Curtin’s Absent Minded Professor

colebatch book coverMy book, Australia’s Secret War: How Unions sabotaged our troops in World War II (Quadrant Books, Sydney) has been the subject of an enraged diatribe by one Bobbie Oliver, an academic at Curtin University, who claims that, apart from an ad hominem falsehood about my father (claiming he resigned the WA Premiership because he mishandled a wharf strike; actually it was because he could not get a lower house metropolitan seat in the state Parliament)  falsely, and possibly libelously, claims one of my accounts is a fabrication.

This source is described by her as “an engineer named McEntee.” Actually, I introduce Mr McEntee fully as “later a well-known engineer in Western Australia and a principal of Sukliss McEntee & Associates, Consulting Engineers”. If Ms. Oliver wished to prove or disprove the reality of Mr McEntee’s existence, she need have done no more than consult the nearest telephone directory. She claims, “There is no list of interviews” In fact all interviews are referenced by end-notes, giving times and places. There is no point in listing them again separately. This little piece of rather desperate pedantry has nothing to do with the validity of the account.

She also claims the book is “anecdotal.” This may be another way of saying it is based on primary sources. These sources include men of the calibre of Sir Charles Court, Vice-Admiral Sir John Collins, Sir Bernard Callinan, MUP’s long-time director Peter Ryan, His Honour Judge Kenneth Gee, Air Commodore E. B. Courtney, Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, Lt.-Col. W. Braithwaite, former head of the SAS, and a large number of ordinary diggers and junior officers from World War II, as well as Commonwealth Year Books, Hansard, Jane’s Fighting Ships, etc. She appears blithely unaware that unofficial strikes, sabotage, pilfering petty and destructive demarcation disputes, etc., all of which I have documented in detail, would not have been entered up in union records. She concludes: “in my opinion, there is only one suitable place for it – the rubbish bin.”

It would, perhaps, have been candid of Ms. Oliver to have admitted that Australia’s Secret War contains an unfavourable comment on her own writing. This information might have helped the reader in judging the objectivity of her critique. In Australia’s Secret War, in the section dealing with pre-war efforts by the left to inhibit defence preparations, I said:

It is astonishing to see that there are still academic writers prepared to regard the MAWF [the pre-war Movement Against War and Fascism, a communist front] and similar organisations at their own evaluation and refuse to admit the objectively and obviously pro-Fascist and pro-Nazi as well as the intentionally pro-Soviet thrust of their effort. It is hard to know how much these fronts actually achieved in damaging and inhibiting defence preparations for the struggle against Fascism, but presumably they made some contribution — an Australia strongly united behind a defence effort in the 1930s would very obviously have been better equipped to meet World War II and it is possible it might of its own have strengthened Singapore enough for it to hold in 1942. One modern academic writer, Bobbie Oliver, in a book uncritically supportive of the MAWF, has written:

As foreseen by the MAWF in 1933, the stage was set in Australia, and overseas, for a return to the oppressive statutes of the war years. In April, 1938, the MAWF warned:

“The ugly spectre of compulsory military training and conscription has again raised its head. Mr Lyons pledged himself against the introduction of conscription. Today he reminds us that the Government has the power to introduce it, and adds that the government is watching developments of public demand for this – which is only another name for home conscription.”

Menzies, Lyon’s successor as Prime Minister and Leader of the UAP, did just as the MAWF had foretold.

This, it should be emphasised, is written not in a context of criticism of the MAWF’s objectively anti-anti-Nazi and anti-defence stance on … the eve of World War II, but in praise of it! It is hard to imagine the consequences if Australia had not initiated at least compulsory military training for home defence, thus having at least the militia forces which were rushed north to defend New Guinea in 1941 and 1942, and enough home forces to make any Japanese invasion a very costly business. (pp. 149-150).

I further pointed out that to have a “Movement Against War and Fascism” was rather like having a movement against surgery and cancer. If Ms Oliver can find any logical reason to disagree with the passage quoted above, I would be interested to see it.

