“I saw the bright ones arrive”: Idealism, alienation, and persistence in the personal legacies of Australian involvement in the Spanish Civil War

This article explores the little-acknowledged story of Australians who volunteered in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. Specific focus is placed on understanding how the experience affected their later years, particularly in the historical context of the Cold War society in which they lived out the remainder of their lives.

Submitted by danielhp on September 21, 2017


For a country whose very essence is, according to perspectives such as the ANZAC nation-building myth, entrenched in participation in other people’s wars, Australia’s collective memory of its citizens’ role in the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939 is virtually non-existent. Perhaps the relative silence owes much to a simple fact of numbers: somewhere between just 60 and 80 Australians volunteered to support either of the two belligerents.1 All but one were attracted to the struggle to defend the recently-elected Popular Front government of the Spanish Republic against a military uprising led by General Francisco Franco.2 Due to the Australian contingent’s small size, upon arrival in Spain the majority were absorbed into either the British or American battalions of the global volunteer contingent, the International Brigades.

There is no dearth of literature on members and battalions of the International Brigades from Britain, the United States, Canada, and many other countries.3 Such coverage has been shaped by a widely-held acknowledgement of the Spanish Civil War as a global historical marker of particular prominence. Tony Judt reiterates such importance when he claims that the entire story of the Second World War is “side-shadowed” by the events leading to Franco’s destruction of the Spanish Republic, thus engaging historians with vital pieces to the wider historiographical jigsaw through “our understanding not only of Soviet purposes, but of Western responses.”4 Aside from its geopolitical significance, Richard Rhodes has emphasised the technological breakthroughs made during the conflict in Spain. In addition to the well-known practice runs of Hitler’s Luftwaffe,5 innovations in medicine, largely borne out of necessity given the brutality of the fighting, were also made.6

Despite the prevalence of such scholarship, the study of Australian members of the International Brigades has been severely neglected. Addressing this gap in the literature, this thesis intends to serve as a whole new chapter in the Australian story of the Spanish Civil War. Of particular interest was the extent to which volunteers’ initial idealism was shaped or affected by the influence of the State, other institutions, the nature of relationships with peers in the wider community, and the experience of the war itself, throughout the remainder of their lives. Ultimately, I argue that treatment of the returned Australian Brigaders at the hands of a State and society wrought of high conservatism during the Cold War would largely have injurious impacts at the personal and emotional levels, sometimes dulling political idealism. For others, however, the existence of, and exposure to, such obstacles and opposition in fact reinforced convictions, ultimately serving their careers in radical leftist politics. Among Australian nurses whose initial idealism was forged less by politics than pure altruism, the urgency and drama of time spent in the midst of the Spanish struggle would also be recalled as a key episode in their life, in which confirmation of their vocational calling rang out heavily.

The extant primary and secondary material on Australians in Spain concentrates only on the motivations, actions, and feelings underlying involvement immediately preceding, during, or in the brief aftermath of the conflict. The wartime journal of Agnes Hodgson,7 the collation of Lloyd Edmonds’ correspondence back home to his father,8 and a chapter in Arthur Howell’s book on his travails in Spain with wife Margaret,9 are notable for their rarity as readily-accessible primary source material written by Australian volunteers. Arriving in Spain without any real political pretensions or awareness, Hodgson’s diary of her nursing activities and perceptions of life in a war zone provides a rare outlet “for comprehending the human dimensions of a vast political drama.”10 Conversely, the on-the-ground perspectives of Edmonds, elsewhere described as “a lifelong communist,”11 and Howells, whose memoir’s subtitle refers to his self-identification as an anarchist, offer the insights of volunteers much more motivated by political conviction.

In addition to editing and presenting Hodgson’s narrative, Judith Keene, who today teaches the Spanish Civil War to students at the University of Sydney, has also written on the fascinating Brigader for whom the later emotional impacts of time in Spain is analysed in Chapter 3, Aileen Palmer,12 and foreigners who fought for Franco, including the single Australian, devout Catholic Nugent Bull.13 Arguably the most seminal piece of secondary research is Amirah Inglis’ Australians in the Spanish Civil War, published a year after the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the war, in 1987. Elsewhere, Bronte Gould examines the motivating factors behind Australians’ self-mobilisation,14 and several articles focus on the Spanish diaspora in far-north Queensland. Dianne Menghetti argues that such communities have long been neglected within the generally-held position that the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) and the Catholic Church were the only groups in Australia in any way engaged by the developments on the Iberian Peninsula.15 Robert Mason similarly conveys importance to these clusters of Spanish émigrés, reviewing the differing ways they responded to the turmoil in the motherland, based on the political tradition and heritage of the regions they had immigrated from.16

The archival material informing my study centres on a large amount of private correspondence between historian Amirah Inglis and the participants (and their relatives), during Inglis’ researching for Australians in the Spanish Civil War, accessed at the Australian National University’s Noel Butlin Archives Centre (NBAC). In addition to letters, these sources, covering a period from the 1930s through to the 1980s, also include transcripts of interviews, newspaper articles, and internal memoranda from domestic organisations such as the Spanish Relief Committee (SRC) and the Movement Against War and Fascism. Affording rich information which was nonetheless extraneous to Inglis’ requirements at the time (her book only covering in any detail the period up to the start of the Second World War), they have accordingly never been examined or evaluated in such a context.

Also utilised have been the private papers of literary figure and Brigader Aileen Palmer at the National Library of Australia (NLA), and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) files of a number of volunteers at the National Archives of Australia (NAA). The recollections of relatives, such as Mark Aarons - grandson of Brigader and later WA branch secretary of the CPA, Sam Aarons - have added to the analysis of personal impacts of involvement in Spain at an individual level, through the broad lens of family history.17

While the personal retrospection inherent in the nature of my sources suggests a vulnerability as to their complete objectivity, I would argue that this in fact emerges as a strength. As my thesis concerns individuals’ lives in personal detail, engaging with their unique perspectives is a key part of understanding their stories. Here, the work of sociologist Maurice Halbwachs is invoked. In his work on collective memory the Frenchman surmised that “while the collective memory endures and draws strength from its base in a coherent body of people, it is individuals as group members who remember,”18 and that “every collective memory requires the support of a group delimited in space and time.”19 This theory fits perfectly with the lifespan of Brigader Mary Lowson who, after initially being an active member of the CPA for close to a decade after her return from Spain would, following an intensification of Cold War-era societal judgement by her peers, be resolutely reluctant “to open old wounds” when Inglis approached her in the 1980s.20 I was keen to understand why Brigaders such as Lowson felt ideologically isolated to the extent of opting out of attempts to produce a collective memory of the Spanish experience among Australians, and, indeed, if others were more receptive to the exercise.

Framed as a Marxist humanist analysis, the theoretical dimension of my work is chiefly inspired by the work of Herbert Marcuse. Of particular import is his criticism of the “one-dimensionality” of political and social discourse under Western post-industrial capitalist modernity.21 Fredric Jameson has presented Marcuse as the ideological heir to, and borrower of, Freud and Marx’s “classical opposition between individual happiness and social organisation.”22 In assigning relevance to the study of the Australian volunteers in Spain, I follow Jameson in highlighting the particular epoch in which Marcuse adapted this Freudian/Marxian dichotomy. Relative to his predecessors, the Marcusian model was concerned with analysis of Western societies “on the other side of the great watershed of post-industrial capitalism…which began to emerge at the end of World War II”.23 The lives of the Australian Brigaders - mobilised by rare idealism (in an Australian context) during the tail end of the Marxian/Freudian era, before feeling the social and cultural impacts of ‘post-industrial capitalism’ - straddled this period. As such, their recollections offer an almost tailor-made historical narrative in which to test Marcuse’s hypothesis.

Also guiding my study are the contributions of another Frankfurt School theorist, and fellow Marxist humanist, Erich Fromm. Complementing Marcuse’s sociological gaze, Fromm’s psychoanalytical enquiry was concerned more with the alienating influence on individuals of the progressively generic nature of society and State.24 As formulated most fluently in his 1968 book The Sane Society, Fromm conceived the social conditions outlined by Marcuse as resulting in the loss of an individual’s ability to identify their own distinctive role or purpose within much wider institutional frameworks.25 In turn, the projection of the concerns of the State onto people’s interactions with others occurs with little resistance, forcing, in an environment of increasing confluence, political idealists to the sidelines as an ‘other’ to be mistrusted.

Applying these theories to the volunteers’ stories, I contend that the very nature of Cold War Australian society would manifest barriers of both active (surveillance and monitoring, in the name of national security concerns) and passive (mainstream community opinion, manipulated by such governmental rhetoric as Robert Menzies’ fierce anti-communism) capacity on those who returned from participation in Spain. Further institutional factors at a more geopolitical level, such as implications of ruptures in the global communist movement throughout the century’s middle decades, were also personally to affect some of these individuals, causing alienation and ideological discombobulation to varying degrees.

Chapter 1 contextualises the global response to the Spanish Civil War, within which the Australians mobilised, and the subsequent treatment of former International Brigaders. Despite hindsight having vindicated the Brigaders as the first to rebel against the spread of European fascism, the antipathy towards communism defining the Cold War era would undermine attempts at memorialisation and acknowledgement of their service in Western states. Other elements of the Spanish Civil War which would impinge on Brigaders’ later lives, such as the destructiveness of internal tensions on the Republican side, are also outlined.

Chapter 2 delves, specifically, into political elements of the Australian individuals’ legacy of involvement in Spain. Factors covered in this chapter include the impact of monitoring by Commonwealth security agencies, the treatment of volunteers by their peers in wider society as manipulated by governmental policy and rhetoric, and the extent to which their idealism was sustained in a professional capacity.

The more personal, emotional legacy of the Spanish experience will then be examined in Chapter 3, with the case study of Aileen Palmer attracting particular focus. A gifted writer, daughter to one of Australia’s most influential literary couples, the contrast between the violence and urgency of her time in Spain and the mundanity of life back in Australia from the late-1940s would, it is contended through an application of Fromm’s theories, play a significant role in the psychological breakdowns plaguing much of her later years. At the acknowledged risk of making too naïve a diagnosis, it was very possibly a combination of both the struggle to reintegrate into Australian society in peacetime, and her losing faith in communism after Khrushchev’s revelations about his predecessor, Stalin, that at least partially contributed to Palmer’s mental and emotional turmoils. Not all personal legacies of the war were negative, though, as this chapter will also analyse.

Chapter 1. “Around your bones, the olive groves will grow”: the ‘last great cause’ and the International Brigades

Portraying literature’s most famous dreamer, Don Quixote, on the silver screen, Peter O’Toole once cried “too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all [is] to see life as it is and not as it should be.”26 Sharing such a utopian outlook were the subjects primarily discussed in this thesis: five Australian volunteers who threw quixotic caution to the wind in travelling to Spain in 1936. Against the Australian Government’s wishes, and with all the accompanying logistical obstacles, they had left for Europe to help defend the democratically-elected government from an armed military coup spearheaded by General Francisco Franco. While, as will be examined, the fuel may have differed between individuals, the fire of their idealism was clear. In risking their life to contribute to a struggle against the rampant threat of spreading European fascism, each of the Australian contingent might just as sooner had La Mancha recorded as a spiritual ‘place of birth’ in their passports than the realities of Dubbo, Broken Hill, or Hobart.

The distinct Australian brand of political idealism in the period during which the Spanish Civil War took place was markedly different from its British counterpart.27 For an Australian New Idealist of the day, the notion of the ‘state’ was of less importance than concepts such as ‘empire’, ‘humanity’, and the ‘international order.’28 It is not a stretch to appreciate the resonance of such terms among progressive intellectual residents of a young nation still dealing with its status as a colonial outpost, and its treatment of Indigenous peoples and resources. Having said that, I am more inclined towards the description of idealism discussed in the next paragraph in describing the Australian volunteers in Spain; largely because of the authority with which it allows for identification of those driven by motivations of a practical, as much as political, nature.

David Raphael defines an idealist as a person for whom the concept of freedom is a positive, rather than (the more standard) negative, value.29 In other words, instead of simply representing an “absence of restraint”, freedom is entwined in the striving of self-realisation; namely, the realisation of our ‘true’ or ‘higher’ self.30 Such a version of one’s self is that which can be of most assistance to the world and people around us. Raphael treads almost precisely the same philosophical ground here as Isaiah Berlin, who too elaborates on the distinction between negative and positive freedom, extolling the latter over the former.31 Accepting such a principle, it follows that idealism should not be limited to use solely in a political sense. It must also relate to any human activity that calls upon, as its inherent motivation, a desire to contribute to a cause transcending one’s own current individual concerns.

Framed in such a way, it is difficult to avoid an assessment of the majority of the men and women from myriad countries who volunteered for the International Brigades32 as - whether political ideologues driven by principles such as communism and anti-fascism, or people who simply believed that the application of their particular vocational skills could help those in peril – to a person, idealists. On an unprecedented scale, left-wing idealism of the 1930s found a focal point in the global response to the conflict in Spain and, to this day, scholars continue to mine sources related to the foreign volunteers.33 Efforts to delve into a range of issues,34 however, continue to approach the topic at a broad, macro level. Mystifyingly neglected has been the examination of individuals’ later legacies of their time in Spain. Indeed, even after noting the preference of his contemporaries (Richard Baxell and Bill Alexander among them) to “steer clear of such personal and emotive territory” in the study of British Brigaders, Tom Buchanan still proceeds himself to analyse the personal and family impacts of involvement only in the period either during or shortly succeeding the war.35 When he does address the latter decades of the twentieth century, it is only in the context of scrutinising general quasi-institutional trends, such as efforts of organisations to commemorate the Brigaders’ service, in a more receptive, post-Cold War world.36 As a social history, the narratives of the individuals’ lives seem, in the scholarly scene, to have abruptly ended well before their own lives would. As Matthew Poggi notes, the study of the International Brigades continues to fail to “take into account the entire lives of the veterans [italics added].”37 It is this academic vacuum that, albeit in a strictly Australian context, this study attempts to begin to fill.

Volunteering for the International Brigades was seen, around the world, as a chance to convert radical leftist theorising and proselytisation into action. If one was prepared to become a martyr to a cause, here finally was one worth breathing the last for. While philosophes sat in Parisian salons arguing over the minutiae of ideological differences between Stalin and Trotsky (engaging in the sort of behaviour that civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael might later condemn as “intellectual masturbation”),38 the magnetism of a physical frontline of principles and purpose in Spain burned brightly. It attracted thinkers, writers, and poets, among perhaps less educated but just as equally passionate labourers, to a real call to arms. Positioning Spain within a Europe of increasing fascist influence in the wake of the Great Depression,39 Raymond Carr exemplified the attendant sense of moral urgency when he claimed that the Republic represented “the last twitch of Europe’s dying conscience.”40

Before long though, in light of Franco’s victory and the dawning of his brutal dictatorship in 1939, this fascination with the Spanish battlefield of ideas would give way to a “dull prolonged anguish of spirit.”41 This sorrow, the lament of a chance lost, would in turn be magnified by a concurrent romanticisation of the almost mythical sense of moral righteousness felt at the time, reflected as much in the artistic world as in the political sphere occupied by the far-left. Yet, of course, romanticism in a political sense such as this implies a condemnation to the past of halcyon, henceforth-unrepeatable memories. Indeed, the fact that the Republic lost the war perhaps crystallised these notions even further. Hence, despite the enduring nature of cultural portrayals of the fight for the salvage of the Republic,42 Jack Lindsay’s anguish foreshadowed an appreciation that, within the complex new climate of the Cold War era, a cause of such unifying nature would never again present itself.43 At the Dialectics of Liberation conference in London in July 1967, at which Herbert Marcuse also spoke, American anthropologist Jules Henry agreed, turning a spotlight onto the seemingly schizophrenic state of post-1945 geopolitics facilitating such “radical alterations in the definition of the enemy.”44 So too did historian Stanley Weintraub, as the very title of his book, The Last Great Cause, affirmed.45

Modernity had caught up with, indeed overtaken, the old guard of left-wing idealism. Investigating Australian literary responses to the conflict, Brian Beasley argued that the legacy of the Spanish Civil War in Australia would come to encapsulate a tragic modernist indictment of the Brigaders’ innocence. Forever they would be frozen in a time and place which seemed to be becoming increasingly distant:

The Republican belief that ‘culture’ and ‘values’ can defeat fascism [was] mocked by modernity; as [was] the ideal that cultural history has a certain teleology, progressing ‘upward’ to a just end.


