not, there would be a bloody revolution here before we would allow that
criminal lunatic Lang in N.S.W. and his following to have their way.
Brookes to the British Consul-General in the United States.
The Lang years highlight
the clash of two ideologies, socialism and fascism. In the middle of this
clash was the New South Wales Constitution.
But what might have happened had Game the NSW Governor not dismissed Lang,
the NSW Premier? Andrew Moore investigates the possibility
By Andrew Moore.
On 14 June 1932 the headlines of the Northern, Daily Leader shrieked:
'Retreat from Moscow. Crushing Defeat of Lang Army'. The military analogy
seems misplaced. But behind the veneer of constitutionality the
considered actions of an impartial adjudicator, Sir
leading to the dismissal of the Lang government on 13 May 1932 and to
its electoral demise on 11 Junelay a rich tapestry of intrigue,
together with military and paramilitary initiatives. Horace Nock later
maintained: 'Never in Australia's history had any of her States approached
so closely to bloodshed and revolution'. Referring to the dismissal, H.E.
Manning, Attorney-General in the incoming Stevens-Bruxner government,
suggested: 'If . . Lang had remained in power another twenty four hours
our State would have been involved in revolution'.
This article looks at the accuracy of Nock and Manning's pronouncements.
Were they simply being melodramatic and resorting to hyperbole? How close
was civil war in New South Wales? If a conflagration had broken out what
form would it have taken?
The summer of 1931-32
was appallingly hot. Clergymen and their congregations in western New
South Wales prayed for relief as the mercury soared to 115 degrees (Fahrenheit)
in towns such as White Cliffs, Condobolin and Wilcannia. For some the
weather seemed to presage a descent into the fires of Hades for which
the 'mad mullah' premier and his atheistic doctrines were largely responsible.
While the New Guard conducted its abortive publicity stunt at Cobar, fears
mounted about a plan of deliberate incendiarism being conducted 'along
WWI Iines'. The Old Guard issued a bulletin suggesting: 'Rumours are to
heard of an attempt to be made later in the season to place country people
out of action temporarily by series of fires, etc. Extra precautions against
fires is [sic] suggested. Any such outbreaks may serve as a general warning.'
The heat affected calm,
reasonable judgment. People like Sir Henry Braddon were at their wits' end.
'If only lightning would strike the brute [i.e. Lang] and obliterate
him from the stage he so dangerously stalks', Braddon declared in private
correspondence Even the most moderate of the paramilitary organisations,
the Old Guard, was swayed into believing that Lang's pronouncement at the
Sydney Eight Hour Day dinner in October 1931 that 'the revolution has come'
meant that 'all private property, enterprise and freedom of thought and
action would soon be abolished'. Fear rapidly displaced any semblance of
balanced judgment. Dalgety's representatives were advised to carry revolvers
and refrain from hailing taxis, particularly around Pyrmont, lest they be
waylaid by radicals.
In response special fire patrols were raised and a burgeoning of interest
in the raising or updating of country bush fire brigades took place across
New South Wales. In areas where European agriculture had been conducted
for eighty years ad hoc arrangements were replaced with systematic quasi-military
organisations. Members of the Old Guard were prime movers behind these
There were, nevertheless, two rather contradictory ideas circulating about
the future of the Lang government. Apart from the sense of frustration and
unalloyed fear for the future which Braddon expressed, by January 1932 others
felt that the Lang government was living on borrowed time. Perhaps there
was even a measure of confidence that the nightmare would surely end soon
and this might have reflected some inside knowledge about the events which
would precipitate the premier's demise. In early 1932 Philip Goldfinch,
for instance, was taking bets from members of the Union Club that all their
troubles would soon be over.
On the other hand there was no absolute guarantee that the wayward premier's
chaotic path could be arrested until everything in the capitalist china
shop was broken. Indeed the sudden dismissal of the Lang government could
in itself trigger civil commotion to which the Old Guard must respond. As
this chapter will show, the premier's rhetoric and those of his supporters
became ever more tempestuous and his actions leading up to his dismissal
have no parallel in Australian history. The reality was that Lang was simply
fighting for the survival of his government using very unorthodox means,
but it was not outlandish for members of the Old Guard and the
to interpret his actions as being dangerously radical. To such people the
age of Cronos seemed to be returning.
The Lang government had two ways of ensuring its survival. The first was
by making some headway with an obstructive Legislative Council, specifically
by arranging the Council's destruction through swamping it with additional
Labor appointments. This strategy had been set in motion shortly after the
1930 elections and focused upon the repeal of a clause the Bavin government
had inserted into the New South Wales constitution which provided that no
bill for abolition of the Legislative Council could be presented for Royal
Assent without a prior referendum taking place. Lang had ignored this stipulation,
thereby precipitating a complicated and protracted series of legal maneuvers
collectively known as the Trethowan case. The former 1917 'farmers' army'
commandant, A.K. Trethowan, and another member of the Legislative Council
were granted an injunction restraining its president, Sir John Peden, from
presenting Lang's bills for abolishing the Council without a prior referendum.
This led to drawn-out legal disputation contested in the Supreme Court of
New South Wales, the High Court of Australia and the Privy Council in London,
with Trethowan and a growing entourage of ruling-class interests responsible
for the injunction on one side, the Lang government On the other. Between
January and May 1932 paramilitary as well as legal luminaries awaited the
outcome of the Privy Council appeal with bated breath. At an Old Guard conference
in Sydney in April 1932 it was agreed that 'the Upper House decision is
the crux of the present situation. If the verdict is in favour of the Premier
he might impose taxation which will be sufficient for him to carry on, but
it is conceded that if the decision is against him we [i.e. the Old Guard]
may be called into action 'at once'. Ultimately, even though the Privy Council
decision did go against Lang it proved to be irrelevant to the Old Guard,
for it was not handed down until 31 May 1932, two weeks after the premier
had been dismissed.
The second straw to which Lang clung proved to be central to the problem
of maintaining 'law and order' in New South Wales. It broadly concerned
the continuation of the Lang Plan's repudiation of interest payments to
British bondholders, the Commonwealth government's legislative response
and the resulting impasse between the two governments. Yet as far as Lang
was concerned this strategy served to tighten rather than loosen the hangman's
noose. And its associated twists and turns determined both the terrain and
the chronology of a possible civil war. For that reason it warrants detailed
FINANCIAL SHORTCOMINGS AND AMAZING SCENES
On 29 January 1932 Lang announced that New South Wales would be £0.5
million short of interest commitments of £0.959 million. Under the
Financial Agreement, 1928, embodied in Section 105A added to the Commonwealth
constitution in 1929, New South Wales was obliged to pay interest due
to overseas bondholders through the Commonwealth government. In the event
of a State's default the Commonwealth Loan Council was committed to the
payment of outstanding moneys. In April 1931 the Scullin government had
allowed Lang to foist his debts on to the Loan Council.
But the glorious restoration of 19 December 1931 had brought to power
a UAP government led by J.A. Lyons and comprised of a significant number
of Old Guard and League of National Security leaders, such as Aubrey Abbott
(Gwydir), Horace Nock (Riverina), Walter McNicoll (Werriwa) and E.H. Harrison
(Bendigo). In New South Wales the conservative forces had conducted the
election campaign as though Lang, and not Scullin, was the prime minister
and clearly regarded their victory as the lesser component of a two-tiered
approach towards the restoration of normalcy. On 22 December 1931 the
future premier, B.S.B. Stevens,
wrote to Abbott in affectionate, enthusiastic tones:
We shall have to concentrate now on getting J.T. Lang out of the way.
If we can succeed in that we shall give Australia a chance.
seeking constitutional and legal advice and invoking the cause of the
future of Australian credit abroad, the Lyons government set out to destroy
the New South Wales government.
On 18 February 1932, after waiting two weeks before meeting the outstanding
interest, the Commonwealth introduced in Federal Parliament the infamous
garnishee bill, known as the 'Bruce Grab Act' in State ALP circles but
more formally entitled the Financial Agreements Enforcement Act. The main
provision of this Act enabled the Commonwealth to recover moneys from
a defaulting State's revenue.
It was quickly apparent that the legislation would instigate amazing scenes.
On 11 March 1932 the Act received final approval from both the Senate
and House of Representatives. Lang responded by withdrawing over £1.0
million from two private banks, impounding it in the State Treasury and
announcing that he would contest the Act's validity before the High Court.
The Labor Daily warned the Commonwealth government that 'civil war was
the logical outcome of its mad purpose'. On 6 April 1932 the High Court
announced its decision that the enforcement legislation was valid. The
following day the Labor Daily again aptly expressed the feelings of the
Labor community, calling the decision 'A license for War' and adding,
'the war is on. Labor takes up the challenge'.
As share prices rose in leaps and bounds on the Sydney Stock Exchange,
Lyons moved in for the kill. On 7 April he issued a proclamation directing
all taxpayers to pay income tax to the Commonwealth Bank. Lang announced
that he would appeal and on 8 April caused the doors of the State Treasury
to be dramatically locked and barred, thereby preventing the Commonwealth
from perusing official records.
The atmosphere became increasingly tense. As cables from New Zealand brought
news of serious rioting in Auckland the Commonwealth instigated far-reaching
amendments to the enforcement legislation, requiring the attachment of
further State revenues to federal coffers. The State income tax commissioner
was given until 12 May 1932 to hand over all assessment notices. On 21
April the High Court announced the reasons for its decision and the next
day denied Lang's right of appeal to the Privy Council.
The State's finances seemed to be on the verge of collapse. Child endowment
cheques and other pensions were not honoured. Ominous announcements were
made to the effect that all State services may soon have to cease. The
salaries of State public service employees were one matter, but the implications
of the non-payment of unemployment relief or police wages greatly concerned
those who believed in maintaining 'law and order'. Minor panics had already
occurred in some centres when food relief orders had been delayed.' As
a last desperate measure to put the State's finances back on to an even
keel Lang rushed through a bill imposing a 10 per cent capital levy on
all mortgages. This legislation, the Mortgages Taxation Bill, was 'hardly
conceivable' to the business community. Lady David collapsed and was consigned
to bed when the bill passed through the Upper House.' The office of Minter
Simpson & Co. worked overtime bringing clients up to date. It also
drafted a petition to Governor Game on behalf of AML&F, Dalgety's,
New Zealand Loan and Mercantile Australian Estates & Mortgage Co.
Ltd as well as the ES&A and Union Banks imploring him to reserve his
assent on the grounds that it would 'impose great hardship upon our shareholders
and would result immediately in a state of financial chaos' in New South
Wales. Coded telegrams were sent to Melbourne and London after a hurried
conference between these parties in the offices of AML&F to reiterate
the substance of the petition. But despite the swiftness of its passage,
the bill failed to save the Lang government. The Commonwealth government
passed legislation to nullify it. Of course Lang may have expected this
and could have been hoping, as the Sydney office of New Zealand Loan and
Mercantile suggested, to achieve 'something that will serve the purpose
for "window dressing" that will appeal to mob psychology'.
On 10 May 1932 the premier issued a circular to all government officials
aimed at ensuring that State public moneys were withheld from the Commonwealth,
its directives instructed State employees to disobey the terms of Lyons's
earlier proclamations. Governor Game learnt of the circular on 12 May
1932. On 13 May, just ten days after he had proclaimed at Narromine 'it
is the duty of the people and not of the State Governor to find a way
out of the trouble,' the governor issued Lang with his marching orders
on the grounds that the premier had issued and refused to withdraw a circular
which contravened Commonwealth law. But, as was obvious at the time, there
was more involved than one 'illegal' circular and Lang's subsequent obstinacy.
SHAPING UP TO SHOOT
Before the dismissal, while the legal wrangling continued and the two
governments exchanged vitriolic letters and telegrams, there was a growing
assumption that a recourse to violence would settle the political impasse.
The respective law enforcement and security agencies of State and Commonwealth
governments were shaping up to each other as foes. Their normally amicable
relations soured. In July 1931 the Defence Department had authorised the
handing over of a large number of steel helmets and 10 000 cartridges
to the New South Wales police. Archival evidence suggests that in early
1932 Commonwealth authorities were concerned that their bullets might
be returned, with interest, by medium of a rifle barrel.
In March 1932 Military Intelligence first detected the cooling of relations
with the New South Wales police and with W.J. MacKay in particular. Immediately
after the dramatic scenes at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
on 19 March a Naval Intelligence officer had reason to interview MacKay
but found that he was 'definitely hostile and refused to render any assistance'.
The Commonwealth authorities were appalled. Nervous high-level correspondence
passed between Brigadier Heritage at Paddington, Chief of General Staff
Major General J.H. Bruche, the chief of naval staff and Sir George Pearce,
minister for defence, with regard to 'the possibility of conflict between
the Commonwealth and the State'. On 6 April 1932 Military Intelligence
remained concerned about the 'extremely delicate' relations between State
and Commonwealth which had brought about a situation that was 'potentially
MacKay had made an instant decision to support the Lang government, which
he had previously treated rather shabbily. The premier's emphatic stand
left him little option. Careerist motives no doubt also influenced Mackay's
new-found, unqualified loyalty to the State government. These bore fruit
on 30 March 1932 when Mackay was appointed acting metropolitan superintendent.
Rothbury was forgiven but not forgotten.
The army, navy and air force came perilously close to implementing their
'Internal Security Scheme' without a request for assistance from the State
government. Some of its measures had already been carried out. In May
1932 arrangements were made for naval personnel to be stationed and armed
outside various government buildings including the GPO and Commonwealth
Bank in Martin Place, the studios of 2BL and numerous city and suburban
telephone exchanges. Troop movements were uncomfortably obvious. All leave
was stopped. Special arrangements were made for securing arms and ammunition
by storing locks and bolts in the vaults of the Commonwealth Bank head
office and branches. Tanks were observed rumbling through the back streets
of Randwick. In April 1932 a direct telephone link was installed between
Victoria Barracks, Garden Island and Customs House where the IB had its
offices to facilitate emergency communications. In early May 1932 residents
of Richmond noticed a hive of activity at the RAAF aerodrome, in particular
the fitting out of a number of motor lorries with barbed wire and machine
guns. The commanding officer at the Richmond RAAF base, Wing Commander
W.D. Bostock, told his men that a recent conference of senior service
commanders had heard representatives of the prime minister express concern
'about how the NSW Police Force might act in the event of an eyeball to
eyeball confrontation between Commonwealth and State'. It had been agreed
that the services should be ready to adopt a police role. At the cost
of £2500 per month Sir George Pearce wanted an additional navy destroyer
to be held in reserve in the vicinity of Sydney to 'constitute an effective
way of dealing with any emergency that may arise'.
were being prepared for the declaration of martial law. The adjutant-general
had prepared a submission calling for the imposition of martial law on
9 May 1932. Major General Bruche had compiled a similar memo for the attorney
general's department. On 12 May, Pearce placed the matter before the acting
attorney-general, A.J. McLachlan. On the same day Bruche left Melbourne
for Sydney 'on department business' that conceivably entailed supervision
of the mobilisation of the armed forces.
There was, however, to be no military junta. Interestingly, there seems
to have been more than a modicum of suspicion among the senior naval staff
that their army counterparts might have been up to no good. But Bruche
was a minion, not an independent actor. It does not even seem likely that
military personnel would have been used in any direct connection with
the garnishee bill. Nevertheless, in the emotionally charged atmosphere
of May 1932 any deployment of military personnel in 'defensive' measures,
principally in safeguarding Commonwealth property, would still have been
distinctly provocative as well as constitutionally unjustified, for clearly
the State government was unlikely to make any request for assistance.
And the implications of implementing martial law in this situation were
quite profound. The police force may not have been inclined to submit
passively to military control. The labour movement may not have reacted
favourably to the suspension of civil liberties. A show of force by the
military authorities was not out of the question.
There was a perverse circularity to the various initiatives and responses
instigated by Commonwealth and State authorities. In reality Lang had
no intention of attacking the Commonwealth government but events assumed
a momentum of their own. A common reaction to fear is aggression, so the
situation became even more delicate. Even though Lyons was the principal
aggressor, throughout the crisis Lang set new yardsticks for demagoguery.
Labor gatherings thundered defiance. Senator 'Digger' Dunn declaimed,
'If it is fight they want we will give it to them'. Labor supporters wrote
to Lang assuring him of their support 'to the last ditch'. Lang's retaliatory
measures were far from half-hearted. Apart from engaging unemployed members
of the Timberworkers' Union to guard the State Treasury, the premier was
in the process of recruiting a force of special constables, an event which
his political opponents would later see as a vindication of their own
'defensive' measures and proof positive that Lang was indeed orchestrating
'a ruthless militaristic attempt at Sovietism'. Special forms had been
printed and efforts made to enrol members of the State public service
in a force of 25 000.
More than anything else, this piece of intelligence sent shivers of horror
down the spines of all conservatives, particularly those connected with
the Commonwealth government. Longfield Lloyd made a special trip to Canberra
on the night of 21 April 1932 to show a copy of one of the forms to Major
Jones. Combined with the announcement that the ALA was reforming its ranks,
huffs and puffs from the WDC and the Constitutional Guard and the unanimous
pledging of physical support by union and labour organisations, the owning
class's worst nightmarethe fear that any force of special constables
raised by a radical State Labor government would be used for revolutionary
rather than counter revolutionary purposes seemed to be realising
itself. Frederic Hinton considered that there was 'every possibility of
Lang quickly putting us under a labour dictatorship with thousands of
his supporters sworn in as specials and armed'.
The New South Wales police were to form an important bulwark in Lang's
defence against the 'Federal bushrangers'. An internal reorganisation
facilitated MacKay's promotion and ensured that the no-nonsense strong-arm
man was in a position of considerable authority. One rather unreliable
source, Liberty, reported that senior police officers were summoned to
headquarters and asked to sign a declaration that they were prepared to
defend the government of New South Wales against possible federal aggression
or else resign from the force. Even this extreme claim does not strain
credulity for the New Guard was not without contacts within the police
department. Throughout April 1932 large squads of police drilled in the
early morning at suburban parks and ovals. The climax of the political
message Lang was expressing occurred on 29 April when a parade of 1500
policemen filed through the streets of Sydney. The Labor Daily on 30 April
displayed a most uncharacteristic pride and regard for the police force,
describing this event as the march of 'The Army of Democracy and Decency'.
Conservative journals rushed to remind police officers that their first
loyalty was to the King and not to an elected government. Major Combes
of Military Intelligence observed the march with the critical eye of a
confident adversary, caustically remarking: 'The march past was carried
out in eights and the standard of drill was not very high. The Staff work
was faulty, especially at the saluting base.'
Sydney was not the only city to be gripped by a siege mentality. As part
of their concern about 'the possibility of conflict between the Commonwealth
and the State' in May 1932 the IB and military authorities believed that
an attack on Canberra was possible, perhaps even imminent. In their view
its isolation and proximity to Sydney, as well as its small number of
regular police, made it vulnerable. Sinister motives were attached to
local newspaper reports that 'the Sydney Canberra road is unusually heavy
with unemployed heading towards this district', even though the unemployed
involved were doubtless only looking for work. Accordingly, in view of
'the possibilities of local disorder' steps were taken to ensure that
the nation's capital was safe from Lang's Goulburn Street 'gangsters'.
At the personal request of the prime minister, whose equilibrium was no
doubt disturbed by a number of death threats and who spent the period
of crisis on the verge of a nervous breakdown,33 the Canberra and Bungendore
troops of the 7th Light Horse were detailed to attend an eight-day camp
on the outskirts of Canberra, giving the impression that they were engaged
in routine exercises but they were in fact on constant alert lest their
services be required to defend Parliament House and Commonwealth administrative
In addition, Major Jones, in his dual capacity as director of the IB and
Commonwealth/FCT police commissioner, organised a force of 200 peace officers
to swell the ranks of the local constabulary. Scientists employed by the
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, public servants,
former Duntroon Royal Military College personnel, footballers and cricketers,
all enrolled. The Defence Department assigned a cache of revolvers and
a large quantity of ammunition. The Victorian Police department provided
75 wooden batons. A Lewis machine gun was earmarked for the use of Duntroon
graduates. Complicated arrangements were set in place to ensure that other
government officials, first the secretary of the Prime Minister's Department
and after him the solicitor-general, could stand in for Jones, the linchpin
of Lyons's peace officers, should he be absent, wounded or killed in battle.
If the militia forces were mobilised they were ordered to confer with
Jones or one of his deputies and then protect Parliament House and government
administrative offices as their 'first object'. If any 'intruders' had
gained access to these buildings the troops were to 'take action forthwith
to eject them'.
The fear that the rustic charm of the bush capital was in imminent danger
of despoilment by angry Lang Planners or the unemployed is one of the
more unlikely propositions of a paranoid era. But in May 1932 Lyons, Jones,
Heritage, Pearce and Bruche could all hear the ungodly clatter of machine
guns echoing through the valley of the Molonglo. At all times Major Jones
reportedly carried a 'portable swearing-in-set with Bible and everything
complete, so he could do a little legal swearing when the moment was propitious'.
A spirited, if brief, exchange took place in the House of Representatives
on 11 May 1932 when the Labor MHR for Hindmarsh, N. Makin, attacked Lyons's
'alarmist's tactics' regarding the formation of the Canberra peace officers.
Lyons stressed the propriety of 'justin-case', 'action after the event
might be too late' logic which underpinned all counter-revolutionary organisation.
Aubrey Abbott was silent but his political mentor, Victor Thompson, commented:
'I have received letters from good types of men in my own electorate,
asking that if a special police force is to be appointed at Canberra their
claim should be considered.' Even though those responsible for Canberra's
'defence' hoped that their arrangements made 'the people at Canberra .
. . more easy in their minds', the city was in a state of panic. On the
day before Lang was dismissed pandemonium broke out in one store at Civic
Centre when customers mistook a vehicle flying a red flag, containing
General Higgins, leader of the Salvation Army, for the arrival of the
Red Army. In common with the military's preparations to implement their
'Internal Security Scheme' in Sydney, or for that matter Lang's organising
of special constables, the 'defensive' arrangements to cope with possible
civil commotion in Canberra added to, rather than diminished the volatility
of the political situation in general. Emotions, once aroused, cannot
easily be placated; 'armies', once assembled and primed up to 'fight the
good fight', are difficult to disperse.
The Lyons government was a formidable representative of capital, but it
was only one of four avenging horsemen at Lang's apocalypse. An analysis
of the actions of the other three, in ascending order of importance, the
new-states movements, the New Guard and the Old Guard, illuminates further
the extent of agitation and intrigue which occurred in the early months
of 1932 and underscores the degree to which such maneuvering and the unstable
political situation which accompanied and resulted from it, was the expression
of class interests. Examination of the activities of these organisations,
in particular the group collaborating with the Commonwealth government,
leads us towards a new understanding of the events of 13 May 1932.
THE BUSH REBELS PREPARE TO SECEDE
In the financial stringencies facing the Lang government the leaders of
the amalgamated country separatist movements comprising the United Country
Movement (UCM) perceived the creation of a situation whereby their aims
was enthusiasm rather than disappointment in Charles Hardy's admonition
to an audience at Scone in early April 1932:
believe that in the next few days you are going to face the greatest
crisis in the State . . . there may be a time when an attempt is made
to prostitute the Constitution and if that day comes I will stand outside
the law and stand for the preservation of the Commonwealth . . . I know
we may have to endanger our own personal liberty in the next few days.
As was suggested in
Chapter 2, the Riverina Movement's hopes for altering the equation of
government lay with the collapse of the Lang government. This now seemed
imminent. In late April 1932, Earle Page vividly enunciated the short-term
hopes for the future of the new states movements when he stated: 'the
present paralysis would end in chaos and anarchy and the countrymen would
be forced to take the lead themselves by creating their own governments
which would obey the Federal law and constitution, protect the people,
help the workless and defy the rebel elements in the community.'
On 6 May 1932 an official press release stressed that provisional councils
were ready to assume control of government and administration. All concerned
had been warned. 'Whatever may happen in the city', the statement counselled,
'there will be r.o revolution in the country districts, and there will
be no chaos.
These utterances were not idle boasts. The impudence of the demands and
actions of the UCM was considerable. On 8 April 1932 a meeting of the
UCM executive in Sydney telegraphed Lyons demanding a referendum that
would permit the '. . . immediate reconstruction of the state of New South
Wales into smaller federal units'. The respectable Country Party politicians
were uncharacteristically militant and proceeded to set out 'in great
detail' a course of action should the Commonwealth decline their demand.
Local conventions at Armidale, Wagga and Dubbo would appoint provisional
governments which would seek recognition from the Commonwealth, organise
a referendum for the ratification of a State constitution and assume the
functions of administration pending the election of a provisional legislature.
In calling for an immediate 'blitzkrieg' the then Senator Hardy was 'theatrical'.
Michael Bruxner, who sat beside B.S.B. Stevens after the June elections
as the newly elected premier assured the propertied classes in a radio
message, 'you can go to bed now, for the country is safe', was, at this
8 April meeting, 'bellicose'.
Ultimately a call for moderation was successful and the UCM executive
resolved to delay the implementation of this plan until Lang committed
one more 'overt act'. Senator Dunn later argued that Hardy had transformed
the countryside into an 'armed camp' and exposed further details of Hardy's
plans which suggested he 'had a complete organisation, military and administrative',
with drivers ready to rush proclamations to 400 rural centres, a twelve-man
emergency parliament waiting in the wings and a military organisation
capable of defending leaders from arrest.
Whether or not Dunn's allegations possessed any substance this section
of the rural rebellion halted when Page visited Melbourne to inform Lyons
of the secession proposals. The harassed prime minister advanced a step
closer to his impending breakdown, told Page that secession would only
intensify the conflict surrounding him and warned that if the UCM proceeded
without his consent the Commonwealth government might be impelled to act
against the movement.
CAMPBELL FOR FUHRER?
While Hardy and his associates were turning the countryside into an 'armed
camp' the New Guard was also flexing its muscles. On 13 February 1932,
700 New Guardsmen drilled at Belmore. Several reporters from the World
who attempted to take photographs were assaulted. Four days later the
New Guard conducted a major transport exercise at Lansdowne Bridge and,
at Coffs Harbour on the same day, thirteen New Guardsmen were arrested
after violently disrupting a meeting addressed by Alderman Donald Grant.
On 26 February 1932 unemployed meetings were broken up in Newtown and
Bankstown, a parade was held in Lakemba and meetings were conducted in
Rose Bay, Double Bay, Woollahra and Bondi as part of a 'general mobilisation'.
Throughout February 1932 there were zone inspections of between 300 and
1500 men held every Saturday. In all, twenty large gatherings took place
including another Town Hall 'Monster Rally' on 18 February at which all
present raised their right arm in a fascist salute while taking a solemn
oath of allegiance to the New Guard and its determination to crush communism.
On 19 March 1932 Captain Francis de Groot staged his dubious display of
horsemanship and was promptly escorted to Darlinghurst Reception Centre.
Charged with offensive behaviour, his trial at the Central Police Court
in Liverpool Street on 1 April 1932 provoked a violent encounter between
the police and members of the New Guard's elite Mobile Unit. On 21 April
1932 there was further military drilling at Killara and, at around 2.00
am on 6 May 1932, 'Jock' Garden was bashed at his home in Maroubra by
eight members of the Fascist Legion, a secretive inner group within the
New Guard whose members wore Ku Klux Klan-style hoods and gowns. The Anzac
Rifle Range near Liverpool army camp saw New Guardsmen drilling and practising
baton charges on 8 May 1932. Three days later secret drilling took place
at Beecroft and in the vicinity of Tom Ugly's bridge. Between January
and May 1932 the tenor of pronouncements by leading New Guardsmen became
increasingly extreme. 'The time is finished for talk',
thundered at Chatswood on 3 March. At St Ives on 20 February he declared:
Every New Guardsman should be prepared to come
out if called upon with very short notice carrying 24 hours food supply,
and it is anticipated that your services will be required before the end
of the month. There is a very dirty job to be carried out. If you fellows
were armed a few redcoats or a few bluecoats would not stop us. I must
emphasise the necessity of the New Guard in force, for if we fail we are
in a mess.
New Guard's mounting pugnacity is also evident in instructions Campbell
issued for 'Street fighting'on 2 May 1932. These included directives for
marching in formation, rifle carriage ('bayonets fixed') and advice about
'the clearance of strongly held buildings' where revolvers, rifles, tear
gas and grenades were to be employed, depending upon the level of resistance
encountered. At the same time headquarters sent out a questionnaire to
elicit the opinion of every New Guardsman about the lengths to which the
organisation should go 'to achieve its object'.
'I only want fighters, who, should the emergency
arise, will be prepared to smite or be smitten.
While some of the
evidence may have been exaggerated, or perhaps even fabricated by the
New South Wales police, there is a solid body of testimony confirming
that Campbell had plans to dissolve parliament and end the Lang regime.
Some of the methods he contemplated were merely naive. Others may have
been more seditious. Campbell considered that a week's organised, peaceful
civil disobedience might persuade the governor to act. If properly executed,
the concentration of several thousand New Guardsmen in the vicinity of
Parliament House could conceivably embroil and isolate police officers
in a large thronging crowd. In this case they would be unable to prevent
members of the Lang government from being turned out into the streetunless
they drew their firearms and fired 'indiscriminately upon, say 20,000
citizens of normally good repute'. The New Guard also prepared a mammoth
petition to dispatch to King George V imploring him to 'cause the dissolution
of the present Legislative Assembly of New South Wales so that the Electors
may decide the question of dealing with Disloyalists and Communists'.
Campbell had talked of leading a procession of 100 000 men down Macquarie
Street to deliver the petition. Governor Game tried to stall the presentation
by at least six weeks, pleading other engagements, but finally, on 11
March 1932, after much correspondence between Lloyd and Jones on the subject,
and with a number of policemen hidden in a garagethe inference being
that Campbell was likely to run amok at any momentthe governor tensely
accepted the petition from a twelve-man deputation and then abruptly dismissed
Evidence drawn from archival, oral and manuscript sources suggests that
the New Guard was also considering mounting a coup d'etat and incarcerating
the State Cabinet in either disused hulks moored off Kuringai Chase or
in Berrima gaol. The evidence, however, must be carefully weighed up,
for some of it cannot be taken at face value. For instance Detective Constable
Alford's assertion that on 3 March 1932 the Council of Action of the New
Guard had intended to 'set up a dictatorship' after throwing 'armed battalions
of New Guardsmen across the lines of approach to Sydney', cutting off
the electric light from Bunnerong power station, and then under the cover
of darkness overthrowing Parliament and seizing all government departments,
is certainly one of the most damning pieces of evidence against the New
Guard. Yet while Alford's statement was delivered under oath and one would
surely not expect a policeman to mislead deliberately under any conditions,
some of the circumstances of its exposition warrant elaboration. Alford's
allegations were made five days after the change in government. By this
time the police, and Alford's superiors, W.J. MacKay in particular, were
increasingly in the position of needing to justify their stern countermeasures
against the New Guard. The incoming Stevens-Bruxner government was far
less impressed with MacKay's apparent antifascism than Lang and Gosling
had been. Amidst rumours that he had allowed his prosecution of the New
Guard to deter his surveillance of communists there was innuendo that
MacKay might be asked to stand down. For their part the police wished
to sustain the momentum behind their 'seditious conspiracy' case against
the New Guard but on this issue the incoming administration was already
showing signs of wavering. Detective Constable Alford, therefore, could
be forgiven for displaying a certain amount of inventiveness, but he was
an outstanding detective and there was, without doubt, a kernel of truth
in his allegations
Similar reservations must be applied to other sections of the evidence
attesting to the New Guard's plans to use Berrima gaol as a detention
centre for the State Cabinet. Much of the archival evidence supporting
this claim is especially lurid and complete to the finest detail. Material
in a hitherto unused Premier's Department file suggests that two of Campbell's
most trusted confidants had been directed to proceed to Berrima to produce
a plan of the gaol and assess its suitability as a prison and garrison
by noting all approaches, means of defence and suitable places for mounting
machine guns. The lessee of the gaol, this file suggests, was enrolled
as a member of the New Guard and helped prepare a summary of the position
of dark cells, the numbers which could be accommodated and suitable places
for cookhouses, officers' quarters, latrines and water supply. It even
appears that a Berrima grazier offered the services of his plane and that
Campbell made it clear that if Lang or any other prisoners tried to escape
they should be shot. One of the more comic opera touches to this file
is the suggestion that there was a New Guardsman disguised as a swaggie
continuously stationed in the grounds of Lang's farm at Ebenezer with
a motor cycle dispatch rider standing by at Cattai. All, it seems, lay
in readiness. But is this evidence to be believed?
The provenance of this information must be examined. Much of it is drawn
from the sworn statement of one Herbert Symonds Poynton and was again
important to the police for the part it could have played in their 'seditious
conspiracy' case against the New Guard.
Poynton is a mysterious figure. A labourer residing in Newtown, he claimed
to have joined the New Guard in July 1931 because he was 'against the
communist party activities, and the New Guard claimed to be against revolution'.
Initially attached to New Guard intelligence Poynton's first duty was
to draw plans of unemployed camps on the South Coast. He was then assigned
to act as a personal bodyguard to Colonel Campbell, riding around with
him late at night between New Guard meetings, a position which, Poynton
claimed, meant that he had access to the New Guard leader in his more
reflective and, by implication, sincere moments.
three days before the opening of the Harbour Bridge Campbell allegedly
said to Poynton:
you think it possible for the New Guard to kidnap Lang and several others?
. . . [I]t is only a matter of finding good men to do the job and it
will be done immediately.'
this conversation Poynton reputedly took charge of organising the kidnapping
attempt and accordingly it took shape as has already been outlined. Poynton
told police that Campbell was well pleased with his labours and assured
him that the kidnapping would take place shortly.
On 12 May 1932 Poynton unburdened himself to Detective Constable Delaney,
later a police commissioner of some notoriety, at CIB headquarters. As
befitted a document that would potentially play a central part in the
police prosecution of the New Guard, Poynton's statement was carefully
examined and the most juicy titbits, including the proposition that at
one stage Inspector MacKay was also on the kidnapping list, marked and
Exactly what led Herbert Poynton to CIB headquarters must clearly be a
matter for debate. He claimed to have become disenchanted with the New
Guard. He said he persisted with the kidnapping plot so that, if it took
place, he would be able to protect the premier. In the forbidding atmosphere
of a police interrogation room he was unlikely to have claimed otherwise.
Poynton also maintained that he stayed a member of the New Guard so that
if it did become a revolutionary organisation 'in the interests of the
State and law and order someone should know their movements'.
This does not ring true and several constructions could be placed on his
evidence. One is that he was simply one of those unbalanced souls who
regularly appear in police stations to confess to imaginary crimes. But
his role as Campbell's bodyguard and intelligence agent can be confirmed
by other testimony, so it seems that, at least in part, his story was
genuine. Another possibility is that Poynton was a paid police informer
and agent. This is certainly how Campbell interpreted his role. Poynton
is recognisable as the unnamed ' "eye" for police H.Q.' to whom
Campbell refers in The Rallying Point. Campbell opines that this 'lad
. . . both helpful and obliginga kind of Puss-in-Boots' would accompany
him as a volunteer escort and suggests that Norman Plomley, the New Guard's
chief of intelligence, would deliberately feed Poynton information that
was 'really spicy to take back to his masters'. Why Plomley should court
disaster in this way is open to conjecture but there is another explanation
for Poynton's behaviour: he might have been working as a spy within the
New Guard, not for the police, but for Jack Lang.
This might throw light on why a worker from the inner city joined the
New Guard in the first place. It could also explain how material from
Poynton's statement of 12 May came to be in the possession of JA ('Stabber
Jack') Beasley, one of Lang's Supporters in Federal Parliament, who read
extracts from it in the House on 13 May 1932. And Poynton does seem to
have had left-wing sympathies. Many years later his behaviour as a union
representative on a construction site at Liverpool brought him to the
attention of the intelligence services and on 10 August 1950 his presence
in a courtroom where the publisher of Tribune was being charged with writing
seditious words was also noted by an intelligence agent. Yet Poynton also
seems to have been rather erratic. In the course of attempting to discover
Poynton's whereabouts in the Second World War in order to make him pay
for his volumes of Dr Bean's war history, the intelligence services tracked
him to Kempsey where it was suggested, he was claiming to be a secret
service agent. The New South Wales deputy director of security noted 'this
is not correct.' The mystery of Poynton's allegiances will probably never
be solved. For our purposes it is simply worth noting that the results
of his sleuthing within and on behalf of the New Guard were decidedly
amateurish and that his testimony must be treated with caution.
