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Go to the documents: address to the National Bi-Annual Postgraduate History Conference, Copland Theatre, University of Melbourne, 20 July 2001



University of Melbourne

 Go to the Documents: Address by the Hon. E.G. Whitlam AC QC  


National Bi-annual Postgraduate History Conference 

Copland Theatre, University of Melbourne, 

Friday 20 July 2001 







It is a great pleasure and honour for me to be asked to give this address at the University of Melbourne. I was born in Melbourne in 1916. My father was granted an LL.B in 1914. His brother, a B.Com in 1927 and a BA in 1928, was a pioneer lecturer in marketing from 1930 to 1964. In 1994 the University received his bequest of $1.4 million to provide scholarships in the faculty of Economics and Commerce. My sister was granted her first degree through the Canberra University College affiliated with the University. I was precluded from attending the University because my father, as an officer of the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor¹s office, took me to Sydney in 1919 and to Canberra in 1928.


So you see, ladies and gentlemen, why I am able to adapt the remarks of another politician turned historian, addressing the Congress of the United States in 1942. If the fates had been otherwise, Winston Churchill said, I might have got here tonight in my own right. I share Churchill's prediction and prescription about his place in history. I am confident of the verdict of history, the more so because I intend to continue to write it myself.


I take it as a given that our common ground tonight is a love of Australian history. I take it as a second given that unpalatable truths will not diminish, but rather enrich, our common commitment to the research, the writing, the reading and the understanding of Australian history. I cannot, for instance, for the life of me understand why the quest for the truth about the impact upon the indigenous people by our European invasion and occupation should be dismissed as the black armband view of our history. Nor can I find an easy answer to the crucial question posed by Robert Manne of Monash about the current debate: why is it that such tremendous energy is being spent in denying that terrible injustices and terrible wrongs have been done?


Part of the answer lies, I believe, in the way in which the Aborigines were simply written out of modern Australian history, in the same way and for the same reason they were written out of the Australian Constitution. Take my own generation. Sure, we were taught at school something about the explorers, but except for the more dramatic role of individual Aborigines in expeditions like those of Eyre across the Bight and Kennedy in North Queensland, the crucial role of Aborigines in all the great expeditions was obliterated. The thrice re-sited monument to Burke and Wills, now in Swanston Street, should bear the inscription: "They perished by their sense of superiority in refusing Aboriginal assistance."


What happened in Australian history, or rather, Australian historiography, I suggest, is this: the Australian Aborigines were written out of the story, and out of the Constitution, because of the almost universal expectation, and in some quarters the hope, that they were being written out of existence. It is the stubborn refusal of the Aboriginal people to comply with those expectations, their refusal to disappear, which is now forcing us to make this, for some, agonising re-appraisal of our common history.


I make another point: these things were, and are, a matter of record, the contemporary record contained in the documents of the time. The best history will always be based on the documents. For example, in the 1990s, after Mabo, there was an attempt to argue that the squatters who spearheaded the spread of our occupation did not really understand that they were dispossessing anybody in terra nullius. The truth is that they understood it very well. All the contemporary documents, official, press, and private, show abundantly that everybody understood that we were engaged in one of the largest land appropriations in history and that everybody understood the consequences of what we were doing. For example, the Select Committee of the House of Commons on aborigines in 1837 stated:


In the recollection of many living men, every part of this territory, of New South Wales and the Port Phillip district, was the property of the aborigines.


Why in 2001 should we be so reluctant to acknowledge facts officially accepted and recorded as early as 1837? Go to the documents.


Australia is the best documented nation in the world. That is the very condition of our existence from the beginning of the British foundation. For Australian historians, going to the documents is not only a discipline; it is an immense opportunity. Many prospective PhDs approach me for personal interviews; but there are really no new insights or secrets to be obtained tête à tête. It's all there in the record. Go to the documents.


