Overland 203 is hitting mailboxes now. The mailboxes of subscribers, that is – and so if you’re not a subscriber, there’s never been a better time to join up. It’s only $54 ($40 if you′ve a concession) and it guarantees you twelve months of great reading.

Over the next days, we’ll be publishing all kinds of supplementary material here on the Overland blog. Here’s the first installment.

Professor Phillip Deery is the author of Labour in Conflict: the 1949 Coal Strike and many essays on the Cold War in publications including American Communist History, Cold War History, Intelligence and National Security, Journal of Cold War Studies and Labour History. He is in the process of co-authoring a new book on Cold War espionage with Mario Del Pero due to be published by Feltrinelli Press in 2011. Phillip has taken up a New York University fellowship to work on a political biography of Howard Fast and takes time from his busy schedule to share some insights about his article Remembering ASIO featured in edition 203 of Overland.

The stimulus for writing ‘Remembering ASIO’ was the television doco-film, I Spry, which opens the article. It reminded me of the collateral damage ASIO inflicted on some people’s lives while pursuing its main target – spies. ASIO is now a huge intelligence and security apparatus with wide-ranging powers and I’m hoping the article will remind readers of its early days. There is, of course, a big difference between spying for, and spying on. ASIO did the second and tried to catch those doing the first. In so doing, ASIO infringed upon the civil liberties of people who had nothing to do with espionage.

‘Remembering ASIO’ is also topical in the light of the release in April 2011 of thousands of pages of long-secret MI5 documents about Venona, ASIO and the Petrov affair. They show that Spry supported Menzies’ belief that the national interest demanded that ‘everything must be done’ to stop Herbert Evatt becoming prime minister. Spry also recommended that the British government withhold secrets from Australia if Evatt did become PM.

Petrov AffairWhat I often try and do in my writing is to inject the personal into the political. I hope to tell the stories of people caught up in the Cold War – how they felt, how they reacted. This also tells us much about the broader social and political contexts. So a biographical approach can be very illuminating of the milieu.

My current study of the American communist writer, Howard Fast (who regularly corresponded with an early contributor to Overland, the Australian communist writer, Frank Hardy) tries to do this. I’ve called it ‘The Geography of the Blacklist’ and it looks at four different ways the blacklist operated against writers and publishers. I’ve also examined the subjective experience of Fast when he left the Communist Party in 1956. I’ve called this study ‘Finding his Kronstadt’ because he retained his socialist beliefs whilst repudiating Stalinism and the Soviet Union.

Clare Strahan

Clare Strahan is a two-time novelist with Allen & Unwin publishers, long-ago contributing editor to Overland, and teaches in the RMIT Professional Writing & Editing Associate Degree.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. Phillip’s article gain added potency from the current role played by ASIO in assessing refugees who are held in detention for long periods while awaiting security clearances. I understand these are given either by Immigration or by one of the security services. ASIO’s previous history of paranoia gives no confidence that these clearances will be either timely or reliable.

  2. Look forward to reading more about Howard Fast. A fine man and a great socialist. It it time to resurrect some of our own men and women who were Communists and contributed so much to our cultural inheritence.

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