Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Bill Harney and  Jessie Litchield

At one stage in her frenetic life- punctuated by bouts of poor health, exhaustion , campaign after  campaign and Communist Party internal skirmishes - Jean Devanny considered taking a break in Darwin . Over the years she had contact with a range of people in or from the Territory. These  included Territory literary figures who were also activists in a variety of fields .

One encounter took place at a meeting of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in the Blue Room Cafe, Sydney , at which (Olaf) Michael Sawtell , described in a newspaper report as an old cattleman from the Northern Territory and Kimberley, gave a lecture about BOOKS IN THE BUSH. Guests included Territorians Bill Harney , introduced as the " last of the Beachcombers," and journalist, newspaper editor and author , Jessie Litchfield , who ran the Roberta Library in Darwin , became the assistant editor of the North Australian Monthly , grandmother of former NT Chief Minister, Marshall Perron.



Michael Sawtell , living in Sydney at the time , a dynamic person ,  had been a strong advocate of socialism, engaging  in many union battles in WA and Broken Hill, NSW,  serving time in jail.  Full of big  ideas , he gave scores of lectures , wrote numerous letters to newspapers on a  wide range of subjects and strongly campaigned for the advancement of Aborigines .

During the Wet of 1908 , Sawtell had ridden by horse from Darwin to Derby in WA , swimming flooded rivers, without seeing one person along the way. While droving  in the Northern Territory he came into possession of a copy of a book by the American poet and essayist, Ralph Waldo Emerson . It transformed his life as he became a voracious reader , filling  him with the desire to better mankind.

Like Bill Harney , he  had spent time in Borroloola ,in the Gulf country , and like Bill had read many of the books in the  3000 volume  Carnegie Library collection which had been set up in the court house   in  that isolated, tiny community , it  becoming known as the University of the Northern Territory. He also said Mrs Aeneas Gunn, of We of the Never-Never fame, the Australian Inland Mission and other people had helped to spread good books throughout the back country.

In 1930 , Sawtell settled in Sydney, married , and the couple opened a health food store in the Victoria Arcade and he  preached socialism on Sundays in the Domain. Becoming disillusioned with socialism , he took up the cause of Aboriginal welfare and in 1940 was appointed to the Aborigines Welfare Board, which involved him , said one newspaper report , going on "walkabout" with the people to discuss their problems, from time to time visiting Alice Springs and Darwin.

One of his ambitions was to divert northern rivers through tunnels to fill Lake Eyre . He advocated a massive tree planting drive  in parts of the outback and said that at Marree there was not enough wood to enable the boiling of a billy. When there was a call in 1949 for Australia to produce more beef to feed Britain, Sawtell colourfully said the NT’s grass fed cattle could not even supply the cats of the Old Country; hundreds of stud bulls needed to be sent to the Territory to improve the bloodstock over 10 years.

His lectures were about diverse subjects – The Aborigines of the NT, The Life of Pythagoras, Occultism and Mysticism, Theosophy and the Australian Aborigine, Censorship and Plato-every aspirant to public office, every reformer and every politician , he said, should read Plato’s Republic . He wrote a book about Emerson and was the head of the Emerson Society in NSW.

Sawtell opposed the 1950s atomic bomb tests in Australia and expressed his concern about Aborigines in the area . When a NZ politician suggested that Indians could settle the vast and empty north, Sawtell responded with a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald in which he said the so-called Afghan camel drivers in Australia were not actually from Afghanistan , but from India , the Punjab, he thought . They had done wonderful pioneering work all over the back country before motorised transport . Cattle King, Sir Sidney Kidman , had always praised the honesty and the sobriety of the Ghan camel driver.

Some of the older "Ghans" had been soldiers in the Indian Army and were most loyal. During the first war loan for the 1914-l918 battle, an old "Ghan" had hobbled up from " a shack on the bank of the Todd River"at Alice Springs, and paid in £3000 ($6000) to the war loan.

In another newspaper letter,Sawtell, in September 1946,said people who "hurl abuse" at Bob Menzies, calling him Pig- Iron Bob , should know that at the time Port Kembla workers refused to load pig-iron for Japan , the West Australian Labor Government was trying to sell 500,000 tons of Australian Yampi Sound ore to the Japanese. This could  be verified, he wrote , by  reading  Federal Hansard.



In the case of Mrs Jessie Litchfield , she was also an exception person , a prominent NT pioneer , who fought long and hard to improve conditions in the Territory . While a young girl attending school in Neutral Bay , Sydney , in 1895 , one of her teachers was Miss Mary Cameron , who later went to the Utopian settlement , New Australia , Paraguay, South America , with her husband and  became  Dame Mary Gilmore , prominent  in  Australian literature.

Dame Mary said that when Jessie  was a schoolgirl she  had stood out in character , personality and intelligence . "All that life had to do was develop her. Her interests went beyond the local into the national , even world affairs."There are many letters from Dame Mary  in the Jean Devanny Papers , James Cook University Special Collections , Townsville.

Litchfield had been to China as a young women to see a relative, became a correspondent in Darwin for overseas newspapers and magazines. Major stories she covered included arrival of  pioneering aviators in Australia , and she  used her local knowledge to scoop hotshot reporters .  Late in life , walking with the aid of a walking stick , she hired a taxi to drive 3000 miles throughout the Territory in a bid to be elected as the NT’s MHR.

Interestingly, Litchfield loathed Communists so she would not have been enamoured of Jean Devanny. She called Communists Red Raggers and left a literary bequest , administered by the Bread and Cheese Club, Melbourne , to promote new and unknown writers , no entries to contain pornographic, seditious or Communist material.

One recipient of the award was the late Glenville Pike who wrote and published many books about the NT and North Queensland. He later edited the above 1982 biography of Jessie Litchfield GRAND OLD LADY OF THE TERRITORY, written by a granddaughter, Janet Dickinson, of Blackwater, Queensland. The cover is a Pike oil painting.

 Pike provided me with first-hand information about Jessie Litchfield, her Roberta Library , her fierce devotion to the advancement of the NT and how she had financed the launch of the North Australian Monthly, which he edited ; Michael Sawtell also wrote for the magazine.

Jessie had dealings with the late author Xavier Herbert when he was in the Territory, and was not impressed by his novel , Capricornia. Herbert told me about his meetings with her, and said some of her opponents in  union organisations cruelly called her “Mother Thickneck,” because of a goitre problem. She died while on a trip south and her ashes were  scattered  about  Darwin Harbour



Interesting information about Bill Harney, once the Keeper of Ayers Rock , now Uluru , emerges in Devanny’s correspondence and shows how prominent female writers of the day helped  him. Dame Mary Gilmore mentions his book ,Brimming Billabongs ; a letter says he is heading back to his " beloved Territory,"and is a " nice bloke."

Writing from the Native Affairs Branch , Katherine , NT , May 25, 1944 , Harney addressed Devanny, then residing in Cairns , North Queensland , as Dear Jean. He had received her welcome letter. It being his job to inspect all the missions in the Territory , he had been travelling everywhere by plane and motor to visit all the " native centres" to see the "blackman " in his native home and this had made him feel good. More than 1200  children had been seen during his months of travel , all the time writing . Part of his work involved talking to troops to inform them about the people.

"I am grateful for your advice and see the wisdom of it ," he told Devanny . " I am also grateful to Ruth Park (also NZ born , prominent author whose partner , D'Arcy Niland , later visited Alice Springs with a travelling boxing troupe gathering material for his writing, and was met by Jim Bowditch , who would become the renowned NT crusading editor,whose life story is being serialised in Little Darwin ) giving me so many pointers to correct myself in a poem . Of course, it took only two days to write the story of the blackman while I was coming up in the train over the arid desert from Adelaide to Alice Springs ."

"Listen Jean ," he continued ."I honestly believe the black man is going to survive the storms of civilization as here they are on the upgrade and breeding strong. Personally , I am for the natives in their own reserves till they are strong enough to be able to resist the outside, or until a new system develops that will give them a fair go." In this " land of peace ," the native children and elders were living as all should do in a land of social security .

Harney , born 1895, told Devanny he had lived in Cairns when he was a lad and remembered the Kanakas ( the blackbirded islanders brought in to work the canefields) they used to call the blackmen from the islands . While in Cairns he had worked as a printers devil at the Morning Post and often visited nearby Green Island . Sailing ships came in to take away the cheap labour , and the place always spelled romance to him . Harney ended : " Wish you were here to write and write freely."


While in Townsville perusing the fascinating Devanny Papers, I took time out to chase up another  series ; Lady Lucky led me to an unexpected discovery about  Bill Harney and  information on  other  NT characters and events. Harney, it was revealed , had contributed poems, one under the nom-de-plume , Moorandanni, to the Communist Party of the NT’s fiery publication, The Proletarian , which regularly flayed the NT Administration  and others during the 1930s. It and the North Australian Workers’ Union paper, Northern Standard, often engaged in attacks upon each other . The Proletarian editor from May 1934 to January 1935 was Charlie A. V. Priest , one of a number of very active Darwin unionists  who inspired a composite character in Xavier Herbert’s huge novel, Poor Fellow My Country .

Priest later wrote his autobiography in nine parts, one entitled Northern Territory Recollections, spanning the years 1927-70, covering a year on Melville Island, travels throughout the Territory, mining and prospecting in Tennant Creek, the Tuckiar murder case and Lasseter’s Reef,which  was advertised in The Australian on September 25,1988. Writing about  Harney , Priest  said  he ran a poem dealing with the plight of Aboriginal men, women and children, sneering  whites , which Priest  said  had brought tears to his eyes upon reading.  Priest wrote poems himself as  well as pamphlets . Another who  contributed poetry  to The Proletarian was R.F.Antony from  the  loco sheds in Darwin who corresponded with  Jean Devanny in  February 1938.

NEXT: Devanny's  connection  with  the  Northern Territory’s wartime literary hotspot.

Monday, October 29, 2012


In yet another excellent report in the Australian Story TV series, the ABC   dealt with Sydney Morning Herald  reporter , Malcolm Brown, the man who commented out loud in  the Darwin  courtroom  that the jury which convicted the Chamberlains was a pack of  bastards. The dialogue said that the judge had clearly tried to direct the  jury to find the Chamberlains not guilty, yet found them guilty , causing Brown’s outburst. Michael Chamberlain commented that he  trusted Brown, while there were many in the media the Chamberlains did not trust.

 The show told how Brown,  a top notch , veteran reporter , prone to outbursts and somewhat eccentric behaviour  due to a schizoid  condition , was   recently  induced to retire from the Sydney Morning Herald after  having  worked  there since 1972 . The story also covered  the tragic ,mass sacking of staff  at the SMH, part of the  once great Fairfax organisation, its shares below  50cents .

In the promo for the show there was a quick still shot, above, of a newspaper room which, despite diminished eyesight , caught my attention because it was a view from the now long gone Sydney Sun general reporters room on the fifth floor of the Fairfax building on Broadway, where I once worked . In the centre of the activity, in a dark suit ( he often dressed like Dick Tracy , the comic strip detective), was Joe Morris , a legendary police roundsman , with  whom I had many dealings, both as a copyboy and a reporter.

I managed to take a screen grab of that same scene the night the Australian Story on Brown was run. Downloading the shot from my digital camera the morning after, I ejaculated with surprise when I discovered that I was one of the reporters in the group  at a desk behind  Morris.  Calling my wife, I asked her if she could identify this bloke with a  phone attached to his ear. “That’s you !” I pointed out I  was wearing my trendy , narrow , knitted tie, part of a Reuben F. Scarfe  menswear  store  20 pounds ($40) time  payment scheme , another item  being an Ivy League (American) , button  down  collar  shirt . Really cool .

I could not recall the photo being taken , realised it was staged , and puzzled over the fact that we  were facing the wrong way in the reporters room.  Sitting to the left of the late Joe Morris-who will be discussed in detail in a major newspaper serial in Little Darwin sometime in the future- is a contemporary of mine , Warner Russell, so I emailed him in Sydney for comment. Both Morris and Russell were licenced to own a  pistol and practised together at the police shooting gallery. Furthermore,Warner’s email address reflects his interest in firearms .

Warner fired back a quick reply and said the photo , taken in the late 1950s by my reckoning , just before I went to Darwin for the first time,  had  been run in the staff news and that we had been facing towards the large windows , rather than normally with them at our backs, for better lighting . Taken from this angle , the SMH sub editors’ table and reporters desks are seen in the background.--Peter Simon .