My emphasis on the documents is, of course, in the tradition of historiography established by the great German historian, Leopold von Ranke. I recall that in 1966, when the ALP Federal Executive was deliberating upon my expulsion from the Labor Party, my predecessor as Leader, the MP for Melbourne, Arthur Calwell, was observed in close study of Ranke's Lives of the Popes. However that may be, it is in the context of the discipline of documentation that I offer a few observations on past and contemporary history. I make two pleas: go to the documents, check the chronology.


The celebrations of the Centenary of Federation in London and Australia have produced valuable insights and information. Historians, many from this University, made a notable contribution. There was, however, some oratorical triumphalism that Australia's political progress had been entirely peaceful. Few dared to mention that Australians had to fight, on occasions, against taxation without representation. My great-grandfather, Henry George Whitlam, was appointed in the year after Eureka to conduct the election for the Castlemaine Boroughs in the first Victorian Legislative Assembly. The Victorian Parliament then enacted a second demand made by the Eureka diggers: the secret ballot. My abiding interest in electoral reform may be said to be hereditary. Again, on 17 December 1918 a thousand workers marched from Vestey's meatworks in Darwin to Government House under the slogan "No taxation without representation" to demand the departure of the Administrator, Dr Gilruth. The Hughes Government sent HMAS Endeavour, a cruiser of 5880 tons with 11 6" guns, to rescue him on 20 February. On 19 October the judge and senior officials were deported on a merchant ship. After a royal commission the residents of the Northern Territory, other than Aborigines, were given a member in the House of Representatives. (The Territory was part of South Australia from 1863 till 1911; all men, including Aborigines, had votes and, from 1896, all women had votes.) A leader of the march on Government House, Harold George Nelson, was elected as the first member in December 1922. He was not allowed to vote except on ordinances concerning his Territory alone.


During the most recent debate on the Republic, historians might have been more outspoken in correcting the blunders of lawyers. They could, for example, have helped to correct two highly placed law graduates from my University, Handley and Flint. Justice Ken Handley, a senior NSW Judge of Appeal and currently a judge of the Fiji Court of Appeal, declared:


Ignorance of the model on offer was staggering. Members of the judiciary and the Bar did not know a few weeks before polling that the Prime Minister could summarily dismiss the President.


David Flint, the first Dean of Law at the University of Technology Sydney and the National Convenor of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, declared:


The worst feature is that the President, who is surely there to protect the constitutional process, is to hold office at the whim of the Prime Minister.


Why did they not acknowledge that under the Constitution as it stands the Prime Minister can summarily dismiss and replace the Governor-General? All he has to do is to advise the Queen to appoint another person as Governor-General. A vice-regal commission never mentions a period for the appointment. As the years pass and circumstances change, the same or another Prime Minister advises the Queen on the next person to be appointed as Governor-General. In the same way, Premiers advise the Queen on the persons to be appointed as Governors. The Prime Minister and Premiers need not consult anybody and rarely do. From Queen Victoria to Queen Elizabeth II every vice-regal commission has appointed a named person to be, "during Our Pleasure, Our Governor-General/Governor". Every commission has stated that "Our present Commission shall supersede Our Commission appointing" the person named in the previous commission. Handley and Flint had either not read or did not understand the texts of vice-regal commissions. Either way, their intervention was incompetent. Victorians know that talk of five-year terms is nonsense. One Governor was in office from July 1939 to February 1949, another from October 1949 to May 1963, a third from May 1963 to May 1974; one of them went home with a large number of paintings from the National Gallery of Victoria.


Even H.V. Evatt, the most academically distinguished person to sit in an Australian Parliament, failed to quote vice-regal commissions and proclamations in his works on the "recall" of NSW Governor Strickland during World War I. Evatt, of course, was equally distinguished as a lawyer and an historian. Strickland's successor Davidson proved as pompous as Strickland. In a private letter sent to Freda Dudley Ward from Sydney in 1921 and published in London in 1998 Edward Prince of Wales summed up Sir Walter and Lady Davidson:


No wonder the dominions get fed up with the old country and want to abolish all imperial governors if the Colonial Office will insist on sending out such hopeless boobs.


He wrote that on his return home he intended to tell the Prime Minister:


what a lot of harm is done throughout the empire by the rotten governors they appoint who are nearly always pompous duds whom they don't want in London.


