Compared to the rich historiography documenting left-wing and social democratic politics in Australia, the literature about the extreme Right is fragmentary. The following article surveys historical writing about the Australian extreme Right, offers a definition of that term and examines why left-wing politics have proved more attractive to Australian labour historians. It also introduces a thematic of six articles — essays in anti-labour history — that describe the role of individuals and organisations from an unfamiliar narrative about Australia’s past. While they proceed from a variety of perspectives, all are united around the need to seek out historical precedent and context. The purpose of studying the history of the Australian Right is ‘to know the enemy’.
The timing of a conference on ‘The Extreme Right in Twentieth Century Australia’ was unintentionally symbolic. Sponsored by the Business and Labour History Group at the University of Sydney and the College of Arts, Education and Social Sciences at the University of Western Sydney, the conference was held at Women’s College, University of Sydney on 9–10 October 2004, thus coinciding with the re-election of Prime Minister John Howard’s Liberal government for a third term.
Some of the papers presented at this conference have subsequently been rewritten, peer refereed and edited and are published in this issue of Labour History. Collectively the essays address a significant lacuna in Australian labour historiography. In contrast to the vibrant state of historical writing about left-wing topics, Australian labour historians have downplayed the significance of the ideologies, organisations and leading individuals of the Australian Right. The first work of any enduring significance about right-wing politics in Australia was published in 1967. This was the first book of eminent sociologist, Bob Connell, Politics of the Extreme Right: Warringah 1966. Co-written with Florence Gould, the book focussed on the emergence of a right-wing ginger group within the Liberal Party, the so-called 50 Club, and its attempts to undermine Edward St John, the small ‘l’ liberal, endorsed candidate for the federal seat of Warringah, in northern Sydney. With Australia’s most enduring right-wing group, the League of Rights, hovering in the background, it all ended in tears and later developed into the so-called Uglies faction in the NSW Liberal Party. A pioneering work, the focus of Connell and Gould’s study was, nonetheless, narrow. The only overview of Australian right-wing extremism is the slim volume, The Right Road? by Andrew Moore which was published nearly ten years ago.
Both The Right Road? and Politics of the Extreme Right employed a similar definition of the term right-wing. A right-wing position or group might encompass four main attributes. First, they take a more extreme position than that of a mainstream conservative group, such as the Liberal Party, especially in regard to anti-communism (notwithstanding the fact that, as Connell and Gould illustrated, demarcation lines between the extreme Right and parliamentary conservatism were sometimes blurred). Second, right-wing groups embrace conspiracy theory as a central organising concept. Hazily defined conspirators — ‘the Jews’, ‘the communists’, to name just two — were seen as undermining ‘the nation’ or ‘the community’. Third, right-wing groups invariably embrace nationalism and racism, even if, for much of the twentieth century, an exaggerated, ‘God King and Country’ imperial patriotism was a strong characteristic of this nationalism. Finally, right-wing politics involves a suspicion or rejection of the ideas and processes of liberal parliamentary democracy, placing an emphasis on the need for strong and authoritarian leadership.
None of these attributes were, however, prescriptive. The Australian Right has been diverse. As Boris Frankel suggests, the Right has shared a broad tradition and embraced ‘fervent individualists and all sorts of anti-libertarian, religious and organic corporatists, through to authoritarians and fascist totalitarians’. The Australian right wing has included respectable Burkean conservatives and street fighters, intellectuals as well as philistines. After writing Politics of the Extreme Right, Connell argued that a distinction could be drawn between an ‘extremist’ and ‘extreme’ Right. That he was speaking to a room brim full of right-wing activists, one of them a young man in Nazi uniform, may well have influenced his caveat that the ‘extreme right’ label was not necessarily reprehensible. For present purposes no attempt has been made to split hairs. Terms such as ‘radical right’ and ‘extreme right’ are used interchangeably. Nor have contributors to the present volume been obliged to operate from a common perspective. Cottle and Keys’ article on the NSW parliamentarian, Douglas Darby, is strongly shaped by Connell and Gould’s operating definition. Nick Fischer, on the other hand, conflates conservatism with the extreme Right, which seems justified in the context of the times he describes.
While Bob Connell’s research interests moved into other areas, it was not uncommon in the 1960s for left-wing academics to devote attention to the Right. The distinguished political scientist, Dr John Playford (1935–2003), a scion of a distinguished Adelaide political family, also made a valuable contribution. His solidly empirical study of the historical background to Captive Nations Week was published in 1968 by the independent socialist journal Outlook. Roneod, and in presentation more a pamphlet than a book, the work documented chapter and verse the activities of various extremist émigrés and the influential Australian politicians, academics and businessmen who supported their activities in Australia. These newcomers clustered around the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN), an international peak organisation of émigré Nazis. Among the Left there was emerging alarm that Australia’s post-war immigration policy had allowed many pro-Nazi individuals into the country.
Beyond academia, activists and pamphleteers connected with the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) retained a vigorous interest in the machinations of far-right groups. More than likely aided by a rudimentary intelligence gathering apparatus, the party press was often well-informed about the Right, particularly during the Cold War. One cadre, Stan Deacon, recalled that in the inter-war years he was engaged to maintain a discreet surveillance on burgeoning right-wing groups he encountered in the course of working as a party organiser in rural New South Wales and Victoria. In the 1970s communist activists such as Laurie Aarons and Dave Davies made significant contributions in the form of pamphlets on the Croatian Ustasha and far-right groups like the League of Rights and the Australian Nazis. The doyen of anti-fascist pamphleteering, however, and consequently a particular target for the animosity of the Right, was Denis Freney, a one-man human dynamo and left-wing activist. While his research skills more commonly focussed on Australia’s intelligence services and the covert influences of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Australia, Freney’s self published Nazis Out of Uniform: The Dangers of Neo-Nazi Terrorism in Australia (Sydney, 1982) remains a classic of the genre.
The basic problem with such pamphlets and broadsheets is that by their very nature they were ephemeral. Over time they were discarded or forgotten. Being polemical statements rather than scholarly appraisals, their analysis was often unnecessarily messianic. In one 1970s pamphlet, Fascism: a Menace in Australia? (CPA, 1972), Dave Davies asked rhetorically: ‘Are … [there] signs of a fascist upsurge in Australia?’ and ‘Are we in imminent danger of a fascist takeover’?
