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Wednesday, 21 April 1999
Page: 4080


Senator LUNDY (7:30 PM) —This week a great Australian, Ric Throssell, passed away in very sad circumstances along with his dear wife—

Senator Chris Evans interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Lundy has the call and it is impossible for anyone to hear when people near to her are making a lot of noise.


Senator Chris Evans —I apologise, but if I get called `crooked' I usually respond to Senator O'Chee. I know he is trying to make a reputation as he leaves this place, but it is too late.


The PRESIDENT —Neither of you should be shouting across the chamber.


Senator LUNDY —It is a shame that more respect is not shown across the chamber at times. This week a great Australian, Ric Throssell, passed away in very sad circumstances along with his dear wife, Dorothy. Ric was known to most Australians as a novelist, and to Canberrans as a long time public servant. Even if Ric's service as a diplomat is not remembered by many, he deserves to be recognised for the loving literary portraits of his parents, Hugo Throssell, who was awarded the first VC at Gallipoli in 1915, and Katharine Susannah Prichard, who was one of Australia's most famous literary figures.

Ric was also closely associated with the Canberra Repertory Society as an actor, director and writer. His published plays, several of which have won awards, are Valleys of the Shadows, Devil Wear Black, Suburban Requiem and The Day Before Tomorrow. During the Second World War, Mr Throssell saw action in New Guinea. When writing his autobiography, My Father's Son, he vividly detailed the horrors of war. I quote:

The reality of war was different. It left no room for imagination. I had thought I could imagine what it would be like. The accounts of the hardships and heroism of men in battle in the papers at home had left me with vivid impressions of the horrors of war. I thought I knew.

It was not true! You had to be there.

No one could imagine the way war turned men into lumps of meat, the scrag-ends of flesh and offal in a butcher's rubbish bin; scraps for the dog. No one could know the tragic courage of men who faced that.

Having survived the horrors of the New Guinea campaign, Ric joined the Department of External Affairs, where he represented Australia in Moscow and Rio de Janeiro. But, unbeknown to Rick, even before he became a diplomat he was under surveillance by Australia's military intelligence.

As the son of one of Australia's pioneering communists, Katharine Susannah Prichard, security services had taken a special interest in the Throssell family and Ric was placed under surveillance by just about every security organisation possible—the CID, the CIB, Special Branch, Special Bureau, the Attorney-General's Department and ASIO. From all accounts it appears that in 1945 someone somewhere mentioned his left-leaning politics, and that this, combined with his mother's involvement with the Communist Party, made him a security risk.

Years later, when freedom of information files allowed Ric access to this information, the extent to which he was pursued, followed and hounded became apparent. Despite the witch-hunt, the security services could not find the `evidence' that they were looking for. Even the Petrov Royal Commission tried to besmirch him. All they achieved was spreading scandal and rumour with no evidence whatsoever.

Being the son of Katharine Susannah Prichard, a founding member of the Australian Communist Party, meant that a climate of fear and innuendo surrounded the family continuously. They were subjected to police raids and searches, telephone tapping, letter interceptions, document seizures and investigations carried out on their friends. Even though Ric was never a member of the Com munist Party—he was a member of the Labor Party—he was pursued by ASIO relentlessly.

In 1953 they decided to interview him at the Hotel Canberra, and I believe ASIO's report is worthy of inclusion in this contribution. ASIO reported that `his appearance was most unlike what one would expect from a member of the diplomatic corps. He wore a cheap, badly fitting pale blue suit and he was not wearing a black tie.' Even though Ric was a career diplomat held in the highest esteem by his colleagues, he was denied promotions because he was not allowed access to confidential documents as a result of the persecution. In 1989 he published his autobiography, entitled My Father's Son, which vividly and quite emotively recounted how even those closest to him were prepared to participate in rumour spreading and deceit.

There was, however, a much more entertaining and positive side to the life story of Ric Throssell. He authored a wonderful collection on the life and letters of his mother, called Wild Weeds and Wind Flowers. He also edited two books dedicated to his mother's literary career, Straight Left and Tribute. In April last year I was honoured and privileged to launch his novel entitled Tomorrow, along with a revised edition of My Father's Son. I spoke then about how his life had been one of tragedy, excitement and injustice. It was a life that was both inspirational and deeply frightening. At that launch, Ric paid tribute to his lawyer and to the Canberra Times, for recognising that he had been victimised by Australia's security services, as they had published part of his story.

I would like to conclude by remembering Ric Throssell's contribution to Australia, and in particular his wonderful literary talents. Today I took some time out to revisit My Father's Son and came across this delightful and very poetic description of his first arrival in Canberra during World War II. I quote:

It didn't look much like the nerve centre of a country. Solid suburban houses laid out with architectural symmetry behind neatly uniform hedges, low white blocks of government offices planted here and there. Parliament House posed for its picture between a fringe of nonchalant lemon-scented gums . . . even the blue swell of the Brindabella Ranges on the horizon seemed to have been painted as a Namatjira background to Canberra. The Molonglo trickled between poplars and willows.

I think this extract is a fitting tribute to a remarkable Australian who was persecuted for being suspected of holding different views and who enriched, throughout his life, the fabric of this nation with his outstanding contributions as a soldier, a diplomat and a writer. Indeed, in his final work, a literary work entitled Jackpot , Ric, oh so recently, has made another significant contribution to the social fabric of this country, detailing the challenges that so many Australians face with the personal tragedy associated with an addiction to gambling.

To Ric, someone I have known personally, albeit only so briefly, goodbye, and thank you for your contribution to this nation.