A brutal introduction to the barbarism and cruelty of a whole new mode of warfare had sliced through the Brigaders’ idealism like bullets through flesh. Their “ideological arsenal - Marxism, poetry, philosophy”47 - was impotent in shielding against the much realer forces of modernity, personified with particular viciousness by Hitler and Mussolini’s bombers. One poignant anecdote told of pages of poetry, pamphlets, and books, discarded from rucksacks as superfluous extra weight come the heat of battle, strewn across a battlefield behind a heap of the corpses of Republican soldiers.48 For those who personally remembered, or were regaled with passed-down tales of, such destruction of dreams, “the loss of the Spanish Civil War was…one of the great tragedies of a century that has seen its fill of tragedies.”49

Contributing both to its defeat and to the disillusionment of some of the International Brigaders who returned to their own countries, was the significant divergence of thought among Republican ranks. At the onset of the War in 1936, the Republican movement was a wildly disparate collection of actors, reflecting a broad electoral base which had seen the Popular Front narrowly clinch power in the February elections.50 Fearing a relapse into the oppressive rule of a despised pre-Republic trinity of Church, landowners, and army, they vowed to defend the left-wing government from the military uprising. However, the Republic’s need to balance the demands of so many differing groups – with Catalan and Basque nationalists thrown into the mix – made for, unsurprisingly, a military coalition lacking cohesion.51

Traditionally, communism in Spain had been overshadowed by anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism, as well as a more moderate form of socialism, in its capacity to galvanise the labour movement.52 Reflecting this was the strength of trade unions such as the anarcho-syndicalist Confederación Nacional de Trabajo (National Confederation of Labour: CNT) and the Socialist International-aligned Unión General de Trabajadores (General Union of Workers: UGT), relative to the Partido Comunista de España (Communist Party of Spain: PCE).53 The PCE, indeed, had only been formed in 1921.54 Despite the symbolic importance communism would later retrospectively attach to the War, it would not be until the Soviet Union became the only major foreign power to provide support for the Republic55 that, out of necessity, concessions to communist groups began to be made, and they duly stepped in from their peripheral role. In having developed the International Brigades, instigating communist parties from Paris to New York to recruit volunteers, the Soviet leadership expected ideological allegiance to follow.56 Their naïveté would be matched only by their ruthlessness. The suppression of Republican groups that did not align with Comintern policy was most famously elucidated by George Orwell in his description of time spent with the anarchist Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification: POUM).57 The Briton was just one wave among an ocean: one of the staples of post-defeat historiography would be a critiquing of the role played by the Soviet Union in fomenting such bitter infighting.58

As recently as this decade, though, there has been revisionism in the scholarship on this point, seeing to a split on precisely what Stalin’s intentions were in Spain. Robert Stradling continues along the well-trod path to claim that the Brigades were essentially a front for Soviet imperialism (“agents of the Kremlin first and soldiers of the Spanish Republic only second”).59 Countering, Richard Baxell suggests that they were in fact a defensive tool used by Stalin to attempt to stave off the threat of German expansionism.60 In any case, at a personal level first-hand experience of the intrusion of Soviet command in Spain would have an impact on the politicism of those who had mobilised as members of domestic communist organisations. As this thesis will explain in the Australian context, this included disillusionment with communism itself, significantly shaping for the worse one’s wider remembrance of involvement in the Spanish Civil War.61

Despite the internal ruptures within either of the belligerent camps in Spain,62 the acuteness of animosity between Republicans and Nationalists was, of course, exponentially greater. The deadly violence it wreaked was a language screaming with murderous intent, before sending thousands into untraceable, unmarked graves with a whisper. To this day, the wounds of the war in Spain remain if not more raw than ever, then certainly more treatable. A process of re-democratisation which began with Franco’s death in 1975 has slowly blossomed into an atmosphere in which families can feel comfortable to openly seek exhumation of the remains of predecessors who had disappeared in those fateful years.63 Still, in its title alone, Guardian correspondent Giles Tremlett’s historical and cultural biography of a country, Ghosts of Spain, invokes the deep, oft-hidden scars associated with contemporary Spaniards’ disagreements over how to deal with this dark chapter of their country’s past. Its first three chapters – “Secretos a Voces” (‘Open Secrets’), “Looking for the Generalísimo”, and “Amnistía and Amnesia: The Pact of Forgetting” particularly grapple with the balancing act Spain faces today.64 In 2007, the Law of Historical Memory initially proposed three years earlier by the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party: PSOE) passed Congress, introducing legislative statutes responding to the troubled era, attracting inevitable criticism from the right.65 Unfortunately too late for any of the Australians involved, these decrees included the granting of Spanish citizenship to any surviving members of the International Brigades.66

Seven decades earlier, participation was likely to attract the negative gaze of the State upon return home, if one was lucky enough to survive. In Western countries, official acknowledgement of service predictably evaded Brigaders during the decades of the Cold War. On the contrary, the virulent anti-communism pervading Western society condemned any political idealist remotely on the left to marginalisation, if not prosecution. Among those feeling the brunt of the most overt influence of the State would be those who stirred the communist-fearing ire of Senator Joe McCarthy’s own Spanish inquisition of sorts, in the United States of the 1950s.67 In Canada, members of the McKenzie-Papineau Battalion were “considered criminals for defying the Foreign Enlistment Act,” denied employment and the ability to enlist for World War II service, and were subjected to surveillance by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police until, in some cases, as late as the 1980s.68

For Australian Brigaders, the most difficult period came during the height of the Cold War during the prime ministership of Robert Menzies, who saw it as his personal crusade to eliminate communism.69 Andrew Moore has linked Menzies’ hatred of the far left to his earlier admiration, as attorney general in 1938, of Hitler’s dismantling of the German labour movement.70 As Opposition Leader a decade later, months before he won power for the second time, he blamed the so-called “rising influence of the Communist loafers and schemers” for national industrial concerns surrounding production levels and the efficiency of exports.71 The failure of Menzies’ subsequent attempts to ban the CPA – first through a High Court decision,72 secondly at a referendum73 – would, as Brian Galligan suggests, be “crucial in saving Australia from the McCarthyist phobia which swept the United States.”74

It would be folly to take from such a statement that communists had it easy in Australian society during this period, though. During the middle decades of the twentieth century the CPA faced struggles related to both domestic persecution75 and splits in the wider global communist movement.76 Judith Brett outlines the nature of the trickle-down effect of conservative ideology on wider societal judgements of left-wing idealists in the 1950s,77 as the country became afflicted by what Les Louis has labelled Menzies’ aim to establish a ‘national security state.’78 In this political atmosphere, while the Soviet Union was the obvious foreign enemy, communists were deemed as constituting “a potential fifth column.”79 Moore even equated Menzies with the infamous junior senator from Wisconsin, bunching him alongside fellow Liberal (and future Governor-General), Richard Casey, and Country Party members, Archie Cameron and Joseph Abbott, as McCarthy’s “Australian counterparts.”80 Under Menzies, the leeway given to the recently-established ASIO to harangue and harass the ‘fifth column’ saw it become a “political force in its own right.”81 As ASIO’s official historian David Horner puts it, this politicisation of the department stemmed from Menzies’ (duly met) expectations that “ASIO was to play a major role in the Government’s campaign” against communism.82 By January 1950, weeks after his election, Menzies was being supplied with detailed security reports on the CPA.83 Among former Brigaders so easily tarnished by the brush of communism, regardless of whether they remained (or indeed ever were) CPA members, experiences in this period ranged from the subtle (slurs and criticism from peers) to the more direct (monitoring or imprisonment by ASIO and other Commonwealth security bodies). For those whose idealism was too strong to be crushed by the weight of such a climate of fear and repression, Menzies’ attacks on the union movement,84 and his use of conscription for “an undeclared and unwinnable war” in Vietnam, afforded outlets for ongoing activism.85

Under such conditions, attempts to forge any form of collective memory of the efforts and sacrifices of the Western battalions of the International Brigades were, for decades, curtailed. While in Australia the geographical dispersion of a group of such small numbers and a general lack of ongoing communication between volunteers (aside from small groups here and there, as will be explored) meant no such efforts were ever made, this was certainly not the case in the United States, Canada, and Britain. With the benefit of the time that has passed, organisations which continue to honour the memory of the Brigades “have now shuffled off their Comintern-inspired origins and Cold War affiliations.”86 Today, loyal memorialisation comes hand in hand with principles of much wider public palatability than anti-fascism, with “world peace and social democracy” chief among them.87 Claims for legitimacy are given added credibility by the expounding, and increasing historical acceptance, of supporters’ arguments that the Brigaders, and the Spanish Republic more generally, were truly the first casualties in the Second World War. Despite this, it was not until 2008 that efforts for any kind of mainstream recognition of American volunteers succeeded: the first tribute to Brigaders worthy of gaining National Monument status being created in San Francisco.88 In this regard, they had been well and truly pipped to the post by the British. In 1985, a national memorial to British volunteers killed in Spain was unveiled on London’s South Bank. This, in turn, was merely the high point of a commemorative process which had begun back in 1950, when the first plaque for an individual – Ralph Fox – had been erected in Halifax.89

For the Australians, drowned out by countless ceremonies for compatriots slain fighting the same enemy of fascism within months, a modest plaque unveiled in front of Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin in 1993 remains a lonely testament to those whose blood stained Spanish soil. In its humility is reflected that of the Australian contingent in the years since. As a reviewer of Lloyd Edmonds’ Letters from Spain noted, “for some decades his story was known only to friends.”90 After returning home with five compatriots at Sydney’s Pyrmont wharf on 19 February 1938, Brigader Jim McNeill proudly stated that their efforts in Spain had followed an Australian tradition of striving for liberty and freedom. To a story in which the Eureka Stockade and the emergence of Australia’s labour movement were already heralded as historical markers, his and his compatriots’ experience in the International Brigades should well comprise a new chapter.91 This thesis examines how, through a look at the later lives of five of McNeill’s comrades, his hopeful plea would never ring true.

Chapter 2. Old wounds, new battles: the sustainability of Brigaders’ political idealism in Cold War Australia

…under the threat of international communism…the programs of the big parties become ever more undistinguishable, even in the degree of hypocrisy and in the odor of clichés. This unification of opposites bears upon the very possibilities of social change where it embraces those strata on whose back the system progresses – that is, the very classes whose existence once embodied the opposition to the system as a whole.


Thus, in his 1964 critique of Western modernity, Herbert Marcuse addressed a stifling of alternative ideological expression (to that facilitating the seamless continuation of capitalism) under an increasing confluence among elected representatives of this ‘new society.’93 Attributing power to systems of mass communication in transmitting this ‘one-dimensionality,’94 masked by the State’s ability to provide “an ever-more-comfortable life for an ever-growing number of people,”95 Marcuse noted a resultant stultifying effect on the politicism of the general population.96 Political thought, if left to germinate only with the nourishment of an undiscerning mainstream media, begins to occupy less a complex spectrum than a see-saw. In relation to the State, then, which after all represents the organ of power shaping this convergence of ideas, individuals become either ‘with us or against us.’97

So, within the ideological confines of such a societal framework, what of those who possess a certain idealism, particularly of the sort not easily placated by material concessions of the welfare safety net? What of those who apply the weight of an exotic philosophy to the comfortable plateau of plainness, to tip the see-saw in either direction? If the reader will permit an answer by way of a contemporary example, let us consider the commonality of (indeed, the lack of distinction between) governmental responses to Australian nationals fighting with Islamic State or with Kurdish independence movements. Clearly, the motivations justifying involvement on either side of this divide stem from two vastly different viewpoints.98 To the State, however, such distinctions can be found wanting. Under the contentious legislative framework of the Autonomous Sanctions Act of 2011,99 Australian citizens returning from combat with either side of the conflict “face life behind bars if they return.”100 In conflating the opposing forms of idealism exhibited by such individuals, the effect on the general populace of such a stance by leadership is telling. Albeit balanced by those who honour their actions and sacrifice, the readiness of everyday Australians to taint those supporting the Kurdish freedom fighters with the same vigour they do their Islamic State enemies can be seen in the comments sections of online news articles.101 Informed by the blurring of both sides in the media,102 the “facts mean little in comparison with the suggestive noise which hammers at them.”103

The Australians in 1936 who, just as fervently as today’s fighter in the Middle East, acted on their idealism in volunteering to support the Spanish Republic, similarly evaded the endorsement of the State.104 To appreciate the naïveté of their identification and associated marginalisation by both the State and the society they returned to, one does not need to trawl far through the pages of history to find evidence. Take Robert Mason’s article exploring the wide range of responses to the Spanish Civil War amongst the ideologically-diverse Spanish diaspora in northern Queensland. Citing internal police correspondence, Mason highlighted the Australian authorities’ farcical inability to differentiate, for example, émigré anarchists from communists.105 The security services, too, failed to grasp such variances.106 If the agencies so-named for their ostensible possession of the ‘intelligence’ pertinent to making such assessments could make these generalisations, it should come as no surprise that the general public could similarly paint with such a broad brush.107 The paranoia and judgement of far left ideologues in Australia would reach a peak in the 1950s, as Menzies capitalised on a society which, still drifting between losing the cultural shackles of convictism and finding an identity of its own, “was deeply unsure of itself.”108 Despite his well-professed love for all things Empire, he distorted the coordinates of the nation’s foreign policy compass towards those of the United States, exploiting the new ally’s stance on conflicts on our Asian doorstep to target communism, and its proponents, domestically.109

I argue in this chapter that the existence of such State-generated societal suspicion of sympathisers of communism, as well as more obvious applications of the State’s strength, would result in alienation among the Brigaders in subsequent decades. Ultimately, this would impinge on the sustainability and strength of their initial idealism, as well as the manner in which they presented associated memories in the company of different social groups. In addition, even amongst apparent allies in idealism - for instance, within the confines of the CPA – developments at a wider institutional level, such as splits in the global communist movement, affected the professional relationships of individuals for whom allegiances had been profoundly cemented by the Spanish experience.

Despite these factors, the ideological struggle that had initially motivated volunteering for the defence of the Spanish Republic by no means died out completely. While it is true that the romanticism in memorialisation, and continuing camaraderie, of the volunteers never engulfed the surviving Australian International Brigade contingent to the extent it did internationally, an aura associated with involvement in the iconic struggle against fascism in Spain nonetheless gave a certain air of authority to those aspiring to leadership positions in communist or trade union circles. For Sam Aarons and Ron Hurd, such ambitions would come to fruition, in the CPA and the Seamen’s Union, respectively, though, as will be explained, at no little cost.


It must have come as some surprise to Mary Lowson when in the space of a few months in 1983, more than four and a half decades since her time spent nursing in Spain and yet not in a year coinciding with any particularly momentous anniversary, two separate historians approached, seeking her recollections of that period. Certainly, an initial reticence in speaking about these experiences barely wavered in the months that followed, despite repeated attempts to engage her. Having by now lived in Perth for some forty years, Lowson remained close to an old nursing comrade from her Spanish days, Dorothy Low, also a resident of the city. Correspondence between Amirah Inglis and Dorothy’s husband, Bill Irwin, during Inglis’ researching for Australians in the Spanish Civil War, reveals Lowson’s attitude to her past involvement in Spain in stark detail. Sadly, with Low at this time very unwell, any mention of her in Bill’s letters centred on updating Inglis on her failing health. Inglis’ interest in Lowson, on the other hand, was piqued by the historian’s desire to read Lowson’s unpublished memoirs written during her time in Spain.110

The other academic keen to speak to Lowson was Judith Keene from the University of Sydney, who would in 1988 present an edited, annotated version of the wartime journal of one of Lowson’s fellow nurses, Agnes Hodgson, titled The Last Mile to Huesca.111 Back in August 1983, these twin sources of attention from Keene and Inglis had begun to frustrate Lowson considerably. Responding to a letter of 3 August, in which Inglis had enquired about the possibility of reading the manuscript Keene had also requested access to, Irwin spoke of Lowson’s resolute reluctance “to open old wounds.”112 Inferring a particular stubbornness to Mary at this time, he claimed that attempting to get her to come around to his way of thinking and assist Inglis with her research was “like arguing with the QE2. Hopeless.”113

It is a shame that Lowson’s recollections consequently did not feature with any prominence in Inglis’ study. A communist of considerable passion and verve, Hobart-born Lowson had been working as a nurse in Sydney when she volunteered to assist the Spanish Republican cause, heeding the call of the SRC in Sydney.114 She duly took on the mantle of leadership among the handful of women recruited.115 Upon her return to Australia in September 1937, Lowson headlined a speaking tour in which the central focus was on raising awareness and money for refugees from the violence; less than six months later, she would be back in Spain once more to continue the struggle.116 Already forty-one years old when she had left for Spain, it was no doubt her life and professional experience that saw to Lowson’s gravitation to the position of leader among the Australian women, rather than simply her deep connection to communism. Certainly, among the four nurses who finally left Australian shores at Fremantle on board the Oronsay on 2 November 1936, hers was not the only idealism so shaped by politics: May MacFarlane, too, was a CPA member.117 However, just as in the much larger male cohort, for whom impetuses for involvement varied from political idealism to a desire to escape financial hardships still lingering from the Depression, motivating factors among the women were just as diverse.

