The Twentieth Man By Tony Jones

Reviewed by Gerard Henderson

  • Publisher: Allen & Unwin
  • ISBN: 9781760295004
  • RRP: $32.99

ABC TV celebrity Tony Jones has written his first book – The Twentieth Man.  The title derives from a story of 20 young Croatian Australians who, some half a century ago, went to (then) Yugoslavia to take part in guerrilla/terrorist attacks against the government led by the communist dictator Josip Broz Tito.  Yugoslavia consisted of six republics – Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Montenegro along with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The primarily Catholic and overwhelmingly anti-communist Croats were hostile to Tito’s communist and predominantly Serb regime.  Of the 20 Australians who went to fight in Yugoslavia, only one returned – the 20th man.

Neither Totally Fact Nor Totally Fiction

What is The Twentieth Man?  Well, it is not really a novel. Nor is it totally fact or totally fiction. And it’s not really a work of history.  Here’s how the author regards his (literary) offspring – in an Author’s Note on the second last page of The Twentieth Man.

This is a work of fiction based on real events in 1972 and 1973. I have imagined how some of these events may have played out and allowed real historical characters to intermingle with fictional characters in that context. Although much of the narrative really did happen I make no claim that this is true history.

So there you have it.  The Twentieth Man is “a work of fiction based on real events”.  But are the events real?  The climax of the book has the anti-hero Martin Katich attempting (unsuccessfully) to assassinate visiting Yugoslav prime minister Dzemal Bijedic by firing a rifle shot from the National Carillion in Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin to the front steps of Old Parliament House.  The date is 20 March 1973. However, the event that is described by Jones in The Twentieth Man as “real” never happened.  There was no attempted assassination when Bijedic paid an official visit to Australia in 1973. The author just made this up.

Turn to the Acknowledgements section on the last page and Tony Jones has this to say:

I would like to thank the former policemen, ASIO men, politicians, political advisers and journalists who enhanced my understanding of the dramatic true events in 1972 and ’73 that underpin my fictional story. I would particularly like to thank Kerry Milte, former Commonwealth Police Superintendent, barrister and Renaissance man, who resolutely appears under his own name in The Twentieth Man.

 Lionel Murphy’s 1973 ASIO Raid

This is the very same Kerry Milte who is widely regarded as the person who convinced Attorney-General Lionel Murphy to conduct raids on the Canberra and Melbourne offices of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) on 15-16 March 1973. Milte believed that ASIO was covering up plans by (alleged) Croatian extremists in Australia to assassinate Bijedic during his March 1973 visit to Australia. This is how John Blaxland described the occasion in The Protest Years: The Official History of ASIO 1963-1975 (Allen & Unwin, 2015):

Just before midnight on 15-16 March, Murphy’s secretary, Maureen Barron, telephoned ASIO’s ACT Regional Director, Colin Brown, and instructed him to open up the regional office for Murphy.  Shortly afterwards, Murphy visited ASIO’s Canberra office accompanied by [Kerry] Milte and [John] Barron.

Milte later argued that there were a number of compelling reasons for the unprecedented steps being taken that evening and on the following day. The CPF [Commonwealth Police Force] claimed there were intelligence reports that pointed to the prospect of an assassination attempt on Bijedic during the visit and that ASIO’s handling of the matter seemed slow and incomplete. Milte advised Murphy that there was a lack of cooperation between ASIO and the CPF not only in relation to security arrangements for the Bijedic visit but also to the correlation of the intelligence material concerning Croatian extremists generally.  George Brownbill, Secretary of the [1976] Hope Royal Commission, later suggested that “Milte appears to have blown so hard in Murphy’s ear that Murphy got into his head that he needed to see for himself”.

The raids in Canberra and Melbourne were a disaster.  No evidence emerged to support the Milte/Murphy conspiracy theory that ASIO was covering up Croatian extremists in Australia or placing the Yugoslavian prime minister’s life in danger. Moreover, Murphy was ignorant of the fact that ASIO was – and remains – an intelligence gathering entity.  The principal task of protecting visiting dignitaries was – and remains – the responsibility of the Commonwealth Police Force (now the Australian Federal Police).