As the works of Connell, Gould and Playford suggested, the 1960s were halcyon times for the extreme Right — paradoxically so, as they are largely remembered as times of social democratic advance — paving the way for the election of the Whitlam Labor government in 1972. Flexing its muscles, in particular, was the Australian League of Rights. This right-wing organisation originated in the 1930s with the economic theories of Major C.H. Douglas and was the brainchild of Victorian activist, Eric Butler. The first substantial exposé of the League of Rights, Ken Gott’s Voices of Hate, appeared in 1965. Gott detailed the League’s antisemitism, the origins of Butler’s politics, his publications and networks, and the League’s ongoing mode of operations. As historian John McLaren argues, the pamphlet was ‘written with a passionate restraint that allows the facts to speak for themselves as he shows the ugly facts behind the League’s pious and patriotic façade’.
Gott’s study served to locate the League of Rights as the epicentre of both the Australian Right and for writings on that subject, which has been considerable, particularly when the League was at its peak of influence and dynamism. Most scholars have reiterated Gott’s cautionary observations and in large measure followed Edward St John’s 1972 characterisation of Eric Butler as the ‘evil genius of Australia’s indigenous extreme right’. In the early 1970s Mike Richards warned that there was an ‘unbridgeable gulf between the League’s overt and covert objectives’. Its growing success in expanding its following into the Liberal and Country Parties was a matter of great concern. In 1978 Andrew Campbell’s jargon-laden book argued that the League’s core ideology was shaped by ‘totalitarian and pathological anti-Semitism’ employing ‘conspiratorial theories … [that] reveal a pathological fantasy picture of the world’. The League represented a credible threat to liberal democracy. One of the more valuable studies of the League was undertaken by Keith Richmond, then an academic at the University of New England. As part of an MA thesis completed in 1975, the most satisfactory feature of Richmond’s work was a survey of rank and file League of Rights activists in the New England district and southern Queensland. Richmond was able to provide details of the educational background, occupational status, age and world view of League members. Understanding the sources of attraction of right-wing groups at the level of individual membership remains an important project for the future. Social class is not always a reliable indicator. Conservative workers embraced right-wing groups and causes. They still do.
With the exception of a 1996 article by Richard Brockett which described the League’s activities as an alternative Country Party but glossed over its antisemitism, the League of Rights has had few defenders in scholarly circles. Paul Gardner, in particular, did not mince words. In 1991 he described the League as Australia’s most ‘prominent and notorious example’ of a hate organisation that promoted bigotry ‘through propaganda based on half-truths, distortions and outright lies’. Its antisemitism and ‘sugar-coated bigotry’ was spread by ‘self-serving definitions, idealistic appeals, obfuscation, innuendo, illogic, blaming (or accusing) the victim, distortion and group libel’.
With the advantage of hindsight, it remains to be seen — as political scientist Henry Mayer once suggested — whether the League’s influence had been overstated. The League’s policy of entrism was, at first glance, alarming. Yet, in order to sway political decision making, it would need to have exerted influence upon key political leaders rather than capture a few organisations within the structure of the mainstream conservative parties. A recent PhD thesis by Daniel Ben-Mosche makes much the same point. Most conservative politicians shunned the League and its ideas. The League’s attempts to establish a foothold in rural Australia caused it to make powerful enemies such as Doug Anthony, the former federal leader of the Country Party and deputy prime minister. To the present day Ron Boswell, the leader of the National Party in the Senate, monitors its affairs and other far-right activities in rural Australia. According to Ben-Mosche, while Butler’s legacy has left an indelible influence on the Australian extreme Right, ‘The League has had its hey day and it would be most unlikely that the organisation would return to the peak of its 1960s influence’. Similarly, another scholar, Peter Henderson, suggests that the taunt once levelled at the United States John Birch Society, that it was ‘a conspiracy to sell books’, might equally apply to the League of Rights. According to Henderson, many contemporary activists on the Right regard the League as ‘a do nothing organization that contents itself with letter writing campaigns and dinner meetings’. On the other hand reports of the demise of Australia’s most venerable far-right organisation are premature. Having recently established a presence on the Internet, the League has overcome one of its crucial shortcomings.
As this historiographical outline suggests, some aspects of Australian right-wing politics, such as the League of Rights, have been well covered by historians and political scientists. However, by and large the pattern set by Connell and Playford, for scholars of social democratic/leftist persuasion to study the Right, did not persist beyond the 1960s. It became more common for labour historians to devote their energies to left-wing topics, institutional labour history and later the ‘new social history’. Scholarly work on the Right continued, but compared to the sheer volume of writing on labour biography, trade unions and left-wing politics, and even that addressing specific organisations such the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) or the Industrial Workers of the World, it was meagre. The pages of Labour History rarely included the scholarly investigation of right-wing individuals, groups and practices. Aside from the contribution of various historians allied with Les Louis’s Cold War study group, and a recent article by Geoff Spenceley on Wilfred Kent Hughes, that feisty politician best remembered for asserting ‘I am a Fascist without a Shirt’, Australian labour historians have found left-wing and social democratic groups and trade unions a more congenial area for scholarly research and writing.
In terms of historiographical interest, the comparison with Britain is telling. While equally interested in working-class life, the labour process and left-wing politics, the Society for the Study of Labour History in Britain has long regarded the general area of British fascism and the far Right as legitimate topics for historical investigation. In recent years the British Labour History Review has published important articles by David Renton and John Hope on Sir Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists (BUF). In November 2003 the Society organised a conference on ‘The Labour Movement and Fascism’ at the University of Leeds which featured such luminaries as Richard Thurlow, Ken Lunn and Roger Griffin. The articles published here, and the 2004 Sydney University conference that brought Australian and New Zealand scholars together, were directly inspired by these British initiatives.
In part, this differing historiographical emphasis may reflect the ongoing threat posed by neo-fascist groups in Britain and indeed across Europe. The threat from the Right in Britain is not simply a matter of academic interest. There the British National Party, in particular, continues to stir up racial hatred with marked success. Historians like David Renton are actively engaged in ongoing anti-fascist resistance. As suggested in The Right Road? in 1995, both historically and in a contemporary sense, Australian right-wing groups ‘may be detected as a rumble rather than a roar’. Even though some of the sanguine conclusions expressed in the above volume may need to be modified by the emergence of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Movement following the 1996 Commonwealth elections, it nonetheless remains true that right-wing politics have proved more subdued in Australia than in many overseas countries.
