In too many places this one reads like something from the much loved childhood classic Famous Five series, but it does contain, for all that, much of interest, both historical and current. It is certainly not the novel I had hoped it would be. The illegal sacking of the left leaning Australian Labor Government in 1975, which forms the backdrop to the novel, is close to home for me. This was precisely the subject of my degree dissertation way back in the day. Of course there was nothing startlingly original in what I served up, just a reasonable summation of what was already in the public sphere at the time. But what did I get for my troubles? Scribbled all over the thing by my straight laced supervisor were the words, ‘circumstantial evidence’. Fair enough, but if anyone today genuinely believes that the sacking of the Whitlam Government was anything but a carefully orchestrated CIA coup is clearly in ideological denial. Anyway, I had hoped that Carey’s book was going to throw new light on all of this. It didn’t. In fact, all it really did was to state, and in a rather clumsy way at that, the bare and basic facts as they are already known. I felt rather disappointed, almost cheated by the end of the story.

The book started off promisingly enough. We learn of the novel’s narrator;

 ‘I worked as a journalist in a country where the flow of information was controlled by three corporations. Their ability to manipulate the ‘truth’ made the right to vote largely meaningless, but I was a journalist. I did my best.’ P7

 This theme of perverted democracy in Australia is developed by Carey further;

‘Everything we knew from life suggested that America would do what it liked and Australia would behave like the client state it always was.’ P50

This was definitely a promising start. Was this going to be the novel that left wing republican Australia had been waiting for? Was this going to be the novel to vindicate my own studies all those years ago? It got even better. By page 136 Carey is in full flow.

‘The party was elected on Gough’s platform and, by Jesus, he was going to honour it. He abolished conscription. He let the draft resisters out of jail, made university free, gave land rights to Aboriginal peoples wherever the federal government had the power. He, the Prime Minister of what had previously been a reliable American client state, denounced the Nixon bombing of North Vietnam. This outraged our ally, but that’s what we had elected him to do. After almost two centuries of grovelling, we grew some balls. At the UN we spoke up for Palestinian rights. We welcomed Chileans fleeing the CIA coup. We condemned nuclear weapons in the South Pacific.’

Carey continues along these lines for a few more explosive paragraphs and then, unexpectedly it fades to nothing. Instead of really getting his teeth into the making of the coup, Carey allows himself to be side-tracked into a rather tame story of teenage computer hacking, old complicated romances and the usual family tensions and recriminations.  Okay, there is still a theme of anti- Americanism lurking in the background but it all becomes rather inconsequential. This is not the definitive novel of the 1975 coup, but rather an adventure/love story with a vague anti-American backdrop. And the story I’m afraid is teenage stuff. Like I said before, it’s the Famous Five all over again.

So what had I hoped for? The nature of the CIA coup in Australia is a complex one. Carey is the first to admit it. He writes’

‘When the time came, no aircraft bombed the Australian Treasury, but our elected government was attacked continually and relentlessly in so many different ways from so many different quarters. Scandals were seeded in the clouds by hacks and circulated by Packer, Fairfax, Murdoch most of all. Misinformation rose to the sky above Canberra, like rockets that flared and died and left their lies on our retinas so we continued to see what was not true.’ P137

This is what I wanted Carey to explore. This is the real story. This is what has been largely forgotten in Australia and around the world. Carey needn’t have bothered dreaming up a new story because this one is dynamite enough. This is the true nature of Australia’s amnesia  and to a degree Carey lets the criminals and plotters off the hook.

Ironically, it is to Britain that the reader must turn if they want a deeper exploration of the CIA coup in Australia. The British MP, Chris Mullen produced the novel, ‘A Very British Coup’ in 1982 and a brilliant TV mini-series then followed. Set in Britain, Mullen imagines a devious coup against a radical Labour government in Britain, but the original inspiration for the novel came, I believe, not so much from Britain but 1975 Australia. Carey had a chance to produce an indigenous account of what happened, albeit in fictional form, but in the end he passes up the opportunity. A pity. What he does produce is, for me, not worthy either of his talents or the gravity of what happened. And the plain fact is, it could happen again and again until such time as the amnesia is dispelled once and for all.

End JPK Copyright 1/3/15

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Last Updated ( Saturday, 14 March 2015 11:54 )