In the next phase of the republican debate, I trust that the historians will take a lead in describing the long, fascinating and relevant story of Australia's relations with the Crown and the Imperial Government. In the years immediately after World War I, Australia, Canada and New Zealand were confronted with the need to adjust their relations with the Crown. Communications between the British and Dominion Governments still passed through the Governors-General. In 1920 Turkey had ceded Smyrna to Greece and allowed the League of Nations to administer the Dardanelles. Winston Churchill remained obsessed with the Dardanelles. British Prime Minister Lloyd George sympathised with the invasion of Turkey by King Constantine of Greece, Kaiser Wilhelm's brother-in-law. Kemal Atatürk, the hero of Gallipoli, drove the Greeks back and on Saturday 9 September 1922 captured Smyrna. On the following Friday at 11.30 p.m. Lloyd George sent cables penned by Churchill to the Governors-General of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Newfoundland seeking troops to support the British garrison in Chanak at the gateway to the Dardanelles. The responses varied with the time zones. In Ottawa the Governor-General, Lord Byng, gave a decoded copy to Prime Minister Mackenzie King, who summarily rejected the proposal. In Wellington, at a dinner party on Saturday night in Government House, the Governor-General, Viscount Jellicoe, gave a decoded copy to Prime Minister Massey, who promptly agreed with it. In Melbourne the cable reached the Governor-General, Lord Forster, at Government House at 12.20 p.m. on Saturday. A decoded copy was delivered to Prime Minister Hughes at Sassafras at 5 p.m. on Sunday. Churchill released the text to the London papers too late for their Sunday editions but forgot the difference in Dominion time zones. Hughes learned of the cable before he received the decoded copy of it. He wrote a blistering letter to Lloyd George. As a direct result of Chanak, the British Tories deposed Lloyd George. At the subsequent elections Churchill lost his seat. Hughes was deposed by the Country Party in February 1923.


In 1926 the Imperial Conference decided that the Dominion Prime Ministers should communicate directly with the British Prime Minister and could advise the King on the appointment of Governors-General. Australian Prime Ministers in 1931 and 1947 and since 1965 have advised Kings George V and VI and Queen Elizabeth II to appoint residents of Australia as Governors-General. In August 1946 Viscount Addison, Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in the Attlee Government, proposed to advise King George VI to appoint the King's brother-in-law ­ the brother of the present Queen Mother ­ as Governor of NSW. Lord Addison wrote to the Acting Governor, Sir Frederick Jordan, Chief Justice, expressing "sincerely, the hope that the honour of having the Queen's brother as Governor of your State is one that would greatly appeal" to the Labor Government of New South Wales. Premier McKell had the greatest difficulty in persuading him to appoint General John Northcott, the Commander-in-Chief of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan. Thereafter State Governors were chosen by State Governments but the appointments were formally recommended to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II by the British Secretary for Dominion, and later Commonwealth, Affairs. Since the Australia Act came into operation on 3 March 1986, the Governor of each Australian State has been appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Premier of the State.


I need not remind you that two other graduates from the University of Sydney were responsible for the coup d'etat of 11 November 1975. It is enough to say that their judgments as Chief Justice of Australia and Chief Justice of NSW are no longer quoted in the courts. My Government never lost a case in the High Court but Barwick often held up the judgments. He absented himself from working on a pile of judgments for seven weeks in July and August 1975 in order to sit on a tax appeal to the Privy Council from the New Zealand Court of Appeal. He wanted to get broader support for his theories on tax avoidance. With Barwick property always took priority over propriety.


I should quote recent views on Sir John Kerr's failure to warn me or consult the Queen. In his 1999 book Things You Learn along the Way, John Menadue, who was the Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department from 1974 to November 1976, wrote:


The Palace was not amused by what Kerr had done. I learned of this later from a note from Tim McDonald, the Official Secretary at Australia House, London, who relayed to me a discussion he had had with Sir Martin Charteris, who was personal secretary and political adviser to the Queen at the time. The discussion that McDonald had with Charteris was within a few weeks of the dismissal. Commenting on the Whitlam dismissal, Charteris said to McDonald that "the Palace shared the view that Kerr acted prematurely. If faced with a constitutional crisis which appeared likely to involve the Head of State, my advice would have been that [the Queen] should only intervene when a clear sense of inevitability had developed in the public that she must act. This had been Kerr's mistake". A clear sense of inevitability had not been arrived at.


