5 Key Questions in Australian history

3rd October 2011

Was there a Brisbane Line during World War II?


Despite belief among some Australian academics of the time, the accuracy of evidence and the likeliness of a strategy, the ‘Brisbane Line’ remains uncertain, lending plausibility to the notion that is was nothing more than a myth. The Brisbane Line was a policy, developed by Menzies, which planned to abandon Northern Australia in the event of a Japanese invasion. Troops were to strategically withdraw to, and defend from, a line extending from Brisbane to Adelaide, ceding all northern areas to the enemy (Douglas, 2004).

In October 1942, Edward Ward accused the Menzies-Fadden government of planning this strategy. Menzies denied these accusations, however MacArthur’s denouncement of it as a “defeatist strategy” and Curtin’s initial failure to dismiss it, generated both interest and credibility, since prioritized defense strategies for vital industrial areas already existed and were well known to parliamentary members (Hasluck, 1970). Although not connected to Ward’s charges they, along with evacuation policies and existing plans for a scorched earth policy, formed part of his belief in the lines existence.

Defense of Australia’s interior regions would have been impossible with the resources available, but to give up also seemed unreasonable and plainly “unaustralian”. Documentation proves planning for the ‘Brisbane Line’ occurred but whether this strategy was enacted is unconformable. The construction of tank traps in places such as Tenterfield suggest that the Line had at least been partially implemented.


Douglas, A., 2004, Review: Treason in High places: The Brisbane Line, The New Citizen, p.6.

Hasluck, P., 1970, The government and the people, Australia in the war of 1939-1945, vol. II (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1970): pp. 711-717

Julius, M. N., Paterson, F. & Communist Party of Australia, 1943, The Brisbane line, Queensland State Committee, Communist Party of Australia, Brisbane, Online, Accessed: 12 September 2011, http://www.lib.monash.edu.au/exhibitions/communism/com080.html

Did Menzies betray Australia’s interests when he agreed to the British nuclear tests?


In the 1950’s, following a request for co-operation, the Australian Government under Sir Robert Menzies, was pleased to assist by granting access for British nuclear testing. Details announcing Australia’s participation gained widespread support, both public and ministerial. During these tests more than 8 tonnes of depleted uranium were used during the course of the minor trials at Emu (5 trials) and Maralinga (almost 600 trials)(Royal Commission, 1985).

Ultimately, Menses was responsible for spreading radioactive material across the test sites by allowing the atomic weapons tests, between 1952 and 1963. Australians attending these tests were unprepared for a highly radioactive, life-threatening situation and as such were human guinea pigs participating in an experiment resulting in injuries and deaths to participants and their offspring. Years later, after succumbing to the side effects from radiation, claims exist that personnel were deliberately exposed to radiation for scientific and military purposes (Rees, 2001; BBC, 2001). Aboriginal groups, particularly the Maralinga Tjarutja, also suffered radiation induced injuries and death (Royal Commission, 1985 p.432), as well as expulsion and damage to their tribal lands, parts of which will remain uninhabitable for thousands of years. The fact that Maralinga was a sacred aboriginal site was entirely irrelevant.

It could be argued that Menzies betrayed Australian interests in allowing nuclear testing, despite his conviction that this decision was beneficial for the country. However Menzies alone cannot hold full blame, he acted with Australian interests of the time in mind and the terrible outcomes caused by the tests were a product of ignorance not of design.


The Report of the Royal Commission into the British nuclear tests in Australia, vol.2, 1985, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.

Rees, M., 2001, Documents confirm soldiers were exposed to nuclear tests in Australia, World Socialist Web Site, online, Accessed: 19 September 2011.

Resture, J., 2011, Image of Australian Soldiers Erecting a sign at Maralinga Atomic weapons test zone, Kiribati, About Christmas Island an the Bomb Tests II, Online, Accessed: 19 September 2011,

BBC, 2001, Australia probes nuclear test claims, BBC News, Online, Accessed: 19 September 2011,

Explain the intensity of Australian responses to the 1954 Royal Tour.

Womens Weekly

“Elizabeth II is the only reigning monarch to have set foot on Terra Australis. On the gold and blue morning of 3 February 1954, in the presence of a massive crowd one million and more, she came ashore for the first time” (Connors, 1993, p.371). It soon became evident to the politicians, journalists and other public figures that Australians wanted to see their sovereign, and she them. With show of intensity never before experienced, her arrival captivated the nation.

Royal enthusiasm resulted from the combination that, in 1954 Australia was much further away and visiting overseas celebrities were rare, there was no television and fewer big events. The Queen was an overseas celebrity for whom people would wait in their best clothes to glimpse her arrival. Perhaps more importantly, 1954 a time when the British Empire was a source of pride, a time when those failing to stand for the Queen at the end of a movie could expect to be prodded from the row behind, a time when Australia was still British and governed, along with democracy, by the British monarchy.

