5 AUGUST 2011

“Media Watch Dog on Fridays…is a sort of popular read in the Crikey office”

Crikey’s Andrew Crook on ABC 2 News Breakfast, 24 September 2010.

“Gerard Henderson is big enough to take care of himself, but that doesn’t stop us worrying about him from time to time.

Lately it’s Hendo’s tendency to self-harm that has us losing sleep. For example, peruse the correspondence he’s

published in his latest Media Watch Dog blog…..There’s a part of us that just wants to ask: “Hendo, are you OK?”

– James Jeffrey’s “Strewth!” column, The Australian, 8 November 2010.

“I realise this makes me practically retarded, but until five minutes ago I thought Nancy was Gerard Henderson’s wife, not his dog.”

– Byronbache via Twitter, Monday 7 February 2011

“Before going further can you write to confirm that these emails are private correspondence and not for publication”

– ABC News Radio’s Marius Benson, 11 March 2011. He did go further – see MWD Issue 86.

Media Watch Dog – “disgraceful”, “sick” – Professor Robert Manne, April Fool’s Day 2011.

“Go to the Sydney Institute Media Watch Dog website to marvel at [its] work” – Mark Latham The Spectator Australia 11 June 2011.

● Stop Press: Scott Burchill Forgets Economic Reform History

● Forget the Poll: Why the Q&A Audience Is Replete With Lefties

● Christine Nixon’s Error – Blame Murdochphobia

Age Letters Editor Outdoes Mike Carlton in Linking Norway Murders with Down Under Conservatives

● A Deborah Cameron Moment : In Which Greg Combet Is Asked About Barry O’Farrell’s Views on Climate Change

●  Nancy’s Pick-of-the-Week: Jessica Wright and Misha Schubert’s Cameron Letter

● Can You Bear It?  Jenna Price on Sex & Bob Ellis on Mike Rann

●  Correspondence: Brenda Niall & Gerard Henderson on Ireland and Australia – With Special Reference to the Jesuit William Hackett


What a stunning performance by Deakin University academic Scott (“Call me Doctor”)  Burchill on the ABC 1 News Breakfast program this morning.

Interviewed during the daily newspapers segment, Dr (for a Doctor he is) Burchill said that Australia did not go into recession during the Global Financial Crisis since “the Chinese and the 55 billion dollars of priming saved us”.  Scott Burchill seems unaware that Australia had one of the strongest economies in the world before the GFC – due primarily to the economic reforms introduced during the period of Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and John Howard prime ministerships to which other politicians made an important contribution – including Peter Costello.

Apparently Burchill believes that Australia’s relatively strong economy today is entirely due to the demand from China and spending in Canberra.  Scott Burchill is an academic. [I assume that, like many of his type, Dr Burchill opposed most, if not all, of the economic reforms that took place between 1983 and 2007 – Ed].


This brand new segment is devoted to answering queries from readers.

Last Tuesday, one of Nancy’s Melbourne mates wrote to MWD about the political allegiances of audiences attending the live televising of the ABC 1 Q&A program each Monday night.  The MWD reader wondered why, each Monday, the Q&A audience resembled a lot of lefties in an inner-city share house.

At the commencement of the program, Q&A places across the screen an analysis of the political allegiances of the audiences – which declares: “In the #qanda audience tonight….”

This is the (alleged) audience for the Q&A conducted in Hobart on Monday 25 July 2011:

ALP : 36 per cent

Coalition: 43 per cent

Greens:  11 per cent

And this is the (alleged) audience for the Q&A conducted in Sydney on Monday 1 August 2011:

ALP: 37 per cent

Coalition : 43 per cent

Greens:  15 per cent

Nancy’s mate wants to know why, if over 40 per cent of the audience are Coalition voters, the Q&A set invariably barracks loudly for the causes advocated by the Greens and is hostile – or indifferent – to the causes advanced by the Coalition.

In Hobart, for example, the Q&A set just loved the utterances of Greens Senator Christine Milne and the one-time Communist Party member and continuing radical environmentalist Peter Cundall – and was hostile to both Liberal Senate leader Eric Abetz and Tasmanian Labor premier Lara Giddings.