Australian politics has also displayed an ability to bounce back from extremist adventures. With the death in 2005 of Queensland’s notorious hillbilly dictator, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, it is worth reflecting how successfully the anti-democratic excesses of the 1980s in the former ‘Deep North’ have been rolled back by 14 years of a more benign social democracy. Even the comparatively recent thunder and lightening of the Hanson years seem to have receded, a feat achieved in part by the incorporation of so many of Ms Hanson’s policies into the conservative agenda of John Howard’s Liberal government. Historians of the 1930s may recall that a similar fate awaited the militant anti-communism of the New Guard, a conservative paramilitary organisation that had considered forcibly deposing Labor Premier J.T. Lang. Conservative mainstream politicians such as B.S.B. Stevens in New South Wales and J.A. Lyons in Canberra took up the cudgels from Eric Campbell, the New Guard’s strident if ultimately ineffective Führer. The interplay between right-wing extremism and mainstream conservatism is a recurring motif in Australian political life.
The interest from British labour historians in the charismatic leader of the BUF may also reflect his status as a Labor renegade. From 1927 Mosley was a leading figure in the British Labour Party and close to Ramsay MacDonald. Between 1929 and 1931 Mosley was chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the MacDonald government and influenced by the Independent Labour Party view that import controls could protect the home economy from the rhythms of the international economic system. He resigned after the government failed to implement his tariff policies. First he established the New Party. Then, after visiting Mussolini and sending representatives of the New Party to Germany to study Hitler’s SA and SS, Mosley became a confirmed fascist in 1931.
Mosley’s high profile and dramatic political trajectory has no real Australian equivalent. Aside from unionists such as Tom Walsh and George Waite (both discussed in the present thematic volume), only the writer P.R. Stephensen managed a comparable political transformation. In the 1920s he was a revolutionary socialist who attracted the attention of the British security service at Oxford University. Like Mosley, ‘Inky’ Stephensen was interned during World War II for his pro-fascist activities, in his case as a member of the pro-Japanese Australia First Movement. But Stephensen’s status was in no way comparable to Mosley. While historians of British fascism such as Richard Thurlow are inclined to belittle the significance of the BUF, compared to Australia First, Mosley’s movement was huge.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Australian labour historians have preferred to study and write about those whose political sympathies they broadly approve of and endorse. In some respects the very existence of the Right conflicts with the premises of the Old Left intelligentsia that established the sub-discipline of labour history in this country. Bob Gollan encountered Australia’s 1930s stormtroopers, the New Guard, in his youth in Wollongong, but, as an historian, he and colleagues like Russel Ward and Eric Fry were subsequently committed to an opposing view that had the labour movement as the driver of social change. Groups like the New Guard and the Australian League of Rights conflicted with their Whiggish sense of a country transformed from convict colony to a ‘working man’s paradise’. At best such groups were profoundly inconvenient. They were also distasteful.
The purpose of studying the Right, at least from a labour historian’s point of view, has been well stated by Ken Buckley, a former editor of Labour History and Old Left historian who fought fascism in World War II. As Buckley once argued (albeit in a different context), it is important to know the enemy. An anti-fascist perspective has impelled recent scholarly research. Daniel Ben-Mosche’s doctoral thesis was closely tied to his research with the B’Nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC). Using the resources of that estimable organisation, Ben-Mosche’s thesis was able to shed light on the work of hitherto obscure activists and the burgeoning militia movements in Australia, including the Cobar-based Australians United for Survival and Freedom (AUSI) Freedom Scouts. In a similar vein, David Greason’s articles on the far Right and his memoir, I Was a Teenage Fascist, reflecting upon his dealings with extremist groups in England and Australia, were shaped by a Road to Damascus conversion to social democracy. Unsurprisingly, given his status as a renegade from the Right, Greason’s former colleagues reserve special venom for him. One pamphlet even accuses him of plagiarising I Was a Teenage Fascist from the former communist, Cecil Sharpley’s 1949 pamphlet, The Great Delusion.
The Australian Right has thrown up its own intellectuals. ‘Inky’ Stephensen was one and his career as an Australian nationalist influenced a contemporary activist, James Saleam, author of both an MA and PhD thesis on the far Right in America and Australia. In the 1980s Saleam was the leader of the racist National Action. After calling for ‘street action, direct action, personal approaches, militancy’ and warning, ‘We must be prepared … to struggle, sacrifice and — dare we say it — kill and be killed’, National Action waged a campaign of ‘nationalist justice’ against its opponents in Sydney, including leftists and anti-racists. Though he continues to protest his innocence, Saleam served time in gaol following an attack on the home of Eddie Funde, the African National Congress representative in Australia. The central argument of Saleam’s PhD thesis remains contested. According to Saleam, the surveillance and prosecution of right-wing nationalist groups after 1975 were predicated upon their conflict with the liberal-internationalist agenda of the state. This is clearly a case of special pleading. On the other hand, the author’s insider status and use of many of the files generated by National Action’s (apparently considerable) intelligence facility, meant that ‘Dr Jim’s’ thesis was able to bring to light a great wealth of fresh empirical detail about other contemporary right-wing groups such as the Confederate Action Party, the skinhead movement, Australians Against Further Immigration (AAFI) and the National Front of Australia.
During the 1960s right-wing groups increasingly broke away from the conservative mainstream. Apart from the attempt to ginger up the Liberal Party and the activism of the League of Rights, this was the hey-day of the Australian Nazis, the Australian National Socialist Party (NSAP). Rarely has such a miniscule political grouping enjoyed such extensive coverage in the secondary literature, specifically in the form of David Harcourt’s Everyone Wants to be Fuehrer. As the book made clear, the Australian Nazis were a sad bunch. While there were several individuals of talent in its ranks, including Arthur Smith and the physicist, E.R. Cawthron, the NSAP contained more than its fair share of petty criminals, alcoholics, the maladjusted, the alienated and lonely. Cawthron’s sophisticated polemic, including anti-capitalist rhetoric in the best Strasserite tradition, held less appeal than mindless street violence. With a total membership of perhaps 70 around Australia, Harcourt’s detailed biographical portraits of infamous but politically inconsequential individuals, such as Ross (‘The Skull’) May, seemed indulgent. Harcourt’s book met with a cruel fate. Copies of the first edition were pulped when a senior Liberal Party politician objected to a passing reference to his alleged links with the Ustasha. To state the obvious, the vagaries of Australian defamation law have also served to retard scholarly knowledge about the extreme Right in Australia.
