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Book launch: Alan (“The Red Fox”) Reid

12 June 2010 3 Comments

You may be interested to know that this fine film-noir front cover photograph of ALAN (“THE RED FOX”) REID almost never saw the light of day because two influential people, who shall remain nameless, did not want to see in 2010 a photo of someone smoking a cigarette! How about that? Yet sadly, although he stopped drinking and gambling, Reid never stopped smoking, and eventually died of lung and stomach cancer.

Speaking of photos, in our biography of Alan Reid the mystery of the ALP’s Faceless Men story and photos has been solved. There is absolutely reliable evidence that the famous 1963 photographs of what became known as the ALP’s 36 “Faceless Men” were taken by a Canberra friend of Alan Reid’s named Vladimir Paral – known as Val – who was a scientific photographer at the John Curtin Medical School.

Ross speaks at the launch of Alan ("The Red Fox") Reid

As ALAN (“THE RED FOX”) REID makes clear, Reid got Vladimir, who lived in south Canberra, not far from the Kingston Hotel, to take the photos, develop them in a dark room at the Australian National University, and they were then dispatched to Frank Packer for publication in The Daily Telegraph. Reid never revealed Paral’s role to protect him – the use of ANU property for political purposes was highly irregular – but Val Paral can be named because he is no longer in the land of the living.

Ross introduces former NSW Premier Bob Carr at the launch - Alan ("The Red Fox") Reid

This needs to be mentioned tonight, as many punters under 50 won’t know that this revelation is indeed something special!

The 1963 photos of then ALP federal leader Arthur Calwell and his ambitious deputy Gough Whitlam waiting in the dark under a lamppost outside the Kingston Hotel in Canberra, where a special ALP party conference was in session, and which Calwell & Whitlam were not allowed to attend, significantly helped the Liberals win the next two federal elections.

Ross signs books at the launch of Alan ("The Red Fox") Reid

Throughout his life, Alan Reid never disclosed who took the damning photographs, despite considerable pressure and speculation, including suggestions they had been taken by a working pressman. But that night there were no press photographers at the Hotel Kingston in Canberra.

With regard to finding the source of the photos about the Night of the Faceless Men, and Vladimir Paral’s identity, what happened is that my appeal for information about Alan Reid in THE AUSTRALIAN newspaper’s STREWTH column flushed out the story about Paral from Mr Ralph Westen of Canberra who had worked with Paral at the same dark room at the ANU in 1963. Westen saw the faceless men photos when he turned up to work on the Thursday morning.

Ross signs books at the launch of Alan ("The Red Fox") Reid

Westen responded to my appeal, and as my co-author Stephen Holt (who is here tonight) lives in Canberra he had a chat with him to verify what Westen had told me. So there we are. The riddle of who photographed the 36 unelected delegates in 1963, with Calwell & Whitlam waiting meekly outside in the dark, has been solved.

Later that year, Australia’s first televised election results featured Creighton Burns, then a lecturer in Political Science at Melbourne University, armed with a state of the art computer. The 9 Network telecast began at 8pm. A mere ten minutes later, Alan Reid, wreathed in tobacco smoke, announced, “The government’s back in.

Guests at the launch of Alan ("The Red Fox") Reid

At 9pm, despite Burns continuing to announce that Calwell still had a good chance of winning the election, Reid reappeared in the telecast in front of a news-board, which proclaimed “MENZIES WINS.

The wily pressman opined: “Menzies is back with a majority of about thirteen. Confident that his man Reid had bested the machine, then and there Sir Frank Packer ordered Burns’ computer to be removed from the telecast!  And as many of us here would know, this was the very same Creighton Burns who later edited The Guardian on the Yarra i.e. The Melbourne Age – from 1981 to 1989.

Guests at the launch of Alan ("The Red Fox") Reid

A final point. Unlike much of my previous work, Stephen Holt and I have deliberately written this book, without editorialising, so that you, and you, the reader, can make up your minds about the efficacy and morality of Alan (the Red Fox) Reid as a journalist, a participant, and a person, who played such a pivotal role in twentieth century Australian history and politics.

Thank you all for coming here tonight.

Author, Professor Ross Fitzgerald’s speech at the launch of Alan (“The Red Fox”) Reid, June 8, 2010

Guests at the launch of Alan ("The Red Fox") Reid


  • Bill xxx said:

    Hi Ross,

    Great talk with Phillip Adams about Alan Reid & Wilfred Burchett last night(11/6/10) . Another blast from the past of people & events of the days in the 50’s when Menzies, Doc Evatt would talk from the tray of a truck at election time.

    In the early sixties some friends & I used to go to a Burchett family member’s house in West Rosebud & get updates of Wilfred’s adventures & what was happening in Vietnam from a husband & wife who were lawyers & involved in the extreme Socialist Left wing of the ALP, so listening to you talk started off the memory lane trip of a few things that I’ve done in life.

    I, like as you say of Reid have a sense of fun as I tell people I meet that, ” I’ve lived longer than I have left , so it’s too late to be serious”

    Cheers. Bill

  • Joe Hildebrand said:

    MEANWHILE the ghost of another fallen Labor leader was haunting the launch of a new book about press gallery legend Alan Reid this week – at Rudd St, Canberra eerily enough.

    Joining authors Ross Fitzgerald and Stephen Holt was Sir David Smith, the secretary of ex-Governor-General John Kerr, who infamously read out Gough Whitlam’s dismissal on the steps of Parliament House.

    And just to add an even more august air, the event was also attended by Fiona Patten and Robbie Swan from the Australian Sex Party.

    Reid was responsible for publishing the iconic 1963 “faceless men” photo in this newspaper, depicting Arthur Calwell and his then deputy Whitlam outside the Hotel Kingston under a lamp post at 1am waiting to be told what Labor policy was to be.

    The image and the phrase became emblematic of the backroom powerbrokers that secretly run the party to this very day, right up to tearing down Rudd last week.

    Fitzgerald and Holt have discovered that it was Alan Reid’s fishing mate Val Paral who took the photos and spirited them to the reporter, and even produced in person 84-year-old Ralph Westen, who witnessed the photos being developed in the darkroom of the John Curtin School of Medical Research.

    The Daily Telegraph, July 3, 2010

  • Professor Ross Fitzgerald said:

    More on Labor’s blues

    Warren Brown’s account in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ of Labor’s famed 1963 “faceless men” party conference August 8) draws attention to an important historical event but sadly contains some misleading comments.

    Arthur Calwell and his deputy Gough Whitlam were not “turfed out” from the 1963 conference.

    Both men were free to enter the Kingston Hotel in Canberra where the conference deliberated. It was Calwell’s stupid idea to stay outside. Eventually he and Whitlam entered and conferred with delegates.

    The Labor politics of wartime Prime Ministers John Curtin and Ben Chifley were not more “open” when compared with the 1963 conference. Labor Party conferences were structured and conducted in exactly the same way in the two periods.

    The “overt argy-bargy ”of the 1950s that Brown refers to led to a disastrous split in the ALP. The 1963 conference set the party back seriously but it hardly created the demoralising havoc that flourished in the immediate wake of the great Labor split of the 1950s

    Readers who want a more accurate account should read the biography of Alan Reid which I coauthored with Dr Stephen Holt.

    Professor Ross Fitzgerald, Redfern.
    The Daily Telegraph (Sydney)
    Saturday August 10, 2013, p 40

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