Saturday, October 27, 2012


On the evening of  October 23, l942, an artillery barrage of almost 1000 guns, above , marked the opening of the Eighth Army’s El Alamein offensive , a turning point in the North Africa war. From Little Darwin’s ephemera collection comes an account of the rousing briefing Lieutenant – Colonel C. G .Weir, 2/24th Battalion gave Australian troops two days before that momentous battle : " In 48 hours this battalion will take part in the greatest battle that has yet been fought in the war, a battle which indeed is expected to be the turning point of the war. It is possible that this battle , the Battle of El Alamein ,will be known in history as one of the decisive battles of the world , such as Saratoga (American Revolutionary War), the defeat of the Spanish Armada and Waterloo."

The attack, he said , would  be along the entire 10 mile German front . The British Army Commander , General Montgomery, had chosen the 9th Australian Division for the vital task of securing and holding the right flank on which the army would pivot. Australians had been chosen because they were battle –seasoned and experienced in desert fighting and , because he knew they would never yield one yard of ground to the enemy. A diversionary " Chinese attack " was to be launched on a heavily reinforced enemy sector ,using dummies operated with wires . Hundreds of  Italian 81mm mortar bombs "borrowed " from time to time , would be "returned with suitable expressions of goodwill."

General Montgomery had sent a personal message asking that every man fight until he could no longer fire a shot ... "This will be a great and bloody battle . Let each of us ask God to give us strength and courage to play our part in what will certainly be the decisive and perhaps final battle of the Middle East , in the knowledge that our success will open the road to victory in this war. Finally, I say this. If there is a man among you who hasn’t the guts to fight shoulder to shoulder with us, and who hopes in some way to dodge his share of the job , let him go and let no one stop him. We will take no one into this fight who is not dedicated to the task. God bless you all-may He give us stout hearts for the battle that lies ahead and the knowledge that what we do is done in the cause of Freedom and the downfall of tyranny."

Friday, October 26, 2012


Government House presented an absolute picture of  manicured excellence during the current sitting of the Legislative Assembly, not a blade of grass out of place, the  hedge  in  regimental order . However, across the road , is the above monument marking the centenary of the 1871 laying of  the  cable linking Australia with Java and  thus London . The edifice is wornweathered, faded  and chipped . It has been this way for many moons, without anybody thinking it would be a good idea to repair a  monument marking an event of national-not only local importance, involving  construction of the Overland Telegraph Line from Adelaide to Darwin , a stupendous achievement  by  colonial South Australia.

 A raised  medallion , bottom left , portraying Captain Robert Halpin , skipper of the vessel Investigator, part of the three vessel cable fleet, is chipped,  glazing missing,  giving the appearance he is suffering from scurvy or leprosy. Who in Darwin is responsible for this neglect of  yet another  important memorial ? None of the politicians who trotted over to Government House en masse for tea and truffles apparently noticed  the shabby state of  the memorial as  they walked by .

Not far from Government House is the viewing platform with information about the harbour and the bombing through  graphic, interpretative panels . It is not uncommon to find excreta of some animal,possibly a bush rat,  on the pics and some have been scratched on borders. It is hard to see the harbour because  overhanging trees need a trim so visitors can see points of interest. The platform does not get the same  care and attention lavished on  Government House .

In parliament this week, the new government declared it is really interested in tourism . It is to be hoped that  monuments of great  significance are cleaned up and maintained as they are tourist attractions. Little Darwin pointed out ages ago the gross spelling errors-clangers- at the Darwin Cenotaph , a situation which had existed for decades without anybody in authority twigging , and is still not rectified.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


 * Modest  Eve's   figleaf  blown away  in  extensive  parliament house    beautification   makeover. 

The winds of change were evident when Little Darwin visited parliament for the first time under the new CLP regime. A female armed with a leaf blower was removing detritus- old ciggies, bottle tops, drinking  straws,  invading South Australian millipedes, space junk from out  the front and side of  the gleaming white building , the flags hanging limply, waiting for a  burst of windy weather.  Inside waves  were   breaking  out all over the chamber–the pollies were waving  madly at  schoolchildren in the public gallery, normally vacated by other members of the public when the kinders  pour in. An Assembly staff member was   seen  waving  his tie at somebody in the  gallery early in the proceedings .    An attendant informed me to make sure my mobile was turned off  and that no photographs could be taken.

That’s a shame because I would have liked to have taken a pic of the flower displays in the centre of the room to have them checked by Arnhem Nursery as I am sure they were not all Australian natives , if any. Due to  failing  eyesight, some looked  suspiciously like South African  proteas.

Sitting like a lonely little petunia in an onion patch at the back of the Opposition side was former Chief Minister Paul Henderson . Throughout question time he poured himself many glasses of water from his jug, fiddled with his biro, tugged at his ear , ran a finger underneath his snozzle , patted his receding hair, occasionally wrote on the one  piece of paper in front of him.  Having gone from the status of a rooster ruling the roost ( admittedly with the help of Chicken Man ) to a feather duster , Henderson was deridingly  called yesterday’s man , no longer listened to by anyone from his backbench position. There were more non points of order raised by Opposition than  spots in the  current measles outbreak in the NT. As usual , Kon Vatskalis   asked a question which was  hard to understand over the PA.

Proceedings were interrupted so that the House could walk across to Government House for tea and sympathy. Unfortunately, the killer plovers were not in residence on the lawn outside the Wedding Cake , so nobody was dive bombed like February 19, l942. Readers will recall that aggressive plovers took a dislike to former Labor Minister Rob Knight , re-routed at the last election, or he would use the annoying American pronunciation, re-rowted . Little Darwin had a quick chat with Alison Anderson as she  headed  towards Government House ; Alison proudly claimed  that now that she is  a minister in the CLP government , she is  the only person since Winston Churchill who has  held a ministry on both sides of  parliament . I suppose this entitles here to give the two finger V for victory sign that made Winston famous. It is sincerely hoped that she does not take up smoking cigars as did Winnie the War Winner .

Even though Henderson was on the backbench in parliament, he was up front with the now party  leader, Delia Lawrie , and Kon Vaskalis , as they  marched down the driveway at  Government House , the surroundings as pretty as a picture postcard, a veritable Garden of  Eden .

