Hal G.P. Colebatch has taken the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for History for his Australia’s Secret War: How Unionists Sabotaged Our Troops in World War II, published by Quadrant Books. More than a dozen years in the writing, the author last year explained why he felt compelled to tackle a topic pointedly ignored for so long. In the words of fellow Quadrant contributor Tony Thomas, whose profile of the West Australian polymath can be read here, the subject was “so hot that virtually no academic historian has dared or wanted to touch it.”
Here is Colebatch in his own words:
Even after Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union, waterfront and other strikes increased. My idea is that these strikes were not communist-directed but rogue efforts by lumpen-proletarian scum, who have never been called to account.
At the most the wharfies got a fright when US troops fired warning shots into the air and dropped stun grenades into the hold to halt their wrecking and looting of vital war supplies for PNG. Eddie Ward would have seen the strikes as part of the larger attack on capitalism. Even the Menzies government of 1939–41 had been scared to take action, lest it cause a general strike.
My main sources were ex-servicemen replying to my ads in the press for information. Every time I put the ad in, I’d get a little batch of replies to follow up, I ended up with seventy accounts. I believe quite a bit of the same disruption went on in New Zealand and I also got a couple of stories from Britain.
The $80,000 award was split with Joan Beaumont’s “Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War“.