Our journalism usually sits behind a paywall, but we believe this is the time to make more of our content freely available to as many readers as possible. For more free coverage, sign up to COVID-19 Watch.

It is always a pleasure to be insulted by Gerard Henderson, a hired gun whose sponsors at his family business The Sydney Institute are too ashamed to reveal their identities.

Given Henderson’s obsessive propensity for trawling the media for any scrap which can be used to discredit anyone who dares dissent from the views of the dominating Howard-hugging commentariat (in which he is a self-appointed high priest) it is surprising he missed the earlier references I have made to the Menzies-Elizabeth Fairfax affair.

Of course the one that appeared in The Age in 2002 was before Henderson was sacked from that paper, which may have been a factor in his blindness. The affair was beyond gossip in Canberra in late sixties, when I joined the press gallery; it was simply accepted as part of history and as the only sensible explanation for the fact that Sir Warwick turned against Menzies, albeit briefly, when he discovered it.

The story was told by politicians, staffers, journalists (notably Ian Fitchett and Alan Reid, the gallery’s doyens) and commonwealth car drivers. I never heard it denied or even questioned by any of the above. I had always assumed that it did not appear in the official histories (especially Martin’s biography, written with Menzies’s co-operation) through a desire not to cause offence.

Henderson’s version does not convince me otherwise. And to suggest that friendships did not sometimes end up in bed in the 1930s, as at any other time… Gerard, you really should widen both your acquaintanceship and your reading.

And if you really want a bit of salacious gossip, try investigating the one about Bob Hawke and the media mogul’s wife. I’m sure you’ll find that more to your political taste.


 

Gerard Henderson writes: Mungo MacCallum belongs to that group of sceptical journalists who made a career out of criticising others but who become super-sensitive when any one dares to criticise them. Contrary to MacCallum’s conspiracy theory, which was aired in Crikey last Friday, I do not trawl through the media seeking to discredit him. In fact, I do not believe that he is so important. It was Crikey who phoned me last Wednesday to check MacCallum’s assertion – which is presented as fact in the November 2006 issue of The Monthly – that “Sir Warwick Fairfax belatedly discovered that his first wife had conducted an affair with Menzies”. Before Crikey phoned, I had not read MacCallum’s article. Contrary to MacCallum’s assertion, I am aware that he has made this claim before – including in The Age. I was not phoned by anyone at The Age at the time to check the facts. Had I been contacted, I would have provided the same information which I gave to Crikey. Namely, there is no evidence of any kind that Robert Menzies had an affair with Betty Fairfax. The late A.W. Martin told me in 1993, at the time of the publication of the first volume of his Robert Menzies: A Life, he was irritated that so many journalists and others only seemed interested in this piece of gossip. Professor Martin added that there was no evidence about the friendship beyond a benign letter dated 6 August 1938 which Mr Menzies sent to Mrs Fairfax (it is quoted in a footnote on Page 302 of the first volume of Robert Menzies: A Life). The fact is that no scholar knew the Menzies family as well as the late Alan Martin did – so his view has considerable authority. Last Thursday Crikey reported that Gavin Souter also has said that there is no evidence of such an affair having taken place. The fact is that no scholar knows the Fairfax family as well as Gavin Souter does – so his view also has considerable authority. Mungo MacCallum comes from the well-off part of Sydney’s Eastern suburbs which is replete with gossip. The same can be said of Parliament House in Canberra – where he worked as a journalist for many years. MacCallum is so addicted to gossip that on Friday he sought to justify his Menzies/Fairfax affair allegation by quoting unnamed politicians and political staffers, deceased journalists and – wait for it – nameless past Commonwealth Car drivers. Hang on a minute. Was not this latter (anonymous) collective the very same group which Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan relied on for his contemporary false allegations against Justice Michael Kirby? Sure was.

Peter Fray

This crisis will cut hard and deep but one day it will be over.

What will be left? What do you want to be left?

I know what I want to see: I want to see a thriving, independent and robust Australian-owned news media. I want to see governments, authorities and those with power held to account. I want to see the media held to account too.

Demand for what we do is running high. Thank you. You can help us even more by encouraging others to subscribe — or by subscribing yourself if you haven’t already done so.

If you like what we do, please subscribe.

Peter Fray
Editor-In-Chief of Crikey

Support us today