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


THE DEVANNY FAMILY soon became almost household names in Sydney after their arrival from New Zealand in 1929 at the start of the Depression, with its attendant large scale unemployment , evictions, demonstrations , arrests . Jean, of course , was already known as the author of the banned novel , The Butcher Shop , which highlighted sexual oppression in marriage and had sold well in Britain . She , long before Germaine Greer, spoke about  sexual matters, birth control and the plight of women at the open air debating arena , the Domain, and other meetings. Hal , like a duck to water, became involved in union matters and was made publisher of the Workers’ Weekly where son and daughter Karl and Patricia worked for a time in the printery .
By Peter Simon
At one stage , in 1930 ,  all four members of the family were in prison at the same time. This was hailed as something of a record, a badge of honour in the revolutionary struggle . Hal, Jean and son Karl were arrested for engaging in an illegal procession  and all three served short jail sentences. Patricia, having joined the Young Communist League, was arrested and sentenced to fourteen days in prison for  participating in an unauthorised demonstration. While in  Long  Bay prison  Pat and several other women participated in a hunger strike to support the "Clovelly boys," who had been imprisoned for arson after they burned the house of  a landlord who evicted an unemployed family.

During a large demonstration copies of what were said to be a magazine called , War! What For?, were circulated by the Movement Against War and Fascism. This title , a slight variant of War-What For ? , the above title of the book by George Ross  Kirkpatrick (1867–1937) , an American anti-militarist writer and political activist , a copy of which  had belonged to the Australian activist/ politician , Harry Holland ,with whom Devanny associated in NZ.  Kirkpatrick had been the 1916 vice presidential nominee of  the Socialist Party of America. [ See Little Darwin post JEAN DEVANNY’S HECTIC EARLY NZ  LIFE , #2]

Jean and Hal absolved each other from their marital ties while still living in the same house. Both mother and daughter made separate trips to RussiaIn 1931,Pat was sent to a  communist international school in Moscow, where she studied Marxist-Leninist  theory.  Patricia is also said  to have studied music under Lenin’s widow, the incredibly brave and energetic , Nadezhda  Krupskaya, teacher, feminist writer, noted speaker, who opposed her husband  being embalmed and  put on display in the  Red Square , and a strong opponent of Stalin . ( After Krupskaya died in l939, incredibly, a  Russian chocolate was named  after her and is still sold today - after a recent capitalist makeover helped it  fight off  competition from companies like Nestle.) After returning to Australia in 1933, Pat  became national secretary of  the Young Communist League.

 A report in  Perth’s Daily News in September 1931 said, the New Zealand authoress , Jean Devanny , was travelling to Europe on a German steamer which had reached Fremantle. Mrs Devanny , it continued , was known as a vigorous and extremely realistic writer. Her outstanding book, The Butcher Shop, had been widely criticised for its outspokenness. Other of her books  which had  achieved popularity were The River and Bushman Burke. During the vessel's stay in port, Mrs Devanny would be the guest of Mrs Hugo Throssell – the Communist journalist and author, Katharine Susannah Prichard - at Greenmount. [ Throssell, a war hero, had received the Victoria Cross , committed suicide while his wife was  in Russia . ]At the time of her stopover in WA , Devanny was on her way to the World Congress of Workers’ International Relief, Berlin , delegates from which toured Soviet Central Asia .

Tragedy struck the Devanny family in September 1934 when Karl ,23, collapsed and died , the second offspring to die , daughter Erin taken by peritonitis in NZ.


Soon after , when the Australian government stopped Czechoslovakian journalist / author Egon Kisch from entering the country as a delegate from the International Peace Committee , Paris , to the 1935 Melbourne Congress Against War and Fascism , Jean Devanny became deeply involved, along with many prominent people, including Rupert Murdoch’s liberal minded uncle, Professor Walter Murdoch , subject of an earlier Little Darwin post in relation to his enlightened essays which were published as  newspaper articles by Keith Murdoch , Rupert’s father, in the Melbourne Herald, and in book form.

Kisch , a much travelled Jew , had written 22 books with titles such as Secret China, Changing Asia and The American Paradise , the latter predicting a major economic crash was coming in that country . A resident of Germany , he had   been  one of the intellectuals arrested and thrown into prison  by  Hitler’s regime, his books banned. Described as one of the most famous journalists in pre-war Austria , Kisch wrote a scholarly study , Classical Journalism, and spoke eight languages.

When Kisch arrived aboard the Strathaird at Fremantle on November 6 ,l934 , he was not allowed to land   and  subsequently was  subjected to a dictation  test in Scottish Gaelic , which he failed, and was told he would be deported. Professor Murdoch , of  Perth University , was one who spoke out about the government’s extraordinary action . Three days earlier , a  NZ unionist delegate to the same peace conference, Gerald Griffin, known to Jean Devanny , had been banned from entering Australia and sent packing back across the Tasman because he failed a test in Dutch. He simply returned on another ship with a different passport and added a new dimension to the bizarre situation as he flitted about the country making public speeches , dodging police .

Kisch’s case, a cause celebre, received extensive newspaper coverage . When the ship reached Melbourne there was a flurry of activity .Unable to come ashore , he  jumped from the vessel as it prepared to sail to Sydney with him aboard , and broke a leg. The High Court eventually ruled that Gaelic was not a European language and quashed Kisch’s conviction as a prohibited immigrant . He was allowed to enter the nation and addressed rallies. At one large gathering  , Jean Devanny delivered a moving  speech ,  during which Kisch cried ,and at the end of her oration she went over and kissed him. The elusive Kiwi delegate Gerald Griffin also spoke .


The Jean Devanny papers in the Special Collections at James Cook University library contain references to Kisch , his style of reportage , and how he had urged her and others to set up a League of Writers in Sydney , a branch of which later formed in Melbourne. The preliminary meeting had involved Kisch, Devanny, Katharine Susannah Prichard, journalist and  poet Bartlett Adamson and editor ,critic , Les Woollacott ( mentioned in the recent Little Darwin series about John Ashe , the Australian composer , singer , of Townsville),Tom Fitzgerald and probably Robert Southern and Leon BattDevanny was elected its president.

