The Accidental Survivor: Express Delivery Courtesy of God’s Posties?


An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.
An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.

~ G K Chesterton

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imageSuddenly, another voice broke the bush silence, away to the left in front of me, the same voice it seemed as before…maybe. I had only just splashed water from the creek onto my parched lips a minute or two earlier, but they were already dry again…with a renewed sense of purpose I repeated the action, slowly and deliberately spreading the water around my mouth in a massaging motion with my tongue. Composing myself and pursing my lips, I took a deep breath and mustered all of the remaining strength in my now croaky and feeble vocal cords. Starting with a whisper I tried screaming out, “Hello! HELLO, HEL-LO-O-O, down here in the creek!”.

I strangely felt like I was practicing how to speak all over again…mercifully by the third ‘hello’ the utterance had become stronger in pitch and reasonably audible. A silence followed – seemingly agonisingly long but only fleeting in actual time lapsed – then a reciprocal greeting from the direction of the bush hinterland. I expect my heart skipped a beat at that very moment with a sheer and unbridled sense of relief…yes! I couldn’t see anyone but “the voice” indicated that I should stay put and he would come down to where I was.

Seconds passed, maybe thirty-forty seconds, “the voice” was now silent. My mind, still rushing at 100 miles an hour, was in such a state that I was thrust into freefall panic mode…he’d stopped communicating with me, my immediate fear: he might just vanish again into the harsh bush scape, never to reach me and my lifeline to the outside world would be dashed once more! A cacophony of doubts were assailing my brain. I had such a heightened sense of anxiety, at that moment the most important thing in the world seemed to be to maintain a constant dialogue with my would-be ‘saviour’! Panicked, I just started calling out to him, “hello, are you there?” again and again, until finally he reciprocated – my relief was tangible!

I figured by the sound of his voice that he appeared to be about 20 metres or so from where I was in the creek, but it took an agonisingly long time for him to make his way down. Several more minutes went by, during which I could hear his boots crunching his way through the rugged and inhospitable bush. He must have had to zig-zag through, around, under and over countless dense scrubs and branches. I waited and watched anxiously for him to appear, until finally he came into my line of vision. He was indeed a welcome sight to behold, the first human I had sighted since the previous Wednesday.

I blurted out the basic details of my inglorious bush escapade to him, he looked like he was a fit-looking, stocky young bushwalker. He reassured me that he and his friends had food and water with them – the word ‘water’ resonated singularly with me (I didn’t experience any cravings for food during my entire ordeal, but my thirst, my desire, for water, was all consuming).

imageHis companions were still winding their way down to the creek bank and didn’t appear for several more minutes. The guy, having emerged from the brush, stepped confidently like an experienced bushman onto one of the large rocks in the creek. He motioned towards a clearing in the bush behind me where he said he could lay out the much needed refreshments from his back-pack. As he led the way, striding purposefully and confidently over the wet rocks …to my complete surprise he suddenly slipped as if on a banana skin and landed half on the rocks and half in the water with an all-mighty thud! I was now anxious for me and him (at least I was no longer alone in my plight!). With real concern for my putative rescuer I checked on his well-being, to my relief he quickly responded that yes he was fine. The shock of seeing him being rent asunder like that left me with a singular jarring thought that had instantly and indelibly imprinted itself in my brain: Jesus!, this guy is going to rescue me! He can’t make it from one side of a 12 foot wide creek to the other without losing his feet and falling slap bang on his arse!?! His dramatic and spectacular fall didn’t exactly install me with confidence as to his credentials as a would-be rescuer. If it wasn’t so serious I would have laughed out loud at that point (probably hysterically) … but in truth it merely underscored just how ultra-treacherous the uneven and obscured creek floor was.

On the safety of firm, dry ground I gulped down the bottle of water provided by my would-be rescuer who identified himself as Nathan. It wasn’t cold, lukewarm at best, but who’s complaining, I was just delighted to get liquid into my depleted system, my kidneys were busy thanking him! I drank a second bottle in equally rapid time. His companions (his wife and his workmate) had by now joined us. Lauren, his wife, offered me carrot sticks and a muesli bar for sustenance, I took them out of politeness and nibbled a bit at a thin carrot in a disinterested way. Water was the only revival fuel that I could contemplate at that precise moment.

As I took some nourishment and slowly started to revive, Nathan delivered some news that astounded me: there was a path, right there where we stood (it was hardly discernible to me but I must have passed it several times whilst trudging east and west) which would take us back up the bushy hillside to the Ross Crescent exit, where my car, and as it turned out, their car, were both parked, 15 metres apart! Amazing! Although Ross Crescent wasn’t far away, it appeared in my depleted condition a very steep and arduous ascent, and seemingly interminable. I was surprised at how drained I now felt despite the sustenance – possibly this was because having been ‘saved’ I had relaxed with relief and the strain of my ordeal had finally had its full and debilitating impact on me…my mental exhaustion had finally caught up with my physical exhaustion!

