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Dirty Secrets

Dirty Secrets: Our ASIO Files

edited by MEREDITH BURGMANN
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: UNSW Press, NewSouth
Pages: 384
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14jxwx1
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  • Book Info
    Dirty Secrets
    Book Description:

    Well-known Australians – mavericks, activists, movers and shakers – reflect on their own ASIO files. In this moving, funny and sometimes chilling book, leading Australians open their ASIO files and read what the state's security apparatus said about them. Writers from across the political spectrum including David Stratton, Phillip Adams, Peter Cundall, Michael Kirby, Gary Foley and Anne Summers confront – and in some cases reclaim – their pasts. Reflecting on the interpretations, observations and proclamations that anonymous officials make about your personal life is not easy – at least for some. Yet we see outrage mixed with humour and writers reflect on the way their political views have – or haven’t – changed. Surrounded by influential Australians and piles of paper from our recent past, activist, politician and writer Meredith Burgmann has produced a book where those being watched look right back.

    eISBN: 978-1-74224-681-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-6)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 7-10)
  3. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 11-20)
    Meredith Burgmann

    In these days of increased intelligence powers, a ballooning national security budget, a giant new ASIO headquarters in Canberra, and endless discussion about WikiLeaks and the right to know, I wanted to look at the effect of spying on those who have been its targets. David McKnight and others have written extensively about our spy agencies. This book is the stories of those spied upon. There is particular satisfaction in the fact that a group of Australians who have had their lives secretly recorded in detail over many decades are at last getting their own back.Weare finally writing...

  4. HOW TO READ YOUR ASIO FILE
    (pp. 21-46)
    David McKnight

    For more than twenty years the files of Australia’s internal security agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), have slowly been coming to light. Individuals who have been under ASIO surveillance have been able to read what was said about them and historians have been able to piece together ASIO’s secret operations during the Cold War. Nearly 10 000 ASIO files are now publicly available at the National Archives of Australia (NAA) in Canberra.

    Reading an ASIO file is an unusual experience, as I can personally affirm. The file can evoke anger or amusement. A personal file can reawaken old...

  5. THE FILES

    • MICHAEL KIRBY THE COMMOS AND ME
      (pp. 49-68)
      Michael Kirby

      My long association with the Australian Communist Party began when I was but three years of age. Like the Jesuits, the communists believed in getting them while they were young.

      My first mention in an ASIO file occurred when I was twelve.

      My grandmother, whom I knew as Normie (but who, in the ways of the times, had been christened Alma Caroline), divorced her first husband, Victor Kirby, in the 1930s. A good-looking man, but mismatched, he had been the father of my father, Donald Kirby.

      Norma worked as a cashier in the Prince of Wales hotel in what we...

    • ANNE SUMMERS NUMBER C/57/61: WHAT ASIO KNEW
      (pp. 69-90)
      Anne Summers

      In mid-1969, when I was twenty-four and still a student at the University of Adelaide, I applied to join the Commonwealth public service. My husband, John Summers, had done the same a year earlier. Although we were each just going for entry-level clerical jobs, ASIO was asked to vet us, which, I have to presume, was standard procedure at the time. A report on John, stamped SECRET and dated 9 September 1968, advised, ‘very little information is held concerning the vettee [sic] but his wife has come to notice on numerous occasions in connection with Anti-Vietnam activities’. The South Australian...

    • GARY FOLEY ASIO, THE ABORIGINAL MOVEMENT AND ME
      (pp. 91-112)
      Gary Foley

      I seem to have first come to the notice of ASIO in March 1970, but I did not realise this until more than three decades later when my ASIO file became available under the thirty-year rule. Thus I first became aware my file was available when in 2002 a French history student from the University of Lyon advised me that he had come across it while doing research with me.

      For the ten years since then I have at different times been bemused, excited, angry and appalled by the annual additions to my file that I read each 1 January...

    • DAVID STRATTON THE MAN IN THE RED TIE
      (pp. 113-128)
      David Stratton and Meredith Burgmann

      David James Stratton. File number S/37/79. David’s file consists of two folios containing ninety-nine pages. They are wholly concerned with the activities of the Sydney Film Festival. The file begins in July 1960 and ends in July 1981, although it may continue past this date.

      MB: During your time involved with the film festival, did you at any time think you were being monitored by ASIO?

      DS: No. It never occurred to me at all. I was probably pretty naïve in those days. I was raised in England as a good conservative … I used to attend fundraising functions for...

