One of the most frequent critiques that we hear about National Socialism in the Australian context is that it is a foreign import, and has no connection to this country’s own nationalist traditions. We are told that National Socialism is purely German, with little relevance to conditions here. Unfortunately for our detractors, their view is not borne out by reality. In this article, we shall look at the origins of our creed, and the inconvenient fact that Australia independently developed its own National Socialism quite without help from the NSDAP.
The intellectual origins of Australian National Socialist thought lie in those currents popular among the country’s avant-garde around the turn of the 20th century – Nietzscheism, eugenics, racial science, and the movement towards the development of a uniquely Australian culture. These ideas found their first political expression in the Australia First Movement of the 1930s and 1940s, which was an outgrowth of the literary and cultural magazine The Publicist. It is this heroic story that we will now tell so that National Socialists might draw inspiration, and our enemies receive an answer to their lies.
“You cannot claim to be ‘more Australian’ than I, for I am an Australian National Socialist”
Percy Reginald Stephensen, 8 September 1941
Kookaburras and Bunyips
It is no overstatement to suggest that Australian National Socialism would never have emerged as a political force during the 1930s if not for the funds and enthusiasm of William John Miles. The wealthy owner of an accountancy firm, and a veteran supporter of rationalism, Miles was eager to promote the development of a new nationalism in Australia, free of slavish imperial loyalty. To this end, he decided to found a monthly magazine, after retiring from his firm in 1935. In July 1936 The Publicist was launched as “The Paper Loyal to Australia First”, with the magazine’s office and bookstore established in Sydney. Miles was a frequent contributor to his own magazine (under the aliases of John Benauster, LM Veron, and Alcedo Gigas the “King of the Sydney Kookaburras”), and also paid for a Monday evening radio show on Sydney station 2SM. The Publicist never seems to have been profitable as a business, and Miles happily used it to write-off around £2000 a year in income tax.
Miles was joined in this endeavour by Percy Reginald “Inky” Stephensen, a well-known literary provocateur and author of The Foundations of Culture in Australia. Through various failed publishing ventures during the 1920s and 30s Stephensen had gained connections with a number of high-profile British and Australian authors of the period, such as D. H. Lawrence and Stella Miles Franklin. Stephensen had also been sympathetic to Communism for the majority of his adult life, and as late as 1935 had publicly opposed the Commonwealth’s attempts to prevent Jewish Communist Egon Kisch entering the country.
It was the publication of part of Stephensen’s intensely nationalistic Foundations in his own short-lived literary magazine Australian Mercury that brought Inky to the attention of Miles in July 1935. While Stephensen had long been aware of the Jewish Question, his attitude towards Fascism and National Socialism was hardly warm from the start. Perhaps influenced by his distaste for the largely reactionary New Guard movement of the time, Stephensen attacked the two in his Foundations as a “schoolboy bully, armed” and a “Junker-idea, a Hun-idea which Australians have fought to abolish from the earth”. This attitude was to rapidly change, as Stephensen realised how many of the conclusions about civilisation which he had arrived at independently were reflected in the Third Reich. A mere three years later he was extolling National Socialism as “the remedy to Australia’s ills”.
Miles (left) and Stephensen (right) circa 1937
During those pre-war years, Miles and Stephensen gradually developed their ideas further in the pages of The Publicist, in an attempt to develop a new politico-cultural worldview befitting an independent Australia. Their efforts attracted a wide range of new adherents and sympathisers, ranging from wealthy businessmen to aspiring writers. The latter included authors Miles Franklin and Xavier Herbert, and the poets Ian Mudie and Rex Ingamells of the Jindyworobak movement. They also established an informal discussion group known as the Yabba Club at a café near the Publicist offices, where Miles would hold forth with this growing band of followers.
For a magazine that usually sold around 2250 copies per issue, and had a subscriber base as low as 258 by 1942, The Publicist commanded a surprising amount of public attention. Its contents were often extremely controversial, even before the war. Stephensen did all he could to “astonish the burghers” and antagonise his three main enemies – Jews, Communists and “Britain First” empire supporters. The Jewish Question was openly discussed, anti-fascist hysteria roundly ridiculed, and several of Hitler’s speeches were reproduced in full. Critical letters received by the magazine were often reprinted, framed by blistering responses from Miles and Stephensen. The authors were sometimes even offered the right of reply, only to receive yet another public roasting.