On arriving at the ASIO office in Canberra, the trio first checked the organisation’s personal file index to see if ASIO held files on them. It didn’t.  This demonstrates the paranoia of Murphy and his fellow conspiracy theorists with respect to ASIO.

The evidence suggests that Milte was a fantasist.  Not the best source for an author to rely on for a work of fiction that is supposed to be based on “real events”.  Another influence is the former Communist Party of Australia member Mark Aarons, who was an investigative reporter for the ABC at the same time he was a CPA operative.  According to the author, his “dear friend” Mark Aarons set him “on the historical course this novel follows”.  Mark Aarons is the son of former CPA national secretary Laurie Aarons (1917-2005) who was a supporter of the Yugoslavian communist dictator Josip Tito (1892-1980).  As readers of Mark Aarons’ The Show: Another Side of Santamaria’s Movement will be aware, Aarons has also thrown the switch to conspiracy theories on occasions.

Historical & Fictional Characters at Play

Murphy, Milte and Barron are among the many “historical characters” who make an appearance in The Twentieth Man and who mingle with “fictional characters”.  Murphy was attorney-general in Gough Whitlam’s Labor government and the other two were members of his ministerial staff.  Other Labor parliamentarians who appear in The Twentieth Man are Jim Cairns, Jim McClelland, Arthur Gietzel, John Wheeldon and Al Grassby.  Liberal parliamentarians include Ivor Greenwood, William McMahon, Malcolm Mackay, Bob Ellicott, Bill Snedden, George Hannan and William Wentworth. There are Labor staffers (Eric Walsh, Peter Wilinski, Jim Spigelman, George Negus) and journalists (Michelle Grattan, Laurie Oakes, Mungo MacCallum) in addition to one-time ASIO head Peter Barbour and one-time Communist Party functionary, and spy for the Soviet Union, Wally Clayton.

Tony Jones appears to be his own narrator in the sense that many value judgements appear in the text without apparent authorship.  For example, former Liberal Party prime minister William McMahon is a “supercilious and treacherous little prick” and (then) Liberal Party leader Bill Snedden is “silly”. Labor Party politicians escape such abuse.

It is unclear whether readers – if readers there are – born after 1990 would have any idea about whether the likes of Gietzel, Wheeldon, Mackay, Hannan, Barbour, Clayton and more besides are historical or fictional characters.

Tony Jones’ Fossilised 1970s Attitudes to Croatian Australians

The Twentieth Man takes a long time (around 475 pages) to say not every much at all.  It appears that Tony Jones – who proposed to write a TV play on his hero Lionel Murphy which was rejected by the ABC – has political attitudes which fossilised some four decades ago.  His contemporary attitude to (alleged) domestic Croatian terrorists in the 1970s reflects the view held by Murphy, Cairns, Milte and Aarons in the early 1970s.  In short, Jones believes that there were Croatian terrorist cells in Australia at the time intent on killing supporters of the Tito-led communist dictatorship and destroying Yugoslav property in Australia. He also believes that the visiting Bijedic was the prized target.

The author’s real views became evident when he was presenting the ABC TV Q&A program on 18 July 2016 – as the transcript demonstrates:

Pauline Hanson: We have terrorism on the streets that we’ve never had before. We’ve had murders committed under the name of Islam, as we have the Lindt Cafe, Curtis Cheng and the two police officers in Melbourne, right? So this has happened. You have radicalisation —

Tony Jones: Can I just — I’m sure that — Pauline, I’m sure the fact-checkers will be on to this. But when you say we’ve never had terrorism in this country before, that’s simply not the case.

Pauline Hanson: Not to —

Tony Jones: In the 1970s there were multiple bombings by Croatian Catholic extremists. This has happened in Australia before. It’s not the first time. We should at least get that straight.

