The Case of the Disappearing Files


Something very odd is happening in Australian Archives.  Because ASIO and its precursors have devoted so much time to pursuing enemies of capitalism and imperialism Australian Archives had traditionally been a marvellous place for labour historians to dabble in. But this is changing. Some blame the Peter Wright spycatcher controversy and say that M15 is forcing its allies to be more circumspect with all their ‘declassified’ material, especially if it reflects on methods used by British intelligence. Others refer specifically to the recent visit to Australia of Cambridge academic, Dr Christopher Andrew, author of. the scholarly Secret Service. Evidently, according to this view, ASIO can handle local scholars digging about in its old files but was appalled when an internationally reknown scholar started doing the same thing.

Whatever the reason Australian Archives has become distinctly reticent of late. One of our members has found references to a small mountain of material relating to the life and times of Brian Fitzpatrick but has been unable to obtain access to it. Rowan Cahill’s research on Count von Luckner have been frustrated by an even more unsettling file “sanitisation”. In 1985 an old spy file was available in fulsome detail but in April 1987 it was closed to researchers. On 15 June 1987 the file reappeared, with excisions and deletions. The deletions were clearly protecting the wealthy and influential citizens who welcomed Hitler’s swashbuckling ambassador-cum-spy, as much as they shielded the provenance of ‘intelligence’ information. And therein lies the rub. It is one thing to find out about an errant communist who joined the Dimboola rifle club in 1931 in the expectation of a world wide proletarian revolution. It is another to uncover the skeletons in the ruling-class closet.