It should be emphasised that the reliability or otherwise of Poynton's
testimony does not dismiss the proposition that the New Guard was intending
to kidnap the premier and, as Lang later wrote, install 'a quasi-military
dictatorship with the High Command of the New Guard supplying the strong
right arm of government'. The already-cited buildup of New Guard drilling
between January and May 1932, the growing militancy of Campbell's invective,
graphic references in internal New Guard documents to 'street-fighting
techniques 'by combatants who would 'smite or be smitten', all of these
suggest that Campbell really did believe that the 'time [had] finished
for talk'. Longfield Lloyd's spies also informed him that the New Guard
had plans to kidnap the premier, though it was also represented to him
that the New Guard's Council of Action had formally abandoned the plan
on the night of 15 March 1932. Of course Lloyd's spies could have been
no more reliable than Poynton, but Lloyd, unlike MacKay and Alford, had
no need to manufacture evidence. There is a further reference to another
kidnapping attempt on 18 March when at a meeting at the flat of one of
the leaders of the Fascist Legion where plans were made to kidnap Lang,
strip him of his clothing and take him to the bridge-opening ceremony
dressed as a beggar. On that momentous day Cinesound Newsreel seems to
have had inside information, or they were extremely fortunate in having
the only press cameramen positioned such that de Groot's moment of triumph
could be photographed. The manager of Cinesound Newsreel also stationed
a camera crew outside Lang's house in Auburn where he thought the New
Guard 'might try to bottle him up'. Lang knew of these plans, though he
ignored his brother-in-law's advice that the New Guard was going to kill
him. Longfield Lloyd was very concerned about the machinations of another
New Guard inner group, the 'Bulldog Drummond' shock troops, numbering
4000, who ostensibly had access to seventeen machine guns, 300 000 rounds
of ammunition and 500 rifles. In addition members of the Fascist Legion
had reportedly filed through a window at Long Bay gaol to facilitate ready
access to the gaol armory and acquired a duplicate set of keys to the
New South Wales police arms store. Even Eric Campbell considered the leader
of the Fascist Legion, John Dynon, excessively militant and according
to one British diplomatic report their planned coup was called off only
at the last moment when Dynon lost his nerve and reported the matter to
Old Guard headquarters. The reminiscences of two senior New Guardsmen,
A.G. Farleigh and Reg Cox, also support the view that sections of the
New Guard were prepared to revolt.
course they were prepared to fight. I think they actually met on one
particular occasion with that object in view for war. I don't
know what stopped that. They were going to take over the whole businessthere
was nothing to stop them. They had worked up to the point where they
were prepared to use the bayonet.
a member of the Council of Action, recollected:
got to the stageit worked from the demonstration in Macquarie
Street; whether it would be of any usewhere we were prepared to
revolt. We were prepared, literally, we were definitely prepared for
civil war. I was one of fourteen men who discussed the matterwhether
we should or not. I can assure you honestly it was touch and go at that
particular moment of stress.
balance it seems fair to conclude that the New Guard was about to fulfill
its fascist potential but if Eric Campbell came perilously close to staging
a fascist putsch in New South Wales the various splinter groups within
the New Guard, especially the Fascist Legion, came even closer.
this paints Campbell as a sinister figure. In his defence it could be
said that he had unleashed forces he did not perfectly understand. While
he knew of the existence of groups like the Fascist Legion he was not
responsible for their excesses. On the other hand this might be too generous.
Campbell's increasingly provocative behaviour may have been designed to
instigate a violent response from Labor supporters which might have provided
that necessary modicum of justification for the New Guard to mobilise.
One police informant suggested that the New Guard did not expect their
petition to be successful, but when the anticipated unfavourable response
was received they would call the Mobile Unit together, seize Parliament
House and the government's administrative offices, claiming that all other
'constitutional' avenues had been exhausted.
Campbell's main problem was that of keeping faith with various intemperate
threats of impending action. He was in an invidious position. Campbell
and other senior New Guardsmen were not, as Longfield Lloyd put it, devoid
of misgiving 'but forced as a matter of honour to accede to drastic proposals
lest they be adjudged weak and hesitant'. The main purpose of de Groot's
tape-slashing mission at the bridge opening was to save Campbell from
losing face, for the New Guard leader had vowed that the premier would
not open the bridge. And behind the bragging and bravado all the New Guard's
weaknesses had become more pronounced. The movement's growing desire to
mount a fascist putsch did not necessarily mean that this would succeed.
The New Guard was racked by internal suspicion and intrigue and riddled
with informers and spies. This was especially evident in the sequel to
the assault on Garden. For amidst the welter of allegations and counter
allegations about whether the New Guard, Lang's supporters or the police
were responsible arising largely from R.W.D. Weaver's statement
in the Legislative Assembly on 11 May 1932 that the police agent Captain
Warneford had orchestrated a criminal 'frame-up' a bizarre and rather
sad story emerged about the Fascist Legion. Organised such that each of
its 49 members adopted the title of a playing card (queens being omitted
for obvious reasons), this group was largely synonymous with disaffected
localities in Randwick, Centennial Park and Darlinghurst. Its chief purpose
was to spy on suspected disloyal sections of the New Guard and to keep
watch on Norman Plomley's 'official' New Guard intelligence which it believed
was conducted in a 'lax manner'. It was a case, as Truth excitedly pointed
out on 15 May 1932, of 'Spies to spy on spies'. This situation became
even more complicated when Plomley engaged one of his own men to spy on
the Fascist Legion, when members of the inner group spied on each other
and when Plomley's man encountered Herbert Poynton spying on both the
Fascist Legion and New Guard intelligence. Apart from the atmosphere of
chronic, deep-seated mistrust which it illustrated, the incident created
a stampede of resignations at a particularly crucial time. It was the
death knell of the New Guard.
In April 1932 Campbell dissolved both the executive and general councils
of the New Guard on the arguably correct premise that they contributed
to the movement's administrative unwieldiness. But many New Guardsmen
were ready to fear the worst and attacked Campbell's increasingly dictatorial
attitude through the pages of New Guard.
At the same time Tom Walsh, the former unionist and communist, resigned
from the New Guard after the Jewish furrier Samuel Biber proclaimed that
the movement was and must be accepted as fascist. It became increasingly
obvious that only a very small proportion of New Guardsmen would follow
Campbell if he decided to act against the police. Some sections were still
talking wistfully about an amalgamation with the Old Guard, 'the country
movements which . . . are even stronger than we are'.
In February 1932 W.J. MacKay had warned a rather skeptical Francis de
Groot that 500 policemen, armed if necessary with bombs and howitzers,
could easily stop ten times that many New Guardsmen from ensconcing themselves
in Parliament House.74 What became known in New Guard circles as the 'Liverpool
Street police riot' suggests that MacKay's boast was not overstating the
case. The incident illustrates the physical impotence of the New Guard
when its military striking power was a most crucial consideration.
On 1 April 1932, the day of de Groot's trial at Central Police Court,
Aubrey Abbott 'happened' to be in Sydney and at the Imperial Service Club.
De Groot being under police escort, after disrupting the Sydney Harbour
[Courtesy of News Ltd Photolibrary]
earlier discussed with Campbell both the New Guard's plans to kidnap Lang
and its proposal for dealing with the police if they offered any resistance.
Campbell had told
him that the New Guard's numerical superiority would enable them to 'quietly
shoulder' the police away. Abbott had counselled: 'Eric
. . . I know the police force very well, and let me tell you that five
or even ten of your men won't shoulder one policeman away if he doesn't
want to be shouldered.'
Across the bar on the morning of the trial Abbott noticed Campbell and
a number of other leading New Guardsmen priming themselves for the battle.
Abbott felt 'there would be some fun and followed them'. Meanwhile, at
Central Police Station, MacKay was urging an assembly of policemen, including
the iron-fisted Ray 'Blizzard' Blissett, to 'go out and belt their bloody
heads off'. Thus instructed, 300 policemen proceeded to do just that,
effecting twelve arrests, ripping off armbands and generally teaching
the New Guard's finest a stern lesson in the verities of state violence.
Abbott observed their tactics (either grabbing an offender's tie, twisting
it sharply and sending him breathlessly on his way, or dog-trotting him
into a side street after doubling the offender's coat across his arms
such that 'he is as helpless as a trussed fowl') with much amusement and
interest. The Old Guard leader then hurried back to the Imperial Service
Club 'to see the warriors return': 'They came in, hot and ruffled, complaining
bitterly of their treatment. I tried to remind Eric of the time when he
told me of his plan and how, if the police interfered, they would be quietly
shouldered away. He was not interested.'
In a similar vein
the day after this police action Philip Goldfinch chanced upon the secretary
of his local UAP branch who exhibited the appearance of being involved
in a serious accident. When asked how he sustained his injuries the man
gruffly replied, 'No more New Guard for me'.
On 7 May 1932 another
incident occurred which would have extinguished any hopes Campbell might
have entertained about support from other quarters. On that night he and
Francis de Groot attended a smoke social at Liverpool army camp. They
had been invited by Major Robert Lee, the field brigade commander of the
36th Field Battery. Campbell and de Groot, the latter dressed in his customary
dapper fashion, 'a white waistcoat and a black bow tie', were doubtless
looking forward to a convivial evening of hearty military camaraderie.
They were to be sorely disappointed. Campbell asked to deliver a short
speech to the 'other ranks' and Lee acquiesced. Accounts differ about
the exact contents of the speech but it would seem that he said nothing
more substantial than: 'I am glad to again be in amongst troops, it reminds
me of the old wartime days, and I am glad to see the same old A.I.F. spirit
still prevails, and I am sure . . . whether you are commanded by us or
anyone else you will be as loyal now as you were then.'
The speech was coolly received. There were 'raspberries' and 'offensive
remarks'. 'Get fucked', repeatedly yelled one dissenting voice. It was
suggested, 'we ought to dump them in the river'. Late into the night the
men stood around in angry groups. The next morning Lee was forced to apologise
for issuing the invitation.
The matter did not stop there. Just a few days before a physical clash
between Commonwealth and State forces seemed imminent, the police were
naturally concerned about any suggestion of potential collaboration between
A SQUAD OF DETECTIVES
Lee's divisional commander, Brigadier A.J. Mills, asked him to show cause
why his commission should not be recalled. Lee protested that no New Guard
propaganda had been disseminated and he spared no effort in apologising
for any 'unpleasantness' he had caused. Nevertheless, Lee neglected to
mention that he was the locality head of the Ryde New Guard. He was stripped
of his command and transferred to the reserve of officers. This decision
was upheld shortly afterwards by the Military Board and, some time after,
by a court of inquiry. Lee had a right to feel hard done by. Campbell's
comments were extremely restrained. A long and otherwise unblemished military
career was brought to an end by a relatively minor indiscretion.
Lee had offended certain
partialities prevalent in military ruling circles. It is not entirely
surprising that the court of inquiry proved unresponsive to Lee's protestations
that he had been treated in an excessively harsh fashion. It was presided
over by Major General Rosenthal. Nor was this the only venue where Old
Guard-New Guard tensions would be manifested.
In summary, with a rapidly declining membership, internal dissension that
had become largely institutionalised, physically inept and isolated by
the unrelenting hostility displayed by both the Commonwealth and State
authorities, in May 1932 the New Guard was largely a spent force. Its
plans, both extreme and moderate, were laid outside the drama surrounding
the Financial Agreements Enforcement Act. On the day of the High Court
decision Campbell offered Lyons the services of 'any number of thoroughly
trustworthy reputable men' but was refused. There was some suggestion
that the New Guard planned to use the confusion caused by a clash between
Commonwealth and State forces to stage their coup, but viewed in the context
of the events of January to May 1932, the movement's significance was
merely to complicate the intricate mosaic of conflicting forces which
could have resulted in civil disorder.
Even if the New Guard's rhetoric did not imply a corresponding ability
to upset parliamentary democracy and while the new states movements were,
at the last moment, put firmly in their place like errant schoolboys,
both movements clearly disrupted 'peace, order and good government'. But
the full implications of the Commonwealth government's assault on Lang,
together with an appreciation of just how close civil war was at this
time, rests with an understanding of the activity of the Old Guard in
the period leading up to the dismissal.
PEACE OFFICERS OR BUSHRANGERS?
As the secret army's lineage would suggest and as archival evidence strongly
supports, the Lyons government was in league with the Old Guard. Scullin's
demise meant the return to office of many of the architects of the secret
army contingency plan. John Latham, that political doyen of the intelligence
community, became attorney-general. Sir George Pearce, with whom Herbert
Brookes had worked on the Australian Protective League proposals in 1918,
became minister for defence. Major Harold Jones became responsible to
these old friends. After briefly assessing the merits of the New Guard,
it was a case of business as usual. The secret organisation could emerge
from the twilight of legality.
The major structural connection between the Old Guard and the Commonwealth
government was through the Attorney General's Department. As was suggested
in Chapter 1, the Old Guard's legislative sanction was the Peace Officers
Act of 1925. Members of the Old Guard were to mobilise bearing an authority
headed 'Commonwealth of Australia. Peace Officers Act of 1925. Oath of
Allegiance'. Jack Scott could now liaise closely with Longfield Lloyd
who, in Sydney, would have been primarily responsible for the swearing
in of peace officers and on at least one occasion Lloyd sought advice
from Scott when a hoaxer claimed to be organising troops on behalf of
the Commonwealth authorities. Responsible to Latham and not Brennan, Jones
could now tell the truth. Writing three months after the disbandment of
the Old Guard, when much of the threat of civil disorder had dissipated,
Jones assured Latham: 'There is no need for any further organisation in
New South Wales as the one in readiness early this year can again be brought
into operation at short notice should the situation demand it.'
Jones's letter also explains how the Commonwealth viewed its citizens'
auxiliary and illuminates one of the reasons why it objected so strongly
to the New Guard. In castigating the actions of a particular warrant officer
who had associated himself with Campbell, Jones stressed: 'It is actions
like those of Downey that brings Commonwealth Administration under very
adverse criticism and makes for misunderstandings with those loyal and
highly influential citizens upon whom we have to rely in emergency, and
at times the position becomes very embarrassing to those upon whom responsibility
It seems likely that relations between the IB and the Old Guard were fully
restored in the wake of an incident which involved the Bathurst solicitor,
Colonel R.H. Browning. On 6 February 1932 Colonel C.G.N. Miles, the director
of military training at army headquarters in Melbourne, was in Bathurst
in the course of conducting an inspection tour of New South Wales. Browning
buttonholed Miles and told him that during a recent visit to Sydney he
had received certain rather disturbing intelligence about the New Guard.
Campbell and the New Guard, Browning claimed, 'were making preparations
for a sudden stroke, in the nature of a coup d'etat, against the Lang
government . . . in the immediate future'. Even more alarmingly Campbell
evidently believed that as soon as 'the actual coup was accomplished'
the Old Guard's rural battalions would rally behind his banner.
The day before Miles had conversed with Frederic Hinton in Canowindra.
Hinton 'spoke bitterly against Campbell and all the activities of the
New Guard'. So Campbell's deluded belief that he could count on the support
of the Old Guard would not have been taken too seriously by the military
or the IB. Nevertheless, when apprised of the episode by Colonel Lavarack,
Major Jones realised it was clearly time to consider 'the extent of support'
the Old Guard could offer 'to the Commonwealth as an adjunct to a Peace
Force' if 'supposing for argument's sake the relationship between the
State Government and the Commonwealth became strained'. Thus he sought
advice from Longfield Lloyd.
Lloyd's reply unreservedly recommended using the urban and rural divisions
of the Old Guard. The organisation was, he suggested, 'perfectly suitable
for the support of the Governmental arm . . . unconditionally available'
and while containing 'the best elements in the community ... has no internal
ambitions, seeking only service in the highest degree'. If he had not
already done so this exchange of correspondence provided sufficient justification
for the IB man in Sydney to pay Jack Scott or Philip Goldfinch a formal
visit to finalise arrangements about the Old Guard's use 'as an adjunct
to a Peace Force'.
The Old Guard was also linked to the Defence Department. Since the 'Internal
Security Scheme' was an expression of the collective wisdom of generals
like White, Chauvel, Monash, Lloyd, Heane, Bennett and Rosenthal, it was
hardly surprising that senior military men knew where 'loyal and highly
influential citizens' could be found if necessary. As was suggested in
Chapter 2, two junior staff officers were present at an early meeting
of the Old Guard. Brigadier Heritage attended the regular Thursday-night
gatherings in Aubrey Abbott's Darling Point flat. There would have been
few army officers who disagreed with Major Combes's assessment of the
Old Guard as 'most unlikely to cause trouble of any kind. In emergency
it would be very useful in shortening the time necessary to raise special
The militia forces were an important connection between the military and
paramilitary. At first Brigadier Heritage had been reluctant to employ
the militia in the 'Internal Security Scheme', fearing that 'cases could
easily arise where a Militia Formation Commander might not see eye to
eye with the District Base Commandant, or where a Militia Formation Commander
might by reason of his civil avocation or sympathies, not be in a position
to take action'. Combes was able to assure Heritage that his fears were
unwarranted. He knew that the militia regiments, particularly the country
light horse troops, were full of members whose 'civil avocation' and 'sympathies'
would not impede participation in the 'Internal Security Scheme'. In most
cases these units were identical with Old Guard branches. Frederic Hinton,
for instance, was the commanding officer of the 6th Light Horse. The troop
commanders of his units at Parkes and Millthorpe were branch heads of
the Old Guard in those towns. Lieutenant Colonel Jack Davies was in charge
of the 16th Light Horse. From individual troopers to the highest echelons
of command at Victoria Barracksthe commander of the Ist Cavalry
Division before his death in September 1931 was General George Macarthur
Onslowmembers of the militia entertained dual but mutually compatible
allegiances. Macarthur Onslow, surrounded by a bevy of staff officers,
regularly attended camps and bivouacs, addressing civic receptions upon
the theme of 'it is human nature to fightmankind more or less likes
war! and Australia must be prepared!'. The general previewed scenes which,
in May 1932, could easily have become familiar to the working people of
Sydney. A march-past by the 6th Light Horse in the main street of Orange
would, no doubt, have been just as stirring a spectacle in Darling Street,
Balmain, or King Street, Newtown, even if its purpose was more to do with
politics and less with pageantry.
newspaper report gives us a sense of what might have been:
an inspiring sound of martial music the column advanced, first coming
the Brigade Band, a picturesque sight with their coloured pugeries [sic],
waistbelts and glittering instruments and the black cock's feathers
flaunted from their hatbands. Then
came Colonel Hinton, Commanding Officer, and the regiment marched in
splendid order behind him. Each officer saluted with a graceful sweep
of the sword and the sabre squadron, carrying swords at the slope followed
by the machine-gun squadron, came behind. Each squadron was perfectly
turned out and the sight was an inspiring one.
