Adela Walsh was not a natural ally of Miles or Stephensen. Miles told Masey that she was a woman ‘with the utmost contempt for the truth’. Perhaps she did not intend to lie, but whatever she said became the truth for her, irrespective of the gap between that and the facts. Miles and Stephensen rejected Imperial ties with Britain in favour of narrow Australian nationalism, but Adela was strongly Imperialist. Miles viewed war as biologically inevitable, while Adela was a pacifist. Their main common cause was an abhorrence of communism, and they viewed Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan as the world’s strongest bulwarks against communism.

Adela Constantia Mary Pankhurst Walsh was born in Manchester, England, on 19 June 1885, daughter of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst. After falling out with her mother and sister, she was sent to Australia, arriving in Melbourne on 27 March 1914. Through Vida Goldstein, she became associated with the Victorian Socialist Party. Suffragette aims had already been achieved in Australia, but at the outbreak of war in August 1914 Adela found a new cause: pacifism. She joined the socialists, including John Curtin, preaching peace at Yarra Bank meetings, and during the anti-conscription campaign she travelled around Australia addressing meetings. When Curtin went to Western Australia to become editor of the Westralian Worker, Adela sailed in the same ship, arriving in Fremantle in February 1917. Curtin chaired Adela’s meeting on 19 February, when she called for workers to reduce production to force an end to the war. She claimed later that Curtin’s views were ‘entirely in accord’ with hers.

She had little success in Perth, for censorship prevented publicity for her. Returning to Melbourne, she met up again with Tom Walsh, a prominent member of the Seamen’s Union. Born in County Cork, Ireland, in January 1871, Walsh was a few months older than Miles. He had little formal education, having gone to sea as a cabin boy at the age of eight. When Adela met him, he had recently been widowed, and he had three small daughters. At various times, he was General President and General Secretary of the Seamen’s Union. Tom and Adela married on 30 September 1917.

For her activities in Victoria, which included property damage, she was forced into hiding. Prosecuted several times, she was imprisoned from November 1917 to 10 January 1918. Colonel Jones, head of the CIB, wrote later that Mrs Walsh had deliberately tried to provoke prosecution in order to obtain added notoriety. Adela was sufficiently well acquainted with Miles for him to write in January 1919 to congratulate her on the birth of her son. With the war over, and having a baby to mind, Adela became less active publicly, simply supporting Tom in his union activities and writing for the Seamen’s Union magazine.

Adela’s next cause was communism. Both she and Tom were present at the meeting on 30 October 1920 when the Communist Party of Australia was founded. They were not as closely involved with the Party as is sometimes thought; Tom claimed that he attended only two party meetings in his life. Adela wrote some articles for the Australian Communist, the last being published in January 1922. She enthused, ‘Only in Russia are all fed, only in Russia have strikes ceased, only in Russia are children and mothers liberated from labour, only in Russia does production increase.’ Oblivious to civil war in Russia, to mass starvation, murder and torture, Adela lost herself in fantasy. Then she drifted away from the party; Tom resigned formally early in 1923.

In May 1923, Tom Walsh obtained a copy of secret instructions to communist cadres, issued in July 1920. He claimed he found then ‘that the Communist Party was far more interested in helping the international business of Soviet Russia than in the welfare of the workers of Australia’. Tom became totally disillusioned with communism; he alleged that in July 1924 an agent sent by Bukharin tried to persuade him to undertake secret work to further communist aims:

I told the messenger I would not agree and, further, unless he was out of Australia within fourteen days I would acquaint the authorities of his presence in the country—he was sensible enough to take my advice.

Walsh gave the agent’s name as ‘Hercovitski’. He was in fact Rubin Herscovici, a Jew with a Rumanian passport, who arrived in Sydney on 14 September 1923 and travelled around Australia under the pretext of collecting money for the Workers’ International Economic Russian Relief. An undercover agent in Brisbane reported that Herscovici told a party meeting that he was in Australia on behalf of the Soviet Government to report on the Communist Party of Australia and instruct them as to the wishes of Moscow in regard to underground work. He also collected military information. The CIB reported he was ‘dressing his wolf in sheep’s clothing to enable him to better hoodwink the Australian worker’. He left for America in July 1924.