In any case my energy reserves were completely shot. My personal go-to response in most situations is a characteristic “No, I’m OK” (even if I wasn’t!), but now I couldn’t summon up even the slightest pretence of self-reliance or self-sufficiency, I needed Nathan’s firm guiding arm to pull me up the hill. Every ten or so steps, I had to stop and greedily gulp from Nathan’s bottle of Powerade. I was so eager to rehydrate my system that I was swilling the Powerade down, oblivious of the fact that electrolyte-based beverages are supposed to be sipped slowly. Nathan kept reassuring me that it was not far to the top, not far now, he would intone. Somehow I was not convinced by his earnest entreaties. It seemed far to me, interminably so! Every step I took was a trial of effort, it took an inordinate amount of time till we finally and painstakingly reached the second tier from the top. By now I was well on the way to polishing off Nathan’s second bottle of Powerade!

At this high spot on the mountain, we halted a while because my rescuers wanted to phone the police to report the ‘miracle’ of my rescue. When Nathan got through to the police he informed them of the circumstance and an unwieldy three-way conversation ensued – the phone operator would ask questions which Nathan would relay to me and then he would duly repeat my answers back to the officer. Confusion ensured and I soon tired of this proxy communication and insistently took the phone from my rescue-hero and spoke directly to the police staffer who informed me, to my amazement, that they had received no report whatsoever of my being missing in the Blue Mountains over the previous four days. This was quite mind-blowing news because I had been certain that the hovering helicopter I had regularly spotted overhead on days two and three had been looking for me. But it seems I had been truly in it on my ‘Patma’ all along.

All the while I spoke on the mobile, Nathan had been diligently trying to wave away the flies from my battered and bloodied legs. This was a considerate gesture on his part, but I motioned to him, don’t bother! After all that I had gone through, I just didn’t care anymore about such a minor irritation which I had long since become used to. Let the bloodsucking bugs do their worst, I was out of the nightmarish bush imbroglio, that was all that mattered now. At this juncture I was pretty fed up with the whole experience and just wanted to go home. The police had no report on me, I was qui nihil interest to them (a person of no interest). I was somewhat incredulous, I felt like persona non grata, but also relieved at finding out I was free to go home.

Nathan did his upmost to try to persuade me to go to Nepean Hospital to get checked out. I politely demurred at this suggestion, protesting that I was fine (maybe a fair bit of an overstatement on my part, I would concede) and perfectly capable of driving home. Relieved to get out of the trap I had dug myself into, I now wanted only to get home, get into a hot bath, pour in some epsom salts and Dettol, relax, veg out for a couple of hours and “lick my wounds” – psychic and physical. The question of the damage I had sustained to the various parts of my body, I was prepared to put on the back burner for the time being. Of course I had some concerns about my back and the possible dire implications for my spine (and, less anxiously, for my ribcage), but as my back wasn’t causing me any significant pain at this time aside from the occasional spasms since the accident, I resolved to address the medical issues later. Self-indulgence in the form of a luxuriant soaking, followed by sleep, was what I craved most right now. After further debate, in the end we reached a compromise, I agreed to Nathan’s firm insistence that he drive me home in my car (to make sure that I was all right) and Lauren and friend John would follow in their car.

Before we pushed on up the steep last leg of the vertical track, I had another swig or three of Nathan’s crimson-coloured Powerade. With the firm arm of Nathan to guide me, I very tenderly and slowly hobbled on, up and up yet more steps. In my present state of mental and physical attrition, it seemed like an unending track. Nathan kept reassuring me that it wasn’t far (he had said the same thing ten minutes before!). He indicated with a wave of the hand that the tops of the houses in Ross Crescent had come into sight, I looked and couldn’t see them, but took some comfort from the confident tone of his voice. When we got on to level ground at the top, I recognised the long, rectangular, fenceless property on the right, in front of which would be my car (at least I was hoping it was still there!). Only when I saw the sign marking the beginning of Florabella Track, did I allow myself the thought that, finally, yes, my four day ordeal was over. Across from the sign, sitting patiently for the last 78 hours was indeed my little red Colt. No one had seemed to notice it had been unattended for a protracted amount of time, not the people inside the house, not even any curious, other locals. If anyone did observe it, they perhaps only gave it a passing thought, maybe concluding that it was yet another abandoned vehicle in the bush (there were two such disowned cars residing, more of less permanently, at the Warrimo end of the same track). And, to add a further irony to my predicament, there, just a few steps away from the Colt was the car of my ‘predestined’ rescuers.

First stop as we departed the scene in our respective vehicles was the nearest servo where I filled up on bottled water and, of course, Coca Cola (my long-nurtured hopes for Pepsi dashed as the servo outrageously didn’t stock the brand!). Travelling back to Summer Hill, Nathan and I passed time by talking discursively about various topics, politics and religion being prominent among them (my young rescuer a little too eagerly disclosed his weekend volunteer role preaching scripture groups at his local church). Nathan mentioned that John and he were both posties, as was his wife’s father (an altogether charm-free dolt who I had the brief displeasure of meeting when we quickly stopped at Penrith on the way back home). When I heard that my deliverers from the bush imbroglio were all employees (or close relatives) of Australian Post, I exclaimed out loud with a mixture of mirth and relief in my voice, “My God! Saved by Posties!” That brought a laugh to Nathan’s face.

We finally set off from Penrith for the last part of the drive home. It was to take longer than I had hoped though, wife and friend couldn’t keep up with us or kept getting lost and we had to keep stopping and wait for them to catch up…my patience was tested but what could I do, I reassured myself that after everything that had happened I could wait a bit longer).

In any event Nathan was there to ‘entertain’ me or at least distract me! In the course of the drive somehow the topic of religion came up, not entirely accidentally I suspect. Without any prompting Nathan launched into something of a monologue on his Christian faith. Over the next half hour or so I got a sampler of Nathan’s doctrinal ideas about religion…such as his belief in the overarching concept of an intelligent design guiding the creation of the world, not to forget his notion of a ‘selective’ God. As he spoke more and more enthusiastically about his preoccupation I muttered sotto voco to myself, “Christ, not just saved by Posties, saved by Religious Posties!” I mused on my new ‘predicament’: here’s Nathan getting full flight into his preaching spiel and his two, no doubt fellow evangelists, following us close behind by car – had I been ‘saved’ from destruction in the wilderness only to find myself thrust into a world of sanctimonious God Botherers!

Was I, once again trapped, this time inside my own car, with a religious wacko who was going to try to convert me? Not withstanding such misgivings, I was chilled enough after re-hydrating myself to sit back in the passenger seat and let Nathan drone on to his heart’s content. And he did not disappoint, waxing spiritually about the various theological issues he was eager to espouse at every given opportunity. Nathan had more than a whiff of the incipient zealot about him and didn’t need any prompting to expand on his heart-felt moral and religious beliefs. I was just happy to relax and re-energise my batteries.

But after a while of silently listening, I couldn’t help myself even in my diminished state from playing “Devil’s Advocate” (yes I admit, an altogether naturally comfortable role for me!). I brought up one or two of the big religious imponderables, such the contradiction between God’s omnipotence and the stark realities of the world – the desperate, miserable condition of life for the vast majority of the planet. I posed the question “Why does God allow such an intolerable and horrific situation to exist when he had has all the power he needs to intercede on behalf on the downtrodden?” (In Nathan’s Church God is definitely a he!), giving Nathan’s enough slack on the line to really get his theological teeth into that juicy morsel. As expected, Nathan of course had an explanation for this, a very good one, he added confidently. “Its like this Bruce” Nathan began, with the slightly patronising tone of the “good shepherd” in his voice, and proceeded to recount a puzzling analogy: God, he affirmed, “was like a dentist who would refuse any further service to patients if they neglected to pay their bills”!

In so far as I was prepared to go to try to uncoil the enigma wrapped in a puzzle that was his logic, it seemed for Nathan to boil down to a question of God saving only those who exhibit sufficient faith in him – if I was following him correctly…hallelujah! Craftily if predictably, Nathan managed to avoid directly dealing with the imponderable issue of why an all-powerful and presumably all-caring God would ever allow any suffering, let alone the global epidemic proportions that exist in the world today? As would be expected for “true believers” like Nathan, one needs to search no further than a reaffirmation of faith for the answer.

By the time Nathan had pronounced on a few more of his doctrinal hobbyhorses we had reached our destination (given my agnosticism-cum-atheism, mine, at least in the ultimate sense, unlike Nathan’s, was obviously not going to be ‘Heaven’). My growing realisation that evangelist Nat and his companions were devotees of what was possibly some kind of fringe evangelical whacko sect did not detract in any way from the genuine and heartfelt gratitude I felt for these three young bush explorers who were definitely in the right place at the right time as far as I was concerned.

On the drive back down the M4, I waved a $50 note (not having anything smaller!) in Nathan’s direction as a tangible manifestation of gratitude and as recompense for the petrol he would have to use, but he did not want to take it. I sensed, the cynic that I am, that putting himself in God’s “Pearly Gates” books for such a good deed was Nathan’s most coveted reward. After some toing and froing of me insisting he take it and he declining, he took the money and placed it in the dashboard tray, inferring that we could engage in a dialogue later regarding it(!). A later conversation? I wondered…between me and him, between God and him or between all three of us? How many were there in this car? It’s only a small hatchback! It was becoming confusing.

Whilst we waited in the car outside my home for Lauren and John’s car to catch up, I managed to turn one of Nathan’s pious homilies on its head and put it to him that he accept the money as an equitable act of faith (whatever that means?!?). God must have signalled his approval because Nathan relented and slipped the ‘portrait’ of Edith Cowan into his wallet, saying he would put the cash towards he and his wife’s petrol kitty. Fine by me! I profusely thanked my young Australia Post bush rescue team again for their ever so timely intervention. Australia Post really did deliver on this occasion!