In his Centenary of Federation articles and interviews Paul Kelly has quoted the similar views expressed by Sir William Heseltine, who was the Queen's assistant private secretary at the time.


Sir Maurice Byers, the great Solicitor-General, has condemned Kerr's plea of "reserve powers" in a powerful interview published in Millennium Dilemma (University of Wollongong, 2000):


I would say now, having a long life of reflection, that the reserve powers are a fiction. They don't exist. I've refrained from saying so in the advice I gave to the Governor-General at Gough Whitlam's suggestion in 1975. But it seems to me that the reason why the reserve powers can't exist is that you can't have an autocratic power which is destructive of the authority granted to the people. They just can't coexist. Therefore you can't have a reserve power because you are saying "the Governor-General can override the people's choice". That's really what you're saying. And that's nonsense. I should have been more explicit and said "reserve powers are nonsense".


It is often forgotten that I had agreed to Kerr's request that he be allowed to discuss the supply crisis with the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser. Sir Clarrie Harders, secretary of the Attorney-General's Department (1970-79), has condemned Kerr's conduct in a comprehensive interview for the Oral History Collection at the National Library of Australia:


Peremptorily handing Mr Whitlam a letter [of dismissal] but giving at the very least a broad hint that things would be okay pretty soon for Mr Fraser Š was not excusable. Sir John should have taken his courage in his hands and had it out with Mr Whitlam before 11 November.


On 9 April 1991 the House of Representatives passed motions of condolence to the families of Kerr and Viscount De L'Isle, the last Governor-General who was not a resident of Australia when he was appointed. De L'Isle was a V.C. and Kerr was a coward. Paul Keating, the Deputy Prime Minister who was soon to displace Prime Minister Hawke and destroy the Leader of the Opposition, John Hewson, delivered the verdict on Kerr:


He deceived his Prime Minister. He did not tell him he was prepared to sack him Š [Kerr] was a person of substance. But, in the end, one has to follow that substance with integrity.


In my most recent book, Abiding Interests, I had to correct Sir Garfield Barwick's interview for the Oral History Collection at the National Library. Obviously, the Collection and oral history generally have come to be regarded as important documentary resources. I still advise caution. Much of what passes for oral history is no more than malice recollected in tranquillity. Barwick, a great advocate, a poor politician and a bad judge, regurgitated the Liberal propaganda that Murphy and I had accepted the Senate's power to reject or stall appropriation bills. Barwick's contention depends on the notorious list of bills foisted by the ambitious Clerk of the Senate on Murphy in June 1970. The list includes two bills to increase post and telegraph charges which the ALP combined with the DLP to reject in the first half of 1967. When the charges were reintroduced in one of the Budget bills in August 1967, the ALP did not vote against them in either House. During the Budget session of 1970 the ALP voted in the House of Representatives against the second reading but not the final reading of the key Appropriation Bill (No.1) and in the Senate against the final reading but not the second reading. The Caucus corrected these errors in the 1971 and 1972 Budget sessions, when the ALP did not vote against the Appropriation Bills in either House.


I am quoting chapter and verse for my assertions in this address. Historians should check stories in the media with contemporary official records. It is with a heavy heart that I have had to write E&OE when autographing Ross McMullin's deservedly popular The Light on the Hill. He opined that my "relationship with Murphy was a factor in the latter's exclusion from the temporary administration in December 1972." Here are the facts. Harders arranged with Hasluck to have only two ministers appointed on 5 December to the Federal Executive Council, which has always had a quorum of three. If three or more ministers had been appointed they could have appointed one of themselves as Vice-President of the Council and thus have sidetracked Hasluck. Hasluck agreed that we could immediately implement all our election commitments which did not require legislation. If he thought that Barnard and I were exceeding our commitments he could thwart us by walking out of the Council and leaving it without a quorum.