Walsh was still classed as a communist, and after the maritime strike of 1925 an attempt was made to deport him. Dr H. V. Evatt defended him, and the Walshes and Evatts became friends. After vicious bickering within the union, Tom was deprived of his union position, then left the union altogether. Tom’s conclusion that communism was cynically using Australian workers for the benefit of Soviet Russia left him open to suggestions from Havelock Wilson, President of the British Seamen’s Union, regarding the formation of an Industrial Peace Movement. To avoid interception of his letters by authorities, Tom sent letters to Wilson by the ‘safe hand’ of Seamen’s Union members; this was futile, for Wilson handed them over to authorities in Britain. It was known that Wilson sent Walsh substantial sums of money.

Something useful might have emerged from this movement, but the death of Wilson in April 1929 put an end to their plans. Half a century later, Xavier Herbert said that Walsh was a ‘bastard of a man’, who had been bought off by a shipping company and took money from big companies to destroy a smaller company. Herbert’s outburst was not necessarily factual, but he was not alone in this opinion of Walsh.

The Guild of Empire and the Empire Gazette provided Adela with a new cause when Tom’s union career was destroyed. It was not simply a political organisation, for it did social and charitable work, and it attracted what might now be called ‘the blue-rinse set’: middle-aged to elderly, financially secure, and inspired do-gooders. It was founded about July 1929. The published aims of the Guild of Empire were these:

1. To advance the welfare of Australia as a part of the British Empire.
2. To establish industrial co-operation and peace.
3. To combat the doctrines of Communism and all other anti-God movements.
4. To deepen the realisation of the value of British citizenship.
5. To uphold the Christian ideals of life and safeguard the family.

Three of these aims (1, 4 and 5) would have been anathema to Miles. The core of the Publicist clique regarded the British Empire as the greatest impediment to the growth of an Australian identity, and Christianity as a plot by Jews to enslave Gentiles. An alliance between them seemed unlikely, but within a few years, the fates of Stephensen and Adela Walsh became intertwined.

Although the Guild was not entirely Adela’s creation, she quickly became its salaried campaign director, with control of the Guild’s monthly magazine, the Empire Gazette, issued from June 1930. It was well printed on quality paper, usually four pages, but its contents appeared mostly trite, didactic and uninspired. From July 1931, Adela also broadcast weekly over station 2GB.

At its peak, the Guild claimed about 8,000 members. Among the office-bearers, only two others are relevant to the AFM: the Patroness, Victoria, Lady Gordon (wife of Sir Thomas Gordon), and the ‘Welfare Organizer’, Vera Dorothea Parkinson, but several others had important connections. Mrs W. Fairfax and Mrs H. Fairfax were connected with the Sydney Morning Herald. Merle Christie, who was Acting President briefly, was the wife of solicitor George Christie, later leader of the Australian Democratic Front, which was sponsored by the CIB and financed from secret funds by the Attorney-General, W. M. Hughes. They were women whose husbands were likely to be associated with either the Old Guard or the New Guard, while Tom Walsh was a member of the New Guard from September 1931 to April 1933. Eric Campbell wrote later of Walsh, ‘[His] knowledge of the communist set-up in New South Wales, and its affiliations overseas, was both accurate and profound, and a great help to us.’

In 1937 Miles fell out with Adela Walsh. The editorial in the March Empire Gazette criticised the Publicist for wanting to sever Empire connections. In July, Miles launched a two-page attack on ‘The Amazons of the British Garrison in Australia’. He agreed that America posed a greater threat to Australia than did Japan, but disagreed with the Guild’s reliance on Britain, for ‘at the moment Australia would need her, Britain could not come!’ As ‘Benauster’, he wrote that both the ‘British Garrison’ and the communists were subversive, and to rely on British aid was stupid and cowardly.

In seeking allies against communism, Adela dragged the Guild into the propaganda orbit of Germany and Japan. She frequently expressed anti-Semitic and anti-communist views and approved of Nazi treatment of Jews and communists, claiming proudly that communists regarded her as their most dangerous opponent. As well as speaking in the Domain, Adela sometimes spoke from a chair in Macquarie Place at lunchtime. The offices of leading Japanese firms overlooked the Place: Mitsubishi and Yamashita (shipping) in Kyle House and Mitsui in Sirius House. Adela was performing under the noses of the managers of Mitsui and Mitsubishi, and they knew how to manipulate her.