The following week in Sydney, the heroes of the night were the panel members who exhibited the condition known as Murdochphobia and who want to further regulate the Australian media.  Namely Christine Nixon, Tanya Plibersek and Crikey founder Stephen Mayne.  The audience was hostile to left-wing libertarian Brendan O’Neill (who does not believe in further media regulation and who believes that conservatives should be heard) and indifferent to Liberal Party frontbencher Peter Dutton.

How did this come about?  Well, Nancy’s discoveries have revealed that Q&A judges the political affiliations of its audiences by a means of self-identification.  The producers do want a balanced audience and are conscious of the fact that the left tries to stack the audience. It’s just that Q&A cannot deliver a balanced audience.

Consequently, if you are a leftie sandal-wearer and want to play a part in Q&A, the best chance you have of obtaining a seat in the audience is to declare that you are a Coalition voter or a mainstream social democrat who supports Labor.  In such a situation you are likely to obtain admission in order to “balance” the audience against the Greens.

In other words, the announcement at the top of the Q&A program each evening is at best misleading and bears no relation to the facts.  Nancy proposes a new introduction which should be placed at the back of the Q&A screen each Monday:

In the #qanda audience tonight – ALP 20 per cent, Coalition 10 per cent, Greens 70 per cent.


While on the topic of Q&A, this is fast becoming a program where some panellists can say whatever they want – free from correction.

Last Monday, for example, former Victoria Police Commissioner Christine Nixon declared that “the media in this country” is “70 per cent owned by the one corporation” – meaning Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited.  This is hopelessly wrong.  News Limited controls 70 per cent of Australia’s main newspapers but does not control free-to-air television or radio.  The biggest employer of journalists in Australia is, wait for it, the taxpayer funded ABC.



There were numerous attempts to link Anders Behring Breivik’s mass murders in Norway with conservative or right-of-centre commentators in Western Europe, North America, even Australia.

Mike Carlton had a notable go in last Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald – pointing his finger at John Howard, Peter Costello, Cardinal George Pell and historian Keith Windschuttle. According to Mr Carlton:

His [Breivik’s] words and actions were a seamless, linear progression of right-wing rage and loathing. At one end, you start with the anger and paranoia fomented by rightist politicians, demagogues and commentators for their own cynical political ends, the bigotry and racism that is daily grist to the talkback radio mill. At the other end is a clear-eyed fanatic with tonnes of fertiliser, automatic weapons and an ubermensch mission to save the world. The dots join up.

So there you have it.  However, Mike Carlton’s blame-conservatives-for-mass-murder beat up was outdone by The Age’s Letters Editor.

On Thursday 25 July, the main letter in The Age was headed “Norway Massacre: Extremism has no place in society”.  There followed a letter from a certain Mark Slater in Canberra who pointed the finger at Tony Abbott.

Then on Friday 26 July, the main letter in The Age was headed: “Norway Massacre: Liberals Must end the negativity”. This time a certain  Nahrin Butrus from Coolaroo also pointed the finger at the Liberals in general and Tony Abbott in particular.

A DEBORAH CAMERON MOMENT – In Which The “Green-Left-Weekly” Asks Mr Combet To Explain Mr O’Farrell’s Opposition To The Carbon Tax

Precisely who does a “Green-Left-Daily” presenter like Deborah Cameron talk to when she wants details about the climate change policies of the Coalition government in the New South Wales headed by Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell?  Why, the Federal Labor Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet. That’s who.

Last Wednesday on ABC Radio 702, the Mornings with Deborah Cameron program commenced with an announcement that Barry O’Farrell had “many reservations” about the Gillard Government’s proposed carbon tax.  Ms Cameron then announced: “We’ll talk to the Minister about that.”  It turned out that she had the Federal Labor minister in mind. Let’s go to the transcript:

Deborah Cameron: So two lots of controversial and reform-oriented change are in Federal government hands. Both involve and need the States to make change happen, to commit, to share the thinking and the load. Now they are in the areas of health, energy and carbon pricing policy. It’s actually arguable that, in New South Wales, energy policy is a much more fraught area. Now remember the old Keating-ism “never get between a premier and a bag of money.” Now with that smiles-all-round wrapping up yesterday of the health deal, the assent of the Premiers, the real key to acceptance of that was probably the money that was on the table, the reality of it. Why then is our premier Barry O’Farrell so reluctant about the carbon tax? Why are the politics so feral? Could it be that there’s just simply not enough money and proof on the table for the states that it will work? With me this morning is the Minister for Climate Change Greg Combet. Minister good morning.

Greg Combet : How are you Deborah?

Deborah Cameron: Well, if Barry O’Farrell can so willingly say yes to a health package deal in New South Wales, on behalf of the State, and go out and actually advocate it – but he’s firmly against the Carbon Tax – if you apply the Premier and bag-of-money principle, is the deal sweet enough for the States on the carbon tax?

Greg Combet: I don’t think it’s a question of money or sweeteners. I think it’s just politics. Because Tony Abbott’s from Sydney and he’s a close colleague of Barry O’Farrell. And I think the response we’ve had from the New South Wales government is essentially politics to help – you know, to back in Tony Abbott’s really completely unprincipled and opportunist opposition to the Federal Government taking action on climate change. And I think it’s as simple as that.

Deborah Cameron: But if you look at the politics of the health debate, that’s also been just as difficult.  Mr O’Farrell’s gone much further against carbon. He said it’s an economy wrecker. Now if he can be pragmatic on health, and if he’s the premier that’s vested with the job of restoring growth and confidence in this economy, then it’s not logical that he would stand against something that you say promises as much as it does.

And so it went on. And on – for over 20 minutes.  There was Deborah Cameron barracking for a carbon tax and asking leading questions of Greg Combet as to why Barry O’Farrell did not agree with her.

Meanwhile, that morning in Sydney, Mr O’Farrell released the NSW Treasury’s findings that a carbon tax would hit NSW harder than any other mainland State and would cost 31,000 jobs – with the Hunter region, the Illawarra and the Central West most adversely affected.

The “Green-Left-Daily” presenter lives in the inner-city, has never worked outside of journalism and enjoys secure employment at the ABC per courtesy of the Australian taxpayer. So it’s probably no surprise that she cannot understand why Barry O’Farrell opposes a carbon tax which he believes will reduce jobs of those in the suburbs and regions who work in the private sector and do not have secure incomes.

Verily, A Deborah Cameron Moment.



Question: When is a journalist’s “exclusive” not really an exclusive at all?

Answer: When more than one journalist has received the same hand-out.

Last Sunday, the Sun-Herald political correspondent Jessica Wright had an “Exclusive”. On Page 3 of the Sun-Herald, she revealed that British prime minister David “Call me Dave” Cameron had written to Julia Gillard personally congratulating her on Australia’s decision to introduce a carbon tax. According to Ms Wright, Mr Cameron’s letter “was penned from the desk of 10 Downing Street”.  [Is there only one desk at 10 Downing Street? – Ed].  She added that the Cameron letter “would be a clear embarrassment to the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and his Coalition”.

Last Sunday, Misha Schubert wrote on Page 1 of The Sunday Age that she had “obtained” a letter written by Mr Cameron to Ms Gillard which gave a “glowing endorsement” of the Gillard Government – “undercutting a fierce campaign against the scheme by his conservative ally, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott”.  According to Ms Schubert, “Mr Cameron’s letter came as a surprise to Ms Gillard and her inner circle”.

Both Jessica Wright and Misha Schubert reported that the British Government has approved of cuts to carbon emissions of 50 per cent by 2025.  Neither mentioned that this target will be reviewed in 2014 if other European nations are not achieving similar carbon reductions.  Also, neither pointed out that the Conservative Party government in Canada, headed by Stephen Harper, has effectively junked Canada’s emissions trading scheme – unless and until the United States adopts its own cap and trade scheme.  The Canadian economy is similar to that of Australia – unlike Britain’s economy.

Still, both Ms Wright and Ms Schubert obtained their exclusives. And all it took was an exclusive hand-out from the Prime Minister’s Office of her “Dear Julia” letter.


Jenna Price’s Post-Exhaustion Rainbow

Believe it or not, in her Canberra Times column last Tuesday, Jenna Price wrote about how she is in New York and how she bought a party dress for $72 US.  Hold it there. What kind of dress? Well, here we go:

It fits like my favourite undies when they were new. Sexy, pretty, comfortable. Black. Immediately, I find a pair of lacy stockings to go with it.

That night, He Who Must Never Be Written About and I have the best and most glorious night of our entire three and a bit decades together.  Drank, ate, drank some more. Staggered home in the snow.  Up the four flights of stairs to the fabulous Greenwich Village apartment. Those stairs are the only reason I didn’t put on a kilo a day. And I never saw the dress again. It’s become an excellent anecdote to share with friends my age – and a useful way to terrorise our children. God. Please.  Don’t. Share. With. Us.

Well, at least the Price offspring have good judgement and a sense of discretion.  In any event, Ms Price continued to share her New York experience with her Canberra Times readers.  She went on to quote the latest research from Relationships Australia which found that “the more money you earn, the more sex you have”.

Apparently, after putting in for a pay rise, Jenna Price headed off to Yonkers where she reflected on what is perhaps best called the new adolescence – the kind of adolescence you have when you no longer have dependent children.  As Ms Price put it:

This is the adolescence you get to have without the hideous disadvantage of having to look for someone with whom to have regular and enjoyable sex.  I already know that person and have access at will.

Go on.  Unfortunately, she did – before concluding:

There is a pot of gold and endless sex at the end of the rainbow.  You just have to survive decades of exhaustion to find it.

Can you bear it?

Bob Ellis – Also Rann

Life is tough in politics  – and getting tougher.  On the ABC’s The Drum Opinion last Tuesday, Bob Ellis wrote about the imminent demise of South Australian Labor premier Mike Rann.  According to The (False) Prophet of Palm Beach, Mike Rann headed “the greenest, most progressive elective government thus so far on Earth”. How about that?  And this is in no small part due to the fact that Mr Rann employed The (False) Prophet as an occasional speech writer/filmmaker/poet/ego-booster. [Very impressive. Was he also South Australia’s bespoke rat catcher? – Ed].

In any event, Mike Rann’s fall is all due to – yes, you’ve guessed it – Rupert Murdoch.  Without backgrounding any of the people named, Bob Ellis had this published in the taxpayer funded ABC website:

The Chantelois “scandal” really upset him. For unlike other things in his past, it wasn’t true. Did a News executive talk with Chantelois and Phillips before the assault on Mike? Was this another Murdoch election cheat? Were text messages hacked, a husband informed, a deal arranged? Should Bob Brown know about this? Was money discussed? Was it given? We have a right to know.

What a load of tripe.  And what’s he on about?  Does Bob Brown know?  Does anyone know?  Or Care?  Can you bear it?



MWD Issue 69 (3 September, 2010), carried the correspondence between Gerard Henderson and Brenda Niall concerning her book The Riddle of Father Hackett (National Library of Australia, 2009). This email exchange was later published, in print form, in Issue 38 of The Sydney Institute Quarterly (January 2011).  Brenda Niall responded to the coverage in The Sydney Institute Quarterly.  She wrote to Gerard Henderson on 22 February 2011 and asked that her letter be published.  It is set out below – along with Gerard Henderson’s response.  A couple of minor typographical errors have been corrected in this correspondence.


Dear Gerard

Here are some comments on your recent observations on The Riddle of Father Hackett. I did not expect that you would publish without asking me. However, I ought to have sent the further reply that I promised. This has taken quite a bit of time to write so I hope you will add it to the record.

* * * * *

I didn’t expect you to publish the two emails in which I replied to your comments on The Riddle of Father Hackett. As a courtesy at least, you should have asked my permission.  But, having agreed to respond to you in more detail, I ought to have done so.

I think these are your main points:

That in 1922 Father Hackett was a supporter of  Michael Collins, not De Valera, in the Irish civil war. There is ample evidence against this supposition, much of which I cited, including Hackett’s “Some Facts about the Treaty”; his being welcomed in March 1923 by Archbishop Daniel Mannix who was openly committed to De Valera, and vigorously opposed to the Treaty with Britain; and his enduring friendship with the family of Erskine Childers who was executed in November 1922 by the pro-treaty men of the emerging Irish Free State. Letters from Hackett’s brother Francis also place him on the De Valera side. You ask why Collins wrote a friendly letter to Hackett. Remember that De Valera, Childers and Collins had all been close until the Treaty; Collins wanted peace, and Hackett was an honest broker.

On the “rumour” that Hackett was sent to Australia because he was infatuated with Erskine Childers’ wife Molly in Childers’ lifetime.  Surely you can’t be serious. Read the letter of sympathy from Hackett to Molly Childers after her husband’s execution (Riddle pp.108-9). Read any of the Childers biographies for testimony of an exceptionally close marriage. “It was a joy to see [your] mutual love”, Hackett wrote to Molly Childers. (The same letter shows that Hackett’s transfer stemmed from his political allegiance.) If there had been any signs of a one-sided infatuation on Hackett’s part (sufficient to reach the attention of the Jesuit Provincial) it would also have been sufficient to ruin his friendship with Molly Childers, her two sons, and the others of the Childers-Barton family who continued to write to him affectionately in his Australian years. Erskine Childers’s sister was among those who addressed Hackett as an inner circle family friend, as did Childers’s cousins. See Riddle pp. 275-6 for a 1930s letter from the younger Erskine Childers, future President of Ireland, reminiscing about a shared past. The house at Wicklow, which you mention, belonged to the Bartons, not (as you have it) to Erskine Childers; that was the family centre which Hackett most often visited.

It’s worth noting that the Jesuit Provincial, John Fahy SJ, who sent Hackett to Australia, later became head of the Australian province, and in that role entrusted him with the important posts of director of the Central Catholic Library and rector of Xavier College. I think Fahy’s enduring trust casts light on his allowing Hackett go to Cork to see Michael Collins: if anything good had come of it, in a peace move, Hackett’s passage to Australia could have been cancelled. As it was, his name did not appear on the Ormonde passenger list. A passage may have been booked for Father Frost, accompanied by another Jesuit, to be named later.

On my belief that Father Hackett’s relations with BA Santamaria were under strain from 1949 on.  You have read, as I did, the minutes of the meeting of the Jesuit Provincial and his consults in April 1949, in which “dissatisfaction” with Father Hackett’s work as Catholic Action chaplain  was reported, and his retirement recommended. The Provincial put the matter to the Archbishop and Dr Mannix said that Father Hackett should stay in his post. If the “dissatisfaction” move did not come from Santamaria, where did it come from?  As you know, no one else was empowered to speak on behalf of Catholic Action and the Movement .

Granted that Hackett supported the Movement’s anti-communist work, there is evidence in (for example) his correspondence with Paul McGuire that he was not happy with the political direction Santamaria was taking. Moves in 1949 to bring his Central Catholic Library effectively under Santamaria’s control, as part of Catholic Action, were a major threat to Hackett, and to the independence of the Library.(Riddle p. 248)

The chief point of friction with the Catholic Worker was the involvement of the Catholic Church in party politics, and the binding of consciences on particular policies.  I quote Hackett’s warning in January 1952 that Movement policy must not be confused with matters of faith (Riddle, p. 253, and Morgan Running the Show, p.196). His insistence (Morgan, p.221) that a new mandate for the Movement should be obtained from the Bishops may have been a strategic move to get the Bishops, belatedly, to rule on the separation of Catholic Action from the Movement. In 1954  Hackett was arguing with Mannix so much that he thought their weekly dinners might have to stop: what was that about? The separation of the Movement from Catholic Action, which Mannix resisted, seems the most likely cause of dissension.

The Catholic Worker, the Movement and Father Hackett : I am sure that Max Charlesworth, a former editor of the CW, has always known the difference between habitual priestly affability and real friendship. When I first asked Dr Charlesworth about Father Hackett, in November 2008, he had just given a characteristically incisive, measured and witty paper at Newman College, in which he was focussing on the 1950s and the lay apostolate controversies. Subsequently he sent me the email that I quoted (Riddle p.300). You might note also the warmth of the Catholic Worker obituary for Hackett (Riddle, p.269), thought to have been written by Gerard Heffey.

I agree that relations between BA Santamaria and Father Hackett were friendly but  would question how close they were in later years. In my first months as editor of Rural Life, before Hackett’s sudden death in July 1954, I never saw him in the ANSCA (Australian National Secretariat of Catholic Action) office at 252 Swanston Street. He may of course have come in and out without my noticing, but I would have expected a sighting or two – and that he would look in on me, as he knew me well. As Patrick Morgan shows, Hackett attended meetings at Belloc House in his role as chaplain. But he had no place, so far as I could see, in the daily life of the ANSCA office. I remember Bob Santamaria’s concern on Hackett’s death but it did not cause a ripple in the office. I cannot speak for the men, but none of the women went to the Requiem Mass at St Ignatius’ Richmond.

It was quite different with Hackett’s successor Dr Eric d’Arcy, who had his own room in the office, came in for a few hours most days, and attended the informal lunchtime meetings of the men (the women had a separate lunchroom). He talked to everybody, organised a daily Rosary, and was a buoyant, unifying presence.  In other contexts Hackett showed equal pastoral and social gifts, but he didn’t – at least in the only period I can speak of – bring them into ANSCA.  It could be that he wasn’t interested, or didn’t feel welcome.  My guess is that by then he was out of the loop, and knew it, so didn’t call in, even though his Central Catholic Library was only a few blocks from ANSCA.

You have my permission to publish the above which I think takes our exchange at least as far as it can usefully go.

Brenda Niall


Dear Brenda

Apologies for the late response to your email of 22 February 2011 concerning the publication of our correspondence re The Riddle of Father Hackett in The Sydney Institute Quarterly (Issue 38, January 2011).

I am writing now because, as requested, I will be publishing your reply in the next issue of the Sydney Institute Quarterly (Issue 39) which will come out soon.

I did not see any reason to seek your permission before publishing our correspondence on an important piece of Australian history in Issue 38 of The Sydney Institute Quarterly.  I deleted the only comments in our email exchange which did not directly pertain to your book.

The Riddle of Father Hackett was generously supported by the Eldon Hogan Trust – and the Jesuit order in Australia gave you access to the Hackett Papers. In my view, it is in the interest of the Eldon Hogan Trust and the Society of Jesus in Australia – along with the readers of your book – that there be a considered debate about the claims made in The Riddle of Father Hackett.

In the final paragraph of your substantial reply, you write that your most recent response “takes our exchange at least as far as it can usefully go”. In my opinion, however, your comments of 22 February 2011 do not close down the debate.  So I have listed my responses below.

Before doing this, I make two general points.

First, I note that you have not responded to those parts of my letter which challenged your assertion that Archbishop Daniel Mannix “had all his papers burned, so as to frustrate biographers”.  There is no documented evidence which supports your assertion – especially since some of Archbishop Mannix’s personal papers did survive his death.

Second, it is up to you to support your claims in The Riddle of Father Hackett with empirical evidence. In your email of 22 February 2011, you adopt the tactic of interrogating me.  As a commentator, it is my role to ask questions and challenge assertions.  As the author of The Riddle of Father Hackett, who is described on the book’s jacket as an award-winning biographer, your role is to back your assertions with documentary evidence.

For clarity’s sake, I will respond to what you claim are my “main points”.

▪ Brenda Niall’s Heading: “That in 1922 Father Hackett was a supporter of Michael Collins, not De Valera, in the Irish Civil War”.

Gerard Henderson’s Response:

The fact is that I made no such claim in our correspondence.  I do not know whether Fr Hackett was a supporter of either Michael Collins or Eamon De Valera during the Irish Civil War. And nor do you.

There is no documentary evidence of any kind in your book to link Fr Hackett with Eamon De Valera. You have relied on rumour, supposition and hearsay.  That’s all.

As you are aware, the authoritative work in this area – Louis McRedmond’s To the Greater Glory of God: A History of the Irish Jesuits – refers to only two Irish Jesuits who supported De Valera around the time of the Civil War.  Fr Hackett is not one of them.

In my view, it is likely that Fr Hackett presented himself as an honest broker between the key players in the Irish Civil War. This explains his involvement with the forces of both Eamon De Valera and Michael Collins.

This is my theory.  As the author of the only biography of Fr Hackett, you need more than theories. But that is all you have in your attempt to link Fr. Hackett with Mr De Valera.

▪ Brenda Niall’s Heading : “On the ‘rumour’ that Hackett was sent to Australia because he was infatuated with Erskine Childers’ wife Molly”.

Gerard Henderson’s Response:

In fact this theory, which I acknowledged as a “rumour” and which was passed on to me by a Jesuit, formed only a very small part of my correspondence with you.

