Abbott appointed Gerard Henderson to the PM’s Literary Panel that outrageously gives the award to the right-wing book re-writing history and fabricating anti-union lies. “Page after page, chapter after chapter, the book ‘Australia’s Secret War’, subtitled How Unionists Sabotaged Our Troops in World War II’, by Western Australian writer Hal G.P. Colebatch is an egregious exercise in union-bashing with little or no display of original research or historical scholarship.”
‘It’s hard to know where to begin on this travesty, but here are two examples. In his introduction, Colebatch claims that a strike by wharf labourers in Sydney kept soldiers returning from Japanese prisoner-of-war camps away from their families. In October 1945, he says, these men were held penned-up on a British aircraft carrier, HMS Speaker, which had brought them home. The wharfies would not allow them ashore to meet their loved ones for 36 hours.
This is untrue. It simply did not happen. Newspaper accounts of their return report the men were greeted by cheering crowds the day they arrived. The history of HMS Speaker, written by one of the ship’s officers and available online, makes no mention of this supposed scandal. There was no wharfies strike that day. Colebatch gives his only source for this nonsense as a letter from one W.S. Monks, dated 1995, 50 years after the event and 20 years ago. He does not reveal who this Monks might be, but there was no soldier or POW of that name in WWII.
The second example is worse, if anything. Colebatch alleges that a flight of 16 American Vultee Vengeance dive bombers returning from a raid on Rabaul crashed into the sea off New Britain because the radar station at their base on Green Island was not working. He claimed — with no evidence at all — that the valves for the radar had been stolen by wharfies.
This is sheer fiction.” Read Mike Carlton here
What Colebatch and his supporters fail to accept is what the scholarly literature clearly establishes: that wartime industrial actions by waterfront workers were primarily local in origin, variously based on local factors and understandings, and occurred despite attempts by the communist national leadership of the WWF to curtail them.
Colebatch also fails to grasp the realities of a complex context and industry: a national trade union leadership, in wartime, based in Sydney, overseeing a large national membership organised in some 50 or so port-based branches dotted around a huge coastline. Each had their own leaderships, distinct histories, cultures, politics, practices, port characteristics, infrastructures and work demands.
Furthermore, far from being communists during WWII or the ensuing Cold War, wharfies tended to be ALP members or sympathisers – the interesting point being they supported communist leaderships through to the 1960s because these were seen to deliver the goods so far as industrial relations were concerned.
Read whole article here “Fictional History Opens new front in war on workers.” http://workinglife.org.au/2014/12/10/fictional-history-opens-new-front-in-war-on-workers/
‘A clunky writing style and errors of detail are aggravating but not vital. More worrisome is the substance of the book: Colebatch’s allegations that union obstruction seriously impeded Australian military operations. These allegations are usually couched as vague claims that ships sailed late, supplies were short: deplorable allegations, if true, but essentially un-checkable. When he gives details, however, his claims turn out to be either impossible or unlikely. Let’s consider three instances from the opening chapters, in which Colebatch claims that unionists adversely affected the battle of Milne Bay, the guerilla fighting on Timor and the planned rescue of the Sandakan prisoners of war.
Colebatch claims that, had wharfies been less tardy in loading 155 mm guns destined for Milne Bay, the guns ‘could have destroyed the Japanese landing forces before they got ashore’ (p. 13). Perhaps. But Colebatch says that the guns were ordered to be loaded only on 5 September 1942. The Japanese had landed ten days before this. Even if the wharfies had loaded the guns more speedily the guns could not possibly have reached Milne Bay and got into action before the end of the fighting, two days later, on 7 September. Simple chronology demolishes that argument.
Colebatch then makes a meal of the wirelesses used by Sparrow Force in Timor, offering pages of storytelling that turn out to be a fizzer. He claims that wharfies loading the ship that carried the 2/2nd Independent Company to Timor threw the troops’ wireless gear into the hold, damaging it. The 2/2nd arrived in Timor on December 1941, just after the outbreak of the war with Japan. The Japanese landed on Timor late in February 1942 and Sparrow Force had communicated with Australia in the meantime. After the invasion, when Sparrow Force’s survivors were waging a guerilla war in the island’s interior, they had no working wireless and cobbled together a Heath Robinson affair they called ‘Winnie the War Winner’, with which they re-established communications with Australia in April 1942. (This contraption is now on display in what Colebatch wrongly names as the ‘National War Memorial’. Not the only error – he has a ‘Dutch’ commander at Dili, in Portuguese ‘East’ Timor and the 2/2nd Independent Company was not disbanded after its Timor ordeal.)
What has any of this to do with union ‘sabotage’, you ask? Colebatch slyly implies that the wharfies’ rough handling of the 2/2nd’s gear in December resulted in the Independent Company’s isolation after the Japanese invasion. ‘I do not know’, he writes, ‘if there was a direct connection between the fact the watersiders were specifically reported … to have thrown radio sets into the hold and the fact that the commandos had no working radio after the Japanese attack’ (p. 23). But he implies that there was such a connection. Colebatch could not find any Sparrow Force veteran to claim that unionists irreparably damaged the force’s wireless gear. At best ‘not proved’.
Finally, Colebatch claims that a ‘wharf strike in Brisbane’ (undated and undocumented) prevented the 20th Brigade from carrying out a proposed rescue mission to liberate the surviving prisoners of war at Sandakan ‘because there were no heavy weapons’ (p. 4).
But the 20th Brigade was never even considered for the proposed rescue mission, Operation ‘Kingfisher’. It was earmarked for the Oboe 2 landings at Balikpapan, which it carried out in July 1945. ‘Kingfisher’ had been outlined, using the 1st Australian Parachute Battalion (which neither had nor needed any ‘heavy weapons’) but was cancelled. The feasibility of ‘Kingfisher’ and the reasons for its cancellation have been vigorously debated among historians of the Borneo campaign but no-one has ever before mentioned the 20th Brigade or a supposed wharf strike as a factor. The usual villain is General Douglas MacArthur, whose headquarters is said to have diverted the necessary transport aircraft to American operations in the Philippines, though the definitive reason remains debatable. Colebatch’s claim adds nothing to the debate about the fate of the Sandakan prisoners. Verdict: irrelevant.
So the three supposedly scandalous cases Colebatch mentions in his opening chapters are all readily disprovable.
Time after time the best that Colebatch can offer is a mixture of hearsay, implication and guilt by association.
Many of the anecdotes he offers are vague, others irrelevant. Some are susceptible to reasonable explanations: for example, while a trained gunner might not quibble at handling inert shells, an untrained wharfie might well stammer, ‘B-b-b-b-but, that stuff’s dangerous’ (p. 39).
Colebatch over-eggs the pudding by simply retailing, on page after page, a string of anecdotes, undated or corroborated, most sourced to ‘interview, April 1995’ or similar, with informants most of whom are now dead and unable to be further questioned.
Read this lengthy debate here
Colebatch’s anti union book is surely an embarrassment to all but the most extreme conservatives.
This year’s Booker Prize winner, Richard Flanagan, was also a co-winner of the Fiction Award last night for ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’, and gave his $40,000 prize money to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. “The Narrow Road to The Deep North.” This is a great book- a must read and present.
I loved his speech.
“The lesson that my father took from the POW camps was that the measure of any civilised society was its willingness to look after its weakest. Money is like shit, my father used to say. Pile it up and it stinks. Spread it around and you can grow things,” he said.