In twentieth century Australian history there were but two major, anti-Labor right-wing mobilisations, both ending in constitutional coups. One was in New South Wales in 1930–32 when the premiership of the ‘Big Fella’, Jack Lang, inspired a co-ordinated response that included a capital strike, a hysterical media campaign and the blossoming of paramilitary organisations. The most militant of these groups, the New Guard, was openly contemptuous of the rule of law and democratic processes. Referring to the movement’s resolve to remove the Labor premier from office by force, if need be, one of the New Guard’s leaders, Captain Francis De Groot, later argued, ‘We had no intention of handing over Australia to the tender mercies of the rubbishy kind of people who aspired to rule us’. Captain De Groot, it seems, was unmindful of the fact that the ‘rubbish’ had been elected to office by the citizens of a democracy. On at least one occasion he chaired a meeting of senior New Guardsmen which discussed implementing government by a commission of disinterested ‘experts’ outside parliament. Though a pale imitation of Mussolini’s Blackshirts and Hitler’s Nazis, the New Guard was the most significant right-wing group of Australian history.
The second major right-wing mobilisation was inspired by the Whitlam Labor government of 1972–75. Aside from the response from big business, so well synthesised by R.W. Connell in Ruling Class Ruling Culture, more specifically right-wing groups blossomed during the Whitlam years. Fearing ‘industrial anarchy’, several strike-breaking ‘vigilante’ groups announced that ‘Anti-unionism’ is morally right. One such group in Melbourne claimed that 25,000 Australians had joined its ranks. Jennifer McCallum, a Melbourne housewife, organised People Against Communism, which was linked with the Workers’ Party of advertising executive John Singleton. An important libertarian antecedent of New Right ideas (now the political orthodoxy), the Workers Party proclaimed that it was against ‘human leeches, parasites, no-hopers and bludgers’ and for ‘less government, less tax, less inflation and more freedom’. Believing that ‘democracy is inherently immoral’, the Workers Party invited members of the public to hear the journalist and publisher Maxwell Newton ‘reveal’, ‘The Plot to Destroy Australia’. This, it seems, would entail an imminent economic collapse and ‘inevitable decline and fall to socialism’.
Such apocalyptic beliefs also encouraged a rekindling of the martial spirit of the New Guard. Indeed, in August 1974 Henry Mayer warned that a New Guard style organisation could re-emerge or a military coup might occur in Australia. At the same time the president of the NSW Returned Services League (RSL) announced that his branch would try to establish a ‘volunteer force of citizens and soldiers under the control of the government’ which would ‘help maintain order during civil disturbances’.
While the imminent release of security documents pertaining to this period may well shed light on the extent of right-wing paramilitary manoeuvres in 1975 — then widely rumoured in left-wing circles — the milieu of the times encouraged wider historical investigation of the phenomenon. Like any good historian, Keith Amos knew that the purpose of studying the past is to understand the present. His important study of the New Guard, the first monograph to be written on the subject, was finalised in July 1975, a few months before the Whitlam dismissal. As he argued, the New Guard could be understood ‘by placing the movement in the broader context of Australian history’. In part this harked back to the colonial period of NSW history, and the anti-democratic ideas expressed by the likes of politician W.C. Wentworth about the advent of responsible government in 1856. The New Guard ‘spirit’, Amos argued, was also evident in the RSL proposal of August 1974 to assemble an ‘army’ of 100,000 recruits to counter strikes and help maintain law and order. Further, Amos drew his readers’ attention to the formation in Britain in 1974 of two anti-socialist paramilitary forces. One was led by General Sir Walter Walker, former NATO commander-in-chief; the other by Colonel David Stirling, the former head of Britain’s Special Air Service. Colonel Stirling, like Margaret Thatcher, a product of the British county of Lincolnshire, spoke of organising volunteers who ‘must be motivated not by politics but by pure objective patriotism … [and] a determination to ensure the survival and strength of our country’s system of law and order’. As Keith Amos suggested, ‘the ultraconservative ruling instinct has changed very little since the days of the New Guard’.
In a similar vein, Moore’s The Secret Army and the Premier, a study of both the secretive 1930s Old Guard and the New Guard, began life as a doctoral dissertation commenced in the wake of the events of 11 November 1975. The dismissal inspired an enduring interest in the dark side of Australian democracy. Retreating to the ‘other’ constitutional crisis of 1932 was a surrogate for understanding the then all-too-recent events of 1975, inhibited as that task was by the close proximity of events and the 30-year delay in obtaining access to relevant archival documents. In 1979 Moore organised a small conference at Macquarie University, ‘Armies of the Night, Armies of the Right’, for scholars interested in right-wing paramilitary politics in Australia. More than 25 years later, at least one of the contributors, Drew Cottle, has maintained a continuing interest in the area. A highlight was a spine tingling address by Bill Richards, a Melbourne psychiatrist and dedicated observer of anti-democratic movements in Australia, the burden of which was that right-wing forces were massing (as he spoke) for a coup d’état. Richards wrote little down and then only published anonymously. Despite, or perhaps because of his overexcited imagination, Richards’ Melbourne home and office, whose filing cases bulged with reports on purported fascist activity in Australia, was a frequent port of call for left anti-fascists in the 1970s and 1980s. Dr Richards would cheerfully greet visitors with news of the latest outrage and death threat he had received. Bullet holes in the psychiatrist’s front door were a seemingly regular occurrence, though it remains to be seen who put them there.