 Years  later, Rod Adamson, son of Bartlett Adamson, working in the film industry in Czechoslovakia , sent Jean a letter saying he had spent a wonderful  evening with Egon Kisch in Prague.  Kisch, he wrote, had been  very interesting to talk to and had a great sense of humour. Egon admired Australia very much and loved " swearing like an Australian. " Egon sent greetings to all.


About 1970, I attended a large Sydney auction of Australiana said to have belonged to Professor George Mackaness , historian, teacher, author, an avid collector , who wrote about book collecting and produced many Australian historical monographs . It was an interesting offering of books and ephemera , some in bundles ; my buys included two half leather bound volumes of the 1886 Picturesque Atlas of Australasia ( blown away  in Cyclone Tracy)  and a worn copy of the 1936 book  ON THE PACIFIC FRONT  The Adventures of Egon Kisch in Australia, by Julian Smith.

A pencil annotation claimed Julian Smith was actually the controversial Rhodes Scholar, author, publisher , Percy “Inky”Stephenson, responsible for the publication of Xavier Herbert’s , Capricornia , involved in the publication, through Mandrake Press, of an illegal, unexpurgated edition of  D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Stephenson , a powerful speaker and polemical writer, had crossed swords with many in London and Australia , verbally and in print. He unleashed a withering  broadside against the Sydney Telegraph in particular and many other journalists in the process , especially those who did book reviews , when it dared  ridicule Capricornia, which won the 1938 Sesquicentenary Prize

 However, it  has  also been firmly  claimed that the respected economics journalist , Tom Fitzgerald , working on the life of wartime Prime Minister , John Curtin, when he  died , had  been  the  author of  the  book.

Research revealed that Mackaness , a member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers , in which Jean Devanny was a major player , had been at loggerheads with Stephenson during the Kisch affair , especially for him (Inky) inviting Kisch to a FAW luncheon at which British Poet Laureate , John Masefield, was the guest speaker. At that function, attended by 500 , the Press had  been more interested in Kisch than the eminent poet.
The book contained other pencilled entries : P9, author Bartlett Adamson is branded an arch Commo! Then , beneath the captions for two photographs , the bottom one showing , Max Meldrum, Vance Palmer , Egon Kisch , Katharine Prichard and the elusive Kiwi peace delegate  Gerald Griffin , is : Commos all!


"Julian Smith" certainly used   a writing  style similar to that of  Stephenson . The Australian government was mocked , especially the Attorny-General, Robert Menzies, referred to   as Signor Menzolini, a play on the Italian Fascist , Mussolini .

The Kisch affair  inspired  numerous poems , some of which were included in the book, one headed THE NO-BALLING OF THE  GAELIC appeared in The Bulletin . A clever piece by Adam McCay of the Sydney Telegraph was inspired by a report that John Masefield, back in England , said his impressions of  Australia had not yet enabled him to write an Australian poem. So McCay wrote a parody of  Masefield’s famous poem, Sea Fever.

I must go down to the Wentworth (hotel),

To the writing lads and the lunch ,

To the fish course and kisch course ,

Where the authors mouth and munch

The ham beneath the lettuce , and the waiters walking,

And the slow word , and the dull word , and Mackaness talking

I must go down to the Wentworth,

To the Fellowship and the fray ,

Where White wouldn’t and (Billy )Hughes couldn’t

And Stevens kept away ;

And all I ask is the woeful yarn of a Czechoslovak rover

And his quiet grin and his deep sigh when the Gaelic test’s over .

The Kitsch affair exposed sections of the Australian way of life to scrutiny and criticism . It caused a revolt in branches of the Australian Journalists’ Association when a proposal that  there be a protest vote against the government over Kisch’s treatment was disallowed by the president . The Journalist subsequently ran the first Kisch story translated in Australia , a newspaper anecdote entitled The Pensioned–off Leader Writer. In a whimsical  twist,   Kisch was greeted by Gaelic pipers on a visit to Kurri Kurri , the bandmaster giving instructions in Gaelic .

The controversial  Communist journalist/ author , Wilfred Burchett, wrote that he had  been involved in the Kisch  affair  and  this  had  influenced  his  future  career. Burchett later  encountered   Kisch in Prague  after it had  been liberated from the Germans.

 Whoever the  author of  the book was , he did not  pull any  punches,  tackled fascist groups in Australia, had a  go at several prominent politicians and members of the legal profession. In a chapter headed KISCH AND THE JEWS , he charged that there had been a burst of anti -Semitism called forth from the Sydney Bulletin. The publication , he said , had called Kisch all kinds of a Jew and all kinds of  a Communist . In its bellicosity it had implied that Peace  was both a Bolshevik plot and a Jewish conspiracy.

Near the  end of  the book, it was  suggested Australia should send an ambassador of peace to Europe to reciprocate Kisch’s mission . There were many thinkers, writers, journalists, poets, artists and scientists in Australia who could carry out such a task with credit to themselves and to the  people of this country. There was   an extensive two page list of  those who came to mind , including Jean Devanny , described as an author, orator and critic , Professor Walter Murdoch , Katharine Susannah Prichard, a novelist and strenuous anti-war propagandist, Bartlett Adamson and L.L. Woollacott.

At the time, the Kisch  affair  received coverage in the Darwin  press , one story  saying he planned to address   the  Fellowship of Australian  Writers on  the working conditions of  European authors. He was also  working  on  a book  to be entitled  The Jump to Australia . This , however , evolved into  Australian  Landfall  .


Following the above post, a Little Darwin reader drew our attention to the fact that in 2007, Tasmanian poet ,Tim Thorne , issued a book entitled A Letter to Egon Kisch . At the time , Radio National Book Show poetry reviewer, Geoff Page, praised the work thus ... "In this new livre composé, Tim Thorne establishes the convention of bringing Kisch up to speed about what's been happening in our great country lately -- Kisch himself having died in Czechoslovakia in 1948. Although the book has many precedents, Juvenal's Satires and Byron's Don Juan among them, A Letter to Egon Kisch is without parallel in Australian poetry at the moment. It's a full-on, denunciatory political/cultural satire with no holds barred, as savage on the Labor Party as it is on the Liberals -- lamenting (as did Juvenal) how much everything (and I mean everything) in the poet's country has deteriorated in recent years..." ( It is a  great piece which can be viewed on  the Australian  Poetry Library  website )

NEXT : Devanny’s interest in the NT, involvement with Territory identities  and Aboriginal “ slave labour” on cattle stations.

