The Ghosts of the Australia First Movement

On October 31, 2017, in Commentary, by natalt

by Oliver Hannah

Book review: Muirden, Bruce, The Puzzled Patriots: The Story of the Australia First Movement, Melbourne University Press, 1968

I. Introduction

We need here a Mahomet, a Hideyoshi, a Cromwell – or a Hitler – a man of harsh vitality, a born leader, a man of action, not one sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought. Fanatics are needed, crude harsh men, not sweet and decorous men, to arouse us from the lethargy of decadence, softness and lies which threatens death to White Australia. – Percy Stephensen, July 1939

This book was the first to be written on the Australia First Movement, the Australian nationalist and pro-Axis movement which existed from 1936 to 1942, and whose leading members were arrested and interned by the Australian government after the outbreak of the war with Imperial Japan. The other two books in what I call the ‘Australia First trilogy’ are: Dreaming of a National Socialist Australia: The Australia-First Movement and the Publicist, 1936-1942 (2005) by Barbara Winter and Nazi Dreamtime: Australian Enthusiasts for Hitler’s Germany (2012) by David S. Bird. They should all be read and studied, because the Australia First Movement possesses great political, and one might say great spiritual, significance. It combined Australian nationalism, which at the time was fiercely anti-British, with what Yockey calls the ‘Resurgence of Authority’, which was a European – German and Italian – Idea. This combination is what makes the themes of Australia First Movement propaganda resonate today, seventy-five years later.

The Australia First Movement, never a formal political party, was founded by businessman and publisher William J. Miles (1871-1942), who should be regarded as the spiritual father of modern Australian nationalism. In 1917 he formed an organisation called the Advance Australia League, with the slogan of ‘Australia First’, in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Its four listed objectives were:

  1.       Resist any reduction of Australian autonomy
  2.       Maintain White Australia;
  3.       Foster Australian national sentiment;
  4.       Urge Australians to make the most of their national resources.

Muir notes, ‘To Miles, patriotism, or “Australia First”, meant watchfulness against imperial encroachment… To Miles, if Australia was first the Empire was necessarily second. He did not talk of “cutting the painter”; to him it was inevitable that the painter would break’.

Miles’ political project fell through, and in the 1920s he threw himself into other endeavours – most notably, the fostering of Rationalist societies. (These bodies, which promoted secularism and atheism, anticipate the ideas and approach of Richard Dawkins). In 1935, he returned to politics. After hiring the remarkable young writer Percy Stephensen (1901-1965), he launched the Publicist, at the time Australia’s foremost nationalist and Far Rightist political journal and recognised for its sympathising closely with Germany (it reprinted speeches by Germany’s then-leader entire) and Imperial Japan. Miles quickly became the Socrates of the Australian nationalist movement, Stephensen its Plato. Known for his forceful manner, Miles forged Australia First into the country’s premier nationalist organisation through willpower, obstinacy and conviction. He poured money without stint into the Publicist, often at a loss, and corralled together the best writers and thinkers in Australian nationalism for its pages.

Stephensen, at the time of his hiring by Miles, had already written his landmark work The Foundations of Culture in Australia: An Essay towards National Self-Respect

(1935). Its hostility to Britain attracted Miles, who shared it (but who, oddly enough,

still advocated monarchy – did he want an Australian king? Muir never explains this). The Foundations is notable also for its hostility to the Resurgence of Authority, but by the time Stephensen got on board with the Publicist, he had taken up the pro-German and anti-Semitic position of Miles. As Muir notes, ‘Stephensen saw Fascism and Nazism – this was in the late thirties – as examples of regenerative Gentile philosophies emerging to combat international Semitism… He may not have believed this originally, but just wrote it to please Miles; however there was nothing in his later life to suggest he wanted to reconsider’.

But Stephensen lost never touch with his Australian cultural and political roots. His bellicose literary style may recall the venomous wit of anti-Semitic, Far Right contemporaries Louis-Ferdinand Céline and Charles Maurras, but, by all accounts, he was a man of great personal charm. He cultivated now-forgotten Australian literary figures – novelists such as Xavier Herbert and Miles Franklin, poets such as Rex Ingamells and Ian ‘Song Man’ Mudie – and wove them into the fabric of the Australia First Movement. He and Miles adopted a strategy of forming what the communists would call a ‘front’ with Australian cultural figures and with leading members of the Labor and Liberal parties – people who would normally would have had little contact with Miles’ and Stephensen’s viewpoints.

