Interview: The New Deal
Unions: In the Line of Hire
Culture: Too Cool for the Collective?
International: The Domino Effect
Industrial: A Spanner in the Works
National Focus: Gathering of the Tribes
History: The Welcome Nazi Tourist
Bad Boss: Domm, Domm Turn Around
Poetry: Just Move On.
Review: Reality Bites
The Locker Room
The Secret Life of Us
It Is Still About The Members Isn't It
The Welcome Nazi Tourist
Conservative governments encouraged a mood of complacency in Australia during the 1930s with regard to political events in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Many leading Australian politicians and citizens espoused sympathy and admiration for the fascist leaders of the two nations.
In 1938 Federal Attorney General Robert Menzies returned from a tour of Nazi Germany praising what he had seen: "There's today a really spiritual quality in the willingness of Germans to devote themselves to the well-being of the state".
The following year Prime Minister Joseph Lyons rebuked visiting renowned English writer H. G. Wells for describing Hitler and Mussolini as 'criminal Caesars' and Hitler as a 'certifiable lunatic'.
Behind the scenes Lyons exerted pressure on Australian press owners and the ABC to tone down their treatments of Hitler and Mussolini. A vigorous Commonwealth censorship policy during the 1930s blew the list of banned items out to some 5000 titles, including many left-wing books and pamphlets warning of the threats posed by Nazism and Fascism. However Mein Kampf, Hiltler's personal blueprint for the future, freely circulated.
In 1934 the Australian government attempted to prevent the prominent Czech anti-fascist writer and publicist Egon Kisch from entering Australia. Denied permission to disembark and enter the country at Fremantle, he jumped from the ship he was passenger on, broke a leg in the process of landing on Australian soil, and complicated the government's legal problems.
A section of the racist Immigration Act allowed the failure of a test in any European language to justify the exclusion of undesirables. This was used against the incapacitated Kisch. Gaelic was cynically chosen in an attempt to outflank the writer's wide command of European languages.
Kisch failed the test, but won a High Court challenge arguing that Gaelic was not a European language. The attempted ban generated a great deal of publicity, turned Kisch into a national celebrity, and attracted large audiences to his anti-fascist addresses around the nation.
Unlike Kisch, the Nazi apologist Count Felix von Luckner had no trouble entering Australia. At midnight 20 May 1938 he sailed his luxuriously appointed diesel auxiliary schooner Seeteufel (Sea Devil) into Sydney Harbour. After being cleared by quarantine authorities, he anchored in Neutral Bay and was later hosted by the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron.
On board were the Count, his wife, and seven crew members, one of whom was an undercover member of the Gestapo. They had sailed from Germany on 17 April 1937 for a two-year world voyage bankrolled by the German government.
The fifty-six year old von Luckner was no ordinary yachtsman, Seeteufel no ordinary yacht, and the world cruise no ordinary civilian adventure. During WW1 the Count had commanded the independent maritime marauder Seeadler which, disguised as a Norwegian timber carrier, had cruised the Atlantic and South Pacific oceans sinking fourteen unarmed merchant ships. In 1928 the American spin doctor Lowell Thomas transformed the hearty, affable aristocrat into a world famous personality and media star, a modern day buccaneer.
Seeteufel was 88 feet long, weighed 117 tons, had a cruising range under power of 6000 miles, refrigeration, food for six months, a large supply of fine German wine, sophisticated radio receiving and transmission equipment, sophisticated photographic and hydrographic equipment, and a film projector for showing German propaganda films.
In the yacht's plush book lined stateroom, with its Persian carpets and oak furniture, were prominent photos of Hitler, Goebbels, and an autographed portrait of Nazi police chief Himmler. Since the Nazis had come to power, von Luckner had made propaganda tours for Hitler, and the world voyage was one of these. As he explained in the Nazi press on the eve of departure, "I am going as Hitler's emissary to the youth of the world".
Sydney's rich and powerful fawned over the Count. During his fourteen week stay in Australia the von Luckners were guests at their homes, rural estates, and private clubs. Mr Mark Foy, retail doyen, was a Sydney friend, a fellow yachting enthusiast, and one of those businessmen who earlier in the thirties had helped bankroll the fascist New Guard organisation (1931-35); so too was shipowner Captain James R. Patrick, formerly a member of the New Guard's General Council and in charge of its Finance Department.
Von Luckner described a rosy Nazi Germany to Sydney journalists. Hitler was a reasonable, friendly man, capable of enjoying a joke. "His democratic manner to the least important German subject, his anxiety to advance the poor instead of the rich, and his shunning of personal pomp are the secret‚s of Hitler‚s power in Germany".
Quizzed about the fate of the high profile German Communist leader Enrst Thaelmann, arrested in 1933 as part of Hitler's elimination of political opposition, the Count explained that he was simply in protective custody, for his own good, and enjoying luxurious accommodation in 'a beautiful villa', with amenities like tennis courts and a bowling alley. Von Luckner failed to mention that this top-notch resort was the notorious concentration camp Buchenwald.
