Australian Biography: Jim Cairns
In a deeply reflective interview, Jim Cairns (1914–2003), who was Deputy Prime Minister in the Whitlam Government, brings a new dimension to our understanding of his controversial role in Australia's history by placing it in the context of the broader motivations of his life.
It includes his revelation about a childhood secret that lay at the heart of many of his later frustrations, disappointments and vulnerabilities.
He was interviewed for Film Australia's Australian Biography series in 1998.
Interviewer: Robin Hughes
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project.
As best I know: 22 Drummond Street, Carlton in Victoria, on the 4 October 1914.
Living there at the time was my mother, my aunt, her sister, another sister - a younger one, my grandmother and grandfather, and a lady Elizabeth Salthouse, who had come from Lancashire with them on the Benalla, arriving here in 1913. My mother and father met each other on the Benalla, and they got married soon after they arrived here, while they were living in Drummond Street, Carlton. Then, soon after I was born they moved to a very small flat in East Melbourne, after which, he went away to camp at Broadmeadows, and then to the First World War, where he spent nearly four years in France - survived the war itself. He never came back to Australia. And my aunt and mother - my aunt first, then [my] mother, were able to get a job as cooks in the mental hospital at Sunbury. So that meant that we all had to move - did move as soon as we could - to Sunbury. So my grandfather and grandmother took a small farm just outside of Sunbury. It's still a small farm, it hasn't been built on yet, but it was only half a mile out of Sunbury, where they had a cow or two and were just I think on survival level for a while. My grandfather did a bit of work each week for Sir Rupert Clarke, the owner of Riverswood - this large mansion just outside Sunbury. So that's the beginning as far as I was concerned. That was the birth period.
His name was James John Cairns. He was born in Glasgow. He became a clerk in the town clerk's office in Glasgow. When he came to Melbourne, for a very short time he was a clerk in the office of the Melbourne City Council, and on their board where all the people who went to war and were killed are listed, he's listed there until today, near the front entrance of the Melbourne Town Hall under J. J. Cairns.
No, it doesn't mean that. It means it's a tragedy. He didn't want to come back. He didn't want to take the responsibility of a wife and a child, and he went to Africa: Kenya. We never heard of him, never heard a thing, and I didn't get an account of all this until right up into 1952.
Well, I suppose I did. I don't remember. We had some pictures of him - we've still got them here. One of them. He was a very good looking fellow, but he couldn't take responsibility, never could it seems. And, his sister was the one in England, in Ireland, they lived in Northern Ireland by this time. He was born in Glasgow, but they had moved to Northern Ireland just outside Belfast. A place called Bangor, where in 1952 Gwen and I met them all, and we picked up this history of my father for the first time really.
No, he didn't figure in my mind. In the real sense of the word, I didn't have a father.
Very much one of an adult to an adult. They treated me as an equal. I'd already had a better education at the age of six or seven than they had had. They'd lived in Lancashire in a very working class environment. My grandfather began work at the age of seven in cotton mills just outside Manchester. He worked all his life until he left England - all his life to the age of well over forty, for about ten hours a day, just a living wage, that was all. They never had any money of any sort to spare, but they never seemed to be in any difficulty. They were never really what you called poor, they always had enough to eat, they had enough reasonably looking clothes to wear. They never begged, they were never short of money, but they never had any. They used to say they made do very well with what they had.
Very much one of equals. I had got an education and I knew all sorts of things, like the length of the Ganges and the height of Kosciusko, the population of New York. All sorts of things like that I knew and no one else knew, so I was the authority, and I used to be the little lecturer, I think. Anyone who suspected I should become a lecturer got their feeling about that from seeing the way I used to talk, and the way people used to accept that and exchange with that. I always got on extremely well with people when I could talk to them.
You were the only child in this household of adults: a grandmother, a grandfather, an aunt, your mother and the woman who'd come with them from Lancashire, you were the only child. Did that make you very much the centre of attention?
Well, some people would say so, but I had a lot of time on my own, by choice. I used to read a lot on my own, by choice. I'd often go to bed early and get up fairly early. They all got up early because we had then cows to milk. I never got involved in any work like that, even though I was by then nine or ten or eleven, they never had me milking cows. I didn't have to do that. But, we lived where there were creeks and rocks and trees and rabbits, and I used to spend a lot of time playing around in that area.
Yes, I think it is. I'm sure it is. And it was unusual for me. Some people say I was spoilt. Now being spoilt is ... I don't know what people mean by being spoilt, but it means that your character is spoilt, your behaviour is distorted, that's what spoilt meant. Now when I was in a sense left alone and treated with respect as an equal, I wasn't being spoilt, I was allowed to develop my own capacities, and to develop them well. When I wanted contact with other people they were always there for that contact. I do remember very well, through much of the time, I did miss my mother a lot, because my mother and aunt both continued to work at the mental hospital at Sunbury and later at Royal Park, and when they were at work they came home only once a fortnight, and drove usually with a horse and gig, all the way from first Sunbury to Melton, and I saw them only once a fortnight. And I can remember as it were until this day sitting on the gate post watching them go off, on the Sunday night, knowing they wouldn't be back for a fortnight, and I'm sure that made me feel very sad.
Very quiet, unexpressive, never sang or danced, or played anything. It was altogether unobtrusive, efficient. She was able to do all the kinds of work that women do, very well. But she was unobtrusive.
No. We used to shake hands.
Yes. [Dogs in background]
Well I think she left things to me. Right from the very beginning - I think I was outlining it a few minutes ago - that was how it was. I wasn't interfered with. I was left to do things the way I wanted to do them. Where she became involved, she was involved, but not very much. The years could be summed up in saying that that didn't change. I was left to decide what I was going to do. Now, having done that, invariably she approved of it. Whatever I did was right. Except one occasion when I cut the top off a ladder, the top six feet, because I wanted one for myself, and when she came back at the weekend something had to be done. So I climbed the tree to get out of the way, then came down and she smacked me a couple of times. That was it. The only time she ever hit me was that time.
No, never. Never.
That's probably so.
Well, it's the most sensible thing to be, isn't it? If you're naughty it causes things to be unpleasant, if you are good things are always pleasant. I was recalling just the other night: when we lived at Sunbury, we lived at the end of the Gap, and maybe you don't know Sunbury, but the Gap is three miles out of Sunbury on the Bendigo Road. And right at the end there was a small, old house fronting the road, occupied by the Murphys, and there was Steve Murphy. Now, Sunbury and this district was very much torn by Catholic-Protestant rivalry and dislike, at that time, very much. And Murphy was a Catholic and I was a Protestant. And I used to ride my pony down past his place and many times I had difficulty in getting past - in escaping you see. So one day I decided I'd do something about it so I bought three meat pies in Sunbury for three pence each and went up with the three meat pies, and Steve Murphy came out as usual. And I said, 'G'day Steve, would you like a meat pie?' 'Oh, yeah', so I gave him one meat pie and I ate the other. And I said, 'Hey Steve I've got a second one, would you like a second one?' 'Yeah', he said. So that was a change. We never had a harsh word after that, for the next two years that I lived there.
Yes. 'Doctor Yes' they used to call me.
Christian, but it was not ... We weren't being good as a result of talking Christianity. We were being good and that was Christianity. That was the justification for Christianity, behaving that way, but there was no preaching. We weren't good because we were told to be good, or because we believed in Christianity. We behaved that way because it was the best way to behave.
No. In that sense I never once went to church - I was never taken to church. They didn't go that much, but they did go sometimes down to the Presbyterian Church in Sunbury. They were inclined to be Methodist, but there was no Methodist Church so Presbyterian was the second best choice. And they did go on and off and I think they thought ... I was a pretty good runner you see, and I think they thought if I went to the Sunday School picnic and won the races, as they felt I probably would, it might ... I think that was going on in their mind. So I did go one year to the Sunday School races, and I won the sprint, but I didn't go back again.
Look, I have never believed myself to be anything that I can attach a name to. I wasn't a Christian. I didn't regard myself as a humanist or a socialist. I was something: what I am, and it didn't have a name.
But did you test out what you were against things that did have a name? I mean, when you were thinking about the fact that there were churches and that people believed in religion, and you were thinking about what you thought about that, did that position you at all? Were you thinking, well I'm certainly not that, you know?
Yes it did. I was not attracted at all by the way people who went to church behaved or talked, not in the least. It was what I knew of that, that would have stopped me going to church.
Oh, very selfish, very unsympathetic, very showing superiority, very clever. Those things didn't appeal to me at all. And that was the main reason - not because it was Christian, or not because it had a procedure. The main reason was I didn't like the people.
I never spent much time at school. I used to ride my pony to school every morning, put him in a little paddock nearby, go to school, getting there at about ten to nine, just in time to go in, go to class, break for a little bit of time during lunch, some more classes. As soon as we finished, I went and got my horse and rode home. I didn't spend much time at school.
Not very much.
I don't really know.
Didn't be relevant. It wasn't relevant. I didn't really have to think about it.
Well, you see that was not only the same at Sunbury. You say academic, but after I'd finished the state school at Sunbury, my parents and my mother were very keen that I go to a higher school. Well Sunbury is quite a long way from a higher school, and one day Grandma and I went to Melbourne High School to do the entrance examination. And I failed. There was some algebra and geometry: whatever was that stuff?
No, never heard of algebra and geometry. Education to me was arithmetic and reading, English, so I didn't get into Melbourne High School.
No, I knew that. But after failing at Melbourne High School, somebody said Northcote High School: Northcote District High School, St Georges Road, Northcote. So I went there and there was no entrance examination, and I got in. But school to me then was something: seventy-seven miles a day away from home: thirty-eight this way, thirty-eight that way, and I travelled there every day, thirty-eight miles a day. As soon as school was over - on to a train at Mary Station, round to North Melbourne, on to a train at North Melbourne, up to Sunbury. So I never spent much time at Northcote High School playing. But I did get into the playing area, quite dramatically. I had always had the reputation of being a fast runner, so not having broad jumped before, I borrowed a pair of spikes and entered the Northcote District High School broad jump championship. When the other kids of my age were doing sixteen to seventeen feet, I jumped twenty feet two inches, and won the championship. Well it wasn't school work or anything else that made my name at Northcote High School, it was that single jump. I jumped to fame. And so, the next year I became house captain, prefect, wore a green cap instead of a blue one, all on the strength of one single jump! Now that's been my life. I've got somewhere on the strength of one single jump, very often, which had nothing to do with what I was getting on to. Jumping had nothing to do with being house captain: it didn't make you a good house captain, it didn't make you a good prefect. But I was made into a house captain and a prefect because of this fantastic jump. I went on and in the combined high schools that same year, I won the jump there. That is, the whole metropolitan area broad jump. And that year I left Northcote High School so that was the end of that.
I played a bit of football. I could have been good at football. We had a couple of good footballers at Northcote High School, like Ron Todd. You're not a Melbourne lady Robin, but if you had been a Melbourne lady, you'd know who Ron Todd was. And when he was playing football at Northcote at the age of sixteen and I was, I used to beat him in the home marking or anything else. And he turned out to be the ... What was it? The best centre half back in the Victorian Football League. I might have been all right at football - I'm glad I wasn't. I played a bit of cricket, a bit of tennis, and it was more playing in all this time than studying. My ... If I can use the word academic for such low levels, my academic levels at Northcote High School were pretty poor.
You certainly got this attention from your athletic activities so it wasn't really surprising that you put your effort into that. Do you remember what you made of it all, at the time, when you suddenly with one bound jumped into fame?
Well, you see the way it leads. As a result of my athletic ability at Northcote High School, Steve Paddle, the secretary of Melbourne Harriers, the oldest athletic club in Australia, invited me to join Melbourne Harriers. So I joined Melbourne Harriers at Olympic Park ... (interruption because of noise)
You see what I'm trying to explain here, is why did I have so many successes? Why did I become Deputy Prime Minister, and all that? What I'm saying is it's illogical that I should ever have done so. I didn't ever study the things that would have made ... would have been necessary to become Acting Prime Minister, as you would have studied law to become a lawyer. I didn't do any of that. I didn't do the Prime Ministerial things as it were. I jumped to fame with twenty feet two inches. The step after Northcote High School, where that was famous, was Melbourne Harriers. Well with Melbourne Harriers we won the A grade premiership.
In those days at Olympic Park over 2000 men - never a woman - used to compete in inter-club athletics at Olympic Park. They'd be watched by 500 people: 2000 competing, 500 watching. The opposite of football. So, in that we were very successful. I won two Victorian championships. I won the Victorian broad jump championship and the Victorian decathlon championship. Now how's that leading to further steps of success? It brought to me a connection with Sir Thomas Blamey. Sir Thomas Blamey was then Commissioner of Police in Victoria. And one day I tore the muscle in my right leg, and I was told to go and see a man called Granville Dunstan in Collins Street, Melbourne, who was a masseur etc. etc. While I was there I was lamenting to him that I had to work at the Australian Estates and Mortgage Company incorporated in England in 1914, for a time of sometimes sixty hours a week, and I couldn't train properly, therefore this injury was a result of it. So he said, 'You must meet a friend of mine'. So the following night I looked down from the table where I was being treated, and I saw this pair of highly polished brown shoes and a very expensive pair of grey pants, and he said, 'This is the boy I was telling you about', in a quite well educated voice, and I hadn't ever spoken to many, if any, who spoke ... and he turned out to be Sir Thomas Blamey. And so I got to know him that way, and right out of the blue I said to him, 'Do you think I should join the police force?' 'Oh', he said, 'That is a decision for you'. Didn't say yes or no, so within a week or two, I'd put in an application to join the police force. Well I went into the police force and I became quite notable in the police force within ten years, so much so, that everybody was predicting that I would be Commissioner of Police. I didn't stay long enough for that.
To get time to train for athletics.
No other reason.
Yes. But of course I was able to do other things. I was in a very special part of the police force known as 'the dogs' shadowing squad. And I was involved in a number of very dramatic arrests. I got eight commendatory injuries in five years. I was promoted to be a first constable in four and three quarter years. Those are still records.
The most spectacular one took place in the Exhibition Gardens. There was a group of men doing armed hold ups and they lived in Collingwood. And the two of us were working, watching them all day, more or less, and this afternoon they left home, got on a cable tram. My colleague, who was working with me, couldn't catch the tram because he couldn't run fast enough. So I caught the tram, got on to it, sat inside and they were on the trolley at the back. And he must have rung Russell Street. He did ring Russell Street, and told them what was happening, that I was on the tram with these two fellows. So the gentlemen in charge, Detective Sergeant Davis, William Edward Davis, decided that they would come out and arrest these characters, because they thought it was dangerous for me to be on the tram with them on my own. So they pulled in behind the tram and one of them, William John Cody ... Everyone [involved] is by this time - [it's a] long time ago - dead. Cody hopped in through the door of the tram with a thirty-two calibre revolver, pushed it into my chest and pulled the trigger. It didn't go off. So I pushed him aside and he took off: raced down through the tram and across into the Exhibition Gardens. Then I got up and went out to the back, and Davis, the other one was there, and I pushed him into the police car - by this time it had arrived - jumped down and chased Cody. I had a twenty-five calibre Browning automatic in my shirt pocket, and as I chased Cody, he's turning around, by this time got his gun to go. I counted five shots that he fired in my direction: five. And when we got that far, I fired two in the air above him and he called out, 'I've had enough'. So I caught up to him, and pulled the gun from him. By this time another detective had arrived, Alf Guider, and another police car was coming in from the other side, and so Alf Guider said, 'Shoot the bastard', and I said, 'No, he hasn't got a gun'. So I protected him. When he came out of gaol, after doing seven years for shooting me, he arrived with a bunch of flowers for Gwen. He did seven years for shooting at me. However, no one got hurt. And what had happened was that ... and I'd seen them do this. They had thrown into the Yarra, near the end of Burnley Street, a newspaper parcel full of something. And then they'd gone over into the grass and they spent a lot of time there and they were counting money. Later we had the Yarra searched, nearby there, and we found a parcel of guns. So the ... They'd had a habit of using guns that were, fortunately, not always in good order.
I knew I wouldn't shoot him. No. I wasn't in any way afraid that I might get shot. It's a strange thing, but I wasn't. And I don't think people really are in situations like that. I don't think in the main they're afraid they're going to get shot. It's more exciting than that. It's like a game. And I didn't feel any fear at all. A couple of other times I was shot at and I had the same feeling: didn't feel fear at all. I had a job to do and what's the best way to do it? And it turned out all right in each case.
Oh I thought it was great. It was a really good job. You see, I'd risen from nowhere. I was now talking to the big men. I did. Worked directly for Blamey, worked directly for Superintendent Dealy. I was now working for the top people. I had a car, I worked long hours, but I never had to report for duty, never had to report when I went off duty. I went on and off when I thought I should. Now that was the first six years and it was an excellent experience. It was an important part of my development as a person, that first six years in the police force.
I got the ability to like to make my own decisions, to test them to see if they worked out, whether to go this way or that way. I got decision-making experience and I got to know the pleasure of decision-making experience.
What, in the police force? Oh, I suppose, running ability, enthusiasm about the job, I think, the absence of dislike towards the men I was dealing with. I didn't hate them or put them down. It was strangely pleasant to be in their environment. One night we were following Leo Devaun and Alec Deroticas, two well known safe blowers, who were doing their first job that we caught them at, by going into the bakery in Balaclava, near Balaclava Road, Pitairn's Bakery is it or Goddard's? Gwen was working with me this time. We started in Russell Street. They got on a bus. Gwen and I got on the bus. Hardly any reason why they should be suspicious. There were no policewomen in those days. Then they got on a bus and went to east St Kilda. We got off the bus. They walked down the side street to the bakery. While they were opening the door, Gwen and I are standing at the front gate of the house opposite, saying good night to each other, while they went inside. When they went into the bakery, I bolted round to the telephone at the corner of Balaclava Road. Rang Russell Street. In very quick time - they always came very quickly when I rang - they arrived. Sergeant Carey and Sergeant O'Keefe, the two top sergeants in the CIB [asked], 'How do you get in?' And I said, 'Well, we bust in. Break in that little door there. It's not strong. That's how we can break in'. So they were both seventeen stone men, so they kicked the door. In it went. And I shot in the door and here's Alec in a beautiful brown suit, brown hat on the back of his head, pushing gelignite into a key hole in the safe, lying on his back. And we got him easily enough but Leo we couldn't find for quite a while. Eventually we found him in a flour elevator, between the two parts of it. He'd crawled in there and he was a very dark complexioned fellow, and here he is with flour caked all over him, [laughs] so we arrested them both.
It might have been but ... It might have been, but I don't think so.
Oh, yes she was quite involved.
Oh it was an excellent cover, particularly when we were travelling on public transport.
Not really. I suppose I felt I could look after her, if we had to. But I never really was ... can't remember now, after so many years, that I was much influenced by that.
Well, they shoot at people. I was shooting up in the air. Course it's not. You don't have to shoot at them. I don't know whether it never occurs to these characters or what, but I fired up in the air over his head.
Other people. Other men had been shot by the police. Yes.
I think I had a lot more respect for the people we were pursuing and arresting than the average member of the police force had. I think that was the main difference.
I suppose what I'm asking here, is that you had grown up in a household that was very equal and very caring, and the police culture is a culture noted for its authoritarianism, its violence at times, and also an element of corruption which has always been difficult to get rid of out of the police force. How did you deal with all of that, coming from the background you did?
Well, I didn't see much evidence of corruption. I saw some of it by policemen. One we knew very well said I was a fool, a very big fool, for not taking any of it as he waved a handful of notes in front of Gwen. I don't know whether it's different either - this culture - whether it's any different now to what it was. But whatever it is, I think the other one is the best way to work, the best way to be a policeman. The other one - not this so-called culture that you hear about. By ... The first six years, however, I was at the end of the road of working that way in the existing situation. So in 1941, six years after I joined the police force, I decided I would begin to study university subjects, to go somewhere else, to do something else. Well I wasn't able to matriculate because I had not had enough education to do so, so I began doing the only subjects I could do without matriculation, that was subjects in commerce, the Faculty of Commerce. So I began doing two subjects a year part time. The first year after doing that I made the point of telling the Commissioner of Police, who was Mr A.M. Duncan by this time, that I was doing a couple of university subjects, and his reply was, 'You're wasting your time my boy. Get out and get a couple of bizzers, and catch a thief or two'. He was Scot. So that was really, I suppose, the straw that broke my connection with the back of the police force. So I decided to go on doing university subjects and work my way out of the police force.
Yes. No, no, no. I was in the consorting squad for eighteen months.
Yes, I was in the Special Branch, but it was only clerical work really. For about a year, as soon as the war broke out.
The word hadn't been thought of then, but it was recording people, writing down the names of people who were suspected of left-wingism, or whatever it might be. Yes, they did.
Well, my political views became pretty well established what they are as early as 19 ... No ... My political views were firstly very much those of John Maynard Keynes, the famous English economist. Now I arrived at them about three years before Keynes did. Keynes wrote his general theory of employment, interest and money in December 1935. I spoke in a debate in the chemistry classroom at Northcote High School that the level of employment depended upon the level of public spending. I argued that in 1929, and won the debate. I was mainly concerned, therefore, with advocating and putting into practise learning about the connection between the level of employment, the low level of poverty, and progress with the spending capacity of the people, [and] the effect of demand. And that could only be raised high enough by government contribution to it. It would never become enough from the market. That was my way of looking at Australia, all the way through to 1975, and that's what I learned against the tide at Melbourne, because that was not really the point of view of the Faculty of Commerce. We had a couple of Keynesians there: Dick Darling, Professor Darling, in those days and Ben Higgins from Canada, who reinforced my views. Now to ... to get into the army, I went to see Sir Thomas Blamey.