For Hodgson, for example, inspiration was particularly derived from vocational considerations. Attracted more by a sense of adventure than any political conviction, Hodgson had been well-travelled in previous years, and saw in this venture another chance to marry her nursing skills with her wandering soul.118 Time previously spent in Italy, and her (unsuccessful) attempts to provide nursing support in Abyssinia after Mussolini’s 1935 invasion, inspired suspicion on the part of the highly dogmatic Lowson.119 Coupled with Hodgson’s fluency in Italian,120 the apparent coincidence surrounding her presence in Sydney right at the moment she emerged to replace one of the initial four nurses (Edith Curwen; coerced by her family to back down from the endeavour), must have raised Lowson’s doubts even more.121 Subsequently made to feel, at times, doubted and discarded, Hodgson became disillusioned by the political intrigue, infighting, and jostling for positions of leadership within the very side she was attempting to support.122 Despite saying that the horrors witnessed in Spain had made of her a “a militant pacifist for ever,”123 Hodgson would later volunteer for nursing service in the Second World War, highlighting just how apolitically pragmatic and vocationally-based her initial motivations for involvement had been.124

It is unfortunately beyond the scope of this thesis to explore Hodgson’s later perceptions in great detail. However, the steep downward trajectory of Mary Lowson’s idealism over the years – from a leader among fellow Australian nurses in Spain in the late 1930s, to a total shying-away from even the most sympathetic and interested of historical enquirers in the mid-1980s – demands analysis and exploration. While the disinclination to speak to Inglis in 1983 about her experience does not, of course, allow us to make any concrete assessments of Lowson’s life, relationships, politics, or convictions since, an incident the following year served to legitimise her desire to keep elements of her past well-hidden.

Asked by the convenor of a literary group she had joined at the Association for the Blind whether she had ever written anything, Lowson was convinced by Bill Irwin to have a “colourful chapter” of her unpublished manuscript about Spain read out at the next meeting.125 The response from her fellow members was telling, half of the group walking out upon hearing these reminiscences. She was almost completely shunned by the group after this. “Guess why?,” Irwin asked Inglis rhetorically, speaking volumes. At the next meeting, the one man – new to the group, having clearly been prompted by an acquaintance’s denouncement of Mary – who did speak to her, did so only to criticise Lowson personally, pointedly remarking that “you would make mischief wherever you are.”126

It is difficult to imagine this being the first time Lowson had been treated with such derision and condemnation by members of the wider community for having the temerity to speak publicly about her involvement in Spain and the communist movement. Certainly, the lingering nature of her peers’ conservativeness – this interaction occurring, after all, nearly fifty years after the events of which Lowson spoke - suggests an obstinacy to such attitudes that surely must have manifested themselves on numerous other occasions over the years. Despite having left the CPA127 and been, for an indeterminate period of time, a member of the Labor Party, references in Irwin’s letters to her local Claremont ALP branch’s refusal to endorse an application for life membership based on her efforts fighting for democracy suggest that even in the face of a more ‘respectable’ political self-identification in later years, Lowson’s Spanish efforts were far from celebrated, even by those on the left of mainstream politics.128 In this context, the gratitude expressed by Irwin to Inglis after she had sent a tape letter to the almost-completely blind Lowson in early 1984 – “she was really happy about it. How many show affection to her?”129 – takes on a certain, profound resonance, even if, still, it failed to invoke a more helpful approach to the historian’s questioning.

Expanding on Marcuse’s attribution of a populace’s collective political lethargy to the forces of Western modernity, Erich Fromm’s theory about the disconnect between an individual’s private and public existence comes to the fore in the literary group meeting anecdote. Fromm posits that under the era of modernity denigrated by Marcuse each individual has become to one another “a commodity, always to be treated with certain friendliness, because even if he is not of use now, he may be later.”130 The existence of dialectical human relationships, such as employer/employee, salesman/customer, and so on, underpin this development. The effect of this added veneer of “superficial friendliness…distance…[and] subtle distrust” to what is humanity’s innately sociable nature ultimately leads to the “projection of all social feelings into the state, which thus becomes an idol, a power standing over and above man.”131 Fromm exemplifies this by showing how someone who would ordinarily exhibit indifference to providing financial support for a stranger would in fact, if they were to become soldiers defending the State together the following day, risk their own life to help save the other.132

The results of a 1955 social experiment survey are cited by Fromm as further clarification of this detachment between the private and public (or, alternatively, personal and social) spheres. When asked what things they worried most about, ninety-two per cent of respondents named factors related to their own personal lives and existence; financial concerns, health problems, or issues with relationships close to them. However, when asked if communism should be considered a cause of serious concern, more than half of the respondents agreed. Therefore, without prompting, such social worries had not been deemed worthy of concern at a personal level.133

What Mary Lowson did, then, by recounting her earlier communist days in and following the Spanish Civil War, was arguably just that; prompted in her peer group the projection of their collective, but nonetheless underlying, social concerns (as manipulated and enhanced by the governing and media institutions under which they had lived for decades) onto her. The same groundswell of anti-communist policy stimulating the consolidation of security forces into the establishment of ASIO in 1949 dominated considerations of national security throughout the 1950s, as the Korean and Malayan conflicts played into the hands of the conservatives. Speaking in Parliament ahead of his failed referendum that sought to ban the CPA, Menzies promulgated within Australian society the notion that demonstrations for peace, including calls for the banning of the bomb, constituted a Soviet conspiracy “to prevent or impair defence preparations in the democracies.”134 With memories from such a politically-charged era, in which even the pacifist movement was labelled as an ‘other’ posing a threat to national security, it is little wonder that Lowson’s references to her activities with the CPA itself invited such levels of personal censure from peers, despite her ideological distancing from it since.

Ultimately, as analysis of the sources suggests, the negating influence of this treatment on Lowson’s idealism was significant. For a woman who, after the fall of the Republic, spoke of the indefatigability of “spirit of [Spain’s] people [who] have rehabilitated themselves before and will do so again,”135 Lowson’s framing in memory, decades later, of her Spanish experience embodied a far cry from such positivity. In a 1983 letter, she downplayed not only her own role in Spain (claiming that only one of her nursing countrywomen – Una Wilson136 – “did the work we were originally intended to do”), but those of almost all the Australians who volunteered, asserting with a tangible lack of romanticism that “they did nothing remarkable.”137 Aside from Wilson, only two other Australians escaped this stinging assessment by Lowson. One was Jack “Blue” Barry, who died heroically at Boadilla del Monte attempting to protect a valuable piece of weaponry during a retreat.138 The other was Ron Hurd.

For Hurd, the influence of repressive societal attitudes which saw to the diminishment of Lowson’s politically-driven idealism worked in a diametrically opposite way. A seaman, ardent trade unionist, and CPA member at the time of mobilising for Spain, the inherent divisions in Australian society during subsequent decades was a magnet for his impassioned, public defence of workers’ rights and undying belief in the labour movement.139 The outspoken nature of Hurd’s idealistic activism – forthright and direct, he was admired as a man who “calls a spade a spade and a fascist a fascist”140 – would, however, not be without consequence.

In 1940, shortly after travelling to New Zealand following his return, injured, from Spain, he was arrested for publishing subversive statements in collaboration with members of the Communist Party of New Zealand.141 The six months he spent in gaol did nothing to blunt his political conviction; indeed, quite the opposite. Even in the face of vocal and physical attacks, Hurd spent his life championing unionist causes, including campaigning for the right of Aboriginal workers to unionise themselves142 and attempting to negotiate higher wages for pearlers in Broome.143 In his capacity as secretary of the Western Australian branch of the Seamen’s Union in 1951, he was showered with insults and missiles – namely, soft tomatoes and eggs, one of which “missed its objective and hit a police-sergeant in plain clothes” – while speaking out against Menzies at a public meeting in Kalgoorlie.144

Originally from Victoria, this Western Australian chapter of Hurd’s life would be just one among many in a well-travelled post-Spain existence. Following his defeat in the election for secretary of the Queensland branch of the union in 1945,145 Ron and wife Patricia (daughter of New Zealand author, Jean Devanny)146 relocated westward, whereupon he was successful in gaining the position of secretary in Fremantle.147 By the turn of 1972, when he was assuring Bill Irwin of his and Patricia’s wellbeing following a recent damaging cyclone, Hurd was once again living in north Queensland. In an indication of his undying political idealism and antagonism, with a none-too-subtle turn of phrase he balanced an appreciation of the local military’s physical efforts in the recovery operation with a critique of its upper echelons, namely the Government:

Whatever the Army did in Vietnam, it did a mighty job here. It shows how useful such an organisation could be to civilian life did it have the right society and leadership as its sponsor.


Such a value-laden judgement was no doubt swayed by Hurd’s relationship over the years with the military and security arms of the Australian and New Zealand governments. Leaving aside for one moment the indirect, passive face of the State’s conservatism, as evidenced in his treatment by peers on Hannan Street in Kalgoorlie, one could add to the more direct impositions into his life by the State (such as his imprisonment across the Tasman Sea) the thorough monitoring and tracking to which he was subjected by the security apparatus. Prior to its absorption into the auspices of ASIO in 1949, the Commonwealth Investigation Service (CIS) had been hot on Hurd’s heels in the years following his return from Spain. Perhaps reflecting his errant movements, notes on Hurd taken by CIS and Australian Military Forces agents at the time brimmed with inconsistencies. As late as 1948, conflicting reports were presented by security personnel in New Zealand, as well as branches in Western Australia and New South Wales, on the date of Hurd’s return from Spain, as well as that of his marriage to Devanny.149 What such confusion suggests about the disjointedness of the State’s existing security capabilities during this period - perhaps a contributing factor in the establishment of ASIO - is a topic for another thesis.150 More clear, though, is that it was Hurd’s Spanish involvement singling him out as a perceived threat to security as a disseminator of subversive thought, as references to him speaking on the topic at radical meetings testify.151 In regards to his being watched, he was by no means alone among fellow Brigaders.

While returned volunteers attracted surveillance following return to Australia, in most cases the attentions of the State dissipated alongside the waning of one’s idealism. Predictably though, the files of those whose political conviction and associated activism enjoyed a prolonged persistence grew commensurately. It is telling that, as a source of historical evidence, the grandson of one of Hurd’s comrades in Spain, Sam Aarons, was able to utilise, upon declassification in the twenty-first century, the numerous boxes of ASIO files kept on Sam and other relatives to piece together a unique document of family history: the story of “the royal family of Australian communism,” as seen through the eyes of the security organisation and its many agents.152

Such records shed light on other pressures on the personal lives of the Brigaders, distinct from the more obvious intrusions of the State. As an institutional force, for instance, global communism itself would play a role. Events throughout the middle decades of the twentieth century, such as the Sino-Soviet split, Khrushchev’s revelatory openness about the Stalin era, Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’, and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, instigated much soul-searching among national communist parties. In Australia, the movement suffered heavily from divisiveness during this period, mirroring the simultaneous tussles at a global level. By 1971, three communist groups vied for supporters in a political environment which, as has been highlighted, was already far from conducive to any effective mobilisation of the far-left. In addition to the independent CPA, of which Sam Aarons and the other communists in the Australian contingent had been members when mobilising in 1936, these organisations included the Socialist Party of Australia, and the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), a Maoist body. While, numerically, the CPA was always the most subscribed to, even it had dwindled by the time Irwin was writing to Inglis about Mary Lowson’s previous abandonment of the Party for Labor, with its membership in the mid-1980s at only around 500 adherents nationwide.153

For Sam Aarons, who became Secretary of the Party’s Western Australia branch in 1946, the divisions in opinion that would culminate in such dispersion of communist organisations encroached not only on his own political influence, but also his relationships with family members and associates. ASIO reports of CPA meetings from the period recorded a growing philosophical gulf separating Aarons from the official Party line.154 Unable to reconcile himself with the Party’s position as it evolved to align with that of Khrushchev’s, Aarons refused to repudiate an extreme loyalty to the era of Soviet leadership under Stalin.155 Revealing his surprise at the National Executive’s rapid volte face following Khrushchev’s revelations, Aarons excused much of Stalin’s actions as necessary decisions at the time, before tacitly overlooking Russia’s invasion of Czechoslovakia, pleading for an end to what he saw as an over-analysis and picking-apart of developments. After expounding this latter stance on the Prague Spring in a branch meeting, his reception from colleagues emphasised a diminishing position and influence among the leadership. This great political failing plagued his final years, seeing to a progressive isolation, ideologically, from his sons, Laurie and Eric.156

To what extent Aarons’ involvement in the Spanish Civil War influenced the persistence of these particular allegiances – confirming, in son Eric’s mind, that until his death in 1971 “Sam was of the old school”157 – is difficult to assess. Arguably, however, the roots of this blind support for Stalin-era Soviet policy were firmly planted in Aarons’ inability, or refusal, to comprehend the generally damaging influence of Russian military leadership in Spain. After all, in the aftermath of the Republic’s defeat, evaluations of the questionable, often undermining, contribution of Soviet generals to the wider anti-fascist alliance featured heavily. These poured particular fire onto existing incriminatory charges levelled at the Soviet Union by non-Stalinist communists and anarchists alike, not to mention other splinter groups formerly comprising the Popular Front. The most destructive spectre of the Soviet generals’ leadership of the International Brigades was something only hindsight could truly illuminate; their presence as proxy agents of Soviet foreign policy focussed on Stalinist exceptionalism.158 As Tony Judt has contended, the show trials in the satellite states from 1945 onwards proved to have been all-too-neatly foreshadowed by the crackdowns of non-Stalinist movements within the Republican forces in Spain. Indeed, for those who survived the internal purges in Spain, “a crucial element in all the Soviet Bloc trials…would be the actions of the accused during the Spanish Civil War.”159 In expanding on this, Judt elevated the intellectual capacity of another Brigader, Hungarian-British writer Arthur Koestler, in applying his experience in Spain to make a nuanced reassessment of Stalinist communism, above others who failed to do so.160 To this latter group we can most assuredly add Sam Aarons.

For Aarons lacked either the relative objectivity of men such as Koestler and Orwell, or the tactical understanding required to appreciate the folly of abandoning guerrilla tactics for rigid set-piece strategies against a far stronger, traditionally-organised opposition, to step back and constructively evaluate the Russians’ damaging part in the piece.161 Arguably, the key element of Aarons’ participation in Spain justifying this failure to relinquish loyalty to Stalin’s administration, even well into the 1960s, was the profoundly life-changing nature of the experience itself.

Both professionally and emotionally, Spain was a turning point in Aarons’ life. Certainly something occurred between the First World War, in which his refusal to enlist saw him labelled a coward, and his time in Spain, in which the fearlessness and leadership he exhibited in the face of aerial bombing attacks afforded him the rank of sergeant-major in the International Brigades’ First Transport Regiment. As his grandson suggests, the anti-fascism underpinning the struggle in Spain was a cause he identified with to a far greater extent than that having underpinned Australian participation in the Great War.162 Subsequently pouring his energy into the fight against the Francoists, Aarons’ bravery and courage was acknowledged by the institution sponsoring the International Brigades, the Communist International. This became an honour of no small importance to him, difficult to take lightly from that point on in his life. The associated approval, especially, of Comintern’s General Secretary, the Bulgarian Georgi Dimitrov (a personal hero of Aarons since an earlier visit to the Soviet Union),163 was to become a source of particular pride.

