Peter Coleman

Pity I did not know that Peter was coming on Q&A or I would have posted this in advance. He is one of the people in the Guest Room of the Rathouse, started over a decade ago for interesting and important people who did not have a web site of their own.

Peter Coleman has had a lengthy career as a writer and supporter of liberal causes. He has kept his hands clean during a period when only a minority of intellectuals could make the same claim. Being a modest gentleman, he has not made that claim himself but I am happy to make it on his behalf . It is a pleasure to welcome his writings into the Guest Room.

In The Liberal Conspiracy he provided an invaluable account of the counter-attack by liberal intellectuals in the battle of ideas with communism in the 1950s At the time that this story begins, Arthur Koestler was convinced that the future of civilisation would be decided by the outcome of the battle between communists and ex-communists like himself. He believed that others could not comprehend the true nature of their adversary, with its capacity to recruit both the best of people and the worst of people. He was mistaken. The thin anti-red line was held by a mix of ex-communists and others who had not drunk from that poisoned cup.

Lefties have never forgiven Peter Coleman and the Quadrant crowd for being on the honourable side in the Cold War.

Among other pieces by and about Peter in the Guest Room there is an account of Robert Manne’s strange career which included an almost disastrous term as editor of Quadrant.

Others in the Guest Room are John Stone, Frank Devine, Hal Colebatch, Barry Williams, John Hyde and P P McGuinness who was at the time the editor of Quadrant.

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43 Responses to Peter Coleman

  1. Rabz

    Rafe, sorry to be dismissive, but I simply can’t take anyone seriously who’s had any kind of association with the NSW Liberals.

  2. Poor Old Rafe

    Who was he supposed to associate with in the absence of a better option?

  3. Alfonso

    I wander the streets with a lamp seeking a Liberal who is not a big govt welfare statist.
    Nil sighted so far.

  4. His ‘Australian Notes’ are one of the weekly highlights of The Spectator. A good egg.

  5. Ian Syson

    You may find this editorial in Overland from 1999 enlightening

    Paranoid Echoes

    By Ian Syson – Editor, overland magazine

    The calls to examine the Australian-Soviet documents in the Moscow Literary archives have grown in volume over the past year.

    Frank Devine has (via an article in The Australian, 19 April) added his name to the list of those arguing that the documents should be photocopied and housed in the National Library of Australia. I couldn’t agree more. The whole truth must be revealed for us to understand our history properly. The whole truth, however, means revealing the perfidy of the right as well as that of the left.

    Readers are already aware of my thwarted attempts to get into the Cultural Freedom archives. I have previously discussed the phone call I made to Coleman, one of the trustees, during which he declined my request (Editorial, 153). What I didn’t describe is the way he became increasingly annoyed throughout the conversation. He referred to “your sort of people” and made disparaging comments about the quality of overland’s editing after the death of Stephen Murray-Smith. He said that he had to discuss my request with another trustee. I asked why, given my very clear request, it was so difficult to make a decision. Just what was he afraid of? Coleman then became very agitated and said loudly words to the effect that he didn’t want people like me throwing mud at his friends. Before hanging up he told me to “Fuck off!”

    More recently, in a radio interview with Julie Rigg on Radio National, Coleman gave a different reason: my letter was too brief.

    In his Australian opinion piece, Devine gave yet another interpretation of this phone call. Coleman apparently refused me access simply because “he dislikes [me] intensely”. Perhaps Coleman is by nature quick to form intense opinions of people he has never met, on the strength of a brief, polite letter and a tense, five-minute phone conversation.

    Whether the is-he-a-good-bloke? test is a good criterion for preventing a researcher from seeing archival documents is another matter. Devine does Coleman a big disservice in interpreting his actions in this way. The excuse he offers for him makes him look a hypocrite. However, I suspect Coleman’s reasons were more than personal and were, to use Devine’s words, a case of “fleeing to ideology for comfort”.

    My interpretation is that there is information in the Cultural Freedom archives that Coleman does not want me to see.