You dismiss this rumour as not serious.  However, in the early 20th Century it was quite possible for a heterosexual, celibate priest to be infatuated with a woman of about his own age.  Any such infatuation on Fr Hackett’s behalf would not in any way have impacted on what you term the “exceptionally close marriage” between Erskine Childers and Molly Childers.  Nor would such an unrequited feeling prevent Fr Hackett from expressing genuine remorse to Mrs Childers following the execution of her husband.  Your letter indicates that you have a limited understanding of middle aged men.

In the Catholic Church in the first half of the 20th Century, there was the phenomenon known as “an occasion of sin”. It was quite common for a person to be removed from such a temptation – so that a sin, and the resultant scandal, would not occur.  As your book makes clear, Fr Hackett was surprisingly close to Mrs Childers – even to the extent of addressing her by her first name.  Such closeness between a priest and a married woman was virtually unheard of in the Catholic Church in Ireland and Australia almost a century ago.

However, as I readily concede, this is all theory.  The fact remains that there is no documentary evidence in your book to support your claim that Fr. Hackett was sent to Australia on account of his support for De Valera. None.  Fr Hackett was just one of about 60 Jesuits who left Ireland for Australia in the second half of the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century. In other words, there was nothing unusual in Fr Hackett being sent from Ireland to Australia – and you have not demonstrated that his case was different from that of his Irish Jesuit colleagues who ended up in Australia.

You are the historian.  It’s up to you to make your case – and you have not done so.

▪ Brenda Niall’s Heading: “On my belief that Father Hackett’s relations with B.A. Santamaria were under strain from 1949 on”.

Gerard Henderson’s Response:

Here again, you are asking me questions. This time you ask if the dissatisfaction expressed with respect to Fr Hackett at the April 1949 Jesuit Provincial’s consultation did not come from B.A. Santamaria “where did it come from?”.

The obvious answer is – I don’t know. And nor do you.  But you are the author of The Riddle of Father Hackett and it is up to you to support your claims with evidence.  The fact is that the document, which  you cite as evidence for your assertion that Mr Santamaria sought “to replace Hackett” as the Australian National Secretariat of Catholic Action’s ecclesiastical assistant (or chaplin), does not mention B.A. Santamaria’s name.  It is mere supposition for you to claim that Mr Santamaria was somehow involved in this matter.

Also, you have completely misread Patrick Morgan’s book B.A. Santamaria Running The Show Selected Documents: 1993-1996 (MUP, 2008).  Patrick Morgan made this clear when he reviewed your book for the December 2009 issue of Tintean.  The transcript of the conference held at Belloc House on 14-15 January 1953 demonstrates that Fr Hackett completely supported B.A. Santamaria and The Movement at the time – he even argued that, if necessary, the Hierarchy should give The Movement a new mandate (See page 211 of Running the Show – not Page 221 as cited in your email).

As Patrick Morgan commented in Tintean., Fr Hackett’s statement at the 1953 meeting “shows he was a dyed-in-the-wool believer in the Movement’s activities”.

What’s more, the transcript of the January 1953 meeting demonstrates that Fr Hackett was defending The Movement against its “opposition”.  The key opponents of The Movement in early 1953 were those close to the Sydney Hierarchy and the Catholic Worker group in Melbourne.

Rather than accept the record of what Fr Hackett said at the 1953 meeting at face value, you opine about what he “may” have had in mind.  Once again, this is pure speculation.  The unequivocal evidence is that Fr Hackett was a strong supporter of B.A. Santamaria and The Movement in January 1953 – just 18 months before his death in July 1954.

Once again, in your email you have directed questions at me – when you write:

In 1954 Hackett was arguing with Mannix so much that he thought their weekly dinners might have to stop: what was that about? The separation of the Movement from Catholic Action, which Mannix resisted, seems the most likely cause of dissension.

The answer to your question as to what Dr Mannix and Fr Hackett were (apparently) arguing about in 1954 is – I don’t know.  And nor do you.  What I do know is that there is no evidence whatsoever that they had any disagreement about B.A. Santamaria and The Movement.  You posit what you theorise is the “most likely cause of dissension”. This is pure speculation.