Not everyone was beguiled by this nonsense. Since the tour had been announced in early 1937, an array of organisations nationally, including trade unions, Trades and Labour Councils, the small but energetic Communist Party, Labor Party branches, and the Movement Against War and Fascism (MAWF) which had been established in 1934, lobbied the Australian government to ban the Seeteufel from entering Australian waters. To no avail.
As the Count headed for Sydney, Lloyd Ross, NSW Secretary of the Australian Railways Union and National President of the MAWF, hit the airwaves, telling 2KY Sydney radio listeners that von Luckner was a 'fascist lecturer' preparing Australian‚s to support Hitler when he "marches into Switzerland, Belguim, Czechoslovakia, and Soviet Russia".
In a deal brokered through the German Consulate in Sydney, a small Sydney public relations agency organised an extensive national speaking tour for the Count, utilising travel by car, rail, and air, and opening at the Sydney Town Hall on the evening of Monday, 6 June 1938.
Hiring Sydney's staid, iconic symbol of civic power proved difficult. The majority of the City Council‚s Labor aldermen supported the anti-fascist cause and opposed the hire; the nervous Lord Mayor sought Prime Ministerial advice before accepting the Count's booking.
Opening night, the first of four Town Hall appearances, and the first leg of an extensive NSW tour; the Count felt nervous. There were at least a hundred protesters outside the Town Hall, along with a large police presence.
Protests had commenced the morning after his yacht moored in Neutral Bay. Everywhere the Count went there were protesters, many of them young people, carrying anti-fascist signs or wearing anti-fascist slogans sewn on their clothing. Gratifying was his recent trip to Canberra and a warm, private meeting with Prime Minister Lyons; as von Luckner later told an interviewer, he and Lyons seemed to be of similar mind.
As the Count strode onto the Town Hall stage he had a fixed smile. Before him was an audience of four hundred, many of them formally attired. In the front rows he recognised friendly faces from Sydney‚s elite. As for the rest it was a bedlam; boos, slogans, and taunting political questions greeted his appearance. Von Luckner waved his arms, and appealed for quiet. "I have travelled 17000 miles", he began.
There were scuffles in the audience as his supporters clashed with anti-fascists. Amongst the protesters were members of Sydney's Jewish community; for them von Luckner was a symbol of Nazi anti-semitism, while the freedom of entry to Australia extended to him was in stark contrast to the anti-refugee policy of the Lyon's government which drastically curtailed Jewish immigration.
A confetti of anti-fascist leaflets filled the air. Sixty uniformed and plain clothes police waded into the audience; thirty protesters were removed. A young woman was dragged away, but not before she unfurled a banner reading HITLERISM MEANS MASS MURDER OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN.
Von Luckner continued his spiel, and likened himself to Sir Francis Drake. This rhetorical device had won over American audiences; there he had compared himself to American naval hero John Paul Jones and the Wild West's Buffalo Bill.
Sydney‚s anti-fascists erupted with a torrent of abuse; pandemonium ensued; anger and frustration reddened the Count's face and his smile disappeared.
Von Luckner struggled through his address, ending with the observation that "Britain is the head and brains of Europe; Germany is the heart". But one troubled night at the Sydney Town Hall was enough. Thereafter the scheduled tour of NSW was cancelled and the Nazi emissary confined himself to selected invitation only‚ audiences.
Anti-fascist protests continued when the Count moved interstate. Police dispersed Melbourne protesters with baton charges. In Queensland the Count found sympathetic audiences amongst the large Italian and German immigrant communities, and fascist salutes were not uncommon; however at Innisfail there were 1200 protesters outside one of his talks.
When the Count sailed from Cairns on 6 September 1938, and finally left mainland Australia, the Seeteufel flew the swastika flag, the first ship to ever fly the flag in the port claimed proud propagandists in the German-English language weekly Die Brucke, published since 1934 by the German-Australian Chamber of Commerce and the German Alliance of Australia and New Zealand.
One of the charges von Luckner faced from anti-fascist critics while in Australia was that he was a Nazi spy, a deduction based on the Count's clandestine WW1 activities and speculation about the real purpose of his current voyage. Britain's Director of MI5 was also curious, and alerted Australian intelligence authorities. Throughout von Luckner's Australian tour he and his crew were under Commonwealth Investigation Branch surveillance.
There was much to interest security agencies, including the possibility the Seeteufel crew was gathering maritime intelligence, the Count‚s periodic reports to German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop, and a long and apparently important meeting in a suite of the prestigious Hotel Australia (Sydney) with a German manufacturer of bomber aircraft, fresh from Japan.
But the data gathered was inconclusive. However surveillance did generate a list of people of German and Italian origins who seemed to be pro-fascist, and following the outbreak of WW2 this was used in the process of rounding up candidates for internment.
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