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Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Page: 2837

Mr LAMING (4:20 PM) —I would like to take this opportunity in the debate on the address-in-reply to the Governor-General’s speech on the legislative agenda for this term to highlight a unique part of Australian political history—in fact, the nexus of two very important events, one well known in Queensland and one completely unknown, I think, until my address today. Of course, with all fascinating stories about political history there is a plot, a character and a context. In this context, it is Cape York, one of the most remote parts of this country, a place of extraordinary natural beauty but also isolation, colourful characters and a fascinating potential for ecotourism and, in the areas around Cape Tribulation, the home of the Kuku Yalanji people. The context is that I was visiting a new establishment, the finest restaurant between Cairns and Hong Kong, some have argued—apologies to Port Douglas: Whet Restaurant, which is run by two young and extraordinary individuals, Michelle and Matt Wenden, at 1 Cape Tribulation Road, Cape Tribulation.

It was there that I had a chance meeting with Mr Patrick Shears, a man who many in Queensland will know was part of the foxtail palm controversy back in 1994. It was the topic of a Four Corners episode in April of that year. He was the lead character, an unwitting parks ranger for the Cape York region who stumbled upon four-wheel drives and armed individuals allegedly harvesting foxtail palm seeds worth between $5 and $6 each on the black market. Very cleverly, as a former Vietnam veteran, he waited until they were away from their cars and actually drove away with their four-wheel drives, leaving them completely stranded with their foxtail palms and no way of getting out. Later, when asked how exactly he stole their cars, he said, ‘The keys were in the ignition’—so little did they expect to find a Vietnam vet and barefooted park ranger who would manage to leave them completely stranded.

Of course, Pat’s fate from that event was sealed and the subject of a documentary. What is lesser known from that Cape Melville affair is that Pat Shears to this day remains in Cape Tribulation helping out tourists, offering hospitality and looking after stations and other areas when requested or required by locals who need a break in some of the most remote parts of Australia. Typically, when Mr Shears is there, he will say: ‘What else can I check out for you? What’s going on? Is there anything suspicious or unusual?’

Among his stories is that one of the caves has the remnants of Portuguese explorers from the 17th century, including body armour—remnants deep in a cave which have been found and to this date remain in a secret location known only to a few Indigenous elders. There is hope that this important part of Australian history can one day be revealed.

But the other fascinating part of history that I would like to elaborate upon today is known as Communist Cave. This is like some sort of mystery novel—a place out the back of Townsville, the other side of Hidden Valley. The story begins in 1939, when there was a non-aggression pact signed between then Nazi Germany and Russia. That neutrality treaty resulted in the federal minister for information in Australia in 1940 announcing a total ban on a range of communist publications—the Tribune, the Communist Review, the Militant and the Red Star, among others. On 5 June 1940, after the fall of Paris, the Communist Party of Australia was declared illegal under the National Security (Subversive Associations) Regulations. As a consequence of this, clandestine printing operations were set up all around Australia. One of these was outside Townsville—no easy matter to do in those days. Printing presses were large and cumbersome items and these were carried on donkey right up deep into ravines, with them often having to backtrack to conceal their location. Sure enough, in 1940 a printing press was in operation in Thunderbolt Creek, just to the west of Mount Zero Station. It was used to print communist propaganda that was distributed around Townsville and to the tin miners, who numbered many hundreds in those days. There was a community of 200 Communist Party members in Hidden Valley at the time. The newspaper was actually titled the Spark, and of course it was a two-hour horse ride to bring these hand-printed newsletter and newspapers back to Townsville and secretly distribute them.

History, as it often does, turned again and, with the invasion of the Soviet Union by Germany in 1941 and Stalin turning to the West for help, the relationship with the communists changed somewhat and the ban on the Australian Communist Party was lifted; hence all printing ceased. All that activity stopped for nearly nine years until again, under Prime Minister Menzies, the communist dissolution bill was introduced. Again the printing started and, once again, when the referendum was defeated, printing stopped again.

Far be it from me to suggest that Communist Cave could be a great place for the Labor Party to do some branch building. If you do go back there you will be greeted not so much by hospitality or even a printing press, which appears to have disappeared, but by a hammer and sickle painted on the roof of the cave, as well as beds, mattresses, personal possessions, lamps, cooking utensils and rusting cans and bottles. It really is a faded reminder of turbulent years past and of Australia’s just as turbulent relationship with the Communist Party. This cave was found by Mr Patrick Shears after the recommendations of locals. It probably would have remained nothing more than rumour had it not been for his extraordinary determination to locate it. He even had—which he had hoped to keep secret—the locations written out by hand, and I have that here. I will be giving that to the Australian Museum.

There is a lesson. We have some extraordinary Australians who are doing incredible things. Parts of history just like this—and there are rumours around Cape York of many other fabulous and fantastic things yet to be uncovered—deserve to be remembered, recalled and recorded, as should the great work of Patrick Shears in that part of the world.