Right down to the
finest administrative detail the Old Guard was linked with the military.
As part of the 'Internal Security Scheme's' use of militia troops the
quartermaster-general at Victoria Barracks was to make certain plans for
the arrival of a large number of country light horse troops in Sydney.
Specifically he was '[t]o arrange with Secretary, Royal Agricultural Society
for accommodation for extra horses in the Royal Agricultural Society's
Ground, Sydney'. The proximity of the barracks and the showground meant
this was a commonsense arrangement, and the RAS entertained other close
links with the Defence Department, but only the most innocent minded could
overlook the happy coincidence of G.C. Somerville's official position,
Old Guard allegiances and military commitments. The RAS accommodation
facilities would have been severely stretched. The Old Guard's rural troops
were also to have been housed at the 'RAS Ground and buildings . . . if
Governmental areas not considered suitable'. On 2 February 1932 there
was a significant change in the command of the 2nd Division. Major General
Gordon Bennett called at Government House to relinquish formally his command.
With him was his replacementMajor General Charles Rosenthal. As
the tempest surrounding the garnishee bill gathered momentum the veteran
of the King and Empire Alliance and the Sydney Domain vigilante episode
was back in the saddle.
It becomes increasingly difficult to disentangle the Old Guard from the
Defence Department. Many members of the light horse troops would hardly
have known on whose authoritythe Defence Department's or the Old
Guard'sthey were proceeding to Sydney. Nor was it entirely clear
what their respective functions would have been.
The exact procedure by which the Commonwealth proposed to collect State
moneys and income tax documents was kept a 'close secret'. It was asserted
that the Commonwealth treasurer would 'authorise' the New South Wales
commissioner of taxation to act on his behalf. What the Commonwealth would
do if the State commissioner declined to be 'authorised' was not made
clear. Roger Trudwell observed: 'No one seems to know just what machinery
the Federal Government will use to collect the money owing, but it is
generally believed that should the State Government undertake to resist
the Federal officers, a situation might arise that would be exceedingly
The lieutenant governor of Tasmania, Sir Herbert Nicholls, remarked on
the day after the handing down of the High Court decision that the enforcement
legislation 'might lead to war'. This seems an extreme assessment but,
if carried to its logical conclusion, the legislation necessarily dictated
the use of a disciplinary force to subdue those inconvenienced by a disruption
in State government services. This was one area where the Old Guard would
have been useful and, even though the Commonwealth announced it had made
arrangements to take over unemployment relief from the State government,
there was bound to be a delay.
But the Commonwealth authorities may have been planning to go one step
further. One possibility is that they intended to storm the State Government
Treasury to seize, at the very least, taxation documents. Even though
this was in direct conflict with the Old Guard's more established function
as a counterrevolutionary buffer than an enforcer of government policy
it can be argued that the Commonwealth intended to use the secret army
in this capacity. Evidence supporting this argument can be gathered from
a number of sources.
The tone and content of editorial pronouncements in Victor Thompson's
Northern Daily Leader provoke thought. Because of Thompson's prominence
in the Lyons-Page government and status as a confidant of Earle Page,
these may be considered an accurate barometer of sentiments being bandied
about in leading Commonwealth/UAP and UCP circles. On 14 April 1932 the
paper featured a lengthy editorial focusing on the constitutional position
of the Commonwealth peace officers. The substance of its argument was
that the Commonwealth did have the right to enrol loyal citizens to 'invade'
New South Wales but not to use the military in that capacity.
The Commonwealth 'invasion' plan is also supported by the reminiscences
of L.S. Jackson, the senior Commonwealth taxation official in Sydney in
1932. Published in the Sydrley Mornirzg Herald on 12 August 1970, Jackson's
reflections may, however, seem outlandish, and some comment about their
reliability is therefore obligatory. For, according to Jackson, at 9.00
am on Saturday 30 April 1932 he, Longfield Lloyd and George Watson, Commonwealth
deputy crown solicitor, were summoned to a meeting with the Commonwealth
assistant treasurer' Senator Walter Massy-Greene, at his private office
in Bridge Street. Jackson recalled that Massy-Greene passed on a Cabinet
decision that the Commonwealth officials were to 'break into, forcibly
if necessary,' the State Taxation Office at 10.30 am on the following
Monday, 2 May 1932, and take all income tax returns to the vacant premises
of the Government Savings Bank. The deputy crown solicitor was instructed
to draft a letter informing Commissioner Childs of this proposal. The
letter would also request police protection. Arrangements had been made
for the Post Office to provide enough vans to transport the documents.
Jackson recalled that
all three men expressed strong objections to the plan. He remembered complaining
to Massy-Greene that the senator had underestimated the time it would
take to complete the operation. Massy-Greene also seemed to forget the
opposition which doubtless would be forthcoming when the ragtag army of
clerks, spies and accountants burst through the locked doorsassuming
that this w as possibleor the interference the premier's hefty muscle
men would offer in the long-drawn-out process of transferring records
to the Post Office vans, which could be upturned or set alight.
According to Jackson, Longfield Lloyd expanded on Jackson's misgivings.
He outlined the activities of 'Lang's thugs', the surveillance the IB
had been conducting of Labor supporters drilling every morning in Paddington
Park and the likelihood that he, Jackson, and other members of their respective
staffs would be risking their lives by entering the State Taxation Office.
Lloyd explained that he had been trying to acquire two gallons of tear
gas from army stores to lob through the windows of the State offices,
thus bringing the timberworkers out into the street. This had not been
possible. Without such an advantage Lloyd feared that their adversaries
would rout any interlopers. At the very least this would entail 'ignominy'
and rather than risk that he would resign.
None of this, Jackson suggested, persuaded Massy-Greene that the 'invasion'
plan was unwise. In November 1931 the senator had confided in Herbert
Brookes, 'any steps which in their final result promise the possibility
of Lang's removal from office would be justified'. It seems that he was
determined to carry out the plan in some shape or form, suggesting that
the use of cranes would shorten the time necessary to bring the income
tax returns down into the street. Lloyd countered that the police would
remove the cranes on the grounds that they obstructed traffic. He also
suggested, according to Jackson, that if trouble did break out 'it would
be necessary to swear in probably 500 Peace Officers overnight to take
charge of certain sections of Sydney'. Lloyd also admitted that he knew
that 'there were sufficient men readily available'. But the expense, he
argued, would be prohibitive. To raise and sustain such a force would
cost between £500 000 and £700 000. Lloyd pointed out that
his tear gas scheme had been vetoed merely because it,would have cost
Watson, Jackson later wrote, made the obvious point Lloyd hinted at but
which Massy-Greene seemingly ignored. The police commissioner could hardly
be relied upon. Childs was sure to inform Lang of the intended Warwick
Building break in. Members of the police force would not assist Commonwealth
taxation officials. And it was not constitutionally justifiable for the
armed forces to be used unless in response to a request from the State
government which, in this case, would never eventuate.
This issue was central. If Lang's timberworkers were arrested by the Commonwealth
peace officers would a State government court convict them? Would a State
government gaol detain them? The Commonwealth would need to duplicate
these facilities. Lloyd, Jackson and Watson pleaded that Cabinet should
reconsider and temporarily suspend the plan. Not only was it unwieldy,
it also invited violence and the 'uncontrollable mass hysteria' which
had manifested itself in Melbourne in 1923 and in Auckland a few weeks
Jackson claimed that Massy-Greene remained unconvinced. The three Commonwealth
public servants repaired to the crown solicitor's office where Watson
drafted a letter to Childs. He also telephoned the police commissioner
and asked for a personal interview. Childs was suspicious of the urgency
of the request. Watson explained that it was preferable that the matter
be discussed discreetly and in private, but when he, Lloyd and Jackson
called at police headquarters they found that Childs's door was locked
and guarded by a burly policeman who gruffly protested that the commissioner
could not be contacted until Monday. The Commonwealth officials then returned
to Bridge Street to inform Massy-Greene of this untoward development.
But, in the interim, the senator's attitude had softened. Jackson felt
that he had been in touch with Lyons and other members of Cabinet. Massy-Greene
agreed that the plan for their Monday morning raid should be abandoned,
and on that rather anticlimactic note Jackson concluded his unlikely story.
In 1933 the British representative, Ernest Crutchley, recalled the confused
and tense political situation in New South Wales before 13 May 1932 and
admitted that his Whitehall superiors might think he-had been overindulging
in 'American films'. Was this, then, Jackson's problem? To what extent
can Jackson's reminiscences, compiled thirty-eight years after the event,
be relied upon?
It must be admitted
that there is a distinct absence of corroborating evidence. For instance
the starting point for Jackson's story was an alleged Cabinet decision
that the Warwick Building break-in should take place on 2 May 1932. Among
the archival record of Cabinet decisions there is no support for this
claim. In fact Cabinet minutes suggest that the overriding concerns of
Commonwealth government ministers in early 1932 were mundane issues like
ministerial access to motor vehicles, the stabilisation of Easter holidays
or the issue of travelling privileges to wives of members of Commonwealth
parliament. Sensitive topics like the amendment of the Crimes Act to deal
with the Communist Party were naturally raised at a Cabinet level but
no more elaboration is provided than that the matter was 'discussed'.
The Financial Agreements Enforcement Act makes several fleeting
appearances in Cabinet minutes. On 15 January 1932, under the heading
of finance, the prime minister 'outlined the position of the Commonwealth
and the States, and read a letter from the Directors of the Commonwealth
Bank emphasising the seriousness of the position' in New South Wales.
A week later the 'position' of New South Wales was again 'discussed'.
On 15 February John Latham outlined the garnishee bill whose provisions
'were generally approved'. On 3 May 1932 when Cabinet should surely have
been totally preoccupied with their only just rescinded plans to storm
the New South Wales State Treasury, the Financial Agreements Enforcement
Act was 'discussed', but only so that 'certain proposed amendments' could
be agreed upon. This happened also on 10 May. On 28 April, in the Cabinet
meeting immediately before the alleged break-in, the main issue apparently
concerning ministers of the crown, accompanied by voluminous correspondence,
was proposed staff reductions at the Commonwealth Artificial Limb Factory
A clear issue of the credibility of various evidence arises. Are we to
believe the exotic reminiscences of LS Jackson or is the written record,
impressively solemn and sober, far more reliable? Is Jackson's story to
be dismissed simply because it cannot be substantiated from the archival
record? Indeed some other Commonwealth records pertaining to the enforcement
legislation are equally silent in terms of documenting anything quite
as irregular as the scheme Jackson outlined.
Clearly, this is a
difficult matter to resolve. Before, however, Jackson's story can be dismissed
it is appropriate to consider the circumstances which prompted the retired
public servant, then residing in Adelaide, to venture into print. In 1970
J.T. Lang published The Turbulent Years and extracts from it appeared
in the Sydney Morning Herald. The series seems to have generated considerable
public interest and subsequent comments. Some were moved to correct Lang's
version of events; Lang at this stage was persona non grata in Labor circles,
so the New South Wales ALP secretary suggested that 'as history, his book
is junk'. Others volunteered their reminiscences seemingly because they
felt that the events were all a long time ago and because they felt they
had an interesting story to tell.
Arguably these were Jackson's reasons for recording his part in 'the high
passions . . . and humour', as he put it, of the Lang era. His respectful
references to 'Sir Walter'Massy Greenetogether with his description
of Lang's supporters as 'thugs', suggest that he was no embittered left-wing
ideologue distorting the historical record so as to support long-held
political convictions. And while his reminiscences could be seen as enhancing
a version of events that had himself at the centre of a group of public
servants who restrained a hysterical politician whose actions, if implemented,
could have caused a 'serious bloody revolution', it would be unfair to
imply that Jackson was simply big-noting himself in this way. Jackson's
story has much to commend it. His recall of detail and the sequence of
events is impressively accurate, and indeed much better than J.T. Lang's.
Small points such as Longfield Lloyd's boyish enthusiasm for using tear
gas ring true.
Here we are
dealing with problems of evidence referred to in the introduction to this
book. On balance Jackson's account seems as credible or more credible
than the Cabinet minutes, which, if interpreted literally, would have
researchers believing that at this time staffing arrangements at the Commonwealth
Artificial Limb Factory were the main priority of the Lyons government.
As other sections of the archival record confirm (for instance, IB, Military
and Naval Intelligence documents), this was simply not so. The main preoccupation
of the Commonwealth government was to destroy the rebel administration
in New South Wales. Nevertheless, some points which Jackson makes warrant
correction. If the Commonwealth government was going to use its trump
card, if it was going to carry the enforcement legislation to its logical
conclusion, something like the Massy-Greene break-in scheme was needed.
For if the New South Wales police and taxation authorities remained loyal
to their masters and declined to act upon instructions from the Commonwealth
the enforcement legislation would have remained ineffectual had it not
been complemented by something like the plan Jackson described. So Jackson
was mistaken when he told Massy-Greene that the break-in was unnecessary
because the Commonwealth financial measures were 'breaking' Lang. The
New South Wales premier in fact was displaying great resilience, bobbing
and weaving like a boxer in a tight contest, embattled certainly but by
no means on the ropes. Jackson also recalled that the 500 peace officers
Massy-Greene's scheme called for 'would be members of the "New Guard"
so-called'. This is an example of the customary confusion between the
New Guard and the Old Guard. Through Jack Scott Longfield Lloyd knew precisely
where he could obtain the services of 500 'loyal and highly influential
citizens' to act as peace officers. The intelligence officer was also
aware that the Old Guard's 'financial resources [were] practically unlimited'.
Given the penny-pinching attitude of the Commonwealth that alone would
have made it attractive.
It can be argued that the Old Guard had become a tool of the Commonwealth
government and that less and less it had a life of its own. In January
1932 Frederic Hinton toured the outlying stretches of his secret army
empire as far as Bourke addressing meetings and exhorting all to preparedness.
Two of the four eventualities, which in early 1932 the Old Guard considered
would precipitate its mobilisation, bear a close resemblance to political
events connected with the Financial Agreements Enforcement Act. In the
Old Guard's estimation a general disturbance by 'hostiles' would be caused,
(a) By a change
in political control and a consequent variation in the trend of legislation.
(b) By any other alteration, real or imaginary, in the 'standard of
(c) By any financial stringency which would reduce the funds available
for distribution as a dole or other government subsidy for the unemployed.
(d) By the injudicious and provocative action of any section of the
A possible 'financial stringency' could clearly arise from the Commonwealth's
garnishee bill which would certainly result in 'alteration . . . in the
"standard of living'. The last of these possibilities referred to
the Old Guard's determination to deal with, if need be, the New Guard.
Two members of the Old Guard's southern division attended a New Guard
General Council meeting on 18 January 1932 to acknowledge circumspectly
that Campbell 'had done everything possible to effect a co-ordination,
but in view of the difference in the policy of Secrecy and Publicity,
the coordination will never be effected'. They asked Campbell to leave
the country districts alone. Campbell, of course, ignored the request.
Relations between the two organisations became even more strained than
they had been at Cootamundra. Realising that the Old Guard would resist
any forcible attempt at the seizure of power, New Guardsmen had actually
been assigned to 'deal with' leading members of the Old Guard.
Nor had the secret organisation forgotten its traditional enemies. The
Auckland riots on 15 April 1932 provided concrete evidence of what the
'hostiles' could do when they put their mind to it. The Northern Daily
Leader on 18 April was particularly quick to recognise their import. The
riots revealed the 'camouflage of tradition to be exceedingly thin'. Rioting
would be much worse in Sydney as 'no city in the Commonwealth has been
so saturated with Communistic propaganda or various forms of extremist
teachings, all designed to fill the mob with disrespect for law and order
and hatred of those who possess any kind of wealth'. As usual the paper
also had an Old Guard message to disseminate, cautioning that it was 'good
citizenship' for private individuals to wait for an appeal from the formally
constituted authorities before intervening in the 'unhappy business'.
The Sydney correspondent of the Argus also had some extremely interesting
comments to make about the implications of the Auckland riots. He regarded
them as vindicating precautions taken by the 'promoters of the New Guard
and another similar organisation'.
ten days later it was reported:
riots in Auckland continue to be discussed by businessmen in Sydney.
They ask what would happen in Sydney if something similar occurred?
. . . George street, Pitt street, Castlereagh street, Elizabeth street,
Hunter street and King street would provide a field far beyond the power
of the police to cover. King's Cross and King street, Newtown; Oxford
street, Paddington, Parramatta road, Leichbardt; and other busy shopping
areas, would probably be defenseless . . . the Lord Mayor (Alderman
Walder) may issue a statement shortly, concerning precautionary measures.
Wherever one turned
there was cause for concern. On 19 April 1932 a Private Redpath was 'molested'
on his way from Victoria Barracks by five 'communists' who wanted to know
where arms were stored. An echo of that infamous 1919 exhortation reappeared
in eally May 1932 when it came to the notice of the IB and Naval Intelligence
that a resolution had been passed at Newcastle Trades Hall Council that
'ships' companies of H.M.A. Squadron should be asked not to take up arms
against their class.
In March 1932 Frederic Hinton, Albert Reid and one other (probably Donald
Cameron) conferred with Prime Minister Lyons in Canberra. Precisely what
was said or agreed upon at this meeting is not known, but general impressions
of amity and a growing alliance can be deduced from the implementation
of the Peace Officers Act to defend Canberra in May and by the coordination
of the Old Guard's preparations with the developing rift between the Commonwealth
and State governments.
On 26 February 1932, a week after the introduction of the enforcement
legislation, the Old Guard applied the finishing touches to its plans
for a select corps of 10 000, ironically titled 'F Special Force', to
be led, since Macarthur Onslow had died, by Brigadier General James Heane
and Philip Goldfinch. Organisational and administrative details were intricately
Rallying points around the coastal basin at Windsor, Emu Plains and Warwick
Farrn were decided upon. Low-flying aeroplanes emitting piercing siren
blasts would sound the call to arms. Radio stations would broadcast coded
warning signals and information bulletins. Batons were to have been issued.