After my saviours had departed I shed and discarded my one remaining boot and hobbled gingerly barefoot into my unit. I felt ratchet, completely stuffed, hardly surprising after four days openly exposed to the elements. I replenished my stocks with water, juices and a little bit of food (I still wasn’t hungry after four days lost in the woods and didn’t regain my appetite for a couple of days). I ran a hot, soothing bath, lowering myself slowly into it and sighed. I then proceeded to gently pour disinfected water over my numerous cuts and scratches, before moving on to my lower back and ribcage to apply a heated water treatment to them.

As I soaked my aching bones, I pondered the question of how I had survived my extreme encounter with nature. I had gone (suicidally?) solo into the bush, I had not informed anyone beforehand as to my intended location, I had no map (not one worthy of the name anyway!), I had gone off-track, I was way too lightly dressed for nights in the cold and without blanket or covering of any kind, and I had taken a woefully inadequate amount of water and no food with me. I had no flare gun to alert potential rescuers of my whereabouts. And, I had injured myself, albeit not so to imperil my survival, although it could easily have been thus. In short, I had done ALL of the wrong things by the bushwalking manual (and the “common sense” manual too!), coming across like a complete tyro, but still managed to survive – somehow.

For weeks after, everyone I divulged my Blue Mountains misadventure to, were only too happy to apply, with full ironic intent, the ‘Bear Grylls’ tag to me! Obviously, a large slice of luck had come down on my side. Having bungled my way into the densely-foliated abyss, and then ineptly and laughingly attempted to extricate myself without success, I clearly needed some sort of effective external intervention to happen. Finding people on the fourth day who were well equipped to salvage what remained of me at a most timely and critical point, could only be described as my good fortune! There are other ways of viewing how I had managed to endure in the bush, if you want to imbue it with sentiment. A close friend who I recounted the story to, marvelled like everyone else at my survival (that is, at my good luck) and commented that it was my late wife looking after me – well, whatever, it’s a nice thought, isn’t it?

When I went for a physical check-up two days later, Dr Phil my GP asked perhaps jokingly, perhaps only half jokingly, if I had a death wish. Freud defined the death wish (or ‘death drive’, more precisely he called it) as an unconscious desire for self-destruction. Well, if it is an unconscious state, then who could ever say definitely? But given my erratic behaviour over the whole episode of the four day bush misadventure, it may well seem to an objective third party that I did.

If you examine the bare bones of it, I went out into the great unknown unprepared, without a Plan B. In my conscious mind, I was definitely not trying to put myself in harm’s way, nothing deliberate, no attempt to test my physical and psychological boundaries. By disposition I am far from being an adrenalin junkie deriving a buzz from putting my safety on the line. Extreme risk sports or activities of your bungy-jumping or base-jumping kind do not appeal to me! I am no ‘funambulator’ (tight-rope walker) in any sense of the word, by nature my “Caledonian cautious” approach to life would preclude me, 99 times out of every 100, from putting my body on the line. The last few days were obviously occurrence number 100!

imageMy predicament was one that I just inadvertently stumbled into, unprepared and unanticipated. I hadn’t planned to end up in the hazardous part of the bush that I did, so I had no contingencies in place to deal with the unpredictable. It could so easily have been a mortal mistake. I survived, I’m still not sure how, but it did teach me the invaluable lesson that if you underestimate the bush, or are complacent about it, even for a moment, you will do so at your peril.

Later that night the mystery of the patrolling helicopter was revealed on the evening news. It transpired that the copter (and the other light plane) I had seen were scouring the area for a group involved in an abseiling accident nearby…an abseiler in his early 30s had fallen to his death heroically trying to rescue his girlfriend who had ‘frozen’ and was stranded immobile on a cliff ledge. It was a sobering thought as I reflected afterwards: I had somehow survived my fall, at the same time this poor, unfortunate guy trying to be the Good Samaritan, trying to do the right and noble thing, tragically did not share my good and perhaps undeserved luck.

Opening the Sydney ‘New Guard’ Bridge, 1932

Popular Culture, Social History

Most Australians have at some time or other glimpsed the grainy old Cinesound newsreel footage or the still pictures of the dramatic events of the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in March 1932. What should have been a moment of glory for the NSW Premier, Jack Lang, declaring open Bradfield’s engineering wonder of a bridge, was turned into a minor public relations coup for a fringe paramilitary group called the New Guard through an audacious act by one of its members.

De Groot’s ‘coup’
Just as the Bridge ribbon was about to be cut by the NSW Premier, Captain Francis De Groot who had attached himself undetected to the escort cavalry, rode forward and pre-emptively slashed the ribbon. In doing so he declared the bridge open “in the name of all decent and respectable people of New South Wales”. De Groot, the Irish antique dealer, furniture restorer and part-time soldier, with one outrageous swipe of his sword, secured his 15 minutes of fame, embarrassed the Lang Labor Government and thrust the New Guard deeply into the consciousness of Sydneysiders at large!