    • JOAN BIELSKI FEAR AND LOATHING IN THE FIFTIES
      (pp. 129-146)
      Joan Bielski

      In February 1951 I arrived in Canberra a recently graduated teacher, unmarried and using my family name of Ward. I had spent some years in the WAAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force), and after the war ended I went to university. I was employed by the NSW Department of Education and sent to Canberra as a teacher. I spent 1951 becoming accustomed to what proved to be both a mentally exciting but physically exhausting job.

      My political beliefs were and are left of centre. I would describe myself as a democrat and a socialist. At university, attempts to recruit me...

    • DENNIS ALTMAN WHY ME?
      (pp. 147-158)
      Dennis Altman

      Even for someone as self-centred as myself, a typical Leo as we might have observed back in the 1970s, reading one’s ASIO file is deeply disappointing. The great bulk of the materials released are interviews with or articles by me, some of which I had lost or forgotten, plus accounts of my movements in and out of Australia. I learnt that I was ‘a self-admitted homosexual’, and a ‘frequent speaker at meetings staged by organisations of interest to ASIO’. In the 1970s ASIO took a commendably wide interest in many meetings, and their officers were clearly well informed about leftist...

    • ROWAN CAHILL JOINING THE DOTS: C/58/63
      (pp. 159-170)
      Rowan Cahill

      In Australia during the Vietnam War, the charge was frequently made that domestic opposition to the war and to conscription was variously organised or manipulated by communists. On the international stage Prime Minister Menzies claimed this, for example, in 1965 in an address to the Australia Club in London. However, as Ann Curthoys has pointed out, while the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) was important as an organising force in the anti-war movement, it was only part of a loose coalition of forces opposed to the war. Apart from trade unions, churches, and political parties, there were at least 146...

    • PHILLIP ADAMS I WAS A TEENAGE BOLSHEVIK
      (pp. 171-180)
      Phillip Adams

      I’ve been asking ASIO to show me my file for almost forty years. Having been a teenage Bolshevik, it seemed reasonable to assume one existed … probably a thick one. Though only sixteen when I became a card-carrying member of the Australian Communist Party, I hung around with many of the best-known comrades, wrote for the commo newspaper, worked for various ‘front’ organisations, signed all the angry petitions, marched on May Day, painted anti-war slogans in railway viaducts and often heard strange clicks on the phone. All this during the coldest years of the Cold War, when Menzies had tried...

    • JEAN McLEAN MY LIFE IN A DISTORTING MIRROR
      (pp. 181-198)
      Jean McLean

      When I rang ASIO to ask for my files, a woman asked why I thought there would be files on me. Then she explained that most people think they have files and are disappointed to learn otherwise.

      I assured her that there were files, because I knew someone who had seen them. She was soon back on the phone. This time ‘Ms ASIO’ was excited. Not only was I correct, she said, but there were nine volumes of files. For $500 I could have them.

      My impression as I skimmed the mountain of documents with their constant little deletions, was...

    • JACK WATERFORD SMASHING THE STATE
      (pp. 199-212)
      Jack Waterford

      The greatest affectation of my youth was imagining that we were all important enough to be followed around by ASIO, or that someone might be tapping our telephones. Sure, we were smashing the state, or liked to imagine that we were. But was the state collapsing? Did anyone notice even slight tears in its fabric? Was anyone actually treating us as anything more than trifling nuisances? Even in our own minds, could we imagine that we represented any clear and present, or even vague and potential, danger to Christian civilisation?

      Of course we knew that we were the subject of...

    • FRANK HARDY THE HARDY WAY
      (pp. 213-234)
      Alan Hardy

      It was quite a daunting task to deal with my father’s file. It consists of some 1500 pages, covering 1943 to 1972. I first set eyes on the file in 2009 and when I was asked to write this chapter I wasn’t sure how to approach it or where to begin. So many pages – most of it banal and irrelevant – but enough of interest to keep me reading.

      ASIO’s interest in Frank appears to date from World War II. Then it follows him through the Victorian Royal Commission on Communism, thePower Without Glorytrial, his championing of...

    • ALAN HARDY VERY INTERESTED IN THEATRICS
      (pp. 235-240)
      Alan Hardy

      My file is a rather embarrassingly small seventy-nine pages (ending in 1968). Originally I imagine I was only awarded the honour of my own file as the son of author and communist Frank Hardy (over 1500 pages up to 1972), probably the best-known communist of his day.