No Royal tour will ever compare. Queen Elizabeth II has reigned as Queen of Australia for about half the time Australia has been a nation, and has retained a special place in the heart of many Australians. Alomes (1988) writes that, “Like colonial natives in imperial fiction, Australians were drunk beyond belief with the romance of royalty.” (Alomes in Connors, 1993, p.380) Through a combination of traditional romanticism, media sensationalism and dedication, Australians gathered in generating an intensity, in responses to the 1954 Royal Tour, that will never again be matched.


Alomes, S., 1988, A Nation at Last? The Changing Character of Australian Nationalism: 1880-1998, HarperCollins Publishers, Sydney, p.155.

Connors, J., 1993, The 1954 royal tour of Australia, Australian Historical Studies, Volume 25, Issue 100, pp.371-382.

Breen, L., 2011, Dargie’s ‘Wattle Queen’: Popular monarchism in mid-twentieth-century Australia, recollections: A Journal of Museums and Collections, Volume 6 number 1, The Australian Women’s Weekly, 1954, depicting a relaxed and smiling royal couple on the cover, 3 February 1954 , National Library of Australia, 1935438, Online, Accessed 16 September 2011,

Was there a conspiracy to sack the Whitlam government?

Whitlam Letter

On the 11 November 1975, Remembrance Day, Australians remember the dismissal of their democratically elected leader, Gough Whitlam, by the Governor-General Sir John Kerr. Some argue that there was a conspiracy to remove him from office, however it is more likely that it was a well timed, and well-executed ambush by a Governor-general “too much influenced by his concern to cling to office” (Bolton, 1996, p.241).

Several conspiracy theories also circulated, each involving Fraser and the American CIA, and each with varying levels of CIA involvement. There is no doubt that the Whitlam Government was involved with the CIA, nor is it denied that the Coalition Parties also dealt with the CIA. (Stockwell, 2005) Regardless of the validity of these theories, the reason for Whitlam’s dismissal was the Loans Affairs and the error in his compliancy to use Arab money sources, brokered by Khemlani, rather than raising the funds through London or New York.

Whitlam’s dismissal resulted from the Opposition, a Liberal-Country Party coalition, using numbers in the Senate to defer the Supply Bill. Kerr consequentially argued he had no alternative other than to dismiss the current government, ensuring new general elections. Whether he had to power to do so is highly questionable. Some time later, Whitlam, following the surprise ambushed of his dismissal, spoke publicly, on the steps of Parliament, where he proclaiming in a speech, “Well may we say ‘God Save the Queen’, because nothing will save the Governor-General” (Whitlam in Davidtregenza, 2008).


Bolton, G., 1996, The Oxford History of Australia, Vol 5: The Middle Way, 1942-1995, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, Australia

Davidtregenza, 2008, Gough Whitlam Dismissal Speech, online video, viewed: 14 September 2011, .

Kerr, J., 1975, Letter to Gough Whitlam from Sir John Kerr dismissing him as Prime Minister, National Archives of Australia: A1209, 1975/2448, Online, Accessed, 12 September 2011, .

Stockwell, S., 2005, Beyond Conspiracy Theory: US presidential archives on the Australian press, national security and the Whitlam government, Refereed paper presented to the Journalism Education Conference, Griffith University, 29 November – 2 December.

What part has Prime Minister John Howard played in Australia’s Culture Wars?

Culture Wars

The cultural wars in Australia took on a new phase with the election of the Howard government in 1996 following the Labor government’s bid to redraw Australia’s national identity. Labor’s picture of the country focused on multiculturalism, closer ties with Asia, breaking with the British monarchy, making amends for past wrongs to indigenous people, political correctness and the introduction of legislation outlawing discrimination based on race, religion, gender and disability (The Economist, 2007). Howard rejected it all. With Pauline Hanson’s assistance, Howard commenced discrediting Keating’s political correctness and restoring ignorance and bigotry within Australia. Howard’s Culture War attempted to re-assert a White Australia policy, in a less explicit form, becoming a new conservative political correctness waged against indigenous Australians, immigrants, Muslims, Greenies, teachers, universities and the media. He even sought to recreate our history.

On Australia Day 2006, Howard launched a campaign to revive the teaching of Australian history in schools and to recapture the “values, traditions and accomplishments of the old Australia ”. During a party speech to the young Liberals he rallied them to become “political warriors…to win back ideas and history” (Howard in Curran, 2004, p. 256). The Culture War was tool of political manipulation, employed without regard for the damage to social cohesion, and used to conceal a radical rightwing agenda articulated in support of the “superior” Anglo-Saxon heritage and culture (Curran, 2004, p. 250).


Curran, J., 2004, The power of speech: Australian prime ministers defining the national image, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Victoria.

Dyson, A., 2007, Image: The Culture Wars: 1996-2007, Bilegrip, Online, Accessed: 12 September 2011,

Grattan, M., 2006, Howard claims victory in national culture wars, The Age, Online, Accessed, 12 September 2011,

The Hon John Howard MP, Prime Minister of Australia, Speech: A sense of balance: The Australian Achievement in 2006, Address to the National Press Club, 25 January 2006

The Economist, 2007, Australia’s culture wars: To flag or not to flag, How Australians see themselves has become a theme for the coming election, The Economist, Online, Accesses 12 September 2011,


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