Primrose’s ceremony at the Northern Pylon
Now all this is well known, but what is largely not known is what was happening at the northern end of the Bridge whilst attention was focused on the high drama at Dawes Point. Soon after De Groot “opened the bridge” in unorthodox fashion at the southern pylon end, another member of the New Guard cut the ribbon at the northern pylon. Hubert Leslie Primrose, Mayor of North Sydney, was an assistant adjunct and quartermaster-general in the New Guard. Primrose as mayor had organised his own bridge-opening ceremony from the North Sydney side. Although NSW Police apparently had reservations about Alderman Primrose’s Northside celebration of the Bridge (because of his involvement in a suspect para-military movement that was under investigation), they made no attempts to stop him going ahead with his act of public ceremony.

So, remarkable as it may seem to us today, the opening of both ends of that most iconic of Sydney symbols, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, was accomplished by the New Guard. These deeds (one undertaken officially and the other illegally) were achieved by a small, para-military organisation that at best was only ever a marginal player in provincial Australian politics.

Harbour Bridge from Kirribilli
Primrose’s fascination with the New Guard was short-lived. In June 1932 he was one of many New Guardsmen elected to the Legislative Assembly for the new conservative force in party politics, the United Australia Party (forerunner to the Liberal Party of Australia), later rising to the rank of UAP Minister for Health, and later for National Emergency Services. Primrose Park in Cremorne is named in his honour, but clearly not for his activities on behalf of the New Guard!

[Refs: Australian Dictionary of Biography (Vol 11) 1988, HL Primrose, ADB, (Supp. Vol) 2005, FE De Groot, both artls by Andrew Moore]

Australia’s Tenuous Brush with Fascism: the New Guard Movement

Local history, Media & Communications, Popular Culture, Social History

I have long thought that one of the more intriguing back stories of 20th century Australia history is the rise and (rapid) fall of the New Guard movement. The New Guard which flourished in the early 1930s was Australia’s own home-grown, ‘wannabe’ fascist organisation.

The New Guard was a pretty shadowy fringe organisation in 1931, formed by ex-World War I army officers who broke away from an existing organisation (the Old Guard) deemed by them to be too cautious in its anti-socialist methods❈. The singular incident associated with the New Guard that resonates most clearly in the public consciousness was the intervention by Francis De Groot (divisional commander in the New Guard) in the opening ceremony of the new Sydney Harbour Bridge in March 1932. The fanatical, sword-wielding De Groot, on horseback, upstaged the State Labor government by dramatically cutting the ribbon at the southern pylon of the bridge before NSW Premier JT Lang could do so officially.

At its height the New Guard had somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 members in New South Wales (men only, women were not permitted to join NG). Included in these numbers were prominent Australians such as the famous aviators, Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm, Sir Thomas Henley (Nationalist Party MP), Hubert Primrose (Mayor of North Sydney, later NSW UAP Minister for Health), and leading business figures in industry and agriculture such as the Patricks and the MacArthur Onslows. Interestingly, it has been alleged (though not substantiated) that Lyall Howard, the garage owner-father of former PM John Howard, was probably a New Guard member (Andrew Moore, ‘The New Guard & the Labour Movement 1931-35’, Labour History, No 89).

JT Lang in typical demagogic mood
.The background to the New Guard’s emergence was the societal dislocation caused by the Great Depression and the sudden and calamitous level of unemployment of the early 1930s. This gave the New Guardsmen the impetus to thrive as it did to right-wing authoritarian political forces in Europe during the same period. In October 1930 a left-leaning Labor Government was elected in NSW under the demagogic nationalist Jack Lang. Lang’s scheme to tackle the state’s catastrophic economic crisis included repudiating Australia’s international loan obligations and refusing to make any further payments to British bondholders. This controversial stand made fringe groups on the right, especially the New Guard, flare up in hostile opposition to Labor.

Lt.Col Campbell
The leader of the New Guard was a Sydney North Shore solicitor, company director and WWI army officer of patrician stock, Eric Campbell. The attraction of men who followed Campbell into the New Guard was that it appeared to offer a fresh, alternative solution to the problems of society to those espoused by the democratic parliamentary parties of the day. The New Guard viewed communism and socialism as having a corrosive and degenerative effect on Australian society. Campbell characterised the incumbent Lang government as socialist, and thus relegated the Labor Party to the status of being abject co-conspirators with the communists working against the liberties of loyal Australians.

Colonel Campbell asserted that the New Guard was patriotic, but by this he meant patriotic to the British Empire, so intricately linked in his mind was Australia with the ‘mother country’, Britain. In effect the New Guardsmen were über-British loyalists. So, when Lang signalled his intent to default on loans to British banks, this infuriated Campbell and loyalists to the Crown generally who redoubled the movement’s efforts to bring Labor down. NG believed in minimalist government and individualism, in ‘sane finance’, in freeing private enterprise to get on with business, and Lang’s plans to expand the public sector to counter the unemployment crisis, put ‘Langism’ very squarely in their ideological sights.