Air and rail facilities had been reconnoitered. In the main, private cars
and trucks, bearing appropriate identification on front and rear mudguards,
would transport Heane's raiders to the city. All bridges and other strategic
points on road routes were guarded. Each man was required to supply 'a
plate, knife, fork and spoon, and mug, also shaving kit, tooth brush,
towel, soap, boot cleaning gear, change of underclothing, overcoat, spare
boots and socks' and to bring one day's rations, after which 'F Special
Force' would assume complete responsibility. Arrangements identical to
those applying to AIF and Ist Division standing orders were brought to
fruition to cater for dress, reporting of casualties, billeting, discipline,
medical examinations, feet inspections and sanitation. Even leisure facilities
(a 'wet' and 'dry' canteen to be supplied by the Red Cross, a recreation
room, 'Recreational Ground, Draughts, Chess, and Playing Cards') had been
planned. In the twinkling of an eye the appearance of Sydney would have
been transformed by the arrival of an armada of upright limousines bearing
the bush army: 10 000 Old Guardsmen wearing armbands, tin hats, blue patrol
jackets and grey flannel trousers. The majority would have been employed
in duties consonant with the appreciation set out on 26 February 1932,
a smaller elite corps of 500 with the exotic scheme Massy-Greene and his
cabinet colleagues were probably developing.
At 2.00 pm on 10 March 1932, after the discussions with Lyons and the
day before the garnishee bill returned from the Senate and House of Representatives,
the Old Guard held a major conference at Mudgee. Goldfinch left the city
lights behind to instruct an earnest gathering of men from all parts of
the State that their services would shortly be required by the Commonwealth.
Administrative and organisational matters were clarified and expanded
upon. Ironically, on the same day in nearby Gulgong, a demented French
returned soldier, hallucinating that the Germans and Turks were mounting
an advance, was arrested after parading through the streets in the nude.
Madness was certainly in the air. A Callan Park internee wrote to Sir
Philip Game to inform him that his status as an imperial pensioner, 'compels
Me to, in the event of any Emergency assist to Maintain Law and Order'.
From mid-March it was rumoured that a special government gazette which
would bring the Peace Officers Act into operation was in type. Increasingly
the threat posed by the Commonwealth peace officersand not the danger
of a New Guard coup d'état as is widely believedwas Lang's
principal concern and the cause of his decision to reorganise the police
force. In one speech on 15 March 1932 the premier warned: 'If the Commonwealth
peace officers attempt to usurp the functions of the New South Wales police
force they will find themselves in the same position as any other person
or body who attempts to usurp the duties or the functions of the Government
of New South Wales.'
the opening of the Harbour Bridge on 19 March 1932 the Old Guard was
also preparing to send detachments of men to Sydney. A meeting on 11 March
in Molong partly followed up the deliberations of the Mudgee meeting the
day before vis-à-vis the organisation's relationship with Lyons's
enforcement legislation. A policeman reported: 'All expenses have been
guaranteed. So far as they can- gather the expenses are being guaranteed
by the Federal Government'. As well, the Molong meeting showed the Old
Guard's preparedness to deal with the New Guard and any trouble Campbell
might start at the bridge-opening ceremony. It was suggested that 'feeling
is very bitter against the New Guard' and that when Campbell had been
fined for using insulting words he was 'looking for trouble, and had found
it, and deserved it'.
The gala occasion at the bridge opening manifested many Old Guard-New
Guard tensions. The committee organising the celebrations was largely
dominated by senior Old Guardsmen such as Sir Samuel Hordern and G.C.
Somerville. They doubtless did not want Campbell to spoil their historic
moment. But there was a strange scene at the Imperial Service Club on
the night de Groot had slashed the opening ribbon. Many senior members
of the Old Guard's western division were appalled at de Groot's action,
believing that it was extremely provocative. According to one oral source
they sat at one corner of the bar sipping at their beer in a restrained
fashion. In marked contrast Donald Cameron, who led the South African
War contingent across the bridge in the opening ceremony, big Jack Davies
and other members of the northern division were in high spirits, saluting
de Groot's 'pluck' with a gusto and enthusiasm which not only threatened
their sobriety but also caused one member of Hinton's staff to wonder
whether Cameron and Davies had been negotiating with Campbell without
the western division's knowledge.
It was becoming increasingly obvious that there was another organisation,
distinct from the New Guard, waiting in the wings. On I April 1932 Truth
published a characteristically alarmist article headlined 'City Fears
the Worst. Labor Army Forming. Secret Citizens Phalanx: Towards Riots'.
article, however, contained an uncharacteristic germ of truth:
public there is much marshalling of legal queues: in private there is
manufacture of weapons of war . . . The ordinary citizen may be forgiven
if he feels that life has become a dreadful nightmare . . . In Parliament,
in the public halls, in the streets, in every nook and corner vigilant
[sic] speeches charged with dreadful bitterness are being worked from
lukewarm concern to a white heat of passionate partisanship which will
justify the most outrageous recklessness. Vast numbers of ordinary good
citizens are being gradually inebriated with the deadly fumes of insane
elation. There are glances 'of hatred that stab and rain no cry of murder'.
The trumpet of contention fills the State like a raging hurricane .
. . Captains of industry in their clubs swap notion as to possible blood
letting and resignedly say, 'It must come'.
article referred to the New Guard but made it clear that most of its judgments
centred on the existence of a 'later [sic] and more powerful citizens'
body which has been pledged in secrecy and which outnumbers the New Guard'.
On 6 April 1932, the dav of the announcement of the High Court decision,
the Old Guard was in a state of ferment. When, on that day, Brigadier
General McNicoll informed his son, 'the decision of the High Court has
just come through and I am off to Sydney by car with Bert Woods very soon',
it can be safely assumed that it was not a shopping expedition he had
in mind. Two days earlier an imperial reservist living in Rose Bay reported
to police that he had received a visit on the night of 3 April from one
of the city's most prominent barristers, who had instructed him to hold
himself in readiness to appear as a Commonwealth peace officer in an emergency
expected within the next ten days. He had also been shown a list of names
of other Rose Bay residents who had been, or were about to be, similarly
approached. MacKay set the bloodhounds on the trail but found that both
the barrister and his commanding officer, a solicitor who was both a personal
and business associate of John Latham, were uncooperative. The Labor Daily
got wind of the police investigations and on 6 April, summoning up reserves
of hysteria, proclaimed: 'Secret Force to Dragoon N. South Wales . . .
Sinister and alarming in its significance was a report circulated [and]
broadcast through the city yesterday that recruiting agents were busy
enrolling volunteers in a secret force to assist the Commonwealth Government
in an attempt to dragoon New South Wales'.
The Labor Daily was not alone in its concern. It doubtless reflected the
apprehensions of the Lang government. W.J. MacKay also had cause for alarm.
For the dislocation in Commonwealth-State relations entailed a severing
of the ties between the New South Wales police and the Old Guard. In November
1932 it would be possible for MacKay to welcome Scott, Goldfinch and Somerville
to the principal table at the annual CIB dinner but in April it seemed
he might be opposing his dinner guests at the barricades. Thus MacKay
commissioned the only full-scale police report of the Old Guard's activity.
For a time, according to oral testimony, police stopped motor vehicles
proceeding eastwards over the Blue Mountains to check their luggage compartments
for arms and ammunition. The police march through the city on 29 Aprilusually
interpreted as an attempt to intimidate Campbell and the New Guard
was, in reality, directed at the metropolitan division of the Old Guard.
MacKay knew where his former allies were to be found so he personally
directed the march past the buildings where they worked and the institutions
where they were having lunchthe Stock Exchange, Civic Club, Union
Club, Imperial Service Club, as well as the offices of CSR, pastoral companies,
insurance firms and banks. If MacKay had wanted to intimidate the New
Guard a simple march past their headquarters would have sufficed. Local
police in country towns harassed members of the Old Guard, checking for
For its part the Old Guard also became wary of 'the Army of Democracy
and Decency'. Hinton instructed his men to reply to any police interrogation
that 'they do not belong to the New Guard but that on any other aspect
of the question they had nothing whatever to say'. At least one section
of the Old Guard was prepared to arrest and detain police officers had
they remained faithful to the Lang government. On 30 April Hinton's last
despatch to his supporters warned: 'It is not desired to issue any scare
warnings at all, but the position is so grave that it looks as if very
serious consequences will follow the full adoption of the powers of the
Commonwealth under recently passed legislation.
The weekend of 30 April to 2 May 1932 was particularly nerve-racking.
On Saturday, as Hinton tapped away at his typewriter in Canowindra preparing
his final bulletin, in Sydney the discussions between Lloyd, Watson and
Jackson were probably taking place in Massy-Greene's Bridge Street office
about the Monday morning break-in. And the intervening Sunday was May
Day. It would be just like the untrustworthy workers to seize upon a rather
confused situation to make their own history. Hence a large detachment
of the Old Guard protected shop windows in the city.
The breakdown in cooperation between the police and the Old Guard was
one problem tempering the secret army's striking power. Another was the
death of Sir Adrian Knox in April 1932 which perhaps caused the abandonment
of the emergency parliament arrangements. But, unlike the New Guard, the
Old Guard was broadly assured of support from both its membership and
a powerful instrumentality of the statethe Commonwealth armed forces.
MacKay may have been able to wreak havoc in a brief encounter with the
New Guard but he would have needed many of Lang's special constables to
resist the combined Commonwealth-Old Guard onslaught, especially in any
Many Old Guardsmen were champing at the bit. After a meeting addressed
by 'Jock' Garden in Parkes on 30 April 1932, a prominent local accountant
was arrested and charged with possession of an unlicensed revolver. Despite
the fact the revolver was fully loaded and the accountant had openly boasted
that he intended to shoot Garden, in his subsequent trial the presiding
magistrate was swayed by the accountant's defence that his threats were
No one else in the Old Guard was inclined to be 'jocular'. Between 30
April and 12 May, the date set for the handing over of all State income
tax returns, it seemed inevitable that the long march of the Old Guard
would soon begin. Oral testimony suggests that many were itching to depart.
Throughout the backblocks of New South Wales serious men sat listening
to crackling wireless receivers or craned their heads skywards for a glimpse
of an aeroplane. Philip Goldfinch carried an increasingly dog-eared document
around in his pocket appointing him chief of the Commonwealth peace officers.
On 11 and 12 May as the Peace Officers Act was being implemented in Canberra,
the Old Guard came within a hair' s breadth of mobilisation. At Cowra
a large number of women and children had been moved to a house in hilly
country at Bumbaldry so that they would be safe with their menfolk away
in Sydney. At Newcastle C.A.K. Cohen was swearing in Old Guardsmen as
peace officers, including a young engineer who subsequently became a minister
for defence in the Vietnam War years. Outside Customs House at Circular
Quay on 13 May 1932 a growing number of Old Guardsmen including Victor
Windeyer, a solicitor who later represented the Australian Security Intelligence
Organisation (ASIO) at the Petrov Royal Commission, steadily congregated.
Some carried bibles as they awaited Longfield Lloyd and the deputy attorney-general,
A.J. McLachlan, to appear from the Commonwealth offices to swear them
in as peace officers. In the northern division seven branches were mobilised
and ready for action though confusion arose when a number of branch heads
did not respond and as a result 'disappointment and dissatisfaction [was]
expressed amongst some section members that they were not given the opportunity
to show their loyalty to the cause'. Cameron nevertheless described the
response as 'gratifying', especially considering that in the rush it had
been necessary to ask volunteers to enlist 'on faith' as word had not
come through about the official 'promulgation' of the movement by the
Commonwealth. Unconcerned by this, on Gunnedah railway station 400 men
stood waiting for a train that would take them to Sydney. Then news arrived
of the dismissal.
The timely intervention of the King's representative meant that New South
Wales missed out on the staining of the wattle. Two points should be emphasised.
First, the battle lines of the potential warfare were unorthodox. The
Communist Party was not about to start a revolution. The workers were
not on the brink of rebellion. The unemployed were not planning to revolt.
Premier Lang was not working towards 'socialism in our time'. The problem
with 'law and order' was of a right-wing rather than left-wing origin.
So why indeed had the Old Guard been mobilised? Was it simply a mistake?
Despite the silence of one section of the archival record the conclusion
reached by the present author is that the Commonwealth government had
resolved to end the tenure of the New South Wales government and that
it had, in the final resort, resolved to do so by using force. A small
section of the Old Guard was to have been deployed as strongarm men who
would have, at the behest of the prime minister, stormed the State Taxation
Office. Had this 'invasion' plan proceeded it would have been necessary
to bring in the broader Old Guard organisation to subdue the many thousands
of Labor supporters who would have been outraged by this provocative act.
Most Old Guard members would have been only very dimly aware of the complexities
of the enforcement legislation. For them the issue was very simple. Lang
was a socialist tiger. The premier had gone off the rails. He needed to
be stopped. Contemplating his armband that proclaimed 'Commonwealth Peace
Officer', the average Old Guard member, the wheat farmer from Trundle,
the auctioneer from Wellington, the grazier from Yass, had no reason to
doubt the propriety or wisdom of the mission upon which he was about to
embark. The prime minister, after all, represented the highest authority
in the land. So ironically, while much of the Depression period was underscored
by the apprehension that social upheaval might start from the garrets
of Newtown or Woolloomooloo, the real threat to 'law and order' emanated
from Australia's most respectable address: 'The Lodge', Canberra.
Secondly and finally, it should be stressed that Nock and Manning's pronouncements
cited at the beginning of this chapter were quite accurate. Civil strife
really was quite close. Emotions ran very high. Tempers on all sides of
the political spectrum were extremely frayed. There were a myriad of possibilities.
What might have happened, for instance, if communications within the Old
Guard had broken down further and detachments of the rural secret army
had arrived in Sydney, prepared, in their estimation, to defend essential
services? Their welcome would hardly have been a warm one from all sections
of the community. Or, what might have happened if the hotheads within
the New Guard had finally decided that Parliament House was theirs for
the taking? What might have occurred if for good and proper reasons Major
General Bruche had resolved to escalate the military commitment in Sydney?
Or for that matter what if one of the Labor groups had acted provocatively?
While each of these possibilities could have resulted in small isolated
disturbances there was the distinct probability that any violence would
have snowballed in an alarming fashion. The breaking of alliancesprincipally
between the Old Guard and the policecreated added uncertainty. But
just when the scene seerr.ed set for an altercation that would have made
the violence at Rothbury look insignificant, the governor intervened and
the threat of civil disorder was averted. Just as it should be recalled
that the Old Guard was prepared to swing into action if a 'change in political
control' should create 'variation in the trend of legislation', it is
likely that Game's timely intervention was related to the imminent breakdown
of 'law and order'. The following chapter explores this possibility.
THE ASSASSINS STROKE: THE DISMISSAL
You should go
to The Union Club to hear yourself discussed.
disgruntled conservative to Sir Philip Game.
When Air Vice-Marshall Sir Philip Woolcott Game accepted appointment as
governor of New South Wales, he could hardly have anticipated the turmoil
which would become his daily responsibility. Educated at Charterhouse
school and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, Game had enjoyed a long
and distinguished military career. He had served British imperialism faithfully
in Africa, India and Ireland. When he retired in 1929 at fifty-three,
he was inclined to seek a less taxing colonial appointment. Through the
patronage of Lord Trenchard he left the calm of his Somerset retreat,
bound for Port Jackson, and arrived there on 29 May 1930 to much public
In many respects the new governor was an unusual figure to represent British
interests in New South Wales. The product of an English liberal background,
his bearing was not that of the British Raj. He was also uncommonly assiduous.
Game read widely about the political struggles which preceded his governorship,
in particular about Lang's earlier disagreements with his predecessor,
Sir Dudley le Chair. He was thoroughly acquainted with the 1925 rift in
Commonwealth-State relations which had caused S.M. Bruce to introduce
the Peace Officers Act. But he was not equipped to deal with the intricacies
of constitutional law. That hardly differentiated him from most other
governors and for most periods of office it would hardly have mattered.
But these were not ordinary times; as events transpired Game's lack of
legal training would prove to be a shortcoming.
Nor was the governor likely to transcend the allegiances of his class.
A close friend of Sir Otto Niemeyer, Game departed with the warning of
General Birdwood ringing in his ears. '[Y]ou are bound to have difficult
times before you, as, with Labour Governments, there must always be difficulties',
the general had counselled in January 1930. Birdwood's advice was prophetic
though for a few months Philip Game was able to set aside any such doubts
and enjoy the pleasures of Sydney society. An agreeable man, he quickly
developed friendships among Sydney's grandees; in both a professional
and social sense Game established a warm respect for the then premier,
T.R. Bavin, and considered the electorate 'utterly mad' for rejecting
him in October 1930.
Perhaps because of the comparison with Sir John Kerr, Game is remembered
as a paragon of constitutional rectitude and political impartiality. Yet
to sustain this view a degree of amnesia concerning the early months of
the governor's dealings with J.T. Lang is required. There his proverbial
straight bat is less evident. The governor not only 'demurred' when, on
5 November 1930, Lang requested the appointment of additional legislative
councillors; six days later he considered dismissing the Lang government.
He did not do so because 'it did not seem a practicable step in view of
so very recent an election, and of the fact that Supply had not yet been
granted'. On 16 November 1930 both Game and Sir Henry Braddon spoke to
Roger Trudwell about an impending financial crash. In March 1931, when
confronted with another request for additional legislative councillors,
Game asked for Lang's resignation. Again he relented. On 26 March 1931
Game wrote to the premier asking for his forgiveness. Nevertheless, on
28 March 1931, he was still privately considering the 'moral' and 'Imperial'
grounds for terminating Lang's commission. He remained concerned about
the danger of civil disorder and recognised that he might have to stretch
his constitutional powers 'to, if not beyond the breaking point'. In London
Leo Amery was agitating for a dismissal and throughout 1931 the governor
of South Australia, Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven, proffered similar advice
to Game. The testy Hore-Ruthven considered that 'when all this scum is
out of the way confidence will be restored & we shall go ahead'. Nevertheless
Game became rather more sensitive to lrow easy it would be to jeopardise
the position of the Crown by bringing about an election in which the main
issue was the right of the Labor Party to govern without interference
from the representative of the British 'Money Power', for that, as he
well knew, was how Labor would depict the contest.
The governor also became rather more sympathetic to the political problems
of the 'Big Fella'. A peculiar form of grudging respect emerged between
the roughhouse premier and the British gentleman. Lang, after all, had
a popular mandate and he clearly inspired devotion among his constituents.