It is a year and a half since Jones claimed that “Croatian Catholic extremists” were committing multiple acts of terrorism in Australia in the 1970s.  Yet neither he nor the ABC has been able to provide the name of one “Croatian Catholic extremist” engaged in such activity nearly half a century ago.  Not one.

When pressed, the ABC said that support for Jones’ claim could be found in a document titled “Official Hansard Report of the Select Committee on the Civil Rights of Migrant Australians, Friday 24 August, 1973”. In fact, the document is titled “Incidents Within The Yugoslav Community, 1963-1973” and is located in the Senate Select Committee on Civil Rights of Migrant Australians, Canberra, 24 August 1973. It was written by Jack Mervyn Davis – the CPF commissioner at the time.

Davis’ 1973 report made no reference to Catholics. It appears that Jones just made this up. Moreover, most of the “incidents” listed as having taken place between 1963 and 1973 were non-terrorist events. Certainly, some incidents referred to the bombing of buildings.  However, there was only one occasion in which there were a number of injuries. They resulted from the explosive device which was detonated outside the premises of the General Trade and Tourist Agency at 666 George Street Sydney on 16 September 1972.  This features in The Twentieth Man’s first chapter. One of the incidents in Davis’ report refers to a bombing in the Yugoslav consulate-general office in Sydney’s Double Bay on 1 January 1967.  NSW Police concluded that there was no intention to kill or injure anyone in the building.

None of the matters covered in Commissioner Davis’ report led to a person or persons even being charged with a terrorist act or conspiracy to undertake a terrorist act – let alone convicted.

Jones’ Interpretation Contradicted by ASIO’s Contemporary Analysis

In relying on a 1973 source for his July 2016 claim, Tony Jones overlooked John Blaxland’s The Protest Years which was published in 2015.  Blaxland’s work, based on access to ASIO files, supported what some Australian anti-communists said at the time.  Namely, that there was evidence that many or all the attacks on Yugoslav property in Australia in the 1970s were undertaken by members of the Tito government’s secret police – the Uprava Drzavne Bezbednosti Armije (UDBA) – as a means of discrediting Tito’s Croatian opponents in Yugoslavia and elsewhere.  This tactic by intelligence services is referred to as provokatsiya. Dr Blaxland’s detailed report throws huge doubt on the very thesis of The Twentieth Man – as the following extracts indicate:

▪ At Page 120, Blaxland writes:

…ASIO received evidence from European court cases that the Yugoslav Government was prepared to murder its opponents abroad…ASIO would continue to consider Yugoslav Government claims of Croatian activities to be exaggerated. ASIO tasked its teams with obtaining not only intelligence on plans for Croatian violence against Yugoslav property and people, but indications of any plans for Yugoslav Government-instigated violence in Australia.

▪ At Page 123, Blaxland writes:

In the 1960s and 1970s there were sixteen bomb attacks and numerous other incidents against Yugoslav interests in Australia, many if not most of them attributed to Croatians, although some were believed to be the work of the Yugoslav Intelligence Service (YIS).

▪ At Page 128, Blaxland writes:

While Australian-based Croatians were evidently active and vocal in their hatred of the Yugoslavs, there were growing suspicions that at least some of the bombings in Australia were arranged by the YIS to pressure Australian authorities into acting against the Croats in Australia.

In 1967 six Serbs, not Croats, were arrested in the United States and charged with bombing Yugoslav embassies in the United States and Canada. No such arrests were made in Australia – but ASIO had its suspicions. For example, in January 1967 ASIO concluded that if a bomb at the Yugoslav consulate in Sydney had been meant to hurt people, the attack would have been carried out differently. It wasn’t – hence the lack of casualties.

▪ At Page 144, Blaxland writes:

In October 1970 there was another bombing of the Yugoslav Consulate in Melbourne. Extensive damage was caused to the front of the building, but the occupants were uninjured. The following morning a second device was discovered tied to the leg of the metal stand supporting a heating-oil storage tank, indicating a far greater explosion had been intended. But there was a lack of clear evidence of who planted them.

▪ At Page 149, Blaxland writes:

In early June [1972], four young Croatians were charged in Melbourne with possession of explosives from a buried cache in the Warburton Ranges. Documents found in their possession indicated that they were members of SHUMS [Union of Croatian United Youth of the World] and confirmed the link with HIRO [a Croatian revolutionary organisation]. A different picture emerged later, however, when one of the “principals” associated with the cache incident was reported to be living free in Belgrade. This lent “credence to the suggestion that the event was a YIS controlled operation aimed at discrediting the Croatian nationalist community [in Australia]”.

A Lack of Evidence

It is notable that one of the incidents cited by Mervyn Davis – and endorsed by Tony Jones – was the Warburton Ranges explosive case. Mr Jones is obviously unaware that it was later established that one of the (alleged) Croatians associated with the (alleged) Croatian explosives cache in Warburton went to live in Belgrade – the capital of (then) Yugoslavia. Which suggests that he was probably a Serb loyal to Tito’s government in Belgrade and not a Catholic anti-communist Croatian.

An ABC spokesperson has confirmed that, on Q&A, Tony Jones was not referring to the conviction in NSW of the Croatian Six in 1979 for conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism in Australia. These convictions were demonstrated to be unsafe by Jones’ fellow ABC journalist Chris Masters in an ABC Four Corners program in August 1979 and by Fairfax Media journalist Hamish McDonald in his online book Framed: The untold story about the Croatian Six (Fairfax Media, 2012).

So, Tony Jones accepts that in 1979 the Yugoslav secret police framed Croatians with a conspiracy to attack Yugoslav citizens and property in Australia.  However, Jones runs the line that in 1972 and 1973, less than a decade earlier, there were activist Croatian cells in Australia intent with engaging in terrorist acts against Yugoslavs and Yugoslavia in Australia. Jones has provided no evidence to support his theory.

In late 2016, the third volume of the ASIO official history was released.  The Secret Cold War: The Official History of ASIO 1975-1989 (Allen & Unwin, 2016) is written by John Blaxland and Rhys Crawley.  Towards the end of the book, the co-authors make the following point:

The focus on Croatian extremists had triggered the infamous Murphy raid on Headquarters ASIO in March 1973 (discussed in volume ii), and worries over their capabilities and intentions persisted through the 1970s and into the 1980s (discussed in Chapter 6). As of May 1983, ASIO counted eighteen explosive attacks involving Yugoslav targets, although the assessment avoided specifically blaming Croats for them.

In other words, as late as 1983 ASIO could not link any of the 18 politically motivated attacks on Yugoslav targets in previous years to Croatian Australians.  However, the thesis of The Twentieth Man is that there were 16 politically motivated attacks on Yugoslavian targets up to the end of 1973 which were conducted by Croatian Australians.  There is no material in The Twentieth Man which suggests that ASIO’s contemporary analysis was incorrect.  It’s just that it does not fit Jones’ pro-Lionel Murphy leftist analysis.

In short, The Twentieth Man is not “based on real events in 1972 and 1973” in Australia – as Tony Jones asserts.  Rather, it is a re-working of the left-wing Labor Party line put about by the likes of Lionel Murphy, Jim Cairns, Kerry Milte and Mark Aarons in the early 1970s aimed at Croatian anti-communists, quite a few of whom happened to be Catholic.

Mr Jones’ Flowery Language

As for the fiction in The Twentieth Man – well, it’s of the flowery kind.  An example of a first time novelist in need of a tough-minded editor. Here are a few examples:

Page 129:  Anna, the young female and (of course) communist ABC journalist, awakes suddenly in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Glebe (where else?) and picks up a “heavy bust” of Bolshevik revolutionary Leon Trotsky. This is how Tony Jones describes the incident as Anna awakens to confront the face of her Bolshevik hero:

Meeting Trotsky’s implacable gaze, Anna was suddenly aware of her own nakedness. She turned him to face the bookcase, closed the window and sat in the captain’s chair, feeling the coolness of the black leather against her flesh….