Saturday, October 20, 2012


(It’s Chunder Down Under after an airline mix up in Peter Burleigh’s gripping Bulldust Diary ongoing account of his drama-packed outback Australia safari )
TONIGHT WE  have dinner at the Drysdale homestead. The girl tells us what’s on the menu.“Burf Boggynun and Roast Chook,” she says brightly, “and Cook has made a ‘log’ from bananas from the tree out the back mixed with almonds.” None of us has brought evening clothes and debate whether to wear our second-dirtiest or most-dirtiest clothes. Mr JW, the calmest, most polite and wisest judge of etiquette in the group.( Another small gratuity was paid to the author for this flattering testimonial). He is sometimes known as the “Ignoble Savage” and will take the lead in his filthy pink Target polo shirt.

The food and the cheerful service is very good, and the wine list features labels much better than the usual donkey’s piss you get out here. There’s no menu choice – the chicken and the Boggynun is all piled high on your plate together with potatoes, crumbed mushrooms and celery. But it’s sublime. They say Drysdale Station doesn’t make any money from cattle anymore; the tourist business keeps it in the black – so far in the black that the owners spend only three months a year here and the rest sailing the world in their yacht.

Otto, a heavily-accented European, is caretaker here during the Wet. There seems to be no flint-faced boundary riders about, no thundering stampedes, horse-breaking or big-hatted guys wearing R.M.Williams. Only Otto and the shed lady are over 24 years of age; all the rest are kids working during the tourist season.

The shed lady gruffly takes our booking for the flight: two hours for $335. Compare the time, stress, fuel, car damage and food cost of seeing the same things from ground level by car this price is a bargain. We have almost two plane loads of people. I’m pleased and delighted to be flying on Singapore Airlines until I get to the strip after dawn the following morning. It’s not Singapore Airlines, it’s Slingair Airlines, is not an Airbus 380 and has one small propeller. It’s a bit like a wheelbarrow with wings.

Johnny, the childishly young pilot/mechanic/refueller/hostess-and-tour-guide, pumps fuel into the wing tanks (just as well he’s multi-skilled, there’s no one else out here on the dirt strip). He proudly announces the plane was built by “Gippsland Aviation” near Melbourne, as if that is reassuring. He pats it as if it’s a simple but honest machine, less complicated than a lawn mower.

Our people on the earlier flight forgot/exhausted their camera batteries so I am to photograph everything that doesn’t move. Consequently Johnny gives me the co-pilot’s seat which is designed for people with half a buttock, a curved spine and no brains. The curved plexiglas windows distort the view. Johnny alarms us by pumping fuel through the motor “to cool it down”. Come again? What’s that saying about discretion and valour? Abandoning both, we taxi to one end of the camel track the pilot calls a runway and take off.

Drysdale Station covers one million acres. Apparently it supports one beast per hundred acres, but looking down on it you doubt even that. Without trying to describe the truly spectacular sights, the one thing that stands out is the number of watercourses cutting through this unforgiving country. Out here water doesn’t mean growth, or forests; it’s dry, dry, dry – yet because the soil has water in it from the recent flooding, it’ll be a great season for grazing.

We follow large rivers to the sea, and watch them change from fresh water to salt. There are gorges and spectacular waterfalls we could never have seen from the ‘roads’, even if they led there, of which there are very few. This is truly deserted country. A few attempts at settlement by conned, deluded and idealistic settlers ended in tragedy. There was a military base here in the Bonaparte Gulf to maintain the English land claim against their French rivals; all 120 people perished.

Large coastal tourist boats out of Wyndham motor up the first few kilometres of the Prince Regent River and others, especially for fishing. Johnny tells us about Ginger Meadows, a 24-year-old American model trapped by the tide on a rock ledge and who was hunted down and killed by a crocodile as she frantically swam for her boat. This tale fills our imaginations with what it would be like to be marooned down there, and what a girl named Ginger Meadows would look like...

It’s easy to see where the theory of an inland sea came from in this country’s geology, which is so clearly sedimentary. It looks and feels like the bottom of the sea, and with so much water around it’s reasonable to expect a huge body of water in the middle of the continent. I guess Lake Eyre is it. Maybe it should be re-named "Lake Disappointment."

Finally we bank over Mitchell Falls, a huge three-bowl sandstone formation with a waterfall filling each one, level by level. The view from the plane could never be matched from the ground. Below us, a helicopter loops and lands at the foot of the falls, ferrying tourists to and from the road. It seems the falls are accessible only by helicopter or by a long walk through shattered sandstone formations. What a relief we didn’t have to do it!

We fly back to Drysdale, dodging vast columns of smoke rising from burn-offs set by Aboriginal communities. Traditionally the burn-offs are designed to promote the growth of native grasses and to attract wildlife. Johnny says the communities depend on re-supply by air, so you have to question their viability. One of them is built so close to a river that it must be evacuated before the Wet each year. Not a good example of local knowledge.

Our rear-seat passengers are a couple from Melbourne. Undetected by me,they spend much of the flight hurling into airsickness bags – "souvenir bags," Johnny calls them, because you take them with you as souvenirs. Maybe riding in a plane built in Gippsland filled them with fear. A miserable way to spend two costly hours flying over some of the most extraordinary scenery they’ll ever see*

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Should the national broadcaster launch a campaign to lift the spirit of Australia to counter the daily predictions of doom and disaster voiced by the Coalition, shock jocks, Hanrahan, club tosspots , right wing media hacks and assorted other windbags ?  During the Depression of the l930s when Australia really had cause to be  gloomy, the ABC Optimists’ League was launched with its own song , see above , which could be played to the accompaniment of a ukulele , that urged people feeling down in the dumps and blue to pull up  their socks and give Doctor Quack a miss. A member’s badge could be obtained for one shilling . Prime Minister Scullin -that’s possibly him or Dr Cheerup  on the cover of the sheet music wearing his ABC badge - launched the Optimists’ League on behalf of the ABC on June 30, l930 in Canberra . “ The whispering pessimists have done, and can still do, a great deal of harm to this great continent, ” he said .  A band of optimists would  be of great value in counteracting their doleful propaganda.

