18 May 2005

With extremist groups in Australia currently a popular talking point, a new book by a University of Queensland PhD student will add a broader historical perspective to the debate.

The Australia-First Movement and The Publicist looks at the policies and ideas of the Ultra Right during WWII and the lessons to be learned to prevent its resurgence.

The book shows how the Australia First Movement (AFM) grew out of strong anti-British sentiment and vigorous Australian nationalism.

Author Barbara Winter said during the 1930s the AFM strengthened the anti-Semitic feeling in Australia in those who were already that way inclined.

“There were a lot of decent, well-meaning people connected with the AFM, but they were politically naïve and gullible,” she said.

“The setting is in the past, but the tendencies exist everywhere and always.”

The book will be launched tomorrow (May 19) by lecturer in history at UQ Dr Andrew Bonnell at the National Archives of Australia.

Dr Bonnell said at a time when issues relating to detention and internment were all too topical, it was important to get as accurate a record of the past as possible, so that differences as well as similarities with the present situation could be made clear.

“In this work, Barbara Winter has performed a prodigious feat of research, furnishing as thorough an account of the people involved in the AFM as we are likely to get for some time, reconstructing the networks connecting them with other far right groups and even espionage circles,” he said.

Several elements fuelled the creation of the AFM, including the severity of the Great Depression and the imperialistic attitude of some prominent Britons living in Australia.

A growing sympathy towards German, Italian and Japanese governments was attributed to the movement, and it received support from Nazi groups.

Between 1936 and 1942 it published a monthly newsletter entitled The Publicist, aimed at arousing Australian patriotism.

“Many, but not all, supported some form of Fascism or Nazism. The strongest support for Japan was found among a few Western Australians, but they were not bone fide members of the AFM,” Ms Winter said.

She said some members of the movement expected the Japanese to break Britain`s political hold on Australia.

“While there was a possibility that the Japanese could have conquered parts of Australia, there was no chance that, in the long run, they could have defeated America, nor that the Americans would let them stay in Australia,” she said.

Media: For more information, contact Barbara Winter (telephone 07 3206 3214) or Interactive Publications (telephone 07 3395 0269) or Chris Saxby at UQ Communications (telephone 07 3365 2479, email: c.saxby@uq.edu.au) or visit http://www.ipoz.biz/titles/afm.htm