“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are private correspondence and not for publication” – ABC News Radio’s 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.

“Henderson…What a pompous, pretentious turd you are.”

– Mike Carlton, Saturday 13 August 2011 (after lunch)

“We’d better be careful what we say, just in case Gerard’s offsider pooch Nancy is keeping an eye on us for his delightfully earnest Media Watch Dog”

– Tom Cowie of The Power Index, Crikey 20 January 2012

“What a haughty flapping half-arsed buffoon he [Henderson] is”

– Bob Ellis on his Table Talk blog, 8 May 2012 (before breakfast)

“Gerard [Henderson] is a complete f-ckwit”

– Malcolm Farr, via Twitter, 29 June 2012 (circa pre-dinner drinks)



● Also Featuring: Michelle Grattan, Barbara Ramjan, David Patch, Anonymous, Samantha Maiden, Emma Alberici, Geraldine Doogue and Much More

● Plus MWD Exclusive  – David Marr’s Bad Memory Fully Documented

● Correspondence : With a Little Help From Ray Martin & the 1930s and 1970s


In view of the publication last Monday of David Marr’s Quarterly Essay on Tony Abbott and its soft coverage in sections of the media, this issue of MWD is primarily devoted to the resultant controversy. Some material intended for MWD Issue 154 has been held over for future editions.



What a truly stunning performance by Michelle Grattan, The Age’s political editor and RN Breakfast’s political correspondent, yesterday and today.  Yesterday, on Page 1 of The Age, Ms Grattan favourably reported leftist lawyer David Patch’s criticisms of Tony Abbott – which were covered in the print edition of The Age’s “Comment & Debate” page.  Patch’s article was a reply to Gerard Henderson’s Sydney Morning Herald column of last Tuesday – which was neither covered nor reported in The Age’s print edition .  So far at least,

Then this morning Michelle Grattan paid out on Tony Abbott on her daily slot on ABC Radio National Breakfast program. RN Breakfast has not one regular conservative commentator. Not one. However, it has leftist and left-of-centre presenters and commentators aplenty –  led by Fran “I’m an activist” Kelly.

Ms Grattan these days is a political barracker – with a particular distaste for Tony Abbott’s social conservatism. [Do you reckon there might be, say, two members of the Canberra Press Gallery who support Abbott’s opposition to what is called same-sex marriage? Just two? – Ed].

In any event, this is what Michelle Grattan said about Tony Abbott – when speaking to RN Breakfast presenter Richard Aedy, who essentially agreed with her.

▪ Grattan declared that David Marr “did a great deal of research” for his latest Quarterly Essay.  This is evidently not the case – as this issue of MWD demonstrates.

▪ Grattan opined that it is “frankly utterly contradictory” for Tony Abbott to say – with respect to Barbara Ramjan’s allegations against him – “I don’t recall” and then say “ It didn’t happen”.  But how could Abbott recall something that did not happen?  Grattan did not say.

▪ Grattan then referred to long-time Abbott critic David Patch as a “respected Sydney lawyer” and described his evidence as “really quite compelling”.  The RESPECTED Mr Patch’s so-called evidence consisted of saying that he was a witness to an incident which he did not see. How compelling can you get?  At best, Patch provided hearsay evidence – over three decades after the event –  about a conversation he had had 35 years ago. But, it was “really quite compelling” for Grattan. How about that?

▪ Then Grattan declared –  with respect to Abbott’s named (Barbara Ramjan, David Patch) and unnamed critics:

Now I can’t really see why these people would be going on the record in this way, risking their own reputations in this situation if they didn’t believe what they were saying.

Here’s a possible answer.  Maybe their memory has been distorted by the fact that they have regarded Abbott as a political enemy since they first met him nearly four decades ago.

Finally, Grattan concluded:

… Tony Abbott didn’t punch the woman, he punched the wall.  It was obviously an aggressive act but it was a long time ago.  It was during a period of very turbulent student politics.  I don’t think it would be an important issue if it didn’t involve this question of current truthfulness.

Here The Age’s political editor and RN Breakfast’s political correspondent declared that Tony Abbott had “punched the wall” in 1977 – despite the fact that there is no independent evidence to this effect.  Michelle Grattan concluded by implying that Abbott is a liar.

[I wonder what Ms Grattan – in her anti-Abbott phase – thinks about the Opposition leader’s behaviour when in kindergarten circa 1961? – Ed].


There is nothing new in David Marr’s Quarterly Essay 47 titled Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott which was released by the leftist publisher Black Inc last Monday and extracts from which were published in Fairfax Media’s Good Weekend at the weekend.  Except, of course, Marr’s claim that Barbara Ramjan had said this of Tony Abbott – concerning the night of 7 September 1977, following Ramjan’s victory over Abbott in the Student Representative Council election at Sydney University:

He came up to within an inch of my nose and punched the wall on either side of my heard.  It was done to intimidate.