At the time , Stuart Doyle, chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Company, said that the Optimists' League was being formed to root out of community life the spirit of pessimism, which had quite unnecessarily cast gloom from one end of the continent to the other. Admittedly there was a Depression: but depression, like all other obstacles, was created to be overcome."We refuse to subscribe further to a blank outlook bordering on despair," said Doyle, "and we are determined that the Australian Broadcasting Company's stations shall radiate a spirit of optimism.” Imagine the outcry today if the ABC, that  Lefty  organisation which condones obscene acts with a  whopper  hamster, tried  to  foster such  an outlook  in Australia. (Sheet music from Little Darwin Collection  bears the  trade stamp of  J.J. Miller, Toowoomba ,Queensland ) . 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Dad, Dave and Mabel  are  shocked by the news that the great Australian music business, Allan's, started in  Melbourne some 160 years ago,  is closing  down all its stores , owing  $40million, resulting in  the  loss  of  more  than 500 jobs.  Allan's amalgamated  with Billy Hyde Music   just two years ago and was hit  by  internet  competition  and  declining retail trading  conditions. Over  the   years  it produced   vast  amounts of  sheet music covering historic events such  as  early aviators like  Bert Hinkler , dance crazes  and  the many  pantomimes, such as Dick Whittington and his Cat , which used to be staged throughout the nation. (Snake Gully Swagger   cover ,copyright 1939, from Little Darwin  Collection )

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


As part of the recent  frantic NT election campaign, the ALP trumpeted that Myer would open a store at Darwin’s Casuarina Square shopping complex in 2016 with an associated beaut waterslide ( only kidding re the Olympic pool ). A Myer store is opening in Townsville this month . Air North may  need Jumbo jets to carry Darwinites to Townsville for the Myer sales . However, the Townsville Bulletin recently ran a story saying that consideration to close the Myer department store in Cairns on Sundays or reduce trading hours had yet to be made. It quoted Myer corporate affairs general manager Jo Lynch as saying two stores were closing in Western Australia and South Australia , with the possibility of two more. Myer chief executive officer Bernie Brookes said Townsville residents were eagerly awaiting the opening of what he termed its first full line department store . Actually there was a David Jones in that city many moons ago . Last financial year Myer posted a 12.7 per cent drop in net profit to $139.4 million . Sales fell by 1.3 per cent to $3.1 billion.


Something strange is happening in Darwin’s largest shopping centre , Casuarina Square, without a mention in the media. Several shops are in the process of being greatly reduced in size. One that stands out is the substantial Harrison’s Pharmacy , seemingly being reduced to half its size. A shoe shop appears to be in the process of down sizing to make way for two additional businesses . Is it a case of soaring rents, poor retail trading or a strong demand for new space in the complex ?

Monday, October 15, 2012


Inspired by Zara Holt, above, wife of the Australian  PM  who disappeared at sea under mysterious circumstancesPM Julia Gillard  has  taken up spearfishingTony Abbott immediately  announced he would not venture  into the  water  fearing  that  Gillard  would mistake him for a flathead or  a tommy ruff. He also  expressed the fear that he could be  seized by the crew of a  Chinese submarine in Sydney on R and R after spying on the US  Marines in Darwin. *** In other  exciting  news  from  the Canberra  fishtank , it is understood  that a  prominent  member of  the Coalition  has  been offered a  fabulous  sum to replace the acrobatic  fish in the Omega 3  TV  advertisement .  

Saturday, October 13, 2012


CANBERRA : Exceptionally high levels of the female hormone estrogen have been found in a blood sample taken from Opposition Leader Tony Abbott after he won yet another gruelling 10-day bicycle race through the Bogong Moth Circuit . Experts say such a massively high reading means that Mr Abbott cannot possibly be called a misogynist , that he has an almost overpowering female side, evidenced by the fact that he crochets his own budgie smugglers . Another expert advanced the surprising proposition that Mr Abbott, because of his pointy ears , is not the love   child of  Bronwyn and  John  but  Dr  Spock and a nubile Dalek, which explains why he rushes about shouting ,“Exterminate ! Exterminate ! ” Meanwhile, the media gallery is buzzing with the news that Annabel Crabb’s ABC TV series about pollies home alone will reveal that Mr Abbott has a large autographed poster of super-charged cyclist Lance Armstrong above his bed, a Kardashian handbag filled with soggy tea bags  on a  side table and a  flagon of toenail polish in True Blue Liberal enamel.


( Little Darwin series about the feisty, articulate  author  involved in so many  struggles on both sides of the Tasman  and internationally )

The eighth of 10 children , the daughter of William and Jane Crook, much of Jean’s outlook was shaped by the tough life the family experienced in New Zealand and the wild industrial struggles of the day . There was so much turmoil in the country that it was said there could be a violent revolution in NZ. Her father , from Lancashire, worked in mines and held positions such as battery manager , blacksmith and mechanic in the South Island. Like so many miners , he suffered a debilitating lung disease and drank heavily, her Irish mother and the rest of the household suffering from his bouts of drunkenness .

Named Jane after her mother, a schoolteacher later urged her to be known as Jean . The same teacher encouraged her to read a lot after she was forced to leave school at 13 and work as a waitress . In l911, aged 16, Jean met a coal miner deeply involved in union affairs, Francis Harold “Hal” Devanny, at a dance and they eventually married. A son , Harold, mainly called Karl after Karl Marx, was born in 1912; Patricia , named after another prominent activist imprisoned for refusing military service , Australian miner , Paddy Webb, who  later became a Labor minister , was born the following year; another daughter , Erin, followed the year after.

The Devannys were  deeply involved  in mining union activities and Marxist study groups. Jean played the piano and violin and was a prolific reader. She got to know many of the militant leaders of the day , such as Bob Semple , Pat Hickey, Peter Fraser , Walter Nash and Henry Edmund “Harry” Holland,  many of whom became politicians, some prime ministers .

In the case of Holland ,an Australian who had been an apprenticed compositor and worked on several papers, ran several socialist publications, he was  jailed for sedition before he went to NZ in 1912. There he became editor of the Labour newspaper , Maoriland Worker, to which Jean contributed many spirited items and had been impressed by Holland . A former editor of the paper had once been editor of the Barrier Truth in the great mining centre , Broken Hill, NSW . There was a steady flow of workers from Australia to New Zealand in those days , many of them having been involved in fierce disputes for better wages and conditions , and moved about chasing employment  across the Tasman .