▪ Brenda Niall’s Heading: “The Catholic Worker, The Movement and Father Hackett”.

Gerard Henderson’s Response:

As one of Australia’s leading historians, you know that Max Charlesworth’s recollections in 2008 – about what he believes was Fr Hackett’s relationship with B.A. Santamaria over half a century earlier – is not evidence for anything.  As you know, Max Charlesworth was associated with the Catholic Worker group.

In your email of 22 February 2011, you now invoke your own memory of what took place in the ANSCA office, when you were there, as evidence in support of Max Charlesworth’s theory.  However, in your book Life Class: The Education of a Biographer (MUP, 2007) you recalled that, during your time at ANSCA and later at The Movement, you were “curiously isolated” by the nature of your work.  You added:

In Santamaria’s office…none of the women ever went to the weekly meetings at which current happenings and policies were discussed.  At lunch time, the men played cricket in the narrow back yard behind the office which, from mid -1955, was a Fitzroy terrace house.  Inside, the women sat together and knitted, or went out, as I usually did….  But lunch with the men, inside or outside the office, never happened.  There was nothing surprising about that.  In the 1950s the separation between the men who made decisions and the women who typed and carried tea trays was almost universally observed.

So, in Life Class you wrote that you were isolated from discussions about current happenings and politics during your time at ANSCA and at The Movement.  But in your letter of 22 February 2011 you write, viz:

…he [Hackett] had no place, so far as I could see, in the daily life of the ANSCA office. I remember Bob Santamaria’s concern on Hackett’s death but it did not cause a ripple in the office. I cannot speak for the men, but none of the women went to the Requiem Mass at St Ignatius’ Richmond.

The fact is, according to your testimony in Life Class, you had no knowledge about happenings in the ANSCA office so you would not know anything about Fr Hackett’s involvement there.  Moreover, the fact that none of the female ANSCA employees went to Fr. Hackett’s Requiem Mass means nothing – since, according to you, the women were not involved in ANSCA beyond doing the typing and carrying the tea trays.

In your letter, you contrast the way Fr Hackett was regarded at the ANSCA office with the treatment received by Fr Eric D’Arcy.  Here you are simply confused.  Fr Hackett, until his death in July 1954, was the chaplin to the Australian National Secretariat on Catholic Action. ANSCA was not supposed to involve itself in politics and, for the most part, did not do so.  ANSCA was formally wound up in September 1954, not long after Fr Hackett’s death. In other words, your comment that Fr D’Arcy succeeded Fr Hackett as ANSCA chaplin is incorrect.

Fr D’Arcy was chaplin to the Catholic Social Studies Movement – i.e. Santamaria’s Movement – which did involve itself in politics.  The Movement was formally endorsed by the Catholic Hierarchy in 1945 and this unanimous support continued until the early 1950s, when the backing of the bishops for B.A. Santamaria and The Movement began to dissipate.  The Movement itself was dissolved into the National Civic Council in 1957.  When you were working in Fitzroy after September 1954, you were working for The Movement or the National Catholic Rural Movement – you were not working for ANSCA.

In the penultimate paragraph of your 22 February 2011 letter, you refer to your “guess” that Fr Hackett was put “out of the loop” sometime before he died. This underlines the point of my critique of The Riddle of Father Hackett.  It is not the role of historians and biographers to “guess”. Rather, their role is to produce evidence to support a thesis – or not raise the issue in the first place.

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I accept that it took you “quite a bit of time” to construct your letter of 22 February 2011.  However, the fact remains that you have not provided any evidence to support your theories about Fr Hackett which I have challenged in this correspondence.

The Riddle of Fr Hackett contains such terms as “seems” and “presumably”.  In your email of 22 February 2011 you use such words as “may”, “most likely” and “guess”. Then, rather than answering questions with evidence – you ask your own leading questions. You also ask questions in your book. Such tactics are a disguise for a lack of documentary evidence.

William Hackett’s story is interesting enough.  You should have stuck to the known facts and refrained from making claims which you have not documented – and which you cannot document.  This, after all, is the tactic you adopted when writing about Martin Boyd’s sexuality – in the absence of evidence, you declined to speculate.  Fr Hackett deserved the same treatment as you extended to Martin Boyd.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

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Until next time.