Yes. I wanted to get into the army to get out of the police force. And I couldn't get out of the police force because we were controlled. [The] police force was [the] number one occupation or something and we had to stay in it. So I went down to Victoria Barracks one day and saw the Sergeant, the staff sergeant at the front door, and I said, 'I'd like to see Sir Thomas Blamey'. And he said, 'No doubt every important person in Australia would like to see Sir Thomas Blamey'. And I said, 'Well what about doing me a favour and letting his office know and see what happens, just see what happens'. So he did and in about five minutes Lieutenant Colonel Carlyon, Blamey's ADC or something like that, came walking down the corridor and said, 'Sir Thomas is in and would like to see you'. So I went up and told him my dilemma. 'Oh', he said, 'We'll have you out of the police force in a month or two.' 'Well, not too fast, because I've got a couple of examinations to do in November, what about making it early next year?' So he made it early next year, and I was out of the police force and into the army.
I couldn't because I was man-powered into the police force. You couldn't just walk out of the police force. It was a priority job in the army control ... in the war control of man power.
I didn't think there was a future for me in the police force. I didn't like it.
In the first six years, yes.
That I could no longer be a single 'dog' working on my own. For a while I was put in charge of 'the dogs' - about five or six, and I had to be in charge of them.
Never had it put that way before, but that's not a bad way to put it, yes, being part of the pack.
Well it was a bigger pack wasn't it but ... Oh I don't know - going out of the police force and into he army and I thought a future, if I was going to have a future ... frankly, if we took a selfish point of view, it wouldn't be a bad way to start.
Well I thought the resistance and defeat of Hitler was beyond criticism. It should have happened. I thought the use of nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were beyond question. I thought they should have happened. So I was in agreement with our side in World War Two.
I suppose I would like to think that it could have been done differently but I can't bring myself to think that the Japanese would have surrendered easily. A couple of hundred thousand people, and more, were involved in death because of the two bombs. I think had America gone on fighting without using the bombs probably more than that would have been killed, in that war that went on before Japan was finally defeated. So it's difficult to say, even now, there's a case against using those bombs. And they'd done ... Using those bombs now may well have made sure that they will never be ever used in human history, and that's a great gain from the use of those bombs.
Yes, but I'm not sure how. I joined up and had to go into the recruit training camp at Cowra. That took about seven or eight months, because I got boils there, over two hundred boils everywhere, and it took ...
No idea. They never explained the cause of any of these things. They don't know. The doctors really don't know the cause of anything, do they? And after eight or nine months I was out of Cowra and sent to St Georges Heights in Sydney, which surprised me, and then into army education, which surprised me. I never asked anyone to send me into army education, but somebody did. I don't know whether it was Blamey or not. I was in army education. As a member of army education I was sent to Morotai, the headquarters of the Australia army in the south west Pacific. And I was there for six or seven months working in army education: tutoring, lecturing to Australians, and by now the bombs had been dropped and the war was over. At the end of 1970 ... At the end of 1945, the Associate Professor of Economic History at Melbourne University, one J. Burton, wrote to me at home suggesting I put in an application to be tutor in Economic History in the Faculty of Commerce, Melbourne University.
Eight subjects only, I didn't have a degree. So I was up at Morotai and this was January, and I'm supposed to be here to start work in February. And I was wondering how I might go about it, what I might do. And I used to work on the officers' side of the peninsula in my education headquarters spaces, where people used to come for lectures and so on. And every evening I would go and have a swim on the officers' side, where no one other than an officer was supposed to go.
Because it was convenient, easy, nearby. And so I went in there one day and coming out I saw these three bald heads between me and the beach. So I thought, oh yes, Blamey's one of them. So I didn't dodge them this time, I went straight past them, you see. And Blamey looks up, 'Oh', he says, 'Heard you were at Morotai'. So I said to him, 'Yes, but I want to get home. I want to be home in a fortnight because I've got a job as tutor in economic history at Melbourne University'. 'Well', he said, 'I'll see what I can do for you'. I was home in a fortnight.
I don't know. You see Blamey was described as a right-wing, neo-fascist type of character, but I found him the very opposite of that, the very opposite. Now why, I don't know. I think it's maybe I'd given him two meat pies you see. I think it's all that kind of relationship: if you're nice to people it's very difficult for them not to be nice back.
Yes, I think so. I think he did, but after all, there's a lot of that in people round about. I'm saying it's one thing that for me counted.
Well, I just got into tutoring and I continued to do two subjects a year, and by this time I was getting honours, second or first class in all of them, and I was tutoring - seven or eight hours a day of tutoring. Seven any way, six or seven.
Yes, that's right.
You said though that you'd gone into commerce because it was the only faculty that you could go into without matriculation. Was that the only reason, because you had been thinking about economic matters, hadn't you?
Yes I had been Keynesian and that was ... Initially I went into commerce because it was the only one I could go into anyway, but I stayed on and worked in it largely because I thought the Keynesian theory was the one that I ought to work, to make understood. It was the other one, the first - the only one that I could get into, but then, it was, as I saw it, the high validity of the Keynesian theory in the second place.
I'm interested here, at this point, as you got more and more involved in university life and the work that you were doing in the Economic Faculty, you were in fact bringing together a political development with an academic career, and I was just wondering - going back now to put it into a little bit of context, we started doing that earlier, and probably prematurely - I'd now like to go back and bring us up to date, as it were, with the other stream of your life that wasn't your conventional police force and all of that, but the impact of events that led you to a point where you were ... that internal thought direction, which had always gone on in parallel with your external life, and that involves us going back to high school. Could I ask you this question. That's all background, just to let you know what I'm doing. When did you first become aware of the political and social system around you and start thinking, or trying to make sense of what you were observing in society around you?
In 1951. In 1951 I was facing the question of deciding on a thesis for my PhD at Melbourne and at first I thought I'd work on the connections between the British and Australian labour movements from the end of the nineteenth century. And I was granted a Nuffield Dominion Fellowship to go to Oxford for this purpose. Gwen went, the whole family went, and others too. We went and lived and worked at Oxford for a year. Now I found that when I'd been there for about a month or two, there was in fact very little connection between the British and Australian labour movements at organisational level. A lot of individuals had been in unions in England had come out here, had become part of the unions here. Quite a number of unions, that had been formed in England, were formed out here with the same name. But there was very little connection really. What I was looking for, was where ... what ideas came. Were they socialist, were they communist? What about Marx? A book had been written, Socialism Sans Doctrines. Yes it was sans doctrines. In so far as there was any socialism in Australia, there are no doctrines. Well, that was a negative kind of view, so in England I decided I'd switch and write my thesis on Study in Public Policy. The Welfare State: A Study in the Development of Public Policy. The Welfare State: A Study in the Development of Public Policy. Well immediately I got into that area I was studying the application of Keynesian theory in parliaments to bring about change. So I was linked with political reform, linked with parliaments. I had joined the Labor Party in 1947. I didn't do much in it because I was in it only two years before we went to England, and when I came back in 1954, I found I'd been suspended from it, and so it took me another year and a half to get back into it again. I'd been suspended because I'd been a member of the Toorak Branch of the Labor Party and ...
No! It had about a dozen members in it. Brian Fitzpatrick was one. In 1951 they had this referendum for the dissolution of the Communist Party. Referendum. Menzies. So this Toorak branch of the Labor Party ... and we're in England Gwen and me ... we're not in Toorak, we're in England ... had held a meeting in the village, Toorak, against the referendum - against dissolving the Communist Party, and so the Victorian branch of the ALP, which was run by Santamaria's representatives, at that time, decided they would suspend the Toorak branch, and as they thought I was part of it, they'd suspend me too. So when I came back I was suspended. Well, it took me eighteen months to get back into the Labor Party again, so I went back in again. And the split in the Labor Party ... The split was everywhere. So there was me, you see, with a Bachelor of Commerce and all that sort of stuff, with them looking for a candidate to fight the main election in Melbourne, that for Yarra, against Standish Michael Keon. So the senator, former secretary of the Labor Party, Pat Kenelly, known to everyone as the great numbers man ... He had a ... he had an impediment in his speech, so I'll do a little bit of imitating. He said, 'I-I hear y-you're thinking of going into parliament in Victoria'. I said, 'Well, I wasn't really Pat'. 'No', he said, 'You'd be w-wasting your time'. He said, 'I'-Ive got a job for you. You nominate for Yarra and contest Yarra in December this year, that's what you'll do'. So I did. I won Yarra by 791 votes, after I think the most active and intense and vigorous election campaign that's ever been run in Australia.
Well, Yarra was really Richmond, and Richmond had been the centre of John Wren's power in Australian politics, John Wren being the first millionaire who took over control of a political party, that is the Labor Party, and of local councils, that is Richmond Council and Collingwood, which was more or less the whole of Yarra. So Yarra had been the ground of John Wren for twenty-five, thirty-five years. And then remarkably enough, after John Wren, it became the centre of Santamaria. So you had John Wren and Santamaria. When I got there you had the leftovers of the John Wren's - that is the Luckmans and the O'Connells - against the priests, who were door knocking in furtherance of Santamaria's influence. So that was the Yarra that I came into. We had a first ... one seat in the Richmond Council, the rest were DLP. Then in the next election we won the whole lot. I think there was four at a time. We won the whole four. The next election we won the whole four. Next election we won the remaining one. We won them all, as fast as we could.
I think it was probably when I was about fourteen years old. Prior to that time I had spent most of my time on two farms and going to two state schools, Melton and Sunbury. Now I was hardly aware that there was a society on the two farms. At Sunbury on the two hills, that are still there, you can stand on top of one of those hills and see the lights of Melbourne. There seemed to something far off, far off. I think it was about the last year I had at Sunbury State School that I began to see there was a society, and that involved certain dangers, problems, attractions and possibilities according to the way it functioned. And what caused the way it functioned, why did it function this way, or that way, became the central question in that early thinking. I think I would have then been about fifteen, and it was in about the last year I was at the State School at Sunbury.
I don't think there was much reading in it, in so far as I was able to get hold of books. I can't say that I was a good reader. I didn't read easily, and I didn't learn much as a result of reading during that year, or for that matter, during the three years that I was at Northcote High School. It wasn't a matter of becoming interested, finding things out significantly through reading. No, it didn't happen. I wouldn't have had a collection of books, two, three, four or five - one even, I think, until after that. That came later on. Now when did it come? It certainly didn't come during the three years that I worked for the Australian Estates, because I worked for too long hours to be able to have time to read. I had very little education up to the age of twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three. I had very little education. I was in no way well educated. It wasn't that I got on and made progress because I was educated. It wasn't because I'd done a university course, it was none of that really, up to the age of well after twenty-one, well after being an adult.
Both I think. Although I don't imagine much else different happened to anybody. I think children of those days, in the twenties and thirties, who didn't read, they weren't educated. Most of them had finished education completely by the age of fourteen. We think of quite a significant proportion of people going on after the age of fourteen into secondary schools - almost everybody does. Into tertiary education a significant proportion - probably thirty per cent or more. Now in those days university students were only two, three per cent and they came especially from people with money.
But a boy as bright as you proved to be, those were sometimes the exceptions that got picked up and pulled out of the system, and no one was aware of your intellectual potential when you were at school?
No. You see I was doing two subjects a year at Melbourne University. Now let me tell you the circumstances of that. I was not a university student. All I ever did was go up to the university, go into the commerce building and listen to a tutorial and away out again. Never went to the union, never mixed with students. And for the first couple of years I hardly went to a tutorial, or to a lecture.
No. I'm making that clear because they were my circumstances. I ended up a Doctor of Philosophy, but I'm emphasising that in the ordinary sense of the word I was a very inadequately educated person. It wasn't education that got me on. Whatever else did it.
Two: John Rogers at Sunbury State School and Derby Graham at Northcote High School. John Rogers was the headmaster, Derby Graham was the teacher in commerce, in shorthand and accountancy. And I did them both, don't ask me why. The only answer I can give may be is that I thought it meant getting something that will get me a job, because I was having ... When you think about getting a job at Northcote High School, what was I going to do about getting a job after leaving school? So I had thought a bit about the kind of subjects, as distinct say from geography, or physics or chemistry ... You didn't think of those in terms of subjects that gave you a professional standing.
Well, he raised my self-esteem. He made me think I was of some value.
Oh, just by chatting and taking a bit interest in what I'd been writing at my desk, which normally speaking, in those years, I don't think teachers did very much. They had a very large class to handle. At Sunbury school from ... from the sixth grade to five, six, seven and eight, one teacher. Now there would have been ... The classroom would have been twice the size of this place - one teacher with all that crowd. They could not, by any means, get much personal attention. And a child can't get any self-esteem unless he's given evidence by other people to think that he is worthwhile. Self-esteem comes from how other people treat you, and if you are treated as, I think, may be even a very high proportion of kids are today, they can't get self-esteem, much. And it's no wonder at all, that they don't have much.
I think it was he who did me a copy of the William Morris's book about socialism, and I still have it, if it did come from him. I'm not quite clear in memory now whether he did, but I've had it that long, and I think it did come from him. It wasn't a very ... a booklet of history. It didn't indicate to you the way Marx did, supposedly, showing how socialism came about. It was an eulogy of a socialist co-operative type of society as distinct from a competitive, conflict ridden type of society, suggesting that that kind of co-operative relationship - not suggesting - saying that it was what it was, and more or less leaving you to judge, obviously, that that was better.
Yes, my family always voted Labor. My Aunt Eleanor and my mother worked on the hill at Sunbury and the member for Bulla Dalhousie was Reg Pollard, relatively young, middle 20s, Reg Pollard. Reg was a completely honest, capable and genuine ALP man, and they got to know Reg quite a bit well you see. And I could see the difference between Labor and Liberal from that, early on, and long before I began to vote I had chosen Labor out of that family background.
Not until 1947.
Yes. I once wrote to John Cain senior, much earlier than that, and all what he did was to tell me to join the local branch. Well, there wasn't a local branch to join. Sunbury didn't have one. And then I was ... didn't do anything after that, because there was no local branch.
Hardly. I could see people were socially different: they dressed differently, they lived in different places, there was a Toorak and there was a Richmond. They never came into contact with one another, never spoke to one another, as very few people ever do anyway in the street, whether they're workers or not. Very few people ever do speak to anyone except their small number of associates and friends. I noticed a class in the social sense, and I saw that it originated in their own history of work: where they worked and how, and their own ability to acquire any different social attitudes. Class is social. It depends upon your accent, the way you speak, the way you dress, where you go for recreation. It's something that you acquire by learning, on the raw material of what your occupation gives you as a worker, or not as a worker.
No. We never saw Sir Rupert Clarke. He lived at Riverswood, apparently at the end of the town of Sunbury, but he never came into Sunbury. He was, as far as I know, never seen by anybody. He had a motor car very early in the piece. Two men ... Two people had motor cars in my early life. One was Clarke. I can't remember now although I did see it - what car he had. The other was a man called Aitkin, who owned land up behind our place, and they had a Daimler, and that used to be driven up the road past our place and up the hill. Those two cars were the first cars I ever saw in my life.
Not very much. Not very much.
Did you? I've always ... Yes, I've been interested in nice cars. I think, I ... The one I sort of picked out as a very nice car was the Bentley, and then a little more reachable, the Riley. The Rolls Royce always seemed to me to be beyond the horizon, you know, something impossible. Yes, I would have fancied having a Riley, if I'd had the means.
I suppose not a very intense one because it wasn't that I'd had a job and lost it, it was that I couldn't get one, and for eighteen months I was looking for one, not with any great intensity. We lived at 30 Sycamore Grove, Ripponlea then. It wasn't a bad house: a little back garden and a front one.
The Depression. We were on the farm in Sunbury. The Depression dropped the price of milk to a quarter. There was no hope with keeping up with payments on the property, so the National Bank moved in and sold it over their heads. And so they had to move.
Oh yes. It was owned by my grandparents and Eleanor - the farm was.
Not very much.
Inevitable. My grandmother and grandfather were getting pretty old and they'd reached a stage where working on the farm was beyond their means, and they couldn't have done it for much longer any way. They'd have had to have retired somehow. The money that was still owing on the farm meant that they couldn't retire on the farm, so they had to retire somewhere else. At first they rented a house, 19 Park Street, St Kilda, a little single fronted place. There we had exactly the same: we were never short of food, we had this low standard of living that we always had, we had there. Then we moved to a place in Elwood and then to Sycamore Grove, Ripponlea. We were there much longer, and we were there when I got my job with the Australian Estates and for most of the time I used to travel from Ripponlea to Weaver Street, City, going to work and going home again each day. Gran and Grandpa had a small pension, and Eleanor and mother, for much of that time [worked. My mother] eventually retired from work before Eleanor. Eleanor had a reasonable pay for those days. It was ... The workers in the mental hospitals had reasonable pay. They had a good union, they had organised well, and comparatively to most other people, as workers, they were quite well paid. Now I can't say that during the Depression I was badly off - always had a few shillings in my pocket. I began work at nineteen shillings a week and after three years I was getting thirty shillings a week. Now that didn't provide me with much, but compared to what I had lived on before, it was much the same. I didn't think that personally I was suffering any great loss. But I suppose the thing that hit me about the Depression was what had happened to everybody else. I used to travel to Northcote, day and night, going home, and going out, and in those days there wasn't a house in Collingwood or Abbotsford or Richmond, almost without exception, that was not empty with a To Let board out over the railing. Hardly a house. Where had they gone? They'd gone to live two or three families in one place. Two or three parts of the family had come together and made one somewhere else. If the day was reasonable and not raining, you'd find 500 men sitting on the grass, on the cricket ground behind the Richmond Town Hall, playing cards. 500. Every hotel had a verandah in those days, and every verandah would have twenty or thirty or forty or fifty men under the verandah - not in the hotel, because they had no money to buy beer. Coming home from school one day, the train stopped at the Flinders Street intersection, where the head office of Peacock's Stevedoring industry was there, in Flinders Street extension. I saw what must have been about 500 men picketing that place, being attacked by 100 policemen, all with batons three foot long, bashing them with these batons. As they fell onto the cobblestones, the horses trod ... treading on them and running on them. It was talked about that two had been killed, and seventeen very badly injured in that clash. That was the Depression to me.
Oh well that strengthened my concern about Keynesian economics. My reaction to all that is that it was unavoidable ... that it was avoidable. And it depended on economic policy. The key was the effective demand: the amount of money people had to spend to buy things, to keep the factories going, to keep the men in work, and the Keynesian theory that never enough was just distributed in a work process to do that, additional money had to be provided by the growth of the welfare state, by the growth of things the government only could provide. That added to the level of effective demand and ensured a high level of employment. Now that experience in the Depression thoroughly confirmed the Keynesian economic theory to me, and it became my central way of seeing society - as a result of this experience that we've now drawn out, as a result of that theory, and as a result of my actually seeing what was happening in the Depression. But that also happened to so many other people. We all went into World War Two with a very different economic view to any available before.
For me and for others, increasingly. It wasn't that people, who made decisions favourable to them, in parliament had studied Keynes. Chifley made decisions favourable to them. There was no hesitation in the Curtin government about [the] shortage of money to cause them to spend less money on the war effort, so much of it was provided by the Commonwealth Bank who [issued] treasury bills. They paid their way as the bills came in. They didn't worry about taxation or borrowing. Now so much of that was done in practice under the Curtin and Chifley governments. It was Keynesian, but it wasn't because like I had done, studied the books and saw the common sense of it. They saw the common sense without the study.
Nugget Coombs was a very, very powerful force in all of this. Nugget was a theoretical economist, Nugget was a theoretical Keynesian. He'd done it at London School of Economics and he had a great relationship and effect upon Chifley, and then again into Menzies. Now Menzies behaved completely as a Keynesian, but Menzies had never read it. I made my maiden speech about this. Menzies always came in and listened when I made a speech. I was followed by Fraser. No. It was the other way round: Fraser first, me second. Menzies was there listening to both of us, when I'd finished he came around and he said, 'I'll be studying that speech of yours and [will] make sure our young bloke[s] do too'. And that was in 1955. In 1961 unemployment had risen from one and a half per cent to three per cent, and one night, on an adjournment, I made a speech saying the government wanted unemployment. I got to parliament the next morning and a Labor Party fellow says, 'Menzies was in here looking for you yesterday ... this morning'. So in about an hour's time, I wasn't in a hurry, I wandered around and Miss Craig says, 'Come in and sit down. The boss wants to have a go at you'. So I sat down and he said, 'I don't want to see any unemployment. You do me an injustice. You've always been doing me injustices'. Very indignant he was. So I said, 'No I haven't. I haven't'. And I said, 'Well I'll know within twelve months whether you do or not. You wait and see.' Well they increased ... They produced a supplementary budget. They put money into the post office, mainly, other things as well to provide jobs and in twelve months times unemployment was down to two per cent again. It never got much above that. No, they hadn't read their stuff, but it was common sense, and acting from common sense and not big business ideology, which is their way of thinking now, they produced a different result. Now for me and for us, that lasted until 1975.