The Maori Worker’s motto : The World’s Wealth for the World’s Workers. Holland, prominent in large mining and wharf strikes , was again imprisoned for using seditious language  An excerpt from the Australian Dictionary of Biography has this to say about him:

Holland was a socialist of extraordinary and selfless dedication and character. Self-educated and sensitive, he was a voracious reader and prolific writer: in addition to his constant journalism and public speaking, he wrote thirty-six pamphlets, mainly on labour issues, but also on subjects such as Samoa, China, Ireland and Mussolini and a volume of sentimental verse, Red Roses on the Highways (Sydney, 1924). His commitment to doctrinaire socialism was passionate and total, though it mellowed somewhat under the pressure of political practicalities.
During a tour of NZ bookshops some years ago, among the many buys by this writer were books and ephemera relating to Kiwi politics. One  treasured  find  was   a book which  had once belonged to Holland. It provides an extraordinary insight into the intense feelings about the class warfare, the fierce industrial, social and political  attitudes existing in the world , especially NZ, nearly 100 years ago.

Called WAR –WHAT FOR ? , by George R.Kirkpatrick , published by the author in Ohio,USA, 1910, 349pp, including illustrations and index ,with extensive marking of  text and statistical tables, it contains the pencilled inscription: H. E. Holland,Huntly ( a North Island NZ coal mining town),1914. [Holland died at Huntly in l933 when he collapsed during the funeral of a Maori “King”; nearly 100,000 attended his state funeral in Wellington ]. The book was dedicated to the victims of the civil war in industry ; that is, to my brothers and sisters of the working class, the class who furnish the blood and tears and cripples and corpses in all warsyet win no victories for their own class .
The frontispiece , above, shows a whip wielding devil depicted as STARVATION forcing a worker into the hands of the systempolice, capitalists, the militia - the caption: INDUSTRIAL DESPOTISM, SHREWDLY CALLED FREEDOM . An intriguing inked in front free endpaper inscription reads : To Banjo,Marshall & Duncan & friends. Hold & use this to the best advantage until you are able to get copies .I will call some day & ask for it on my way north when my password will be Boots .

Holland was imprisoned for sedition during WW1 and became the parliamentary leader of the NZ Labour party from 1919-l933. Jean Devanny joined the NZLP and was asked to take part in party politics. However she and  her husband Hal found the Labor Party too conservative and were attracted to the Communist Party. It must have been a hectic time for Jean Devanny , what with writing short stories , novels ,including the controversial The Butcher Shop, contributing to the Maori Worker, mixing with the leading lights in unions , her husband Hal in the thick of things, and she bringing up children. One of the positions she held was Secretary of the Friends of Soviet Russia Propaganda Committee.

The death of daughter Erin from peritonitis deeply disturbed Devanny and she gave up her interest in music as a result. One of the female activists Jean  was involved with in NZ , Miriam Soljak ,  later joined forces in Australia with the feminist writer and social reformer, Jessie Street, who campaigned for the rights of women and international peace. At the request of Prime Minister John Curtin, Street , wife of a judge , went to San Francisco in April 1945 as the only woman in the Australian team at the conference which founded the United Nations Organisation .

A prominent New Zealand politician and author, John A. Lee , knew Jean Devanny. Most of his books are in this writer’s library. Born in  Dunedin in 1891, he became a “delinquent,” ran away, did a stretch in Mount Eden prison for running grog and breaking and entering. His biographical notes state that at some stage he came across Upton Sinclair's socialist novel THE JUNGLE and  also read the works of Jack London. During WW1 he joined up to fight and was known as "Bolshie Lee " because of his socialist views .

In 1917 he was awarded the DCM for single -handedly capturing a German machine gun at Messines, Belgium ; next year he was wounded and his left arm was amputed . After the war, a powerful soapbox speaker, he entered politics and was extremely popular . In the l930s he became well known through his novels writing about socialism, highlighting the plight of poor children, injustices in the system .

Despite putting an enormous effort into the campaign which saw Labor elected in l935, he did not get a seat in Cabinet , but was given what he regarded as a nebulous post .  From 1936 to 1939 he was Under-Secretary to the Minister of Finance and responsible for the successful introduction of Labor's landmark state housing programme. In l938 he published SOCIALISM IN  NEW ZEALAND , saying it was the way forward , not Communism. Disenchanted with the timidity of government leaders, he became increasingly unpopular within the party . He was eventually expelled in l940 for criticising Prime Minister Mickey Savage , started his own party, the Democratic Labor Party , failed to be relected , and launched a newspaper, John A. Lee’s Weekly which ran from l940-l948. Also produced were a number of political memoirs ; blurbs for these books stated that Lee pulled no punches when commenting on the political scene , and wrote of womanising in the ranks .

Lee mentioned Jean Devanny in his l973 work , POLITICAL NOTEBOOKS, above left, quoting an unnamed woman who supplied him with information about Devanny alleging she entertaining men in a boarding house in between working away on a typewriter . The other book above – RHETORIC AT THE RED DAWN , Collins, 1965 – the dustjacket illustration by cartoonist Minhinnick , shows leading NZ Labour parliamentary figures that Devanny knew, including Holland . In his 1963 autobiographical SIMPLE ON A SOAPBOX , Collins, Auckland , Lee dedicated it to the novelist Upton Sinclair “who found me my first publisher.” As he had outlived many of the politicians in the book, his comments were regarded as fighting old wars and very subjective. In respect of Holland , recalling some of his union activities in Australia before coming to NZ, Lee said he(Holland ) had organised a failed campaign for NSW tailoresses ; other biographical sources state that Holland had succeeded in getting better pay and conditions for the women . Late in life Lee ran a bookshop in Auckland and died in l982.
The Devanny family moved to Sydney in August 1929, the start of the Depression , because it was thought the climate would be better for young Karl who had what was said to be  a heart condition . NEXT : Jean Devanny joins the Communist Party of Australia, makes fiery public speeches , is deeply involved in an epic clash with the Federal government over an issue in which Rupert Murdoch’s uncle played a part , with yet another unusual book associated with that event from the Little Darwin collection .