The outside observer of the Australia First Movement is at once struck by its peculiarity. Miles referred to himself as ‘The Kookaburra’ and ‘The King of the Sydney Kookaburras’,

and used pennames such as ‘John Benauster’ (‘Benauster’ meaning ‘The Good from the South’) and ‘Alcedo Gigas’, an anagram of Dacelo Gigas, the Latin name for kookaburra; Stephensen went by the nicknames ‘Bunyip Critic’, ‘Inky’, ‘Erik Thorshammer’… In Muir’s book, we are introduced to a wide range of eccentric characters: the Melbourne solicitor and practising Odinist Alexander Rud Mills, the two-fisted, former communist and Yarra Bank soapbox orator Leslie Cahill, the Nietzschean poet-philosopher William Baylebridge, the aesthete and architect William Hardy Wilson (who designed a concentration camp for Australia’s Jews), the activist Adela Pankhurst Walsh (daughter of the famous suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, founding member of the Australian Communist Party, later an anti-communist and a paid agent of influence for the Japanese), the drifter and Gallipoli veteran Laurence Bullock (who was to prove to be Australia First’s undoing)… The Australia First Movement drew in odd people and took up odd positions. One of these was what would today be considered a liberal or left-wing attitude towards the Aboriginal question:

The Publicist group often expressed sympathy with the Aborigines. Miles once >wrote: ‘We Kookaburras prefer the Blacks to the Whites’. Stephensen served as Secretary of the Aborigines’ Progressive Association, which had Aboriginal membership only. When J.T. Patten, a part-Aboriginal, was the association’s president in 1939, the Publicist*** reported his organising activities… Patten edited the association’s paper, the **Abo Call (published by the Publicist and on sale at the Publicist office)… Stephensen helped Patten organise the Aborigines’ Day of Mourning on Australia’s 150th birthday, 26 January 1939, a day for which they said the Aborigines had no reason to rejoice.

II. The Japanese and the Jews

Many of the ideas of the Publicist, from the outset, were to be located within the mainstream of the Australian nationalist tradition up to that time. But by 1937, its polemics took upon a decidedly European – and Japanese – flavour. Muir writes:

Enemies came faster when Miles broadened the range of his comment to include discussion of German, Japanese and Italian policies…. Most, though not all, references to the Axis powers and their right to behave as they thought best came from Miles. However the first Publicist references to Japan came from [contributor] Salier (as ‘H.B. Thomas’) who sought friendship with that country and, in March 1937, dismissed the idea of any Japanese invasion in force of Australia. Stephensen gradually followed Miles… Before long he was taking up the Miles line; a typical comment in June 1939 being, ‘Why need Australians bemoan the absorption of Czechoslovakia by Germany when Australia is already “absorbed” by British and American Jew-Capitalists’.

As Muir notes, ‘The German consulate in Sydney and the German newspaper Die Brücke (published in Sydney) liked its attitudes to the Axis powers’.

In keeping with the views of the Australian Far Right at the time, the Publicist favoured the appeasement of the Japanese (who were at the time engaged in a war with China):

First German policies were taken up to be admired, then Japanese. Stephensen filled an odd corner of the journal in May 1937, at Miles’ request, with a letter on Japan signed ‘James White’. He chose ‘White, he explained later, because it dealt with colour, the Asiatic question. ‘As an Australian’, he wrote in the letter, ‘I say let the Japanese have a free hand in China’. Then in November 1937, as ‘Rex Williams’, he wrote that it was ‘far better that Australia should rise with Japan in the Pacific than decline with Britain in the Atlantic’. This comment came after a call by the Sydney Trades Hall Council for a boycott of Japanese goods. Stephensen believed that Australia’s ‘irrational Japanic panic’, a phrase that he was never to tire of using, was inspired by British propagandists.

