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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Menzies and Churchill at War-Conservative PR? by John/Togs Tognolini

Menzies and Churchill

Screen Australia Making History Production
and 360 Degree Films.

Broadcasted on the ABC and DVD sales through ABC Shops.

Producer John Moore

Writers John Moore, Mick Cummins, Steve Jordell

Director Steve Jordell

Executive Producers Mark Hamlyn, Alex West

Duration 55 minutes

Robert Menzies played by Matthew King
Winston Churchill played by Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell

I really didn’t know what to expect with Menzies and Churchill at War. I normally keep my temper, but this was painful with Menzies being presented as a “..man of peace.” I felt like throwing something at the tv.

This was the Australian prime minister who sent our military to the Vietnam, and Korea Wars. This was the man who allowed, sorry, begged the British government to test their atomic bombs on Australian soil at Maralinga and the Monte Bello Islands. There’s quite a list I could write about what wrong with this “doco” on Menzies but a here’s few things Menzies and Churchill at War should have included.

This was the man who at the outbreak of World War One resigned his officers commission from the Melbourne University Regiment and campaigned for conscription which was defeated at two referendums in 1916 and 1917.

In 1928, Menzies gave up his law practice to enter parliament as a member of the Victorian Legislative Council, representing the Nationalist Party of Australia. His candidacy was nearly defeated when a group of ex-servicemen attacked him in the press for not having enlisted and served in WW1.

Menzies was the man who was pro-fascist in the 1930s. He told Australians that they would have a different view of Adolf Hitler if they were seated in front of German fireplaces.

Menzies was the Attorney General who persecuted Egon Kisch when he visited Australia as a delegate to an anti-fascist conference in 1934. Kisch was a Czechoslovakan writer and journalist, who wrote in German. His journalism was widely read for his opposition to Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. Menzies, and the Conservative Lyons government he was a member of repeatedly refused Kisch entry because of his previous exclusion from the Britain.

Under the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, visitors could be refused entry if they failed a dictation test in any European language. This law was used to enforce the White Australia Policy by ensuring that potential Asian immigrants were given an impossibly hard test. Kisch was one of the very few Europeans to be given the test; he passed the test in various languages but finally failed when he was tested in Scottish Gaelic. The officer who tested him on the ship, grew up in northern Scotland, even he didn’t have a good grasp of Scottish Gaelic himself.

Kisch decided to jump the five meters from the deck of his ship onto the wharf in Melbourne, breaking his leg. This dramatic action mobilised a lot of Australians to support Kisch. The High Court found that Scottish Gaelic was not within the fair meaning of the Act, and overturned Kisch's convictions for being an illegal immigrant.

It was Menzies again who attacked Port Kembla’s wharfies in 1938 for refusing to load pig iron on Japanese ship.

The Pig-Iron Song by Clem Parkinson written in 1964 best sums up this episode.

Did you ever stop to wonder why the fellows on the jobRefer to Robert Menzies by the nickname Pig-Iron Bob?

It's a fascinating tale though it happened long agoIt's a part of our tradition every worker ought to know


We wouldn't load pig-iron for the fascists of JapanDespite intimidation we refused to lift the ban

With democracy at stake the struggle must be wonWe had to beat the menace of the fascist Rising Sun

It was 1937 and aggressive JapaneseAttacked the Chinese people tried to bring them to their knees

Poorly armed and ill equipped the peasants bravely foughtWhile Australian watersiders rallied round to lend support

Attorney General Menzies said the ship would have to sail"If the men refuse to load it we will throw them into jail"

But our unity was strong - we were solid to a man

And we wouldn't load pig-iron for the fascists of Japan

For the Judas politicians we would pay a heavy price

The jungles of New Guinea saw a costly sacrifice

There's a lesson to be learned that we've got to understand

Peace can only be secured when the people lend a hand

Again not surprisingly Clem’s song didn’t get a run in Menzies and Churchill at War
Menzies and Churchill at War was half the story of why Menzies went to London to call on Churchill to reinforce the British base at Singapore from the growing Japanese military threat. Who supported them going into China and sold them pig iron in the first place? As the son of two World War Veterans, my father served in Churchill’s 1941 repeat of Gallipoli-Greece and Crete, involving Australian and New Zealand soldiers that Menzies supported. That’s touched on in Menzies and Churchill at War in a limited way.

To me it’s a poor history, more like slick PR exercise dressed up to glorify a Liberal party icon. After all he was a Judas politician and the Liberals don’t have a monopoly on that.

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