There is no independent witness of this (alleged) incident.  Yesterday, the left-wing lawyer David Patch, who was Ramjan’s campaign manager in 1977, claimed in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that he was “a witness” to the incident.  This is nonsense since Patch acknowledged in the same article: “I did not see the incident but I was nearby.”  A lawyer like Patch should know that you cannot be a witness to an event which you did not see.

David Patch’s recollections 35 years after the event amount only to hearsay.  He claims that on the evening of 7 September 1977 Barbara Ramjan told him the story she told David Marr 35 years later.  That’s all.

Today, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a report by Mark Coulton and Phillip Coorey about someone who claimed to have seen Tony Abbott “throw a punch at Ramjan but didn’t see it land”. Fancy that.  This is not evidence to support Ramjan’s specific claim. Moreover, the source is anonymous. Which means useless.  Yet it was enough to convince Richard Glover on the ABC 702 Drive program yesterday that there was substance in Marr’s assertion. Glover should know that such so-called “evidence” would not be admissible in any court of law. Glover’s producer declined to make an on-air correction or clarification.

So, there is still no witness to support Ramjan’s assertion – made on the public record, for the first time, 35 years after the incident.  Well, what about contemporaneous evidence?  The answer is – Zip.  Neither Ramjan nor Patch has ever made this claim before – either in writing or on the electronic media.  What’s more, Ramjan’s story as told to David Marr in 2012 is significantly different from the story she told about the incident in two contemporaneous letters which she wrote to the Sydney University student newspaper Honi Soit in late 1977.

David Marr had a researcher, Rebecca Giggs, who worked on Political Animal.  But neither Marr nor Giggs bothered to travel to Sydney University and read the microfilm copies of Honi Soit which are in the Fisher Library.  This was due to either negligence or laziness. The existence of such documents is on the public record – since Ramjan’s Honi Soit correspondence was cited in an article written in the Sun-Herald by Kerry-Anne Walsh and Candice Sutton on 18 July 2004. [See Gerard Henderson’s letter to Samantha Maiden in today’s Correspondence section].

Unlike David Marr and some other journalists who have commented on Ramjan’s claim, MWD took the trip to the Fisher Library.  Published below are the two letters which Barbara Ramjan wrote to Honi Soit. They were printed on 13 September 1977 and 3 October 1977 respectively.  Neither made any reference to any incident where Tony Abbott punched a wall behind Ramjan’s head at Sydney University on the evening of 7 September 1977 – even though both letters are highly critical of the behaviour of Abbott and his supporters during the 1977 SRC election. For the sake of completeness, Tony Abbott’s letter to Honi Soit – dated 27 September 1977 – is also published below along with his letter to Honi Soit on 17 October 1977.

The publication of Barbara Ramjan’s 1977 Honi Soit letters demonstrate that there is no contemporaneous evidence to support the statement she made to David Marr concerning Tony Abbott’s behaviour towards her at Sydney University on 7 September 1977. Absolutely none.  Journalists should have been able to work this out for themselves. It’s called research.

David Marr lists his law degree in his Who’s Who in Australia entry.  As a law graduate, Marr should know that when an allegation is made, 35 years after the event, that lacks the support of an identifiable witness or any contemporaneous evidence, it is worthless.  Yet David Marr has been banging on about this – the only new material in his Quarterly Essay on Tony Abbott – for a week.  Especially on the taxpayer funded ABC.

Here are Barbara Ramjan’s 1977 letters to Honi Soit – neither of which are cited in Marr’s essay on Tony Abbott. Yet another service to MWD readers. And here are Tony Abbott’s contemporaneous accounts.


Let’s open David Marr’s Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott (Black Inc) at the following pages:

Page 2 : Tony Abbott becomes Liberal Party leader in December 2009. According to Marr, a Liberal MP declares in the party room: “God almighty. What have we done?”   Who is this?  Alas, Mr or Ms Anonymous. That’s who.

Page 2 : There is a reference to Julie Bishop’s “coquettish amusement” and dazed “eyes” following Abbott’s defeat of Malcolm Turnbull in the Liberal Party room on 1 December 2009. Gosh.

Page 3 : Here is Marr’s initial description of Abbott –  “loudmouth bigot” when at university; “the homophobe”; “the blinkered Vatican warrior”;  “the rugger bugger”; “the white Australian”; and “the junkyard dog of parliament”.  All clear?

Page 6 : St Ignatius College Riverview, where Abbott studied as a secondary student, has a “gothic tower”. Moreover, it’s “an Italian palace”. Really. In suburban Sydney, no less.  Stand by for more David Marr hyperbole.

Page 8 : The Jesuit priest, Fr Emmet Costello S.J., spends his priestly career ministering “to the rich, pursuing death-bed conversions in harbour mansions and bringing distinguished lapsed Catholics back into the fold”.  That’s all he does, apparently.  He is a friend of Abbott.

Pages 8-9 : Three men recruited Abbott into the Peace With Freedom movement – which was supported by B.A. (Bob) Santamaria’s National Civil Council.  The first, journalist Peter Samuel, was “cranky”. The second, Professor Warren Hogan, was “embattled”. And the third, trade union organiser Joe de Bruyn, was a “hard-line Catholic”.  Get the picture?

Page 9 : According to Marr, during the period of the Whitlam Labor government, Santamaria “had privately discussed the need to raise a secret army to defend democracy against the scourge of Labor”. There is no evidence for this assertion.

Page 10 : According to Marr, the Democratic Clubs which Santamaria supported on some university campuses in the 1970s were “extreme: as far to the right as the Maoists and Trotskyites on campus were to the left”.  Marr’s only evidence for this claim is an article in the left-wing student newspaper Honi Soit in 1977 by an anonymous contributor. Marr overlooks the fact that student opponents of the campus left comprised not only socially  conservative Catholics – but also other Christians along with Jews. There were also politically motivated anti-communists whose orientation was of a social democratic or politically conservative bent.

Page 13 : Marr refers to the fact that Abbott’s girlfriend Kathy McDonald fell pregnant while at university (it was found out, years later, to someone other than Abbott) as “the old Catholic catastrophe: no chastity, no contraception, no abortion, and…no marriage”.  Marr seems to believe that such a fate only befell young Catholic women in the 1970s.  So what were the non-Catholic orphanages all about, then?

Page 17 : Marr quotes Barbara Ramjan as declaring that, unlike Abbott, there were “other Liberal Party and DLP types on campus” with whom you could “have a cup of tea with”. How frightfully nice.  Except that Ross Kerridge, a contemporary of Abbott and Ramjan, recalls that  Ramjan was “no shrinking violet” who had once reduced Tanya Coleman to tears with attacks on her father the (then) Liberal MP Peter Coleman.  This was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday but, alas, not in Michelle Grattan’s report in The Age.

Page 19 : Marr quotes “a distinguished Sydney lawyer” who is critical of Abbott’s alleged negativity and destruction while at Sydney University”.  Distinguished, maybe. Anonymous, certainly.

Page 22 :  Marr mocks the fact that Abbott won a Rhodes scholarship claiming: “For Anglophiles and rugby players, the Rhodes was died-and-gone-to-heaven time.”  No mention is made of the fact that Labor hero Bob Hawke was a Rhodes Scholar before Abbott – and he came from Western Australia where Australian Rules Football, not Rugby, was the main campus winter game.

Page 24 :  Here Marr refers, with his traditional sneer, to Abbott’s private parts. Referring to photographs of Abbott in Speedos (swimming) and Lycra (cycling) gear, Marr sneers “it can be said that never in the political annals of the country have so many seen so much of so little.”  Funny, eh?

▪  Page 25 : Marr refers to Abbott’s “hooded eyes” and “faintly menacing” demeanour. Dangerous, yeah?

Page 30 : Marr links Abbott with “the DLP” –  i.e. the Democratic Labor Party. In fact, Abbott had no association with the DLP – which effectively went out of operation after the May 1974 double dissolution election (when Abbott was aged 16) and was formally wound up in early 1978.  Moreover, the DLP was never a significant organisation in New South Wales – its base was in Victoria and Queensland.  Abbott was associated with the National Civic Council which was headed by Bob Santamaria. Santamaria was never a member of the DLP.

Pages 33-34 : At Page 34 Marr claims that, when Abbott worked for the Opposition leader John Hewson in the early 1990s, Hewson “didn’t use Abbott’s speeches”. But at Page 33 Marr criticises Abbott for the content of a speech he wrote for Hewson and which Hewson used.  So there you go.  Hewson did not use Abbott’s speeches – except when he did.

Page 36 : Marr accuses Abbott of running “a Jesuitical line” on refugees.  Marr seems unaware that many contemporary  members of the Catholic religious order the Society of Jesus – or Jesuits – are very sympathetic to the refugee cause.  Including Fr. Frank Brennan S.J. So where do you find the “Jesuitical line”?  This is yet another example of Marr’s anti-Catholic sectarianism.

