The Spying Game: An Australian Angle

By Carr, Richard | Antipodes, December 2015 | Go to article overview

The Spying Game: An Australian Angle


Carr, Richard, Antipodes


CRitiCisM Cloak and Dagger Down Under Bruce Bennett. The Spying Game: An Australian Angle. north Melbourne: Australian scholarly publishing, 2012. 222 pp. A$39.95. isBn-13 978-1-921875-68-7

I have the privilege of writing on one of the gems left us by the late Bruce Bennett, a comprehensive look at the "world's second oldest profession" (2) as it has played out in Australia. that subtitle, "An Australian Angle," is both unexpected and puzzling. spying, for those of us coming of age in the last half of the twentieth century, is a World War ii or Cold War activity, a necessary accoutrement to international conflicts. For characters in certain Hitchcock films (The Lady Vanishes) or novels by Graham Greene (Our Man in Havana) or John le Carré (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold), espionage is a dangerous, pivotal activity necessary for keeping the world safe. Bennett asserts that the spying game enjoys a rich history in Australia; this book delineates that history and explores the spy figure as she or he appears in recent novels by major Australian writers.

We learn that spying in Australia predates the first european settlements. Captain James Cook's 1770 landing on the east Coast of Australia was ostensibly a stop on his voyage to tahiti, where he was charged with observing the transit of Venus. But Cook and company were also secretly charged with identifying potential sites for British military posts. By this time it was not only the random dutch ship that passed along the continent; the French and portuguese and British saw the need to claim land-Cook annexed the coastal area, naming it new south Wales-and keep a constant eye out for their rivals. spying was integral to the First Fleet settlement in 1788. With ships filled with convicted criminals, the leaders needed to maintain sur veillance of these folk, who were still inmates. the solution to this dilemma lay in turning a substantial number of the First Fleeters into informers. the terms were most inviting; squeal on your mate and have your sentence reduced.

To give a grounding in the topic, Bennett relays a larger history of spies and spying in the West. His condensed histories of such notorious double agents as Kim philby ser ve as a springboard for questions recurring throughout the book: Why do individuals choose to become spies or secret agents? How do motivations change as the individual-the spy-becomes more involved in the world of espionage? How do spies interact with others-family, friends? Why do spy stories maintain a hold on the popular imagination? one of his test cases is Harr y Freame, a Gallipoli scout who later distinguished himself as a secret agent for Australia. A man of action adept at gathering intelligence, Freame was half-Japanese, and according to Bennett, his mixed-race status both provoked "ambivalent" (99) attitudes in his compatriots and led to his success as a secret agent in Mexico, German east Africa, Australia (as a "plant" in the Japanese American community), and finally Japan. Freame's dual inheritance made him both invaluable and vulnerable, tragically so as the Australian Sun's 1940 report on him as engaged in "special defence work" (102) was quickly followed by Freame's violent death by garroting in tokyo. the spy as outsider, not quite belonging to any group, is a recurring note Bennett sounds, here and elsewhere in the text.

This consideration of real-world espionage in Australia by Australians lays the foundation for Bennett's exploration of the spying game in fiction. He surveys a range of prominent writers whose work employs spying in development of storyline and theme- Janette turner Hospital, patrick White, Christopher Koch, nicholas Hasluck, Richard Flanagan-and in discussing their fictions he finds fictional spies often sporting traits and engaging in struggles that beset their real-life counterparts. …

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