Can you bear it?  Comrade Anna (born circa 1950) only realised that she was starkers in 1973 when Comrade Trotsky (1879-1940) perved at her via a statue.

Page 146: In which Anna awakens from a deep sleep “to clear blue skies” on the NSW South Coast before heading for a remote location to suss out a Croatian Australian terrorist.  This is how Tony Jones describes her (road) journey:

There was a causeway over a river and then for a long time nothing but bush on either side of the road.  As she was drawn into it, Anna had the familiar sense of dissonance.  The green density of undifferentiated eucalypts as they crowded the narrow strip of road seemed threatening. She felt as though the vast sameness might swallow her up, erupt into flames and burn her existence away like an impurity in a forge.

Fancy that.  Comrade Anna is threatened by eucalyptus trees and worries that she might erupt in flames and be burnt to a cinder.

 Page 411: In one of the few sex scenes in The Twentieth Man, anti-hero (and fictional character) Marian Katich is involved in the theft of a key from a premises that will make possible this assassination of Bijedic:

The blinds were drawn but through the gap at the bottom he saw two figures gently writhing on the couch.  Barbara’s skirt was hiked up to her waist. A pair of hands moved inside her knickers, gripping her arse.  There was a bottle of whiskey and two glasses of coffee on the table. The cat was stretched out on the back of the red couch, licking its paws.  A soprano sang in German. A Bach cantata, he wasn’t sure which one. As the two figures shifted position, pulling apart for a moment to look at each other, Marin recognised the vicar’s wife.

Some time elapsed before the music stopped and he heard the arm on the turntable retract. Barbara stood up from the couch, bending to kiss her lover.  She went to the sideboard, flipped the record and set it going again.  Marin noticed her black handbag on the sideboard. Barbara pulled the vicar’s wife gently to her feet and embraced her.  Pulling apart to murmur something in her lover’s ear, she took her by the hand and led her from the room. The cat followed them a moment later.

Which raises the question. Is the cat also same-sex attracted?

Page 426: Needless to say, the taxpayer funded ABC communist journalist Anna Rosen is the hero of The Twentieth Man and the anti-communist Croatian Australian Martin Katich is the anti-hero.  And, yes, they once were lovers.  Or perhaps twice.  And so it came to pass that, towards the end of The Twentieth Man, they have what turns out to be a final assignation.  A kind of Last Tango in Canberra.

Also, it so happened that the ASIO aligned spook who, believe it or not, is named Moriarty bugs the Anna/Marian moment:

She found it in the overhead light.  The bug was concealed in the shade with a thin, dark wire running up the ceiling inside the metal tube that held the central power cable. She cut the microphone off with a pair of nail scissors and put it in her pocket.

She imagined Moriarty sitting in a nearby room with a bottle of whisky, a set of headphones clamped over his ears, the spools on the tape recorder revolving slowly as he listened to them fucking. She packed a bag, left the hotel by the rear entrance and found the ute waiting for her with its usual ironic grin.

So, post assignation, Anna’s car – yes, her car – still presents with an ironic grin.  Really.

An Anti-Croatian Rant

If The Twentieth Man had been written by anyone other than an ABC TV celebrity it might not have found a publisher. But Richard Walsh of Allen & Unwin has seen fit to publish what is essentially a sectarian anti-Croatian rant – which culminates in a story about an attempted murder which never took place – by ABC fave Tony Jones.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the left in Australia ran a disgraceful campaign against an ethnic minority – the Croatians.  Party because they were anti-communists – and partly because they were overwhelmingly Catholic.  The leaders of the vilification campaign were (then) Senator Lionel Murphy and leftist hero and Labor MP Dr Jim Cairns.  When attorney-general, Murphy made false accusations against Australians of Croatian background – despite the fact that not one Croatian Australian was ever convicted of a terrorist offence.  Neither man ever apologised for defaming a racial minority.

Yet Tony Jones has devoted his inaugural book to regurgitating the falsehoods of his hero Lionel Murphy – and, in the process, has distorted the events of the 1970s.

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