Going back to your own development, when you actually started at the university as a lecturer, that really gave you an opportunity to try out a lot of your ideas in [a] public sense, in political forums. Could you tell us about that period, the period that you were lecturing, and how you gradually became more and more active politically during that time?
They weren't ... They were connected to a certain extent, but just as I became more notable about Vietnam, I became notable in politics in the university not about economics, but about relationships between America and Russia. Yes, I lectured and tutored as many as 800 students a year, public lecture theatre full. Yes, what I had to say had a very big influence on very many people. Somebody stopped at my table at Prahran market only last Saturday morning saying, 'You lectured to me in economic history, Melbourne University in 1948'. He said, 'I've always seen things that way ever since, and I'm now seventy-seven'. It had a lot of influence on students in classes, but I didn't go on and talk to students at student meetings around the university about that. What I was involved in, in those days, was the argument that Russia was being wrongly blamed for plans to take over Europe, or to attack the United States, and that Russia would not use nuclear weapons. If they were going to be used it was much more likely they would be used by the United States, but they would probably be used by nobody. That was the peace movement's story prior to Vietnam, and I was one of the three or four in Melbourne who put that peace movement story through most thoroughly in the first stage. So as far as public activity is concerned I was more involved in that first stage of the peace movement, in public activity, than I was in economics, as public activity.
Your involvement with the peace movement and your public position in relation to Russia, brought you a great deal into contact with the Communist Party and with communists of the time, but you were never a member of the Communist Party. Was that ever a possibility for you? Did you consider it seriously?
Yes. When I was at Morotai in the army there were two of my students, both of whom were members of the Communist Party: Bill Brown, who lived in Sydney, and Bob Laurie, who lived in Melbourne. Bob Laurie had been a Scotch College student. When I left Morotai they said to me, 'Go to the ... Please go to the head office of the Communist Party and ask for Len Sharkey. He knows you want to join'. So I went in and saw Len Sharkey, and he was very unfriendly, very distant. Then I heard they had rejected me as an applicant for membership of the Communist Party because they thought I was a police agent. So I thought, well what a pity, that's the end of that. So I never had the question of being a member of the Communist Party, or not being one. [It] never occurred again. That was the end of that. And I saw a lot of the communists in the peace movement, because the peace movement from 1948 ... the establishment of the Australian Peace Council right on until 1965 was mainly moved by members of the Communist Party, for nearly twenty years. It didn't make a great deal of progress. I spoke at meetings quite a lot. I resigned from the Australian Peace Council in 1948 or '49 because I said their view was too narrow, they were not analysing it, they were asserting it. They weren't' saying, 'You can say there is something in favour of the Russians overthrowing the non-communist government in Hungary because it was directed at them among other things, but you're not analysing, you're just supporting it', and so on. So I resigned from the Peace Council about 1948 or '49. I continued to have an association. One very notable small thing occurred. John Rogers was a member of the Communist Party and the Peace Council and they sent him to Moscow somewhere around that time, and he came back and announced that he would have meetings at town halls to tell people about his trip. Now the Melbourne Town Hall was refused to him. He got Caulfield and Williamstown. They couldn't get a more distinguished chairman than me, and by that time I was only a lecturer in economic history, so I was chairman of the meeting. We had Caulfield and Williamstown Town Hall completely full. Policemen lined up. You've no idea, you know: a public meeting with 300 policemen there. And I was in the chair and I announced beforehand that I was well familiar with Section 27 of the Police Offences Act and if anyone caused any fights I would tell the police to remove them. Nobody ever did and the meetings went off quite successfully. But I don't think it would be possible for that to happen ... It isn't possible for it to happen these days. You see world conflict, warlike conflict, has gone now. It's not like it will come back as far as one can foresee.
Going back to the peace movement then, you were involved there with communists and you felt that they were not always as analytical as you would like them to be, and yet you spoke as if you would have joined the Communist Party if they would have had you. Did you have ... I mean, how would you describe your differences with the Communist Party at that time, or were there none?
I did not ... It was no feeling of really any significance. It wasn't ... I didn't want to join the Communist Party. It was Bill Brown and Ted Laurie who put my name up and I said, 'All right, go ahead'. When Len Sharkey turned me down I was: so what. I wasn't involved, I didn't care much about it. I agreed with it, [and thought] we'll see what happens. I haven't got any where else to go. I wasn't associated with the Labor Party or any one else. Might as well see what the Communist Party is like for a year or two. That was my attitude.
And as time went on and you'd spent quite a lot of time on committees and doing things with communists, how would you characterise, looking back and summing up, the sorts of areas where you found yourself differing from them?
There was no doubt about this: the Communist Party consisted of a number of different committees, central committees and otherwise, which were very authoritarian. The rule was the rule. It had been decided by the central committee it had to be applied. No one was entitled to debate that or take a different position. There was no doubt about that high degree of authoritarianism that applied throughout. Now looking at individual members I would say twenty or thirty of them were the best quality people in the peace movement, or in the labour movement that I knew at the time. Well known trade union figures like Jack Brown, the waterside man - Jim Healy, were completely honest, completely decent.
Yes, working for the ... clearly and without doubt, as best they could judge it, in the best interests of their members and putting nothing else in their place. They built up their memberships very high. Clarrie O'Shea at Tramways. Imagine Tramways Union with 5,000 participating members.
So,when you joined the Labor Party and you were also sitting on committees which had ... were predominantly communist because the peace movement committees were mostly communists, did you feel compromised in any way?
No, by the time I joined the Labor Party I was not taking any part in the administration or government of the Peace Council. By the time I joined the Labor Party I was a public speaker in Peace Council activities, but I was in no way part of it as an organisation. You see for a while I wasn't much a part of the Labor Party either, because I joined the Labor Party in 1947. In 1948, 1949 [there was] very little Labor Party activity for me. 1951 overseas. I had a Nuffield Dominion Fellowship. 1952 still overseas, 1953 [I] came back. By now I was suspended from the Labor Party: didn't have much claim on my time, coming from that source. And then when I got through by appearing before the federal executive of the Labor Party, and telling them what had happened, and being reinstated unanimously, the split came, you see. So prior to 1955 I didn't have hardly any claim made on my time made by the Labor Party. But as I say but there was no time either in the Peace Council from 1949 or so. Much of the time I was overseas and I was not involved in committee-like activities in Australia between 1949 and 1955. Then by the time it was 1955, my sole committee activities were Richmond and Collingwood, and wherever I went seven nights a week it was a committee. Wherever I was there was a committee. Over a hundred meetings in three months, in Richmond and Collingwood alone, in that campaign.
Before we get on to talking in detail about that campaign, could we now just take a few minutes and could you tell me about your trip to Oxford and what happened with your going to do that. How did you decide and made you decide to go overseas to do your PhD?
Joe Burton, the Associate Professor of Economic History, had been a Rhodes Scholar and he had a good opinion of Oxford so he pulled the right strings, and I got a Nuffield Dominion Fellowship to go to Oxford. He had an opinion of Oxford that had declined with time, until he had come to think that Oxford was disinterested and detached. 'But nevertheless', he said, 'It will be good for your progress to have been at Oxford'. He was right on both scores. Oxford was disappointing to me, but it didn't do my progress any harm. I didn't stay there long enough to find out whether it was going to do any good. I never got beyond senior lecturer, as it were. Now I found Oxford to be very conservative, very stand-offish, as it always had been. Oxford is very conservative, very uninvolved really, on the whole.
I wasn't attached ... I was at Nuffield College at Oxford. I was attached to Nuffield, but Nuffield isn't residential. I wasn't in a residential college. We lived at a small house in Rose Hill, just a small suburb up the creek from Oxford. I didn't really have a college life.
That's right. Exactly.
The welfare state in Australia, a study in the development of public policy. It was a study of how in and through the Chifley government the welfare state was established in Australia: the national system of age and invalid pensions, the national health scheme, what was left of it after the BMA had ruined it, and relatively new money, total new money for primary education in the States. It raised the level of those people who couldn't afford to pay for their own education, and illness very considerably in the welfare state in Australia. I showed that that had come through the influence of the Labor Party, through the trade unions and connected the two, [saying] this is the labour movement in action, this is the result. It got no support from the anti-labour forces in Parliament. The governments of Menzies didn't help at all. And it was almost alone the result of the Labor Party in parliament. That was the thesis that I wrote. It was very narrow in a way. It seemed to be quite relevant then. There's only one copy of it that I know and that's in the Giblin Library at Melbourne University. And in order to see it, my impression that I've just told you, was right ... I went in about a month ago and got utterly bored by reading it and came to the conclusion: yes, that was it all right.
Yes, I was amazed at the ... and Gwen was more so amazed at the class distinctions that were practised in England. Whenever we had any one to help us a little bit in the house, she would never sit down and have a cup of tea with Gwen. Never. She'd stand up, as a servant always should. Whenever Gwen got to talk with English students in the library there - she did a chapter in my book called ... it was in the Land and the People series, it was ... She did the chapter on the Aborigines, and she did the research work in the library at Oxford. Oh, and they called her a colonial and put up their noses as though she smelt. That was all over England, in the south and in the centre. We hardly went to the north on that trip. But we didn't like England. That was the impression we got.
Well, the split took over in the Labor Party. I was only home for eighteen months, most of it out of the Labor party went the split came. I was still on the university staff, you see. Came back and got stuck into work as a senior lecturer, largely in American history and Australian history, at this time, and history of economic thought. That was the important one that I gave so much attention to: history of economic thought. So between 1953, early '53 and late '55, I gave a lot of time to studying history of economic thought and lecturing in it.
Well, politics is determined by forces that have required a long time to establish themselves, that is to say history. Economics is fashionable or not fashionable, it just blows in the wind. And that actual system underneath it selects the kind of economics that suits it from time to time. Economics is transient, the historical forces are continuing.
Yes, of course it was.
But we will no doubt, as we discuss it, show that I made another change. I changed into history as it were, then I changed out of that history into culture in 1975.
So that was much later. We will come to that because that's another very important phase. But while we are talking about where you were back then ... Now in this context, the opportunity arose for you to run for Yarra and that campaign was always going to be a tough one, and you've already talked about some of the reasons for that. How did you approach the winning of Yarra?
By campaigning. I knew that the Catholic Church was very strong. I knew that Keon was very popular in it. I knew that I had to develop out of the unorganised and unrelated labour, non-Catholic people, [and develop] relationships which brought them together, which were substantial. Made sure that they found out what I was like; made sure they would find out the difference between the Labor Party and the DLP; made sure that enough of them would man the polling booths, and all that. So it meant talking to them, knocking on their doors and talking to them. And Gwen and I and a few others door knocked I think every door in Richmond, Collingwood, Abbotsford and Hawthorn in the space of four months - literally knocked on every door. We had eighty or ninety meetings in that period of time, everywhere, ranging from four or five on a cold night outside some corner in Abbotsford to 3000 people in the corner of ... just down from Bridge Road ... Age is making it impossible to remember all these side streets.
Oh yes. A big open space, a street corner. We just reached people as they had never been reached before. Never in the old days, never in the Santamaria-Keon days. I say Santamaria, [but] you see, Santamaria was never a public man, he was never involved, he never went to a meeting, he never spoke to any one. Behind the scenes all the time. And Keon was the best and most effective public figure they had by far.
Oh, he made a grave mistake, he didn't realise until it was too late. He thought he could win easily, so he went off all over the place to campaign. And the fortnight before the poll, he was everywhere in Richmond. He'd come back again, but it was too late.
Yes. If he'd campaigned effectively and strongly he would have won.
John Button. [laughs]
Oh he did a bit, not much. Norm was much ... Norm created an image for himself which was far more than it should have been. He did come occasionally, but not much.
Yes, that's right.
That's right, so they say.
I'm asking you about that because [of] what was happening at this time that we're talking about, just post split with the Movement. I would like you to describe quite vividly for people for whom it's history, and they don't remember it, so I'm going to ask you a question which I'd like you to just paint the whole picture of the fact that it was natural that there were people who were communists in society wanting you to get in because of the circumstances relating to ... so I will ask you a question about that and get you just to do a picture of it, you know, for people for whom it is history. So could you just describe what it was like campaigning at that time, in that electorate?
Well, all that I can say is that we were extremely busy. We were at it seven days a week, day in, late into the night, door knocking, talking to people in the street, elsewhere. And many others were. Now the Labor Party membership wasn't that big when you took the DLP. It was called Australian Labor Party, anti-Communist in brackets, not DLP. When you took them out, you took the majority out, you left only a minority in. So we didn't have a very big number of ALP members working especially in Richmond. More in Collingwood, because this DLP relationship, activity, had not gone nearly as far in Collingwood. Collingwood was almost as much ALP after the split as it was before. Collingwood and Abbotsford. Abbotsford a little less. So it was really those people doing what they chose to do or what they were inspired to do. Now what they chose ... What they were inspired to do, as distinct from what they were otherwise would have chosen to do, was proportionate to the effect mainly that Gwen and I gave by our activity. Gwen was as active as I was, and in many ways she had as much influence in Richmond as I had. And therefore the campaign was starting with what was left over of the Labor Party, moved by Gwen and me, and drawing in others. Now others that were drawn in, with limitations, were some Communist Party people. Now one point that is not very often mentioned it that the Communist Party in Richmond was a very small party. The Labor Party was too all embracing, consisting of two parts, as I've said: the John Wren part and the Catholic part. By the time you took them out of it, there wasn't much left for the communists as it were. And the communists were added to by a few Melbourne University Labor Club communist students, who were also overrated. So it wasn't a simple front. It was a fairly complex one.
A bit. There were one or two fights. You know, one or two. It was nothing. Bernie O'Connell used to go everywhere with Gwen in case she was attacked, but she never was and never would have been. Bernie was always there. No, there was little, very little violence really. The critics of me will say there was. I saw one fight involving about four or five at the polling booth there in the centre of Richmond, at the State School, but nothing more.
The Movement under Santamaria was putting out a lot of propaganda that a vote for the ALP, for you, in that context, was a vote for communism. Now did that present a difficulty to you? In other words were your ... the people in your electorate confused about what was ALP, what was DLP, or incipient DLP at that stage, and what was actually communist?
I don't think that argument that a vote for me was a vote for communism had a great deal of effect. It didn't have to, we won by 791. If it had affected a couple of hundred people it was enough. Now our vote in 1958, three years later, went up from about forty-eight per cent to about fifty-eight per cent, it rose ten per cent in three years. So there was a big potential gain there, which was stopped from happening by something. It was stopped from happening by their opportunity to get to know me better. They may not have ... They might have thought I was still a communist and that was the way communists did things. I had a small office in Bridge Road, 371 Bridge Road, where I was there every Monday morning, every Friday afternoon and every Saturday morning, sometimes on Sunday, frequently on Sunday. People were coming in with their pension problems, immigration problems. People come up to me now and say, 'You got my daughter out', and she's now - looks about sixty-five or seventy - 'And she's had two daughters and they've both gone through the university. They wouldn't have been here if it hadn't been for you'. Things like that.
Yes, that's right.
I think it's a very, very important part of the job, yes.
No, you represent the people. It also helps to get re-elected, but I think that the member of parliament, if he is going to be representative, has got to be closely in touch, physically, with the people he represents. Not just to be re-elected but because that is what he should be doing. Not somewhere else and never goes into his electorate, as is often the case now, or goes in as a far away figure capitalising upon his far-awayness, his distance and his superiority, which is the way the most successful ones do now.
Can I take a step back. When you were approached by Pat and asked to take on Yarra, what did you think about that? You had a successful career. Why did you do it? Why did you take that step into active politics?
I overrated the importance of being a member of a parliament and a minister, in what I can do to achieve what I thought should be done. I overrated it.
No more than the fact I did.
To go in and be a speaker, a lecturer, a teacher, a very active member of parliament. Over what? Vietnam had not occurred. It was essentially in the Keynesian period. I achieved a lot but it wasn't that much.
Yes. To go much further than I was able to do, much further.
Yes, thinking I could do more than I was able to do.
I wanted to change what we call welfare and education into something which creates an alternative way of life for those people, to create what I can call a human growth centre in which people would be taught the formation ... what is the formation of character and behaviour, [and] would be given the opportunity to create what we might call friendships: 500 of them in Australia, was my aim. It was to transform the social neighbourhood away from what the family and the states call ... that left it to be. That was always my primary aim: reform. I would have ... [I] aimed at taxing, by at least fifty per cent, every $100,000 of gains made on the stock exchange. If you make a 100,000 on the stock exchange you pay 50,000 tax.
Mainly I thought I knew what social and economic reform was and how to bring it about. And that was the most important thing of all for me to do. So in a sense I had to weigh up, ten years, fifteen years, twenty years on the university staff trying to teach people about that, or go into parliament and begin to do something about it. Now at that stage I think I thought I could do more than I turned out to be able to do. I think I overrated what could be done in parliament. But I went into parliament because of a belief that by going there I could do the most I could possibly do about getting a better society.
Does this course in the parliamentary setting involve relating to your own party and to working with that, as it were, as a team to achieve these goals. How did you go about doing that and how well did you fit in with the other parliamentarians?
It involved working with the others. [With] the majority of the Labor Party members, from day to day I would say nothing more than, 'Good day' or 'How are you?' or 'What's doing?' and so on. But there were a good half dozen or so that I spent a lot of time talking to, and with whom I seemed to have a lot in common. They seemed to accept fully what the Labor Party had accepted, about what was needed for social reform, and that coincided pretty close to what I thought was needed. Now, for example, there was Eddie Ward, known all over Australia, probably the best known Labor Party member of parliament still alive. There was Les Haylen. There was Tom Uren. About half a dozen altogether with whom I was able to talk a lot, had a lot in common, and agreed with almost completely. In other words that six or so people made parliament for me. The majority I hardly ever exchanged a word with. Not any much more in the Labor Party than over there in the non Labor Party, with whom, not only I, but so many others hardly ever said anything.
But you had quite a big influence and a lot of people in the Labor caucus were very, very supportive of you. That normally comes about through quite a lot of work, as they say getting the numbers. How did you do that, what did you do?
Well, I never did anything about getting the numbers. I behaved as I did and they judged me on that. Some people like Tom Uren apparently did a lot to get the numbers for me. I'm not even sure about how to go about getting the numbers. I suppose they say, 'If you get so and so to vote for so and so, I'll get so and so to vote for you'. And they have little bits of paper with names written on them and they watch one another fairly closely when they're voting in this business of getting the numbers. Now I never did that in my life. I remember the only time I ever said anything that was in the context of that, and strangely enough it was against Eddie Ward and in favour of Whitlam, [was] when Evatt retired as leader of the Labor Party and Caldwell succeeded him. Ward and Whitlam stood for deputy leadership and we had a line of fellows standing up ready to go - pen on the dotted paper and put it in the box - and a couple of people came to me and said, 'Who are you going to vote for?' and I said, 'Whitlam', and that I think got a few votes for Whitlam. But that was the only time I think I ever did anything in the twenty-three years in parliament that you could call 'getting the numbers'.
As a consequence of that attitude Tom Uren has said publicly that he felt that you needed somebody to look after the practical side of your affairs in parliament because he thought that you really didn't want to be involved in that, but it was necessary. Do you feel that that was a correct judgement on his part?
No, I don't know. I don't want to disagree with him. I think my own feeling is that it wasn't necessary, but you see I don't know enough of the field where the running was taking place to know how to run as it were. He might have been right, but my feeling was the other way.
Well, I used to get books out of the library and read them. I always put a lot of preparatory work into a speech. I wrote it out in full but I didn't read it - looked at it and talked from it. I always had a very heavy correspondence, hundreds of letters that had to be answered, and for most of the time I had nobody to help me answer letters. I had to do it myself. In Melbourne I had one secretary but I never sent any letters from Canberra to Melbourne to be answered here. The ones came to me at Parliament House, and they were many, I answered directly. So it was having cups of tea, it was talking to the half dozen or so members that I mentioned, it was reading books, preparing speeches, answering letters.
You were much in demand as a public speaker all over Australia during that period, even while you were still in opposition through the '60s, how did you manage to keep up the schedule? You had to travel, you had to attend parliament and you also looked after your constituents very well.
Yes, it was a full time job by every means. I did travel: Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania, always at the invitation and the arrangement of the local member. Almost always. And that in itself would have meant, I suppose, three or four nights a month away from home. The other organisations other than the Labor Party didn't come in until a bit later. The work I'd done through the Peace Council more or less disappeared, when I went into parliament. For a good long time parliament replaced all that.
And while you were there, one of the things, one of the things intellectual things, if you want to put it like that, that you were developing and really working on, ahead of your time really, was the relationship with Asia. Could you tell me what made you realise, as early as the late '50s, how important Asia was going to become?