9 thoughts on “Curtin’s Absent Minded Professor

  • Salome says:

    I wouldn’t worry about her, Hal. My late father made the occasional remark about his antipathy to unions arising from his WWII experience in New Guinea when necessary supplies were held up by action back home. I bought him your book when it came out–he read it and it got him a bit hot under the collar. It brought back memories, and after being angry with those who caused the trouble, I think he was grateful that someone had taken the trouble to document it for posterity.

    • padraic says:

      I had a similar experience as that of Salome. As a child after the war I used to hear my father and his mates who had been in New Guinea rail against the behaviour of the unpatriotic and gutless wharfies who used to go on strike for “danger money” and go home to their families each night, while they were up in New Guinea putting their lives on the line to protect their fellow Australians from a Japanese invasion. Many of these men had been unionists themselves before the war and when the war was over they became active in the movement to oust the communist cowards from the unions. I recently bought Hal’s book but Dad is no longer with us but I am sure he would have appreciated the book because it defies the attempts of our Marxist academics to rewrite history.

      • Salome says:

        I think Dad had mentioned it about once before Hal’s book came out, so it was something of a ghostly niggle to me, which the book brought to life. The scary thing is not what happened, but how it was suppressed thereafter.

    • mburke@pcug.org.au says:

      My father’s wartime experience mirrored your father’s, Salome. He was a pilot based in Merauke in the then Dutch East Indies flying Vultee Vengeance dive bombers with 12 SQN RAAF. From quite an early age, he told us kids how aircrew from that squadron were rostered to fly back to Australia (to Mackay in North Queensland) whenever a ship was being loaded with supplies for their unit in Merauke. Their job was to stand guard during the loading process to prevent sabotage and pilfering, then rampant on the wharves, exactly as recounted by Hal in his book. One of the tricks he said that the warfies used was to load aviation gasoline drums in the holds with perisherables and then to just crack the seals on the drums so the perisherables were ruined. He said they lived on canned sausages for weeks on one occasion. I have confirmed that thes flights occurred not only from my father’s log book, but also from examining the relevant 12 SQN unit history sheets held in Air Force Office in Canberra (while I was myself in the RAAF). My father was from an Irish Catholic working class background for whom voting for any party other than Labor had been unthinkable until the War. He returned from that war with a visceral hatred of the ALP and trade unions that remained with him for the rest of his life.

  • Warty says:

    As you all no doubt know, history was to repeat itself, when in November 1969 the Waterside Worker’s Federation banned the reloading of the supply ship Jeparit, during the Vietnam War.
    The extraordinary pro Viet Cong and North Vietnamese rhetoric amongst unions and the ACTU was a national disgrace, particularly when the actual Viet Cong acts of unspeakable village terrorism became better know, years after our troops were humiliated and treated as war criminals.

    • mags of Queensland says:

      We also had the unedifying sight of the then Federal Treasurer Jim Cairns calling the North Vietnamese ” our Vietnamese brothers” and leading bands of useless university students with nothing better to do than march down the street in front of the news cameras.

      The thuggish unions of today are the heirs of the same kind of thuggishness from the past.

      • Warty says:

        A wonderful book taken from an Australian perspective is Paul Ham’s VIETNAM ‘The Australian War’. It becomes clear that the extraordinary courage shown by Australians in the two world wars and Korea was still evident by the spadeful in Vietnam, in contrast to the appalling demoralisation widespread amongst the Americans (and that was not all one could say about our Yank allies).

  • dsh2@bigpond.com says:

    After reading this article, I perused this so-called academic’s CV which fits the requirements of so many of our academic institutions today. It is alarming that our students are taught by people with such obvious bias and low standards of scholarship. We owe a debt to people such as Hal Colebatch for calling out these frauds but the challenge has to be how to return our universities to their proper role of objective research and teaching students how, and not what, to think.

  • Bwana Neusi says:

    Hal, Salome, Padraic, Warty et al, Thanks for your comments. I too, bought a copy of Hal’s book and it has been circulated widely within my circle of friends, who all condemn the treasonous action and attitude of the unions.
    Sadly, the current rash of our insipid ADF management are doing as much to destroy our armed forces as the unions did over half a century before.

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