Page 38 : According to Marr, Abbott shared “the old DLP reverence for John Kerr”.  This is pure mythology.  In fact, within the NCC and DLP in the late 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s there was a sense of disappointment that Kerr had rejected an offer to join the DLP at the time of the Labor Split of the mid 1950s.  Kerr was never revered by DLP types.

Page 39 : David Marr writes: “That was always the Santamaria way: when you haven’t got the numbers, be vicious”.  There is no source for this claim – which Marr appears to have simply made up.  In fact, Santamaria never advocated violence and the National Civic Council was never associated with violent behaviour.

Page 57 :  David Marr labels Abbott’s friend David Flint as “the daffy gay lawyer”. What a double standard.  If Abbott had branded one of Marr’s mates as “gay”, Abbott would almost certainly be accused by the likes of Marr of being a homophobe (see Page 3 above).

Page 59 : Marr refers to Abbott’s habit, when a Cabinet minister in the Howard government, to close “his door to write all those opinion pieces” for newspapers.  In fact, most of this time Abbott was writing his own speeches.  He is one of the few politicians who has consistently written his own speeches.  Marr seems unaware of this.

Page 61 : According to Marr, Abbott sounds like “a Vatican ideologue”. More anti-Catholic sectarianism for which Marr is well known.

Page 65 : According to Marr, John Howard “turned his back on the [Kyoto] treaty as an act of solidarity with George W. Bush”.  In fact, Howard considered the Kyoto agreement to be contrary to Australia’s national interest.  He might have been right – or wrong – but that that was his position.

Page 71 : According to Marr, Santamaria “raged against working mothers”.  Not all of them.  At least one of Santamaria’s daughters was a working mother with a school-aged child when B.A. Santamaria was alive. Yet more Marr hyperbole.

Page 82 :  Marr, who lists Sebastian Torosiero as his partner in his Who’s Who in Australia entry, seems to be an expert on the Tony Abbott-Maggie Abbott (nee Aitken) marriage. According to Marr, Abbott is “a lonely political figure…in that marriage”. What would Marr know about Abbott’s marriage?  About as much as Abbott would know about Marr’s partnership. Meaning – nothing much at all.

Page 84 : Marr, apparently, is also an expert on political unions.  He criticises Abbott for not being able to form a minority government after the 2010 election.  According to Marr, “Abbott held back too long and came in too hard”.  Here Marr, naively, accepts the opinion of Independent MP Tony Windsor who supported the Gillard minority government.   Marr simply overlooks the fact that, before the election, Windsor had compared the National Party to cancer. Windsor was never going to support the formation of a Liberal-Party/National Party Coalition government headed by Abbott.  Marr is naive in the extreme to uncritically accept the testimony of Windsor who is known to detest Abbott.

Page 85 : According to Marr, Abbott has “managed to abuse…all de-facto couples, everyone who doesn’t believe in God, and republicans, who make up roughly half the country”.  In Marr’s view, “these are not Abbott’s people”. Strange, then, that the Abbott-led Coalition has been well ahead of Labor in the opinion polls for over a year and currently enjoys the support of more than half the country.

Page 92 : According to Marr, it is likely that at the next election Abbott “will be asking us to do something we’ve never done before: replace a government we don’t like with a leader we don’t like either”. This is pure mythology.  Malcolm Fraser was not popular when he won in December 1975. The same is true of John Howard in March 1996.

In short, there is little new in Political Animal. David Marr only conducted six interviews for his Quarterly Essay – with union organiser Joe Bullock, leftist social worker Barbara Ramjan, ABC broadcaster Noel Debien, leftist journalist Alan Kennedy, former Liberal senator Helen Coonan and Abbott critic Tony Windsor. Just six.  There are also anonymous sources – including an anonymous “jibe” (Page 22), “a senior bureaucrat” (Page 49), someone or other (Page 59) and, of course, the oh-so-distinguished “distinguished Sydney lawyer”. (Page 19).

The evidence suggests that David Marr did little research for his latest Quarterly Essay. Which explains why it contains virtually no new material.  Political Animal is a shoddy, unprofessional piece of work. Which, no doubt, explains why it has engendered such a leftist cheer-squad among the sneering secularists in the ABC and elsewhere.



Normally Nancy’s co-owner would regard it as impolite to comment on the memory of another.  However, in view of David Marr’s soft interview with Geraldine Doogue on Radio National Breakfast and with Emma Alberici on Lateline last Monday, the topic now seems open to all comers.   Especially since Mr Marr said to Alberici that he had “no doubt” about the veracity of Barbara Ramjan’s allegation in 2012 that Tony Abbott had punched the wall behind her head in 1977.  There is no independent witness to this (alleged) incident.  Nor is there any contemporaneous evidence. Earlier in the day, Marr said to Doogue that Ramjan “remembered very vividly” the 1977 incident and “was absolutely adamant and clear cut about what happened”. Doogue subsequently referred to Abbott’s past “savagery”.