By late 1931, disillusioned with party politics, the New Guard adopted more aggressive tactics in the fight against the left. New Guardsmen also started to display some of the trappings of fascist parties (uniforms, the Nazi salute, ID badges) and began to break up meetings of communists and the unemployed. NG’s unleashing of its paramilitary arm provoked the left into forming communist and Laborite militias which fought NG forces.

The most significant, physical confrontation between these groups, occurring in early 1932, became known as the “Battle of Bankstown”. The New Guard in its coercive actions in Bankstown and elsewhere in Sydney did succeed in its aim to disrupt meetings of the labour movement, but these mobilisations ultimately proved counterproductive to the NG leaders’ attempts to consolidate the new movement. The Bankstown mêlée had two adverse effects for NG. First, the leadership’s decision to up the ante in NG’s strong-arm tactics against their ideological opponents alienated a lot of the movement’s rank-and-file and many disaffected members resigned in the aftermath of Bankstown. At an NG meeting soon after some members moved motions of no confidence in the leadership of Führer Eric (Moore, ibid.).

Secondly, the level of New Guard violence exhibited at Bankstown, and to a lesser extent at other NG mobilisations such as Newtown, following upon De Groot’s bridge antics, convinced NSW Police of the need to take the threat to law and order posed by Campbell’s organisation seriously. The promotion by Premier Lang of an uncompromising, aggressive Glaswegian, Big Bill MacKay, to Acting Metropolitan Superintendent, was the catalyst for a much tougher line taken against the right-wing paramilitary movement. MacKay intimidated Campbell and De Groot and other NG leaders and exhorted the State police to respond with unrestrained force every time the New Guard initiated a public fracas.

Given free rein by Supt MacKay, the white-helmeted state police launched a savage assault on the trouble-making New Guardsmen especially in an incident that became known as the “Liverpool Street Police Riot”. Campbell’s enthusiastic but volunteer guardsmen proved no match for a well-trained, disciplined and highly motivated police force. The largely middle class NG members who clashed with the police found the experience distinctly not to their liking. Under instructions from MacKay, the police went out and absolutely brutalised the New Guardsmen. MacKay’s tactics of intimidation and brutal counter-violence against NG paramilitaries kept them in check and dissuaded many from continuing their active involvement in the right wing organisation (Moore, ibid).

NSW Police in early 1932 undertook investigations aimed at unearthing a possible plot by Campbell to use his so-called Secret Army to launch a coup d’être against Lang’s Labor Government. It was widely rumoured in the press that the New Guard planned to overthrow the Government, kidnap and imprison Lang and his senior cabinet ministers in the disused Berrima Gaol in country NSW. ‘The revolution that wasn’t’ ( Whether Campbell was planning such a strike on democracy or not (he publicly denied it, whereas Major Treloar, disaffected NG deputy commander, informed police that this was indeed Campbell’s true intention)(Robert Darlington, Eric Campbell & the New Guard). The question became academic in May 1932 when the Governor, Sir Philip Game, sacked the Lang Government for withholding revenues deemed owing to the Commonwealth as part of the debt to British financiers. The incoming State UAP Government quickly shelved the CID’s investigation into the alleged New Guard plot.

In what sense could the New Guard movement be said to be fascist in nature?
Historians have long debated whether the New Guard organisation was a fascist one or even a quasi-fascist one – as they have done with regard to Franco’s Falange Party in Spain and other authoritarian-right movements. If we stack the New Guard up against the classic Italian and Germany models of inter-war fascism, it is of course a ludicrous comparison. The New Guard movement falls well short even of fulfilling the criteria for a semi-fascist organisation like the British Union of Fascists, whose leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, Campbell expressed great admiration for. Campbell visited Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany in 1933 and came away deeply impressed by the Nazi and Fascist systems of rule, and subsequently did incorporate some aspects of Mussolini’s Italian Corporatism into the New Guard’s ideology. The most that can be said about Campbell’s organisation however was that it was heavily influenced by the success of the European fascist movements and was openly sympathetic to fascism (Matthew Cunningham, ‘Australian Fascism? A Revisionist Analysis of the New Guard’, Politics, Religion & Ideology , 13(3)).

Nor can it be said that the New Guard had any claims to be considered as a mass movement in NSW politics. NG remained fundamentally a middle class organisation, the core of its base were urban professionals and small businessmen, like Campbell himself (Cunningham, Ibid.). Unlike many other fascist/authoritarian parties in Europe, it lacked for significant working class participation (Moore, op.cit.). Moreover, geographically, the New Guard was very limited in scope. It was confined to one state, NSW, and even more, was essentially a Sydney metropolitan phenomena with only around 3,000 members from rural areas outside of Sydney (Cunningham, ibid.).

The staunchly pro-monarchist and pro-capitalist (and distinctly non-radical) positions of the New Guard demonstrates that the organisation didn’t cross over into a fascist character, rather the retention of these allegiances shows that NG retained essentially a conservative authoritarianism in appearance (Cunningham, ibid.).

