Australia First is a good slogan that has been adopted by several quite different political ideologies. This book deals with the movement that began in a small way before 1914, developed slowly from about 1936, and came to an abrupt and inglorious end in March 1942. It grew out of the Victorian Socialist Party and the Rationalist Association
At first it attracted literary figures such as Xavier Herbert, Eleanor Dark, Miles Franklin. When it became heavily political, there were among its members and associates three former Communist Party members and one Nazi Party member; some worked for the Labor Party, some for the United Australia Party (later Liberal Party), while there were strong links with the Social Credit Party. One was a paid agent of the Japanese. Some were connected with Theosophy, some with Odinism, and in Victoria most were Irish Catholics with links to Archbishop Mannix and Sinn Fein.
Among the close friends of individual members were John Curtin, Dr Evatt, Arthur Calwell, Jack Beasley, Robert Menzies, Percy Spender, Archie Cameron. Several had contacts with Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, and with the
Imperial League of Fascists and National Socialists. One had met Hitler and corresponded with General Ludendorff. Two composed and circulated anonymous subversive pamphlets. Others imported Nazi propaganda, one even during the war through the German Consulate-General in New York.
At its core was a coterie of elderly men with too much time, too much money, and little common sense. ‘Inky’ Stephensen was the public face of the Movement and its monthly magazine, the Publicist, and he was responsible for its crude and vulgar style. But behind it all were the will and the money of Billy Miles, a cynical, arrogant manipulator, who turned it into a vehicle for vicious anti-Semitic propaganda. It was he who wrote: ‘What is the solution to the Jewish question? There can be none while a Jew lives.’
Its downfall was precipitated less by its fascist and Nazi tendencies than by the close association that Tom and Adela Walsh in Sydney, and Melanie O’Loughlin in Perth, had with the Japanese. In the end, the internment of Australia-First Movement adherents was used by both Labor and Liberal politicians simply as a stick with which to beat each other, until the wrongs and rights of the affair became buried under political abuse.