    The upshot of all this is that during my recent research trip to Canberra, I never did get to see the documents I was looking for. But I have more than Peter Coleman to blame for that. ASIO, the organization that broke into people’s homes and offices to steal copies of their writings and other records and then copy them for the CIA, prevented me from seeing the true extent of a national disgrace. Document after document in the ASIO Archives has crucial names, dates and times expunged. Who did the dobbing, who was transferring the information, who received it: all left blank, covered over, crossed out and made illegible, or cut out. Some pages have been so censored that all that is left is a narrow frame: a window through which you can see nothing but a sheepish, embarrassed librarian.

    Yet the scissors, pen and paste people are only human and some names do get through the censoring process. As Les Louis’s Cold War Dossier has already revealed and Stuart Macintyre reiterates in this issue, ASIO records indicate that Peter Ryan supplied ASIO with information on Melbourne academic, Max Crawford. Ryan was the one-time publisher of Manning Clark at MUP and the critic who arguably set the ball rolling in Clark’s posthumous harassment (aided by Robert Manne’s Quadrant, Chris Mitchell’s Courier Mail, Les Murray and several others). On the same theme, Lucy Sussex discusses the strange case of deliberate and apparently self-confessed ASIO-dobber, J.K. Moir. And Cassandra Pybus delves deeply into Quadrant and James McAuley’s CIA connections. We plan a series of such exposés over the next few years.

    There is a need for Australians to come clean about the espionage work and dirty deeds of all our intellectual forebears. Some Australian communist writers were active Stalinists or unwilling dupes of the Soviet Union. This fact clouds overland’s history and we are perfectly happy for the truth to come out. So I for one echo Devine’s call for the photocopying of the documents which apply to Australian writing in the State Literary Archive in Moscow and their housing in the National Library of Australia. It would be an immensely valuable archive and one which should be funded by the Australian Research Council.

    But why should we end there? We could then move on to the Australian Archives and get all of the ASIO collection out in the open. Let’s 1) acquire the Moscow archives and 2) open up the ASIO collection and 3) remove the restrictions from the Cultural Freedom papers. (To digress only slightly, I’d also like to see a push for access to files, probably held at the Vatican, which illuminated the extent to which B.A. Santamaria, for example, was ‘doing the bidding of a foreign power’, a criticism so often hurled at Australian communists.)

    Historians of every stamp and flavour could then get into these collections and perform their proper role of telling Australians their history whole. Until Devine and Coleman begin to call for such a broad history, and not just the ideologically blinkered story of the ‘shame of the left’, we can’t even begin to take their calls seriously.

    Devine believes a movement is afoot to prevent the photocopying of the Moscow archives: what he calls, in a disgracefully facile analogy, “an almost Kosovan attempt to strip us of our identity”. (And, is he suggesting that the Kosovars are engaged in ethnic cleansing?) But who is trying to stop this process? No-one I know. All serious scholars of Australian-Soviet literary relations will be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of seeing and reporting on these records. The “underground rumble” is a Courier-Mail-Coleman-Devine beat-up which justifies their own ideologically myopic politics. Unlike the records in the ASIO archives, there are no real names to be excised from this totally imagined history.

    In a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (29 April 1999), P.P. McGuinness complained that contemporary left-wing commentators were being too hard on the anti-communists: “One does not expect the former communists to go around apologizing for all their sins and errors of the past, and will judge them on their present behaviour. Why not extend the same charity to the anti-communists?”

    Just what are their past sins that McGuinness mentions? He certainly seems to know more about these sins than those without access to the Quadrant, ASIO and Cultural Freedom archives. However, this whole issue is not about blame, it is about archival freedom and openness.

    McGuinness laments the passing of a culture of decency where people on both sides could treat each other with respect: “Stephen Murray-Smith, the first editor of overland, was a good and large-spirited man who was well-liked by many who did not agree with him politically. The same was true of James McAuley, the first editor of Quadrant.”