Though not influenced by the political dramas of the Whitlam years, from 1972 the research of the respected journalist, Robert Darroch, also sheds light on right-wing paramilitary groups preparing to ward off riot and revolution. Focussing on the historical basis of British writer’s D.H. Lawrence’s novel Kangaroo, Darroch and his partner Sandra Jobson have maintained a remarkable 30-year vigil researching the minutiae of six weeks in Lawrence’s life in 1922 and the possibility that Lawrence met with the leaders of a covert inter-war paramilitary group. These issues are covered in Darroch’s 1981 work, D.H. Lawrence in Australia, numerous feature articles and more recently in the journal and web site of the D.H. Lawrence Society of Australia. In 1976 and 1977 Darroch’s interest in secret armies intersected with writing feature articles about a right-wing religious sect, Tinker Taylor, and the antics of the right-wing Uglies faction, then seeking to take over the NSW Liberal Party.
With Harcourt’s account of Australia’s dysfunctional Hitler enthusiasts in mind, it might be surmised that the history of the Australian Right is one of the marginalised and disaffected, members of the middle and working class, déclassé lumpens of little social account. Seen in this light, and speaking broadly, the history of the Australian Right amounts to ‘loser studies’, an apt term used by Graham Willett at the ‘Extreme Right’ conference in October 2004. More than likely, that right-wing groups enjoyed little popular support has also diminished scholarly interest in the area.
In the present thematic volume of Labour History, essays by Cottle and Keys on Douglas Darby, a politician in the NSW parliament, and Henderson’s piece on Frank Browne, a journalist, shed light on two such marginal figures. The Left’s pamphleteering tradition was guilty of exaggeration. Douglas Darby, despite his reputation in leftist circles as a significant right-wing ideologue, emerges as a ludicrous figure, wearing his pith helmet as he organised strike breakers in suburban Manly. Nonetheless, through examining Darby’s work with the extremist émigrés of Captive Nations, Cottle and Keys remind us how significant migrants and migrant politics were in shaping Australia’s home-grown Right. Frank Browne, a hard-bitten journalist who once was involved in an altercation with Kerry Packer over a printing press, managed to start a moderately successful right-wing party, the Australian Party, only to immediately shut it down — a characteristically perverse act. From it, however, emerged the seed of Australia’s first neo-Nazi party in 1959. A feature of Henderson’s work is his interviews with activists such as James Saleam and Arthur Smith.
Not all the Right, however, can be dismissed as without influence as Anne Blair shows in her recent biography of Brigadier Ted Serong. Serong was a professional soldier best remembered for his role in Vietnam where he worked with the CIA after leading the Australian Army Training Team to Vietnam in 1962. Blair suggests how a man close to the locus of political and military power could also be involved in dubious right-wing causes without reprimand from the military authorities, and indeed, in some cases, with their encouragement. It seems that in October 1950 Serong masterminded a battle exercise at a military reserve near Liverpool, NSW. While the infantry fired 30,000 rounds of small ammunition, four field regiments fired 4,000 salvos from their 25-pound guns. The purpose of this ‘biggest and most spectacular battle exercise ever arranged in Australia in peacetime’ was to warn Australia’s communists, including those camped nearby at the CPA’s school at Minto, about the military’s willingness and capability to deal with internal insurrection. In the 1970s and 1980s Serong attended international conferences of the World Anti-Communist League, a peak right-wing organisation that, according to Mark Aarons, ‘united old European Nazis and fascists with neo-fascist and right-wing terrorist groups in Italy, Spain, Korea, Japan and Latin America’. In October 1993 Serong was a distinguished guest at the annual national seminar of the League of Rights, which he advised about defence issues. The aging soldier became even more lunatic fringe in his affiliations. By the mid-1990s he was patron of the AUSI Freedom Scouts, which, from Cobar, in western NSW, trained detachments of men to deal with a foreign invasion or a ‘big show down with the socialists in Canberra’. Serong was also linked to another irregular paramilitary group, the ‘Guardians’, which in 1996 claimed to have organised groups ‘against some future emergency when they might see the need to overthrow the government’. Pauline Hanson reputedly treated Serong’s writings on defence issues as her ‘defence bible’. Blair suggests that ‘Serong made periodic visits around the countryside to the armed groups that had his imprimatur’. This situation, revealing both a private army mentality more attuned to the 1930s than the 1990s and a disdain for parliamentary democracy, was never censured. A lesser figure may well have been prosecuted for infringing the Crimes Act.
The Australian Right had never relied upon a credible revolutionary threat from the Left in order to sustain its vitality and following. Nonetheless, it might have been presumed that the period following the end of the Cold War, marked by the destruction of the Berlin wall in 1989, would have denied oxygen to right-wing groups and causes. This did not happen. It is certainly true that the influence of the League of Rights declined, its supremacy on the far Right being challenged by other groups such as Citizens Electoral Councils (CEC). Campaigning against the ‘New World Order’, the CEC is part of an international network of ‘Lunar Right’ groups controlled by the former Trotskyist, American Lyndon La Rouche, a self-styled political prisoner. As Ben-Mosche and Henderson reveal in their theses, there is a proliferation of other groups such as AAFI, the Confederate Action Party, a militia movement focussing on the gun lobby publication Lock, Stock and Barrel, as well as the influential journal, The Strategy, which acts as a clearing house for both domestic and international extreme Right causes.
In 1996 Pauline Hanson burst onto the scene — a populist politician who expressed widely-held views on a number of issues, including immigration and multi-culturalism, many of which were articulated in her infamous maiden speech. Hanson established a power base in rural south-east Queensland, formerly a League of Rights stronghold, and a national and international profile quickly ensued. For all that Australia’s right-wing may have wished to exploit her media profile to launch a grand alliance of the disaffected — and certainly many long-term activists jumped on the Hanson band wagon — other crucial figures such as Craig Isherwood, secretary of the CEC, held back. Indeed the CEC has recently speculated that Hanson was promoted by the media precisely because she was so inarticulate and therefore likely to damage the credibility of the right-wing cause.
