How many times can someone kick a dead man? For Gerard Henderson there is no limit. The great Labor leader Doc Evatt might have passed away 46 years ago, but for Hendo it was like yesterday. He takes aim (again) in the June 10 edition of Media Watch Dog, under the banner:
“HISTORY CORNER: BERT EVATT’S MENTAL INSTABILITY — AS RECORDED BY PETER CROCKETT”
A long, tedious denunciation of Evatt follows, based on material from the obscure Crockett. One of the Crockettes is that Evatt’s wife Mary “defended his habitual failure to return borrowed books” — surely one of the most heinous crimes in the history of Australian politics.
Not only that, but “Evatt’s parliamentary colleague Clyde Cameron saw him naked several times.”
Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial and get Crikey straight to your inbox
Let me confess, I was often naked in front of Swannie and Smithie. The Roosters joined me for nudie runs through the Canberra night, juiced up by cleansing ales in Kingston. We were, after all, moving in the legendary footsteps of Doc and Clydie.
So too, Hawkie was always striding around in the nick. John Brown spent a lot of time naked on his parliamentary desk. Jim Cairns even established a nudist colony for the Caucus to visit. This is one of the most daring and enduring of Labor traditions.
Hendo’s Liberals may keep their Collins Street clothes on, but let me assure you, the ALP has always been at one with nature.
The Doc also showed the way forward when it came to bar room behaviour. “As a young man”, the Crockette writes, “Evatt was rude to waiters.” This is what inspired Belinda Neal when visiting Iguana Joe’s bar and bistro on the NSW central coast, the high point of her fame. As a Labor leader, Evatt was ahead of his time.
For the 735th time, Henderson argues that Evatt was responsible for the 1955 split. Why is someone who claims to specialise in analysis of the Liberal Party so obsessed with Evatt? The answer lies in history of a different kind, Henderson family history. As Gerard explained to the Fabian Society in 2006:
“I grew up in the late 1940s and early 1950s in a Catholic, Labor-voting household. My father, Norman, was a rank-and-file member of the ALP and a financial member of the Federated Clerks Union. In my early years, the likes of John Curtin and Ben Chifley were honoured names in our family — albeit somewhat behind the Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Daniel Mannix. My first political memories involved attempting to help my father letter-box ALP election material and to watch him hand out how-to-vote cards on election day.
“Then, one day, my father (and thousands of others — who were labelled Groupers and worse) was expelled from the Labor Party. So now I helped him distribute material for the Anti-Communist Labor Party — which became the Democratic Labor Party. And, soon after, I watched my father hand-out DLP how to vote cards, which preferenced the Coalition ahead of Labor. Norman Henderson came to despise the Labor leadership team of Bert Evatt and Arthur Calwell about as much as he once despised Menzies. Later I handed out DLP material myself.”
The Oedipus complex, in part, is said to reflect a boy’s desire to harm his father. With the Henderson complex, the boy’s desire is to revenge his father. It is difficult to know which is the more disturbing. Certainly it explains the Henderson obsession, senior and junior, with Evatt.
While not without flaws, Evatt remains the most brilliant jurist and foreign minister Australia has produced — one of our few statesmen to have had a lasting impact on international affairs, through his work in establishing the United Nations. Gerard Henderson’s campaign questioning his sanity is shameful. Certainly Gough Whitlam, who worked closely with Evatt in the Labor Caucus in the 1950s, believes the Labor leader was sharp of mind and intellect. Whitlam never saw any sign of deterioration.
In truth, B.A. Santamaria was to blame for the 1955 split. He used an arm of the Catholic Church of Australia, the Catholic Social Studies Movement (known as the Groupers), to infiltrate the ALP in a madcap campaign against so-called communist trade union officials. This was more than factionalism. It was an attempt at outside control of Australia’s oldest political party.
For several years Evatt was patient and cautious in his attitude to the Groupers. He waited until October 1954 to question their activities publicly. No matter whom Labor’s leader might have been, the expulsion of the Groupers and the split that followed was inevitable. Santa made it so.
As they showed by subsequently funneling DLP preferences to Menzies, the likes of Norman Henderson were never real Labor men. Their first allegiance was to the Catholic Church. His son Gerard, unhappily, is a man of obsessions. In his drab, humourless way Junior is unrelenting in his campaign against anyone who has ever crossed his family. He is haunted by the ghost of Doc Evatt, naked or otherwise.
The Henderson archive reveals other flights of fantasy. Gerard has a habit of invention. Where he knows little about a political event he simply makes up things. The best way of demonstrating this point is to use an example from my own time in politics. In The Sydney Morning Herald on July 5, 2005, Henderson declared:
Only two experienced Labor MPs voted for Latham to become leader (in the December 2003 Caucus ballot) — John Faulkner and Rob McClelland.
What about Simon Crean, Laurie Brereton, Janice Crosio, Peter Cook, Gavan O’Connor, Harry Quick, Warren Snowdon, Nick Bolkus, Kim Carr, Harry Jenkins, Laurie Ferguson and Daryl Melham? Each of them were members of parliament longer than McClelland.
When it comes to understanding the internal workings of the ALP, Gerard’s memory has stretched a bridge too far.
It is nearly 60 years since he and Norman Henderson handed out for the party.