Further cementing the significance of involvement in Spain in Aarons’ life would be its role in his ascent within the Party’s leadership. Having still been seen as a “developing comrade” in the period to the mid-1930s,164 the credential-boosting legitimacy afforded by his Spanish exploits saw Aarons elevated to a rare echelon of Australian comrades: those who had actually come face to face with the physical spectre of fascism. It was arguably this active immersion in anti-fascism that led to union leader Paddy Troy’s identification of Sam’s “case-hardened” and “dictatorial” attitude towards communist values.165 In this, he was not alone: Ron Hurd, too, was remembered as “far more abrasive than Paddy” and as a man who “sought confrontation” in dealings with leaders of industry.166 After being cherry-picked to head the Western Australian branch of the Party, Aarons would continue the crusade with Ron Hurd, both speaking at a conference demanding the banning of the bomb and a halt to Menzies’ legislative attempts to re-introduce conscription.167 The influence of both men contributed to Troy’s acquiescence in agreeing to push for more strikes and stoppages across the Western Australian waterfronts.168 The continuing cooperation between these former Brigaders highlighted an endurance in both men’s idealism which would not be overcome by either the overt or indirect results of pressures exerted upon them by the State and other institutions, during one of Australia’s most conservative periods in history.169


I began this chapter by contemporising the International Brigaders of the 1930s in light of the (similarly small number of) Australians who are today attracted to conflicts in the Middle East. What followed was an examination of how certain institutional pressures during the Cold War, including physical monitoring by the State in the name of apparent national security, and the subsequent manipulation of societal attitudes, impacted on the sustainability and shaping of returned volunteers’ initial idealism. Having outlined such influence of the State on the former Brigaders, I wish to conclude by raising issue with a recent claim made by University of Melbourne political scientist, David Malet.

In a May 2015 article, Malet suggested that foreign fighters attracted to the Middle East today are significantly more mistreated by the Western states to which they return than any other cohort of foreign fighter in history.170 On the one hand, Malet is correct when he says that in Australia no legal avenue was then in place to punish returned foreign fighters; it was not until 1978 that the Fraser government introduced relevant legislation.171 I disagree, however, with his assumption that for the International Brigaders who returned, “no barriers to resuming their civilian lives were erected.”172 I argue that here Malet is wearing his political scientist hat, adopting a top-down, strictly ‘on paper’ view of the issue. According to him, simply because there was no tangible legislation (like the 2014 Foreign Fighters Act amendments)173 to penalise or prosecute, that alone absolves the State of any negative coercion on the individuals themselves. Sam Aarons, whose house was repeatedly raided in 1949,174 or Ron Hurd, arrested and imprisoned in fellow Commonwealth state New Zealand for subversive comments, would be among several to disagree with the implications of this stance.

Chapter 3. Alienator and catalyst: the psychological impact of the Spanish experience

By way of an analysis of the returned Brigaders’ relationships with peers and authorities, we have seen that the structural pressures of anti-communist conformity in Australian Cold War society, both passive and overt in character, would significantly shape their initial idealism. While for some, such as Aarons and Hurd, this idealism enjoyed a prolonged sustainability, it did so only by virtue of its coming into direct contact with, and success in subjugating, such influences. For others, such as Lowson, they saw to a distinct blunting of political convictions. In this chapter I shift focus to explore the impact of the psychological and emotional experience of the war itself, at a purely individual level. In this context, acknowledging that previous scholars such as Inglis and Keene have already written on the immediate impacts of involvement in the war at the time of the fighting, of more importance to my research is the role of such participation as a contributor to decisions, feelings, or actions later in the Brigaders’ lives. My spotlight here falls on the lives of three women: particularly Aileen Palmer, for whom the experience had profoundly negative after-effects, but also May Pennefather (née MacFarlane) and Elizabeth Burchill, for both of whom we can say the opposite.

Of course, in exploring the stories of these individuals, it is to be read as a given that such activity later in their lives cannot be understood in isolation from the forces of the State or other institutions. Any self-respecting Marxist approach to writing history dictates this. It is simply that any damaging implications of interactions between the volunteers and other individuals will be shown to have derived more from an active distancing from others on the part of the Brigaders themselves, than pressures imposed externally. In Aileen Palmer’s case, for instance, it was chiefly her own perception that peers could in no way relate to her experiences in Spain that limited her interpersonal relationships. Specifically, I apply Marcuse’s ideas on art and culture to an examination of Palmer’s oeuvre, in order to explore the extent to which any negative effects of her Spanish Civil War involvement on her idealism and personal life were reflected in her work. In a more positive vein, participation in the International Brigades would inspire in Pennefather and Burchill a powerful affirmation of their faith in one person’s capacity to change, for the better, the world around them.


Daughter to one of the most influential literary couples in Australian history – Vance and Nettie Palmer – Aileen Palmer lived an extraordinary and eventful life. Born in 1915 and educated in Melbourne as a highly-gifted multi-linguist poet and writer, Palmer was twenty-one years old and living near Barcelona with her parents, both of whom were working on writing projects, when the generals’ revolt led by Franco began.175 Driven by this politicism, Palmer had found work translating for competitors gathered in the Catalan capital for the People’s Olympiad, the imminent alternative tournament organised as a protest against the mainstream Games being held in Hitler’s Berlin.176 Vance and Nettie, shaken by the start of the fighting, fled to London, dragging a reluctant Aileen with them. By then, Nettie had put down for posterity, in her acclaimed journal, Fourteen Years, the reasoning behind her and her husband’s decision to leave Spain. Though written by an outsider, the passages in July 1936 covering the opening days of the war starkly reveal the confusion, conversation, and conjecture that trickled along Barcelona’s backstreets, reflecting a dawning of realisation among civilians of the developments’ severity. Within a few days, downplaying and denial had given way to chaos and panic.177

Back in London very much against her will, the call to excitement, and an opportunity to put into action her political convictions, proved too strong for Aileen. Before long, she had returned to Spain to provide administrative support and the services of translation for the British medical units of the International Brigades.178 The violence routinely witnessed in these medical teams, constantly on the move from one front to another, was to have a lasting effect on her life, as references to them in her subsequent writings would testify.

In contrast to the Brigaders discussed in Chapter 2, Aileen Palmer’s post-Spain alienation was considerably more caustic, having its roots grounded deeper in the psychological sphere. This is not to say, though, that politics did not play their own role too. As one of her compatriots in Spain, Margaret Howells, would later privately postulate, the denouncement of Stalin by Khrushchev which became such a sticking point in Sam Aarons’ political and personal life affected Palmer in the opposite way. Rather than stubbornly holding on to an idolisation of the Soviet hierarchy with which she colluded in Spain, an evolution of Palmer’s political understanding concurring with her diverse activity and travels since179 allowed her to reassess her convictions entirely, seeing to a “loss of faith in Russian communism [that] may have been a significant factor in her cracking.”180

The psychotic breakdowns rather unceremoniously referred to here by Howells would plague Palmer for the remainder of her life, after their onset in 1948, three years after she returned reluctantly to Australia from London due to her mother’s failing health.181 Uncertain as to how best address the illness, Nettie and Vance, on the advice of Aileen’s sister Helen, handed their youngest daughter to Dr. Reginald Ellery, an unorthodox Melbourne consultant practising an experimental, and dangerous, early form of shock therapy imported from Vienna.182 Aileen’s life would henceforth be marked by time in and out of mental institutions, after this initial stay at Ellery’s Alençon facility in Malvern, in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

In gauging the impact of the Spanish Civil War experience on Palmer’s breakdowns, and the feelings of alienation that preceded (or indeed, perhaps, exacerbated) them, analysis of her written works emerges as the most logical avenue of investigation. In so doing, however, acknowledgement of a key limitation must be appreciated. Linking emotional responses portrayed in Palmer’s words to certain events or periods in her life with any assuredness is not without its challenges. Indeed, an observation made by Virginia Woolf’s biographer holds equal relevance to the life and work of Palmer: “to name her illness is to begin a process of description that can demote her extraordinary personality to a collection of symptoms,” when in fact “...her illness [had] become her language.”183 Implied here is the circular relationship of mutual reciprocity between Palmer’s life experiences, her treatment, and her writing; to put it another way, no one single aspect of this triumvirate could stand alone, exclusive of the influences of the others.

Reflecting this complexity in Palmer’s life and language is the almost impenetrable nature of her poetry and prose, held in her private collection at the NLA, which also comprises journal articles and a large amount of private correspondence.184 Noting an arbitrariness in structural and thematic borrowings, not to mention a fluid, inconsistent adoption of allegorical, autobiographical, and fictional inspirations behind the characterisation of people and events, Sally Newman has noted what she calls the complexity of Palmer’s “textual lives.”185 Nonetheless, as scholars such as Newman herself and Sylvia Martin have highlighted, some recurring themes emerge as particularly prominent in Palmer’s oeuvre. Above all, that of her personal alienation and a lack of sense of belonging are key.186

The era during which Palmer wrote was marked by the cultural milieus of first late- and then post-modernism. In the first of these periods, “from the late 1940s to the 1960s…writers’ engagement with political action was almost unavoidable.”187 Few Australian artists could draw on as rich an immersion into the lived experience of the most blatant manifestation of the failure of politics, war, as Aileen Palmer. A matter of months after the International Brigades were withdrawn from Spain she found herself, having been repatriated to London, again inhabiting a centre ravaged by conflict. In a city weathering itself against the airborne threat of a German enemy she was already all too familiar with, Palmer drove ambulances, worked with sensitive wartime documents at the Australian Scientific Research Liaison Office, and stayed active with the Communist Party of Great Britain, distributing copies of The Daily Worker on London’s street corners.188

These dramatic, war-tinged years of Palmer’s early adult life in Spain and London bled with passion, idealism, violence, and immediacy. Arguably more damaging in its contextually isolating nature would be the subsequent mundanity Palmer experienced upon return to Australia in the mid-1940s. Here, the personal and emotional isolation resulting in her institutionalisation was, if not singularly caused, then certainly enhanced, by a disequilibrium between the drama of both European wars and the ordinariness of life back in Australia. Associated themes of transience, loneliness, and aimlessness consequently abound in her pieces from this period. Even in her titles from later works, the prevalence of terms such as ‘pilgrim’, ‘voyager’, and ‘stranger’ further embodied one of post-modernity’s other common conceptual tropes – that of ‘home’ and ‘belonging,’ albeit in the sense of portraying the very absence of such feeling in her own life.189

Palmer’s difficulties in finding a place of comfort in Australian society after her experiences overseas were embedded less in the physical sense than in the ideological and emotional. Hence her reports of the jarring awkwardness felt when attempting to communicate with the “people in our street what it’s like to become all too familiar with death.”190 The juxtaposition of her social surroundings back in Australia - in which an idealism like hers, or even the very possibility of an appreciation of such idealism, was found to be lacking - against her assessment of war-afflicted Spain, was profound. Feeling cast adrift from the “period of great gallantry when perhaps the brightest minds of our generation volunteered,”191 Palmer could merely consign to memoriam an earlier time in her life when “the poor were strong for a moment.”192 The comforts of the post-war consumer society to which Palmer returned, after years spent battling a dearth of food and medical resources, arguably played a role in this experience of isolation. In Marcusian parlance, the “greater material abundance and consumption” facilitated by the State during the post-war years, only superficially nourished the lives of its citizens, contributing to “an abasement of...intellectual life [and] a degradation and dehumanization of existence.”193 Under these societal conditions, the innately human trait of curiosity and creativity was numbed.

For an idealist like Palmer, this sense of a total lack of urgency in her comfortable suburban surrounds not only consolidated her detachment from others, but instilled in her a profound boredom. This was particularly clear when her stints in institutions precluded her from travelling or writing with her own, unmedicated mind.194 It is tempting to find parallels here, in psychoanalytical terms, with Erich Fromm’s likening of boredom to depression, with the former attracting definition as “nothing but the experience of a paralysis of our productive powers and the [concurrent] sense of un-aliveness.”195

The viciousness of the Spanish conflict had other impacts on Palmer. While it is true that Spain was not her only taste of war, it was not only her first, but also her closest, in terms of proximity to the ravages and physical effects of the fighting. As she would later write, such immersion in Spain’s violence instilled in her a particular strength, a resilience:

(on recalling wrapping up a comrade’s body to send to the cemetery near Madrid where killed International Brigaders were buried)…I didn’t cry over the death of Izzie. I don’t think I even cried when I was Spain. Or was really afraid, except a bit, when we began to retreat…


Only later would the damaging and alienating effects of this necessary desensitisation to violence be made evident. In the draft of a chapter in her never-published autobiographical novel, she noted “anyway, I’ve had something wrong with my brain for a long while. That’s what comes of going through wars.”197 In hindsight, the historicity of the conflict as the first in which civilian zones were subjected to aerial bombing was not lost on Palmer in addressing the possible source of such psychological impacts. In addition to referencing the “Nazi bombers” who with indiscriminate destructiveness “knew no mercy for things like hospitals,” Palmer recalled her incomprehension that “in that primitive, ‘just nominal’ kind of war,” the “fighter-planes that machine-gunned any creature they could see moving on the ground” were “guided by vulnerable, flesh-and-blood human beings.”198 This unavoidable personification of the source of the enemy’s artillery surely planted in Palmer at least some of the seeds of her later alienation. As she supported the medical units, here, visible in plain sight, were members of the race she shared wantonly spraying the bullets her colleagues would later pluck with utmost care from eviscerated bodies.

The later psychological traumas invoked by these aerial attacks would be profound for others too. More than forty years before Redgum’s Vietnam War-inspired I Was Only 19, Palmer’s fellow Brigader, Dick Whateley, would have his own version of “the Channel Seven chopper” that chilled him to his feet.199 On stage at a Melbourne community meeting organised by the SRC in 1938, Whateley apologised for his awkwardness, and for the abrupt stoppages in his speech, accompanied by vacant glances towards the ceiling.200 Hinting at the symptomatic damage wreaked by further post-traumatic stress episodes, Whateley’s death within six years would prompt Nettie Palmer to say that he embodied “a deferred casualty of Spain.”201

Despite acknowledging the impact on her own psyche of this violence, Palmer would later refer to Spain as “the two best years of my life.”202 In a different way to Sam Aarons, then, the Spanish Civil War had been one of the defining periods in Palmer’s life; not so much due, as in Aarons’ case, to any bestowment of recognition from external actors, as to her own acknowledgement of the sense of independence it allowed her to snatch from life, for the first time, with both hands. This independence was two-fold: both in the opportunity it afforded her to act, practically, on the political convictions of her youth, and in the freedom and autonomy it gave her from her parents.203

In spite of her institutionalisation, the manner in which Palmer’s desire to remain politically active was reflected in her complex works invokes Marcuse’s concept of ‘artistic alienation.’ Defined as “the conscious transcendence of the alienated existence,” artistic alienation refers to the representation, through aesthetics or vocabulary, of the “images of a gratification that would dissolve the society which suppresses it.”204 For Palmer, feeling repressed and sidelined by Australian society on two fronts – both for her lack of mental health and her unwillingness to conform to the ideological mainstream – her creativity was an outlet through which to address these barriers. In doing so, she innately contrasted her stifled current persona with portrayals of a time in her life when emotions and idealism ran high. Palmer once remarked that “in the artist there is probably always a struggle between the search for beauty and [their] awareness of the practical need of the moment.”205 Her poetry on Spain, in which she eulogised in dark terms on the memories and principles from the mid-1930s, arguably thus embodied a concomitant (but ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to take ownership again of her own life, from the negating effects of her treatment:

I saw grief stumbling by / and turned my eyes away
fearing too soon to know / what grief could say.
Grief had a twisted face / wretched yes I dared not see:
now who will dare to look / at this my grief and me?


In this stanza, Palmer’s juxtaposition of the destruction witnessed in Spain against her current-day alienation and isolation is palpable. Equally raw is the futile hopelessness of her rhetorical request for emotional support.

While the psychological traumas underpinning this tragic coda of Palmer’s fall from idealism were in some way borne of the Spanish experience, among others involvement had a distinctly brighter impact. For while the lives of Palmer, Whateley, Lowson, Aarons, and Hurd each speak of varying negative after-effects of their time with the International Brigades, it would be remiss to leave the reader with such a broad, lasting impression.