Game was conscious of the social distance between Government House and
the world of work, and he tried to take this bias into account when it
seemed that everyone in his acquaintance detested the premier. But, more
than that, not only did Lang display courtesy and good manners, close
contact with the premier proved to be reassuring. Lang's publicity was
misleading. He clearly was not 'Greater than Lenin'. Philip Game came
to be one of the few non-Labor folk who realised the truth about the muchmaligned
premier. He clearly was not a radical; his 'repudiation' of interest payments
was not the thin end of a socialist wedge. An astute individual, Game
may even have sensed how uncomfortable Lang was in his socialist clothes,
for little and not one of the premier's awkward attempts at ingratiation
Unsurprisingly the conservative Anglo-Australians of Sydney and the bush
were not at all pleased with Game's increasing propensity to accommodate
the enemy. Fuelled by the growing conviction that Government House harboured
a class traitor they began to apply pressure. The former King and Empire
Alliance councillor and Shakespeare expert, Sir Mungo MacCa!lum wrote
tracts for the Sydney Morning Herald reviewlng the arguments of Keith
and Dicey about the constitutional powers of the governor. After due consideration,
the eminent professor supported Dr Keith's view that the right of dismissal
'exists and may be exercised when in the opinion of a Governor, the situation
demands it'. In addition a 'Citizens' Committee, whose organising secretary
was the Old Guardsman Cyril Gunther, was established to compile a petition
calling upon Game to take 'such steps as Your Excellency thinks proper
to secure an appeal to the eiectors'. To achieve the same end leading
citizens badgered the governor and his private secretary, Brigadier General
A.T. Anderson, at vice-regal soirees or whenever the occasion presented
itself. Philip Goldfinch was one of those who called at Anderson's private
home in Turramurra to see if he could use his influence to make the governor
An unholy trinity
of white knights, Sir Mungo MacCallum Sir Norman Kater and Sir Adrian
Knox, began to make nuisances of themselves at Government House and even
practised the tactic of ostracising the reluctant umpire; in an impeccably
dignified fashion Sir Adrian Knox cancelled an acceptance to a dinner
party while implying that he meant no 'lack of courtesy' to the governor
and Lady Gameit was just that he felt it was his duty to oppose
publicly Game's acquiescence to additional Labor appointments to the Upper
House. Knox did not see how, at some future date, he could be completely
candid on that subject if he had accepted hospitality at Government House.
It would put him in a 'false position'. This legalistic facade was quickly
discarded when Game wrote a curt response. Knox replied that the governor
has the 'victim of a cunning or unscrupulous politician who was done more
than any other man . . . to drag the name of New South Wales into the
dirt and degrade her political institutions'.
such antics placed Governor Game under increasing pressure. Yet he had
greater reserves of strength than to simply cave in to this banquet boycott.
Nevertheless, by the end of 1931 he was exhausted. He had survived two
major periods of controversy about appointments to the Legislative Council.
The response to his decision in November 1931 to allow twenty-five additional
Labor appointments was particularly acrimonious. The strain was beginning
Suffering from a series
of migraine headaches, the governor retreated with his family to their
summer house at Moss Vale for the Christmas break. Upon their return to
Sydney there were some indications that the campaign of ostracism might
be waning, but on New Year's Eve there was also a sign of how the governor's
obdurate attitude might effect his personal safety. At around 2.00 am
a lorry load of noisy revellers drove up the half-mile-long drive of Government
House and into the stable yard. Lady Game felt that it was 'an organised
affair by the New Guard'. Startled, the governor had cause to ponder the
implications of the incident: it revealed how physically vulnerable he
was. Then, with the initiation of events surrounding the garnishee bill,
'the wretched politics' began to hot up again.
historians have argued forcefully against any 'conspiratorial' dimension
to the governor's decision to dismiss the Lang government. J.M. Ward,
in particular, has given any suggestion of a 'right wing pressure' theory
extremely short shrift. 'How easy', Professor Ward has suggested 'it is
to argue that Game dismissed Lang, so as to gratify the banks, the insurance
companies, the property owners and the stric moralists . . .,
It is true that many
Labor journalists were inclined to exaggerate the machinations behind
what they described as the 'Fascist Revolution in N.S.W.'. S.A. Rosa argued
that the Council of Foreign Bondholders had tyrannously decided to punish
Lang. To the Labor Daily on 27 May 1932 it was simple cause and effect:
'At 4 p.m. representatives of the Union Bank and other overseas moneylenders
petitioned the Governor . . . and at 6 p.m. the Governor dismissed the
Government from office.'
Obviously, such conspiracy theories oversimplify the finer points of a
highly complicated sequence of events. In many respects, the measured
arguments of J.M. Ward are valid: Lang's relatively meek acceptance of
the dismissal, his recognition that his political position was deteriorating
rapidly, his growing distaste for socialist politics and mounting federal
ambitions, must be accepted as ingredients in the events of 13 May 1932.
The primacy of such considerations, however, remains debatable.
In many areas where
one might expect to find smoke-filled rooms filled with plotters from
Threadneedle, Collins and Pitt Streets, the evidence suggests otherwise.
At any time during the constitutional crisis of January-May 1932 the Bank
of New South Wales could have brought disaster to the State government
by refusing to honour its cheques being presented for cash. But this did
not happen. Alfred Davidson was not acting the part of a Machiavellian
conspirator. He was reluctant to pressure Game into withdrawing l.ang's
commission. He had earlier sent a telegram to the London office of the
Bank of New South Wales suggesting that '[s]uch proposals if pressed give
Lang good election cry dictation by capitalists.' Though he considered
that 'Lang policy is pure communism well considered probably directed
from Moscow', Davidson preferred merely to await the disintegration of
the ALP. Nevertheless, on 9 March 1932, representatives of the bank attended
a summit conference in Canberra to discuss the Financial Agreements Enforcement
Act with Senator Pearce, George Knowles (Garran's successor as Commonwealth
solicitor-general), Sir William Harrison-Moore and A.J. McLachlan. The
records of the Bank of New South Wales suggest that its senior officers
were more puzzled by, than malevolently implicated in, the garnishee bill's
tortuous disputations and there is no reason to dispute the accuracy of
this archival reflection.
Similarly, A.S. Morrison's scholarly account of the Dominions Office correspondence
largely testifies to the propriety observed by all the interested parties.
Game had been growing increasingly restive about the constitutional crisis
as a whole and his role in particular. Lang's actions contravened the
Audit Act of 1902, and the governor had obtained confirmation from the
auditor-general that this was the case. Sir Philip Street, the State Chief
Justice, had advised him that it was ultimately for the governor to decide,
in the absence of any other responsible adviser on the legality of Lang's
circular instructing State government officials to desist from paying
State government moneys into banks. Game did not wish to condone illegality
by remaining inactive. Nor did he want to act precipitately.
23 April 1932 he appealed to the under-secretary of state for the Dominions
Office in London:
Press and public pressure has been brought to bear on me during the
past fortnight to dismiss Ministers though the best responsible opinion
expressed privately, but not publicly, disagrees. I feel it far better
that the Commonwealth and State Governments should decide the quarrel
without my intervention, but my hand may be forced by the issue of the
legality of Ministers' actions . . .
I feel it quite clear I cannot dismiss Ministers because their action
offends my own and other people's sense of public integrity, however
much warrant there may be for this oplnion.
I am not so clear however, as to whether I can do so on the grounds
of the illegality of administrative acts which do not require my signature,
or whether by doing so I should usurp the functions of the Courts. I
am reporting this information only and not for advice but should you
wish to make any comments I shall of course be glad to receive them.
draft reply to the governor was prepared in London. It was carefully compiled
to take the form of unofficial advice rather than 'advice or instructions'.
In general, as to the issue of the governor condoning illegality, it was
suggested that he should obtain the advice of his law officers. If advised
that ministers were acting illegally, the governor could refuse to accede,
but this would be a 'grave step' and '. . . unwise unless he was reasonably
sure . . . he could obtain other Ministers capable of carrying on the
Government'. In this particular situation, given that the matter could
still be settled in the courts, the governor could effectively only restrain
his ministers from taking action alleged to be illegal. If the legality
of any action was settled by the judiciary and ministers continued to
act illegally, the position would, 'of course, require further consideration'.
Morrison continues by noting that, as this cautious reply was being prepared,
the premier and the governor were quarrelling about the separate issue
of whether the former could carry out an illegal action in the interests
of maintaining 'the essential services of the State' and whether he should
resign if he could only do so by breaking the law. The Dominions Office
report was never sent. At 5.00 pm, on 13 May 1932, Lang replied that he
would not resign. Game responded by dismissing Lang and calling on B.S.B.
Stevens to form a government.
It can be seen then that this account of official correspondence provides
little indication of any untoward behaviour, though the constitutionality
of Game's action remains open to debate. But one point deserves rescuing
from the esotery of constitutional law. The popular view that the governor
dismissed Lang because he had acted 'illegally' is quite erroneous. Despite
Street's view, the legality of any action could only be decided upon by
the courts. Game denied the judicial system the opportunity of passing
judgement, even though on 23 April 1932 he admitted that this was an area
which was unclear to him.
There are many threads left unwoven in the intricate tapestry of 'Black
Friday'. The clarification of some areas must necessarily await the release
of the private and confidential correspondence between Governor Game and
George V as well as that between the governor-general, Sir Isaac Isaacs,
and the King, the latter being 'of immense length'. It is clear, however,
that J.M. Ward's argument that conservative forces were not instrumental
in determining the governor's decision is oversimplified by his concentration
upon the New Guard. Granted, Game did cGnsider Campbell a 'perfect nuisance'
and the New Guard a 'potential danger', an 'irresponsible body' and 'a
self-constituted body of anti-Langites of all classes who openly threaten
unconstitutional action although protesting their extreme loyalty'. It
is certainly true that, if anything, the New Guard's provocative and impudent
behaviour strengthened Game's resolve to stay his hand. Finally, there
was, of course, no direct causal connection between the New Guard's petition
to the King and the dismissal even though some members of the New Guard
assumed that there was and de Groot later reflected: 'I have never been
able to credit Sir Philip himself for dismissing Mr Lang. I believe he
was ordered to do so by the Dominions Office, the main reason for this
could well . . . [have been] the Citizen's Petition of the New Guard.
At the very least, de Groot may have been half right. What follows is
an attempt to stitch sorr.e missing threads into the conservative view
of the dismissal. It is also an argument which ascribes causality to where
it belongsnot with the premier and the reasons for his tame acquiescence,
but with the relations between the domestic ruling class and the imperial
This is not to support any argument that the dismissal sprang from a knee-jerk
reaction to 'right-wing pressure'. The most superficial reading of the
Game papers suggests that such a view is demeaning of the governor's careful
deliberations. Yet it must not be forgotten that he had already displayed
a willingness to dismiss the Lang government in late 1930 and early 1931.
THE VIEW FROM WHITEHALL
officials of the Dominions Office were not always reluctant to intervene
in the evolving New South Wales constitutional crisis. As early as December
1930 discussions had taken place between Sir Edward Harding, the permanent
undersecretary of state for Dominion Affairs, and J.H. Thomas, secretary
of state for Dominion Affairs, about the use of a particular piece of
legislation, the Colonial Stock Act of 1900, to curb Lang's excesses.
A relic of an earlier era in British imperialism, the act justified imperial
intervention if it could be shown that the interests of holders of New
South Wales Government Inscribed Stock were adversely affected. The form
of intervention was not spelled out, but the act certainly makes the proposal
of the British trade commissioner, R.W. Dalton, to form 'an expert and
impartial Financial Commission from the United Kingdom' more explicable.
The initiative was halted when Philip Snowden, chancellor of the exchequer,
received legal advice that it would be difficult to establish a direct
causal link between Lang's Upper House legislation and a deterioration
of colonial stocks. Moreover it would be inexpedient to use the legislation
if it created a furore that might jeopardise future use of the legislation
in a more clear-cut case.
In early 1932 Sir Edward Harding and his colleagues had many causes for
concern. Apart from the rebellion in New South Wales, the 'Irish problem'
again surfaced. In March the newly elected president of the Irish Free
State, Eamon de Valera, announced that members of his Parliament would
no longer declare an oath of allegiance to the King and that payment of
land annuities due to the British government would cease. Nevertheless
Harding continued to monitor the situation in New South Wales very closely
and the Dominions Office engaged in considerable research. There are several
hitherto ignored matters which arouse curiosity.
The first concerns the manouvring taking place in relation to the appointment
of dormant commissions for the post of governor-general. These exist at
all times and are designed to ensure that if the existing incumbent should
be absent, incapacitated or killed, there is always a clearly understood
and regularised chain of command among the State governors ready to take
over. But after the departure of Sir Dudley le Chair and the Victorian
governor, Lord Somers, there had been a long delay in arranging deputies
for Sir Isaac Isaacs.
During the constitutional crisis the matter increasingly concerned both
the Dominions Office and the Australian authorities. On 18 March 1932
a letter was sent from the Dominions Office to Ernest Crutchley's secretary
suggesting that Major Keith Officer be consulted. On 30 April 1932 a reply
was received to the effect that Officer had spoken with S.M. Bruce and
that two dormant commissions, firstly to Sir Alexander HoreRuthven, governor
of South Australia and secondly to Sir Philip Game, would shortly be issued.
On 6 May 1932 Officer was again consulting various prominent personages
about dormant commissions. On 12 May 1932 the matter was finalised. Sir
Philip Game was issued with the senior dormant commission, Victoria's
acting governor Sir William Irvine with the junior.
There may be nothing
sinister in Game's 'promotion'. Yet the secrecy with which these otherwise
mundane arrangements were carried out provokes thought. On 12 May 1932
Lyons cabled the secretary of state: 'In view of exceptional conditions
now existing here Commonwealth Government would wish that the Commissions
be not published at present time.' There were frequent references to the
'extreme urgency and secrecy' of the situation. Why the issue of dormant
commissions became so urgent remains open to conjecture. Officially, the
Commonwealth government regarded the matter as urgent because it did 'not
wish to take any risks in view of Sir I. Isaacs' advanced age'. Isaacs's
health was clearly a cause for some concern, and during the crisis the
governor-general announced that he had cancelled all public engagements
and was staying inside Government House 'owing to sudden and important
affairs of State'. It is also possible that the last-minute issue of dormant
commissions was related to the Commonwealth government's fears that Canberra
was about to be invaded. Prime Minister Lyons had received a number of
death threats, so it is possible that the Commonwealth was concerned that
the governorgeneral's life was also in danger. In the final analysis,
however the most significant implication is to consider what might have
happened in the unlikely event that Isaacs had been killed or incapacitated.
Philip Game would have been appointed acting governor-general. While this
made a great deal of sense because when every minute counted he was the
closest to Canberra, if the dismissal of the Lang government had triggered
a more militant, adventurist response from Labor supporters and a sniper's
bullet had killed Isaacs, the appointment of the political 'assassin',
Game, to the position of governor-general and commander-in-chief of the
armed forces would certainly not have improved the situation. It would
have increased the likelihood of civil commotion.
Secondly, Commonwealth attorney-general John Latham's movements and actions
also warrant consideration. In Europe to represent Australia at the Disarmament
Conference in Geneva and as counsel for the Commonwealth in the Privy
Council appeal, Latham was certainly in a position to influence the imperial
authorities. On 22 April 1932 he spoke to Sir Edward Harding. He consulted
the King shortly after. The Trethowan case was actually adjourned for
a day so that Latham could visit Buckingham Palace. Before this interview
Sir Clive Wigram, the King's private secretary, had asked the Dominions
Office to provide notes on the Privy Council appeal and the Financial
Agreements Enforcement Act. On 12 May 1932 Latham countersigned the document
for the issuing of the two dormant commissions to Game and Irvine, after-
close consultation with the Dominions Office and members of the Commonwealth
government. Influenced by advice from the likes of Sir Edward Mitchell
who suggested, on 2 February 1932, 'I think you can take steps that should
get rid of Langor make him subservient', and disconcerting reports
from solicitorgeneral George Knowles, Latham was unlikely to have refrained
in his interviews with the King and Harding from mentioning the danger
of imminent civil war and the desirability of ending the Lang tyranny.
On 13 April 1932 he had been entertained privately by leading London businessmen
who were concerned about their Australian investments and was able to
'speak freely and to tell us something of the present condition of affairs
in Australia'. After news reached London of the dismissal Latham visited
Sir Edward Harding's office to proffer his opinion that Game had acted
quite properly, exercising a '"reserve power" in circumstances
in which it was meant to be used'.
Thirdly, throughout the crisis the Dominions Office and British and United
States security received reports from New South Wales of an impending
communist insurrection, aided and abetted by the disturbed circumstances
created by the rift in Commonwealth-State relations. One of their major
sources of information was a member of the Commonwealth government, Major
R.G. Casey. After returning to Australia in March 1931 Casey launched
himself into a political career that took him into the milieu of the Old
Guard. On 26 April 1931 Casey, Keith Officer and two prominent Sydney
legal men, H.E. Manning and H.S. Nicholas, discussed their fears of serious
rioting on May Day. Throughout 1931 Casey kept members of the Whitehall
elite informed about 'the risk of social disturbance' in New South Wales,
the Lang menace and the financial perils of Australia.
On 28 April 1932 Casey dined with Major Officer. Over dinner they discussed
a plan for advising the Dominions Office of Lang's plans for socialism
in New South Wales through Casey's former mentor, Sir Maurice Hankey31
Hankey was a close friend of Harding and 'collaborated with him constantly
on Commonwealth affairs'. At this time Hankey was in Geneva at the Disarmament
Conference where Latham, and more regularly, the Australian high commissioner,
Sir Granville Ryrie, were also in attendance.
The import of Officer and Casey's plan cannot be determined from the Hankey
papers, but the tone of Casey's continuing communication with Hankey,
Harding and his assistant undersecretary, Sir Harry Batterbee became increasingly
agitated. Before developments in the constitutional crisis of early 1932
Casey's advice to London had been fairly evenhanded.
July 1931 he informed Hankey:
I cannot find it in me to comment adversely
on Sir Philip Game's attitude, although many people condemn him for
not taking a risk and making a wholehearted attempt to send Lang and
his Government to the country. After all, he has had no constitutinal
[sic] experience and he is up against a tight situation, in which, I
have no doubt, the D.O. are unable to give him any clear-cut advice.