So, clearly, David Marr trusts the uncorroborated memory of Barbara Ramjan 35 years after the event.  But what about David Marr’s memory?  Well, on the available evidence, it’s none too flash.  Here are a couple of examples.

David Marr’s False Memory on Journalists as Lefties

In his Sydney Morning Herald column on 8 March 2005, Gerard Henderson wrote:

In his Overland lecture last year, Marr rejected the term “left” as having relevance to modern Australian journalism. However, at a seminar recorded by the ABC radio Big Ideas program in September, he said that “the natural culture of journalism is kind of vaguely soft left” and “sceptical of authority”. Marr maintained that if journalists “don”t come out of that world” they should “find another job”.

Later that morning, Marr emailed Henderson denying that he had ever made the comment which was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, viz:


I would hate your readers to come away from the column this morning thinking I believe all journalists should be Lefties. That”s most emphatically not my position. My argument – last voiced at the Sydney Institute the other evening – is that all journalists have to question authority. That”s the only “world” they have to come from as far as I”m concerned.

David Marr

Late that day, Gerard Henderson emailed David Marr, viz:


I have just returned from a (delayed) flight from Melbourne.  Hence the delay in responding to your note.

I do not wish to misquote you and I do not believe that I did misquote you in today’s column.  The text of your remarks – which went to air on Big Ideas on 26 September 2004 – were as follows:

The natural culture of journalism is kind of vaguely soft left enquiry sceptical of authority.  I mean, that’s just the world out of which journalists come.  If they don’t come out of that world, they really can’t be reporters.  I mean, if you’re not sceptical of authority, find another job. You know, just find another job.  And that is kind of a soft-leftie kind of culture.   The way of balancing that is to hire right-wing thugs as commentators and that gives you this appearance of balance.  And it’s also very economical – couldn’t be better.

As you will recall, I quoted some of your comments about journalism’s “vague soft left enquiry” ethos which is “sceptical of authority” at The Sydney Institute function.  You replied by re-stating the position you expressed on the Big Ideas program.  In other words, you equated scepticism of authority with what you have termed a “soft-leftie kind of culture”.

On another matter, I do not believe that journalists must be sceptical.  However, I do believe that they should be critical. There is a difference –  but that’s another point.

I assumed that you meant what you said at both the gig recorded by Big Ideas and at The Sydney Institute.



Later that afternoon, David Marr replied:


My apologies. I”ve been trying to track down the transcript all day and should have held off until I saw it myself. My memory is wrong – and your interpretation is fair enough. It was sloppy of me – but that is what I said. What I actually believe is that neither Right, Left nor Centre has a monopoly on scepticism. True, most journalists do come from the soft Left, but there is no reason why the same instinct to doubt and question can’t be found anywhere along the political spectrum. We both know this – and I should have said so at the time….


So there you go.  David Marr was not able to remember in March 2005 what he had said in September 2004. But Marr maintains that we should trust Barbara Ranjam’s memory of an event which occurred 35 years ago.

● David Marr’s Bad Memory About What He Did In The 1970s And What He Said And Read Four Decades Later

In the “Sandalista Watch” segment of the January 2011 issue of The Sydney Institute Quarterly, Gerard Henderson wrote an article about the prisoner/playwright Jim McNeil (1935-1982). The piece was based on Jim Honeywill’s book Wasted: The True Story of Jim McNeill: Violent Criminal and Brilliant Playwright (Viking, 2010).  In the article Gerard Henderson made the following point:

There were riots at Bathurst Prison.  This motivated [Katharine] Brisbane to work even harder to get McNeil released on parole.  He was moved to and from Goulburn Prison.  Back in Bathurst, David Marr was given permission to stage a gay party for Jim McNeil and his lover Stephen Nittes (a graduate in armed robbery).  By now, McNeil was bisexual.

That was January 2011.  On the evening of Monday 12 March 2012 – over a year later – David Marr left the following message on Gerard Henderson’s answering machine at home:

Gerard, it’s David Marr speaking. I’d be grateful if you could give me a ring. My home number is ** my mobile number is **. I’ve not yet had time to read the whole of your latest crazed attack on me and my friends over Jim McNeil. But there are statements in it which are simply wrong – reflect badly on me – and are wrong. You are the man who continually says about the need to check with people before publication and the need for us to get things right. Now if you are curious about these errors, as I”m sure you will be, you give me a ring. Tonight please. Thank you.

