence of a deity. I don't see any rational way of avoiding that, although half the scientists say that there is. But against that, there then comes a huge question: the sort of world that has been created. There is the great struggle between good and evil in the dispositions of every individual person. And then you see the great historical tragedies today, in Central Africa, in Yugoslavia, this purposeless killing of human beings, men and women and little babies. I ... I would like to ask God, 'Why did you make that sort of a world?' Now, I am confident that there is an answer, but I don't know the answer.
Oh, it's a question I don't ask really. If you ask me that in a different way: have I liked doing things? I'd say yes I do. I've been very lucky. Don't forget against the vicissitudes of public victories and defeats - many more defeats than victories - the fundamental thing that really matters to me is my family, and I have been more fortunate than any other human being I know in that regard. So I rather like it.
You have told us that you feel that there were quite a lot of things that you set out to do that never came to anything. Is there any that you particularly regret, that you feel you wished you'd been more successful in?
Well, there are a lot and we really wouldn't have the time for me to go an examine my conscience as to which ... one thing that I would like to have seen would have been the success of that land settlement movement in the fifties, so that we could have wedded some part of the migration programme to some part of the settlement programme so that we would have had an Australia that, in the end, became highly decentralised. And that would have had an impact upon our ultimate prospects of maintaining the sort of Australia that we've got, which I think is very much in doubt at the present moment, simply because you cannot - or it is very difficult - to solve the economic problems of a country so highly centralised as Australia. That's one thing I would like to have been able to do a little bit more about.
Oh, I've met too many intellectuals to like it. [Laughingly] I think the word, you know, half the people who call themselves intellectuals are simply fatuous, that's all, and I don't want to be classified as that.
Yes, but I've been lucky that I was able to put the ideas that I believed to be important, to the test of action. Ideas qua ideas that are not subject to the test of action, in which generally I've been defeated, really you don't know what the validity of those ideas are, because ideas must relate to reality, mustn't they? So it's very lucky if you can put ideas to the test of action, and that's not the life of an intellectual.
You've had some very important friends who were ... who accompanied you through the exploration of your ideas, and not the least of them was James McAuley. Did he offer you a lot of support, in the course of your life, at a personal level?
I think have already said that I met James McAuley at the beginning of 1955, and I think we were each other's closest friend, after 1963 when Dr. Mannix died, until his death in 1976. In fact, the priest who was his confessor wrote me a letter some years after he died, saying that he had asked him who was his closest friend, and I must say I was delighted to see that he mentioned my name. So there have not been very many. The person to whom I must say that I owed most in the sense of closeness outside my own family - I reserved that all the time - was Archbishop Mannix. And the second, into which Jim McAuley grew, was Jim McAuley. And since then, that's 1976 and this is 1997, there has been nobody that is in the same position.
Yes, he did. He used to tell me - not to be very elegant about it - to pull my head in really. He always believed that I was too strong on the necessity for action. And I see that you've picked up his ... I think he sent this poem to me in 1968, thereabouts, and he points in the first stanzas to the many failures and the impact that failure has on your own internal sentiments. It's going to be very difficult for me to read this without my glasses, but I'm going to say, this is the last stanza: Nor is failure our disgrace. By means we cannot know, He, God, keeps the... Oh no, I can't I'm sorry. Can we do that again? [INTERRUPTION]
Yes, on more than one occasion, he in effect in the vernacular, said, 'Pull your head in a bit'. He had the belief that I was too intent on action and that there was a role, a great role for reflection. It was easy for him, he was a poet, and he spent a lot of time reflecting, and then expressing. Well I was in a different position. But he epitomised that particular line of advice in a poem that he wrote, which he sent to me as his Christmas present, I think it was in '68, and I see that you've got it there in your hand. If I can just put my glasses on. The first four stanzas are really going over different parts of the human existence. And I thought he emphasised the failures and the defeats very adequately in the first four. But then he finished up and he said, Nor is failure our disgrace. By means we cannot know, He ... - that is God - ...keeps the merit in his hand. And suddenly, as no one planned, behold the kingdom grow. Now you look at that. What he's really saying is, that all those failures were failures. He doesn't say that they weren't. They were. But they're failures in the pursuit of a good, and God, who is there all the time, puts your failures as well as your successes in his hand, and then while you can't bring success out of the failure, he simply picks them up and transforms them into a sort of a symmetry, which is success. So when he wrote that to me, I wrote back and I said, 'I hope you know what you're talking about'.