December 3rd 2016


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Anti-discrimination law validates Safe Schools

CANBERRA OBSERVED Triggs on the way out, but her weapon (18C) must go too

ANALYSIS What is possible to a Trump White House

EDITORIAL Trump portends the start of a new political era

EUTHANASIA Late-night reprieve in SA Parliament

EAST ASIAN AFFAIRS Taiwan and Japan look extinction in the face

SEXUAL POLITICS Victorian Liberals pledge to scrap Safe Schools

LAW AND SOCIETY No-fault divorce a tragedy of nuclear proportions

PARENTING Experts envisage lustrous future for infant graduates

POLITICAL HISTORY Folly with a touch of good sense: Colonel Sibthorp

ECONOMICS Trump as a symptom of the end of neoliberalism

MUSIC Vale Leonard: did we ever really understand you?

CINEMA Fantastical and beastly: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

BOOK REVIEW A Life well spent

BOOK REVIEW Catholic revisals

LETTERS

FOREIGN AFFAIRS How the left whitewashed Fidel Castro

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BOOK REVIEW
A Life well spent




News Weekly, December 3, 2016

HOME POLITICS TO WORLD TRADE

by Bill Barry

Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne
Paperback
Price: AUD$39.95

 

Reviewed by Jeffry Babb

 

The world Bill Barry grew up in is not our world. The tight-knit inner-city Irish-Australian communities were impoverished but they were sustained by two faiths: the Catholic Church and the Australian Labor Party. The ALP Split was like a death in the family. Bill Barry’s father, William Peter (“Bill”) Barry, led the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) in the Victorian Legislative Assembly after the ALP split in 1955.

Did anyone really expect that it would be almost a generation before the ALP regained power in Canberra, and even longer in Victoria? Probably not. And the Labor leaders, when the ALP regained power, were not self-educated men like Bill Barry and rough nuts like Arthur Calwell, but educated men like Gough Whitlam QC.

The sectarianism that bedeviled Australian society hardly exists any more. State aid for Catholic schools has done little except deliver the Catholic education system into the hands of an educational bureaucracy, with the consequence that it has little to differentiate it from the secular education system. As far as the great struggle for “state aid” is concerned, it is a battle that has been won and does not need to be fought over again.

This autobiography is part personal reflection and part history. As far as history is concerned, nothing is more significant than the Split of 1955. Labor had split before, in 1916 and 1931. John Murphy, in Evatt: A Life (NewSouth, 2016) says that the earlier splits, when a few leaders peeled off to the conservatives, were “as chips off a block”, whereas 1955 “fractured the rock entirely”.

The ALP was an engine of Irish-Australian working-class advancement. The ALP assisted the Irish-Australian working class to make inroads into the Protestant ascendency. Yet the Federal ALP leader at the time of the Split, Herbert Vere (“Doc”) Evatt, was neither Irish Catholic nor working class.

To the outsider, the affection, indeed love, that the rank and file of the ALP had for “The Doc” is mystifying. Perhaps it was that Evatt was a brilliant jurist, who had ascended to the bench of the High Court of Australia while he was still in his 30s; perhaps it was the fact that he threw in his lot with the ALP when few ambitious middle-class people did; perhaps it was just that he would “give it a go”.

Beyond reasonable doubt is the fact that Evatt started the process that led to the Split through his provocative moves to expel the Industrial Groups (“Groupers”) from the ALP. The Industrial Groups had been formed to remove the communists and their allies from the union movement. By 1955, the Groupers had almost succeeded. Evatt denounced the Victorian Groupers and the “malign influence” of the late B.A. (Bob) Santamaria, leader of the Movement.

Evatt has been described as “mad” even by his sympathisers. Numerous old Labor men tell stories of his eccentricities. Possibly, Evatt was suffering from an undiagnosed physical brain disorder. Following his retirement as Labor leader and appointment as chief justice of the New South Wales Supreme Court, Evatt suffered from a stroke and advancing dementia.

No goal or ambition was enough for Evatt; it seems likely that he saw the Groupers as a threat to his absolute dominance in the ALP. A more recent parallel is Kevin Rudd, a man of great gifts who could not carry his party with him.

It seems logical to infer that “Doc” Evatt was not, by nature, a political creature. His mind was more driven by legal rationalism than the logical contortions of practical politics. His statement to the House of Represen­tatives on October 19, 1955 – that he had been in communication with Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister and an Old Bolshevik, who had assured him that the disputed documents before the Petrov Royal Commission were forgeries – aroused stunned disbelief in the House.

Did Evatt “cause” the Split? Barry gives a detailed account of the 1955 Hobart Conference of the Federal ALP. The lack of due process at the conference caused controversy for years afterwards. Those involved in excluding the Grouper-aligned delegates included James Victor (“Vic “) Stout, a mover and shaker in the Victorian Trades Hall Council, who had turned against the Movement. Senator Patrick John (“Pat”) Kennelly was a legendary Victorian machine man and “fixer”. One of Kennelly’s most famous sayings was “you can have the arguments, brother, just as long as I’ve got the numbers”.