Yes, my reason for realising that was that first of all I went into Asia in 1945. I spent about six months living on the islands up there, in the army, but able to see the people at very close hand, travel in a small aircraft to the Celebes, down from Morotai. And saw many of them living their normal every day way of life, as they always did. Now the one thing that impressed me about that, more than anything else, was that the Asian people were less aggressive, more peaceful, more friendly with one another, less likely to fight, less likely to kill one another than any one here in good old Melbourne or Sydney. I came away feeling that they were not an inherent force of war getting ready to invade Australia. They had never done so for thousands of years and I thought they weren't likely to do so now. I thought any changes that had to take place in our relationships with them, were changes that had to take place here. And so I wrote a book called Living with Asia. It sold very well. For a long time it was regarded as my best book. Then as soon as I could afford it in parliament I began to go to Asia, to again, as a second phase, and this time at a higher level, look at it all. Now in those years when I went and met people like Sukarno, Sihanouk, Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister of Malaysia ... I've got all sorts of little pieces of cigarette holders, silver, here, given to me by various ones of them. I suppose there's half a dozen round here, presented by prime ministers or their equivalent of those Asian countries. Now I talked to them. They could all speak English as well as I could, and I liked them all. I couldn't see in any of them any mind or intent about invading Australia, and above all I couldn't see any preparations for that.
Why do you think that your way of viewing Asia right from 1945 was so different from many of your other ... your fellow Australians, both the other soldiers and then in later other politicians, in dealing with Asia? What gave you a different way of looking at them?
Well I think it was because I visited Asia under different circumstances from most of the others. Some of them - our parliamentary leaders, Menzies, never really came to earth in Asia. Men like Harold Holt never met any of these leaders. Men like Gorton never even met any of these leaders, had no respect for them, had no admiration for them like I have. No appreciation of what I considered to be their quality, at any rate, and I think was their quality. The only damage any of these people has done to any one is in their own countries. A classical example is Indonesia. Indonesia ... the Indonesians have hardly ever harmed any one out of Indonesia but they have killed and harmed, I suppose, four or five million people since the war inside Indonesia. Their violence and ill feelings have been exhibited against themselves, not by invasion. These countries are not invading countries. The downward thrust of China! There was no likelihood of the downward thrust of China into anybody. They supported Pol Pot, they opposed north Vietnam. They invaded north Vietnam - one exception - and they got badly beaten by the Vietnamese. Indonesia has never invaded any country as I have pointed out.
Well, East Timor was supposed to be their own country. You see, when Indonesia stood for their independence they stood to get rid of Holland from wherever Holland was. Holland and Portugal were in Timor and they stood to get rid of them. Now I think in recent years, I've said in countries that they controlled, which they regarded as their own country, their record has been bad, and East Timor was part of that. West Irian was another part.
In your own party, were there others that were sharing your views? You gave this very pubic expression to it in the book that was so well regarded. How did you colleagues in the Labor Party feel about Asia at that time back in the '60s and the late '50s?
Not too many of them fully agreed with me. Tom Uren was involved in peace activities. The rest weren't, both before Vietnam and afterwards. We had a street full of people. I was the only member of parliament in that street very often.
Well, I'd been working on my own for several years about Vietnam. I had written The Eagle and the Lotus, which was a legitimate academic study of the history of the invasion and occupation of Vietnam by the French. I'd been working on this on my own. The book was published. Whitlam launched it, by the way. Its sales were pretty good. But my anti-Vietnamese (sic) activity was writing a book. Almost ... Whenever I've become involved in anything it's been writing a book or reading a book. I've always been a student in action, as much now as ever. Now as a result of that leadership of that book, and being present amongst people who wanted to bring about organised activity, a number of people, including me, formed the CICD, Conference for the International Co-operation and Disarmament. We invited four or five quite well known people from overseas, including Paul Robeson. A very successful conference was held at the South Melbourne Town Hall. Within that element of non-Labor, non-Liberal Party, non-party people, there were right-wing opponents of me as well as those who from then, you'd have to say, left-wing point of a view, following it the same as me. It was productive in the sense that a number of suburban and one or two country committees, subcommittees, were formed in the CICD. There would have been at the most, in the end, about twenty or so of them. They might not have had more than fifty or sixty members each but they were all in or around Melbourne. They were the source and foundation of the Vietnam Moratorium movement. The Vietnam Moratorium movement was a Melbourne movement. When action was taken by marching in the street in Adelaide and Sydney, a little in Perth and a little in Brisbane, there was no organisations like that, or no organisations like that underneath, to encourage people to come: 'Are you going? What about coming? Are you going? What about coming?' The result was that when we got our street marches in Melbourne they were two or three times as big as anywhere else. The Vietnam Moratorium movement was a Melbourne movement. It wasn't just because of me, it was because I was one of initially twenty or thirty, who emerged out of that South Melbourne Town Hall conference and worked together. Apart from that political parties are not groups of people interested in policy. They are groups of people interested in holding branch meetings, the form of which is always the same: Read the minutes, move a motion for their adoption, debate whether they should be adopted, receive the correspondence, write the letters, and sometimes someone has a word or two to say, but not often. These make up the branch, where the branch meeting consists very much of the same thing. Only occasionally do they get hot under the collar over some issue, some policy, but not very often. They're all used mainly to decide who should be the member of parliament for the area in which they exist, and they're made up of the contest between those who are trying to be so. That's the summary of what political parties are like. You can't really say they're significant areas for the discussion of ideals, the discussion of principles, or the discussion of policy.
Always was so. Labor Party was a social affair, a door knocking affair for me because I had to door knock. I didn't have until about 1963 a safe seat, so door knocking had to be a significant part of our activity. But as I've said often, more than half the people who door knocked for me, more than half, were not members of the Labor Party.
Yes. Yes. They might have considered themselves Labor supporters but they weren't actually members.
So with the moratorium activities that came from an organisation outside the Labor Party and what was your ... How would you characterise your role in it? What was your particular contribution to that whole movement?
I often wonder if it was anything much at all. You see even in the end, in that part, I was not an organiser. I have never been an organiser. I have never organised more than one person in all my life. I have been a writer and a talker. That's all.
I don't say it's more important, or as important, it may not be. Organising, well done, might be more important.
All I'm saying is that I was able and capable of doing that and I wasn't able to organise. That's all. I might have been Prime Minister four or five times if I'd been a good organiser.
But the ideas that you were putting forward ... I mean, the moratorium is over. It was organised, it happened. What we remember from it and what influenced people who watched and looked and listened at the time, what gave it voice, was very often the voice of Jim Cairns and the ideas that he'd thought through. So, I suppose, that's what I was asking you: okay we accept that your contribution wasn't to organise it, but what was your contribution?
Well, I suppose it was getting onto a platform making a speech, getting a typewriter, writing an article, working articles up into a book. I've written fifteen books.
Well the heart of it was to prove that Vietnam had not been an aggressor. Vietnam, the Vietnamese people, had been invaded by the French, then by the Americans, and they had defended themselves as anyone would, if they had the courage and the capacity, and the Vietnamese have a tremendous amount of courage and capacity to fight, to defend themselves. I doubt if ever they've been equalled anywhere. They fought overwhelming odds. My book showed the overwhelming odds, showed actually what was going on there. Understand that they weren't invading anybody. They had an occasional tank, an occasional aircraft, an occasional gun, a large gun. Most of them were ... Most of their weapons were, for a long part of the time, simply knives and sticks with which they fought the Americans. They were not importing hardly anything from China, because China was not on their side. China was against them. And not much from Russia. One of the things I think that was most impressive ... I wrote a little pamphlet showing the make up of the arms captured by the Americans from the Viet Cong. Without intending it, in exhibiting these arms captured from the Viet Cong, ninety per cent of them were American arms. Very, very few were Russian. Almost every weapon they used had been captured from the Americans and turned back on the Americans again. Every bit of evidence there was, was that the Vietnamese were defending themselves, and were using very inferior weapons to do so. Around about 1975 I was at a conference in Manila and Kissinger was there. And in this afternoon I was just walking into the entrance to the hall, and Kissinger, supported by about half a dozen guards, guns and all, came up and said, 'Your were right about Vietnam'. I said, 'How was that?' 'Well', he said, 'It wasn't an invasion from the north or from China. It was mainly the people there, fighting themselves. That's what we've found out. We could never have won. We could never have won that war without killing them all'. And I said, 'Wouldn't you have used nuclear weapons to kill them all?' He said, 'The American people would never have stood for it'. And that's the exact conversation I had with Kissinger.
The other great controversy, that time brought, related not just to the war but also to the methods that were being used to bring the objections of the Australian people to the attention of the government. In other words the right to demonstrate, the right to distribute leaflets, those sorts of issues were being worked through in the Australian scene. What was your attitude to that and could you describe how that happened at the time? How that played out?
Yes, well, demonstration, what we can call demonstration: picketing, marching in the street, confronting the police, that was a part of Australian history. It went back to Macquarie's time, before 1813. It had been no more or less violent than it was up to 1969 or '70, when the Vietnam Moratorium occurred. Now, our decision to have a march in the city and to sit down in Bourke Street was made by me on a Friday night without consulting anybody. The Age published it on the Monday morning and on the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday the papers were full of terrible predictions about what was going to happen. The streets were going to be flowing in blood. Archbishops were weeping tears of blood about the terrible things that were going to happen and I was identified with most of it in the week before the 8 May 1970. Now really I didn't do anything much to reduce that atmosphere of confrontation that would be likely to happen, except give them an opportunity to talk it out. I suggested to Sam Goldboum, who was a good speaker but he was a far, far better organiser than me, that we have ... that we call a meeting at the Richmond Town Hall on Sunday afternoon, and it was full: 2000 people. The open advocates of confrontation, like Albert Langer at Monash, were there. I opened it. There's a photograph there of me with the Vietnam (GESTURES INDICATING SIZE, POSSIBLY A FLAG) at that meeting. And I said that we ... My argument briefly was: we were a peace movement and we were going to behave in a peaceful way. We were not a peace movement going to be aggressive. That was all, just a few ideas like that. Not many hundreds people would have heard. Not many more hundreds would have these ideas passed on to them. The point I'm making is that I didn't make that a peace day, it was a peace day because of its nature, because of its content, because of the way people felt. They were going to behave unaggressively because they were committed to unaggressive behaviour. I didn't make it peaceful. It was peaceful because it was peaceful itself. And so it was peaceful. I had another shot at them along those lines in the Flagstaff Gardens and again there's a photograph there of me standing in front of a monument talking to the thousands, only saying that, that's all. And then we started the march. Now I was full of tension and fear that day. The other thing I had done was ring the Superintendent of Police, in Russell Street, and tell him what we were going to do. The result of that was that he called a meeting of all the senior officers who were going to be in charge that day at Russell Street, and said, 'Come in and talk to them'. And so I went in and talked to them. They talked to me for about an hour. I didn't know what the response was going to be, but when we walked into the top of Bourke Street I saw what the response was: Bourke Street didn't have a motor car or a tram in it. The police had moved them all out and had opened the city, and had cleaned the city out, for us to use, wherever we wanted to go. We couldn't break the law because they'd taken the law away! Well that was the character of that movement.
Violence. I thought people might get hurt and I thought I'd get hurt. There had been information passed on to us that someone was going to shoot from up on the tops of the buildings and so on. They wanted me to wear a metal waistcoat. Some people did. And Philip here made one. There were two men who never moved away from me all that time. [There's] photographs of them. They were looking up all the time. Had anyone tried to attack me they would have been in front of me. Had they heard any shot they'd have tried to put themselves between me and where it came from. They would have done, literally. Now, they both waterside workers. I felt afraid because I knew that was the atmosphere. Now I don't think there was anyone ever likely to fire a shot from any building in Bourke Street. I don't think there was anyone likely to attack me physically in the end. In some of the marches you've got someone racing across over towards me, but no one ever knew what he was going to do because he was just pushed aside. There were two or three cases of that. They were always pretty old and, you know, he would have had to have had a 303 rifle to make any impression, sort of. But that was the feeling I had, that maybe something would hurt somebody, not just me, but somebody. But as I said, I got to the top of Bourke Street and saw and felt it was all right. About two years ago I was selling books in South Melbourne market and a very smartly looking fellow about forty-five or fifty with a moustache came up and said, 'Oh', he said, 'The first time I ever saw you, I was sitting on a horse in Bourke Street'. I said, 'You mean you were sitting on a horse in a lane near the Bourke Street Post Office'. 'Yes', he said, 'That's right', and he said, 'I was scared stiff'. He said, 'In a way we were'. He was a policeman. Then he said, 'As soon as the people came into Bourke Street I suddenly realised everything was all right', and he said, 'I really became part of it'. [laugh]
I think it was a wonderful day, a wonderful feeling. I think it was the most satisfying experience, public experience, I've ever had by far. And on the photographs - standing on top of a car in Bourke Street with a microphone, I only spoke to them for about seven or eight minutes. But I think that was the most pleasing day I'd ever had. Gwen, poor old Gwen, was in hospital that day and when the march was over we went to the Town Hall to finish it, had a song from Len Thomas Eddy, and again you see a photograph there and the astonishing thing about it is that I seem to be singing the song and I can't sing I'm sure.
Oh yes. It was much more of a high point for me than becoming part of the Whitlam government, becoming Deputy Prime Minister. This was a high point that had intensity in it. It ... The other was just something that came on as a matter of course, as a matter of many disconnected events that had led up to that point of being in the Whitlam government or of Deputy Prime Minister, or whatever. The other was something that was actually happening and had become what it was all in an hour or two.
It's a marvellous thing that so many people came out and that there wasn't any violence, in a group of that size. And how do you think that was achieved? Do you think that the fact that you had been a policeman and could go and speak to the police in the way you did helped the whole atmosphere?
Oh it helped undoubtedly: the passivity of the police, the full acceptance by the police of what I had told them we were going to do, and where we going to do [it], how long it would take, and when the city would be clear.
Oh, yes. They were friendly. Police are always remarkably friendly. Only just the other day ... and I sometimes wonder why it took so long ... I had an invitation to become a member of the Retired Police Association, which I've accepted. I've now got a tie - Retired Police Association tie. No, on the whole the police can see no wrong in me.
Yes, I have twice. The first one was very far from friendly to me. It was the first one of the ... It was the first election for the Richmond City Council after I became the member for Yarra. It was 1958. Both sides were fiddling the vote - getting people to come in and vote for others and so on. And I had just walked into the West Richmond polling booth as a scrutineer, with a proper form and all that, and I saw a bloke come in to vote, and I heard him give a name that wasn't his own. I knew what his name was. So I said, 'Hey, that's not your name'. It just got that far and up walked a policeman. He said, 'Get out', to me. And I said, 'No, I'm not getting out. I'm a scrutineer, here's the form, and I think he's voting under a name that isn't his own'. He said, 'I told you to get out'. And I said, 'Well, I'm not going'. He said, 'Well you're under arrest', so he arrested me and took me down to the Richmond Police Station and I was charged with obstructing a member of the police force in the execution of his duty, and with assault. Well that was on the Saturday. On the Saturday morning we turned up at the Richmond Court. There was Sam Cohen, Senator Sam Cohen, Clyde Holding - himself and lots of others. I should have said before that, when I was in the police station getting charged, after I'd been charged, Detective Inspector Doug Trainor, [laughs] personal friend for years, and very formerly and properly took a full statement from me about what had happened, you see. And off he went. Then on the Monday morning when we turned up at the court, Cohen, Holding, and I and others, my name was called, so I went into the dock, and the Sergeant said, 'It has been decided your honour to withdraw these charges'. So that was the end of it.
Oh no. Somebody bailed me out. But if there was one person outside the Richmond Police Station, there would have been a thousand. And somebody bailed me out. Jack Poke I think.
He was a member of the DLP. I don't know.
I don't know.
No. Oh you can assault anybody without touching them, you know. If you put another person in fear of impending danger, you have assaulted them.
You don't have to lay a hand on them. I might have put fear of impending danger. He walked first all the way to the Police Station and I followed him, so he didn't have much trouble.
Yeah, the second time: [the] Save Our Sons ladies, who were opposed to sending off their sons to war in Vietnam who had been conscripted ... they were opponents of conscription ... were handing out leaflets outside the Melbourne Town Hall, against conscription, and I went along and handed out leaflets too. And the time came when the half a dozen or so policemen turned up with a police wagon and began to arrest them: Jean McLean, later became a member of parliament. And then they came to me and they said ... They had to ask you for your name and address first, and if you refused to give it, you were arrested. They said, 'What's your name and address?' and I said, 'It's on the leaflet, look. There it is on the leaflet'. So they said, 'You're under arrest'. So about eighteen of us were arrested and we were taken to Russell Street. They notified Gwen and she came to Russell Street, and then she went over and bailed out ... bailed them out as they took them in and charged them, you see, until I was the only one left. All the others had been in the prison van were charged other than me. And I'm sitting waiting, and the Sergeant Hargraves, who was in charge at Russell Street, came along and said, 'Will you sign this?' and it was a statement saying that I had no complaints to make. And I said, 'No I won't sign that'. So he said, 'Well, for Christ's sake piss off then'. [laughs] So I did.
Yes, and then they were charged really by the City Council, and you know what they did on the Monday at the next Council meeting? They withdrew ... They withdrew the regulation, so you can now hand out leaflets outside the Town Hall without having to give your name and address and without subject to arrest if you don't. Some years later in Gawler I was handing out leaflets against something outside the public library. It was [about] the early closing of the public library. I was walking past, [and] she said, 'You did us a lot of good', she said. 'Here we are handing out leaflets and nobody takes any notice of us'. She said, 'Until that regulation was repealed they made a big fuss over this and we'd have been taken notice of'. [laughs]
I can't notice any effect. Don't know that it had any effect.
I don't know. No one ever said a word to me about it really, never a word. I mention it because I think it was interesting. I think it was ... it just showed, you know, what can happen. It's not such a kill 'em and knock 'em down and kill 'em place, like some people think.
In relation to the Labor Party you were working on these causes and you were also of course an active, a very active member of parliament and public figure, and people talked a great deal about you as a leader of the Labor Party. What were your own thoughts about the leadership during that period that you were in opposition?
I had a very high opinion of Doctor Evatt, not because of his work in parliament, which on the whole was very poor, but Doctor Evatt had more effect on the forming the charter of the United Nations than any other man in the world. It was very critically an H. E. Evatt product. Whenever Evatt took a position in relation to an overseas crisis, it was significant within that crisis. It had an effect, not always that we might all have agreed with. He didn't say much to help Cuba. He was very instrumental in the establishment of Israel. He didn't say much about the Russian activities in Hungary, but his record was significant as a man from a relatively small country. He was first Australian world figure in government. You might say what about Billy Hughes? Now Billy Hughes was not ... just on the Australian stage known in England. Nothing much beyond that. That was the first leader of the Labor Party when I was in parliament, but Evatt in parliament itself was atrocious. He was followed by Arthur Caldwell. It appeared in a sense that there was no alternative. Caldwell was an odd man. He was a Catholic who believed devoutly in the separation of the church and state. He was a great admirer of America: America's liberalism that comes from that separation of the church and state, and Caldwell well understood it and could have held his own with any historian of the United States. Strangely enough Caldwell was ... had distaste for coloured people. He had lots of Chinese friends, and he ate at many, many tables with Chinese friends, but he had a very strong distaste, less than conscious one, for coloured people. In respect to Labor Party welfare policy he was fairly pedestrian. He had no colour, and he was five shillings here and five shillings there.
No, I never felt conscious about being leader any more than I felt conscious about being anything else. I have done all I have done leaving that kind of thing to the circumstances.
Yes. I stood once for leadership of the Labor Party and once for deputy leadership of the Labor Party. I stood in 1968 against Whitlam for leadership of the Labor Party and I voted for him when he was elected, and I was as loyal to Whitlam as anyone else. But in 1968 there was a movement to the Right going on in the Labor Party, centring around Harradine, Brian Harradine. In Tasmania, being denied Labor Party endorsement for the senate by the Tasmanian Labor Party executive, being supported by Whitlam, mainly behind the scenes, but appearing to me to be opposing the Australian Labor Party federal executive, which had a narrow left-wing or anti-Harradine majority, with the idea of reducing that component and making it moderate or right-wing moderate. Whitlam resigned from the leadership of the Labor Party calling the federal executive witless men. I thought he ought to be checked and so for ...
Yes, yes. He resigned confident that he would be still leader and to get his own way with endorsement for what he was moving for. After three or four days in which I had discussions with all sorts of people like Phillip Adams, who eventually wrote a couple of paragraphs in a letter that I sent to the federal ... to the parliamentary Labor Party saying that I was going to stand, [I] made the announcement on the front verandah of our house at Hawthorn - I notice there wasn't a photograph of that amongst that lot you've got - that I was going to oppose Whitlam. Well, I did ring about, I suppose, fifteen or so people over that. When the vote came I lost by three votes - very close. Whitlam was very shaken by it.
No I was pleased by then for another reason. I was pleased by then because of the power, in three days, that a number one figure appeared to me to have. I think I was on the media every twenty minutes and I thought, gee being Prime Minister can give you some power can't it? And as the time went by, initially from standing on the verandah after having got out of bed, in which Gwen made the statement not me - read the letter, not me - when they came with questions I couldn't keep quiet, so I began to answer them. But I'd been in bed for three or four days before announcing my opposition to Whitlam because of the effect of it. I was supposed to have a cold, but it wasn't a cold, it was the effect of it. No, it was the feeling of scope that I had for three or four days that made me seem as you just described.
Well, I thought with all the things I'm trying to communicate about, I could do it much more effectively if I was Prime Minister.
No, it had gone. It was an experience of a week. It had gone, although Whitlam was sure it never had. Whitlam was always thinking I was waiting there to take his job.
No. No. I suppose I've never been ambitious as it were, and I hate ambition. I have never been ambitious and I just can't want to be something.
Because it does so much harm. Perhaps I could have been ambitious, succeeded and I wouldn't done much harm. But ambition and harm are two things that I can't separate.