His local technical advice is, I believe, conflicting. He is a gentleman,
and Lang has no such disadvantage. He doubtless is obsessed by the necessity
of not bringing about an election in which any question of the Crown
versus the Labor Party could possibly be the issue. All this combined
has stopped him from taking any definite action.
attitude did not last. On 30 March 1932 he informed Hankey of the measures
being taken by the Commonwealth government with the 'extreme and rather
peculiar Financial Agreements Enforcement Act' to 'either stop his [Lang's]
defaulting becoming a habit or to get our hands into the N.S.W. tax-payers'
pockets so as to recoup the Commonwealth and to denude the State Treasury
of funds so that he would be forced to throw in his hand'. In common with
others in the social and political circles in which he mixed, Casey was
becoming increasingly worried. Lang, he reported, 'exploits class feeling
in the best way I have heard it done'. The Lang Labor group in Canberra
were 'leather-lunged, street corner lowbrows'. And there are 'people here,
and intelligent people too', Casey observed, 'who think that our present
Social System is "going by the board". I do not think this,
although I do not think it at all impossible that we may have an attempt
at a "bust up"'
Despite this final caveat, Casey's advice was not reassuring. From the
Dominions Office point of view it was just as well that throughout 1931
and 1932 its officials were well informed about the loyalist responses.
For Casey also told Whitehall about 'an organisation being set up in N.S.W.
to combat lawlessness' and later wrote in more expansive terms to J.H.
Thomas about the formation of 'Citizens Leagues and allied altruistic
Organisations' which 'have some likeness to the Nazi Movement in Germany.'
Lord Somers also submitted a report about 'the development of and formation
of a citizens' organisation to assist in maintaining law and order should
the necessity arise' which was forwarded to Sir Vernon Kell, head of M15,
from the Dominions Offices.
Sir Edward Harding's knowledge of political movements totally unknown
to the majority of Australians was further embellished by R.W. Dalton
and Ernest Crutchley. When in Sydney Crutchley frequently enjoyed the
company of Philip Goldfinch and other Old Guard leaders so it is little
wonder that he was so well informed. On 28 July 1931, two days after motoring
with Goldfinch to the south coast and the day after dining with Sir Kelso
and Lady King, Crutchley informed London:
The secret organisation referred to in my despatch of April 22nd to the
Assistant Under Secretary of State has developed well. It numbers 5,000
in Sydney and 18,000 in Country and is working secretly with the Police.
The so-called White Army which is anything but secret is a source of danger
rather than safety.
If such intelligence did serve to calm Whitehall, this confidence was
short-lived. In April 1932, irrespective of the fate of Casey and Officer's
plans to inform London about Lang's socialist intentions, overseas intelligence
and diplomatic agencies were receiving reports that a 'Red Army' had been
formed in New Sotith Wales. This was the Sydney Morning Herald's version
of Lang's special constables, published on 16 April 1932. When cabled
across the world in secret cyphers this news may have been decisive in
There is evidence that the imperial authorities were rather keener on
doing away with the truculent premier than was the governor. Members of
the British elite were growing increasingly belligerent. There were oft-expressed
rumours of an unholy concordat between Game and Lang. Suggestions that
the premier had requested Game's appointment and that their personal relations
were excessively amicable were whispered around the clubs of Pall Mall.
The beknighted and the powerful were accosting each other in the street
to discuss the 'proper' course of action for Governor Game to follow:
The Dominions Office was far from being the most powerful department in
the British civil service. Its undersecretary of state did not enjoy the
sweeping powers of his counterpart in the India Office who could quite
literally demand that the British viceroy do his bidding. Sir Edward Harding
was a steady, calculating man with 'a rigid sense of duty and a ster n
conscience', but it would have been difficult for him to have distanced
himself from this unprecedented imperial interest in New South Wales politics.
And if it was not in Harding's nature to overreact to alarmist reports
the same could not be said of his senior assistant secretary, Batterbee.
Known to Casey as 'Batters' and to his colleagues as the 'White Knight',
a tall gaunt figure with a proclivity to wave his hands frantically at
times of excitement, the historian of the Commonwealth Office has described
Batterbee as a nervous man, fuelled by a 'sense of the dramatic, [a] sense
of mystery and la1 temptation to exaggerate'. Batterbee was also on particularly
congenial terms with the Royal Family and his visits to Buckingham Palace
were so frequent that staff used to enquire, 'Oh dear! What can the matter
be? Here comes old Harry Batterbee'.
It would be interesting to know how Batterbee represented the situation
in New South Wales to the King. For the normally calm, untroubled routine
of the Dominions Office was clearly upset by the sequence of events in
the antipodes. There had even been some concern that Lang and A.C. Willis,
the New South Wales agent-general in London, had managed to crack the
secret cyphers between Government House and the Dominions Office. On 16
March 1932 the governor despatched the New Guard's petition to London.
In an accompanying note Game suggested that he did not wish to comment
on the petition except to say that the Lang government was elected constitutionally
and 'has governed constitutionally'. To this final comment Sir Edward
Harding added the notation, 'I don't think that Sir P. Game can have realised
that this phrase goes rather far'. This seems to be part of a suggestion
that the British authorities, the officials at the Dominions Office and
others who regularly read the news from the antipodes, the King, the Prince
of Wales and the Duke of York, were searching for a pretexteven
that provided by a dubious organisation like the New Guardto sweep
Lang from office. On 9 May 1932 Sir Clive Wigram, the King's private secretary,
contacted Harding to inquire about the position with regard to the New
Guard's petition. The testy South Australian governor, Hore-Ruthven, was
forever sending despatches to London declaring that, 'Langism is only
another name for Communism' and, on 12 April 1932, 'drastic situations
require drastic remedies and when fighting a Lang the gloves must be off'.
So how was this constant stream of one-sided advice received and acted
upon? Definitive assessment is impossible, for if there was an explicit
command sent in writing from London to Sydney to dismiss Lang, that correspondence
is not preserved in the Dominions Office records. On the other hand perhaps
it would be naive to expect that it would have been preserved, for the
issue is very sensitive.
Questions are easier to provide than answers. Why for instance, did the
Dominions Office officials delay so long in responding to Game's request
for advice of 23 April 1932. For if the governor had received the reply,
that which argued that dismissal was a 'grave step' and 'unwise', he would
almost certainly have refrained from withdrawing the premier's commission.
Harding requested an exhaustive number of clarifications on minute, seemingly
trivial points of detail. Why? Perhaps this simply reflected Harding's
penchant for perfectionism and that he was 'congenitally incapable of
accepting a draft without making some amendments of wording, if none of
meaning'. On the other hand perhaps Harding was hoping that events would
overtake the New South Wales governor and that the desired result (dismissal)
would occur without the Dominions Office being drawn into the controversy.
FOR THAT IS PRECISELY WHAT HAPPENED
On 12 May 1932
a memo circulating around the Dominions Office conceded that Game was
'not wrong' in supposing that it was not for the governor to 'judge between'
the people and their duly chosen representatives, 'at any rate apart from
the most exceptional circumstances'. That final qualification may be crucial.
On 13 May 1932 Harding scribbled a further cryptic comment in the margin
of this report, viz., 'I have explained in this sense to Sir P. Game'.
So what did Harding understand by the 'most exceptional circumstances'
and how did he communicate this to Game?
Again the records are silent in terms of providing categorical answers
but replete with interesting possibilities. Even the handwriting of Harding's
addendum seems uncharacteristically shaky. Was this the mark of a man
beleaguered by many hours of concentration, awed by the gravity of the
decision he had taken? Harding's marginal notation makes it clear that
he explained the Dominions Office's view of the 'most exceptional circumstanceston
13 May 1932, so depending upon the means of transmission employed it may
have been the last piece of advice Game received from London before confronting
Is it likely that the advice would have been despatched by post? It then
took, on average, twenty-eight days for postal articles to pass between
London and Sydney. Even a cable telegram, given the time needed for despatch,
receipt, delivery and decoding, could have been too slow. In April 1930
the wireless telephone link had been opened between Britain and Australia.
The telephone was used on other occasions to communicate urgent messages
between Whitehall and Government House. The fine details of timing are
unclear but it is conceivable (even if not definite) that, at some time
on 13 May, the crackly wireless telephone carried a firm request from
Harding to, if at all possible, bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.
Lady Game had already indicated how her husband would react if this happened.
Earlier she wrote to her mother, 'The great question in his [i.e. Game's]
mind is now whether he shall dismiss Lang or not . .. They may tell him
to do so from Home, and in that case he must.'
... in May 1932 civil commotion was imminent. If 'law and order' was to
be maintained at all costs there were indeed valid reasons for dismissing
the Lang government. Game was well acquainted with the problem of the
'serpent's brood' hatching before his very eyes. The Honourable Sir Langer
Owen, a judge of the New South Wales Supreme Court, whose son was a member
of the Old Guard, was only one of many who advised him, 'I fear that this
unhappy State of ours is very close to revolution'. On 17 April 1932 Billy
Hughes warned the governor that the decision of the Privy Council was
all-important, for, [i]f Lang's appeal is upheld he can pull through without
resort to ultra-constitutional methods. If it fails there is serious trouble
ahead . . . The Auckland riots are a beacon light warning shipping out
from a dangerous coast. As Your Excellency knows I do not believe Australia
is likely to try the short and bloody way out of its troubles. But if
the Conference agrees to a reduction of wages, the temper of the people
will be ugly. And anything may happen.
Game was, as he put
it, 'between the deep sea and the devil'. But even given the paucity of
precedents, some issues were clear enough. On 15 April 1932 he agonised:
'What I am rather dreading is financial chaos. I don't see where the cash
is coming from for more than a week or two longer in any case, and the
position won't be any [more] serious if the Federal Government puts a
receiver in our Treasury.'
Through the admonitions of Casey, Officer, Crutchley, Game and Hore-Ruthven,
the officials of the Dominions Office had similar issues on their minds.
Crutchley's role is particularly interesting In February 1932 the British
representative returned to London for health reasons and to ponder his
future career. This provided Whitehall with access to unique, inside information
about the crisis in New South Wales. Crutchley was almost certainly the
only person in London who could lay claim to having had long, heart-to-heart
discussions with Sir Philip Game concerning the propriety of exercising
his reserve powers. Crutchley was very sympathetic to the governor and
found him 'extraordinarily unprejudiced' when they had discussed the matter,
without resolution, on several occasions in 1931.
Upon his return to London the British representative was summoned to the
palace. On 23 February 1932, the same day he spoke to the King, Crutchley
lunched with Harding at his 'charming flat' in Chelsea. Six days later
J.H. Thomas asked him a 'lot of elementary questions about Australia'
and between visits to his physician, Crutchley was frequently at the Dominions
Office talking to Harding, Batterbee and another important civil servant,
Geoffrey Whiskard, whose country property he visited the week before the
Yet Crutchley's role was not that of a determined advocate of imperial
intervention. On 29 April 1932 he lunched with Sir Henry Galway, a veteran
soldier and former governor of South Australia, and David Maughan, counsel
for Trethowan in the Privy Council appeal. Crutchley found Maughan 'amusingly
partisan like all Australians'. He was distinctly unimpressed with Maughan's
view that Game's acquiescence to the latest Upper House appointments was
'criminal' and amazed how lightly both Maughan and Galway treated the
possible consequences of Game dismissing Lang. In Crutchley's view this
would only serve to rally support for the premier. At another lunch the
British representative found himself defending Game to none other than
General Birdwood. Emerging from this complex mosaic is an impression of
Whitehall perceiving the New South Wales governor, quite correctly, as
being swamped by the course of events. For when Crutchley recorded his
conversations with Game, it was to emphasise the governor's troubled state,
how 'worried' he was, how embattled and also it could be construed, how
indecisive. Harding may have resoived to end the stalemate with the idea
in mind that the governor would appreciate the trauma of decision-making
being taken out of his hands; and in this respect he may have been quite
Upon his return to
Australia, after consulting with his good friend Goldfinch and Major Jones,
Ernest Crutchley compiled a remarkable report which clearly revealed the
deleterious state of public affairs in New South Wales. In sum, from Harding's
point of view, the information it contained surely constituted 'the most
had lunch and a long talk with Game ranging over a variety of topics
from Lady Angela onwards. We touched on the very thin time Game had
during the Lang crisis but I found he had not a hard word to say about
anyone. A more Christian-like attitude I cannot conceive because he
was treated very badly.
Goldfinch, of whom I have written you more than once, made things easier
for Game and was censured by his fellow members [of the Union Club]
for letting them down. He offered to make bets with some of them that
within a month they would be licking the Governor's boots, and as a
matter of fact he drew money from several people on this account. The
climax of this story occurred at Government House where Lady Game drew
Goldfinch aside one day and told him with a twinkle in her eye that
she had heard about his bets.
no doubt that Lang's dismissal took place at the psychological moment
and that a very nasty outbreak was thereby prevented. My letters in 1931
told you about the New Guard on the one hand, and, on the other the Secret
force organised on our Transport and Supply basis which I may refer to
as X Force. The New Guard fulfilled my prophecy and became a source of
acute trouble, in fact they had a considerable plot on foot at the time
of opening of the Bridge. However, the Federal Deputy Attorney General
went down to Sydney prepared to appoint, through the medium of X Force,
2,000 Commonwealth 'Peace Officers' to defend Commonwealth property. The
New Guard got to hear of this and redoubled their efforts. They actually
secured duplicate keys of Police Barracks and were prepared to raid for
arms, although they would not have gained much as the bolts of the rifles
were all concealed in bullion boxes in the vaults of the Commonwealth
Bank masquerading as gold reserve! Then the leader of the 'Shock troops'
got cold feet and gave the show away to X Force Headquarters. Had it not
been for Lang's dismissal there would undoubtedly have been bloodshed
eventually, The Commonwealth wanted a full enquiry, so did the State Government,
but sane opinion in Sydney prevailed on the ground[s] that a disclosure
of the plot would have had a very serious effect on public opinion. The
New Guard would have been associated with the U.A.P., as indeed it has
been in many quarters, and there would have been a tremendous reaction
towards Langism. Lang was organising at this time a very large enrolment
of special constables and all the basher gangs of Sydney were candidates.
The Federal police got to know about it; their intelligence system seems
to be quite good. I was shown a copy of one of the enrolment forms secretly
printed but never used.
You probably know more about this business than I have told you here.
If you don't you will probably think that I have been seeing American
films, but all I have told you, and a lot more that I could tell you,
is quite unassailable in its authority. I learned only this morning from
the Chief of the Commonwealth Police that Eric Campbell, the head of the
New Guard, had been an agent for Russian Oil Products and his chief of
staff, one Brigadier-General Lloyd, was also mixed up with the Russian
people. What there may be in this I don't know.
Throughout the constitutional crisis the imperial authorities were in
contact with precisely the same people, Lyons and Latham in particular,
who were giving consideration to unleashing the Old Guard. So doubtless
Harding and Batterbee did not suspect Crutchley of overindulgence in American
films, even if he could not resist reference to the perennial red herring
of Campbell and Lloyd's business association with Russian Oil Products.
Crutchley's report, however, raises many important issues. While it was
compiled some months after the dismissal, it may be taken as indicative
of the type of information available to the Dominions Office officials
while they deliberated over the constitutional and legal issues associated
with the crisis. Crutchley was almost certainly correct: the Dominions
Office men probably did know 'more about this business'. If one of Crutchley's
sources, Major Jones, communicated this information to British security
(and it would have been remiss of him not to do so), the Dominions Office
and the palace would have been swiftly informed. As well, Philip Goldfinch's
confident wageringeffectively that Game would dismiss Langsuggests
an important point about the differing relationship between the vice-regal
representative and the two conservative paramilitary organisations preparing,
for different reasons, to attack the Lang government.
When the leaders of the New Guard delivered their petition to Government
House they were abruptly dismissed. The leaders of the Old Guard, on the
other hand, not only crossed the threshold, they stayed for dinner. Typical
of the dinner table banter at Government House in early 1932 was the following
exchange between Captain Aubrey Abbott and Governor Game. The latter was
inclined to defend Lang and emphasise his redeeming qualities. The former
was determined to set his host straight. Abbott warned that the premier
was 'a dangerous and reckless man and I'm positive that before [long]
he will cause you great concern'. Game and Abbott met again in 1947. Their
thoughts returned quickly to the constitutional crisis of 1932. Game suggested
that the 'serious way you talked kept coming back to me. Finally, I had
to take the step I did. It was the only way The guest list at various
vice-regal soirees, garden parties, bridge parties, balls, dinner parties
and other official occasions, suggests that this was not the only time
Game received such 'advice'. In March 1932 the governor even stayed at
a somewhat reconciled Sir Adrian Knox's property at Bowral. At Rushcutters
Bay on 10 February 1932 Game was among an audience watching the Australian
tennis team led by Norman Brookes, Herbert Brookes's brother, take on
the Japanese. Seated directly behind him in the area set aside for VIPs
was Sir Henry Braddon.
Again, this is not to suggest that Game dismissed the Lang government
simply because his dinner guests badgered him. The governor possessed
great personal integrity. Had 'Sandy' Hore-Ruthven or Sir William Irvine,
who, in August 1931 warned Melbourne Rotary of the 'sinister significance'
of certain political occurrences and urged all those who believed in British
civilisation to 'keep alert', been in Game's position, it can be reasonably
assumed that the Lang government's term of office would have been much
shorter. Nor does it imply that it was just 'right-wing pressure' in isolation,
from the Old Guard alone, which caused the dismissal.
It is necessary to review the governor's position. He was in a state of
'constant anxiety'. After talking to Chief Justice Street in March 1932
he came to the rather tortuous conclusion 'that I should make a mistake,
if I allowed myself to do anything which I think wrong, by fears of what
may happen if I do what I think right'. His lack of experience in constitutional
law was beginning to tell. From London Game may have been increasingly
aware of a certain restiveness amongst his superiors who felt that the
quality of mercy had become a trifle strained and who were, if not delivering
specific ultimatums, showing every sign of searching for pretexts for
the governor to intervene. He certainly knew that he had incurred the
wrath of the King for allowing the premier to open the Harbour Bridge.
In Sydney the pressure was building up to a crescendo. House guests such
as Sir William Cullen, chancellor of Sydney University and a former lieutenant
governor who had administered New South Wales on six occasions, were stretching
vice-regal hospitality by keeping the governor up until 12.30 am on 8
May 1932 imploring and explaining why he should dismiss Lang. On another
occasion Game and Brigadier General Anderson were publicly snubbed and
humiliated in the Union Club. Consett Stephen, the club's president, refused
to sit at the same table and like errant schoolboys the vice-regal duo
were forced to sit at an empty table in another room. On 11 April 1932
Richard Windeyer and six other KCs tendered their 'memorandum' via Anderson
suggesting that the governor was entitled to end the Lang tyranny.