      My file began when it was proposed that I go as a delegate to a World Youth Festival in Finland and I sought a passport to transit through Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Soviet Union.

      I don’t recall that I was ever serious about going. My family – and I’m sure the Communist Party...

    • LEX WATSON MY OWN ‘PINK FILE’
      (pp. 241-248)
      Lex Watson

      As someone who grew up politically aware and became a gay activist, being considered a potential security risk has always been part of the furniture. Somehow I knew of the activities of Senator McCarthy, and his equation linking homosexuality, communism and security risks. The scandals surrounding the defection of Philby, Burgess and Maclean and the allegations of blackmail were all over the papers and hard to miss.

      Being a politics student and lecturer at Sydney University meant that ASIO was an issue, especially if you were thinking of a career in the public service. Received wisdom, quite widely held, was...

    • WENDY AND JIM BACON A BACON FAMILY AFFAIR
      (pp. 249-270)
      Wendy Bacon

      When I heard that people who had been involved in left-wing politics in the 1970s were applying for their ASIO files, I assumed that I would have one, but was in no great rush to access it. After I was asked to submit a chapter for this book, my first surprise was to find that there was no need to apply for access because someone had already paid for my files to be digitised and published on the National Archives website.

      I asked National Archives who had paid for this public service but was told that the identity of the...

    • MARK AARONS STATE AFFAIRS AND LOVE AFFAIRS
      (pp. 271-290)
      Mark Aarons

      Having an ASIO file was congenital, like the flat feet that my grandfather passed to my father Laurie and then on to me. In my infancy I made cameo appearances in Laurie’s file because he was a national leader of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). In March 1954, for example, ASIO intercepted Laurie’s telegram from Darwin, sending his love to my mother Carol, my older brothers Brian and John, and to ‘Marf’, surely a mistake, as an ASIO officer perceptively commented.

      Laurie’s security file commenced in 1931 when he was fourteen and the NSW Police Special Branch began recording...

    • KEVIN COOK THEY JUST DIDN’T CARE
      (pp. 291-302)
      Kevin Cook and Heather Goodall

      When I saw my files I couldn’t believe it – there were lots of pages but there was nothing in them. The whole thing was just anothing!

      The files covered the period from late 1979 to late 1983, when the campaign for land rights in New South Wales was really going strong to try to get some legislation to recognise our rights in land. The NSW Parliament’s Select Committee brought down its report in 1980 and recommended that the government move to grant land rights before it did anything else. The Wran Government got re-elected at the end of...

    • COLIN COOPER ASIO AND THE POSTMASTER-GENERAL
      (pp. 303-316)
      Colin Cooper

      The first thing I saw when I opened my ASIO file was their concern about my clothing. The garment was not outlandish or obscene; it was a simple khaki shirt with the letters PMG in red above the breast pockets. I was wearing it at home during the period ASIO had my parents under surveillance and, unbeknown to all of us, we had an ASIO agent as an invited guest. ASIO was clearly worried that the son of a member of the Bankstown branch of the Communist Party, who was also a member of the Eureka Youth League, was employed...

    • CLIVE EVATT CLIVE RALEIGH EVATT AND ASIO
      (pp. 317-330)
      Elizabeth Evatt

      In 1990 an article in theGood Weekend, ‘Seeing Reds’ by David McKnight and Gregory Pemberton, revealed that during the 1950s, ASIO had kept files on many thousands of Australians. Of particular interest to ASIO were those who had signed a petition in 1952 against the re-armament of Japan. My father, Clive Evatt QC, was named in the article as one of this group.

      Until then it had never occurred to me that my father could have been considered a threat to national security. It took more than two years, and an application to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, to get...

    • FRANCES LETTERS TWO CHEERS FOR ASIO!
      (pp. 331-342)
      Frances Letters

      ‘There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about,’ pronounced Oscar Wilde. ‘And that isnotbeing talked about.’ Let me share a small deflating discovery with you. I’ve recently learned there is one thing worse than finding you’ve been spied on, secretly followed and photographed for years. It’s being informed that, astonishingly, you have no ASIO file at all.

      Granted, by nature I’ve always been more of a wary second-line supporter than brave front-rower – but to have registered nothingat all?Was I, alone among my friends, such a tame, pallid rabbit … so...