1930s New Guard propaganda against Premier Lang
Why did the New Guard decline and dissolve so swiftly in the mid 1930s?
As alluded to above, one reason for the disaffection and eventual alienation of much of the respectable, middle class membership from the New Guard was the resort to more extreme violent means by the leadership from around the end of 1931. Vigilante action by the Fascist Legion, a splinter grooup within NG, did nothing to assuage the doubters in the organisation. In May of that momentous year a number of the Fascist Legion members, clad in black Ku Klux Klan style hooded capes, attacked and bashed Jock Garden, a prominent communist and trade union official in his Maroubra home (Garden was a close associate of Premier Lang). This violent act of what we now would call home invasion brought disastrous publicity to the New Guard (Richard Evans, ‘A menace to this realm’: The New Guard & NSW Police, History Australia, 5(3). This coming on top of the general perception that NG leadership was seriously contemplating taking extra-legal action against the elected Lang Government, made many people distance themselves from the increasingly extremist actions of the New Guard. Interestingly, afterwards the Deputy Leader of the opposition Nationalists came out in parliament denying any involvement by NG in Garden’s bashing, alleging it was a Labor “put-up job” in which Garden himself was complicit! (Darlington, op.cit.).

The ‘Maroubra incident’ 1932 Garden’s bashing by NG
One week after the Maroubra bashing of Jock Garden, the State Governor dismissed Lang and at the subsequent election Labor was soundly beaten by the UAP led by Stevens. The removal of Lang-Labor had been the New Guard’s overriding objective, so with Lang gone and the conservatives firmly in control, a large part of NG’s raison d’être was at an end. The sacking of Lang released the tension that had been building up between the various opposing forces in the political crisis of 1932.

imageThe gradual recovery of the economy starting from late 1932 encouraged many who had joined the movement from a fear of socialism to drop their political allegiance to NG (Darlington, op.cit.). The New Guard’s strength dwindled after 1932 and by 1935 the NG support base had largely eroded. In that year Campbell tried to revive the movement’s fortunes by forming a new political group, the Centre Party, and contesting the state elections. Campbell’s last despairing grab at some semblance of power, a democratic bid for the seat of Lane Cove, went nowhere, and soon after, he went into political obscurity.

PostScript: The New Guard – the Mini-series?
A few years ago I suggested to SBS that the story of the New Guard and its ambitious if deeply flawed leader, Eric Campbell, would have the makings of a first-rate mini-series for television, and that they might like to explore the possibilities of this. They never got back to me!

I think this episode in Australian history has the same kind of dramatic ingredients and appeal as the successful Bodyline mini-series made for TV in the 1980s where the English cricket captain’s s breaching of the rules of the Gentlemen’s game of cricket forced many Australians to question their loyalty to crown and empire. Lang’s refusal to back down and the establishment’s uncompromising response was the makings of a high political stakes drama set against the turbulent background of the depression and a very real chance of a bitterly antagonistic explosion of class conflict; the violence of the New Guardsmen and the counter-violence from organised labour, and the unleashed mayhem and retribution of the NSW Police; there are the colourful and complex personalities in the story, larger than life figures such as Jack Lang and Bill MacKay, the paradoxical and enigmatic Campbell. There was Sir Philip Game – was he the political executioner of the rebellious Lang to safeguard the interests of international capitalism or the dutiful King’s representative, an honest broker bring to heel a dangerously out of line state premier?

Was there a conspiracy or not? – a coup, behind-the-scenes, shadowy figures intent on usurping by whatever means the premier, an arrogant demagogue but nonetheless a democratically elected head of government (a forewarning of 1975?). How far did NG infiltrate the Sydney establishment and the conservative Nationalist Party? Then there was the question of the bashing of the communist union official Jock Garden, who was really behind it? Many questions to explore.

The New Guard had something of a chameleon-like character, many in society and in the press didn’t take it very seriously with its pompous and overblown leader and his supporters who at times resembled a ‘Dad’s Army’ trying to imitate the real thing in Germany and Italy (the Labor press regularly referred to them as the ‘Boo Guard’). Some however were concerned, especially on the left, including European émigrés with an insight into the threats to liberty a nascent fascism might pose – these sectors viewed the New Guard’s brief ascendancy very gravely. Others in the community of a more traditional, conservative bent, well-connected politically and socially and often from the North Shore and the Eastern Suburbs, took a different and more sanguine view of the New Guard and endorsed the fringe group’s need and right to inject some new energy into the stalled world of parliamentary politics.

Drama, tension, intrigue, civil unrest, all set against an international context of fascism and communism on the rise. Unfortunately, SBS did not express any interest in this proposition, but I still maintain that the subject conveyed through a mini-series remains a most worthy project – done well! An expert academic history consultant for the period (such as Andrew Moore or Robert Darlington) working with a good screenwriter and some money, could produce a very good product, both as entertainment and as historical reconstruction of a not terribly well-known chapter of our history. Perhaps the ABC … budgetary constraints in the reality of a national Liberal government permitting.