It is ironic that, given the centrality of ideology in its place in history, those for whom the most positive207 legacies of involvement in the Spanish Civil War arose were the volunteers whose idealism was least tied to its politics. Relative to compatriots predominantly discussed in this thesis, the initial motivations of nurses May Pennefather and Elizabeth Burchill, for instance, were, like Agnes Hodgson, significantly less imbued with partisan conviction. For all three, it was more the strength of an appeal to assist the needy, through an application of their own skill sets, which dominated self-mobilisation for the Republican cause. As such, if any politicisation was instigated by participation in the war, it occurred in a space in which no opportunity for disillusionment or loss of faith in previously-held ideological beliefs, as experienced in varying ways by Palmer or Aarons, existed. Rather than such alienation or disenchantment, then, in the context of their whole lives Spain would be defined by a clear avowal of the selflessness that had driven them to become nurses in the first place. No less shielded from the disorganisation, dread, or death of the civil war’s impact than the others, for Burchill and Pennefather the richness of the work required of them constituted the ultimate test of their vocational calling. As Burchill remembered, “this was nursing with a real difference.”208

Having worked in numerous nursing roles in Australia, including for the newly-founded Flying Doctor Service, Burchill had been in London for four years when the war in Spain attracted her. Like Hodgson, she would later attribute her participation to having whetted an appetite for her “quest for adventurous nursing.”209 In her 1981 autobiography, Burchill forewent any attempt at describing in detail the political climate amidst which she undertook her work, acknowledging it was “perhaps for my peace of mind I was quite non-political.”210 Instead, she put a raw, human face on how the conflict affected her. It was witnessing Spain’s war-torn children that particularly stirred Burchill’s emotions, lingering in her memories as at once an affirmation of the responsibilities she had actively taken and of the limitations life would at times impose on her ability to assume them:

Neither troublesome or misbehaved, a group of small children loitered around our bare table with pale, pinched faces, lustreless eyes…prototypes of refugees who would soon be our special charge. Their unhappy plight touched my heart with the knowledge that there was practically nothing we could do for the pathetic little group surrounding us, although the relief of humanity’s suffering was a nurse’s job.


Meanwhile, the recollections of May Pennefather, expressed in a 1983 radio interview, come closest to approaching the type of romanticism I argue is largely absent from the Australian International Brigader story. While not shying away from vivid descriptions of the confusion, violence, and internal tensions referred to in her fellow Brigaders’ narratives, Pennefather summarised her “work in Spain as the most important part of my life. In so many ways the object was defeated, but there were also big gains.”212

As difficult as it may be to reconcile such a sanguine assessment of ‘big gains’ with the wider historical developments,213 certainly in the context of Pennefather’s own life the Spanish episode took on a positive, transformative nature. Witnessing first-hand the efforts and small successes of ordinary, non-intellectual people like herself – a self-professed “dud” and “struggler,” who had dropped out of school214 – she brought home to her own career in Australia strong traits of independence and resilience, and a faith in the power of a strong work ethic. Upon watching a young girl address a conference of women against fascism in Valencia, Pennefather recalled thinking a phrase that could well have become her lifelong personal motto: “don’t tell me people can’t run their own affairs.”215 That she could speak of her time in Spain as being so influential personally despite still acknowledging the considerable pressures of time spent in a warzone216 – “breaking down…weeping for no reason”217 – emphasised the distillation of Pennefather’s strengthening of personal character that occurred during these tumultuous, life-changing years.

While the experience would politicise Pennefather to some degree, it was more a belief in the moral shortfalls so evident in the Australian society she returned to, rather than a distinct, specific ideology, which endured.218 It was in Spain, for instance, that she was particularly moved by the Republican movement’s valuing of the importance of education of the people, under even the most trying of circumstances.219 This notion of helping those less well-off once back in Australia would be reflected in 1955 when, as a single mother raising two girls, Pennefather “went bush” and clashed with “a few twerps” in authority as she persevered against their wishes in nursing Aboriginal children under the same conditions as her non-Indigenous patients.220 Unafraid of authority and clearly a strong-willed woman even well into her seventies, there was a distinct element of ‘matter-of-factness’ to Pennefather’s recollections; both of her time in Spain and of her life since. With modesty she downplayed the inherent risk involved in the voyage:

People thought I was bloody mad to go. It distressed my mother rather… (She) came to see me off and at a meeting a woman was raving on about how brave we were to go out there, [how] we might never come back. I thought “Christ, there’s my mother sitting in the front row and that silly little bitch going on like that.”


This hardness of character might well have been attributed to the influence of her aunt – “a steam-roller type…committee woman…[who] could hold her own in any male company…[and] stood up for what she believed in.”222 Since her childhood in Perth, Pennefather had dreamed of becoming a nurse and following in the footsteps of her father, who worked as a health inspector with the Red Cross in the First World War. After completing training, she struggled to find a role offering both satisfaction and job security, and soon wound up on the other side of the country.223 Sending herself through the nine rigorous months – “seven days a week and no pay” – of midwifery training in Brisbane in order to increase her employability, Pennefather eventually found work in Sydney. It was here that a chance encounter with the woman whose story was the first told in this thesis would set her path to Spain in motion.

Prior to meeting Mary Lowson as they both worked at the Lidcombe State Hospital, it had been the pragmatism and opportunism mustered in finding nursing work, anywhere, that dominated Pennefather’s early career. Along the journey, though, she had seen enough of the poverty and hardship inflicted on Australian society by the economic upheaval of the last handful of years. Her first impressions of Lidcombe - “a terrible place…broken men by the thousands after the Depression” - continued the trend.224 The influence of Lowson, fifteen years May’s senior, was to be that of opening Pennefather’s eyes to the political elements underlying such developments, and to the differing responses to them of capitalism, fascism and communism, the rivalries between which would define the twentieth century. By the time the call for volunteer nurses came from the SRC, Pennefather was ready to turn the page on a life-changing chapter.


The emotional and psychological impact of involvement in the Spanish Civil War differed greatly among the Australian volunteers. For Aileen Palmer, it amounted to a brief but fervent period filled with feelings of independence, purpose, and excitement. In itself, for her the Spanish experience was not wholly damaging. Rather, it was when what she had lived through was juxtaposed against the comfort and apathy of the Australian society she later returned to that her alienation took hold. The violence of the conflict having hardened Palmer’s resolve ahead of participation in the Allied cause during World War II, for others, such as Dick Whateley, its associated effects were significantly more felt. Nurses May Pennefather and Elizabeth Burchill, however, while still recalling the psychological pressures in place, would reminisce on Spain as important markers in their careers. Offering their services in the war-torn country had afforded them unprecedented access to the purest form of humanitarianism their chosen vocation could entail.


At this juncture, let us return to the description of idealism that opened the first chapter of this dissertation. In a 1930s Australia riven by economic fragmentation and inequality, Mary Lowson, Ron Hurd, Sam Aarons, Aileen Palmer, and May Pennefather, among several others of whom we have glimpsed vignettes, saw in a conflict on the other side of the world a need to help. Idealism in its rawest form was exhibited in their self-sacrificing actions, their altruism, and their generosity of spirit. Whether they went to fight, nurse, or translate, these brave Australians reached out, with disregard for their own interests and safety, to a people who would be but strangers were it not for their shared humanity.

In putting the focus less on their physical efforts (which have been acknowledged by historians before me) and more on the indifference and cynicism of their treatment upon return home by a politically-preoccupied State and a society too easily manipulated by its paranoia, it is hoped that this study has done justice to their stories. It is only a source of the author’s regret that the tales of so many of their compatriots could not be treated to the same coverage, with such unfillable gaps primarily owing to the piecemeal nature of existing reliable sources.

As the years passed by, ongoing relationships between Australia’s former International Brigaders were few and far between. Of course, some small groups did stay in touch. Aside from, as the reader will recall, Ron Hurd and Sam Aarons together sharing the dais and the struggle on the workers’ behalf in the west, there were also friendships and bonds between Hurd, Mary Lowson, Dorothy Low, and Low’s husband Bill Irwin, among a handful of others. One should not forget, too, the contributions of those who assisted the Republic and the Brigades on the domestic front, including Ken Coldicutt with his fundraising film tours, or Aileen Palmer’s mother, Nettie, and her running of the Sydney branch of the SRC. Ultimately though, and perhaps not just owing to her own alienation from society more widely, Aileen Palmer’s attempts to gather together updates on her old comrades’ lives in 1965, when prompted by a veterans’ group of the United States’ Abraham Lincoln Brigade, petered out dismally.225 Arguably, it is thanks in no small part to the work of Amirah Inglis (a scholar to whom I personally owe a profound gratitude, for having kept the sources this thesis has depended on) and Judith Keene that any form of collective memory featuring the fascinating achievements of these idealists survives.

Among Inglis’ private collection sits a draft synopsis for a documentary on the volunteers, intended to air in Australia in 1986, on the fiftieth anniversary of the civil war’s outbreak.226 It appears never to have reached the production stage. Its tentative title, The Far Crusade, surely summoned in co-writer Philip Cornford’s227 mind both the staggering distance separating home from the struggle the Brigaders set out to contribute to (in a time when such a journey was an ordeal in itself), and also the overwhelming utopianism that enveloped their motivations.


Today, as always in human history, parts of the world are mired in violence and spite. Handfuls of Australians are drawn to assist, heeding the lonely call of principles not shared by a State hamstrung with philosophical impotence and the bindings of geopolitical alliances borne of the Menzies era. How far have we come in celebrating such individually-distinct idealists, or indeed even accepting them, since the day Jim McNeill implored the Brigaders’ narrative be added to that of a still young nation? In a society in which technology’s spectre allows us to either hastily ridicule such visionaries or, conversely, to wash our hands of a cause’s urgency once enough tweets have been composed, or enough online petitions signed, can we scarcely be convinced that we have moved an inch? Real action, like that taken by the volunteers gracing the previous pages is still, it would appear, as rare among us today as it was then.

Though the experiences of, and price subsequently paid by, Australia’s International Brigaders will never assume a significant position in the nation’s collective memory, one would like to leave the reader with the final words of a volunteer not lucky enough to make it out of Spain alive. Upon being tricked into surrender at the Jarama Valley on 13 February 1937 by a troupe of Nationalist soldiers, who had approached piercing the afternoon air with strains of The Internationale and with clenched, raised fists concealing hand grenades, Ted Dickenson remained defiant. His mind was calm, body strong, exuding the same impressive stoicism that embodied his fellow Australians in the trenches, and aside the hills, as it did to no less degree the ‘Red Matildas’, as his nursing countrywomen would later be remembered.228 His back to a tree, awaiting the bullet, he cried out:

If we had a bunch of Australian bushmen here, we’d have pushed you bastards into the sea long ago…Keep your chins up…Salud!



Primary sources

Amirah Inglis private collection [accessed in person at Noel Butlin Archives Centre, Australian National University]
Item N171/8 – International Brigades and others in Spain, A-H
- Private correspondence from Harvey Buttonshaw to Amirah Inglis, 29 August 1985.
- Private correspondence from Margaret Howells to Amirah Inglis, [date unknown].
- Private correspondence from Ron Hurd to Bill Irwin, 8 January 1972.

Item N171/9 – International Brigades and others in Spain, I-Z
- Private correspondence from Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis, [day unknown] August 1983.
- Private correspondence from Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis, 15 August 1983.
- Private correspondence from Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis, 11 November 1983.
- Private correspondence from Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis, 25 January 1984.
- Private correspondence from Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis, 21 October 1984.
- Private correspondence from Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis, 16 December 1984.
- Private correspondence from Mary Lowson to Judith Keene, 13 September 1983.
- May Pennefather, “Transcript – Radio interview, Perth,” 16 August 1983.

Item N171/10 – Spanish Relief Committee films
- Private correspondence from Ken Coldicutt to Amirah Inglis, 18 March 1986.

Item N171/14 – In retrospect
- Philip Cornford and Peter Welch, “Synopsis – ‘The Far Crusade’,” [date unknown].

Aileen Palmer private collection [accessed in person at National Library of Australia]
MS6759 – Papers, 1935-1979 (manuscript)
- “A group of Australians in Spain” (photograph).
- “Children of Spain displaced by the war” (photograph).

MS7162 – Papers, 1937-1966 (manuscript)
- “Asia’s quest for peace,” 17 February 1958.
- “Draft – The Orange Tree,” [date unknown].
- “Draft – Second Ballad of the Spanish Civil Guard,” (1951).
- “Remembering Barcelona,” article for Realist (1966).

MS3044 – Papers of Aileen Palmer and Helen Palmer (manuscript)
- Private correspondence from Aileen Palmer to Helen Palmer, 1 September 1966.

ASIO files [accessed in person at National Archives of Australia]
D1443 – Ronald William Jackson Hurd
- Commonwealth Investigation Service, Information on Ronald William Jackson Hurd, 27 July 1948.
- Director, Perth Branch, Commonwealth Investigation Service, Ron Hurd – Memorandum to Deputy Director, 4 June 1948.
- W. McGregor, Acting Deputy Director, Commonwealth Investigation Branch, Ronald William Jackson Hurd - Memorandum to The Director, Canberra, 14 March 1949.

National Archives of Australia
Series A9626 – Photographic material created by ASIO, 16 March 1949-
- Sam Aarons (photographs 35, 12), Control symbol 151.

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Baxell, Richard. “Myths of the International Brigades,” Bulletin of Spanish Studies 91 (2014): 11-24.
Blakeley, Georgina. “Politics as usual? The trials and tribulations of the Law of Historical Memory in Spain,” Entelequia. Revista Interdisciplinar 7 (2008): 315-330.
Boyd, Carolyn. “The politics of history and memory in democratic Spain,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 617 (2008): 133-148.
Catterall, Peter. “The Battle of Cable Street,” Contemporary Record 8 (1994): 105-132.
Dorfman, Ariel. “Pinochet, the Lincoln Brigade, and Me,” The Progressive (1 May 1999): 20-23.
Glavin, Terry. “No friends but the mountains: the fate of the Kurds,” World Affairs 177 (March 2015): 57-66.
Gould, Bronte. “Australian participation in the Spanish Civil War,” Flinders Journal of History and Politics 28 (2012): 98-117
Gounot, A. “Barcelona against Berlin: The project of the People’s Olympiad in 1936,” Sportwissenschaft, 37 (2007): 419-428.
Hughes-Warrington, Marnie and Tregenza, Ian. “State and civilization in Australian New Idealism, 1890-1950,” History of Political Thought 29 (2008): 89-108.
Huhle, Teresa. ““I see the flag in all of that” – Discussions on Americanism and Internationalism in the making of the San Francisco monument to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade,” American Communist History 10 (2011): 1-33.
Jordan, Deborah. “’Women’s time’: Ina Higgins, Nettie Palmer and Aileen Palmer,” Victorian History Journal 79 (2008): 296-313.
Keene, Judith. “A Spanish springtime: Aileen Palmer and the Spanish Civil War, Labour History 52 (1987): 75-87.
Labanyi, Jo. “The politics of memory in contemporary Spain,” Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies 9 (2008): 119-125.
Malet, David. “Foreign fighter mobilization and persistence in a global context,” Terrorism and Political Violence 27 (2015): 454-473.
Martin, Sylvia. “Aileen Palmer – Twentieth century pilgrim: War, poetry, madness and modernism,” Hecate 35 (2009): 94-107.
Martin, Sylvia. “From Caloundra to Barcelona: Aileen Palmer’s sense of place,” Hecate 13 (2013): 131-152.
Mason, Robert. “Anarchism, communism and Hispanidad: Australian Spanish migrants and the Civil War,” Immigrants & Minorities: Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration and Diaspora 27 (2009): 29-49.
Mason, Robert. “’No arms other than papers’: Salvador Torrents and the formation of Hispanic migrant identity in northern Australia, 1916-1950,” Australian Historical Studies 41 (2010): 166-180.
McCann, Daryl. “The battle for modernity on the borders of Kurdistan,” Quadrant Magazine 59 (January 2015): 8-13.
Menghetti, Dianne. “North Queensland anti-fascism and the Spanish Civil War,” Labour History 42 (1982): 63-73.
Newman, Sylvia. “Body of evidence: Aileen Palmer’s textual lives,” Hecate 26 (2000): 10-38.
Poggi, Matthew. “Saving memories: Canadian veterans of the Spanish Civil War and their pursuit of Government recognition,” American Communist History 12 (2013): 193-212.
Stradling, Robert. “English-speaking units of the International Brigades: War, politics, and discipline,” Journal of Contemporary History 45 (2010): 744-767.
Williams, George and Hardy, Keiran. “National security (part two): National security reforms stage two: Foreign fighters,” LSJ: Law Society of New South Wales 7 (December 2014): 68-69.