    • VERITY BURGMANN I WAS A TEENAGE TROTSKYIST
      (pp. 343-362)
      Verity Burgmann and Meredith Burgmann

      Verity Burgmann was a member of a Trotskyist group, the International Socialists (IS) in Sydney and Canberra in the late 1970s.

      MB: When did you get your file?

      VB: I got the ASIO file recently. It’s the Special Branch file that I got a long while ago that I have never been able to bring myself to look at. When I got my ASIO file I spent five or ten minutes leafing through it and was immediately horrified by the photographs.

      MB: What, because they were all of you in a bikini?

      VB: Yes [grimaces].

      MB: Were you horrified by...

    • PETER MURPHY THE NOT-SO-SECRET LIVES OF OTHERS
      (pp. 363-374)
      Peter Murphy

      In 1975, I was an idealistic young man, strongly influenced by my Catholic family upbringing and education. In fact, until the end of 1973, I had been training to be a missionary priest. I was encouraged by my priestly training to adopt a progressive and compassionate approach to people and issues, and had some important contact with anti-war and Aboriginal activists in the four years I was at the seminary near Ipswich, and later in Sydney. During this time I attended my first protest, the anti-Springbok tour demonstration in Brisbane in 1971, which was very dangerous; and I attended the...

    • TONY REEVES MY LACKLUSTRE LIFE ACCORDING TO ASIO
      (pp. 375-390)
      Tony Reeves

      When I met Detective Frederick Francis Longbottom socially in the mid-1970s and asked if I could get a look at any dossier on me compiled by the notorious NSW Police Special Branch, of which he was commander, he smiled and said: ‘All those files have been destroyed, Tony. You should know that. If we had a file on you, it’s gone up in smoke with the rest of them.’ He then added: ‘That is, except the ones we sent down to ASIO.’

      It took me more than a quarter of a century to establish that I had indeed qualified for...

    • TIM ANDERSON POSTCARDS FROM THE SECRET POLICE
      (pp. 391-406)
      Tim Anderson

      I was probably less enthused than others over the release of old ASIO files, as I had seen many of them before. Throughout thirteen years and ten court cases (1978–1991), my lawyers had extracted large numbers of police Special Branch and ASIO files from a reluctant state bureaucracy. The two spy agencies often exchanged files.

      Boxes of these documents appeared during a 1984–85 Special Inquiry in which I was involved. I had been arrested and jailed on two politically related charges, brought by New South Wales police in 1978, then again in 1989. The first was a supposed...

    • PENNY LOCKWOOD LACK OF EVIDENCE PROVES NOTHING
      (pp. 407-424)
      Penny Lockwood

      I met him at an anti-war demo in 1967. He was attractive and it had been an exciting few months together – almost a year – when he stopped the car and leant over. He looked serious. ‘Ah, perhaps this is the proposal,’ I thought. He moved closer and whispered, as if someone else might be listening, ‘I can’t do it any more. I don’t love you. I’m working for ASIO.’

      I have to concede that ASIO might have had some cause to get excited about whether I was a ‘subversive’. In the 1960s I travelled to Eastern European countries...

    • PETER CUNDALL THE RED WITH THE GREEN THUMB
      (pp. 425-436)
      Helen Randerson

      The distinctive northern English accent and friendly round face of Peter Cundall AM are well known to Australians from over forty years of broadcasting on radio and television, particularly as the long-term presenter of the popular ABC TV showGardening Australia. He has been a resident of northern Tasmania around Launceston since the 1950s. Before taking up life in Tasmania, Cundall had been a soldier who had experienced the horrors of both World War II and the Korean War. He had also spent six months in a military prison in Yugoslavia.

      There are three volumes of ASIO files on Peter...

    • MEREDITH BURGMANN THE SECRET LIFE OF B/77/26 (AND FRIENDS)
      (pp. 437-455)
      Meredith Burgmann

      When I received my ASIO file in 2005, I was intrigued and quite excited, but reading it was confronting as I realised that I had probably destroyed the career of one friend and seriously compromised the working life of a mere acquaintance.

      It had been a remarkably easy task, ordering my ASIO file. The most peculiar aspect was that when I asked the man on the phone, ‘Who should I make the cheque out to?’ he said, ‘Oh just make it out to ASIO.’ The idea of making a cheque out to ASIO still thrills me. (Unfortunately in later years...

  6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 456-456)
  7. INDEX
    (pp. 457-464)