Ross also alleged that I wore "dashing white tie and tails at a parliamentary reception for the Queen during her first visit to Australia". This was a fabrication by a journalist who was defeated by me for Deputy Leader and who moonlighted with gossip for Lang's Century, which was edited by a psychopath on Evatt's staff.


When I was first approached to give this address, it was proposed that I should give it in the Public Lecture Theatre. It was there that B.A. Santamaria, a brilliant graduate of this university, first came to public notice as one of the three protagonists of Franco in a notorious debate on the Spanish civil war on 22 March 1937. I was looking forward to tracing his malign influence on Australian foreign policy. Some of those present at his address were in the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party when I was elected to it. With the assistance of Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany Franco achieved a complete victory on 1 April 1939. He died on 20 November 1975. His funeral was attended by only one Head of State, Augusto Pinochet of Chile, and by the wife of another, Imelda Marcos of the Philippines.


I came under Santamaria's scrutiny for my views on China, not Spain. He strongly supported the United States in the First Crusade against China. He made regular visits to Richard Casey when he was Minister for External Affairs (1951-60) in the Menzies Government. No records were made of their discussions. In August 1954 I was the first member of the Parliament to urge Australian recognition of the Government in China. Santamaria promptly took me to task. Four months earlier Casey had taken me to task for questioning the US decision to intervene in Viet Nam. Santamaria remained the most determined supporter of the US crusade against Viet Nam but had less influence and access under Casey's successors.


I should acknowledge that Santamaria foretold the Menzies Government's first reverse in the post-imperial Pacific. In November 1959 he told Sir Frank Packer's hatchetman, Alan Reid:


If America feels that in the end she can get an anti-communist Indonesia by the gift of West New Guinea, she will use her pressures in that direction.


In September 1961 Menzies invited Robert Kennedy, President Kennedy's brother, to visit Australia after the visit that he was intending to make to Indonesia in January 1962; Kennedy replied that it would not be possible. On 27 November the US and Australia supported two UN General Assembly resolutions concerning Netherlands New Guinea. Both failed to secure the necessary two-thirds majority; no Asian country supported them. At the elections on 9 December 1961 the Menzies Government defeated the ALP Opposition led by Calwell by a single seat. On 11 December the US Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, Averell Harriman, told the Australian Ambassador, Howard Beale, that the US would no longer support the Menzies Government's position on Netherlands New Guinea. On 22 December Menzies appointed Barwick as Minister for External Affairs. On 12 January 1962 Barwick told Cabinet that the Dutch inevitably must go. In mid-January Calwell, without consulting anyone in the ALP, was inspired by the Sydney Morning Herald to compare President Sukarno's sabre-rattling with Hitler's before Munich. At the same time Robert Kennedy was meeting Sukarno and addressing university students in Jakarta and central Java. In his book, Just Friends and Brave Enemies (Harper & Row, 1962), Kennedy recalls the evening at Sukarno's palace where he and his party enjoyed the private dance exhibition given by the President's "fourteen-year-old daughter, Megawati, a lovely and talented girl". On 1 May 1963 Netherlands New Guinea was transferred to Indonesian administration. After his bellicose bombast Calwell was never a threat to Menzies. At the elections on 30 November 1963 Menzies regained ten of the seats Calwell and I had won in 1961.


In April 1971 Santamaria resumed his attacks on me after a meeting of the ALP Federal Executive. On the suggestion of the Federal Secretary, Mick Young, I cabled Premier Zhou Enlai suggesting a visit to China by an ALP delegation for discussion on "matters of mutual concern". On 10 May I received an invitation from the People's Institute of Foreign Affairs inviting us to come to China and discuss issues relating to the two countries. I was to be the first Australian political leader to visit the People's Republic of China. Santamaria pontificated "Australia has gained a Chinese candidate, if not a Manchurian candidate, for the Prime Ministership".