Morgan, Patrick. “The Royal Family of Australian Communism. Review: The Family File by Mark Aarons,” Quadrant Magazine (1 September 2010), http://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2010/09/the-royal-family-of-australian-communism/
Niblo, Steve. “An Australian in Spain. Review: Letters from Spain by Lloyd Edmonds,” Australian Left Review 93 (1985): 47.

Blogs, recordings, and miscellany
Emery, Xanthe. “The New Autonomous Sanctions regime and its implications,” 6 March 2012, Immigration Advice & Rights Centre Inc. http://www.iarc.asn.au/_blog/Immigration_News/post/The_New_Autonomous_Sanctions_Regime_and_its_Implications/
Flanders, Jefferson. “C. J. Sansom’s Winter in Madrid and the literary lure of the “Good Fight.” http://www.jeffersonflanders.com/2008/07/c-j-sansoms-winter-in-madrid-and-the-literary-lure-of-the-good-fight/
Monument Australia. “Spanish Civil War memorial.” http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/spain/display/90184-spanish-civil-war-memorial
Schumann, John. I Was Only 19 (A Walk in the Light Green). Universal Music Publishing Pty Ltd., 1983. http://www.schumann.com.au/john/lyrics.html
Vowles, Erica. “Transcript - What history teaches us about foreign fighters,” Radio National’s Rear Vision (broadcast on 31 July 2015). http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/rearvision/what-we-can-learn-from-history-about-foreign-fighters/6662712
Wasserman, Dale. Man of La Mancha (screenplay), 1972. http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0026696/quotes

(Originally prepared as an Honours thesis in 2015)

