Monday, December 14, 2015
Peter Ryan, last of the Alf Conlon-ites
It is a shame that Peter Ryan, who died yesterday aged 92, will probably be remembered as a man of three parts: young soldier, middle-aged publisher and grumpy old culture-warrior, per the 1993-94 Manning Clark/Soviet Spy controversy. Actually, his public life really only had one, long act.
I have no doubt that Ryan’s military service in what became PNG during WWII, in some ways, forged the young man. But it was a Melbourne office military posting to Alf Conlon’s DORCA #, in the later stages of WWII, which gave him a strikingly consistent agenda for the rest of his public life. While it is unclear who exactly Peter Ryan was a near-lifelong agent for, plainly he was a toxic human being who used his cultural, commercial and official power to destabilise Australian intellectual life over seven decades. For the most part, he did this smoothly and expertly – but wantonly – leaving little trace of his interventions, but a large penumbra of fallout.
# Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs
The “Was Manning Clark a Soviet Spy?” controversy was hardly subtle or without obvious risk of personal blowback to Ryan – after all, he was Clark’s long-term publisher at MUP, albeit Ryan started there after the “History of Australia” series was first commissioned. Turning on one of one’s own children (even if s/he is technically a step-child, but brought up by the step-parent from a very young age) is rarely a good look. So what prompted Ryan to this extreme in September 1993, and why did he wait for two years after Clark’s death to plunge the knife in?
Part of the answer, I believe, is that Ryan earlier had other balls in the air, and wanted to see first how these others would fall, and thus align for posterity. Most importantly, Ryan’s lifelong mission was to sanitise from the record the corrupting influence, to the present-day (if nebulously so), of Alf Conlon’s WWII DORCA. While this unit today is principally known for its connections to high-end political intrigue in 1975 (per dismissal of Gough Whitlam by John Kerr, another DORCA alumnus) and contemporaneous vaudeville (the Ern Malley hoax), it deserves to be much-better known, through its successor ASOPA ##, as the principal architect of Australian government Aboriginal policies in the 1950s. And probably ever since – that is, if the machinations of Peter Ryan to suppress the DORCA/ ASOPA/Aboriginal policy connection are interpreted as significant in themselves. It was only in early 1993, with the death of Paul Hasluck, that Ryan felt the coast was clear, as it were, to change his game from defensive subterfuge to open, peripheral attack.
## Australian School of Pacific Administration
Paul Hasluck notably loathed Alf Conlon; equally Ryan never said a word against him. As Hasluck saw it, this was principally because of Conlon’s loose-cannon role at DORCA during WWII, but later on, Hasluck either never realised – or at least never admitted – that ASOPA, secretly but very effectively, had hugely undermined him as Territories Minister (so notionally also in charge of Commonwealth Aboriginal policy) between 1951 and 1963.
It is here, in influencing Paul Hasluck to never say another public word about Alf Conlon after 1980 (when MUP published Diplomatic Witness), that Ryan’s staggering modus operandi is revealed. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Ryan, under the guise of an improbable friendship, groomed the frail and elderly widower Hasluck, flying him to Melbourne to visit Ryan at least four times in 1988-1991, so encouraging Hasluck to take certain facts and opinions to his grave (on the face of it, successfully so). While Hasluck was not quite the last of that generation who could have, as a senior insider who was not plainly a Conlon-ite, spilled the beans on DORCA/ ASOPA/Aboriginal policy, the last such living domino – Harry Giese – dropped off in 2000, besieged by controversy about his personal responsibility for removing Aboriginal children, per the Stolen Generations. Whatever blame can legitimately be put on Giese here, writing the child-removal policy was not one of them – that was the job of the Canberra bureaucrats, who had a shadowy DORCA and US-military alumnus, Nick Penglase, among them (Penglase also recruited Ryan to DORCA). Nor was Giese responsible for training the welfare officers who (along with police) performed these removals in the Northern Territory; these officers were, after 1956, ASOPA graduates.
For now, I won’t go into the intricate specifics of how Ryan groomed Hasluck, other than to say that Ryan was surprisingly careless about what he blurted out in public sometimes. Perhaps this is the inbuilt flaw of a mostly self-educated man, through circumstance elevated to work with Australia’s very best and brightest – in aiming for a breezy camaraderie to compensate for being out of his intellectual death, he instead made some jaw-dropping moves.
While his grooming of Hasluck is not one of these overt clangers, Ryan’s clumsy attempt to absolve himself from personal responsibility for accepting CIA funds for MUP to publish, in 1969 under John Kerr’s Presidency of Law Asia, a book on – of all things – Asian contract law is revealing. A furious letter to the editor by that book’s co-author David E Allan [“Clear funds for law book”, Australian 4 February 1999], calling for a retraction and apology from Peter Ryan, was not answered in word or deed, as far as I am aware. Whoever Ryan (and possibly Conlon too) really worked for – and the CIA appears to be the most likely possibility – plainly did not care about either loyalty in human relationships or plain logical consistency. Following the party line was all; which ironically made Ryan quite the undisclosed expert, of course, on Manning Clark’s supposed communist infiltration of the Australian academy.
I believe that Manning Clark’s supposed communist influence was also well-timed, in 1993-94, to distract from the otherwise bigger, fresher, and more important Left-Right story of the day; Aboriginal policy, immediately post-Mabo. Twenty-two years on, I assume that Peter Ryan died yesterday with a smile on his face – that in seventy years of manufactured disarray in Australian Aboriginal policy, he was never once found out, despite often being quite close to the action. In case it needs to be spelled out, this disarray has been materially and psychically catastrophic for generations of Indigenous Australians. It has also been, I suggest, an intellectual vortex for some of our smartest whitefellas; thinking they were boxing away their hardest in the ring of public ideas, when the whole game was always secretly rigged.
It is now time to start reversing these disastrous 70 years, by telling some home truths, and wiping the smile off the face of the late Peter Ryan, idiot, glove-puppet and traitor.