    From all accounts this is largely true. But in McGuinness’s curiously evenhanded and temperate article, one vital difference remains archivally buried. Murray-Smith was kept under ASIO surveillance for most of his adult life. McAuley was part of the team doing the surveillance. This is the kind of truth we all need to know and to remember.

  6. Rabz

    Rafe – best not to get involved with the dunderheads in the first place.

  7. Rabz

    I wander the streets with a lamp seeking a Liberal who is not a big govt welfare statist.
    Nil sighted so far.

    Wow – that’s one extremely pointless odyssey.

  8. .

    Rafe

    I’m a fan of “John”

    John Hyde and John Stone.

    Any chance of getting John Leard?

  9. ChrisPer

    Folks, in conversation I introduce the awful things that communism has done and my wife starts looking worried and kicking my ankle. Is this a sign that I am maybe getting too intense, too serious about politics, or should I just find a more small ‘l’ liberal, caring and accepting School Council meeting to attend?

  10. ChrisPer

    Not exaggerating (much), btw.

  11. 70s Playboy

    …I introduce the awful things that communism has done and my wife starts looking worried and kicking my ankle. Is this a sign that I am maybe getting too intense, too serious about politics…

    I just tell my friends that I voted for the Coalition and sit back and watch their heads explode. It’s pretty clear where the intensity about politics is coming from.

  12. Andrew

    Does anybody know WHY Manne is regarded as “influential?” The fact that the Sydney Age readership voted for him suggests the opposite – he was simply an echo chamber for any preexisting leftist frauds like Stolen Generation and (I assume) gerbil worming. That suggests he’s incapable of rational thought, deduction, critical evaluation etc. He might become influential f he ever announced to his fanbois “Hey I’ve just noticed that record emissions have seen global temps fall for 16 years – here’s some analysis showing that carbon sensitivity is a fraction what we thought in the late 1990s.”

  13. Diogenes

    I imbibed my dislike of communism at my grandma’s knee. Oma was born in a part Prussia that was handed to the Russians. As the younger daughter of an aristo she was informed on to the Cheka for speaking German instead of Russian, and spent a “delightful” 5 years in a camp in Siberia where she met my Grandfather ( Captain, KuK army captured in 1915).

    Having no desire to repeat the experience, she gathered up the 7 remaining children she had at home (2 uncles & grandad went to fight the Russias) and started heading west from what is now Roumania in early 1944. The family was already in Bavaria when Horthy was “arrested”. Incidentaly both uncles were seen surrendering to the Russian in their home village. At that point they vanish from history.

    As a much younger man I thought she was a bit a of a nutter seeing a communist conspiracy behind everything the ALP did, and hated Evatt (family story b4 my time), Caldwell and Whitlam with a passion. Later, as a keen reader I saw that much of what she told me about European history was true, then listening to the stories cadre staff told us when I was in the ARes about Korea (we had an Wo1 who had fought in Korea) and Vietnam, well …

    Anyway, if she were alive today I would love to see her smack down Lee Rhiannon

  14. Diogenes

    #70s playboy.

    There are precisely 2 self identifying conservatives at school(staff of 85). I am slowly chipping away at the most rabid leftists and I am doing my best to undo some of the propaganda. Interestingly the brightest kids have the most closed minds. In my AI & Simulations unit , I show the pictures of the weatherstaions gathered by Watts (GIGO) & how statistics can be manuipulated (this flows into 2 other units as well).

    I nearly caused our AEO’s head to explode when I told her my “mob” (Szekler – only 255 identify as such in Transylvania, and language and culture is being actively suppressed by law ) and Grandma was stolen (see see story above) – then I mentioned it was all in far off Prussia (boom!)

  15. rebel with cause

    The most enjoyable cab ride I ever had was with a Ukrainian driver who was telling my wife and I how frustrating it was that his children did not appreciate the wonder of the supermarket. They didn’t know what it was like to go to the store and find that it had ‘run out’ of the basics, or that the goods available were of such inferior quality as to be useless, or the things available were not the things anyone needed. His kids, like the rest of us in the West, just took it for granted that the shelves would be freshly stocked with all the food and supplies anyone could want.