A month later the foundations of America's policies on China and Viet Nam were undermined. On 13 June The New York Times began to publish the Pentagon Papers leaked by Daniel Ellsberg. They were the massive documents concerning US policy on Viet Nam prepared for President Johnson's Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, a damning demonstration of demolition by documentation. Tom Burns, the Federal President, Young and I arranged to take Stephen FitzGerald, a research fellow at the Australian National University, and Rex Patterson MP, the shadow minister for agriculture, with us to China. My press secretary, Graham Freudenberg, left to make arrangements with the PRC representative in Hong Kong for the formidable press contingent which might accompany us. We arrived in Beijing on 4 July with Alan Barnes (The Age), David Barnett (Australian Associated Press), Philip Koch (Australian Broadcasting Commission), Laurie Oakes (Herald and Weekly Times group), Eric Walsh (News Ltd.) and John Stubbs (Sydney Morning Herald). Barnett, an accomplished shorthand writer, provided a complete transcript of my interview with Zhou Enlai in the Great Hall of the People on 5 July, a basic document in Australian foreign policy; he ended up as the biographer of John Howard and the censor of the National Museum.


On 11 July Zhou Enlai sent a cake for my 55th birthday at the Peace Hotel in Shanghai. On the morning of 16 July (Australian time) President Nixon announced that Kissinger had arranged with Zhou Enlai for Nixon to visit Beijing. Kissinger's party had arrived in Beijing six days after mine and left Beijing one day before mine left China. Kissinger's own record indicates that his party was popping champagne over the Himalayas at exactly the same moment my party was gratefully consuming Zhou Enlai's cake in Shanghai.


Santamaria's fellow protagonist for Franco in the 1937 debate, Kevin Kelly, was sent by the Gorton Government at the end of 1970 to Lisbon as Australia's first resident ambassador. Kelly was surprised by the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon on 25 April 1974. He was replaced in August. Even Santamaria never contemplated a crusade in East Timor. Nor did the Pope. In his 44th International Pastoral Visit to the Republic of Korea, Indonesia and Mauritius John Paul II spent half a day, 4 October 1984, in East Timor. He did not accept Portugal's pleas that he should kiss the ground on his arrival, as he customarily did on arriving in any new or separate country for the first time.


There is no matter on which the historian's discipline of documentation is more essential than East Timor. Much of post-1999 recrimination springs from ignorance or wilful distortion of documents going back, not merely 25 years, but nearly 40 years. On 13 November 1995 Henry Kissinger was asked at a business luncheon in Sydney about his and President Ford's reaction when they were told at Jakarta airport on 6 December 1975 about the Indonesian landings which took place the following day. You will recall my government had been dismissed 25 days previously. Kissinger replied:


We didn't know much about East Timor. All we knew was that West Timor was Indonesian and that East Timor was Portuguese and that the Portuguese had already declared that they were leaving. When President Ford and I were leaving, the Indonesians told us at the airport that they were going to invade in the next few days. To us it looked like India taking Goa and it looked like the normal evolution of the end of colonial rule. It was also the year in which Viet Nam had collapsed and the Cubans were putting arms into Angola. We were not looking for a fight with Indonesia over a country we didn't know much about.


Under the 30-year rule correspondence between Menzies and the Portuguese dictator Salazar was available in the National Archives established by my Government. In a letter to Menzies on 1 March 1963 Salazar raised the possibility of an Australian dominion or condominium in Portuguese Timor. On 15 October 1963 Menzies replied:


Let me say that this is not a solution that we have ever contemplated or would contemplate. It is a solution which in my view would appeal neither to the Timorese nor the Australian people.


On 1 September 1975, after the Portuguese had abandoned the territory, a Portuguese minister called on me and revived the possibility of a condominium. I gave him the same answer that Menzies gave Salazar.