When Gerard Henderson returned the call, he said that there was no “latest crazed attack” on David Marr and his friends.  Rather the reference was to an article written in January 2011. It was a tense conversation.  But Henderson attempted to remind Marr that he had complained about the SIQ article in January 2011 and that he had broken off all contact with The Sydney Institute because of it.

Marr responded by again accusing Henderson of making up the gay party episode.  Henderson replied that all the material  in his article about McNeil and friends had been taken from Ross Honeywill’s book and that this had been acknowledged in his Sydney Institute  Quarterly article.  Marr responded that he had read the Honey will book and there was no reference to him having staged a gay party for McNeil at Bathhurst Prison.

Gerard Henderson told an extremely angry David Marr that he would locate Ross Honeywill’s book in his library and get back to David Marr.  Marr demanded an immediate response and retraction.

Shortly after the phone conversation ended, David Marr sent Gerard Henderson a text which read as follows:

Gerard, I was intemperate but I want this ridiculous claim corrected. DM

On 13 March 2012 Gerard Henderson wrote to David Marr as follows:

As you will recall, last night you accused me of making up the “gay party” episode.  I replied that all the material in my article on Jim McNeil had been taken from Ross Honeywill’s Wasted: The true story of Jim McNeil, violent criminal and brilliant playwright (Viking, 2010) – and that this was acknowledged in my article.  You responded that you had read the Honeywill book and that there was no reference to you having staged a gay party for McNeil.

I have just located Ross Honeywill’s book in my library.  I refer you to Page 220 of Wasted – which contains the following paragraph concerning the relationship between the criminals Jim McNeil and Stephen Nittes, viz:

…in Bathurst, and occasionally in Kirconnell minimum security prison, thirty kilometres east of Bathurst, the relationship continued, helped rather than hindered on one occasion by David Marr, who staged a very gay party for Jim and Nittes – a party that threatened to go horribly wrong. “There we were,” he recalls, “Jim and Steve in the visiting box, two camps, a bundle of muscle magazines and Playboys, party hats, etc. And in walked Nancy [McNeil], young  Douglas [McNeil] and Jim’s niece Kerry: the family unexpectedly from Melbourne.  A memorable afternoon. Jim was the only one who maintained anything like control of the situation…”.

So, these are the facts:

▪ Ross Honeywill did write that you staged a “very gay party” for McNeil and Nittes at Bathurst Prison.

▪ According to Ross Honeywill, he found out about the event during an interview with you.

As discussed, I am willing to correct any errors in any of The Sydney Institute’s publications.  However, in this case the error is not mine.  Moreover, according to the author of Wasted, the error is yours.

In conclusion, I should formally respond to your question as to why I write material like the piece on Jim McNeil. As explained, I enjoy laughing at the left intelligentsia – just like you enjoy laughing at social conservatives. As I have said on previous occasions, you criticise others but are oh-so-sensitive when someone criticises you.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

On 13 March 2012, David Marr replied:


That! I had entirely forgotten. Unreserved apologies for both my doubts and fury.


At the time Gerard Henderson declared that he would regard this correspondence as private. But since David Marr has placed such reliance on the 35 year old memory of Barbara Ramjan, it’s important to point out that David Marr cannot even remember in 2012 what he did at Bathurst Prison in the early 1970s nor what he told Bill Honeywill in recent years nor what he complained about as recently as early 2011.


If David Marr was self-aware he would know that memory is very fallible. Marr’s memory is fallible.  And so is Barbara Ramjan’s sense of recall – especially 35 years after the event.



Ray Martin to Gerard Henderson 12 September 2012

Dear Gerald [sic],

For some reason, I expect that if you disagree with me, then you”ll cogently argue your case- rather than flick me a personal backhander.


1. I don”t think it”s “historical ignorance” for me to suggest on ” The Journo”s Forum” that Britain turned-off Australia”s financial taps in the early days of the Depression-  when London money still dominated the Australian economy. I think most historians accept that”s precisely what happened. No loans, no primary produce imports, Sir Otto Niemeyer”s refusal to negotiate on economic policy-  plus the Sterling standard; the British intransigence at the Imperial Conference; with major banks, insurance companies and financial institutions in Australia all heavily British-based and British controlled.

In the early 30″s, with the Union Jack still fluttering from the new Parliament House in Canberra; the ongoing powers of the Privy Council; Isaacs being the first-ever Aussie-born GG ( despite Buck House”s trenchant opposition); Australian foreign policy dependent on the Royal Navy( which we paid hand-over-fist for); ludicrous reparation payments after WW1 and Australia having to fork out forty three million pound to Britain for ancillary war debts etc etc it could be argued that we had a “favoured nation” status. Wrong.