The Guild held luncheon meetings at which there were guest speakers. With her wide range of political contacts, Adela attracted interesting speakers. Menzies spoke in June 1939, a few weeks after becoming Prime Minister. She invited German or Japanese speakers only occasionally, but these attracted CIB attention. Arnold von Skerst, editor of Die Brücke and an official of the German Chamber of Commerce, spoke at a Guild luncheon early in 1938. Their contact might have begun with a talk that Adela gave over 2UE on 5 December 1937 on Professor Roberts’ book, The House that Hitler Built. She was not entirely wrong in claiming that the eagerness of German youth to serve their country was admirable, or that the Nazis had ‘a wide vision regarding health and welfare of the masses’, but she also defended restrictions on Jews. On 8 December, Tom gave Vice-Consul Baron von Stechow a transcript of the lecture and a copy of a ‘periodical’ (probably the Empire Gazette) that contained material on Roberts’ book. In return, Stechow gave Tom propaganda literature. Stechow referred the matter to the Consul-General, who ordered that the lecture be printed in Die Brücke, if Mrs Walsh was willing, with a short denunciation of the book from the German standpoint as an introduction. As Adela agreed, Stechow sent the material to Skerst, requesting that it be printed ‘if possible unabbreviated’.

There was no formal ‘cease fire’ between Adela and Miles, but she was not attacked again in the Publicist. It was soon after Die Brücke published Adela’s lecture that Skerst addressed the Guild, and it was probably then that he made a donation of £25. This led to an allegation in September 1939 that Adela was a member of the Nazi Party, which had paid her £25. MPI reported that there was no evidence to support this charge.

From the Austrian Anschluss, through the Sudetenland crisis and past the invasion of Czechoslovakia, Adela presented the German point of view in the Empire Gazette and in talks over 2UE. She was in close contact with the German Consulate-General, which sent copies of the Gazette to Berlin. Most of her activities on behalf of Germany were not clandestine, thus the communist Workers’ Weekly of 7 April could say that the notorious Adela Pankhurst Walsh had ‘come out flat-footed for the Berlin-Rome-Tokio war axis’, supporting Hitler’s claim that unoccupied territories in South Africa, Australia and the Soviet Union, together with Latin America, would give Germany ‘living space’.

While many of those associated with the AFM at least tolerated the fascism and anti-Semitism of the Publicist, few approved the pro-Japanese stance of the Walshes. There has been speculation as to whether the Walshes, apart from their trip to Japan in 1939-1940, received money secretly from the Japanese. They did. From 17 March 1938, Tom was paid £10 for every pro-Japanese article he wrote for the Empire Gazette; he also received £400 in 1941. Adela denied knowing about financial arrangements between Tom and the Japanese, but an investigating officer wrote, ‘We find ourselves unable to accept this profession of ignorance, particularly owing to their close association in carrying out the work and to the fact that the money received was used for household expenses.’

Kuramatsu Murai, who had been Consul-General in Shanghai during the incidents in January 1932, lectured at a Guild luncheon on ‘My Country’ in June 1935. Adela was passed from one Consul-General to the next. Her daughters went skating with the daughters of Torao Wakamatsu, who took office in Sydney on 15 February 1937 after holding a position in the Foreign Office in Tokyo. When he left on 21 May 1939, she was passed on to Masatoshi Akiyama. She told an appeals tribunal in May 1942 that she had often visited the Akiyamas at home. Akiyama had been Secretary to the Foreign Minister, Koki Hirota, in 1935, and Chief of the Intelligence Section of the Foreign Office, 1935–37. Then he had been First Secretary to the Japanese Embassy in Peking, 1937–39, a post said to be a cover for Intelligence activities. The Walshes were being manipulated by skilful operators.

From Chapter 5 - The Walshes

The Australia-First Movement


Barbara Winter


ISBN 1 876819 91 X

PB 304 pp AU$27




from Chapter 5