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The 36 faceless men

3 July 2010 3,628 views No Comment

Who took the damning 1963 photographs of “the 36 Faceless Men”? Although actually it was 35 Men and one ‘Faceless’ Woman!

Professor Ross Fitzgerald’s speech about ALAN (“THE RED FOX”) REID at Dalton’s Books, 54 Marcus Clarke St, crn Rudd Street, Canberra, Wednesday June 30, 6 pm.

Thanks indeed Laurie (Oakes). As recent events here in Canberra demonstrate, in the ALP the faceless men and the factional warlords certainly live on! In many ways, the tiny Machiavellian world of Alan Reid is virtually the same world that made Julia Gillard PM.

In his excellent review of ALAN (“THE RED FOX”) REID in ‘The Canberra Times’ (June 12, 2010,p.25) the formidable Jack Waterford claims to have heard, although he does not name, “an altogether more believable story of the identity of the photographer of the “36 Faceless Men episode than the one provided in our book.

However in an earlier email Waterford says it was a photographer working for the Canberra Times.

Also, Peter Rees, who started his journalistic career as a copy boy on the Daily Telegraph in 1966, says that the late Peter Hardacre told him that he, Hardacre, had taken the photos. At the time, Hardacre was the staff photographer for the Daily Telegraph in the press gallery.

Without wanting to take Waterford or Rees to task, Stephen Holt and I maintain that there is reliable evidence that the famous 1963 photographs of what became known as the ALP’s 36 “Faceless Men” (and which at the time Reid termed “36 virtually unknown 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 School of Medical Research.

As ALAN (“THE RED FOX”) REID makes clear, Reid got Vlad, who lived in south Canberra, not far from the Kingston Hotel, to take the photos, develop them in a dark room at the John Curtin School of Medical Research where he worked, 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.

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.

With regard to finding the source of the photos about the Night of the Faceless Men, 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 Val Paral at the same dark room at the John Curtin Medical School in 1963. Mr Westen (who is here tonight) saw the developed photos when he turned up to work on the Thursday morning. When asked, Paral, who told Western about the previous nights events, said he had taken them for his fishing mate and nature-loving pal, Alan Reid.

At page 111 of his book ‘The Gorton Experiment’ Alan Reid wrote that “the man who took the (Faceless Men) photos was an amateur, not a professional (press) photographer”, which would rule out a photographer from The Canberra Times, as it would also rule out Peter Hardacre – a professional photojournalist who worked for various Packer publications. Hardacre died in 1979.

All the available evidence, we submit, strongly suggests that the amateur photographer in question was Reid’s friend and fellow angler Vladimir Paral.

In The Gorton Experiment there is a photograph of Reid and Paral together at a fishing campsite. Reid would have told Paral about the special conference and Paral attended either as a spectator, or in his capacity as a part-time taxi driver – according to Alan Reid Jr, who is also here tonight. It was certainly no accident that Paral was there to photograph what became known as the “36 Faceless Men.” Paral’s presence was a direct result of Alan Reid’s request and the rest, as we say, was History!

In fact, at the ALP’s special conference at the Kingston Hotel there were 35 male delegates, and one woman , Mrs Phyllis Benjamin MLC , a member of the delegation from Tasmania, whose Edna Everage look-a-like photo is shown below.

But in the 1960s “36 faceless persons wouldn’t have had the same cachet & lasting media power as “the 36 faceless men, if you get my drift.

Later in 1963, 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.

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!

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.

Thank you all for coming here tonight.

Ross Fitzgerald is a writer, broadcaster, historian and political commentator who contributes a regular Weekend Australian column for Inquirer. He has published 33 books, most recently ‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’, also published by New South Books.

FYI , to check for verification, but not for general publication, here are Mr Ralph Westen’s phone & email details:
02-6292 4992 riejac@hotmail.com

Mrs Benjamin MLC from the Tasmanian delegation was the one ‘faceless’ Woman amid the 35 ‘faceless’ Men.

Given Names: Phyllis Jean
Title and Honours: Mrs, AO, MBE, Hon (12 August 1976)
Date and Place of Birth: 30 August 1907 – Mosman, NSW
Date of Death: 6 April 1996

Legislative Council: 10 May 1952
Electorate: Hobart
Party: ALP
Positions Held: Leader for Government 1968-69
Date of Departure: 22 May 1976
Reason for Departure: Retired.

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