Miles commented (in July 1939, as ‘L.M. Veron’) that the ‘pro-Japanism of the Publicist in the present great war between Chinese and Japanese is warranted on all the historical facts, and by advantages that a Japanese victory should have for Australians’. He claimed that a ‘stupid Chinese attack’ on 7 July 1937 had begun the conflict. This was the notorious ‘China Incident’ engineered by the Japanese…

It was difficult to know what sparked the pro-Japan policy of the Publicist. It was hardly in the Australian tradition. Miles had been annoyed at government action in 1936 against Japanese textile manufacturers which favoured similar but dearer goods from Britain. Stephensen provided one clue in his March 1939 piece on Japan’s 2599th anniversary when he noted: ‘Japan was, and remains, the only country in the world that is completely free of International Jew Finance’.

Jews and the emigration of Jewish refugees – from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia – to Australia became one of the main preoccupations of the Australia First Movement. ‘Miles thought that if the Jews were to obtain as great a relative influence and power in Australia as they did in Germany in the decade following 1918, anti-Semitism would increase proportionately in Australia… The Publicist decried the Jews for advocating internationalism and thus rivalling Australian or any other nationalism’. Vis-a-vis the Jewish refugee question, Muir writes:

When the flow of Jewish refugees from Europe increased from 1938, the Publicist became more offensive. Miles and Stephensen, who gradually became adept as his master in Jew-baiting, had little to learn from the Melbourne Douglas Credit weekly, the New Times, which was commending to its readers the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Miles and Stephensen accepted the authenticity of that dubious document…

The Publicist remained unregenerate about its attitude to the Jews. Miles, attacking Len Fox’s pamphlet Australia and the Jews in February 1940, said that no Jewish refugees should be admitted. There was no solution to the Jewish problem, he went on, none, that is, ‘While a Jew lives’.

Both Stephensen and Hardy Wilson toyed with the idea of interning the newly-arrived Jewish refugees in camps.

To a comment on homogeneity from a Vaucluse reader Stephensen added this rhetorical query: ‘Would “Vaucluse” state whether 4th or 5th generation Australian-born Jews are 100% Australian? Are Jewish immigrants an assimilable element, or do they forever remain Jews first?’. To a Melbourne reader who suggested segregating non-detribalised natives in reserves: ‘Why not segregate the Jews also?’.

Stephensen enjoyed controversy and argument, and always engaged the Publicist‘s numerous critics in battle. He often availed himself of the tactic – used by so many today on Far Right and white nationalist Internet forums – of accusing his opponents of being Jewish.

Stephensen found a foe in Cyril Peal, editor of the Sydney Sunday Telegraph… Pear said of the Publicist that ‘month after month it churns out a stale mixture of rabid anti-British nationalism, Nazi-inspired, and anti-Semitism and windy Fascist pseudo-philosophy’. Stephensen’s counterblast had in it a certain inevitability: ‘We of the Publicist do not know whether or not the editor of the Sunday Telegraph is a Jew’.

Max Harris of Adelaide, without whom few literary controversies in the past twenty-five years have been complete, was another to tackle Stephensen… He found the Publicist anti-Australian, and an article by ‘Anna Brabant’ especially offensive in its acceptance of Lionel Lindsay’s attack on the influence of Jewish art dealers. So in the next Publicist: ‘We do not know whether “Max Harris” is a Jew’. When the Publicist clashed with the University of Melbourne students’ paper Farrago, some of the office-bearers, according to the Publicist, were seen to have ‘decidedly Jewish names’.

puzzledpatriots III. The Yabber Club and Jindyworobak

By the time of the outbreak of the war, Stephensen became interested in constituting the Publicist circle as a formal political organisation, if not a political party. He came up with the idea of the ‘Yabber Club’ as a means of recruiting people who were not necessarily Australian nationalists into the Australia First circle.

Some of the more complicated souls who backed the Publicist met weekly in Sydney to discuss its ideas and current political and social movements. Australia First thought gradually developed at these meetings which came to be given the jocular name of ‘Yabber Club’. This label bestowed on the occasions rather more formality than they possessed. They began when Miles, Salier, Masey, Hooper and Stephensen left the Publicist office each Thursday afternoon to discuss the paper’s editorial content over tea or coffee in a corner of the nearby Shalimar Café.