Were you suggesting then that the business ... the business of taking on Whitlam, in that run for the leadership, that sort of implied conflict, actually made you ill? When you said you were in bed ill, that it had something to do with your aversion to placing yourself in a head to head. Have you always been like that?
Yes. Yes. You see I love going out and talking, lecturing, but I hate, as it were, having to go out and be somebody. I feel like saying, 'For goodness sake leave me alone. I don't want to be something that you're coming to involve me in, I'm going to chose what I want to do, and if that's all right with you fine, accept it and I think it will be all right for you'.
Yes, over a Melbourne seat.
Another thing that turned me away from that was this experience with Caldwell you've just mentioned. Because of the redistribution of seats in which the small Yarra and Melbourne seats were combined as it were, to make one, and Yarra had disappeared ... Melbourne and Caldwell didn't, Yarra and Cairns didn't. When I found that out I said to Arthur, 'What do you think?' 'Oh', he said, 'I think I'll retire'. He said, 'I've been here long enough'.
Yes. So I said, 'Oh well, that's fine. If you do that I'll nominate for Melbourne'.' He said, 'Well you'll get it all right'. Now a fortnight later I was told that Arthur was not going to retire, and in not retiring he was backed by a number of the most ... the numbers men in the Victorian executive. Innes, Brown, to some extent Hartley, I think, and Moss Cass. And they had their little discussions up at Eltham. They decided I had to be persuaded to get out of Melbourne and leave it to Caldwell. I think the main reason they all had for that was that each of them, most of them, wanted to be the member for Melbourne and they thought if I got it they wouldn't have got it for years, whereas if Caldwell was left to it, they'd probably have it after one term, which is what happened and Innes got it. So they wanted to have a meeting with me, and I think Gwen and I had both been to Canberra. We came back to Essendon and they ... We had a meeting at somebody's place and they said, 'Well, we'll guarantee you can get Lalor', you see. Lalor was held by the Liberals but redistribution had made it ... had given it a five per cent Labor margin. Eventually, within a day or two of that, I agreed.
People said at the time that had you stood your ground over the question of the Melbourne seat you would have won on it, because you were in the right over it, and in the end you would have won on it. But in the end you compromised and you agreed to take defeat. Why was that? What was your reasoning?
Well, I suppose I don't like fights really. Maybe that's a weakness. I think it's a weakness. I think there are times when I haven't been able or willing to stand up, and I'd have been better if I'd been able to do that.
Yes, that kind of thing I really mean. You see principles are not people. They're ... It doesn't seem to me that by standing for a principle you can ever hurt somebody. The principle is do better for somebody. Now if you're standing on these other things that I'm not able to do, or afraid to do, involves people as bleeding animals ... and I'd rather go away and leave it to them.
You'd built up a terrific relationship with the people who lived in the Yarra electorate and you know, it's very much on the record that you were an extraordinarily devoted local member, was that an issue for you, that you lived in that electorate and you were going to have to move to another one?
Oh yes, my word it was an issue. You see I hardly knew Lalor at all and I knew Richmond in particular, Collingwood and Abbotsford and Hawthorn a little less - because Hawthorn was a majority of Liberals in Hawthorn - but I knew a lot of them and lot of ... We reduced the Liberal vote in Hawthorn to the lowest ever there had been.
Yes. The [Labour] vote around Scotch College was twelve per cent when I first went there, it was twenty-two per cent when I left. And it was a very strong reason for me not to want to go to Lalor. Lalor was foreign country and to do that I had to design a new way of being a member of parliament. I couldn't rely on my home as a centre, and I didn't want to have an office just to be available. So what I did was first got a huge truck - furniture van and had my name painted on the side of it, and steps to go up into the office at the back, and I used to drive around the electorate and be present for an hour in ten different places over the weekend and Monday - Friday afternoon, Saturday morning and Monday.
Yes, compared to Richmond. It extended from Hopper's Crossing to St Albans. [But] that van didn't work - didn't get many people coming inside it. They'd never been accustomed to going and seeing their member of parliament either. So I bought a Valiant station wagon - there's a photograph of that somewhere - with a banner on the top 'Jim Cairns, Member for Lalor' and I used to go to those places I've mentioned in that station wagon. Now I'd sit on the boot, on the running board - whatever it was, and talked to people who came along. But they were never accustomed really, to coming to say, 'Look, something's gone wrong with my pension'. 'Look I want to get me mum out from overseas'. 'Look, I've been evicted because I haven't paid my rent but I've been paying it regularly 'til now'. Those sorts of things used to come up in Richmond every day, but they didn't go to members of parliament for that. They never thought of it, in so many areas, going to a member of parliament for that. Mind you they did after a while. And I did much business in Lalor ... I had the best secretary I'd ever had. She'd been working at Mackay Harvester and there was a strike at Mackay Harvester and I went there to talk and she came to listen, and the secretary I had, had been Muriel Drakeford and another, who I've forgotten who, was no good, so I needed a new secretary. So I said to her one day, 'Would you like to come and work for me?' 'Oh too right', she said. So she was really good, she was a member for Lalor.
They needed hospitals, they needed medical centres, they needed public buildings and I used lot of influence over that. We got a big medical centre at New Park in St Albans. We increased the size of the Footscray Hospital by a third. We put a new efficient town hall into Werribee. We spent a lot of public money in Lalor because it had been awfully neglected for so long, and Lalor got quite a little bit of character out of that nine years that I there. I've got my name on parks, I suppose in a dozen places around Lalor.
Oh no. Gwen wouldn't move an inch to live in the electorate. So we still lived at 21 Wattle Road, Hawthorn and I used to drive over to Lalor. It was a bit of a problem, it meant again more time away from home.
Yes. I was in the backyard of Phillip and Alice's house at 2 Vista Grove, Hawthorn, which backed on to the front garden of our house at 21 Wattle Road, Hawthorn. We had been doing our distribution of cards outside the polling booths and so on, and we'd got home from the meeting at the Hawthorn Town Hall, and it was a nice night, so we were sitting out and having a drink of beer and that was where finally I heard the result.
Very quietly, as good luck. And then I didn't hear from Whitlam of course, for another three weeks after that, because you remember he and Barnard shared all the ministries between themselves until the Labor Party could meet early in the new year of 1973 and elect its cabinet. So until that election took place, he and Barnard shared all the ministries.
I had been shadow Minster for Overseas Trade and it was Overseas Trade that I was looking forward very much to having. I knew I would get it, no doubt about that. When we had the election for the cabinet I topped the list as I had done for several years before that. And of course I automatically was allocated by Whitlam to Overseas Trade as I expected, and as everybody else expected. But then, it wasn't my idea, I'm not sure where it came, but in addition to overseas, I became Minister for Overseas Trade and Secondary Industry. The logic of it was that they were related together. Overseas Trade meant imports and exports, and secondary industry means Australian industrial development in Australia and there was always a relationship between the two. The competition of imports against Australian manufacturing development, and the value of exports to Australian primary production, so there was a connection between those two and that was logical. So for a bit over two and a half years or so I was Minister for Overseas Trade and Secondary Industry. Now both of them satisfied me very much. I had a very, very good two years in those jobs. First of all I set out to reach trade agreements, and the first was to be China, the second was to be in the Middle East, the third was to be the Soviet Union, and the fourth was to be with South American countries. Not America or Canada or England. They weren't on the agenda because we had a lot of trade with them and the idea was to have agreements with countries in which we had very little trade but which we could build up a great deal more. The one with China was most satisfactory. In 1974 I announced that I was going to do that and I asked Australian leaders - business leaders - to come with me to China and twenty-seven of them did. The top Australian business men came with me to China. We had a wonderful session. There is a photograph there of me in the Great Hall of the People talking to all the Chinese Government and everybody else, except Zhou Enlai. He didn't turn up that day. But I had a three hour meeting with Zhou Enlai, with most of the business men sitting back here in the audience and Zhou Enlai sitting at a table up at the front. Well, he was the second most significant man in the Chinese Revolution. He was the heart of China, Zhou Enlai, more so than Mao Tse Tung really ever was, and he was a very easy man to talk to, his English was good. Now we were doing about 200 million dollars worth of trade with China before that visit, and it rose within a year to over a thousand million dollars. Trade with China was very significant. The Australian exports there went up very much.
I don't know at all. It was never mentioned. The Chinese never said, 'You were once a communist'. Nor did ever the Vietnamese for that matter. I never ... None of them ever said anything like that to me or assumed it at all. I was given awards by the Vietnamese. There are some on the wall there. Letters of thanks and acknowledgement. There are some there from Zhou Enlai. No, they never even seemed to think that I was even to the Left. Now I'm sure that they knew that. They knew that I had been active, to use the term 'on the Left', and I'm sure it had an effect.
After six months they were very, very involved.
I don't know. Never saw any sign of it at all.
Well I formed committees with business men, who owned industry, for development of industry in Australia, and they arrived at a system of working out in what way they and the government could work together. My aim was not to withdraw the government and leave everything to the market. My aim was the opposite of that: to bring the government in by agreement, by discussion, by participation, but to maximise what the government could do. To work with them, even if they were capitalists.
Yes, I think it was very effective. It was more effective in trade than secondary industry. One reason was the Department of Trade public servants were more flexible, were more capable. The secondary industry ones were a bit bureaucratic and not as flexible as the trade ones. The trade ones were great. I never had a difficulty with them at all.
Well, I wanted Australia to ... Australian manufacturing industry to be efficient and to know what technology was that they needed, to know where to get it from, and to help them pay for it if necessary. But above all, I wanted to see a high degree of participation by workers. Now we didn't succeed much in that. That was a disappointment to me. The trade unions and workers didn't seem to care much about participation. They wanted to get the best wage they could, and in effect not do much work, but not become involved in the running of the industry. They wanted the boss to do that.
Yes, it was a surprise and especially a disappointment, but it was a surprise. My impression of trade unions before that was that they were open to participation in the running of their workplaces, and I was quite disappointed that they weren't. Their leaders, people like Hawke in particular, weren't. Hawke was out to get higher wages and we had a burst of inflation in 1973, '74, which was significantly a result of Hawke-won wage increases for the unions.
Well, I thought it would have increased the self-esteem of workers. I thought they would feel more important, more attached to what they were doing, more career-minded, more inclined to build facilities around their work places where they could play, where they could bring their families, where their children could be looked after properly if they were not able to be looked after at home. I wanted, in a sense, to combine the home and the work place. Not so easy in the case of big work places, but even there it would have been feasible. I wanted to see the metropolitan area made into a combination of work places, homes and gardens, not just streets and high level buildings and factories separated in one place and homes out in another. I'd like to see the whole geographical development radically changed. Not too late I think.
There would be cost at first. It would be a cost factor. It would be resisted because of cost at first. Now when I talk about costs I'm talking about the key to the whole situation. It involves governments spending money. I have been saying all my life that the government has to spend money if you are to provide employment for everyone who wants it, that is full employment. The market never will do that. If the people are going to have things that the market now does not provide or adequately provide, it has to be provided by the government. Once upon a time we had no schools. We got a few schools in church backyards as a few churches established schools. We got a few secondary schools in the most wealthy suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne and Adelaide and Perth too, apparently. The famous schools in Melbourne Scotch College, Wesley, Melbourne Grammar - they were the secondary ones all provided along side churches, privately, for people who could afford to go, [for] people who wanted to have their children go to these distinguished schools. Now if we had to go beyond that and we did want to, we had to go where primary schools or state schools, as we call them, could be established and where high schools could be established. When I first started going to a high school in Melbourne I went to one of the three first high schools ever opened: Northcote, Melbourne and University High. There came in a year or two later Coburg High and Essendon High. Prior to that there were no secondary schools where any one could go. You couldn't go beyond the age of twelve, thirteen or fourteen, no matter how, unless you had plenty of money. Now if these better living conditions are going to be provided, they have to be provided by the government, and so on. Now where's the government going to get the money? First of all obviously by taxation. It can tax those who can well afford to pay taxation. And they pay a very small amount of it now. The average tax now, paid by people with a 100,000 a year or over, is about fifteen per cent and a good deal of that is hidden. It's less than that even. Where the average taxation paid by a person with 70,000 to 20,000 is roughly twenty-eight per cent - almost double that of the rich. And there are many rich companies that pay nothing. So taxation could be made more equitable. Taxation can be used to cut unjustified speculation. All this speculation that goes on in the stock exchange, in which the values of companies fall or rise twenty or thirty per cent in a couple of days ... Taxes ought to be imposed on share values, and where say they rise X amount in a week, fifty per cent of that ought to be taken in taxation. That would provide additional money for these purposes that I'm talking about. Now therefore the money problem can be solved but you need someone with strength to stand against the wealthy, because they'll use the media, they'll use everything else to fight you if you're going to tax.
Now you, as someone with an economics background, although you weren't Treasurer - Frank Crean was Treasurer - you had a big influence on the economic stances that the Whitlam government took, didn't you? [Yes] And ... [Birds in background]
Now I want to give you the opportunity to really explain what was going on with that whole economic debate about inflation, employment and so on at that time because it is really hard to get a clear account of it from anyone. You were very much involved in influencing economic policy in the Whitlam government, even though at the beginning Frank Crean was Treasurer, but one of the huge criticisms of that period was that the policies that were adopted were inflationary and that this created the real problems of the time. Could you talk about that and about what the approach was to that, within the government?
I don't think any way of measuring inflation is adequate unless you also look at the other things that are happening at the same time. If you're going to cut inflation by three per cent by increasing unemployment by six per cent, it's not justified. What was argued at that time was to cut inflation by three per cent. It was obvious if that was done unemployment would have gone up by four, or five or six per cent. When inflation did ... was brought down, unemployment did go up by six per cent. Unemployment rose from six to nine or ten per cent. It's no good asking a government in a capitalist system to be able to do both: you do one or the other. And very few people are capable of recognising that. The inflation that occurred under the Whitlam government was the result of two things that the government was not responsible for. The first was a doubling and trebling of the price of oil because the price of oil went up in the Middle East. [It] went it up here by two or three times. The second was the increase in wages by six or seven per cent on the average, and that was because of a very positive wage bargaining policy of the ACTU led by Hawke. The ACTU never, at any other time, has been so irresponsible in pushing up wages as they were under Hawke.
The Labor government gave a very favourable climate to the unions. Clyde Cameron was Minister for Labor and he was very critical of the fat cats, of the public servants that were doing it, but he was critical of the trade unions. And so they had an almost open go. It wasn't public expenditure by the government that caused inflation. It was oil prices and wage increases under the Whitlam government that did so. Public expenditure remained fairly stable in the first twelve months. So much so that a good deal of our policy, about health and welfare and education, remains still on paper. And the kind of role in the government that I found myself occupying was telling caucus and the cabinet these things. So much so that they fell in behind. People like Hayden wanted money for health, people like Uren wanted money for regional development, Beazley for education, Jones for roads. So they wanted to get what they had been elected for, and what I was articulating and they were too, saying they should get, I provided, as it were, the economic theory for this. So at the end of 1974 our budget became in deficit to the extent of three billion: the biggest deficit in Australian valued history. And that notable journalist, Alan Reid, wrote a big story in The Bulletin saying it was all caused by me, or something like that, at least I'd taken control of the cabinet. It was only very partly true, and so 1974 ended not perfectly, but closer to Labor policy than it might otherwise have been.
Not to be much influenced by it. That deficit was to be financed by the Reserve Bank. Now I want to tell you something about the Reserve Bank here. For the Labor Party and any government that is to perform the work that it has to do, the Reserve Bank has to be central in this. Until 1910 we had no people's bank, they were only private banks. If the government was to borrow money it could only borrow either from the people directly or from private banks. And it borrowed significantly from private banks, at private banks rates of interest, and continued to do so unless there was an actual emergency. The first national emergency that turned the government to the Commonwealth Bank was World War One, and about nearly three-fifths of the cost of World War One to Australia was financed by the Commonwealth Bank, at about two per cent of interest, two per cent. They were financed by the issue of treasury bills. The Treasurer issues a piece of paper called a treasury bill authorising the Commonwealth Bank to meet cheques issued by the government on the Commonwealth Bank. So we financed critically World War One by the issue of treasury bills through the Reserve Bank. Now the Commonwealth Bank was not used at all during the Depression, despite the fact that we had thirty-five per cent unemployed, poverty ... Labor, nor of course the other people, were capable of using the Commonwealth Bank. They didn't even try and so there was no significant borrowing to reduce the impact of Depression on Australia. So Depression continued through the first few years of the '30s, into the middle '30s, and it was only World War Two that ended the Depression in Australia. Now as soon as World War Two began, with Menzies as Prime Minister, they began to draw on the Reserve Bank - the Commonwealth Bank, as it was still called - by treasury bills, that meant at two or three per cent, to pay the soldiers, to buy arms and ammunition, to manufacture them, to build roads like those to Darwin, and so on. So that even more than two-fifths or three-fifths of the cost of World War Two was financed by the Commonwealth Bank, even more, and treasury bills went up as they had done after World War One. Now as soon as the war is over, the need is over, they begin to repay the treasury bills by debiting tax revenue, so much a year, so much a year, until they're paid off. Now government borrowing: if you look at the diagrams of government borrowing in respect to gross national product, they don't fluctuate much, because over a period of five years of not spending much publicly we can pay off what we have spent [previously] over three or four years, and so you even it off.
Yes. Central idea.
So your view was that although you might need to borrow money from the Reserve Bank in the short term to deal with neglected social problems in the Australian scene, that after that initial expenditure to set things right, it would have slowly but surely been paid back.
Yes, the debt ... The money we would have borrowed in 1974 for example - when the deficit was 3000 million - that money - even leaving aside what might have happened in the next year about borrowing - we might have borrowed just as much - that would have been paid back in five years without any trouble at all. Whatever you borrow in one year that you reasonably need, will be paid back in no more than five years. Now the next question is who to borrow it from. I say: Commonwealth Bank, then the Reserve Bank after it was established. Menzies established the Reserve Bank, and I didn't like the idea of replacing the Commonwealth Bank, but the Commonwealth Bank has now been privatised and it would be impossible for them to privatise the Reserve Bank I should think. Now the pieces of paper that the bank issues ... the treasury issues, authorising the Reserve Bank to meet government cheques was always called treasury bills. They are now called treasury notes. That was done ... That change was taking place in 1974. When I was associated with the budget deficit of 3000 million I assumed that would be paid for, or substantially paid for, not all of it, two thirds of it, from the issue of treasury bills, but I found out in September, at the time it was happening, they were being issued on the authority of treasury notes. Now the difference between a note and a bill is that a note is issued at current bank rates of interest. Treasury bills at two or three per cent. In other words treasury notes it costs you two and a half, or three times as much, to borrow. So this anti-borrowing government prefers to borrow through treasury notes at two and a half to three times the cost of interest as it would have if it was borrowing through the Commonwealth Bank. Now most of those treasury notes are not issued to the Reserve Bank. Some are. They are issued equally much or more to private banks. In other words these days governments borrow critically from private banks, not from the Reserve Bank. This is all part of the market economy economics, all part of the economic rationalism, all part of this concern with debt. In other words they borrow where they can at the highest possible rates, fearful of debt as they are.
Yes, the loans affair was initiated by Connor - Rex Connor, Lionel Murphy and Gough Whitlam. I was not Treasurer then, I was quite unaware of it. Frank Crean was hardly at all involved. I first became aware of it when I attended a meeting of the federal executive of the Labor Party - not the parliamentary one - at the Lodge and we were kept waiting out in the sitting room for a long time. And I asked the staff, 'Where's Whitlam?' and they said, 'He's in the dining room, having a meeting', so I opened the door and went in. And they were having a meeting over the loans affair. They decided to authorise Connor to borrow four billion dollars, and his representative in that borrowing was a man called Khemlani. I recalled Khemlani because Clyde Cameron had brought a man, and I've forgotten his name, to see me about a month before, asking me if I would see Khemlani about loans. And I said, 'No, I won't. We don't need to borrow that way. I don't ... I'm not going to do that'. So Clyde introduced, through this man, Khemlani to Connor and Connor took it up. Connor's purpose was to get that money to bore for gas on the north-west shelf between here and New Guinea, where there's a tremendous reserve of gas, still is. And then pipe it all the way down to eastern Australia. Geographically, economically: an excellent idea. All right, well the meeting was over in the dining room and Whitlam came out and said, 'We've just authorised our comrade to borrow four thousand or two thousand million, whatever it was, overseas'. I'd become treasurer three days before. He said, 'Are you going to sign it with us?' and I signed it with them. I wasn't part of the meeting. I said to Whitlam, 'You'll have to tell the premiers you're doing this. You can't do it secretly. You'll have to tell the premiers or they'll kick the roof down ... kick the roof in'. Connor was a man who never explained anything to anyone, so they didn't do that. Then it wasn't long before Sir Frederick Wheeler, secretary of the treasurer, the head of my department, and his staff, would come in one after the other, with stories about the awful character that Khemlani was, you see. So then Whitlam went away after Christmas, almost as though he didn't want to be here when the cyclone hit Darwin - and was overseas, I'd had enough of this talk, so I said, 'Let's get together at the Reserve Bank in Canberra and we'll make a decision about this, what we're going to do about the Khemlani affair'. So we had the meeting. There was Lionel Murphy. There was Rex Connor. There was Murphy's departmental secretary, the secretary of the Attorney-General's department, Sir Frederick Wheeler ...