    Communism wasn’t just the gulags, show trials and Stalin. It was also the everyday deprivation and degredation that people endured. If you didn’t grow up under Communist rule it seems beyond our comprehension to really know what that is like. You can guarantee our Che Guevara t-shirt wearing friends haven’t got a damn clue.

  16. dover_beach

    Coleman is a treasure. I’m surprised many around here hadn’t heard of him.

  17. dragnet

    Ah, so THAT’S what happened to Robert Manne!

  18. ar

    Coleman was the lone voice of reason on Q&A panel. Typically we hear how bad Australians are on Q&A but last night’s panel included Jane Goodall the chimp woman so the theme was expanded to how bad is the entire human race. With the obvious exception of minorities.

  19. Does anybody know WHY Manne is regarded as “influential?” The fact that the Sydney Age readership voted for him suggests the opposite – he was simply an echo chamber for any preexisting leftist frauds like Stolen Generation and (I assume) gerbil worming.

    Liberty Quote.

  20. Poor Old Rafe

    Robert Manne had an honourable record through the Cold War and that earned him the editorship of Quadrant but he fell under the influence of a colleague who converted him to economic irrationalism and another colleague Rai Gaitta switched him onto the genocide theme.

    His influence is exerted through Morrie Schwartz who is apparently prepared to follow his lead on intellectual and political matters which feed into editorial policy.

  21. Rabz

    Well, well, well – from Friday’s MWD:

    Dr Dyrenfurth (for a doctor he is) also described The Spectator Australia’s columnist and highly regarded writer Peter Coleman as “boorish”.

  22. hammy

    Rafe, sorry to be dismissive, but I simply can’t take anyone seriously who’s had any kind of association with the NSW any Liberals.

  23. Rafe, sorry to be dismissive, but I simply can’t be taken take anyone seriously who’s had any kind of association with the NSW any Liberals.

    FIFY

    Morning, hammy!

  24. ‘Dr Nick’ Dyrenfurth has made an academic career out of writing about one topic, and one topic only.

    See if you can pick what it is.

  25. Rabz

    Flippa – he is also a “well respected tacher*”.

    *His spelling.

  26. Robert Blair

    Diogenes:

    my “mob” (Szekler – only 255 identify as such in Transylvania

    Crikey! That’s a select group dog-dude.

    The Australian Blair Family had a get-together in Studley Park a few years back. Most didn’t bother going.

    1,300 did.

  27. Flippa – he is also a “well respected tacher*”.

    Of course he is. Of course he is.

    [soothing voice]

  28. Foggyfig

    Philippa Martyr
    #1341630, posted on June 10, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    ‘Dr Nick’ Dyrenfurth has made an academic career out of writing about one topic, and one topic only.

    I think I need a little help there, Phillipa ;)

  29. Roger

    What an interesting site – thanks Rafe.

  30. TV was one helluva novelty when it first arrived. However after the initial amazement, fascination & so forth wore off, was sitting watching it one night, about a year later & thinking “this is progress?”

    It certainly killed off 500′s though.

  31. Oops, rong thread. Net is so slow here today I couldn’t see which one it was.

  32. Goanna

    Yeah. Right on Rafe, about never been forgiven for being on the right side in the cold war.

    Remember the left: “We were right to be wrong.”

  33. hammy

    http://catallaxyfiles.com/2014/06/10/peter-coleman/comment-page-1/#comment-1341426

    This proves that the Right isn’t as pure as they claim. Excellent article, exposing their hypocrisy.

  34. Soooo – a public archive maintained by the Left shouldn’t be accessed, but a private archive maintained by conservatives should automatically open its doors to anyone who asks?

    Nice logic, hamster!

  35. I think I need a little help there, Phillipa

    You need a good tacher*, that’s all.

