Alex Mitchell’s WEEKLY NOTEBOOK – The generals and governors who plotted against Whitlam

During the politically tumultuous days in Australia in late 1975, some top army officers and businessmen held weekly after-work “drinkies” at the exclusive Queensland Club in George Street, Brisbane.
While whiskies, G&Ts, brandies and ports were being served, discussion turned to who should run the nation in the event of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam being unable to rule because of Budget logjam in the Senate.
Eventually they settled on NSW Governor Sir Roden Cutler VC because he commanded respect across the political divide and was held to be universally popular.
Cutler was never anointed Commonwealth administrator because Governor-General Sir John Kerr and a few High Court judges decided that dismissal would be the better constitutional option and Malcolm Fraser was sworn in as the 22nd prime minister to arrange an election.
I can reveal that one of the Queensland Club plotters was Queensland’s 19th Governor, Sir Colin Hannah, an air marshal and former Chief of Air Staff.
Hannah was a deeply controversial figure who received numerous service awards from London after acting as aide-de-camp to Mrs Betty Windsor, aka the queen, during her visit in 1954.
He earned a reputation as an officer who was “brusque” and “impersonal” and an enthusiastic supporter of Australia’s military involvement in the US-led invasion of Vietnam which cost two million Vietnamese lives.
He made headlines by choosing a baffling abstract sculpture as an RAAF memorial to be located on Anzac Parade, Canberra, and by selecting a mid-blue winter uniform to distinguish it from the RAF’s lighter colour. Twenty years later Hannah’s choice was scrapped in favour of the original colour and design.
Hannah broke service protocol when he chucked in his job as Chief of Air Staff to answer the call of a political soulmate, Premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
His vice regal career flared into controversy in October 1975 when he told a Brisbane Chamber of Commerce luncheon that the Whitlam government was guilty of “fumbling ineptitude”. He pompously claimed that he would be “guilty of sheltering behind convention, of denying my heritage and failing in my regard for the people of Queensland” if he did not speak his mind.
The Whitlam government responded by asking the queen to revoke Hannah’s dormant commission to serve as Governor-General should Kerr resign, stand aside or be sacked.
Sir Joh retaliated by saying he would extend Hannah’s term but the British Government advised that it would oppose such a move and Hannah announced that he would withdraw his name from consideration.
He retired to the Gold Coast and never spoke about his governorship, his intrigues with Sir Joh or any role he might have played in ending Whitlam’s elected office.

League’s nasty side

Before the 2014 State of Origin series between NSW and Queensland I was at a social function with a group of rugby league fanatics who were ex-players, former NRL officials or sports writers.
Discussing the forthcoming series – which NSW won – one of the armchair commentators said: “The only way the Blues can win this series is if we take out Jonathan Thurston and Greg Inglis.”
A general debate followed in which others felt that Queensland captain Cameron Smith “should be taken out” too and then someone suggested Cooper Cronk as well.
There was agreement that Sydney clubs should talk to their players and make sure that Thurston, Inglis, Smith and Cronk were hammered in NRL games leading up to State of Origin.
The next day I phoned a colleague who was at the event and asked: “Were those guys serious about smashing Queensland players in club games prior to State of Origin?”
He replied: “Just watch the footy on television over the next few weeks.”
And sure enough, every time one of the Queensland player-makers received the ball he was set upon in the most brutal fashion. Their tackling seemed deliberately designed to inflict maximum damage.
I recalled the conversation two weeks ago when Thurston, captain of Cowboys, was savagely attacked on the field. At the end of the game he looked like he had be hit by a truck; his face was bloodied, his nose and cheeks were swollen and he had black eyes.
A week later I watched as Inglis was battered in tackles and a clumsy attempt was made to “chicken wing” him i.e. bend his outstretched arm back over his head.
Some of the sports writers angrily called for referees to protect players from deliberate onfield brutality. Others cynically wrote: “It’s part of our game.”
No prizes for guessing that the drongo writers scribble for Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd.

Rescuing the radicals

I’m planning a campaign to rescue the word “radical” from misuse and abuse by the mainstream media.
It began after a television host asked a guest: “How can we stop young people being radicalised?”
I have no plans to stop anyone from being radicalised. Indeed, I support the radicalisation of young people, middle-aged people and matured-aged ones too.
The more radicals in the world the better.
Dictionaries tell us that a radical is someone who holds left-wing opinions, or someone favouring drastic political, social or other reforms, and someone belonging or pertaining to a political party holding such views.
One dictionary said radical, derived from the Greek radix meaning root, came into English usage in the late 18th century as the reforming wing of the British Liberal Party. One of first political radicals was English parliamentarian Charles James Fox who first proposed the “radical reform” of voting rights in 1797.
The British radicals paved the way for the abolition of slavery, the introduction of the Reform Act and ending child slavery in factories and coalmines. Radical ideas spread across Europe and the French formed a Radical Party with elected MPs.
Reactionaries have misappropriated the terms “radical” and “radicalised” to described the recruits to the psychotic gangs which the Gulf emirs, Washington, London and Tel Aviv have fostered in the Middle East. The purpose is to keep Western imperialist forces on the ground, protect oil supplies, safeguard Israel and turn the Arab nationalist states into failed states. The strategy is working, but what a savage cost in human life and social misery for millions.

Polls apart

Newspoll: Support for the Abbott Government has jumped to 41 per cent, giving the Coalition real hope for the first time in six months. The latest Newspoll shows core support for the government is up three points in the past fortnight. (The Australian, March 24)
Morgan Poll: ALP support increased to 56% (up 2.5%), still well clear of the LNP 44% (down 2.5%) on a two-party preferred basis. If a Federal Election were held now the ALP would win, according to this week’s Morgan Poll. (March 23, unpublished in media).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *