New evidence suggests Clark had more than sympathy for the devil
DESMOND Ball’s important account of a crucial conversation with historian Manning Clark provides significant new information about Clark’s close friend Ian Milner.
It makes it clear that Clark withheld the inconvenient truth that he knew about Milner’s close connections with the Communist Party from at least as far back as 1944.
Milner was a significant player in communist espionage. Yet right until their deaths in 1991, and including in the historian’s memoir The Quest for Grace, Clark seems to have chosen to put his friendship with Milner ahead of telling the truth. In this sense, Clark was part of a conspiracy of silence.
Clark knew that Milner was a communist and he knew that communists at the time owed their allegiance to Moscow.
Clark also knew that Milner held a highly influential position in the Department of External Affairs, but he did not choose to advise either the John Curtin or Ben Chifley Labor governments of this crucial fact.
Importantly, after Milner defected to Czechoslovakia in July 1950, as Richard Hall writes in ‘The Rhodes Scholar Spy’ (1991), Milner spied on foreign visitors to Czechoslovakia for the regime’s secret police and also on fellow staff and students at Charles University in Prague.
It is informative that the Clark family and others keen to protect his legacy have not objected to the discussion in Mark McKenna’s recent biography, ‘An Eye for Eternity’, of Manning Clark’s sexual proclivities, infidelities and homo-eroticism, but go ballistic about claims that he may have been a communist sympathiser.
Yet the weight of evidence now on the public record makes it increasingly difficult to take a benign view of Clark’s brushes with known communists and with the Soviet Union.
In 1950, when he took up the chair of history at Canberra University College, Clark sub-leased the home vacated by Jim Hill, an Australian diplomat recruited to the department of External Affairs in 1945 on Milner’s recommendation.
This is the same Jim Hill who was codenamed Tourist by the Soviets in the Venona decrypts.
While the fact that Clark’s wife Dymphna taught English to Soviet diplomats to earn extra cash seems harmless, the historian made at least two visits to Moscow at the expense of the Soviets and based his eulogistic 1960 book ‘Meeting Soviet Man’ on his first trip there in 1958.
Now comes a convincing claim from a respected academic that Clark knew all along that Milner, with whom he enjoyed a close relationship, was a secret member of the Communist Party, which was subservient to the Soviet Union.
This is unlikely to be the end of the matter.
But isn’t it fascinating that in 2011 Australia is still excited by our Cold War history?
Emeritus professor of history and politics at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 34 books, most recently the co-authored Alan (The Red Fox) Reid,which was shortlisted for the 2011 National Biography Award.
The Weekend Australian, May 28-29, 2011