Monday, January 04, 2021

Reflections on the passage of time - deaths of Mungo MacCallum and Doug Anthony

Talking to people and in on-line discussions, the major reaction to the new year has been one of relief that 2020 has finished. It has indeed been a dog's breakfast of a year! I may try to write something in detail later. For the moment, some random observations in another matter. 

Hotel Wellington, Canberra 1970. Photo Noel Butlin Archives. Prior to the opening of the National Press Club in 1976, the Wellington was one place where journalists, ministerial staff and public servants gathered to drink on a Friday afternoon   

The inexorable passage of time means that events once fresh in our minds, formative periods in our lives, fade. Then something happens to bring at least the emotions and textures alive once more.  

Two such were the deaths of Mungo MacCallum and Doug Anthony, bringing alive a particular slice of Canberra in the 1970s.  

Mungo's death has been well covered in the Australian media. This ABC piece provides a general overview of his life, the Echonetdaily piece provides a picture of his life after he moved to Ocean Shores. 

I did not really know Mungo, although I knew about his family connections with the eccentric Wentworth's, This post, 1923: Classical Greek in the New England countryside, will give you a little taste of that family. However, we did coincide at drinks.   

Canberra was a very small place in the 1970s, a gold fish bowl in which everybody knew or at least knew of everybody else. It was also a remarkably discreet place, at least so far as personal matters were concerned. The sometimes prurient reporting on personal lives that we know today still lay in the future.  

I was working in Treasury at the time and sometimes used to drink at the Hotel Wellington on a Friday afternoon. The front press bar there with its walls covered by copies of past news stories was a favourite watering hole for journalists, staffers and the younger public servants including those from Treasury. Mungo was often found there or later at the Press Club after it opened. 

My memory is of a tall, slightly stooped figure with a bushy if some what straggly beard. Casually dressed, sometimes wearing sandals, he would expound on the world and political events in a barrage of words and hand gestures. I liked him and found him interesting but rarely joined in, partly because of shyness, more because I had different interests and views. 

I knew Doug Anthony rather better. At the time I was heavily involved with the Country Party as a party official and pre-selection candidate, I was also involved in attempts to give the party new directions through bodies such as the McEwen House Group. For several years during the Whitlam period, a number of us gathered in Doug's office on budget night to analyse the budget and provide Doug for talking points in response. 

I said that Canberra was a much smaller place. It also lacked much of the security paraphernalia you find today. This allowed us to come into Parliament House (now the Old Parliament House) all the time. Technically, the attendants should have stopped us, but so long as you looked as if you knew where you were going, were walking with purpose, nobody objected. 

This access plus our knowledge of the Press Gallery was central to the most successful stunt I ever pulled, something I wrote about in  The story behind that 1976 Queanbeyan $100,000 Yowie reward

Upon reflection, Doug was pretty tolerant. One issue at the time was whether or not the Country Party should re-enter into coalition with the Liberals. Our view was no, because we saw this as an opportunity for the Party to continue to rebuild its separate identity. Here there has long been a divide between those whose primary focus lies in blocking Labor as compared to those who believe that the Party must maintain a clear separate identity and adhere to its traditions if it is to deliver for its constituents.   

Doug's view was that coalition was necessary. We prepared a counter case, copied it in Doug's office and distributed it to all Country Party Parliamentarians. It had little impact, but the point is that we could do it and were not reprimanded or disciplined in any way.

I found Doug personally charming, open to new ideas, someone I could follow.  I am not alone in that view.  Reflections on his death across the political spectrum show respect and liking. 


 As an aside, I am sad that I threw out or lost in moves the material relating to this period. I think that it would now be an interesting historical record. 


Neil said...

In the late 60s Mum, Dad and I stayed once a year in Wellington with Dad's cousin Dorothy West, whose mother was a Whitfield. Her sister's husband -- whose name escapes me at the moment -- was one of those great yarn-spinners and he used to entrance me as we sat around the fire while he told stories of his time as a Country Party organiser! Many a nice story concerned "young Doug Anthony!"

Neil said...

Harold Pickford!

Winton Bates said...

I was given the opportunity to work in Doug Anthony’s office when he was Minister for Primary Industry and I was in the Bureau of Agricultural Economics (BAE).That would have been about 1968 I think. There was a fair amount of persuasion involved. I had to tell my boss in the BAE that I was a supporter of the Labor Party to persuade him I might be the wrong person for the job. I think they wanted someone to draft some standard replies to letters from farmers who had come under the influence of Douglas Social Credit. They were asking for long term loans at zero interest rates. In the end, the Minister’s office sent the letters over to the BAE to get replies drafted.

I am not sure why Doug Anthony was taking those crazy letters so seriously. He may have been concerned, even at that time, about the potential for the Country Party to be outflanked on the right. His more immediate aim was probably to help farmers get a better understanding of the economic forces affecting them in order to dampen expectations about what government could do to help.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's a nice story, Neil. The organisers were very important. A significant part of day to day CP income came from membership subs via bank orders. Once signed, the order tended to stay in place, creating a steady income stream. Most of the organisers were great yarners.

Winton, the main right threat then came from the League of Rights. The Wikipedia article will give you a picture although its wrong on at least one aspect. The CP had the greatest number of members of all political parties -some 33,000 in NSW in the early 1970s - because members were financially vital and were actively recruited. The NSW Party also believed that to win a seat it needed to get a certain proportion of the voting population in that electorate as members. I can't remember the target at this point. So the member numbers had nothing to do with the campaign against League of Rights infiltration.

I should write something on all this, because it was a very different world. Do you remember, by the way, that the SRC at UNE invited Eric Butler to speak? He was greeted by a very large and strongly hostile crowd.

I'm not sure how much of a real threat the League of Rights and its various front organisations such as the Citizens' Electoral Councils were, although they were a nuisance. The real right wing threat came later out of Queensland and the Joe for Canberra campaign.

Menzies spoke of the Liberal Party as a broad church. I never agreed with that. But if we use the analogy, the CP was a federation of different state churches with different histories and attitudes. Again, this is little recognised.

marcellous said...


I'm sure that DA was a charming and gracious person. I can allow the mists of time to soften my focus on my political grudges against him.

Not the same however for his (indirect) successor John Anderson. Can't he just shut up?

I surely cannot be alone in thinking that a man whose passage through life has been greatly eased by inherited wealth founded on substantial pastoral holdings originally stolen from the indigenous people has some nerve to rabbit on, as he recently has taken to doing, about "intergenerational theft." Apparently holding onto the proceeds of theft simpliciter over generations doesn't count.

This is an opportunistic comment but I needed to vent.

Meanwhile a tidbit for you from the interwebs with an intriguing nominal Northern-Rivers connexion:

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi marcellous. You are allowed to vent! I have mixed views on Mr Anderson. I don't think that he was a success as a leader. Too Liberal! I've noticed his recent rise to podcast/YouTube prominence without knowing what to make of it.