❈ the New Guard in rhetoric also distanced itself from the establishment conservative parties as well, National Party, Country Party (despite there being some extensive cross-membership!), seeing them as failing to take action against the communists and trade unions, and seeing itself as a legitimate, alternative right-wing movement

Marsha Hunt, Lifelong Social Activist: Not your Average Hollywood Role Model

Biographical, Cinema, Politics, Society & Culture

Marsha Hunt – film star with a social conscience

I’ve always thought it absurd that ordinary people raise up movie stars (be it Hollywood or Bollywood) to the status of demi-gods (as they do with pop and rock stars and elité sportspersons). I know it was ever thus, film stars in the silent era were arguably even more venerated by society given that at that time they did not have to compete with popular singers and sporting stars for the public’s kudos.

The media is of course deeply complicit in this with its obsessive focus on Hollywood box-office stars, especially the popular gossip mags’ hanging on every utterance and info snippet of headline-grabbing Hollywood A-listers like George Clooney, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt – a custom which is jejune and banal in the extreme. If these overblown ‘celebs’ make even a shallow pronouncement on environmental or human rights issues or announce their latest Third World orphan acquisition, this receives an inordinate amount of drooling media attention.

This ultra-reverence is ridiculously inane given that the great majority of movie stars are not necessarily exemplars of propriety and moral rectitude, and sometimes behave like pampered prima donnas in their overweening self-centredness. Proportionate to the rest of society, movie stars often behave badly, they have equally-manoeuvrable morals, they take drugs, they drink too much and beat their wives, extravagantly waste money, are unfaithful, get divorced (disproportionately to society at large in this case!), they are after all only actors! And yet media outlets continue to elevate them to the loftiest reaches of societal respect, as if some special higher wisdom is implicit in their trade.

Notwithstanding all this, there have been films stars and actors who do merit the very highest accolades for their principles and unselfish activism in the devotion to the betterment of humankind. Sadly, these actors, and their achievements, are usually not well known by the public at large, or certainly not as well known as they should be! One such American actor I want to mention in this context is Marsha Hunt. Marsha (not to be confused with the African-American singer and novelist of the same name) is still alive at 96 years-of-age, going on 97, and compared to the lavish praise heaped all-too-easily on some celebrities, is pretty much an unheralded hero, even in her homeland. Chicago-born Hunt commenced acting in Hollywood films as a teenager in the mid-1930s. As she tried to establish herself as a leading actress in films, at the same time she committed herself to the support of liberal causes in an America that was becoming increasingly illiberal.

imageDespite the risks to her professionally, Hunt was prominent in the Committee for the First Amendment⌺ in support of the ‘Hollywood Ten’ (screenwriters and directors ostracised for alleged pro-communist activities). At the onset of McCarthyism, as the US lunged savagely to the Right, Hunt with other liberal Hollywood figures petitioned US Congress to overturn the iniquitous ideological witch-hunt of liberal and progressive Americans in the film industry. Hunt was also active during WWII in the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League.

Consequently she was ‘outed’ by the McCarthyists in ‘Red Channels’ (a right wing publication blacklisting suspected ‘subversives’ in the arts and media) and her burgeoning film career suffered accordingly❀. Hunt was a gifted actor, and an accomplished singer. She was also the composer of about 50 songs including one she wrote in the early 1960s, ahead of its time, on the subject of same sex equality in love and marriage – later a hit in the US in the 1980s.

In 1944 she was voted one of the Hollywood ‘Stars of Tomorrow’. However, like others in the industry who refused to recant their earnestly-held political convictions, roles for Hunt dried up. First she was relegated to B movies, then not even that and her film career was effectively over by the time she was 40. From the ’50s, Hunt, like many other Hollywooders including Ronald Reagan (180 degrees apart from her politically) found TV work her only reliable source of income and expression.

Marsha Hunt, friend to all Democratic presidents from FDR on, is still very much a social activist in life, taking a keen interest in crucial global issues such as pollution, poverty, peace and population growth. Hunt has never lacked for courage or for determination in anything she has done. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. The 2014 film documentary, Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity, illustrates the 60-plus years (and ongoing) of active international work (world hunger campaigns, a staunch supporter of the United Nations, UNICEF and other UN humanitarian projects, etc) by a woman known to admirers as a “Planet Patriot“.

MH at 95
Today despite her great chronological seniority she is as committed to and active in the causes of ordinary people as she ever was! Marsha is still in her own principled way making a difference for the planet. Marsha Hunt, talented actor, indefatigable activist, world citizen, a refined woman of principles, a great humanitarian and advocate for universal civil rights – a truly great American.

⌺ Hunt is the only surviving member of the Committee for the First Amendment
❀ whilst other, more illustrious Hollywood liberals abjectly backed down in the onslaught of HUAC bullying, Hunt was one of the very few ‘Tinseltown’ stars to put her film career on the line by refusing to apologise for her support of the blacklisted ‘Ten’ and for her role in progressive activist causes.