I understand perfectly well the reasons why London turned off the taps – viz the Great Depression -but, the fact is, Aust got no favours. The historical truth is that Australia suffered from the Great Depression earlier and more severely than most countries – including Britain.

The point I was making about Cubby Station is that it”s foolhardy & reckless to ever think that dominant economic powers show benevolence when the chips are down. That”s the case whether it”s the UK, the USA, China or anybody else with some skin in the game.

2. As for my remarks about American corporate policy in the 70″s  – again it”s got nought to do with “historical ignorance”.

You conveniently regurgitated my comments to fit your cheap shot at  me. I DIDN”T say that GM ( or any other American multi-national) had undertaken a ” foreign investment strike” against the Whitlam Govt ( although that”s what James Jesus Angeleton insisted had happened, in a “4 Corners” interview years later). What I SAID to Richard Glover was that the GM boss had answered my question about Australian union intransigence by saying that Detroit would not hesitate to invest in Argentina or Brazil & wait for a change of government in Australia. Time, he insisted in 1974, was on his side not that of the Labor Government.

Yours sincerely,

Ray Martin

Gerard Henderson to Ray Martin – 14 September 2012

Dear Ray

I refer to your email of 12 September 2012.  Apologies for the delay in responding but I have been quite busy of late.

Initially I should state that I am surprised at your sensitivity to criticism.  Sure, in last week’s Media Watch Dog I criticised what you said about foreign investment in Australia in the 1930s and the early 1970s as an example of invincible historical ignorance.  But I did not “flick” you a “personal backhander”. If you read MWD regularly, you would understand that it is an irreverent publication. I write in a different style for my Sydney Morning Herald column.

For the record, I take Richard Glover’s Drive program seriously.  And I take history seriously.  It seems to me that it is appropriate to draw attention to (uncorrected) historical howlers made on the taxpayer funded public broadcaster during Drive time on ABC Radio 702 in Sydney.

Your note is littered with errors – as were your comments on 702 on Thursday 9 September 2012.  I offer a few comments in response:

1. It’s not much good quoting “most historians” in support of your views unless you name names.  I have no idea to whom you are referring.

2.  Robert Skidelsky, in his book Interests and Obsessions (Macmillan, 1993), had this to say about the Great Depression in Britain:

What is striking in retrospect is the shallowness of the British depression and the speed of recovery from it in the absence of any deliberate fiscal stimulus.  British unemployment, 2.9 million at its peak in late 1932, was half Germany’s and a sixth of America’s at the same date. From 1933 onwards there was a steady recovery (briefly interrupted in the winter of 1937-8) so that John Stevenson and Chris Cook in their recent study, The Slump, could conclude that “most people were better off by 1939 than they had been ten years earlier”.  Between 1933 and 1937 inclusive, the British economy grew at 4 per cent a year, unemployment fell from 22.8 per cent to 9.5 per cent, output and real wages rose above their 1929 level.

As you will know, Skidelsky is the sympathetic biographer of John Maynard Keynes. Skidelsky referred to “the relative mildness of the British depression” and pointed out that Britain did better than the United States during the 1930s.  So did Australia – despite the mythology to the contrary.

3.  Australia, under the leadership of Joseph Lyons’ United Australia Party government from January 1932, had an economic performance that almost matched Britain throughout the 1930s.  As Angus Maddison documents in the OECD publication The World Economy, the Australian economy grew in 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1939.

4.  Your comment that “the historical truth is that Australia suffered from the Great Depression earlier and more severely than most countries, including Britain” is substantially false. It is true that the Depression commenced in Australia around 1928/1929. But it is also true that Australia outperformed the US economically in the 1930s.

5.  Amity Shales’ book The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (HarperCollins, 2007) commences with a description of the Depression of 1937.  Yes – the US had a second record Depression in the late 1930s.  Neither Britain nor Australia suffered a second depression – both nations grew throughout the decade, after the onset of the Great Depression.

6.  The relationship between Australia and Britain during the 1930s was very good – as you will be aware if you have read Stanley Melbourne Bruce’s reports back home from the Australian High Commission in London.  No serious commentator or mainstream politician (on the conservative or social democratic side of politics) maintained that London “turned off the taps” with respect to Australia.  This was the line run by the extreme right and extreme left in Australia at the time but not by the leadership of the UAP or ALP or by senior figures in the public service or business.

7.  Most of the material in the first and second paragraphs of your email is based on familiar anti-British sentiment and mythology.  For example, it is nonsense to claim that Australia made “reparation payments” after World War I to Britain.  Sure Australia repaid its debt obligations.  That’s all. What else was Australia to do? For the record, some of the debt was incurred as a consequence of Australia’s involvement in the First World War but much of it came about as a result of excessive borrowings by the States in the early 1920s before the creation of the Loan Council in 1928.