In the twenties in Sydney there had been many such private literary, artistic and political clubs in teashops, coffee lounges and back rooms of hotels. By the thirties they were less common but still numerous. There was nothing sinister or conspiratorial in them. Miles and Stephensen thought that the Shalimer Café, in the basement of the building in which the Publicist was situated, would be a convenient place to meet. Proceedings were informal. There were no rules and no chairman, although Miles was usually deferred to. There were no ‘banned’ topics’. Other people began to join in, mainly friends and associates of the five ‘foundation members’, plus visitors to the Publicist office-cum-bookshop who showed sympathy with the journal’s ideas. People regarded as ‘grossly hostile’ were not invited.

The loose structure of the Club led to great success, and it drew in a great many non-nationalists:

Attendance at the Yabber Club grew gradually. There was no fixed membership and people dropped out or renewed their attendance just as they liked. The largest membership ever to get together at one time for the session, which usually lasted for two hours from 4.30 p.m., was about seventeen, while sometimes it was down to three or four. Occasional visitors such as Peter Russo, then Professor in the Modern Languages department of the Tokyo University of Commerce – dropped in. Russo was introduced, at Stephensen’s request, by [bestselling travel writer] Frank Clune, whom he had met in Tokyo.

In all there were more than 200 meetings, the last few being held at Ann’s Pantry, a teashop in Hunter Street close to the Publicist‘s new address in February 1942. Several Sydney men who later served with distinction in the A.I.F. and R.A.A.F. , which is certainly one – and perhaps the most practical – criterion of loyalty, attended the Yabber Club at one time or other. Several of those present at the Shalimar Café tried a little organising within the Australian Natives’ Association [a then-powerful pro-White ustralia mutual society], and the result was an ANA luncheon club which outlived Yabber. This new club was chaired by P.C. Lang of the Yabber Club, a public accountant who had become the president of an ANA suburban auxiliary. Six of the club’s foundation members came from Yabber.

Stephensen continued in his attempt to make inroads into Australia’s literary scene.

The year 1941 was notable for the campaign, only marginally successful, to draw the Jindyworobak non-political literary nationalists into the Publicist‘s orbit. Jindyworobak, founded in Adelaide in 1938 by Rex Ingamells, was a movement to free Australian art from ‘alien’ influences. The word ‘Jindyworobax’, used to mean ‘distinctive Australian quality’, was taken by Ingamells from the glossary to James Devaney’s book of Aboriginal tales, The Vanished Tribes (1929). Ingamells freely acknowledged the considerable influence that Stephensen’s Foundations had had on him… Ian Mudie, who has been described by Dr Brian Elliot as Ingamells’ ‘most vigorous disciple’, was an important link between the Publicist and the Jindyworobaks. Mudie’s poems were published regularly in the Publicist after October 1937 and he was also the target of the type of criticism commonly aimed at the Publicist. A.D. Hope, reviewing Mudie’s This is Australia for Southerly in November 1941, said that Mudie’s poetry had ‘traces of the fanaticism of the Hitler Youth Movement’.

**IV. ‘Nazi H.Q.’ and the Pacific War***

By the outbreak of war in 1939, Britain – along with Poland and France – had been falling, with almost imperceptible slowness, into the American sphere of orbit. Yockey writes that, politically speaking, it made no sense for Britain to go to war against Germany, as Britain could not benefit. By the mid-thirties, Britain – and the rest of the European powers – were being challenged by geopolitical rivals the USSR, America and Japan. The European powers, then, ought to have made an effort to stick together, and the contrary of this would have been self-defeating: a Britain attacking Germany would be like the left hand cutting off the right. So the fact that Britain in 1939 did go to war against Germany, and later Italy, meant that Britain was no longer in control of itself; it was no longer a sovereign power. It served another – America.

The significance of this is that by 1939 Australia, along with the rest of Commonwealth, had been pulled from the British sphere of influence into the American. From Muir’s book, it is not clear that Stephensen and the rest of Australia First were cognisant of this fact. ‘The Publicist did not criticise war preparations and stated, though without obvious enthusiasm, that it could see no valid reason against Australia giving voluntary help to Britain in any war in which Britain was involved… The core of this attitude was expressed by Stephensen in March 1940: “Australia is not an ally of Britain, but is a dependency of Britain, and it is for this reason that we are at war”‘. He did understand, however, that Jewish influence had helped bring about the war:

Stephensen wrote in the delayed September Publicist that before the war he had done his best to create goodwill between Australia and Germany, ‘not because I held a brief for the Germans, but because I thought Australians were being mentally weakened by the revengeful Jewish campaigns of anti-Hitler hate which for years has flooded our Australian news press. If we are to fight against Germany, let us at least for fight for an Australian, not a Jewish, reason’.

With such views, the Publicist came under attack.

Now that it was officially disloyal to be, or even to be suspected of being, pro-German, the paper was far more vulnerable. A physical assault on its Elizabeth Street premises was not long delayed. Less than an hour after Australians heard Mr Menzies say that Britain had declared war and that therefore Australia was at war, red-painted letters a foot high appeared on the glass shop window of the Publicist proclaiming it to be ‘Nazi H.Q.’.

As the war progressed, the Australia First Movement came under more and more pressure. After the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941, whatever truce existed between the Far Right and the Far Left in Australia was gone. And after Pearl Harbour, the Australian Deep State turned its attention to the Movement, which, under the compulsion of circumstance, had ditched its ‘pro-Japanesist’ line (and Pankhurst Walsh with it).

Regarding Japan, Australia First sat on the fence, even in early 1942 . It advocated support for the government in the war against the Japanese and made criticisms of military failures (such as the Australian defeat in Rabaul) while at the same time it poo-poohed the notion that Japan possessed the logistical capability to invade, and occupy, Australia.

In 1940, [Australia First member] Kirtley, in his role of commentator on military strategy, had written that Japan would be incapable of attacking the South Pacific in strength. He was far from being along in holding this view. Stephensen, who in April 1939 had mildly chided W.C. Wentworth… for ‘inexcusably’ naming Japan as a potential invader, was still in 1941 advocating ‘friendly reciprocity’ between Australia and Japan. He welcomed the appointment of Tatsuo Kewai, the Japanese envoy, in March 1941. When war did come in December 1941 the Publicist, after looking back as it had in 1939 on its endeavours to maintain peace with Germany, called on its readers to back their government. It suggested that hostilities were the result of a ‘failure of diplomacy’. In the new war Stephensen considered that ‘distance, no less than time, operates in our favour’…

But invasion remained a real possibility, in the minds of both the Australian state and the public, and the war with Japan led to the Australia First Movement’s downfall. In January 1942, Miles died after a long illness, and Stephensen set work building up the Movement into something approaching a political party. He held a number of public meetings throughout early 1942, one of which, in Adyar Hall, was attacked by communists who attempted to break it up (Stephensen was severely beaten, but returned to the stage after the communists had left and kept on speaking). The disturbance raised Australia First’s profile: ‘It happened, and not for the first or last time, that a political group hitherto ignored began to attract support when it became widely known as being actively anti-communist or as having attracted the opposition of communists’. Perhaps Stephensen could have formed an SA or Blackshirt-style bodyguard to keep the peace at future meetings. But the tactic of forming a paramilitary bodyguard succeeded in Europe in the 1930s mainly because the Far Right movements there had time to marshal their forces, and freedom from government scrutiny and interference. Stephensen and Australia First lacked both. After March 1942, twenty members of Australia First were arrested and interned under the suspicion of being spies and collaborators with the Japanese.

Police spies, agents provocateurs and rogue members of an organisation – men who undertake their own organising and propaganda without the supervision of their leaders – continue to play a disruptive role in Australian nationalist politics even today. In March 1942, they brought about Australia First’s ruination. The Yabber Club meetings had been infiltrated in 1940 by two Military Intelligence spies, Sergeant Alan Clement Panton (known as ‘Agent 222’), and George Caiger. Only the latter aroused Stephensen’s suspicions. The spying of the two men had little effect in the short term, and the fact that, in the words of Muir, ‘No Germans, Japanese or Italians ever attended the Yabber Club’ meant that it was difficult for the Deep State to categorise the Movement as subversive and pro-Axis. But in 1942, four individuals – the British-born Gallipoli veteran Laurence Bullock, Charles Leonard Albert Williams, Edward Cunningham Quicke, and Nancy Rachel Krakouer – formed a Western Australian branch of the Movement without Stephensen’s knowledge. Bullock and his circle held deeply defeatist views regarding the war in the Pacific, and advocated a negotiated peace with Japan. A professional agent provocateur who worked for Military Intelligence, Frederick James Thomas (who had prior to this had successfully infiltrated the Communist Party), struck up an acquaintance with Bullock under the name Frederick Carl Hardt (borrowing the surname of a prominent NSDAP member in Sydney). According to Thomas, who later testified in court, Bullock and the Western Australian branch intended to undertake a program of assassination and sabotage in the lead up to a Japanese invasion, and to form a Quisling-style collaboration government under the auspices of the Japanese. Bullock drafted two programs, which, if obtained in the original, make entertaining reading.