  • 1Uncertainty surrounding the precise number of Australians involved derives from factors such as the high level of secrecy of organisations involved in mobilisation, principally the Communist Party of Australia, and the ambiguous nature of statuses of citizenship or naturalisation. Amirah Inglis posits a total of 80 Australians (including 14 unnamed citizens who were reportedly killed in early-1938); though a plaque in Canberra commemorating Australian service refers to just 70. Amirah Inglis, Australians in the Spanish Civil War (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1987), 219-221; and Monument Australia, “Spanish Civil War memorial,” http://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/spain/display/90184-spanish-civil-war-memorial.
  • 2Constrained by the limitations of word counts, it is additionally altogether unnecessary to attempt to present in any detail a history of the lead-up to, and events of, the Spanish Civil War: there has been no shortage of scholarship of tremendous quality devoted to the task. Of note is Antony Beevor’s acclaimed The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2006) and Hugh Thomas’ earlier, and equally revered, The Spanish Civil War (New York: Harper, 1961).
  • 3Just for a starting point, see Robert Stradling, History and Legend: Writing the International Brigades (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2003); Verle Johnson, Legions of Babel: The International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1968); Cary Nelson, Madrid 1937: Letters of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades from the Spanish Civil War (Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2014); Dan Richardson, Comintern Army: The International Brigades and the Spanish Civil War (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1982); Michael Jackson, Fallen Sparrows: The International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1994); Richard Baxell, “Myths of the International Brigades,” Bulletin of Spanish Studies 91 (2014): 11-24; Matthew Poggi, “Saving memories: Canadian veterans of the Spanish Civil War and their pursuit of Government recognition,” American Communist History 12 (2013): 193-212; and Robert Stradling, “English-speaking units of the International Brigades: War, politics, and discipline,” Journal of Contemporary History 45 (2010): 744-767.
  • 4Tony Judt, Thinking the Twentieth Century (London: Vintage Books, 2013), 214-215.
  • 5Although it is true that the conflict afforded Hitler the opportunity to fine-tune tactics related to the Luftwaffe’s bombing capabilities (making it history’s first war to feature the bombing of civilian centres), it has recently been argued that the extent of these attacks may have been over-exaggerated in popular understanding. While conceding that they would have been “terrifying for those who had to suffer them,” Stanley Payne compares the “hundred or so” killed by a major raid in Spain to “the hecatombs of World War II, when many thousands would be killed”. Stanley Payne, “The war in perspective,” in The Spanish Civil War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 236.
  • 6Richard Rhodes, Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015), xvii.
  • 7Judith Keene, ed., The Last Mile to Huesca: An Australian Nurse in the Spanish Civil War (Kensington: New South Wales University Press, 1988).
  • 8Lloyd Edmonds (Amirah Inglis, ed.), Letters from Spain (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1985).
  • 9Arthur Howells, “Spain,” in Against the Stream: The Memories of a Philosophical Anarchist, 1927-1939 (Melbourne: Hyland House, 1983), 146-164.
  • 10Gabriel Jackson, “Foreword,” in Keene, The Last Mile to Huesca, xi.
  • 11Mark Aarons, The Family File (Melbourne: Black Inc., 2010), 76.
  • 12Judith Keene, “A Spanish springtime: Aileen Palmer and the Spanish Civil War, Labour History 52 (1987): 75-87.
  • 13Judith Keene, Fighting for Franco: International Volunteers in Nationalist Spain During the Spanish Civil War (London: Continuum, 2001).
  • 14Bronte Gould, “Australian participation in the Spanish Civil War,” Flinders Journal of History and Politics 28 (2012): 98-117.
  • 15Dianne Menghetti, “North Queensland anti-fascism and the Spanish Civil War,” Labour History 42 (1982): 63-73.
  • 16See Robert Mason, “Anarchism, communism and Hispanidad: Australian Spanish migrants and the Civil War,” Immigrants & Minorities: Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration and Diaspora 27 (2009): 29-49; and Robert Mason, “’No arms other than papers’: Salvador Torrents and the formation of Hispanic migrant identity in northern Australia, 1916-1950,” Australian Historical Studies 41 (2010): 166-180. Gianfranco Cresciani has also written on how Australia’s Italian diaspora responded to the Spanish Civil War, highlighting how membership numbers of émigré anti-fascist organisation, the Gruppo Italiano contra la Guerra e il Fascismo, reached a peak during the conflict. In addition to an opposition to fascism itself was concern over how Mussolini’s support for Franco would be injurious to “the real interests of the Italian people.” Gianfranco Cresciani, “Anti-fascism and communism before World War II,” in Fascism, Anti-fascism and Italians in Australia, 1922-1945 (Canberra: Australian University Press, 1980), 126.
  • 17Aarons, The Family File.
  • 18Maurice Halbwachs, The Collective Memory (New York: Harper-Colophon Books, 1950), 48.
  • 19Halbwachs, The Collective Memory, 84.
  • 20Private correspondence from Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis, 15 August 1983. Item N171/8, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 21Herbert Marcuse, One-dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968).
  • 22Fredric Jameson, “Versions of a Marxist hermeneutic,” in Marxism and Form: Twentieth-century Dialectical Theories of Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 107.
  • 23Jameson, “Versions of a Marxist hermeneutic,” 107.
  • 24Ibid, 107.
  • 25Erich Fromm, The Sane Society (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968), 120-151.
  • 26Dale Wasserman, Man of La Mancha (screenplay), (1972).
  • 27Marnie Hughes-Warrington and Ian Tregenza, “State and civilization in Australian New Idealism, 1890-1950,” History of Political Thought 29 (2008): 92.
  • 28Ibid, 92.
  • 29David Raphael, “Liberty and authority,” in Problems of Political Philosophy (London: Pall Mall Press, 1970), 114-117.
  • 30Ibid, 117.
  • 31Isaiah Berlin, “Two concepts of liberty,” in Four Essays on Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 122-134.
  • 32Over the years, debate has raged over the precise numbers of those involved in the International Brigades. Richard Baxell would baulk at the upper limits of David Malet’s suggested range of between 30,000 and 60,000, claiming that 35,000 is a more realistic figure, based on “contemporary best estimates.” Richard Baxell, “Myths of the International Brigades,” Bulletin of Spanish Studies 91 (2014): 11; and David Malet, “Foreign fighter mobilization and persistence in a global context,” Terrorism and Political Violence 27 (2015): 463.
  • 33In 2006, an anthology of poems written by former International Brigaders from Britain and Ireland was published. Alluding to an aforementioned obstacle in the accurate tallying of Australian participants due to, in some cases, dual citizenship, the works of Aileen Palmer, discussed in detail in Chapter 3 and included as an Australian in Amirah Inglis’ book, are included in the collection. Jim Jump, ed., Poems from Spain: British and Irish International Brigaders on the Spanish Civil War (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2006), 66-67; 79-80; 91.
  • 34Be they factors concerned with the Brigades’ political and demographic composition, the morality or purpose behind their formation and administration, or the attempts of supporters to consign them productively to a nation’s collective memory, among others…
  • 35Tom Buchanan, The Impact of the Spanish Civil War on Britain: War, Loss and Memory (Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press, 2007), 139-140; 195-196.
  • 36Ibid, 139-140.
  • 37Matthew Poggi, “Saving memories: Canadian veterans of the Spanish Civil War and their pursuit of Government recognition,” American Communist History 12 (2013): 197.
  • 38Stokely Carmichael, “Black Power,” in David Cooper, ed., The Dialectics of Liberation (London: Verso, 2015), 11.
  • 39In Britain, for example, Oswald Moseley attempted to capitalise on the fascist principles engulfing parts of the continent, but was famously thwarted in the Battle of Cable Street on 4 October 1936, when over 250,000 protesters halted his ‘Blackshirts’ from marching through London’s East End. Peter Catterall, “The Battle of Cable Street,” Contemporary Record 8 (1994): 105.
  • 40Raymond Carr, The Spanish Tragedy: The Civil War in Perspective (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1977), 231.
  • 41Jack Lindsay, The Novel in Britain and its Future (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1956), 64-65.
  • 42Perhaps most famously, in the United Nations building in New York hangs a tapestry of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, an immortalisation of the German bombing and destruction of the Basque cultural centre. At once both a solemn reminder and an indictment of the horrors of war, it is intended to impress upon the surrounding diplomats their responsibility to avert such bloodshed today. Other artistic pieces which contribute to the Spanish Civil War being one of the rare cases in which the cultural history of a conflict has been ‘won’ by the loser include Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (London: Cape, 1941), fascinatingly named as the favourite novel of both Barack Obama and John McCain in the lead-up to the 2008 US presidential election (Jefferson Flanders, “C. J. Sansom’s Winter in Madrid and the literary lure of the “Good Fight,” http://www.jeffersonflanders.com/2008/07/c-j-sansoms-winter-in-madrid-and-the-literary-lure-of-the-good-fight/). Andre Malraux’s Days of Hope (London: Routledge, 1938), the photographs of Robert Capa (most iconic among them his Loyalist Militiamen at the Moment of Death, taken on 5 September 1936), and songs by popular contemporary artists including The Clash’s Spanish Bombs, the Manic Street Preachers’ If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next, and Jarama Valley (a poem by an anonymous Brigader converted to music by Billy Bragg, as well as Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger) further extend the cultural legacy today. Thousands of lines of poetry also found as their source of inspiration the efforts and sacrifices of the foreign fighters, and the Republic more widely. Martyrdom befell Federico García Lorca, murdered by Franco’s forces in the early days of the fighting. The title of this thesis borrows a line from a poem by Pablo Neruda, who was working in the Chilean embassy in the city, witnessing the parades from his office window (Pablo Neruda [trans. Jodey Bateman], The Arrival in Madrid of the International Brigades, http://motherbird.com/arrival_brigades.html). This chapter itself takes its name from a line written by Miguel Hernández, a “self-educated peasant” who shared Lorca’s fate – albeit after the conclusion of the war – not before having expressed his gratitude to the foreign volunteers in To the International Soldier Fallen in Spain (cited by The War Poets Association, http://www.warpoets.org/conflicts/spanish-war/). A good starting point for other pieces is Valentine Cunningham, ed., The Penguin Book of Spanish Civil War Verse (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1980).
  • 43Buchanan, The Impact of the Spanish Civil War on Britain, 188.
  • 44Jules Henry, “Social and psychological preparation for war,” in David Cooper, ed., The Dialectics of Liberation (London: Verso, 2015), 66.
  • 45Stanley Weintraub, The Last Great Cause: The Intellectuals and the Spanish Civil War (London: W. H. Allen, 1968).
  • 46Brian Beasley, ‘Death Charged Missives’: Australian Literary Responses to the Spanish Civil War (University of Queensland PhD thesis, 2006), 19.
  • 47Ibid, 19.
  • 48Ibid, 18-19.
  • 49Ariel Dorfman, “Pinochet, the Lincoln Brigade, and Me,” The Progressive (1 May 1999): 21.
  • 50Beevor, The Battle for Spain, 139.
  • 51John Corbin, The Anarchist Passion: Class Conflict in Southern Spain, 1810-1965 (Aldershot: Avebury, 1993), 23.
  • 52Pierre Broué & Emile Témine, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain (London: Faber and Faber, 1970), 54.
  • 53A lucid summary of the vacillating strength of each of these movements during the period is presented in Broué & Témine, The Revolution and the Civil War in Spain, 54-73.
  • 54Beevor, The Battle for Spain, 17.
  • 55Such Soviet support was, nonetheless, conditional and carefully weighed up. Limiting their provision of assistance to generals, and not the mobilisation of physical troops, Russia was keen to keep powers such as Britain and France on side by appearing as much as possible to maintain an image of non-intervention. Of course, despite making similar public promises, Germany and Italy had no intention of upholding their end of the bargain. Prime Minister Baldwin’s subsequent allowance of vital testing of weaponry by Hitler and Mussolini has led to accusations that “the policy of appeasement was not Neville Chamberlain’s invention.” Ibid, 149-150.
  • 56For an excellent summary of the “four-track approach” of Soviet assistance, see Stanley Payne, “Soviet policy in Spain, 1936-1939,” in The Spanish Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 154.
  • 57George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia (London: Secker and Warburg, 1938).
  • 58Antony Beevor, for one, holds no punches: “The Spanish Republic was infected by the grotesque Stalinist paranoia of the NKVD…faced with the barrage of communist lies, any question of Republican unity was now dead.” The Battle for Spain, 300.
  • 59Robert Stradling, “English-speaking units of the International Brigades: War, politics, and discipline,” Journal of Contemporary History 45 (2010): 752-53.
  • 60Robert Baxell, “Myths of the International Brigades,” 14-15. The implicit chronology of this reading, though, seems to clash with that of Stanley Payne, who suggests that “the initial Soviet military intervention took place on a larger scale than anything Germany and Italy had yet done, and it was hoped that the two fascist powers would not counter with an escalation of their own.” Payne, “Soviet policy in Spain,” 155.
  • 61The impact of such crackdowns had both obvious and profound consequences for the Republic. During the war, pre-existing tensions that had simmered between the groups of nominally pro-government militia culminated into openly violent hostility. A particular crystallisation of this came in the infamous May Days in Barcelona in 1937. Communists and POUM anarchists, each driven by reciprocal accusations against the other of undermining the Republican fight against what should have been the common enemy, fascism, engaged in heated running battles. Paul Preston, The Spanish Civil War: Reaction, Revolution and Revenge (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), 256. Back in Australia, the impacts of this were keenly felt among Republican sympathisers. Robert Mason has highlighted how the May Days splintered an already existing rift between Spanish émigré communists and anarchists into an even more acute debate between strands of anarchism itself. Here, the old pragmatic, spontaneous anarchists of Andalusian heritage criticised the expatriate Catalan anarcho-syndicalists for their tendency to overthink and analyse the situation. These tensions ultimately undermined efforts to present a united front in requesting financial support from the community for the assistance of the Republic. Robert Mason, “Anarchism, communism and Hispanidad: Australian Spanish migrants and the Civil War,” Immigrants & Minorities: Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration and Diaspora 27 (2009): 42-43.
  • 62For an explanation of differences within the Nationalist movement owing to the competing desires of the Catholic traditionalist bodies, the Falangists and Carlists, as well as other right-wing factions, with those of the military, see Beevor, The Battle for Spain, 283-285. Despite these fractures, the general military training, experience, and access to resources shared by such paramilitary units would be one of the key factors favouring the Nationalists over their opponents in the war. George Esenwein, The Spanish Civil War: A Modern Tragedy (New York: Routledge, 2005), 32.
  • 63Preston, The Spanish Civil War, 13.
  • 64Giles Tremlett, Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and its Silent Past, (New York: Walker & Company, 2006), 3-95.
  • 65Jo Labanyi, “The politics of memory in contemporary Spain,” Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies 9 (2008): 119. Such disagreements had earlier underscored the so-called ‘history wars’ of the 1990s, in which the classroom had become the ideological battleground; educators, administrators, and politicians debating how to frame the period to young Spaniards. Carolyn Boyd, “The politics of history and memory in democratic Spain,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 617 (2008): 140-142.
  • 66Georgina Blakeley, “Politics as usual? The trials and tribulations of the Law of Historical Memory in Spain,” Entelequia. Revista Interdisciplinar 7 (2008): 319.
  • 67See Peter Carroll, The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade: Americans in the Spanish Civil War (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994), 285-286; and Ellen Schrecker, Many are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1998), 128.
  • 68Poggi, “Canadian veterans of the Spanish Civil War,” 196.
  • 69This feud dated from Menzies’ time as Commonwealth attorney general. In 1935, he had attempted and failed to introduce “amendments to the Crimes Act in 1935 that would have imposed new press controls.” The previous year, representing the Crown, Menzies had been stymied by the High Court in seeking to deny entry to the country of two delegates for an upcoming Movement Against War and Fascism congress: Egon Kisch, a prominent Czech anti-fascist; and Gerald Griffin, a New Zealand communist. Stuart Macintyre, The Reds: The Communist Party of Australia from Origins to Illegality (St Leonards: Allen & Unwin, 1998), 270-273. For a detailed analysis of Menzies’ heightened attacks on communism during his second prime ministership, see Robin Gollan, “The Cold War II (1950-5),” in Revolutionaries and Reformists: Communism & the Australian Labour Movement, 1920-1950 (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1985), 255-284.
  • 70Andrew Moore, The Right Road: A History of Right-wing Politics in Australia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 46.
  • 71Cited in Percy Joske, Sir Robert Menzies: 1894-1978 – A New, Informal Memoir (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1978), 163.
  • 72Len Fox, “McCarthy and Menzies,” in Broad Left, Narrow Left (Marrickville: Len Fox, 1982), 109.
  • 73For thorough coverage, see Leicester Webb, Communism and Democracy: A Survey of the 1951 Referendum (Melbourne: F. W. Cheshire, 1954). The failure of the referendum was a moment which an 11 year-old John Pilger, who had handed out ‘Vote No’ cards on the day, later called “a salutary moment of which Australians could be proud.” John Pilger, “The Struggle for Independence,” in A Secret Country (London: Vintage, 1992), 166.
  • 74Brian Galligan, “Constitutionalism and the High Court,” in Scott Prasser, J. R. Nethercote & John Warhurst, eds., The Menzies Era: A Reappraisal of Government, Politics and Policy (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1995), 161.
  • 75Alex Carey, “Anti-communism in Australia,” in Disenchantment (Hawthorn: Gold Star Publications, 1972), 63-116.
  • 76See Wilton Brown, “The problem years,” in The Communist Movement and Australia: An Historical Outline – 1890s to 1980s (Haymarket: Australian Labor Movement History Publications, 1986), 261-287; Ralph Gibson, “The ‘Great Leap’ and Maoism,” in The Fight Goes On: A Picture of Australia and the World in Two Post-war Decades (Maryborough: Red Rooster Press, 1987), 248-250; and Communist Party of Australia Central Committee, Differences in the Communist Movement: Views of the Communist Party of Australia (Sydney: Current Book Distributors, 1963).
  • 77In doing so she notes how the divisiveness caused by such rhetoric “seem[ed] at odds with [Menzies’] strong commitment to civil liberties manifest at other points in his political career.” Judith Brett, Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People (Sydney: Macmillan, 1992), 74-75.
  • 78Les Louis, “Cold War/class war and a national security state,” in Menzies’ Cold War: A Reinterpretation (Carlton North: Red Rag Publications, 2001), 35-53.
  • 79John Howard, “The Communist Party – to ban or not to ban,” in The Menzies Era: The Years that Shaped Modern Australia (Sydney: Harper Collins, 2014), 131.
  • 80Moore, The Right Road, 53-54.
  • 81Ibid, 58.
  • 82David Horner, The Spy Catchers: The Official History of ASIO, 1949-1963 (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2014), 293-294.
  • 83Ibid, 294.
  • 84Initially, Menzies succeeded in suppressing the militant labour movement through his enacting of the so-called ‘no-strike’ order in 1951 - legislation seemingly unburdened by potential accusations of political subjectivity through its endorsement by both the Arbitration Commission and the Industrial Court. By the 1960s, however, the restructuring of the Australian working class that had occurred in the preceding decade created the conditions for a re-ignition of the politicism of trade unions and their supporters. Tom Bramble, Trade Unionism in Australia: A History from Flood to Ebb Tide (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 12-15; 22-28.
  • 85Brian Carroll, The Menzies Years (North Melbourne: Cassell, 1977), 247.
  • 86Stradling, “English-speaking units of the International Brigades,” 745.
  • 87Stradling, “English-speaking units of the International Brigades,” 745.
  • 88Teresa Huhle, ““I see the flag in all of that” – Discussions on Americanism and Internationalism in the making of the San Francisco monument to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade,” American Communist History 10 (2011): 2.
  • 89Buchanan, The Impact of the Spanish Civil War on Britain, 139-140.
  • 90Steve Niblo, “An Australian in Spain. Review: Letters from Spain by Lloyd Edmonds,” Australian Left Review 93 (1985): 47.
  • 91Cited in Inglis, Australians in the Spanish Civil War, 188.
  • 92Herbert Marcuse, One-dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), 19.
  • 93Ibid, 19
  • 94Ibid, 14
  • 95Ibid, 23
  • 96At the risk of descending into an exercise of affirming cultural stereotypes, perhaps not all Western nations have been guilty of the same levels of political apathy as that which Nettie Palmer lamented blighted Australian society when she remarked that “we seemed to be shouting against the wind: we were choked by the disbelief and mockery of those around us.” Ken Coldicutt, for example, who fundraised for the SRC (of whose Melbourne branch Nettie Palmer was president) through screenings of the Republican propaganda film, Defence of Madrid, remembered an old riddle told to him by an Irish acquaintance that juxtaposed the ‘natural’ temperament of his friend’s countrymen against that of the Australians: “If a field full of Irishmen is called a paddy field, what do we call a field full of Australians? ANSWER: A vacant lot.” Nettie Palmer and Len Fox, Australians in Spain: Our Pioneers Against Fascism (Sydney: Current Book Distributors, 1948), 3; and Private correspondence from Ken Coldicutt to Amirah Inglis, 23 February 1988. Item N171/14, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 97To cater for today, one need only replace ‘international communism’ with, say, ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, to retain the relevance of Marcuse’s quote which opened this chapter.
  • 98For a thoughtful introduction to the philosophies behind the hotspot, see Terry Glavin, “No friends but the mountains: the fate of the Kurds,” World Affairs 177 (March 2015): 57-66; and Daryl McCann, “The battle for modernity on the borders of Kurdistan,” Quadrant Magazine 59 (January 2015): 8-13.
  • 99Penned with certain vagueness, the Act hands the authority to flesh out the precise wording of ‘sanctions’ and ‘offenses’ attracting punishment to the relative Minister, calling for critics to claim it “raises a separation of powers issue.” Xanthe Emery, “The New Autonomous Sanctions regime and its implications,” 6 March 2012, Immigration Advice & Rights Centre Inc. http://www.iarc.asn.au/_blog/Immigration_News/post/The_New_Autonomous_Sanctions_Regime_and_its_Implications/.
  • 100“American crusader wants ex-diggers to take on death cult,” www.news.com.au, 28 October 2014. http://www.news.com.au/national/american-crusader-wants-exdiggers-to-take-on-death-cult/story-fncynjr2-1227105160980.
  • 101Referring to a Gold Coast man killed fighting for the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Unit), for example, one such keyboard warrior wrote “if he had not been killed I hope he would have been prosecuted…on return and spent a very long time in prison.” (‘Ragged’, comment on “Gold Coast man Reece Harding killed fighting ISIS,” Sunshine Coast Daily, 1 July 2015. http://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/news/gold-coast-man-reece-harding-killed-fighting-isis/2692003/). Weeks earlier, another user, in response to pleas by the mother of Brisbane local Ashley Dyball, for his return home from similarly fighting against ISIS, opined “sure…come on home. We have a nice, safe prison cell waiting for you.” (‘Iron Fist’, comment on “Ashley Dyball’s family begs him to come home from suspected warzone fighting,” Brisbane Times, 26 May 2015. http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/ashley-dyballs-family-begs-him-to-come-home-from-suspected-warzone-fighting-20150526-gha7np.html).