8.   As Anne Henderson documents in her book Joseph Lyons: The People’s Prime Minister (UNSW Press, 2011), the fact that Lyons was so welcome when he was received by President F. D. Roosevelt at the White House in Washington DC in July 1935 turned on the fact that American political and financial leaders were very impressed by Australia’s strong economic recovery from the Great Depression.  Anne’s book has been very well received by academics, economists and former politicians (both Liberal and Labor) alike.

As you should know, Joseph Lyons was re-elected in 1934 and 1937 before dying in office in 1939. If the Australian economy was performing poorly, as you allege, how come Lyons was never defeated at the polls?  If your analysis of the 1930s is correct, then Australian voters must have been mugs to continually elect the UAP in the 1930s.

9.  It’s a myth for you to proclaim that “dominant economic powers” somehow adversely affect Australia’s economic performance.  This is but populist nonsense, much loved by the lunar right and the lunar left

10.  It does not matter much what an unnamed GM executive said to you in the early 1970s.  Nor should you take much notice of what the likes of James Jesus Angeleton said to Four Corners some decades ago. The fact is that US financial interests did not bring down the Whitlam Government. That was all Labor’s work – with considerable help from Malcolm Fraser and the Coalition when it blocked supply in late 1975.

11.  Everyone knows that US companies – along with those of other nations – can invest in Australia or Argentina or Brazil.  However, the fact remains that such nations as Britain and the US did not initiate an investment strike in either the 1930s or the 1970s with respect to Australia. Quite the opposite occurred. For example, in the 1930s Australia’s High Commissioner Stanley Melbourne Bruce had excellent contacts among London’s financiers and he worked hard against a tight Chancellor of the Exchequer in Neville Chamberlain. Between 1933 and 1936, Bruce negotiated conversions of loans to Australia worth £189 million, saving the Australian government some £4 million through lower rates of interest and exchange charges.

In conclusion, I would respectfully suggest that you junk your acquired mythology and do some work on the 1930s before you delve into history with Richard Glover again. Since you forwarded a copy of your email to Richard Glover – I have done likewise.

Best wishes – and Keep Morale High.

Gerard Henderson


Gerard Henderson to Samantha Maiden – 13 September 2012


I refer to your (somewhat agitated) phone call on Tuesday at around 11 am in response to my column in The Sydney Morning Herald concerning David Marr’s Quarterly Essay Political Animal: The Making of Tony Abbott.

As you will recall, you took particular exception to that part of my column where I wrote:

A reading of Marr’s essay reveals that [Barbara] Ramjan’s claim is based on her memory alone of an event that allegedly took place 35 years ago.  There are no witnesses.  And there is no contemporaneous record of the occasion – not even in the student press.

You were emphatic that I was wrong in claiming that Barbara Ramjan had spoken to the Sun-Herald in July 2004.  When I said I would check my clippings, you replied in words to this effect: “Don’t bother checking, Gerard.  You’re wrong.”

As it turned out, I had the relevant file on my desk.  You will remember that I read you the relevant section of the article titled “Fellow students recall a champion of the right” – which was written by Kerry-Ann Walsh and Candice Sutton (and published on 18 July 2004), viz:

Barbara Ramjan, now a social worker, who defeated Mr Abbott for the SRC presidency that year, remembers [emphasis added] the night of September 7, 1977 when officer elections were held.

As I pointed out to you, the use of the present tense by Ms Walsh and Ms Sutton clearly indicates that Barbara Ramjan did speak to the Sun-Herald in 2004.

During our conversation, you reacted to my point that there was neither a witness to, nor contemporaneous evidence of, Barbara Ramjan’s claim – as told to David Marr in 2012 – that Tony Abbott had punched a wall behind her in 1977.  You said that this material might be in the letters which Ramjan wrote to Honi Soit in late 1977 about the incident.  I responded that that David Marr had not quoted from this Honi Soit correspondence in his Quarterly Essay and that no reference had been made to “the punch” allegation when the Honi Soit letters were referred to by the Sun-Herald in its 2004 report.

Since you challenged my comment in the SMH that there is no record in the contemporaneous press about what David Marr called “the punch”, I told you that I look forward to receiving any evidence that you might have with respect to this matter.

Shortly after this, you said you had to go.  There was no apology for your error and no explanation for why you felt you had to contact me about what I wrote concerning David Marr – especially since you write for News Limited publications and extracts of Political Animal were published in Fairfax Media newspapers.

For the record, if you do find any evidence about “the punch” I would like to receive it.

Best wishes

Gerard Henderson

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Until next time.