12/09/2006 - 22:00

Historical treasures unearthed

12/09/2006 - 22:00


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Prime Minister John Howard’s August history summit certainly showed he had located the electoral power of promoting history for school students.

Prime Minister John Howard’s August history summit certainly showed he had located the electoral power of promoting history for school students.

State Scene never doubted the move would make him the beneficiary of a groundswell of support for that stance.

Let’s hope, however, that the widespread nationwide backing for the teaching of history includes an interest in the many Australians who long ago appreciated this long-downgraded discipline.

Due to a lucky break, State Scene visited Adelaide the week after the Howard summit and met the last half dozen friends and acquaintances of such an Australian, the largely forgotten Paul McGuire (1903-78).

As well as being a historian and Australian ambassador to Italy in the 1950s, he was a popular pre- and post-war international public speaker, poet, novelist, journalist, correspondent, wartime intelligence officer, religious writer and active Catholic layman.

Strangely, apart from the six people State Scene met, it’s difficult to find anyone who recalls him or his many popular books. Strangely also, McGuire hasn’t attracted a biographer.

As well as those chats, State Scene spent time in South Australia’s archives reading the papers of Mr McGuire and his wife, Margaret, and also visited their graves, located near that of another great South Australian, Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson.

McGuire was born in Peterborough, near Port Augusta, a railway junction town where his father – who became SA’s railways commissioner – was then based.

He attended Adelaide’s Christian Brothers College (CBC), which today remembers its most famous scholar with a library bearing his name.

According to one-time Perth academic, now Melbourne Professor of Church History, Katharine Massam: “At the University of Adelaide from 1923, he read history under Professor George Henderson, whom he admired and credited with confirming that ‘history was not looking back; history was essentially deciding where we are’.”

Before becoming a journalist and writer he briefly taught history.

McGuire’s historical readings and studies, and the outlook they inspired, played a key role throughout his life.

As well as being a thriller writer of international standing he published several history works, including on naval affairs, which explains why SA’s State Library today houses a sizeable Paul McGuire naval collection.

His most popular book was Australian Journey (1939).

Another, There’s Freedom for the Brave (1949), led to then prime minister Robert Menzies appointing him as personal adviser to the 1951 British Commonwealth Prime Ministerial Conference in London, the year McGuire gained the CBE.

As far as State Scene can determine, he wrote 25 books, while Margaret – a scientist involved in cutting-edge research on insulin – was author of at least six, including, The Royal Australian Navy: Its Origin, Development and Organization.

According to Professor Massam: “He had met her at the university while she was launching a research career in biochemistry.

“Their engagement stunned their friends, but the marriage was a meeting of minds, passions and aspirations. Margaret – a Congregationalist whose family moved in the best of Adelaide’s Protestant circles – converted to Catholicism.”

After marrying in 1927 they left for England, where he felt both spiritually and intellectually at home.

Adelaide antiquarian bookseller, Australian literature expert and compiler of the posthumous limited edition, Selected Poems of Paul McGuire, Paul Depasquale, writes: “The move to England was far more than a mere geographical change.

“His soul may have been Celtic but his mind was steeped in English history and literature.”

Mr Depasquale said their five years in England included time in London and the historic west country.

“They bought bicycles and made long expeditions to towns and villages within reach: King Alfred and the Danish invasion became historical realities to be mulled over on the very ground where legends had flourished,” he writes.

“They visited the sites of the ancient ‘lake villages’, going to Glastonbury to see the earliest beginnings of Christianity in England, and tracing the sites of Roman roads and villas, as well as visiting medieval forts and castles, Tudor houses and Georgian mansions.”

On returning to Adelaide, McGuire, who was influenced by many leading English Catholic intellectuals, teamed up with Father James O’Doughety to establish the Catholic Guild for Social Studies (CGSS), a purposive intellectual study group.

“The first members were mostly unemployed young people,” Professor Massam says.

“The guild’s four-part program of prayer, study, social action and recreation attracted 2,000 participants in the first year as groups formed in parishes, in the railways and post offices, and among nurses in hospitals and schoolboys at CBC.

“The CGSS prompted the foundation of a Catholic library in Adelaide, and provided its initial stock.

“McGuire’s training in London with the Catholic Evidence Guild equipped him for ‘Speakers’ Corner’ at Hyde Park, where the guild promoted a Catholic world-view based on traditional doctrine, ‘Chesterbelloc’ philosophy (including Distributism) and the social encyclicals.

“He also read and, in 1937, eventually met, Belgian priest Father Joseph Cardijn, founder of the Jeunesse Ouvrère Chrétienne (Young Christian Workers).”

This suggests that, if McGuire’s vision was realised, Australia’s economy would today be dominated not by ASX-listed corporations but rather by broadly based co-operatives, credit unions and perhaps even entities like Spain’s Mondragon Co-operative Corporation.

The CGSS emulated Victoria’s Campion Society, which attracted to its ranks such notables as Damien Parer, Australia’s leading World War II battlefield movie photographer, and BA (Bob) Santamaria, whose impact upon Australian post-war politics rivals that of Menzies.

Before Japan’s Pearl Harbour strike, McGuire lectured and toured Europe, the US, Canada, South America and travelled to Spain during its civil war as correspondent for the London-based Catholic Herald to investigate conditions for the return of expatriated Spanish children.

During the war, he served as deputy director of the clandestine far eastern liaison office so was involved in psychological warfare against Japanese forces across the occupied islands to Australia’s north.

A 1946 Dublin Standard report says: “This week I talked to Mr Paul McGuire, well-known Australian Catholic author and overseas editor of the Melbourne newspaper, The Argus and Australasian, who is on a brief visit to Ireland.

“In the early forties, he set foot on all five continents and shares with Mrs Roosevelt the distinction of having lectured all over the US.

“He has lectured in every state except North Dakota.

“Author of more novels than he himself can count, champion in the cause of Catholic Action and a keen student of history, his Irish lineage is unmistakable.”

In 1953, he was a member of Australia’s delegation to the UN General Assembly and soon after moved to Rome to represent Australia diplomatically.

As impressive as his literary, cultural and religious activities were, State Scene found several intriguing documents.

One was from a former senior Australian counter-intelligence officer who regularly wrote to then Labor leader, Dr Herbert Evatt, signing his letters, “Phil’s Friend”.

One such letter, from the Petrov royal commission era that investigated Communist penetration in Australia, said: “I have no idea who Mrs ‘A’ is, but understand from Phil that he knows.

“What I am more interested in is that she has a Naval Intelligence background ‘all-same’ Paul Maquire (sic) and Thwaites.

“Good God Paul Maguire’s (sic) finger in this business sticks out like bubbles on a wash tub – so back we come to the Menzies-Paul Maguire (sic)-Santamaria Axis.”

Another, from November 1946, and signed by senior American State Department official, Alger Hiss, advised McGuire’s New York publisher it was unlikely McGuire could work in America for an extended period.

“I realise that this information won’t be too encouraging to Mr McGuire or too satisfactory from your own point of view,” Hiss concluded.

Hiss, rather than the content of his letter, is of interest here since he was later investigated, charged with perjury and sentenced to five years’ jail in relation to activities as a Soviet agent, probably Stalin’s most outstanding Washington informant.

Although Hiss’s stance may be coincidental it’s certainly difficult not to suspect that McGuire had enemies in high places, ones he may not have known were quietly working against him.

Only a thorough canvassing of the archives is likely to expose all who sought to thwart McGuire’s many and varied cultural and other activities, and much more.


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