  • 102See, for instance, the type of journalism speaking in the same breath of “IS, al-Qaeda and Kurdish propaganda machines targeting young Australians” as an example of the idea that those showing idealism on either side are essentially as immorally motivated as one another. “Revealed: Full list of Aussie jihadis fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq,” The Daily Telegraph, 16 April 2015. http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/revealed-full-list-of-aussie-jihadis-fighting-with-isis-in-syria-and-iraq/story-fni0cx12-1227306163660?sv=93917f874071e4d7e959ca01b0055335.
  • 103Erich Fromm, The Sane Society (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968), 186.
  • 104Erica Vowles, “Transcript - What history teaches us about foreign fighters,” Radio National’s Rear Vision (broadcast on 31 July 2015). http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/rearvision/what-we-can-learn-from-history-about-foreign-fighters/6662712.
  • 105Robert Mason, “Anarchism, communism and Hispanidad: Australian Spanish migrants and the Civil War,” Immigrants & Minorities: Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration and Diaspora 27 (2009): 37.
  • 106Even more bizarre than mistaking them for communists was the Queensland police’s labelling of Salvador Torrents – a member of anarchist organisation, the International Anti-Fascist Solidarity (IAS) - as, of all things, a fascist. Ibid, 39.
  • 107In the first half of the 1930s, movements such as the secret anti-communist civil militia, the New Guard, had already exploited “the ease with which many Australians could be mobilised against the communists by calls for loyalty.” Michael Cathcart, Defending the National Tuckshop (Fitzroy: McPhee Gribble, 1988), 76. Emphasising the lack of political sophistication underlying such identification of targets by these ‘loyalists’ was the recollections of a former New Guard member who claimed “communism, anarchism, and the IWW were to most of us all one kidney.” Eric Campbell, cited in Judith Brett, Robert Menzies’ Forgotten People (Sydney: Macmillan, 1992), 86.
  • 108John Pilger, “The struggle for independence,” in A Secret Country (London: Vintage, 1992), 162.
  • 109Ibid, 163-166.
  • 110Private correspondence from Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis, [day unknown] August 1983. Item N171/9, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 111In an apparent tribute to Aileen Palmer, whose fascinating life will be explored in Chapter 3 and who died in 1988, it was named after Palmer’s never-completed novel based on her own experiences in Spain.
  • 112Private correspondence from Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis, 15 August 1983. Item N171/9, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 113“Private correspondence: Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis,” 15 August 1983.
  • 114Amirah Inglis, Australians in the Spanish Civil War (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1987), 61-62.
  • 115“Back from Spain. Nursing with Loyalists,” The Newcastle Sun, 28 September 1937, 7.
  • 116Inglis, Australians in the Spanish Civil War, 77-79.
  • 117Ibid, 67; 220
  • 118Judith Keene, The Last Mile to Huesca: An Australian Nurse in the Spanish Civil War (Kensington: New South Wales University Press, 1988), 4.
  • 119Keene, The Last Mile to Huesca, 5-6.
  • 120Bronte Gould, “Australian participation in the Spanish Civil War,” Flinders Journal of History and Politics 28 (2012): 104.
  • 121Inglis, Australians in the Spanish Civil War, 62-63.
  • 122Keene, The Last Mile to Huesca, 8.
  • 123“Horrors of warfare. Nurse’s experiences in Spain,” The West Australian, 2 February 1938, 5.
  • 124Indeed, in her unfulfilled request to nurse on the European front after 1939 (instead taking up a suggestion to coordinate wartime farming duties in Tasmania), Hodgson’s response to the Second World War was rare among the volunteers. For the majority, Mary Lowson included, adherence to the communist reading of the war, which portrayed the conflict as being fought more along imperialist than defendable ideological lines, subsequently dictated their attitude. Among the men, only Harvey Buttonshaw enlisted, signing up for the Royal Air Force. Despite having been driven to Spain by a far more political idealism than Hodgson, it is no coincidence that Buttonshaw too was not a communist, but instead a supporter of Britain’s Independent Labour Party; an anarchist offshoot of the labour movement, with whom George Orwell also identified. Inglis, Australians in the Spanish Civil War, 200-202. Having survived both wars, Buttonshaw’s recollections of Spain in his later years would make a mockery of the lack of distinction made by Australian institutions (and society, by extension) between the different movements on the left, as discussed in the introduction to this chapter: “we fought the commies…I’m afraid that so many political outlooks can’t become a fighting force.” That his subsequent experience with the Allies saw him contribute to ‘a fighting force’ which ultimately did succeed lends particular legitimacy to such an assertion. Private correspondence from Harvey Buttonshaw to Amirah Inglis, 29 August 1985. Item N171/8, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 125Private correspondence from Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis, 21 October 1984. Item N171/9, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 126Ibid.
  • 127As Irwin attributed Mary’s decision to leave the Party to a heated falling out between her and Sam Aarons, Lowson must have remained a CPA member until at least 1946, which is when Aarons relocated to Perth to take up the position. Private correspondence from Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis, 11 November 1983, Item N171/8, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 128Private correspondence from Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis, 16 December 1984. Item N171/9, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC. The ALP’s aversion to a risk of association with communism harked back to the 1930s and early-1940s, when Maurice Blackburn’s was almost a lone voice among its ranks in publically standing up for progressive issues that courted particular controversy (during the Egon Kisch campaign he had been joined by fellow federal member, Frank Brennan). The punishment for such outspoken expression of his own firmly-held convictions would be temporary expulsion from the Party. In 1936, during one such enforced absence from the Victorian Central Executive of the ALP, Blackburn spoke at a meeting organised by the Victorian Council Against War and Fascism, in support of the Spanish Republican government. See Robin Gollan, Revolutionaries and Reformists: Communism & the Australian Labour Movement, 1920-1950 (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1985), 44-47; 115-118; Len Fox, ed., Depression Down Under (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1989), 142; and Susan Blackburn, “The impact of the rise of fascism,” in Maurice Blackburn and the Australian Labor Party, 1934-1943: A Study of Principle in Politics (Northcote: Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, 1969), 15-16.
  • 129Private correspondence from Bill Irwin to Amirah Inglis, 25 January 1984. Item N171/9, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 130Fromm, The Sane Society, 139.
  • 131Ibid, 139-141.
  • 132Ibid, 140
  • 133Ibid, 140-141
  • 134Robert Menzies, Communist Party Dissolution Bill. Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives. 27 April 1950.
  • 135“War nurse thinks Spanish Republicans will come again,” The Telegraph (Brisbane), 12 April 1939, 16.
  • 136Ironically, for one of Lowson’s exceptions as ‘Australian’ Brigaders who deserved praise, Wilson was in fact a New Zealander, having relocated to Sydney just 6 years prior to the group leaving for Spain. Inglis, Australians in the Spanish Civil War, 62.
  • 137Private correspondence from Mary Lowson to Judith Keene, 13 September 1983. Item N171/9, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 138Palmer and Fox, Our Pioneers Against Fascism, 11-12.
  • 139In Menzies’ House of Representatives speech referred to earlier, Hurd was personally named as one of 42 known communists who “occupy key positions…in the industries upon which this country would have to depend if tomorrow it were fighting for its life.” Communist Party Dissolution Bill. Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates. 27 April 1950.
  • 140Attributed to the Workers’ Star, 3 December 1937. Cited in Inglis, Australians in the Spanish Civil War, 123.
  • 141H. E. Jones, Director, Commonwealth Investigation Branch, “Ron Hurd – Memorandum to Inspector-In-Charge, Sydney,” 24 February 1942. ASIO file D1443, accessed at NAA.
  • 142“Action by union wins: Release of Natives and higher rates,” Northern Standard (Darwin), 5 August 1949, 9.
  • 143W. McGregor, Acting Deputy Director, Commonwealth Investigation Branch, “Ronald William Jackson Hurd - Memorandum to The Director, Canberra,” 14 March 1949. ASIO file D1443, accessed at NAA.
  • 144“Reds’ rowdy meeting: Eggs thrown at speaker,” The West Australian, 21 April 1951, 6.
  • 145“Seamen’s Union: Branch secretary elected,” Cairns Post, 22 January 1945, 1.
  • 146Hurd would feature in Jean’s 1945 book, Bird of Paradise (Sydney: Frank Johnson, 1945), as one of her thirty ‘representative Australians’.
  • 147Hurd’s rise to the secretaryship in Western Australia reflected a trend in which the Union leadership’s recent militant policies were wholeheartedly endorsed by its members, as he and fellow communists in branches across the eastern seaboard swept to landslide victories in the December 1947 elections (including E. V. Elliot, who polled “the highest vote recorded in the union’s history” in New South Wales). “Striking wins for militants in Seamen’s Union,” Tribune (Sydney), 17 December 1947, 8.
  • 148Private correspondence from Ron Hurd to Bill Irwin, 8 January 1972. Item N171/8, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 149Various records in ASIO file D1443, accessed at NAA.
  • 150Indeed, in the first volume of the official history of ASIO, David Horner details the findings of an enquiry into Australia’s security services pre-ASIO, headed by Alexander Duncan, Chief Commissioner of the Victorian Police, as arriving at the quite damning conclusion that “there was a lack of coordination between…various agencies, personnel were untrained and inexperienced, and the organisations were incompetent and inefficient.” David Horner, The Spy Catchers: The Official History of ASIO, 1949-1963 (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2014), 93-97.
  • 151See, for instance, Commonwealth Investigation Service, “Information on Ronald William Jackson Hurd,” 27 July 1948. ASIO file D1443, accessed at NAA; and Director, Perth Branch, Commonwealth Investigation Service, “Ron Hurd – Memorandum to Deputy Director,” 4 June 1948. ASIO file D1443, accessed at NAA.
  • 152Patrick Morgan, “The Royal Family of Australian Communism. Review: The Family File by Mark Aarons,” Quadrant Magazine (1 September 2010), http://quadrant.org.au/magazine/2010/09/the-royal-family-of-australian-communism/.
  • 153Harvey Barnett, Tale of the Scorpion (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1988), 76.
  • 154Mark Aarons, The Family File (Melbourne: Black Inc., 2010), 312-313.
  • 155Ibid, 312.
  • 156Ibid, 312-314.
  • 157Ibid, 314.
  • 158Tony Judt, Thinking the Twentieth Century (London: Vintage, 2013), 190.
  • 159Ibid, 190.
  • 160Ibid, 187-190.
  • 161Aarons, The Family File, 76-77.
  • 162An episode in Aarons’ personal life while in Spain may also arguably have led to the intensity of his devotion to the cause. A heartbreaking womaniser of some repute in his earlier years in Australia, Sam suffered in Spain the ignominy of losing the beautiful, much younger, Esme Odgers to a Spanish rival. In a life filled with dalliances, in which his purported chauvinism had seen him dominate and manipulate lovers, this amounted to, by grandson Mark’s account, the only time Aarons was ever “really broken-hearted…himself.” Sam and Esme’s passionate affair had been the catalyst for dramatic incriminations and reprisals within the CPA since 1934, with senior officials demanding Esme pen a ‘self-criticism’. Despite being well aware of these damaging intersections between personal and professional spheres, and the risk of these transgressions affecting his promotion through Party ranks, Aarons and Odgers continued the relationship. Its collapse invoked an emotional trauma of considerable intensity which could very well have enhanced the underlying ideological facets of Aarons’ reasons for being in Spain. Aarons, The Family File, 40-41; 57-62; 69-71.
  • 163Ibid, 51.
  • 164Wilton Brown, The Communist Movement and Australia: An Historical Outline – 1890s to 1980s (Haymarket: Australian Labor Movement History Publications, 1986), 52. Such an appraisal of Aarons’ status at this time, however, clashes with that of Stuart Macintyre, who cites reports by the Attorney-General’s Department in 1934 of Aarons being a ringleader of a CPA group collecting Australian military intelligence to send to the Soviet Union. Stuart Macintyre, The Reds: The Communist Party of Australia from Origins to Illegality (St Leonards: Allen & Unwin, 1998), 274.
  • 165Cited in Stuart Macintyre, Militant: The Life and Times of Paddy Troy (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1984), 179.
  • 166Ibid, 140.
  • 167“Urges ban on bomb and conscription,” Sunday Times (Perth), 17 September 1950, 28.
  • 168Macintyre, Militant, 140.
  • 169Though not having been a member of the International Brigades – instead working as a journalist in Spain during the war – the son of former Prime Minister John Fisher, John Jr., continued to similarly sympathise with progressive causes. Invoking the pride of a former Brigader, John was, at some point in the mid-1980s, “living in a condemned terrace in…Sydney as a protest about the terrible deficiency of low rent housing,” as well as being vocal in the anti-nuclear campaign. Private correspondence from Margaret Howells to Amirah Inglis, Date unknown. Item N171/8, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 170David Malet, “Foreign fighter mobilization and persistence in a global context,” Terrorism and Political Violence 27 (2015): 454-473.
  • 171Vowles, “Transcript - What history teaches us about foreign fighters.”
  • 172Malet, “Foreign fighter mobilization,” 464.
  • 173Which introduced, among other changes, the offence of “entering or remaining in a declared area.” This amendment is heavily targeted towards prosecution, through its absence on the list of exemptions of many “legitimate purposes” for which an individual might need to be in such a location. George Williams and Keiran Hardy, “National security (part two): National security reforms stage two: Foreign fighters,” LSJ: Law Society of New South Wales 7 (December 2014): 68-69.
  • 174Aarons, The Family File, 136-137.
  • 175Sylvia Martin, “Aileen Palmer – Twentieth century pilgrim: War, poetry, madness and modernism,” Hecate 35 (2009): 94. A member of the CPA during her university days, she had assisted with the campaign to allow the Czech anti-fascist Egon Kisch entry into Australia in 1934, as a member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers.Judith Keene, “A Spanish springtime: Aileen Palmer and the Spanish Civil War, Labour History 52 (1987): 76.
  • 176Due to the onset of the fighting, the event never took place. For detail on the People’s Olympiad’s moral stance, including its organisers’ efforts to balance expressions of Catalan nationalism with a repudiation of the political developments in Germany, see A. Gounot, “Barcelona against Berlin: The project of the People’s Olympiad in 1936,” Sportwissenschaft, 37 (2007): 419-428.
  • 177Nettie Palmer, “Fourteen Years,” in Vivian Smith, ed., Nettie Palmer: Her Private Journal Fourteen Years, Poems, Reviews and Literary Essays (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1988), 223-225.
  • 178Sylvia Martin, “From Caloundra to Barcelona: Aileen Palmer’s sense of place,” Hecate 13 (2013): 148-149.
  • 179Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Palmer empathised with the Vietnamese people repressed by the Diem regime, translated Ho Chi Minh’s Prison Diary, visited Japan and China, and wrote on the importance of maintaining peace in the Pacific region. Martin, “Twentieth century pilgrim,” 96; and Aileen Palmer, “Asia’s quest for peace,” 17 February 1958. Item MS7162, Aileen Palmer private collection, Special Collections, NLA.
  • 180Private correspondence from Margaret Howells to Amirah Inglis, Date unknown. Item N171/8, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 181Deborah Jordan, “’Women’s time’: Ina Higgins, Nettie Palmer and Aileen Palmer,” Victorian History Journal 79 (2008): 307.
  • 182The strategy involved injecting enough insulin into the patient’s bloodstream to induce a coma, before using glucose in the needle to bring them back around. The risks were manifest; several who underwent the treatment died as a result. Martin, “Twentieth century pilgrim,” 100.
  • 183Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf (London: Chatto & Windus, 1996), 176.
  • 184Maryanne Dever, Sally Newman & Ann Vickery, Intimate Archives: Journeys Through Private Papers (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2009), 9.
  • 185Sylvia Newman, “Body of evidence: Aileen Palmer’s textual lives,” Hecate 26 (2000): 10-38.
  • 186These emerge with particular clarity when one considers the pen name Palmer chose for much of her poetry, the Shakespearean “sad and monstrous ‘outsider’” of The Tempest’s Caliban. Dever et al., Intimate Archives, 34.
  • 187Martin, “Twentieth century pilgrim,” 97.
  • 188Ibid, 95.
  • 189Ibid, 99
  • 190At the same time, throughout Palmer’s private archives there emerges a very tangible frustration with her peers’ seemingly morbid and naïve fascination with her having been in Spain. In an earlier draft of an article written in 1966, she wrote that “when I mention to anyone these days that I was in Spain during the war there, they are apt to say ‘Oh, that must have been a wonderful experience!’, and that usually shuts me up straight away.” Speaking of the finished article in a letter to her sister, Aileen remarked “I’ve just got off my chest, and into the post, an article for Realist on Spain, which I hope will finish the writing about Spain I have to do for any editors this year.” Private correspondence from Aileen Palmer to Helen Palmer, 1 September 1966. Item MS3044, Aileen Palmer private collection, Special Collections, NLA.
  • 191Aileen Palmer, “Draft – The Orange Tree,” Date unknown, 4. Item MS7162, Aileen Palmer private collection, Special Collections, National Library of Australia. Among the “brightest minds,” John Cornford was one of Palmer’s most profound inspirations. A communist, poet and English professor, and great-grandson to Charles Darwin, he was killed in Spain at only twenty-one after volunteering with the International Brigades. The title of Palmer’s unpublished novel on her Spanish experiences, The Last Mile to Huesca, which the reader might recall was borrowed by Judith Keene and Agnes Hodgson for the 1988 book featuring Hodgson’s journal, was itself taken from a line in one of Cornford’s poems, Heart of the Heartless World. Pat Sloan, ed., John Cornford: A Memoir (Dunfermline: Borderline Press, 1978); and Martin, “Twentieth century pilgrim,” 95.
  • 192Aileen Palmer, “Draft - Second Ballad of the Spanish Civil Guard” (1951). Item MS7162, Aileen Palmer private collection, Special Collections, NLA.
  • 193Fredric Jameson, “Versions of a Marxist hermeneutic,” in Marxism and Form: Twentieth-century Dialectical Theories of Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 107-108.
  • 194In a heartbreakingly twisted foreshadowing of today’s ubiquitous ‘celebrity spotting’ culture in tabloid newspapers, Aileen was very clearly the subject of John Coulthard’s considerably more humane and thought-provoking “Out and about” column in Postscript newspaper on 2 July 1969. Coulthard wrote of how an anonymous woman, who had been in “the Spanish War…[and] finished up driving an ambulance during the London Blitz,” had telephoned him from a “city call-box,” saying she was “on trust leave from the Arundel” (a mental institution in Melbourne). In his piece, in which Palmer is portrayed as sounding “completely alone, concussed by a series of shocks from a society who had no place her anymore,” Coulthard moralised on the role played by an unwelcoming society in its treatment of such idealists, such dreamers: “Are bystanders innocent?” “Out and about,” Postcript, 2 July 1969, 3. Newspaper clipping in Item MS6759, Aileen Palmer private collection, Special Collections, NLA.
  • 195Erich Fromm, The Sane Society (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968), 202.
  • 196Aileen Palmer, “Draft – ‘Remembering Barcelona’, article for Realist,” (1966), 5. Item MS7162, Aileen Palmer private collection, Special Collections, NLA.
  • 197Palmer, “Draft – The Orange Tree,” 2.
  • 198Palmer, “Draft – The Orange Tree,” 7-8.
  • 199John Schumann, I Was Only 19 (A Walk in the Light Green) (1983). Universal Music Publishing Pty Ltd.
  • 200Private correspondence from Ken Coldicutt to Amirah Inglis, 18 March 1986. Item N171/10, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 201Cited in Nettie Palmer and Len Fox, Australians in Spain: Our Pioneers Against Fascism (Sydney: Current Book Distributors, 1948), 40.
  • 202Palmer, “Draft – ‘Remembering Barcelona’,” 2.
  • 203Martin, “Aileen Palmer’s sense of place,” 149.
  • 204Herbert Marcuse, One-dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1968), 60.
  • 205Palmer, “Draft – The Orange Tree,” 2.
  • 206Aileen Palmer, “The Desolate,” World Without Strangers? (Melbourne: Overland, 1964), 20.
  • 207Though perhaps, at the risk of getting into semantics, we might say ‘least negative’.
  • 208Elizabeth Burchill, The Paths I’ve Trod (Richmond: Spectrum Publications, 1981), 50.
  • 209Ibid, 50.
  • 210Burchill, The Paths I’ve Trod, 51.
  • 211Ibid, 57.
  • 212May Pennefather, “Transcript - Radio interview, Perth,” 17. 16 August 1983. Item N171/9, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 213On the fiftieth anniversary of Franco’s uprising, Spanish historian Manuel Tunon de Lara revealed the results of his laborious research into the human cost of the war. By his calculations, at least 300,000 died during the three years of conflict between the Republicans and the Nationalists, with a similar number of people forced to flee the country to seek refuge. A further 30,000 were executed by Franco in the following decade. “50 years later, Spain is still haunted by Civil War,” The Herald Tribune, 16 July 1986 [page unknown]. Newspaper clipping in Item N171/14, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 214Pennefather, “Transcript - Radio interview, Perth,” 1.
  • 215Ibid, 12.
  • 216In her later years, Pennefather would recall having worked, at times, for 50 hours in a row, “forceps in one hand and a sandwich in the other.” Cited in “Red Matildas march on,” The Age, 29 June 1984 [page unknown]. Newspaper clipping in Item N171/14, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 217Pennefather, “Transcript - Radio interview, Perth,” 12.
  • 218Deeming herself “not political enough to join the Communist Party,” Pennefather nonetheless became a member in the weeks prior to leaving Australia, merely as a means of legitimising herself and guaranteeing “some credentials.” Her activity with the CPA was limited in subsequent years. Pennefather’s situation thus raises parallels with the example of a London volunteer, David Lomon, who similarly sought membership of the Communist Party (of Great Britain) strictly to facilitate a smoother passage to Spain; before swiftly cutting ties upon arrival back home. For Brigaders such as Pennefather (perhaps only slightly less so) and Lomon, “the relationship with…[communism] was essentially symbiotic.” Pennefather, “Transcript - Radio interview, Perth,” 4; and Richard Baxell, “Myths of the International Brigades,” Bulletin of Spanish Studies 91 (2014): 14.
  • 219Pennefather, “Transcript - Radio interview, Perth,” 7.
  • 220Ibid, 46.
  • 221Ibid, 4-5.
  • 222Ibid, 1.
  • 223With the Depression severely curtailing her employment opportunities in Western Australia following graduation, it was out of necessity that Pennefather relocated to Brisbane for a five-month dalliance with the Anglican Church, having become interested during her studies in contributing to missionary work. Before long, disillusioned with the religiousness of this “churchy business,” she left, flitting from one nursing position to another throughout Queensland, as poor job security and her own forthrightness in the face of authority saw to a turbulent period in her professional life. Pennefather, “Transcript - Radio interview, Perth,” 1-2.
  • 224“Democracy or the devil: Spain’s heroes: The Australians who fought on both side 50 years ago – The Spanish Civil War in relation to Australia,” Weekend Australian, 5-6 July 1986 [page unknown]. Newspaper clipping in Item N171/14, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 225Amirah Inglis, Australians in the Spanish Civil War (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1987), 207.
  • 226Philip Cornford and Peter Welch, “Synopsis – ‘The Far Crusade’,” Date unknown. Item N171/14, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 227Incidentally, Philip was related to Aileen Palmer’s hero; his father being a cousin of the young poet killed in Spain, John Cornford. Private correspondence from Margaret Howells to Amirah Inglis, Date unknown. Item N171/8, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 228“Red Matildas march on,” The Age, 29 June 1984 [page unknown]. Newspaper clipping in Item N171/14, Amirah Inglis private collection, NBAC.
  • 229Cornford and Welch, “Synopsis – ‘The Far Crusade’,” 3-4.



6 years 8 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Lugius on September 24, 2017

Harvey Buttonshaw was the only Australian to fight in a FAI militia. Sadly, he's no longer with us. But Antonio Burgos is still with us; he was originally from CNT Alicante fled to Bani-Saf after the Spanish Revolution and then took a boat to Melbourne in 1965. He'll crack the ton if he makes it to May 2018.