Clyde Cameron was a notable Australian Workers Union (AWU) organiser and later member of the House of Representatives (Hindmarsh, SA). Cameron and Santamaria, many years after the Split, became good friends. Cameron told Santamaria that the 1955 Hobart Conference was “fixed”. According to former coalminer John Thomas “Jack” Kane, later Senator for NSW (DLP), Western Australian delegate Kim Beazley (senior) quipped: “This is without precedent – a Federal Conference of the ALP held in the passageway of the Trades Hall and the police credentialing the delegates.”

According to Kane, as quoted by Barry, Francis Edward (“Joe”) Chamberlin from Perth was Evatt’s hatchet man on the federal executive. Chamberlin was a militant old-style leftist, the Groupers said, while the communists called him a “conservative”. Chamberlin opposed the Vietnam War, along with Arthur Calwell. Kane claims that Chamberlin “nursed a deep dislike of Catholics” evidenced by the fact that Chamberlin fought implacably against state aid to non-government schools.

Barry gives a good account of the Split. The Split, now over 60 years past, was the most influential event in the modern history of the ALP. For the purists, such as Joe Chamberlin, a generation in the wilderness was a price worth paying for doctrinal clarity.

Those of us who can recall Joe Chamberlin in full flight can remember the mixture of exasperation and amazement his speeches inspired. This man ran the ALP! It was both frightening and stunning. Would Labor ever regain power with Joe Chamberlin calling the shots?

Bill Barry (senior) resigned from the ALP and became leader of the Labour Party (Anti Communist) in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, later the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). When he crossed the floor to bring down the Cain ALP government, 30 pieces of silver were thrown at his feet. Barry never held political office again.

Barry, though, was not notably involved with Santamaria’s Catholic Social Studies Movement. He is said to have been under the influence of John Wren, a Catholic entrepreneur who operated on the margins of the law. Escaping Wren’s influence was difficult, as he was probably the richest Victorian Catholic of his time. Barry ended up running a milk bar. There were no pensions for politicians in those days.

Bill Barry’s mother, Mary Moodie, was an influential figure in the ALP in her own right. An outspoken and independent woman, Mary Moodie was on the central executive of the Victorian branch of the ALP from 1950 to 1955 and secretary of the women’s central organising committee from 1947 to 1955.

Moodie was a grassroots organiser who assisted many ALP candidates, including Arthur Calwell, to gain election. Although not intimately associated with the Groupers, both Bill and Mary were staunchly anti-communist, and did their best to avert the Split.

Barry says that he had a happy childhood. His father, he infers, had a soft heart. Others say that he had a good line in invective and was not short of ambition. He was not a saint. As member for Carlton from 1932 to 1955, Barry had an electorate that had more than its fair share of poverty, far removed from today’s gentrified inner-city terraces.

One thing Barry makes clear is that the relationship between the DLP and the Movement, which became the National Civic Council (NCC), was not always harmonious. They were really two sides of the same coin, sometimes cooperating, sometimes not. Bill Barry cites an instance when his father and Bob Santamaria met at the football.

“My father first met Santamaria at the 1972 VFL Grand Final. Me: ‘Dad, I’d like you to meet Mr Bob Santamaria.’ Dad: (looking across me with his right hand outstretched) ‘Mr Santamaria. I finally meet the man I’m told has been running me for the last 30 years.’ Santamaria: ‘Humph!’ Not another word was exchanged between the two throughout the afternoon.”

The relationship between the DLP and the NCC is something of a mystery to outsiders. The DLP and NCC cooperate, but it is like a working relationship between two estranged brothers for whom the bonds of kinship overcome their mutual antipathy.

Bill Barry has had an interesting life: indeed, a fortunate one. The prospect of overseas travel was a major inducement to join the Trade Commissioner Service at that time, when overseas travel was a luxury few Australians could afford. Today’s “Bali or Fiji this year?” attitude was a long time coming.

Barry worked in New York promoting Australian trade and in San Francisco during the Summer of Love. He had a large part in promoting Australian wines in Canada, now one of the largest markets for our grateful vignerons. Most, though not all, of Canada is too cold to produce good wine. He also promoted Australian exports to Iran, in a period of relative tranquility.

Barry had an enjoyable time as a pioneer of Australian exports in this new market. Indeed, he was promoting Australian exports when we exported manufactures rather than rocks.

Of course, it would be an unusual bureaucracy that was free of internal politics and Barry had to cope with his fair share. His Minister was the legendary John “Black Jack” McEwen (indi, Victoria), who was also Deputy Prime Minister. He was known to prefer “his boys” in the Trade Commissioner Service to the “externals”, as diplomats were known.

South Africa, under the apartheid regime, did not impress Barry. He could not see the logic of racial segregation. Indeed, he thought apartheid was counterproductive to economic advancement. He did enjoy Thailand, Laos and the Philippines. Barry and his wife Valda played a commendable role in evacuating babies and toddlers from Saigon as it fell to the North Vietnamese Army (NVA).

Following his retirement from the Trade Commissioner Service, Barry returned to work with the Australian Chemicals Specialties Manufacturers Association (ACSMA) and the Australasian Fleet Management Association (AFMA). This penumbra to his working career makes interesting reading, a finale to a life well spent.


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