Yes. So we outlined all this, and so I said, 'Well, what are you going to do about it, Rex?' Now Connor was easy. Connor said, 'Cancel it'. Murphy put up a defence for it, but we decided to cancel the Connor authority to borrow in the loans affair. That was to be the end of the loans affair. Whitlam came back on the 19 January and on the 27 January they had restored Connor's authority. I was Treasurer and they didn't tell me. Now how can you trust people like that really? So that was that: Connor's got his authority ...
I can't understand why. Whitlam in a sense said, 'No', when he shouted, 'No', but he never meant, 'No', when he said, 'No'. He didn't seem to be able to stand up to Connor. Connor and I always got on easily, and what he wanted I was able to do. What he wanted me to do, he was able to do. Never found any trouble with Connor and even to this day I'm not quite sure why Whitlam did what he did. Anyway, I'm Treasurer and Whitlam is back, and then the Treasury tells me they've got this authority and it was signed by Moss Cass, by Whitlam, by somebody else, and they said to me, 'You've got to go to America soon. They'll talk about nothing else when you go there except this loan. You've got to do something about it', in effect. So one day we were in parliament soon after that. Whitlam and I were sitting at the front bench, and I said that to Whitlam, 'They tell me I'm going to have a lot of difficulty over the new lot of the Khemlani loans when I go to America. I really don't think we'll get anywhere with that. They'll never get any money out of it. They're always telling ... everybody tells me that. Won't get any money out of that'. So Whitlam says, 'All right, you be the bastard and tell him'. So I just went back to where Connor was sitting on the front bench, [and] briefly said to him what I've said to you. 'Right', he said, 'We'll stop it'. So we did. It was cancelled. Later Whitlam sacked Whitlam ... sacked Connor for keeping in touch with Khemlani - sending him cables and so forth.
I never wanted to borrow money overseas at all, and never through an agent. My second trade activity was to do trade with the Middle East. After I became Treasurer I kept arrangements with the Middle East that I'd made as Minister for Overseas Trade to go to see about trade with Iran and with Saudi Arabia. In Saudi Arabia, when we were there, I was informed that King Faisal wanted to see me. So Ken Wriedt from Tasmania, the Minister for ... I don't remember what he was minister for ... Ken Wriedt.
... and I went to see Faisal. Faisal said he had asked to see us because he was very pleased to be able to talk to Australians. 'I want to do ... I want our country to do business with you'. And I said, 'Well, I'm here at the moment ...' (Agriculture was Ken Wriedt) ... 'We're selling sheep and cattle and so forth to you but we can cope much further than that, and I hope to sign a comprehensive trade agreement with you in the next few months'. And he said, 'Then there's funds, borrowings. We're very happy to lend money to you'. He said, 'I've made an appointment for you to see the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority'. It wasn't any private lender or agent - it was the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority who was rolling in millions. So I went the following day to see them and the governor offered me 500 million at New York rates of interest. If we'd gone into money lending we could have made fortunes out of that. So he was to write a letter and have it signed by the King. Two days later the King was assassinated. We didn't get the letter until after I had been sacked as Treasurer, so I gave a copy of the letter to Whitlam and one to Hayden, but they never even replied to it.
Yes, I was sacked by Whitlam for informing the House that I had not given a letter about loans to George Harris, the father of the Patrick's overseas wharfies training scheme. Now ...
As far as I know. I ... I hate really going into this because it sounds like excusing things and all that. I was sacked and that's sacked and I don't complain about it. It's over and done with it. I don't give a damn. I was born in Carlton. I've seen Carlton play twice. Menzies was a patron of Carlton and George Harris was the president. In 1974, for some reasons or other, it was through somebody I can't remember who, I went to Carlton for lunch one Saturday. Menzies was there and Harris, so when I walked in they took me to the table to sit with Menzies and Harris, and I had lunch with Menzies and Harris. Menzies introduced me to Harris and that was George Harris. Some short time later George Harris turned up at the Treasurer's Office in the city here, Melbourne, saying he was going overseas, and he'd like to make enquiries about what's been going on in these loans dealings with Khemlani. And I said, 'Yes all right. I don't mind if you make enquiries, and let me know. I'd like to know from another source what's happening'. So he said, 'Will you give me a letter of introduction?' and I said, 'Yes, I'll give you a letter of introduction'. There's about three lines in it. That very day the ACTU had come to my office and I was telling him about their wage policy. I spent most of the afternoon doing that. I came back upstairs and there were about fifty letters on the table. I signed them fairly quickly, and I signed one to George Harris, completely unaware that I had, so when I was asked in parliament had I ever signed a letter to George Harris I said, 'No'. That belief was strengthened because some weeks after I was supposed to have signed that, George Harris and a mate of his turned up in Sydney, asking me for a letter, and I gave them one.
No. It was much the same, but it wasn't the one that was an issue you see. So, you know, if you look in Carlton the day I was sacked you'll see Fraser ... Fraser and all the rest: two or three ministers, saying, 'Anyone does this every day. There's nothing ... We often sign letters we forget about, [that] we don't remember we've signed'. They were criticising Whitlam's sacking of me. But as I say, I get sick and tired of defending this. I signed the bloody letter and I was sacked. Well so what.
That was why I was curtailed in that. I was sacked for reasons which had nothing to do with that letter.
Whitlam wanted to stop my uneconomic-rationalist economic influence in the formation of policy, and he always saw me as a rival for leadership. They were the two reasons.
Yes. He pressed me very much to be Treasurer. He ... Whitlam never thought about economic theory, never thought about it. Whitlam thought Frank Crean was negative and had no energy, no purpose in being Treasurer. Whitlam had four or five ministers who wanted to be able to spend much more government money: Connor, Hayden, Jones, Beazley. And Whitlam wanted to get them that money or whatever was safe.
Yes. Yes. No, no. He wanted to get that money through normal kinds of ways that I had always stood for. I had never mentioned overseas borrowing in my life. I was against it. He wanted to get it, that money, through taxation adjustments, through economies in other ways, and through the Reserve Bank. And he really thought I could do something about that. Right up to November 1974 ... We had an inflation crisis as it were in 1974, and fearing inflation, Whitlam came to fear that kind of policy and me as a Treasurer. So soon after November 1974 - I was appointed Treasurer on the 4th December, on papers that were signed a couple of weeks before, and I'm satisfied, had the inflation figures been as prominent, he wouldn't have signed those papers. He wouldn't have agreed to me to be Treasurer. He'd have replaced Frank Crean by Bill Hayden, as eventually he replaced me by Bill Hayden.
Well, you know, there was no question about what should be done. We were living in Hawthorn and the phone rang about ... early in the morning. I was told that Darwin had been devastated, and they wanted authority for things to be done, and I, right from the start, said, 'Whatever needs to be done do it. I'll sign whatever paper is necessary and I'm going there myself very soon'. So I rang to get an aircraft and already the only VIP aircraft that was available had been booked by the Governor General, Sir John Kerr, to go to Darwin, so Gwen and I went up TAA to Darwin. We got there before he did. Well, we went all over Darwin, Gwen and I. We talked to people, looked at the wreckage and all that. At ... We didn't have any lunch. We were too busy. Dinner came and they suggested we go on board HMAS Melbourne and have dinner there and sleep on the battleship. We did. We found that Kerr was there too. So before dinner, I think this is the most distinguished moment in my life ... Before dinner, the Governor General, the Admiral of the Fleet and me, were marching up and down on deck on HMAS Melbourne. I talked to Kerr quite a bit - the first time I had really spoken to him you see, and Kerr and I got on fairly well, actually. So we had dinner and then Gwen and I ... Gwen slept under a couple of guns somewhere on a rubber mattress, and me on a rubber mattress on the floor. I don't know where the Governor General slept. Anyway the following day we ... Was it the following day? Just another incident. I think I was back in Melbourne by the time I got a phone call from Reg Ansett. And I never met Reg Ansett and I didn't think much of Reg. But Reg said, 'I've got to get your authority'. He said, 'There are ... it could have been 40,000 people, [that] we've got to get out of Darwin. I can fly them out in five days', he said. 'But they won't permit me to take a full aircraft [but] I want to fill my aircraft to take them out quick.' So I said, 'Is it safe Reg?' 'Yes', he said, 'I'll prove it's safe'. So I said, 'Okay get them out'. So he moved about thirty or forty thousand people out in two or three days. The work on the reconstruction of Darwin began within a week. There was no hold up because of bureaucracy or anything like that, and Darwin had a very good opinion of me for quite a long time.
Yes, but I only did normal things, like that. Like the Hobart Bridge. Somebody runs into the Hobart Bridge and pushes it over, well what do you do? You put it up again. You start work straight away. You don't go through bureaucratic procedures. You get tenders and pick the best one and get it going. You don't have to be a brilliant Prime Minister to do those things, surely?
When Whitlam decided that you were to go, as Treasurer, you had such strong support in caucus. You'd always had the highest vote among your colleagues. Why do you think that they didn't stand up and defend you at that time? It was left to the other side of the House to defend you.
Yes it was. Well, they didn't defend me because they thought I was a bad political risk now. Junie Morosi: they didn't do much about it. When the vote came about Whitlam's decision, I spoke against it. I didn't say very much. And when the vote came I think it was carried by about no more than about ten votes. I still got over fifty votes, over forty, over forty out of a 110, 109, 110 - something like that. Carried by ten or a few more votes. But that was more just for their own self-esteem than because they were supporting me I think.
The public opinion polls didn't say so. I think in many of these cases if we had stuck together and fought well, we'd change whatever was in many cases a political risk into something that wasn't. But given that you're running away from it: yes, I was a political risk.
Well, as I told you before, my attitude to society and to the economy and to social reform and to policy and to principle and to ideals, and what should be done, was essentially economic and economic history. It was significantly Marxist. I believe that power in capitalism was exercised by the owners of the means of production, and there was no way of changing that much. It needed a revolution. But in capitalism a revolution was next to impossible, and you just had to nibble away at it and try to improve things. That was my theoretical view almost to the word.
Yes, that's right. Now, what I learned in 1975 from her and from her alone, was psychology. She'd been a student of Reich and she understood the nature and significance of repression, and how repression diminishes, eliminates self-esteem, how it distorts it into a reaction against the forces that diminish it, and you become aggressive. The processes is a cultural process of human relations in which the first ten or fifteen years of life are vital. Unless you understand the theory of the formation of human character and behaviour you can understand nothing. She was the only one who brought that to me. I studied it much more than she did and I went a long way past her.
Yes, I think that in part Whitlam's attitude towards me was that I made him very self-conscious about his attitude to Kerr and Kerr's to him. When we came back from the cyclone in Darwin, Gwen and I went to Kirribilli. I think we stayed there only once. Kerr arrived on the Sunday morning in shirts and shorts for morning tea. He stayed for morning gin: a full bottle in two hours, and began to tell me about how he disliked Whitlam, [like], 'Whitlam could never be trusted, never be trusted. I wouldn't trust him, and if I get a chance I'll get rid of him'. So when Whitlam came back on the 19th January I told him exactly what Kerr had told me. 'Ah,' he said, 'Get rid of me? He couldn't do that,' he said. 'He's my man. He'll do what I tell him to do'. And I said, 'Well I think Gough, that's the main trouble. He wants to be bigger than you, if that's possible, and he won't accept that position'. However it happened and he did sack Whitlam, and that was a strong motivation that he was living in.
She came to see me. See, she was in Canberra, and she's never been able to get anywhere much. She's attractive, she's got ability, but she was always too sexually dangerous for anyone to have around. She worked for Grassby and Grassby couldn't risk it. She worked for Murphy, and Murphy did risk it to a certain extent, and she couldn't get any sort of recognition, and I suppose I thought: give her a go in a way. That was at first. She came to see me one day to talk about China. She was born in Shanghai. Now looking back over it, it was a mistake on my part.
I don't think so. That wasn't involved then, I didn't know at that time. When I decided to give her a job and when only a fortnight later the response around was such that many said, 'She's ... You'll have to sack her.' Murphy for one. 'You'll have to sack her'. He'd done that already and I agreed and she agreed, but then I reappointed her about a month later.
Because she was, for me at that stage in my thinking, the only person that I could talk to. The only person that I knew that I could talk to who would develop my thinking. That was the reason.
Hardly anyone now is able to do it. I hardly know anyone now that I can talk to about repression, the psychological theory of repression. I read an excellent book by Karen Horney. It's superficial really but it's the best one I can find.
There was also an emotional connection with Junie, wasn't there? It wasn't simply that you were having an intellectual dialogue of a kind that you'd have with an academic colleague. Is that correct, that there was a connection there that gave a different meaning, an intensity to it ... a conversation with her?
Yes I suppose so, but don't forget I had hardly ever had a very close relationship with anybody.
Why's that? There's Linda Gardner, whom I've known for eighty-five years, as long as I've ... eighty-three years, eighty-one years ... [She] said the night before last, 'You were always there but you were never with us'. The stand-awayness I think is on my part. To withdraw is on my part. Now does that mean I'm afraid of human relations? I think it does mean that.
You explored with a psychiatrist, before you met Junie Morosi, some of your own psychological origins in some taped interviews done on behalf of the Political Science Department at the University, and you stuck with it because you got interested in what he was uncovering. Did that give you any clues to why?
No. People mention those interviews. John Diamond wasn't it? It was interesting. He had some good points, but I don't think I was terribly influenced by those three or four talks I had with him. I don't think so.
Ah yes, of course, that's all consistent with it. You see, my mother had syphilis which she got from my father. It wasn't treated for many years. She knew she had some illness. I don't know if she was ever told what it was, but she was afraid of passing it on to me. We always shook hands. I never got close to my mother, and I suppose if that doesn't happen to you in the first ten years, it's never likely to happen to you.
No, nor did they kiss and cuddle each other. I had a very ... a family that functioned very much alone by pleasant association, but not close associations. Patriarchy is an organically phobic culture. We are afraid of close contact. Very much of that is subconscious. It's impossible to tell [in that] photograph of mother, aunt and mother, grandmother and me, sitting under the mulberry tree, [that] I have. You'd have thought we were happy , pleasant people. We were, but there wasn't any organic contact.
Oh, not much really. It was coming anyway. Her main value to me was telling me how important Reich's four or five books are. I think the two that I've got in there, they were her's. She's got her signature in them. It was as it has been with everybody. With me it was words, it wasn't organic contact so much that influenced me. She was an excellent conversationalist, first rate teacher - should have been a teacher in that area, if she could have stuck at it.
Didn't stick at things much.
No. She wasn't supposed to be an office organiser. The criticism that has been levelled at her is made by very jealous and envious people, who were supposed to be organising the bloody office themselves. She wasn't supposed to be doing that. I think at times she was a bit authoritarian - more than a bit. And I think she expressed that sometimes around the office in Canberra. Canberra was the only place she ever met anybody around me - never Melbourne or anywhere else.
Well, I don't go to where I'm driven. They didn't do the same for anyone else. Look I know senior members of government. I know men who got above the rank of Prime Minister who have children by another woman ... whose children carry their names. I met the mother and the son of one at Frankston only a fortnight ago. I met and worked with a lady called Cowan, who was a prostitute in Little Lonsdale Street. She told me her son, Zellie Cowan, was going to Scotch College. Look there's things all over the place. The media doesn't tell you about all this stuff.
Impeccable, yes. So if they good throw mud over me what great pleasure it was for them. The question you should be asking is about the people in the media who do this sort of thing and why. Why do they want to damage and hurt people? Not why I didn't run away from it.
Retaliation, getting even for being down graded and treated like shit, as they are in their jobs every day. It's their own motivation, their own function as a person - not the people they're criticising, not the function of those people who cause it.
In the circumstances I don't know whether I'd call it expediency, but I wasn't prepared to give way to pressure.
Yes very much so.
Two things happened in the Morosi time. The failure of the Whitlam government and it failed badly. I could see nothing in that future - in the Whitlam government, and beyond that again, because of the Morosi factor, there was no alternative. I couldn't have succeeded Whitlam. There was no way through parliament ... It's not worth worrying about much. Get and start what I did do. I started two things. Early 1976 I said it was time we looked for alternatives and it's time we got together over that. So there were two or three things which became known as Confest. 15,000 people attended the first, it was a miracle, 15,000 the second. I suppose 50,000 people have been influenced by what was done at those Confests. It was almost as significant, in a sense, as Vietnam. And then I began to study. My work since 1975 would be the equivalent of two university courses, and I've written fifteen books.
What became known as the Down to Earth movement. It is true that I had felt that there was just no prospect of any achievement of the things that I'd been aspiring to in parliament, in the Labor Party. It was a complete end of that, just like that, in a week or two of time. And then it took me about three months to think of an alternative. Now in those days, there was a great deal of thought and newspaper and media reporting [about] communities, alternatives, beginning with Nimbin in 1972 and going on in many parts of Australia. The first thing I thought I'd like to do was to find out really what that was: what were they doing, what were the people like? So how could I do that? I could have travelled around in a caravan and gone here and there, but that didn't attract, so I thought it might be a good idea to try and get a good many of them together in a conference: bring them together and see what they were like there. So that idea emerged. It got a little bit of publicity in the media but not much. I wrote about four or five hundred letters to different people, who I thought were interested, and the response was amazing. The number of people and the degree of participation at the Cotter River, near Canberra, at the end of 1976, beginning of 1977, was literally amazing. There must fully 14 or 15,000 people assembled there in the full sense of the alternative, and it appeared to be extremely promising as a way of life. Now what I began to search for was not only a just a way of life, not just only a way of living, but an attitude to the rest of society. What did they think of the rest of society? The prospects of making it better, the prospects of making it like they were. That was a disappointment because I felt there was a withdrawal. It was a drop out. It was a movement away from something they didn't like, that they rejected. It was a movement away from something that rejected them and the things they did, including the drugs they took, because drugs were very common and very significant at the Cotter and elsewhere. And so I saw ... I felt doubt even at the first Confest that it was not a way of reform. It was not really what I was searching for. But however we decided we'd have a second Confest. We looked for ground to have it on all up and down the Murray and we found a very unfortunate place really: Bredbo, at the junction of the Murrumbidgee and a couple of semi-rivers, creeks, but it was very barren, dry, rough, unpleasant, unattractive country. And that kind of harshness of the country really tended to come out amongst the 14 or 15,000 people who turned up. We did all the things they had done at Cotter but not with the relaxation, with the ease, with the pleasure that Cotter had produced. So Bredbo was a disappointment. It was decided to try and buy the land. There was a130 acres. We bought it. And I paid I think about 30,000 down for that, and as far as I know it's never been paid off, and I don't know what's happened to it since. I know that for quite a while some dozens or fifty people lived on it in a very primitive way. I've never been there since about 1984 at all, and I don't know what's happening there now. Now those festivals went on, up and down the Murray in South Australia, and I went to three or four of them, but they were no way for me to do the things I wanted to do. So by 1984 I had finished with that. And then the only thing I had left was study and research. As I said I had come across new ideas, new interpretations about 1975, and I had to work on them. Now in truth I worked many, many hours, many, many days. I wrote eight or nine books altogether. I think all the academic work I did on that was almost completely alone, apart from a few authors, many in the past: Freud and Reich, Montague, quite a number of others. There was no contemporary literature to really help much. This new way of looking at things, this New Age, is not a thing that has been studied much. You can't find much of a psychological explanation for it. And I think it took me about two years or three to realise I had to work out my own and present that, and see how that went. Well, it went all right, but I was not able to get a publisher, because it was not the vogue. It was not what people wanted to publish, not what people thought they could sell. So I had to publish, that is pay the printer, pay the costs and all that, and sell the book myself, and I think I've done something pretty unique. I think I've sold roughly, personally, over a little small table, directly to the buyer - I've sold something like eight or nine thousand books in that period.
Oh, yes. The buyers of the books seem to be very pleased with them. They say that they're good, and they're very pleased they bought it and they've learnt a lot. However many there are and there are not that many. There wouldn't be more than seven or eight thousand, with each book being read at most twice, in the whole of Australia, and largely in Victoria. Not too many have been sold elsewhere.
I have always felt at home, only really in writing and communicating with the public. Parliament was writing and communicating with the public in so far as I felt at home with it, and everything else I've done really amounts to that. It's a career of writing and communicating with people, one of teaching if you like, but not teaching in the sense of me knowing what it is and telling you, but teaching in the sense of developing it together by an exchange of ideas.
When you were an academic, that was in fact your official job, to do that sort of thing, and that would have given you some kind of status with which to approach the promotion of a book, or the communication of ideas.
Well, experience, I don't know about status. It gave me an experience and therefore a view that it worked. It was successful.
That's shared by Gwen. I think it is. But you see, I got a long way in the police force and a long way in the University of Melbourne, so far that so many people were predicting I was going to be a commissioner of police and a professor, but I never was. I never got to the top of them in any of them for that matter. I never became Prime Minister. I was always a very promising person who never got to the top, and it seems to me that ... that must have been appropriate to the way I used to work.
Well, people said of you, when you were in parliament, that you lacked the killer instinct - that was the phrase that was often used about you - that was needed to get to the top. What did you feel about that comment?
