Hal Colebatch’s book, Australia’s Secret War published by Quadrant Books, has been short-listed for the Australian History Prize in the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. One of this country’s biggest-selling books in the past year, it has been reprinted five times and has now sold almost 10,000 copies.
The book tells the shocking, true, but until now largely suppressed and hidden story of the war waged from 1939 to 1945 by a number of key Australian trade unions against their own society and against the men and women of their own country’s fighting forces at the time of its gravest peril.
Between 1939 and 1945 virtually every major Australian warship, including at different times its entire force of cruisers, was targeted by strikes, go-slows and sabotage. Australian soldiers operating in New Guinea and the Pacific Islands went without food, radio equipment and munitions, and Australian warships sailed to and from combat zones without ammunition, because of strikes at home. Planned rescue missions for Australian prisoners-of-war in Borneo were abandoned because wharf strikes left rescuers without heavy weapons. Officers had to restrain Australian and American troops from killing striking trade unionists.
Hal Colebatch began working on this project in the mid-1990s. His conclusions are based on a broad range of sources, from letters and first-person interviews he conducted with ex-servicemen, to official and unofficial documents from the archives of World War II.