Apart from the reams of newspaper print Hanson’s career consumed, no right-wing group or individual in Australian history has encouraged such an explosion of scholarly writing. Aside from the inevitable insider’s accounts, one by John Pasquarelli, another by Helen Dodd, as well as the idiosyncratic Pauline Hanson: The Truth, there were at least four major books devoted to the ‘Hanson Phenomenon’. Inevitably the quality of some of the analysis was uneven, being frequently composed in white heat and in too-close proximity to the events. For present purposes two essays are worthy of mention. One by Rae Wear located Hanson in a long tradition of right-wing politics in Queensland. The other by Murray Goot examined the demographics of One Nation’s electoral base and studied the reasons voters had supported One Nation. A further product of Professor Goot’s research into Hanson appears in this volume. Reflecting a political scientist’s enthusiasm for poll results, Goot arrives at some surprising conclusions as to where Hanson and One Nation may be situated in the traditional left-right dichotomy of the political spectrum. Goot’s research also underlines the extent of writing devoted to Hanson. A database assembled for his project includes no fewer than 580 journal articles and book chapters, ‘from the primly scholarly to the openly political’. It is little wonder that, in her hey day, Hanson was better known overseas, especially in Asia, than John Howard.
Aside from One Nation, the League of Rights and, to a lesser extent, the New Guard, the politics of right-wing migrant groups — specifically Germans and Italians in the interwar years — have been covered by John Perkins and Gianfranco Cresciani respectively. Judith Keene’s study of international volunteers in the Spanish Civil War has thrown up the strange case of Nugent Bull, a Newtown undertaker, who fought for General Franco. Mark Aarons’ exhaustive research sheds light on how the Cold War’s obsession with communism allowed hundreds of fascists and Nazi collaborators into Australia. In 1995 The Right Road? attempted to bring together a very large subject — the history of the Australian Right — into a single volume. Jewish historians have documented Holocaust denial in Australia. Most recently Marion Maddox has written about the rise of the religious Right in Australia and the intersections between religious fundamentalism and the Howard government. Between 1999 and 2002 there were three major PhD theses completed on the subject of the Australian extreme Right — by Saleam, Ben-Mosche and Henderson. The present Labour History thematic allows some of this scholarship to be published for the first time.
This collection of articles provides further insights about and snap shots of right-wing activists, organisations and themes. They make no claim to be definitive on the subject. Their collectivity is partly serendipitous, reflecting those conference papers which, when rewritten, passed successfully through the blind refereeing process and the scrutiny of the editorial working party of Labour History. Their arrangement is largely chronological, from the response to the Bolsheviks after 1917, to Pauline Hanson after 1996.
First cab off the rank is Nick Fischer’s study of Australia’s founding anti-communists, 1917–35 and why they failed to steer Australia toward the kind of authoritarian and even fascist society to which many of them aspired. Fischer compares Australia with the United States. There, Fischer argues, the anti-communist Right enjoyed many advantages, including greater support from the business community. The American labour movement was less powerful. In Australia the Right was constrained by the competing distractions of religious sectarianism, timidity and empire loyalism. Comparisons with the United States reappear in Peter Henderson’s study of neo-Nazi groups after World War II. It is important to be reminded that Australia’s Right was a small part of a wider international community and, at least in both Fischer and Henderson’s accounts, considerably less effective.
No series of articles on the Australian Right would be complete without mention of the League of Rights. In his study of the little-known New Zealand author, A.N. Field, Marinus La Rooij sheds new light on how Field’s writings proved a major intellectual influence upon, among others, Eric Butler and the League of Rights. The exchange of left-wing political ideas and influences between Australia and New Zealand has been documented by historians such as Kerry Taylor. Here La Rooij shows us that right-wing ideas, too, have been channelled across the Tasman. Field’s writings also serve as a reminder of the centrality of antisemitic conspiracy theory to the extreme Right around the world.
Nick Fischer concludes that the Australian Right was curtailed by the ‘raw social, economic and political power of labour’ and Moore’s piece looks at the New Guard’s interrelationship with the labour movement, both the extent to which Eric Campbell successfully attracted a working-class following, and how this affected the movement’s fortunes in the street fights of 1931 and 1932. This article also responds to the conservative historian, J.B. Hirst. Writing in Quadrant in 1990, Hirst argued that labour historians such as Moore had understated the role of the revolutionary Left in order to emphasise the paranoia of their right-wing opponents.Archival evidence, presented here for the first time, allows readers to judge the extent to which a leftist group like the CPA’s Workers Defence Corps represented a credible threat to bourgeois democracy that justified the raising of paramilitary militias like the New Guard.
It is important to neither over-nor under-estimate the significance of the Right in Australian politics. The selection of a famous and indeed iconic Australian image on the cover of this special issue of Labour History is deliberate. When the New Guard’s combative Captain De Groot intervened at the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on 19 March 1932, he intended to make Jack Lang a laughing stock, to belittle the premier by ridicule. The De Groot incident was deeply provocative. The good captain’s dubious display of horsemanship may also have shaped the way Australians feel about the prospect of right-wing extremism in general. Labour historian Bede Nairn suggests that De Groot’s deed evinced the New Guard’s ‘Fascist contempt for democracy’. The incident is sometimes taken to be a humorous interlude by a demented Irishman and its sinister aspect has been downplayed. Over the years the tendency has been to belittle threats from right-wing groups by invoking the essentially harmless and, it is assumed, whimsical character of Frank De Groot’s intervention. For John Birmingham, author of a popular ‘unauthorised’ biography of Sydney, De Groot was no more than a ‘nutjob on horseback’. This diminishes the reality of the dangers of right-wing extremism in Australia.
By a similar token the far Right of the political spectrum, the CEC, has recently published a major historical treatise that examines the ‘pro-Hitler, fascist origins of the Liberal Party’. Among other things its purpose was to highlight the extent to which the current Commonwealth government’s anti-terrorist laws may be compared to Adolf Hitler’s 1933 enabling legislation. Whatever this suggests about pots calling kettles black and the increasingly circular, rather than linear, nature of the political spectrum, complications further addressed in Goot’s article in the present thematic volume, it is clearly an overreaction. While the history of Australian conservatism is entwined with right-wing impulses and groups like the New Guard were not divorced from the conservative mainstream, as Judith Brett implies, Australia’s conservative establishment has not needed bovver boys to enforce its reign through terror. There is a strong likelihood that it never well.