Well, I ... I opposed Frank Crean for Treasurer and defeated him. I almost defeated Whitlam. Are they examples of the killer instinct? I don't know what the killer instinct really is. It's a pleasure in beating somebody or putting someone down or killing somebody. Well I had no pleasure out of that. I have always felt regret that I opposed Frank Crean as Treasurer. Always wish I had never done it. I don't feel any regret about opposing Whitlam in 1968 when he resigned over the Harradine issues. That seemed to me to do very much to produce the sort of policy that we won the election with, instead of a policy tending to the centre or right, otherwise we would have won the election. It wasn't a matter of getting rid of Whitlam. It was the matter of getting rid of a policy that was always easier to kill for me, than a person.
You had a certain ambivalence too, didn't you, about elevating yourself, putting yourself into a role that put you in a position of prominence? I mean it seems as if there was a kind of approach avoidance about that.
Yes that's right.
It wasn't something that I thought much about, or was conscious of, or decided about, and I don't like the word instinct because it's far too basic for anything like that. But it was the way I felt without having to think much about it. It was just something that I seemed to do without thinking it out, without deciding to do it. Just did it because it was getting out of the way if you like, and doing something else.
But you had the experience for that brief time that you were running against Whitlam of suddenly realising that those elevated positions bring great opportunities. Did you feel that was a sort of temptation?
That's right. Yes.
Well, I thought there was enough in it to make it very significant. Now it didn't lead me to say, 'Look I'm going to plan to get rid of Whitlam soon, or as soon as possible, or at all'. In 1969, 1970, '71, '72 and so on, all the way, right at the end, up to Darwin and all that, I never had a thought of opposing Whitlam. Never mentioned to anyone that I might - never, not one person - that I might oppose Whitlam. I can see the value of it, but it didn't lead me to take action to achieve it.
Yes, I think so.
Well, the alternative that followed by not doing it, was a pretty inadequate one. You see in many ways after 1973, the Whitlam government collapsed. It was a failure. In 1974 ... in the second part of 1974, it was very inadequate. It broke up. About four ministers and a speaker were sacked. We spoke about ... hardly ever about policy, about what we would do. We were existing on our achievements already, 'It's Time', and we'd been there and we'd made it time. We were existing on our achievements of less than two years. And then of course when Kerr stepped in, we didn't campaign on the value of the Labor Party so much, the value of Whitlam or the value of the government, we campaigned against Kerr. We asked people to vote for us because they should reject what Kerr had done, not because of our value. Our last year, 1975, was a very negative year. Now having been through that and looking back over it, I tend to think it might have been better for me and even better for the Labor Party, if I had tried to become Prime Minister. Now whether I could have done or not, I don't know. I didn't even try. I doubt if I could have succeeded in 1974. I don't think so. But had I been able to, it would have given ... it might have given a better result for all.
Going back to when you challenged for the leadership in opposition and lost by three votes, if you had won those votes and you had led the Party in 1972, do you think that A. you would have won and what difference would that have made to the kind of government that would have been the Labor government from 1972?
I don't know. You see, I had a very bad media really, basically. They may have campaigned much more strongly against me than they did against Whitlam. In 1972 there wasn't much they could find to use against Whitlam. He was well-behaved, he was middle class, his policy was reasonable, his ideas were not deep but reportable. He was able to get in the 1972 election a very good press. Now my feeling is I wouldn't have got one.
Yes. Not only that, I was likely to go further still. You know, I'd have had a head office in Moscow! Only come to Canberra every second week or something. So, no, I doubt if I could have won. If I had beaten Whitlam I certainly would have tried. Now what Whitlam would have done, I don't know. Would he have stayed in the Cabinet, the Shadow Cabinet? Probably would have. How much would he have worked with me? How much would he have had an ambition to get back again, and take over? How much would he have felt to beat me to do that? These are all uncertainties.
At the time of the Whitlam government you spoke a great deal in praise of Whitlam. I mean rather to everybody's surprise, you were very strong in your support of his leadership, and spoke overtly and admiringly of his methods. What was it that you admired about him?
His clarity, open unambiguity, consistency, control in public, which wasn't there in private. His crashes and crashes through, as the title of the book put it, were in private, not in public. Now strangely enough I never saw any of that. Gwen did - saw three or four examples of uncontrollable bad temper, in private, over something his son had done or not done, or something that had happened in the office, or had not been done in the office. I don't think I was in Whitlam's office that much. Gwen used to go in with Margaret. They were fairly close associates when they were in the building together. And Gwen saw more of Whitlam for quite a while in private than I did. But this public appearance of Whitlam I thought was very much like that of a Prime Minister ought to be. I had the same attitude to Menzies. I thought Menzies was extremely competent and he responded much more than Whitlam did, to me.
Only really ... It was like Santamaria. Only really in something we can call communist. On economic policy Menzies and Santamaria and me were very close together. I wrote three or four lines in the first paragraph of the Charter of the Reserve Bank, when Menzies was establishing the Reserve Bank. Several times he'd get me into the office and talk about things. And after we finished in politics, and that time we got bashed up at Wattle Road, Menzies came to see me. Menzies would have murdered that fellow if he'd got a chance. I spoke in a way a bit sympathetic to the coot, but Menzies thought I was quite wrong about that. He wanted him hung.
I suppose admired is the word. One of those chairs over there he nearly ruined. He was sitting on one of those chairs one day, when Freeth was Foreign Minister and there was a great fuss about Russian warships in the Indian Ocean, and Freeth said, 'They were doing no harm'. Menzies rolling backwards and forwards on that chair said, 'The man's got no sense of politics. If I were there now', he said, 'With Russian warships in the Indian Ocean, I'd have every Australian sitting on the end of his chair'. As he moved to the end of that one, it creaked but didn't break. You can still pick out which one it is because it's strained. So it was ... I asked him to come and open the Richmond Medical Centre at the Richmond Town Hall. He came to the Richmond Town Hall with Dame Pattie and Menzies and Dame Pattie and Gwen were quite friendly. And he said to me, 'You know, it's the first time I've ever been in the Richmond Town Hall'. And he was rather pleased with that experience. So at the end of it he said, 'I didn't [know I'd be] welcome there'. Never happened to him before.
Can I go back now and pick up on a whole completely different theme that we haven't traced through in your life, which is the more personal and family side of your life? Do you remember when you were a young boy, when did you first start get interested in girls?
The first one I was interested in was Bina Mills, but I never got off my pony in her presence. She'd be walking home and I'd trot up with my pony and ride the pony along side her as she walked home. Never got off my pony, never touched her. Until the age of sixteen, that was the closest I ever got to a girl. Northcote High School none. Never. Boy's school - no girl students. Australian Estates three years - no girls.
Oh, yes, plenty. But never any private conversation. Never took one out. Never.
Don't know. I think I wasn't game somehow or other. I never took a girl out until in 1936, I was in the Victorian Police Debating Team. We went to Sydney for debates against the New South Wales Police Debating Team. Theirs was a well functioning kind of debating group. They often had debates and had people come and listen to them, which we didn't have in Victoria. We only had our debates at the depot. There was no one else but policemen there. And there was one girl that came to that debate. I can't remember her name - haven't been able to remember it for ages. And after the debate we went for a walk in the park, and for the first time I ever took a sexual position. I didn't succeed, but I was then twenty-two. Now as I'm sure, Gwen was the first one I had any sexual relations with.
There was the Empire Games in Sydney in 1938. She went to the Empire Games. There were friends of ours, the Curnows, who lived in Caulfield - Sylvia Curnow and Len. Len was the captain of Melbourne Harriers, an average kind of middle distance runner, distance runner. And they met Gwen and they'd been conspiring for some time to bring me into touch with some girl. They thought it was very necessary, and so, Gwen came to Melbourne - came to their place. They made sure I was there. I met her there. I had a car. She stayed at the Empire Hotel in Lonsdale Street, City. I drove her home. [KISSING SOUND] I think it was the first time. Well, she was here for about a week. She disagrees somewhat on exactly where I suggested to her we might get married, but it was very early in the piece. She went back to Sydney and then came back here. There are photographs here in that pile of what she looked like when she came back: how she dressed, where she was. She stayed while she was here with my grandparents at my mother's place at Victoria Street, St Kilda. I'm not sure whether she ever went back to Sydney again as a resident, but we got married.
She says my mother didn't. I'm not sure. My grandmother and grandfather did, and Eleanor did. After my mother died ... Eleanor and my mother lived together in Murphy Street, Richmond. When my mother died, Eleanor came to live with us in Hawthorn and did so for many years - became a very, very close friend of ours and a sort of guardian of young Jane [sic]. They became very close together.
Well I think she was very pleasant and easy going. She wasn't really any worry. She'd had a very difficult life. The first seven years was good, living on a farm, mother and father there, her grandfather, all of whom she admired very much, but she wasn't fairly treated. She would never say this, but her sister, Megsy, as we call her, went off to a private school, got a good education, became a snob. Gwen got hardly any school education. Most of her education is something she's got out of reading. She reads tremendously. She has a most unusual competent memory for all these things and apart from technical or academic kind of things, she's very well educated. Anyone talking to her quietly would feel sure she was a well educated person.
Yes. That was a difficulty. She married somebody about sixteen or seventeen years older than herself. Jim Tilsley. He lived on drugs. The two boys were born quite early. He gave her almost no help in bringing up the boys. The two boys, Phillip and Barry, were brought up by Gwen and her mother, dependent completely upon them until the age of four or five respectively, when I came into the picture. All that had been handled pretty well. The boys had never been deprived in any way. They had never been disrespected or put down, and they had a good early life. Her husband ... Barry goes in for a records of the family, sticks them up on the wall and all that, and now he's been just discovering some things about his father, about James Tilsley. He was married after Gwen and he lived for quite a while.
Look I don't know how you regard people whom are your biological children. I don't know how you do that. I've never the experience. But I regarded them as two young people who were constantly here, who went to Oxford with us, stayed in the same small house, until the age of getting married and later. They lived always in the same house as we did. Very close. Their bedroom there, ours here. I don't think I took part much in their education. They left school at the age of about fourteen or less, and they were not interested in further education. I think if I was to have another opportunity I would have tried to make sure that they did go further in education. Barry has been very successful as a business man. Phillip was successful as a human being but he was never successful in business.
To give him a job, to give him an opportunity. To do what he had been doing very much of his time before we were in government. Phillip was very significant in Richmond. He never thought of becoming a councillor but he worked odd jobs at the Richmond Council. He did a lot with the Labor Party. What Phillip did after he began to work for me in government was what he'd been doing in Richmond for seven or eight years.
Yes, very good at it.
It was worth it. I wasn't inclined to take the opinion of any crackpot, who knew nothing and was an expert in talking about it.
Very important. Gwen was very important at the university. She was very busy in organisations at the university. There was an international one. I've forgotten the name it had. It was in Royal Parade. Gwen used to go there a lot. She was very invaluable in Richmond - never really went much out of Richmond, never went much into Collingwood, never really much in Hawthorn, but Richmond yes. Richmond was something she seemed to like very much and they liked her. Worked with the pensioners, fixed up dry cleaning services for them, supervised the provision of their daily lunch, all that sort of thing.
Oh, yes, obviously, in the way that I think no other woman, no other wife, none ... They were all sort of Richmond snobs - the councillors' wives in Richmond. They wouldn't have any thing to do with ... they were councillors' wives and they were up there with [the councillors]. They wouldn't do the things that Gwen did. Several times she had to pull them in line and get them out their crevice.
You had an open door policy in your house in Hawthorn with people coming and going and very much ... As a loner ... This interests me that you had this willingness to be completely open to the community, and yet you were somebody who, in fact, did walk a little bit alone, yourself.
I was a loner, yes.
Oh it was never very deep I'm afraid. My contact with people was a friendly, fairly superficial contact. That was what all they were capable of. They weren't deeper, they weren't educated, they didn't have any great depth. And in so far as what ever they produced I was able to be with it, and they came for, I think, the good things they got from coming. They felt they were more important if they could go up to 21 Wattle Road and walk in. They never intruded, they never stayed a minute longer than [what] seemed to be natural. They'd have a cup of coffee and something to eat. And we had parties there. We had as many as 500 people in the back garden of 21 Wattle Road, sitting on the grass, talking away - all day Sunday, once a year. It was well known. Everybody had to go to our Christmas party.
It was after I had lost Richmond and I was moving to Lalor and we had a sort of farewell party - not a big one, at 21 Wattle Road. There was a man who's name I had forgotten and Gwen couldn't remember it either, because thinking ... know that you'd want to talk about this, I tried to work out his name. He was a relative of the chap, who used to run the gymnasium at Richmond. He'd been a welterweight boxer of some better than average performance. He was a painter and docker. As in all our other parties, when the time came for it, the front door was open and they just walked in. There would have been about ... at that party fifty people there. And this fellow Mr X, and a couple of his friends and two or three girls came in. They had a drink or two, and at one stage an argument broke out between Mr X and a couple of our friends, one of whom he knocked down fairly badly. And I went up to him and confronted him and said, 'This has gone far enough'. That wooden statue there on that table has got a bit broken off it. He picked it up, swung it and hit me on the head with it, there [POINTING TO HEAD], and hit me a few other times. And apparently I was knocked out. They almost choked Gwen with her necklace thing. They badly hurt two or three other people. They grabbed our record player and stole it. Ran off. The police caught them. They were charged with appropriate offences, but not heavy ones. They appeared in the city court. I had to give evidence. They were lucky to get ... he was Mr X ... lucky to get only three months. We did discover that he had done the same thing, three or four times at least, in the few weeks before at other parties, including at Clyde Holding's house a fortnight before. They were on drugs and it was closely associated with that. Since that day I've never heard or seen of him since.
At the time as you emerged from hospital after you had been treated for your concussion, you famously pled that they should be treated leniently because it should be recognised that this behaviour was produced by their background, and it was seen as almost sort of extraordinarily forgiving, Christlike sort of behaviour.
Oh, no it was none of those things. It was just the way I looked at everybody. You see I had a lot of experience in this working. From 1946, mainly to make a bit of money, through adult education, I gave a weekly Friday night talks or lectures at Pentridge, with twenty prisoners at each one. Half of them were all convicted of murder. I had the same experience with prisoners I had arrested and charged who'd finished their term of 'office'. Two examples to show you how change can take place: the four or five of the worst criminals that were convicted on my evidence, had got from four to seven years, never committed another offence. When I had my pericarditus operation I was on the chair going to get the anaesthetic, and I looked up and this fearsome character with a beard dressed in green was about to give it to me. And he said to me, 'I'm here because of you'. And I said, 'How was that?' And he said, 'Well, I used to be in your class at Pentridge'. Now there must have been a lot of people like that. It's not Christian or anything in my sense. It's just common sense. Even some of the worst of us ... There was a chap, the last one ever flogged here, he did some terrible things, but I can't remember his name: shot a policeman in Caulfield, sentenced to may be life even, flogged twice. I had him in a class at Melbourne, came out never committed another offence. One day I was in a ... doing a series of meetings in Richmond, went into a hotel to have a drink. He comes racing through the bar, you know, 'How are you?' They do change. You've only got to give most people a chance and the gaol system really doesn't. It might not treat them that badly, but I think it does. But when they go out ... They don't give them in there any feeling of self-esteem. They're still prisoners and they're separated. They're inferior to the staff.
Oh Menzies thought I was wrong. He thought he deserved to be hung or something. No Menzies thought I was wrong, but he didn't say much. But Menzies was not a social worker.
When I came out of hospital the Bentley turned up one Sunday afternoon and I was somewhere else, so they told him when I'd be home. So the Bentley turned up the second day. And he came up the steps and inside. And we had talks about the state of politics at that time, and got on to things like this man, whom he thought I was wrong in giving the newspaper an opportunity to say that he ought to be given a chance etc. And he talked about foreign policy, he talked about the Reserve Bank, and how he'd ... You see I was critical of the Reserve Bank, I wanted a Commonwealth Bank. So he got hold of me somehow. I've forgotten this time how he did it, and put the case to me for the Reserve Bank. And I was talking about his obligations with full employment. Well he said, 'Write it in. We'll put in the Charter'. So if you have a look at the Reserve Bank Charter now, you'll see a reference to its obligation to maintain full employment, and I'd put that in.
Yes. I think you can say we were careful who we let in after that.
It was a pity. Those concerned had no idea of the indirect harm they did like that. They knew something of the direct harm, but that was nothing, something they lived with: ex-boxers, something they lived with. But the indirect harm they did to our place at 21 Wattle Road, Hawthorn, as a home for many people, was something they could never appreciate.
You always had a certain sort of extended family around the family, didn't you? You'd had that from your childhood. Could you describe these extended families you lived in and how they worked right from the first one?
Well, the extended family of my first one, was my grandfather, grandmother, my mother, Aunt Eleanor, Sarah, an aunt, Elizabeth - Lizzie Salthouse, who came out with them from England, someone called Matthew Smith, who was always regarded as an uncle - a distant kind of uncle. I was never quite sure what the link was with Matt. He had a sister who came out later from England and lived in Albert Park, who we met a couple of times. Now that was my family and alone my family at Sunbury and Melton, then later on, when we moved back to Sunbury. So it wasn't that many.
Oh yes, we frequently had someone living with us. There's hardly been a time when we did not have someone in the spare room or something like that. Always and frequently there was someone there.
Well, friends that Gwen had met at work, people that I had met in the courses of my activities, in particular some ... You see, early in my time at the University I established the Australian and Overseas Students' Club to bring together overseas students and Australian students in a social life. Some of those were men - men mainly - whom I had made representations to the immigration department to be allowed to stay in Australia to study. Two of them in particular come to mind: Andrew Singh was one and he lived ... He spent a lot time living at our place. He eventually did a university course in education, became a teacher. Now that was the kind of extended family we built up in those days. When we lived at Brighton, at the weekend, there was hardly a time when there wasn't at least a dozen of them or twenty of them there. That was long before I went into politics. We had quite a big house at Berkley Grove, East Brighton, and there was enough room for all of those, and we never had a weekend without a dozen of them or so.
Now this kind of generosity that you had towards people, whatever their background, who had some need that you were presented with, must have placed a lot of demands on you. Did you feel always, from the beginning, that it was important to respond to needs when people approached you?
No, it was treated ... I treated it as a matter of course. I didn't feel it as something that was putting a weight on us, or making demands on us. It was just something about the way we lived, and it was just treated as a matter of course. I never felt that we were doing anything heavy, anything that was a burden, or anything that was costing anything. They used to bring food I can tell you. Quite a number of them brought a lot more than they ate as a rule, and a great deal more variety than we would have got in the shops.
So you also, during the time that you were an MP, a local member, and even later, even when you were Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister, one of the things that people noticed about you was that you were always available for people who asked you for time, and you were criticised for that, and it was said that you didn't really have a sense of priorities, in that you were willing to see a school girl who wanted a project done, or you know, you kept these commitments. Could I ask you, with that in mind, about your philosophy of a public figure and their responsibility to people in public life?
Well first of all you mention that people have criticised me for that. Well I understand ... I've heard that before that they did, but I assure you not one of them ever did so to my face. I've been criticised a lot but never even once to my face about anything that I've done, and I wonder if that's a characteristic of critics, whether they like ... whether they, in a sense, sit at an office desk in a back room and write it from there. Because critics very rarely ever face the people they're talking about, and they very rarely ever faced me about Vietnam, about anything. So that's the first point about that. And with the other, again I find difficulty in recalling enough of all that to try to sum up for you what was happening during that time.
Let me ask you in a slightly different way the same question. When you are in public life and you're someone on whom there are a lot of demands, which there were on you, from people who had needs - a need of what you had to offer - how do you set your priorities? How do you decide what to do and what not to do?
Now I don't know what other members of parliament really do. I don't know how much or how little they represent people, how much or how little they have people come in with problems and how much or how little they help them. They may or may not, I don't know much. But as far as I was concerned it wasn't something that I thought about, philosophised about, justified as a public representative, as a representative of the people. It just seemed the normal and natural thing to do. And I went on doing it. I certainly did provide provisions for this that I doubt very few if any other members of parliament did. I always had one or two offices in the main street, somewhere in my electorate. I had the big van. I had the caravan that I used to drive about in. Now no one else in Victoria had any of those things. Now I must have thought that it was a matter of principle. It was important to do this. I must have thought that or I wouldn't have done it. I must have thought that it was necessary and proper for a member of parliament to give the people in his or her electorate an opportunity to make contact with them for whatever purpose they wanted to have it done. Look it still happens today. I have still two or three people a week coming to see me today about a student, about an essay, people trying to get their brother out from China. I had one case like that going for two years - a stack of papers, a file that thick about it. It still happens today. It happens because they assume I can pull strings, that I'm somehow important and important people will do things for me. Now I doubt if that's very true. I don't think it is. I don't think any longer that people who are important think that I'm ... that it's better to do things for me, because a time might come when he can make a decision about us. I'm sure that process used to operate, but I shouldn't think it operates now.
Oh, yes, I would not ... I would feel very uncomfortable if I was ... and I often do. I am delayed, I do put things off, but I feel very uncomfortable if I don't get it done. That has happened on more than one occasion when there's been delay, when I haven't got things done, and I feel very uncomfortable about that.
It's just a ... Well, they need something and I'm supposed to help. Surely I've got some kind of responsibility to do it effectively. That's all.
I can't recall it well enough in detail.