Others warned repeatedly of impending civil commotion. Because of the
rift in governmental relations, Lyons and McLachlan would not have risked
informing Game fully about their plans for the Old Guard or the armed
forces. To do so would have compromised Game or, rather worse, he might
have told Lang. But in May 1932 the proximity of social unrest was obvious
to even the most unobservant. Harding, or even Sir Isaac Isaacs who was
observed at Government House 'scuttling up the staircase as if in hurried
retreat' might have informed Game about the full extent of the Commonwealth's
military and paramilitary preparations and the 'invasion' plan. Since
the Red Cross was involved in the Old Guard's emergency operations the
president of its New South Wales divisionLady Gamecould have
proffered useful wifely advice. Sir Philip Street may have been crucial
in this context. In a despatch to London on 23 April 1932 Game had suggested'the
Chief Justice . . . fears that the public may take violent action if the
present condition is allowed to continue for long'. Street was well situated
to comment authoritatively on any 'violent action' being contemplated
by a section of the publichis nephew was Jack Scott.
In any case the governor apparently came to be fully aware of the imminent
breakdown of 'law and order' through a member of his staff, though again
this depends on the weight that may be attached to the reminiscences of
L.S. Jackson. Jackson recalled that on Wednesday 11 May the governor's
aide-de-camp, Charles Gifford, called at the offices of the Commonwealth
crown solicitor. Gifford's mission was a delicate one. His intention was
'to obtain as much information as possible of the present situation between
the two Governments'. He spoke to the same Commonwealth officials who
had intended storming the State Taxation Office nine days earlier and
who, through Longfield Lloyd, had been contemplating swearing in an elite
corps of the Old Guard as peace officers. Gifford was no doubt rocked
by the story L.S. Jackson and George Watson had to tell about their dealings
with Senator Massy-Greene.
When relayed back to the governor this intelligence could easily have
been the cause of an apparent change of heart. On 23 April Game had been
reasonably confident that Chief Justice Street's prediction of impending
violence would not eventuate and in his speech at Narromine on 3 May the
governor had more or less stated that he would not intervene. In any case
there can be no doubt that when he took pen to paper on 13 May 1932, after
a last-minute surreptitious visit to the private home of a senior legal
figurepresumably StreetGame's son circling the streets of
Woollahra so that the governor's limousine would not betray his presence
inside, Sir Philip Game knew exactly how volatile the situation really
was. It was, as Crutchley suggested, the precise 'psychological moment'.
Appreciative of the danger of civil commotion and realising that in his
hands lay the means to ward off the unthinkable, Governor Game signed
the Lang government's death warrant. How could any reasonable man in such
a position, imbued with liberal ideals and an abhorrence of social discord
have acted any differently? Game acted to preserve the long-term interests
of 'peace, order and good government' and all which accrued from it.
A week after the dismissal he wrote:
all the time the whole position was going from bad to worse. The scrap
between Commonwealth and State had ... to develop into a bitter struggle.
There was no improvement in employment and worse distress in sight and
a feeling of complete unrest, uncertainty and lack of confidence . .
. everywhere . . . they forced my hand.
after the dismissal can be explained in similar terms. He nurtured strong
suspicions about the Old Guard, the military alert and the formation of
the Common wealth peace officers. He went quietly because he wished to
avoid bloodshed and because he realised that his supporters would be outgunned
by the Commonwealth and its clandestine Supporters. During the morning
of 13 May 1932 the State Government Treasury telegrammed A.C. Willis in
London, ordering the shipment of 1000 reams of duty-stamp paper by the
first available steamer.
The order almost certainly pertained to the implementation of the Mortgages
Taxation Bill. This was not the mark of a government preparing for comfortable
retirement in Opposition. It suggests that the legislation was genuinely
cast as a last-ditch measure to put the State's finances in ordernot
as a provocative measure to force the governor to intervene. Until the
very last, in quite a courageous fashion, the Lang government fought for
its survival. Lang did not court his own dismissal. He merely stepped
back from the precipice of armed struggle, behaving 'responsibly' so that
a civil war which was not primarily of his making was averted.
The tension eases
likelihood of such an outcome, the response to eighteen months of controversial
Labor rule was neither the forcible seizure of power by a cabal of generals
nor the armed insurrection of the bourgeoisie. On 13 May B.S.B. Stevens
was sworn in as premier and arrangements made for an election to be held
on 11 June.
Governor Game became
the toast of the town. General Chauvel sent his congratulations: 'You
probably hardly realise what relief it has given to the whole of Australia,
and, if the Election goes all right you will have definitely saved the
Country from disaster'. General White was, as usual, a cut above the rest,
protesting, 'What a fickle thing public opinion is. A short while since
. . . nothing was too bad for you. Now you are the one and only hero in
Australia'. White also expressed his appreciation that the governor's
intervention stemmed from 'intense thought and complete purity of motive'.
Sir Joseph Carruthers apologised for his earlier 'impatience' but felt
'all's well that ends well'. Sir Langer Owen also expressed confidence
in the governor's actions. He looked forward to a time after the elections
when 'honour & fair play to all will come into their own and dishonour
& class hatred will disappear'.
Between the dismissal and elections there was still much tension. Canon
Arthur Garnsey confessed to being 'under an intense nervous strain until
it is over. Meanwhile we . . . are trying not to think of itand
reading novels and Hosea and St Paul and St John and A. E. Taylor's Faith
of a Moralist and H. M. Green's Book of Beauty'. On 20 May 1932 Governor
Game reported: 'Outwardly all is quiet here but I suppose one cannot hope
to get through this election without a great deal of heat, though I hope
it will be confined to talk and pen and eschew gun pipes.'
The New Guard committed its ugliest deed only a few days after the dismissal.
In the early hours of 15 May a contingent of New Guardsmen at Binnaway
carried a market gardener and Labor supporter, William Thompson, from
his bed. After dragging him to a secluded spot they branded the letters
'R.E.D.' into his forehead with nitrate of silver. A week later a policeman
was assaulted after observing a New Guard parade at Pendle Hill. At the
Empire Day New Guard reunion at the Sydney Town Hall on 25 May 1932 there
was a near riot when the despised undercover agent, Captain Warneford,
appeared amid a police contingent led by MacKay which boldly intruded
upon the meeting hoping, no doubt, to start an altercation.
Five days after the dismissal Frederic Hinton paid a late evening visit
to one of his branch heads. Several days later two Bathurst businessmen
engaged in fisticuffs over whether it was proper for the 'New Guard' to
be a secret society. The Old Guard was again confused with its progeny
in an incident at Cowra on 6 June 1932 when an altercation ensued over
attempts to carry a placard, declaring 'Lang is Right', beside a display
representing 'Britannia' at the annual show. The judge of the procession
attempted to wrest the placard away from its carrier, a young boy. The
boy's father became incensed and jostled the judge yelling, 'You are a
. . . fine specimen of a Boo Guard'. He was convicted of assault and indecent
It is interesting
to note that on 28 May 1932 Prime Minister Lyons visited Game to discuss
'what to do if our friend [i.e. Lang] retums.' While the propriety of
that visit is open to question, the problem did not arise.
The June 1932 elections, in common with those of December 1931, attested
to an integral aspect of the Old Guard's political character. Many of
its leading cadres sought election to parliament as either UAP or UCP
candidates. Understandably, the campaign was conducted as though the fate
of civilisation hung in the balance. Conservative propaganda warned that
if Lang was voted back into office,
. . . he will take the vote as a meaning that
he and his gang are no longer bound by the laws of the land; thus nobody
will be able to oppose anything he does, and his dictatorship - will
be complete. He will then be able to impose his will upon the people
of N.S. Wales, without their having any say in the matter ever atter,
as the next election day will be put off forever, as it is in Russia.
Further negotiations took place between conservative groups to'scotch
the demon of disunity'. The UAP and the UCP joined forces. In some seats
'unity' candidates were proposed in preference to those formerly associated
with either conservative party. The Graziers' Association established
a United Advisory Council with a publicity committee, headed by M.H. and
Ulrich Ellis, to lead the war of ideas and to act as a pool for funds
drawn from both manufacturing and pastoral capital. Minter Simpson &
Co. donated £3400, a large portion of which no doubt emanated from
Goldfinch and CSR. In all £16 000 was raised for the propaganda
offensive. Private citizens also made significant contributions. The managing
directors of foreignowned firms like the Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Co.
contacted Stevens stating that they looked forward to firm promises that
their companies would be treated similarly to local manufacturers. Advertising
firms solicited cheery messages from Stevens in anticipation of an election
win, pointing out that this would be instrumental 'in re-establishing
confidence' and freeing'the tremendous amount of money locked up during
the Lang regime . . . for industry and general trading'.
The election campaign was conducted ruthlessly. Employees were coerced
by the threat of dismissal. Propaganda was distributed in pay packets.
The Sane Democracy League harangued voters with the proposition, 'Can
I take a chance that I may vote for civil war?'thereby offering
the electorate a free choice between B.S.B. Stevens and chaos. The Daily
Telegraph published a forged Zinoviev-style document two days before the
election which was purportedly found in ALP rooms in State Parliament
House claiming that the 'Lang Secret Service' had plans to carry out civil
revolution within forty eight hours of re-election.
Radio listeners were advised by Major General Gordon Bennett:
'This is an election in which the people are
asked to decide if they prefer honesty or dishonesty, confidence or
chaos, a British democracy or a Moscow dictatorship. We are at the parting
of the ways.'
R.G. Casey also cautioned
that, if Lang was returned, 'nothing was surer than civil war. It was
a case of, as it had been in December:
'Safety First! Australia Is In Great Peril. A Call is Given to her True
Sons and Daughters to Save Her. Australia's Backbone is the Rural Population.
Maintain the Backbone by voting Laborites and Communists Out of Power.'
The New Guard provided transport to polling booths to voters 'other than
Communists or Lang planners', particularly 'in hostile centres like Bankstown'.
Predictably, the Lang government was decimated, losing all of its rural
seats except for those surrounding mining centres and retaining only twenty-four
of the fifty-five seats it had won in 1930.
Many of the Old Guardsmen who had been preparing to come to Sydney on
13 May 1932 now arrived as members of parliament. Albert Reid convincingly
defeated Clarrie Martin and a fellow UCP challenger to end his 'temporary
absence' as the parliamentary representative for the constituents of Young.
At least two of the three one-legged Great War veterans who successfully
contested country seats, Gordon 'Dick' Wilkins (Bathurst) and George Wilson
(Dubbo), were senior Old Guards. So were the new honourable members for
Castlereagh, Mudgee, Namoi, Cootamundra and Orange.
Some Old Guardsmen were disappointed. E.L. Killen could not wrest the
Cobar seat from the ALP sitting member, M.A. Davidson. Frederic Hinton
conducted a vigorous campaign as the UCP candidate for Orange but was
finally defeated by the UAP aspirant Alwyn Tonking, an Old Guard group
head. According to the Canowindra Star on 14 June 1932 Hinton's defeat
upset many already ensconced in Parliament House. 'Disappointment was
generally expressed when the news came through on the Sunday morning of
the turn of the tide', it reported. Of 'The Unknown Three' Donald Cameron
was alone in not contesting a seat. Nevertheless he was a powerful force
in conservative politics in the Upper Hunter and well connected in UAP
circles in Sydney and Canberra.
All of this, together with Old Guardsmen like Nock, Abbott and McNicoll
in Commonwealth Parliament, suggests that the rather oblique comment in
an Old Guard bulletin, referring to the gratitude of 'those in public
life who had looked to our Movement to help should the necessity have
arisen', reflects a natural, if somewhat unpalatable, alliance between
the counterrevolutionary organisation and the conservative political parties.
From their most menial to their most exalted levels, from local branches,
electorate councils to central council and party leaders, the UAP and
UCP were tied, informally at least, to the Old Guard. Lieutenant Colonel
Michael Bruxner was accused of being a member of the 'White Guard' on
at least one occasion. His Light Horse credentials, trenchant anticommunism,
the 'great liking' he had for Albert Reid and the fact that he regarded
Frederic Hinton as his 'old friend', enhance Ulrich Ellis's confirmation
that Bruxner 'favoured the Old Guard'. The UCP secretary, Lieutenant Colonel
E.J. Munro, a former member of General Monash's staff and habitue of the
Imperial Service Club who remained in contact with Military Intelligence
in Sydney, was almost certainly similarly committed. Lang's passing reference
to the Old Guard as being identical with the Nationalist Consultative
Council, the sponsor organisation and fundraising body of the UAP, may
not be as exaggerated as it seems at first glance. Among its members were
the Producers' Advisory Council emergency parliamentarian, A.E. Heath,
together with Telford Simpson (E.P. Simpson's son), Charles Lloyd Jones
and F.N. Yarwood, a former councillor of the King and Empire Alliance.
Goldfinch, Gillespie and the retailer Sydney Snow were the principal financial
mainstays of the State UAP party machine.
After 11 June 1932, jubilation prevailed among the bourgeoisie. Stevens
had 'just come in time to prevent the red flag from flying over Sydney'.
It was possible to look to the future with restored optimism.
Mort informed his Melbourne superiors,
'Some of the members of the Ministry are the
personal friends of Mr Cudmore and myself, and we have the ready ear
of authority in any representations we have to make.' Sir Mark Sheldon
rejoiced: 'With clean, honest government and a determination to balance
public expenditure, in a reasonable time there need be no fear for the
A wave of buying
broke on the stock exchanges in Sydney and Melbourne. Australian stocks
rose meteorically in London. Real estate buying accelerated. Cash registers
rang merrily, business prospects improved. Thanksgiving gatherings spoke
of divine intervention as 'the people of New South Wales' welcomed their
'deliverance' from the tyranny of Lang. The sanctions that had added to
the woes of the Lang government were lifted. Capital began flowing back
into New South Wales. Employers considered reengaging labour. Town Hall
meetings of the 'Back to Work' citizens' movement, supported by the Sydney
Chamber of Commerce, echoed to strident calls for employers to take on
'as much extra labour as they possibly can and thereby help to rehabilitate
our country and drive the nail still further into the coffin of Communism'.
The Sydney Morning Herald on 23 July 1932 published a stirring photograph
of three contented artisans painting the red-bricked Croydon bungalow
of B.S.B. Stevensthe community-minded premier taking the lead in
these humanitarian initiatives. The nightmare was over.
The end of the Labor government meant a review for its armed enemies.
Campbell was adarnant that the New Guard should continue, but the Old
Guard quickly slipped into recess. The passions so much to the fore earlier
in 1932 rapidly became unreal and strangely mismatched to the restored
calm of New South Wales politics. The de Groot episode would be re-enacted
many times for humorous rather than political reasons. Perhaps the first
was a quaint scene at the opening of a rough bridge over a creek at Cargo,
a sleepy little hamlet in mountain country between Canowindra and Orange.
The occasion was a scout camp in November 1932. Yet there was a strange
sense of déja vu to this minor event. 'De Groot' was played by
a young scout, Jack Crowe, whose father had been a prominent member of
the Canowindra Old Guard. 'Lang' was played by Sir Philip Game. And among
those who guffawed with laughter at young Crowe's antics was the proud
scoutmaster, Frederic Hinton. In late July 1932 General Sir Brudenell
White arrived in Sydney. Before he returned to Melbourne on 11 August,
the Old Guard held its 'terminating' conference in Sydney.
bulletin issued at this conference explained the reasons for discontinuing
Your General Committee which includes Members
from all country divisions has come to the conclusion that the danger
which threatened this State has been temporarily relieved and there
is no necessity to keep the Movement in continuous active readiness
which incurs a great deal of voluntary work and cost. Your committee
is in a position to know that the Movement has been a most valuable
safeguard in the troubles that seem to be passed, for the time being
at any rate, and it is also aware that those in public life who had
looked to our Movement to help should the necessity have arisen (and
it very nearly did) are extremely grateful to all those who did so much
in building up the Organisation and those others who had joined and
showed their readiness to answer the call. In addition there are thousands
of private individuals who felt security in and gratitude for the services
offered by our Members.
While accurate in
one sense, the belief that the movement had been 'a most valuable safeguard
. . . should the necessity have arisen' was part of the perverse logic
of counterrevolutionary preparatioll. The Old Guard stayed secret so that
its iopposite numbers' would not be alerted and, would, therefore, be
less capable of dealing with their counteroffensive. At the same time,
it was not only believed that the communists knew all about the secret
army but also held that it was precisely this knowledge which had restrained
them from staging their revolution This was more than a trifle self-congratulatory
and inaccurate. It was also fundamentally circular. Nevertheless such
flawed logic justified and sustained the intermittent vigilance of the
counterrevolutionaries. Just as Hughes believed that the thing which had
stopped a revolution in Brisbane in 1919 was the precautions he had taken
of sending machine guns in piano cases, in April 1932 Major Beveridge,
chief of staff of the New Guard, felt that 'if it were not for the 100,000
trained and disciplined men of the New Guard the "Reds" would
have busted Sydney six months ago'. The quiescence of the greatly exaggerated
bolshevik menace vindicated elaborate counterrevolutionary preparations
which were, in themselves, potentially disruptive of 'law and order'.
Members of the Old Guard were already beginning to rewrite history. The
Old Guard's northern division issued a bulletin which informed members
of the 'stand-down' and reminded them never to forget that things were
dark during the Lang years.
THE TRUSTED WATCH DOG THAT WAS CALLED ON FOR
to a 'Higher Authority' which had taken 'determined steps' in the knowledge
that it commanded the full support of the Old Guard thinly disguised the
ambiguity of the organisation's position. While purporting to defend liberal
democracy, talk of its 'watch dog' role suggests that the raison d'etre
of the Old Guard embraced distrust of those same principles.
The Old Guard's leaders tidied up certain administrative loose ends. Outstanding
accounts were settled, excess funds donated to charity and instructions
were issued that all records, except those to be retained by 'D.H.W.',
Frederic Hinton, were to be destroyed All personnel were informed of the
secret army's termination and after a number of small social occasions,
'carried out on the same basis of non-publicity which has been such an
important and successful feature of the organisation through its life',
perhaps the most formidable vigilante force ever assembled in Australian
history came to an apparently abrupt conclusion. But not without issuing
some advice for the future. The final bulletin proclaimed:
A valuable brotherhood has been established, particularly amongst those
who have had the responsibility of managing the policy and the details
of the Movement and this brotherhood will not and cannot be destroyed,
It will again be there actively if required, and it is hoped that our
friends will remain steadily and silently ready to take their places in
the Movement as they did before so that at short notice it might be 100%
effective if called upon.
Many thanks to Associate
Professor Andrew Moore for allowing the use of these chapters from his
References: "The People's Choice - Electoral Politics in 20th Century
New South Wales." Ed. Michael Hogan and David Clune. Sydney, Parliament
of New South Wales (University of Sydney) 2001