On the other hand the ‘quiet continent’ view of Australian democracy, the assumption that Australia is somehow immune to right-wing extremism, should also be rejected. In the 1950s a young architect, John James, was the pioneer historian of the New Guard. A contemporary of many of the Old Left intelligentsia at Melbourne University in the 1940s and also a member of the CPA, James began work on the New Guard as a deliberate political strategy — to shed light on the enemies of the labour movement and to know the enemy. In an unpublished manuscript on the New Guard, James argued that ‘Third Forces’ like the New Guard ‘have historically been anti-democratic and totalitarian’. James warned, ‘There are men in this country, men, important men, powerfully backed who would not flinch from … attempting to destroy Democracy in the Name of Unity, and Freedom in the Name of Security’. James’ cautionary words were directed at Cold War Australia. Recent events in this country, as well as in Britain and America after 11 September 2001, suggest that James’s warning remains valid. So do his reasons for studying the Right.
1. For comments on an earlier version of this article I am grateful to Beverley Firth, Tony Harris and two anonymous readers. I would also like to thank especially Margaret Walters, John Shields and Greg Patmore for their assistance and support with expediting the editorial process of all of the papers published here. Thank you, too, to the 22 readers who offered their advice and criticisms. I am also grateful to all the contributors for their forbearance, but especially to Marcel van der Linden who produced his elegant postscript in record time.
2. R.W. Connell and F. Gould, Politics of the Extreme Right Warringah 1966, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1967.
3. A. Moore, The Right Road? A History of Right-wing Politics in Australia, Oxford University Press (OUP), Melbourne, 1995.
4. Ibid., pp. 1–4; Connell and Gould, Politics of the Extreme Right, ch. 4.
5. Boris Frankel, From the Prophets Deserts Come, Arena, Melbourne, 1992, p. 140.
6. 50 Club Newsletter, February 1968, Henry Mayer papers, Mitchell Library (ML), MLK 04162; A. Moore, ‘Bob Connell and the 50 Club’ in N. Hollier (ed.), Ruling Australia: The Power, Privilege and Politics of the New Ruling Class, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2004, pp. 45–47.
7. J. Playford, The Truth Behind Captive Nations Week, Outlook Publications, Sydney, 1968. See also Playford’s, ‘Migrant of the Year’, The Bridge, October–November 1967 and ‘The Extremist Emigres’, Dissent, no. 22, 1968.
8. See, for instance, articles on the Cold War anti-communist paramilitary organisation, The Association, and right-wing violence in Tribune, 24 May 1946, 24 December 1947, 4 February 1948, 16 October 1948, 23 March 1949, 10 August 1949, 3 September 1949, 22, 29 October 1949, 5, 9, 16 November 1949.
9. K.D. Gott, Voices of Hate: A Study of the Australian League of Rights and its Director Eric D. Butler, Dissent Publishing, Melbourne, 1965; J. McLaren, Free Radicals, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2003, p. 241.
10. E. St John, The Australian League of Rights, NSW University Press, Sydney, 1972, p. 2.
11. M. Richards, ‘The Politics of Extremism: Eric Butler and the League of Rights’, Dissent, 27, Autumn 1972, pp. 28–43. See also M. Richards and M. Edwards, ‘Guardians of Eternal Truths: The League of Rights and the Election’, in H. Mayer (ed.), Labor to Power, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1973, pp. 105–110.
12. A. Campbell, The Australian League of Rights: A Study of Political Extremism and Subversion, Outback Press, Melbourne, 1978.
13. K. Richmond, The Australian League of Rights: An empirical study of the League in Northern New South Wales and Southern Queensland 1973 to 1974, unpublished MA thesis, University of New England, 1975.
14. R. Brockett, ‘The Australian Country Party, the Australian League of Rights and the Rural Crisis of 1968–1972’, The Electronic Journal of Australian and New Zealand History, 1995–6, See also David Greason’s response in the same journal, ‘The League of Rights: a reply to Brockett’.
15. P. Gardner, ‘The League of Rights in Australia’, Without Prejudice, no. 3, June 1991, pp. 42–53.
16. Mayer’s comments are appended in J.M.L. Woods, Conservative Political Attitudes: A Small Study of Political Attitudes in an urban and rural electorate of N.S.W. with specific reference to the Australian League of Rights, BA Hons thesis, Department of Government, University of Sydney, 1972.
17. D. Ben-Moshe, An Assessment of the Characteristics, Methodologies, Antisemitic and Racist Beliefs of, and Interaction between Organised Racist Groups in Australia, PhD thesis, Hebrew and Jewish Studies Program, Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne, 2000, pp. 62–63.
18. P. Henderson, A History of the Australian Extreme Right since 1950, PhD thesis, School of Humanities, University of Western Sydney, 2002, p. 101.
19. See, for instance, L.J. Louis, ‘The RSL and the Cold War 1946–50, Labour History, no. 74, May 1998, pp. 88–103; A. Moore, ‘Fascism Revived? The Association Stands Guard 1945–52’. Labour History, no. 74 May 1998: pp.105–121; G. Spenceley, ‘The Minister for Starvation: Wilfred Kent Hughes, Fascism and the Unemployment Relief (Administration) Act, Labour History, no. 81, November 2001, pp.135–154.
20. J. Hope, ‘British Fascism and the State, 1918–1927: a Re-examination of the Documentary Evidence’, Labour History Review, vol. 57, issue 3, Winter 1992 and ‘Blackshirts, Knuckle Dusters and Lawyers: Documentary Essay on the Mosley versus Marchbanks papers’, Labour History Review, vol. 65, no. 1, Spring 2000; D. Renton, ‘Not Just Economics but Politics as Well: Trade Unions, Labour Movement Activists and Anti-Fascist Protests, 1945–51’, Labour History Review, Summer 2000, vol. 65 issue 2. See also D. Renton, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Britain in the 1940s, Macmillan, London, 2000.
21. Moore, The Right Road?, p. 141.
22. Renton, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Britain in the 1940s, p. 13.
23. C. Munro, Wild Man of Letters: The Story of P.R. Stephensen, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1984; B. Muirden, The Puzzled Patriots: The Story of the Australia First Movement, Melbourne University Press (MUP), Melbourne, 1968. An important recent study of Australia’s first experiences in the 1930s and early 1940s, arguing that the internment of its leaders was justified, is provided by B. Poniewierski, The Australia-First Movement and the Publicist, 1936–1942: Origins and Development, with Particular Reference to Foreign Influences, MA thesis, Department of German and Russian Studies and Department of History, University of Queensland, 1999.