No, I don't think so. My mother used very little ... The existence or the behaviour of my father, she hardly ever mentioned it. In fact it was very disturbing to her and she never wanted to talk about it. I remember when we lived at Ripponlea, my grandparents went to church. They told the minister about my father not having come back from the war, and he decided he would make enquiries. She was very annoyed about that: 'No stop it, [it's] finished'. It was: my father was something that was over and done with when he didn't come back from overseas as far as my mother was concerned. I never really knew what she thought of him.
I suppose she thought that I was as near perfect as it was possible to be. And of course I was.
Yes, it was a loss for her.
Unfortunately she had to be in bed a lot, much, and while I was at home, frequently, I would often be sitting with her talking to her. When I was at school I would talk about my homework to her, and she knew a bit about that. Her education had been reasonable and she knew how to spell words in the English way and all that. We did a fair bit of exchange in that sense. I always kept myself clean, my room clean, always behaved as I thought would please her, with a few exceptions. And then when I left home and could do it, I'd visit twice a week to Victoria Street, St Kilda; Holden Street, North Fitzroy; Murphy Street, Richmond. In fact they always moved nearer to where I was working. Victoria Street, St Kilda wasn't far away from my police bases of operation. Then when I got the job at the university, they moved to North Fitzroy - pretty close to the university. Then when I became the Member for Yarra, they moved into Richmond and they were residents of Murphy Street, Richmond, until my mother died, and then Eleanor came and lived with us in Hawthorn in my electorate. So they always tended to move as close as they could to where I was living. Why? To cut down the travelling difficulties, visiting difficulties, that I had in coming to see them.
Yes, I'm sure it was. I had much respect for their opinion, and that was their opinion, so I had much respect for that. And I think being nice to other people, helping them, and being friendly, was what they always were,and I think it had a big influence on making me think that's the way I ought to be.
No. Neither of them showed anything of that. A bit of distance in communication but neither of them showed anything of it. It wasn't really until a bit later on that I found out that there was not as much friendship there as there might have been.
Oh well, it was not a big thing. We decided to get married. We had already got a house to live in and we were married in a registry office. We didn't send out invitations. Gwen's brother and sister and mother came to the wedding. My mother could not travel - could hardly walk very far, and Eleanor stayed home with her, so they didn't come. So there were only about four of us ... five of us at the wedding. We used to have a nice photograph of us standing on the steps of the registry office but it seems to be not here now.
Well, you see for sixty years next February ... That is a long time, isn't it? There are not very many marriages that have lasted that long. Gwen's been there almost every day. I don't say we've got along perfectly - not at all. But no one, no single person, no one person, has been so much ... has involved so much time in my life than she has. Not a fraction of it.
Well, you see her support with everything was extended out into practice. It wasn't something she just felt or expressed, she did things in accordance with it. She was the number one representative of Jim Cairns in Yarra. She was a significant associate of Jim Cairns in the University of Melbourne. It was an active thing, a participating thing, not just a feeling, not just an affection, not something that you might say was emotional. It's not so much emotional as real, and there can be a difference.
Yes, it was ... and even when I was in parliament it did. You see for twenty-three years, for two thirds of every year, I was away from home - from Monday afternoon until Friday lunchtime. People don't realise what a cost that is to a member of parliament. It subtracts half your time, always, from your private life. That private life cost of being a member of parliament is something that no one ever seems to take into account.
Well many of your colleagues of course, were also as a result ... or at least along side this deprivation of their family life, got involved in a lot of affairs and so on in Canberra? Was that ever a temptation to you?
I spent almost no time in Canberra other than in Parliament House. I had no social life in Canberra whatever, really. When we got there on Monday afternoon, I went straight to Parliament House. Stayed there until parliament rose, went down to the Kurrajong: one single little room, slept there, got up in the morning, half past seven, had a nice breakfast, cheap breakfast, the whole thing was very cheap, walked up to Parliament House, stayed there all day, had morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper, went back to the Kurrajong. That was my life in Canberra. I hardly went inside another building in Canberra.
Do you think that the fact that you spent so much of your time, even with the people who came to your own house, ministering to their needs, as it were, taking care of them, giving them what they wanted, teaching them, helping them, that that whole way of life, in a way, was depriving you of the self-interested things you might have done for your own gratification, so that when you did decide to change your philosophy to being more self-fulfilling, that that was sort of, in a way, over due because of the aestheticism of your life?
I'm not sure that what I did later was more self-fulfilling than that life in parliament. What that life was, was a very specialist one. I had no time for sport. There was ... a time came, and it was long before I went into parliament, that having spent a lot of time in athletics training, competing, suddenly cut it: 1946, that was the end of it. And that was because the university came in to take its place, and I just ... Athletics was no priority at all when I was working on the university staff. Now, having left the university, it surprises me that I didn't maintain more connection with the university and this is a good point that emerges from your question. I had a PhD but I've had almost no connection since then with the university staff. No connection.
It's hard to find an answer for that. But one of the things I would have done differently, given the state of mind I have now, if I could go back to that, I would have maintained more connection with the university. I would have written articles for them. I'd have got them to give ... You see the only time I ever approached them was to a bloke who I didn't realise was so completely opposed politically to everything I stood for: Geoff Blainey. And I said, 'I'd like to give a talk on alternative reform', or something like that. Well after about a fortnight he said it was being arranged and there were two talks attended by a dozen people, not by him, and it got almost no publicity. Whereas when I was campaigning about Vietnam I'd fill Melbourne University public lecture theatre a dozen times. Now it ... I didn't even know enough about the university to know what sort of fellow Blainey was. And that's a regret. I should have ... The President of the Melbourne University Staff today is John Harper, whom I appointed to a position of the staff back in the early 1950s. He's retired and now he's the President and I happen to be a member of the Staff Association but I don't go there much.
Yes, I never have identified closely with any groups because frankly I have never found a group with whom I disagree ... with whom I agree very much.
No, not very much. The Left faction of the Labor Party did not have any kind of really theoretical base. The Communist Party strictly had a Marxist base, but a very dogmatic, authoritarian Marxist base. They didn't even know what Marx had been writing, honestly. They had a simplified version of it and they held it very dogmatically. I wasn't interested in that. Not even that much had gone into the Left of the Labor Party. The Left of the Labor Party was militant. It did strong things, it spoke loudly but it never stood for nationalising the banks. That was a decision of Chifley's made in private - in the toilet I understand. And, it was not that I could find any common ground in the things that really interested me and I couldn't at the university. You see I was pretty ... I was on my own in those days to the degree to which I was a radical economic historian, an historian of economic thought. My heroes amongst the writers of economic thought were important people for me. But there wasn't an economist, a graduate who had given them much attention. I had about ten students or a dozen in the history of economic thought. Those who did come were quite enthusiastic.
If you look back at the way your thought has evolved in your books, right through the various phrases of the development of your thought, it seems to me that a central thing that you've struggled with, and tried to find different ways of answering, is the question of the role of authority in society, and trying to find a way for people to live in a society that isn't based on some sort of hierarchy of authority.
Yes. Authority in some ways is the key to it. It's a bit emotional and irrational, but I hate authority. Authority is so full of assumptions that it's right, and it's so full of content that is wrong, whatever it is and this contrast, contradiction, is constantly there and no matter when harm is done, except in individual clashes like murders and so on, which do add up to quite a lot over a period of time, the sum total of harm done by ... to people, to the human race, is done by and with the authority of authority. Whether it's religion or state or what, I hate authority.
Way back in your maiden speech you said, 'Man is product of his environment and in a society which is acquisitive, where selfishness is raised to the status of a social philosophy, man will behave acquisitively and selfishly', or words to that affect. Do you still feel that?
Yes, I take a more complex psychological explanation of being acquisitive these days. I used to think being acquisitive was simply a result of life experience in capitalism. Capitalism is based on exploitation by very few people of very many, through the instrument of the accumulated capital - equipment, machinery, building and so on. And I thought acquisitiveness was learned by experience in capitalism. Then in about 1975, when the other change came in my way of seeing things, I could see that it went further back than that. I could see that acquisitiveness was a cultural product, a product of the way we are treated psychologically, emotionally, and not just with money, not just goods and services: much deeper. So if you're going to change acquisitiveness in capitalism, you can't simply change it by trying to persuade people to become co-operative and generous within capitalism. That hardly works at all. You have see what are the sources of their character and behaviour, and you have to try to implement ways of changing that into something else. And then they go into where ever it is, where exploitation, acquisitiveness is, and they won't behave like that, or nearly like that, and they'll set an example, both as a success in doing the job that's involved and in making real progress themselves.
Can I take you back again to the time when the Whitlam government first came into power in 1972 and for so many people that was ... for a whole generation, a moment of tremendous hope that change, that many people felt was long over due, was going to happen. And it was a very exciting time for a whole generation. Could I ask you, remembering that context, to place that government, of which you were such a key part, in perspective. What it did achieve - its strengths and its weaknesses?
Well, I'm afraid that you've got to say for a start that the Whitlam government lasted a little less than three years, that was all. In the meantime we had one election. So we didn't have a long term of government without an election, and a long term of government anyhow. That meant that there was a very limited amount of time to do anything. Now the Whitlam government presented itself as a government that recognised it was time for a change in the social way of life in Australia. In a sense the central point of that was gender and race, colour, education, discrimination. In that sense the Whitlam government essentially had a social policy and it set out to achieve social purposes. In addition to that it wanted to be more independent in foreign affairs. It had become disgusted, I suppose, at the extent to which the Australian government for so many years had rubber stamped first England and then America. As soon as the British rubber stamp went away we got a bigger American one. Now I think I can say, looking back that the Whitlam government achieved a great deal in those areas. It really put the status of women in priority - in high priority. It made it impossible for people to walk over Aboriginal people any longer. I doubt if anywhere, even in Queensland, have they been bashed in hotels and in streets. Not so much that the Whitlam government passed law, but it created in its time atmosphere. The same thing happened with women. It got better pay for women for doing similar work - nothing very dramatic. It made women freer to act and work like men. And one doesn't realise how much it made secondary education available to children who had never ever, and their parents, thought it was possible they would ever have it. It allowed so many of those people who got secondary education for the first time to get into a university. In those periods ... In those times it doubled the number of university students in most of the big universities in Australia - more than doubled them. It had, I suppose, so much success in foreign policy that it committed ... made sure the CIA, and the FBI, and all the rest of that conglomeration of conspirators, who work for America, would be working against it, and would rate it as a danger and would do what they could to bring it down, and they did eventually do what they could to bring it down. Now that's a very big programme, a very extensive programme, a very radical programme, a very unusual one for Australia, because it had never appeared in Australian national policy before. However good or bad. You can look at Menzies or Chifley or Curtin. It was never relevant to them. It wasn't part of the culture or the society but it had grown so, and it emerged with Whitlam - as much with Whitlam as a person, as with all the rest of us put together. But of course I haven't said anything about economics, and I do make this point and hardly any one else ever does, that the Whitlam government for the first year had no economic policy. It had no source in theory, in economic theory, for an economic policy. We simply continued what had prevailed through Dr Coombs, through Menzies, and to a far lesser extent through the Treasury for seventeen or eighteen years before. That was not economic rationalism. It was a fair and reasonable amount of tariff protection, maintaining at least the proportion of manufacturing to total economic activity in Australia, and it was maintained. There was no significant loss, as there has been since then, when manufacturing has fallen over twenty per cent of the total since Whitlam. We regulated the most significant parts of the make up foreign debt. You see, foreign debt comes from buying more goods than you sell, but that's only about twenty per cent of total foreign debt. The greater part of foreign debt comes from the wealthy men - no more than five per cent of everybody - taking money overseas, transferring it through the bank, speculating with it, going into this, going into that, losing here, winning there, investing here, investing there. Ninety per cent of foreign debt comes from that. You can only keep that under reasonable control by regulating the banks - by the Reserve Bank regulating the banks, okaying whether they can take money or not. Now Menzies had done that very well. Treasury had been educated into it. You can ... You can educate the Treasury if you have charge of them for twenty years, but it takes twenty years to educate the treasury. Their more difficult to educate than any child entering a primary school. It takes you longer to educate a treasury than it does to educate a child who first goes into primary school. Now Treasury had come 'round to accept that. It changed very soon afterwards.
No. None at all. Treasury had a lot of success with me. They were instrumental in getting rid of me in very quick time, really. It took them about three months.
That we didn't have more time, more scope, more chance; that we weren't articulate enough; that we didn't go on to the platform enough. One of the important things we tried to do was to the Connor Programme. He called it Buy Back the Farm. Well Connor's great belief was you never explain anything. You just go ahead and do it. And he never made any attempt to explain the value of buying back the farm. It was just an emotional feeling.
Yes. I was handicapped a lot. I was handicapped a lot on explaining even the conventional things. The only speech really that was made adequately to explain what Connor was doing I made, and Connor wasn't at all pleased about that, I don't know about Whitlam, but Connor wasn't. Connor never complained to me, but I knew that he'd been complaining to everybody else. We could have sold Buying Back the Farm magnificently to the Australian people. They would have seen it, accepted it and backed it. Now I think personally that involved raising money for it from inside Australia, and not from overseas. There were so many opportunities from overseas, but I don't know, I wouldn't have taken them. The Shah of Iran said he would come and help us. He's not far from Western Australia, and he said he'd like to invest money in the gas and oil resources of the Indian Ocean and build up in Western Australia. I came home. Nobody ever went back to the Shah. I was sacked a fortnight later. No one ever went back to the Shah of Iran.
The big thing that affect your credibility at the time had to do with your relationship with Junie Morosi, which we've already talked about, but I wanted to ask you this question, that did it surprise that given the way in which these things had always been approached, that that took on an almost sort of mythical quality in the press and in the public mind, that it was almost like The Fall and the Garden of Eden all over again, that there was a sense that you had been somebody who'd held a position greatly elevated in the community and that you had fallen. Did it surprise you?
I don't know. Mainly because I had never seen closely any experience of it. Mainly I thought that people were better than that, but I was very foolish not to realise what was likely to happen, and I was very foolish. Even if I had known I was going out of a government that was finished, I was foolish to allow it to go on.
Do you ... Some people of course ride these things out, and then come back to fight another day. You said that this whole path was taken from you in just a matter of weeks, and then you had to think of something else. Did you not think that you might have been able to go back and hang in there, and get another chance?
No, I ... I was aware of the possibility but I didn't think there was anything in it. I thought I was finished, and I'd have to start something new, and I wasn't a boy. I was getting on even in those days. I didn't have that long. And I did think in my remaining time I would have to do something quite different.
There's a critical contradiction in that. Yes I feel pleased, and I feel disappointed. I can separate the two of them quite well. I feel pleased in all those impersonal relations, those distant, public campaigning, public activity relations, talking to mass meetings, walking in front of tens of thousands of people in the streets. I have to feel pleased about all that. But so many of my purely personal relations, and I don't want to go into a number that I could think of at all, I feel disappointed about.
Well, almost all of them, I suppose, starting off from that with my mother. It seemed to be very disappointing. I tried to get away, cross the barriers. Maybe I'm thinking of something that was not in fact possible. Maybe I couldn't have got closer to people, but I'm disappointed that I didn't, that's all.
That's right. I don't know whether ... you see, my relations with people were very superficial. There wasn't any intimacy in it. There wasn't any closeness. It was a ... It was a ... It was helpful for them and for me - relationship which didn't involve what I think human relationships can involve. Now I'm disappointed about that because I think that's my own deficiency. Secondly, I was afraid of the intimacy that anything deeper involved. The responsibility that would have come to me, and I didn't want to take that responsibility. It's a weakness I think, in ...
No. It didn't, no. And in a sense that was in words and on paper, like so much else of what I've done has been.
Those are things that I've found I haven't been able to do.
Can't answer that.
No, I can't answer that. I felt enthusiastic about its scope, once or twice, but I've always said that I wouldn't have been accepted. The media would have pulled me to pieces and they did. Most of what they did they invented. Whatever story they were using against me, they invented most of it. It wasn't true.
Writing and talking.
Getting to know people well. I mean, getting to a more thorough interchange with people.
I guess so. My reading of people was fairly superficial. I took them on face value. I didn't think I could see much that contradicted that. There probably was something there. I don't know whether I can read faces well, but I didn't read them very well.
Right from when you were a young man and you travelled overseas with the army you never acted as if you saw a reason ... like for example at that stage, a superior view to Asians was more or less universal, [but] it doesn't seem that you ever shared those.
No. Never shared those.
Because my experience of Asians was that we were not superior to them. They were wonderful kids and wonderful people and the interchange with them was far, far better than the interchange in Sydney or Melbourne - far more love and respect and affection and care, amongst parents and children in the Celebes and Morotai and Indonesia, [and] Vietnam, than ever prevailed here. Even when children were dying of starvation they had smiles on their faces.
Yes I do. My own reassessment in recent years has made me less sure of that. If you had asked me that question ten or fifteen years ago I would have given you a much more confident and positive answer than now. But yes I do. I think that seeking to make society better, seeking to make people better, is the best possible objective we can have, and I think in order to do that as thoroughly as you can parliament has to become part of it. But parliament is not an end, parliament is a means. Parliament is not, to me, a place where you just make law, parliament is a research institute and a lecture theatre.
Ambition as I know it and as the dictionary knows it is not ambition to stand for some principle. It's to be something. And that being, in common knowledge and the dictionary, is not ... it doesn't refer to being something in respect of some ideal or principle. You can be a surgeon and that can be an ambition. You can be a Prime Minister and that can be an ambition. But to be it and nothing else ... Perhaps to be a great surgeon you have to perform some pretty big operations. The same with the Prime Minister, but that's incidental. It's more a matter of presentation of your personality in the performance of a job, than it is the quality or otherwise of that job.
It depends what it's about. I don't use the word ambition, because I don't have an ambition to be a reformer, so I don't have to use it. And what I think of it is what I've just said of it. I had ... I have wanted to do the things I have done. I didn't have an ambition to do those things. I just did them yesterday, and again today and tomorrow, because what I was doing tomorrow was a projection of today and of yesterday. I didn't have an ambition to become ... What am I? I don't know.
Well, a person who has been involved in research, with people, with books - not in the laboratory. A person who can analyse scientifically. I can use scientific method as well or better than anyone I know. If I highly value anything ... I was going to say 'worship' then for a second. If I highly value anything it's the ability to use scientific method, and then to express these discoveries in the form of written work and words. The key to it, in a sense, is the ability to use scientific methods.
Well, I don't know that I'm a true scholar. You see I've had a very poor education. I know I've read a few pages of Shakespeare, I've read a few pages of Plato, a lot more of Aristotle, but as scholars are scholars, I'm not a scholar. In a sense, in the way in which you judge education, I'm poorly educated.
Can I pick up on an another earlier question which we missed out on, which was the very first question I asked you and we had some interference. So this is a real big leap from where we've been - back, back to the beginning. When and where you born?
I was born at 11 am. The bells were ringing in the church in Drummond Street, Carlton, as I was born. And I was born in the front room of 22 Drummond Street, Carlton. The house is still there, as substantial and intact as it was nearly eighty-four years ago, and I recently visited it - disappointed to find that it's been altered. The front room in which I was born is not longer a bedroom. It's now an office, part of a bigger office, and they're allowed a pepper tree to get altogether out of hand in the front garden, so there's nothing in the front garden now. When I last remember it and it's fifteen years ago, there were some very pleasant beds of geraniums and things like that, in the front garden. But I was born on the 4 October 1914, at 22 Drummond Street, Carlton.
Oh no, I've given myself a good time. I'm lazy really. I sleep more than most people and now I don't work very hard.
Did I? Well, I think that's right, I think I haven't. But you see the thing about aspiring, had I aspired in the police force to achieve what many people in the police force predicted for me - some in courts like Goldberg, and Jack Culherty and Jack Golberly, that I become police commissioner - if I'd aspired to that I would have been stuck in the police force all my life. Now had I aspired to becoming a professor in the university, I'd have been in the university all my life, as a professor. Would have that have been better or not? In a strict of the word, I haven't aspired much. I have made it clear and as honest, I didn't aspire to become Prime Minster. I tried to beat Whitlam for other reasons. After that I never aspired to be prime minister again.
I think I've done very well in that. It's always hard to say how much influence I had on the 100,000 people in Bourke Street for example, and how much influence the media had, [having] been showing the atrocities of the war for so long. We both had influence, but it's hard to say how much of that was attributable to me. I have said I thought more in Melbourne, because the Melbourne display was much bigger than the Sydney one, but I'm sure it would have been significant if I hadn't been there.
Trying to do things that I wanted to do, and sometimes being too self-centred in that. Not taking into account enough what other people wanted to do, from a purely personal point of view. In other words I put general things, comprehensive social things, maybe too much ahead of personal and individual ones. Maybe I could have done both and the result would have been better - in both cases, Maybe I'd have been a better public figure if I'd been a better private one. So hard to say when you're trying to look back on a complex situation. It's only that you can iron out all the factors and sometimes you can be very disappointed and distressed at the possibilities that might have been there that otherwise you wouldn't have thought of, and you might have been happier if you'd never thought of them at all.
About seven years of looking after dogs and cats and houses and ... Writing another book, selling a few. That's about it.
Yes. Oh yes. Fulfilling in that you've got to test that in relation to what the possibilities are. As I said as I came to sit down today I can't do a broad jump anymore. It would be silly to think so, wouldn't it? So I can only think of the things I can in fact do. And given those things, it's just what I can do, and I want to do it as well as I can.