September 12th 2015


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Arab world must help fix Syria and Libya crises

FAMILY AND SOCIETY They don't want diversity but to impose conformity

CANBERRA OBSERVED Young Nats jump aboard generational juggernaut

TRADE UNIONS Why royal commissioner declined to step down

RESEARCH Spin on the contraceptive pill a bit hard to swallow

LIFE ISSUES Singer escapes Fisher's net in euthanasia debate

HISTORY OF INDONESIA Suharto's "New Order" a period of stability

CULTURE Academic centres turn on Western civilisation

FAMILY LIFE A father's presence in the home: part II

OBITUARY Historian Robert Conquest documented the horrors of Stalinism

PUBLIC HEALTH UN knows: harm reduction does not reduce harm

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Witness to Marriage Day, August 1

CINEMA On the rough road away from loneliness: Last Cab to Darwin

BOOK REVIEW Good science, specious argumentation

LETTERS

The coup against Tony Abbott

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LETTERS




News Weekly, September 12, 2015

B.A. memoir in review

Sir,

I refer to your review of my book, Santamaria: A Most Unusual Man – titled “An important biography of B.A.” – which was published in News Weekly dated August 29, 2015.

I would like to draw your attention to an incorrect comment in the early paragraphs of your review, where you write: “Gerard Henderson’s biography of B.A. Santamaria has had a long gestation. In his acknowledgements, the author writes that a publisher commissioned him to write a biography of Bob Santamaria shortly after his death in 1998, and he began work on it immediately. ...

“Gerard contacted me a short time after Bob Santamaria died, asking if I would make available the NCC’s records for the biography. I responded that I thought it was too early for that. I did not hear from him again.

“Gerard has written a highly personal memoir of Bob Santamaria, based on the papers of the NCC which he accessed when employed by the organisation in the early 1970s, and on interviews with many of Santamaria’s former associates. This gives the biography an interesting and revealing character.”

The fact is that I did not ask you to “make available the NCC’s records” for the biography. At that time, I had all the documents I needed. Rather, I requested an interview with you about B.A. Santamaria. This is what I wrote in my letter of June 9, 1998 (which was sent by fax):

“Dear Peter,

“I have been commissioned … to write a biography of the late B.A. Santamaria. The task is a private one and will be undertaken at night and over weekends. There is no particular time limit. However, I am anxious to do the basic research (interviews, etc) as soon as possible. Hence this letter.

“I do not intend turning the biography into a work of hagiography. Nor do I intend writing a put-down. Neither style would serve any useful purpose. What I have in mind is a study which assesses Bob Santamaria’s strengths and weaknesses – and analyses where he succeeded and where he failed. Above all, the intention is to be accurate and fair.

“The aim is to talk with those who knew Mr Santamaria well – friends, associates and critics alike. Large slabs of such conversations will be included in the book so that readers will be presented with a number of interpretations of Bob Santamaria. Not just mine.

“It would be good to talk with you – both as someone who knew BAS well from a young age and as his successor as president of the National Civic Council. I am especially interested in your interpretation of the NCC split of 1980-83. It is my intention to document both sides of this division.

“I travel to Melbourne fairly regularly. I understand that you are very busy right now. However, if you have 45 minutes for an interview, this would be much appreciated. I will give your office a call to check on your availability. By the way, I would be happy to provide any extracts from interviews to be forwarded to you for fact checking prior to publication in the biography.”

On June 10, 1998, you sent the following letter to me:

“Dear Gerard,

“Thank you for your fax.

“I am not inclined to be interviewed on this matter at present. No doubt, biographies of Bob Santamaria will be published; I can only hope that they will be well written, researched and fair.

“Good luck in your enterprise.

“Yours sincerely,

“Peter Westmore”

As the 1998 correspondence makes clear, I wanted to interview BAS’s “friends, associates and critics alike” in order to give as fair an assessment as possible of my subject. It is a matter of record that Santamaria’s associates and critics agreed to be interviewed for the biography. However, all his friends – whom I asked – declined.

In addition to yourself, the following friends of Bob Santamaria declined to be interviewed: Bob O’Connell (Sydney), Brian Mullins (Brisbane), Bob Billings, Hugh Slattery and Brendan Rodway.

No one, yourself included, advised that they would agree to an interview some time in the future. In view of the refusal of BAS’s friends to talk to me, I placed detailed quotes from BAS in the book explaining his opinions and activities – in order to balance the views of his associates and, especially, his critics.

Moreover, your comment that Santamaria: A Most Unusual Man is “based on the papers of the NCC which he [Henderson] assessed when employed by the organisation in the early 1970s and on interviews of many of Santamaria’s former associates” is also inaccurate. I collected a vast amount of material after I ceased to have any involvement with the NCC four decades ago. Also, I made extensive use of the Santamaria Papers which the Santamaria Family placed in the State Library of Victoria in 2006 – as well as my own extensive personal papers and library.

I did in 2015 what I said I would do in 1998: that is, I wrote a book which was accurate and fair. It’s a pity that you and other friends of BAS declined to have your views recorded in the biography. But all I could do was ask – which I did.

Gerard Henderson

 

Three observations

Sir,

Peter Westmore’s review of Santa-maria: A Most Unusual Man elucidates some of the lacuna in the biography, but three major aspects are still missing.

One, Bob’s and the NCC’s contribution to retaining the US Alliance is not mentioned. If the NCC and DLP had not opposed the anti-American drive within the ALP, led by Jim Cairns and the left-wing unions, Australia would have found itself in the same position as New Zealand, who tore up the Anzus treaty. Without a nuclear umbrella we would have been subjected to greater pressure from both China and Russia. Bob’s analysis of our strategic situation was universally recognised as without peer.

Two, the work of the NCC for Church and state has been acknowledged by such luminaries as Cardinal George Pell, Sir Charles Court and John Howard. In a conversation in 1991 in Canberra between Sir Charles and Bruce Ruxton I heard one say to the other that if Bob’s name had been Jones he would have been PM of Australia.

Three, 17 years after Bob’s death the NCC continues to function despite having to share public support with groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby and Family First, some of whose members in the past were involved with the Movement. If the fight for the preservation of marriage is won, it will be in large measure due to the 10-year struggle the AFA/NCC has waged.

John R. Barich,

Claremont, WA




























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