The Menzies-Salazar letters were included in the 186 page submission and additional information that I gave to the Senate Inquiry into East Timor. On the basis of a report by James Dunn, the Australian consul in Dili from January 1962, and submissions by Barwick the Menzies cabinet "accepted the view that in the current state of world opinion no practicable alternative to eventual Indonesian sovereignty over Portuguese Timor presented itself." Menzies forbade Barwick to brief the press. The Menzies, Holt, Gorton and McMahon Governments never raised the status of Timor in the Australian Parliament. In the United Nations they condoned the culpable neglect of the people of East Timor by the Portuguese State and the Catholic Church. After 8 December 1972 Australia voted against Portugal on all colonial issues.


Salazar and his successors took no steps to have an act of self-determination in any Portuguese colony. On 25 April 1974 the Armed Forces Movement overthrew the Government in Lisbon. The new Portuguese Government was committed to decolonisation. On 30 September I was the first Australian Prime Minister since Menzies to address the General Assembly of the United Nations. In the presence of the Australian, Indonesian and Portuguese Foreign Ministers I compared the situation in East Timor and Papua New Guinea:


There is a most satisfying symmetry in the march of events by which Portugal, the oldest, and Australia, the newest, of the colonial powers are acting at the same time towards the liquidation of colonialism. Across the distance of 400 years the new world in Australia clasps hands with the old in ending a false, demeaning, unworthy power over others.


If the spirit of 1974, and the rational expectations it embodied, had prevailed, how different the history of the past quarter of a century might have been.


The style of history favoured by politicians is biography or, even better, autobiography. My service as an RAAF navigator gave me some knowledge of the geography and topography of the eastern half of the Dutch East Indies, the island of New Guinea and islands adjacent to it and the Philippines. I also saw conditions on the ground near airports in the Dutch, Australian and American empires. India and the Philippines became original numbers of the UN and Pakistan, Burma and Indonesia followed in 1947, 1948 and 1950. The Menzies Government followed the lead of the UK and US in foreign policy. It floundered when the UK and US policies diverged. It was responsible for Australia's most disastrous actions in foreign policy when it followed the UK on Suez and the US on Viet Nam. It did not promote independence in any of the territories in the Indian and Pacific Oceans which were ruled by North Atlantic states. It was the ALP which urged and achieved self-government and independence for PNG. It was the ALP which urged independence for Viet Nam.


In writing of my Government's attitude to the Baltic and Balkan States too many writers and commentators are ignorant or oblivious of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe which met from 1973 to 1975. The Conference was attended by all 33 countries in Europe, except Albania, and by the US and Canada. On 1 August 1975 the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries signed the Helsinki Accords recognising the inviolability of the post-World War II frontiers in Europe.


One of the first fruits of the Helsinki Accords was the 1979 Unesco Convention on the Recognition of Studies, Diplomas and Degrees concerning Higher Education in the States belonging to the Europe Region. Before I was appointed as Australia's permanent delegate to Unesco in 1983, the Convention had been ratified by Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Israel, Finland, Russian Federation, Belarus, Ukraine, Holy See, Netherlands, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Denmark, Italy, Malta and San Marino. States outside the Europe Region could accede to the Convention when it had been ratified by at least 20 of the States within the Region. The UK became the 20th state to ratify in October 1985. Senator Susan Ryan, the Australian Minister for Education, had Australia accede to the Convention in August 1986. There are now 45 parties to the Convention. Canada ratified in 1990. The US has not ratified.


On 31 August 1990 the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic signed the terms for their political union. On 12 September the four Allied Powers signed their Final Settlement with Respect to Germany. On 14 November Germany and Poland signed a treaty accepting Germany's eastern boundaries as permanent. In 1991 the three Baltic States were admitted to the Conference and Russia assumed the seat held by the former Soviet Union. In 1992 the other Soviet republics and Albania became members. On 1 January 1995 the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe changed its name to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.