Bullock read another proclamation, this time headed ‘Australia First Government’. It included a welcome for the Japanese and an expression of pleasure at being liberated from Jewish domination. Bullock arranged the following appointments for an Australian First National Socialist government to take over when the Japanese arrived: Bullock – Premier, Army, Treasury; Quick – Police; Williams – Labour, Transport; Krakouer – all women’s organisations.

A government policy draft of twenty points was prepared. Point 1 was a friendly foreign policy towards all anti-Jewish, anti-communistic and anti-democratic powers. The proclamation called on Australia to play its part in the Japanese Empire. On the way home from this meeting at the Rex Hotel, Williams told ‘Hardt’: ‘If the Japanese invade the Eastern States, the Australia First Movement will take over there, so that we can take over the Commonwealth. We shall have to get more members for our government’.

All of this reminds us of Philip K. Dick’s novel, Man in the High Castle (1962), which portrays the occupation and partition of America by the Axis powers Germany and Japan (Dick’s novel has been turned by Amazon into a successful Internet TV series).

In court, Bullock conceded that the proclamations were genuine, but argued that they

were written, while drunk, as a joke; in other words, he had been trolling. This was not enough to spare him from internment. The arrests of Bullock’s gang of four caused a media hysteria, and the Australian Deep State overreacted and quickly arrested the leading members of the Melbourne and Sydney Australia First branches – including Stephensen, Rud Mills, Cahill and Walsh – and interned them without the bare semblance of a trial. The Movement folded shortly thereafter.

V. Summing Up and Verdict

By early 1942, Stephensen and Australia First had been caught on the horns of a dilemma. Their anti-British, anti-imperialist, pro-Australian independence line no longer held relevance. Britain by then had fallen into an irrevocable decline, and Australia had seen the necessity of placing itself under the protection of a great power, America, which would defend it from Japanese aggression, and national independence be damned… Yockey calls this the ‘Law of Protection and Obedience’: by allowing itself to be dominated by one power, a political entity prevents its incorporation and submission to another. We see the law in operation in Australia after the start of 1942.

Muir writes:

The sinking of the Repulse and the Prince of Wales by Japanese aircraft off Malaya on 10 December 1941, and the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942, promoted the cause of Australian national self-dependence [from Britain] more than all the >propaganda of the Publicist and all the meetings of the Australia First movement >combined. These two war-time defeats were clear proof that Australia could no longer >depend on Britain to guarantee self-survival. The Empire looked shaky then; it has gone >altogether now and without much doubt the scapegoat of any present-day Australian >nationalist movement would be no longer Britain but the country’s new protector, the >United State of America.

At the time of the war with the Japanese, at least one Australia First member recognised these new realities. Like Yockey, he characterised the Roosevelt regime – Australia’s ‘new protector’ – as fundamentally Jewish.

Another shadowy figure who… was actually on the Australia First membership roll, was English-born Thomas Potts Graham, a fanatical anti-Semite. Early in 1942 he distributed pamphlets which claimed American troops were in Australia as part of a diabolical plot by international Jewry to government Australia from America.

Graham followed the Bullock line – collaboration with the Japanese – and was not acknowledged by the rest of the Movement.

Australians, he said, should join the Japanese in fighting their common enemy, Jewry. The authorities interpreted the dissemination of these pamphlets as a breach of National Security regulation no. 42, an act likely to prejudice the defence of the Commonwealth. Graham was convicted and given six months’ goal… At the end of his gaol term he was interned and held until the end of 1943. His leaflet was frowned on by the Australia First movement which issued a disclaimer of responsibility. In internment a group of Australia First internees, not including Stephensen, petitioned the camp commandant to have Graham kept away from them. (Graham had once sent a manuscript dealing with the introduction of national socialism in Australia to Miles, who replied that he thought something might be made of it).

