It's been more than two weeks since I've posted anything on my current mystery aeroplane research, but it's not because I haven't been working on it. In fact it is coming along pretty well. There are still some frustrating gaps in my understanding of the archival records, but the writing is coming along. I've written up the section about the aeroplane scare, and next I'll be doing the section on the German threat, as depicted above in a 1918 (?) poster by Norman Lindsay. So here's something about that.
The first thing to say is that there was no German threat from within, and not much from without either. But the two were linked in both the official and the public mind. The external threat was maritime: von Spee's squadron at Tsingtao at the outbreak of war (which fled east to avoid the battlecruiser HMAS Australia) and SMS Emden (sunk by HMAS Sydney in the Indian Ocean), and merchant raiders like SMS Seeadler (wrecked in the Society Islands in 1917) and above all SMS Wolf. The Wolf's activities in southern waters in 1917 caused quite a shock. At first, the RAN strongly resisted the idea that one of Wolf's victims, SS Cumberland, was its victim at all, arguing that it had been destroyed by sabotage rather than a mine. So too were SS Wimmera, Matunga and Port Kembla supposed to have fallen prey to saboteurs rather than raiders. But even when Wolf's guilt had been established — inspection of the damage showed that the explosion actually came from outside the hull — the Australian government, in the person of the prime minister, Billy Hughes, continued to claim that the enemy within was responsible, as the Brisbane Courier noted:
The Federal Government is so satisfied that enemy tactics have been used that it has offered £5000 in each case for information which will lead to the conviction of the perpetrators of the Port Kembla and Cumberland outrages.1
The supposed saboteurs weren't Germans, however, but pacifist/anti-conscription socialists like the Wobblies, the Industrial Workers of the World (the fictitious uprising of which the government was prepared to use bombs and machine-guns against in 1917). Germany's hidden hand was believed to be behind these too, and pretty much every other source of dissent on the home front, as the Perth Sunday Times alleged:
Is the Commonwealth the one country in the world where the stench of the saurkraut plotter cannot be smelt? He who believes it is a fool. The trail of the Hun is to be seen in every State. Now stirring up strikes, now mobbing the Prime Minister, now-spreading the gospel of sabotage, now shouting that Australia has Done Enough, the agents of Germany are working insidiously and working all the time, and such is the credulity of the Australian public that they have met with alarming success. Who laid the mine-field off Gabo Island? The Hun. Who destroyed the Cumberland, the Matunga, and the Port Kembla? The Hun. Who pays the well-dressed agents provocateurs who bob up every now and then in every capital city and talk strike? The Hun. Whose hand was visible in the coal strike, the metal strike, the lumpers' strike, the second coal strike and the second metal strike? That of the Hun.2
When the Wolf returned triumphantly to Kiel in February 1918, the full extent its exploits began to be realised back to Australia. More than: along with the false claim that its seaplane had flown over Sydney, there was now the idea that Wolf had collaborators on shore. A feature film, The Enemy Within, dramatised the idea:
THE ENEMY WITHIN
EXPOSING THE GERMAN SPY SYSTEM IN AUSTRALIA WHICH CAUSED THE LOSS OF THE CUMBERLAND, THE PORT KEMBLA, AND, LATEST, THE WIMMERA.
FEATURING AUSTRALIA'S CHAMPION ATHLETE,
REG. L. (SNOWY) BAKER
IN ONE HUNDRED THRILLING FEATS, INCLUDING LEAP FROM MOVING CAR, HAND-TO-HAND BATTLE WITH FIVE SPIES, EIGHTY FEET DIVE FROM SOUTH HEAD TO RESCUE DROWNING GIRL.3
Similar (if less exciting) narratives were imagined quite seriously elsewhere. Referring to a claim by a former passenger of the Matunga that the Wolf must have had information that it had taken on coal, for example, an article in the Cairns Post asked
Is the Spy in Australia? — Is there somewhere in this country a wireless apparatus at work that might keep a German rover in the Pacific aware of all that is going on amongst Commonwealth shipping. There is every likelihood of such being the case. What one thinks of is a well-appointed wireless station in some out of the way place, among unfrequented hills, probably, the operator being fed with information by contingents of German spies in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.4
Even before then, suspicions had fallen on a German-born fisherman, Carl Newman, who lived on an island off the Gippsland coast about a hundred miles from the Gabo Island minefield which had claimed the Cumberland. He had already been accused by locals of disloyalty twice before and upon investigation been cleared; but the third time this happened he was unlucky. Even though no evidence linking him to the Cumberland or indeed anything at all untoward could be found, and even though by this time the government knew that the Wolf had had no assistance, Newman was arrested in April 1918 and interned in Holdsworthy Concentration Camp for over a year.5 Which brings me to the subject I'd originally meant to talk about: Germanophobia and German-Australians. Another post.
- Brisbane Courier, 2 October 1917, 6.
- Sunday Times (Perth), 9 December 1917, 4. By this time the saboteur theory for the Cumberland etc had been disproven, as the reference to the Gabo Island minefield shows.
- Mercury (Hobart), 29 July 1918, 6; though it was first shown in March or April. Besides being a patriot, Snowy Baker was the manager of the Australian middleweight and heavyweight champion Les Darcy, who he publicly tried to shame into enlisting. Darcy, who was only 21, fled to the United States and where he collapsed and died in hospital.
- Cairns Post, 6 April 1918, 7.
- Richard Guilliatt and Peter Hohnen, The Wolf: How One German Raider Terrorised Australia and the Southern Oceans in the First World War (North Sydney: William Heinemann, 2009), 199-202, 277-80. 'Holdsworthy Concentration Camp' seems to have been its official title, but for some reason it is usually referred to as an 'internment camp' now. Holsworthy is the name of the place now.
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