    *his spelling

  36. I’d also like to see a push for access to files, probably held at the Vatican, which illuminated the extent to which B.A. Santamaria, for example, was ‘doing the bidding of a foreign power’, a criticism so often hurled at Australian communists.)

    Ahhhhhh. That takes me back, that does.

    Guess what – it’s all true. The Pope had a hotline to Bob, and used to ring him up and tell him to buy a copy of the Age and a fresh bread roll for his brekky. Then to look at page 7 column (a) of that morning’s Age for his secret instructions. The decoding ring was baked into the bread roll.

    The difference here, hammy, is that the communist Left were actively trying to dismantle freedom in Australia, and replace it with the most disgusting and bloodthirsty tyranny.

    The Right were trying to stop them. If, in the process, Australians discovered the joys of McDonalds and chewing gum and Bonanza re-runs, then I consider that a pretty low price to pay for my right to free speech, freedom of religion, and a secret ballot for the political party of my choice.

  37. Rabz

    ASIO, the organization that broke into people’s homes and offices to steal copies of their writings and other records and then copy them for the CIA

    What a paranoid fruitcake.

  38. PS Hammy didn’t say that about the Pope, by the way – it’s a quote from the article he is citing with such enthusiasm.

    I’m all in favour of walloping hammy, but it has to be in a just way.

  39. And while we’re on the subject, hamster, I’d love to send you a free copy of Hal Colebatch’s book on what a sterling job the communist-controlled unions did for Australia’s troops during the Second World War.

    Hey, hey, MUA – how many kids did YOU kill today?

  40. Arnost

    Communism wasn’t just the gulags, show trials and Stalin. It was also the everyday deprivation and degredation that people endured. If you didn’t grow up under Communist rule it seems beyond our comprehension to really know what that is like.

    This.

    It is a symptom of that cankerous invasion of society where the people are being asked to do without, to ration, or to substitute. And once people stop complaining – it may well be too late. The transition from a liberal / free polity to one controlled at all levels is usually very rapid. Where I came from – the old Czechoslovakia – from a shiny new post WW2 govt in 1947 to the executions was only 4 years…

    And to the defenestrations – only 2 years… How does that joke go? “Jan Masaryk was a very tidy man. He was such a tidy man that when he jumped he shut the window after himself.”

  41. blind freddy

    ” It was a triumph of Pecksniffery. It lasted seven long years.”–Coleman,s description of Manne,s editorship of the Quadrant

    Marvelous

  42. johanna

    Dr Dyrenfurth (for a doctor he is) also described The Spectator Australia’s columnist and highly regarded writer Peter Coleman as “boorish”.

    Talk about scraping the bottom of the barrel. You could accuse Coleman of many things, but being “boorish” is not one of them Not even remotely. Now ALP speechwriter Bob Ellis, OTOH …

    And there is ample evidence that ASIO were not the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree in the 1960s and 1970s. I know, because they were obsessed with a housemate of mine when I was a student in Canberra. The other day, he got a gong in the Australia Day awards – not least because he has been a top level adviser to the Pentagon for decades. In those days, he was opposed to our engagement in the Vietnam War, which made him a suspect. For him it was just an exercise in strategic policy. The morons in ASIO thought that he was a traitor. He was an outlier genius from a Victorian dairy farm, who loved (and loves) Australia and especially the bush with a passion. But they pursued him for at least a decade, bugging our phone, planting not very convincing “friends” in our circle, and so on.

    ASIO had plenty of real targets in those days, like the lovely Lee Rhiannon’s family. But, they also spent a lot of time and resources surveilling people just because they disagreed about policy. And, some of their stringers and employees were so bad, it was embarrassing. Like the one who got pissed at a dinner party I threw in Canberra in the 70s. Towards the end of the evening, he got under the table and barked like a dog. He was a full-time ASIO employee.

  43. johanna

    Whoops, Queen’s Birthday Awards. The rest stands.

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