But putting power-politics to one side for the moment, the question arises: do we, seventy years since the war’s end, need Australian national and cultural independence from Britain?

In the immediate post-war years, Stephensen dismissed calls for a resurrection of Australia First:

Mudie once asked Stephensen, after the war, about the prospects for a revival of Australia First. The reply he received was roughly in these terms: ‘What’s the use? Everything we were after has been achieved. It would look like getting on someone else’s bandwagon’. In 1946 Stephensen wrote to Hooper: ‘In many directions I see the fruits of my sowing reaped by others. National consciousness was stimulated greatly by my efforts. Now let others stimulate it, for I am silenced’.

Muir concludes:

After the war, particularly in the first few vibrant years, there was in Australia an intense surge of interest in things Australian. The imperial nexus had clearly suffered a body- blow: it is now almost completely shattered. Australia acquired a new confidence unselfconsciously, as more people began to write, paint, compose, build and discuss in their own unforced native idiom. The Statute of Westminster had been ratified; especially under Dr Evatt as Minister for External Affairs, the country grew to have its own distinctive foreign policy, and hallowed imperial terms such as ‘Far East’ became replaced by the more realistic ‘Near North’. There was a new atmosphere of self- sufficiency but one that lacked any elements of wrong-headed isolationism. All this should have been welcomed by the old Australia Firsters but if they were pleased by the more self-reliant post-war community they successfully kept their joy to themselves. They were in no mood to respond.

I agree with Muir’s assessment, but would argue that the newfound ‘Australianism’ of the post-war years was definitely self-conscious, just as was the ‘Australianism’ of the (intensely nationalistic by today’s standards) 1980s, a decade which saw the first appearance of ‘Aussie rock’ and a distinctly Australian genre of cinema (the director Baz Luhrmann paid homage to the latter in his Australia (2008), which starred Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman). The problem with self-consciousness is that it belies a lack of self-confidence. A cultural ideologue who shouts at the top of voice that he is ‘pure Australian’ betrays an inner uncertainty that he is any such thing. If he were so uniquely Australian, he would not need to insist upon it so much.

It goes without saying that Australian society has changed since the demise of the Australia First Movement; in 2017, Sydney would be unrecognisable to Miles and Stephensen, Melbourne to Cahill and Mills. We are in the habit of attributing such changes to ‘demographics’, i.e., to the enormous numbers of non-whites (mainly Chinese) who have come to those cities in the past few decades, but the word implies that non-white immigration is a natural phenomenon, like hurricanes or floods or droughts, when the reality is that it has a cause, and a political cause at that.

The main reason for the end of the White Australia policy was that Germany and Japan lost the war. The Allies waged the most brutal and destructive war the world had ever seen, against nationalism, racialism and militarism and for liberty, equality, the brotherhood of man – and the right of the voter to choose between two parties which have been selected for him. After their victory, the conquerors of Asia and Europe could not turn around and say that there was some merit, no matter how small, in the ideas of their opponents. No: they turned to the task of expunging all traces of ‘fascism’, ‘racism’ in their own ranks. They had fought for an Idea, and now were forced to implement that Idea. In all good conscience, they could not hang on to their colonies, which had to be given independence, even if that meant handing them over to communists; they could not prevent non-whites from emigrating to their countries, even if that meant allowing them to supplant the white populations and wipe them out.

Stephensen, Miles and the Australia First Movement give us an alternative to the Allied Idea, which has, in the decades since the war, proved itself to be as pernicious to the conqueror as to the conquered.

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2 Responses to The Ghosts of the Australia First Movement

  1. nineofclubs says:

    An excellent and very comprehensive review. Hope to see more of Mr Hannah’s work here in future.

  2. nineofclubs says:

    A really excellent essay, Mr Hannah. I hope to see more of your work here soon.

    Perhaps Stephenson can be forgiven for thinking – in 1946 – that ‘everything we were after has been achieved’. By the standards of today, the AF’s original four point platform had been achieved to a great extent by then.

    But we’ve slipped back, to say the least.

    I have a copy of Munro’s ‘Wild Man of Letters’ on my bookshelf – a great study of Stephenson himself – but had been unaware of Muiden’s work prior to now.


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