I was born two years after a Serbian nationalist's assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne led to the outbreak of World War I. I reached military age three months before King Alexander I of Yugoslavia was assassinated by an agent of Croatian terrorists. I developed an early interest in Balkan politics. The victors took great care in ascertaining the wishes of the inhabitants before settling the borders of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes after World War I and the borders of the Socialist Federal Republic after World War II. In 1992 Australia with sycophantic speed followed the US and UK in recognising former Yugoslav republics with the artificial frontiers which President Tito had defined for domestic purposes. There are many more Australians than Americans and Britons who know the intricate Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim histories of the former Yugoslav republics. British Prime Ministers before Margaret Thatcher had a general knowledge, and their Foreign Ministers had a thorough knowledge, of Balkan politics because the kings and queens of Greece, Romania and Yugoslavia were descended from Victoria and Albert, who were first cousins, and the tsars of Bulgaria were descended from a first cousin of Victoria and Albert. The Presidents and Secretaries of State in the US were not interested in Balkan politics before some of the countries adopted communism.


I should remind you of the relations between Albania and its neighbours. Albania broke away from the Ottoman Empire in 1912 and was admitted to the League of Nations in 1920. On 7 April 1939, Good Friday, Italian troops landed in Albania. On 13 April Vittorio Emanuele III, King of Italy and Emperor of Ethiopia, accepted the throne of Albania. On 20 October 1940 the Greek dictator Metaxas replied "No" to an ultimatum by Mussolini, who then ordered Italian troops based in Albania to invade Greece. In January 1941 the Greeks drove the Italians back into Albania. In March German troops crossed Bulgaria into Greece. In Vienna on 25 March Prince Regent Paul of Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany, Italy and Japan. On 27 March the armed forces declared the 17-year old King Peter II of age. He was Britain's and Australia's only ally in the continent of Europe. On 6 April, Palm Sunday, German bombers blitzed Belgrade killing 17,000 civilians. On 10 April the German army entered Zagreb and the fascist Ante Paveli_ proclaimed the Independent State of Croatia. German troops occupied Belgrade on 13 April and Athens on 27 April. By the end of the month Yugoslavia was dismembered. Germany and Italy divided Slovenia. Hungary and Bulgaria annexed adjacent Yugoslav provinces. Italy annexed Montenegro and several Dalmatian ports and islands and incorporated Kosovo in a Greater Albania. On 15 June Croatia adhered to the Tripartite Pact. In September 1943 Germany took over Greater Albania.


Meanwhile, Peter II, a descendant of Queen Victoria, took refuge in England. In 1944, at the Yugoslav Embassy in London, he married a Greek Princess who was also a descendant of Victoria. King George VI was his best man. Crown Prince Alexander was born in 1945 in Claridges Hotel in a room briefly declared Yugoslav territory. The future Queen Elizabeth II was his godmother. He was married in 1972 in Spain with Princess Anne as his principal witness.


The US and UK conducted an aerial blitz against Yugoslavia between 24 March and 10 June 1999. In April John Howard and Kim Beazley published messages celebrating the anniversary of the Paveli_ regime in April 1941. The state which the Keating Government recognised in January 1992 and which, since the death of Franjo Tudjman, has a relatively democratic President, celebrates its Statehood Day on 30 May. Australia's politicians have much to learn about the Balkans from the estimated 208,000 Australians born in the former Yugoslav republics and 140,000 Australians born in Greece. They won't get much guidance from the UK Government or the US Administration.


Australia's historians have to do much more reading and writing. I wish them well. There has seldom been a time when the work of the historians has had such practical and topical relevance. That is especially true for Australia and Australian historians. We will make better decisions on all the great issues of the day and for the century to come, if we better understand the past two centuries, in Australia, in our region and in the world. Our debt to the historians is already great. In the university of Scott, Serle, Blainey and Macintyre, I cannot forbear to pay my tribute to the greatest of them all, Manning Clark. I recall, in the context of my remarks tonight, his seminal work: Select Documents in Australian History 1788-1850. How monstrous it is that this passionate and compassionate Australian who first taught us the grand and universal themes of our history, however flawed, should now have his patriotism doubted, his genius denied and his life's work derided, not least by a person who was privileged to be his publisher through the great Melbourne University Press. Agree with him or not, all Australian historians now stand on Manning Clark's broad shoulders. He dedicated his life to trying to explain how we became what we are. Those who follow him can help us better understand what we may yet become.



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Created: 30 July, 2001

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