24. R. Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to the National Front, I.B. Tauris, London, 1998.
25. R. Gollan, ‘Looking Back’ in B. Attwood (ed.), Labour Histories, Monash Publications in History. Melbourne, 1994, p. 1.
26. K. Buckley ‘Why work on Capital History?’ in D. Cottle (ed.), Capital Essays, Panacea Press, Sydney, 1984, p. 3.
27. Ben-Moshe, ‘An Assessment’, passim.
28. D. Greason, ‘Lyndon LaRouche Down Under’, Without Prejudice, no. 5, 1992, pp. 3–19; D. Greason, I Was a Teenage Fascist, McPhee Gribble, Melbourne, 1994.
29. P. Giannopoulos, David Greason, ‘Racism Expert’ Credibility Exploded: Is Dave the Real Demidenko?, pamphlet, [Sydney, 1998] available at , accessed October 2005.
30. Cited in D. Freney, Nazis Out of Uniform, privately published, Sydney ([n.d., 1984]), p. 25. For a brief summary of National Action see Moore, The Right Road?, pp. 119–124.
31. J. Saleam, The Other Radicalism: An Inquiry into Contemporary Australian Extreme Right Ideology, Politics and Organization 1975–1995, PhD thesis, Department of Government and Public Administration, University of Sydney, 1999. See also J. Saleam, American Nazism in the context of the American extreme right 1960–1978, MA thesis, University of Sydney, 1985. Saleam’s web site, the ‘Australian Nationalist, Ideological, Historical and Legal Archive’ at is an important, ongoing resource in regard to his views and ongoing activities.
32. D. Harcourt, Everyone Wants to Be Fuehrer: National Socialism in Australia and New Zealand, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1972.
33. For further discussion of De Groot’s views on democracy see A. Moore, Francis De Groot: Irish Fascist, Australian Legend, Federation Press, Sydney, forthcoming 2005.
34. R.W. Connell, Ruling Class. Ruling Culture. Studies of Conflict, Power and Hegemony in Australian Life, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1977, ch. 6.
35. Age, 2 July 1975.
36. Sun, 20 August 1974.
37. K. Amos, The New Guard Movement 1931–1935, MUP, Melbourne, 1975, pp. 111–113.
38. A. Moore, The Secret Army and the Premier. Conservative Paramilitary Organisations in New South Wales 1930–32, NSW Wales University Press, Kensington, 1989, p. 9.
39. ‘Blood on the Wattle’, Lot’s Wife, 7 October 1974.
40. An evolving feast of detail in regard to Darroch’s ongoing research, as well as issues of Rananim: the journal of the D.H. Lawrence Society of Australia are available on line at . See also R. Darroch, D.H. Lawrence in Australia, Macmillan, Sydney, 1981.
41. See R. Darroch, ‘The Group Living in Sinless Perfection’, Australian, 8 March 1977.
42. Among other places this incident is discussed in Bridget Griffen-Foley, Sir Frank Packer: The Young Master, Harper Collins, Sydney, 2000, p. 227.
43. A. Blair, Ted Serong: The Life of an Australian Counter-insurgency Expert, OUP, Melbourne, 2002, pp. 185–196.
44. M. Aarons, Sanctuary: Nazi Fugitives in Australia, William Heinemann, Melbourne, 1989, p.80.
45. Moore, The Right Road?, p. 135.
46. Blair, Ted Serong, p. 191.
47. See Ben-Mosche, ‘An Assessment’, passim; Henderson, ‘A History of the Australian Extreme Right’, ch. 7.
48. Henderson, ‘A History of the Australian Extreme Right’, pp. 387–388.
49. The New Citizen, vol. 5, no. 5, April 2004.
50. The works likely to prove the most enduring are M. Leach, G. Stokes and I. Ward (eds), The Rise and Fall of One Nation, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 2000; N. Davidoff (ed.), Two Nations: The Causes and Effects of the Rise of the One Nation Party in Australia, Bookman, Melbourne, 1998; B. Grant (ed.), Pauline Hanson and Australian Politics, University of New England Press, Armidale, 1997; G. Gray and C. Winter (eds), The Resurgence of Racism: Howard, Hanson and the Race Debate, Monash Publications in History, no. 24, Melbourne, 1997.
51. R. Wear, ‘One Nation and the Queensland Right’ in Leach et al, The Rise and Fall of One Nation, pp. 57–72.
52. M. Goot, ‘Hanson’s Heartland: Who’s for One Nation and Why’ in Davidoff (ed.), Two Nations, pp. 51–74.
53. G. Cresciani, Fascism, Anti-Fascism and Italians in Australia 1922–1945, ANU Press, Canberra, 1980; J. Perkins, ‘The Swastika Down Under: Nazi Activities in Australia 1933–39’, Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 26, 1991, pp. 111–129.
54. J. Keene, Fighting for Franco: International Volunteers in Nationalist Spain During the Spanish Civil War, 1936–39, Leicester University Press, London, 2001, pp. 106–110.
55. Aarons, Sanctuary and M. Aarons, War Criminals Welcome, Black Inc, Melbourne, 2001.
56. H.L. Rubinstein, ‘Early Manifestations of Holocaust Denial in Australia’, Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, vol. XIV, pt 1, November 1997, pp. 93–109.
57. M. Maddox, God Under Howard: The Rise of the Religious Right in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2005.
58. Both this introduction and Moore’s article were assessed independently by referees engaged by Greg Patmore and the editorial working party of Labour History.
59. J. Hirst, ‘Communism and Australia’s Historians’, Quadrant, no 265, April 1990, pp. 26–32.
60. B. Nairn, The ‘Big Fella’: Jack Lang and the Australian Labor Party 1891–1949, MUP, Melbourne, 1986, p. 256.
61. J. Birmingham, Leviathan: The Unauthorised Biography of Sydney, Vintage, Sydney, 2000, p. 237.
62. The New Citizen, vol. 5, no. 5, April 2004.
63. See J. Brett, Australian Liberals and the Moral Middle Class, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 2003, pp. 100–108.
64. See D. Pike, Australia: The Quiet Continent, Cambridge University Press, London, 1970.
65. J. Haughton James, ‘A Tale of Two Leaders’, unpublished MSS, p. 61, in James papers, ML MSS 2057.