Stephensen’s policy towards media criticism was even more combative - “Never attack P. R. Stephensen or The Publicist; these animals are awful creatures; when you attack them, they defend themselves”. In one instance a journalistic critic was accused of writing in “the insane London-New-York moron-catching smart-alec jewspaper style,” while a libellous Communist paper was successfully sued for damages.
Stephensen in 1939
Despite this willingness to publicly promote National Socialism, Miles was extremely reluctant to make this vision a reality through political action. Few of those attracted to Australia First were hard-headed political activists and street fighters, while Miles himself was approaching 70 and increasingly beset with health problems. Stephensen, however, had long harboured a desire to go beyond talk. As early as 1935 he had pitched an “Australia First Party Plan” to Miles, and would continue to advocate for “Australian Action” for the next six years, to little effect. By late 1938 he had only managed push Miles enough to issue a call for the establishment of small discussion groups that would correspond with The Publicist, as the prelude to the establishment of an Australia First Party. While most had disappeared by the next year, the exercise still managed to create some useful networking opportunities and provided several new writers for the magazine.
In August 1941 Stephensen issued perhaps the most definitive statement of his National Socialist ideas – Fifty Points for Australia: An Exposition of a Policy for an Australia-First Party After the War. In it Stephensen unambiguously pushed for “White Australia; against heterogeneity,” “Aryanism; against Semitism,” “leadership; against demagogocracy” and “national socialism; against international communism”. At the same time, Stephensen strongly championed personal responsibility against “government paternalism”, opposed compulsory voting, opposed Keynesian economics and backed lower taxation. Uncompromising commitment to racial survival was merged with the independent mind, and self-reliant lifestyle, of the White Australian pioneer.
Stephensen outlined his premonition of the titanic struggle required for the triumph of this vision in the periodical Design: “After much suffering, and, possibly, a period of civil war or anarchy, a Leadership will arise to pilot Australians out of their despair…Instead of Democracy, there will be, not Dictatorship, but Leadership. Instead of the Bourgeois State there will be the Corporative State. Instead of International Finance, there will be National Finance. Most vital, instead of International Culture there will be National Culture…Then will be the time for new, courageous, and vital thought. The times will cry aloud for realists: for men whose minds, untrammelled either by the ‘moral’ hypocrisies of decadent Democracy or by the cabalistic mysticism of abstract Marxism, will know how to think in clear terms and a priori of the Nation’s need. It is characteristic alike of Trustified Capitalism and of Trustified Communism to suppress individual thinkers – men who will not conform to prevailing illusions. Both systems are too gigantesque to be manageable, except by bureaucratic rule-of-thumb: hence both systems have the cardinal defect of being impersonal, or, as it is sometimes termed, ‘soulless’. Grand Capitalism and Grand Communism both depend on Grand Bureaucracy: they are the maws of Moloch, devouring humanity, crushing personality. These two individual-crushing systems will both go down before the assault of individuals who refuse to be crushed: individuals who, following the example of men of their kind in all countries, in all ages, will be prepared to ‘do or die’ in defence of their homes and their personal liberty, against the foes from within, as well as from without the community.” Inky would find himself at the centre of that struggle soon enough.
The Australia First Movement
By the time Stephensen officially founded the AFM in October 1941 the war had made the launch of a new political movement a decidedly risky approach. Not only was public attention fixed elsewhere, but the security services were far less likely to tolerate the promotion of National Socialist ideals. He had been pressured to do so against his better judgement by the foundation of an unofficial Australia First group in Melbourne by energetic former Communist Leslie Cahill in June 1940, and the threat by another ex-Communist Adela (Pankhurst) Walsh that she would found an Australia First Movement herself if he failed to do so. The main check on Stephensen’s ambitions had also been removed, as the recalcitrant Miles was bedridden from June 1941 onwards.
The AFM had the structure of a regular Australian political party of the day, rather than the cadre-based paramilitary organisation of comparative groups in Europe. A constitution and party manifesto were issued, with the party to be run by an elected president and executive committee. Stephensen became president, while Cahill and Mrs Walsh were appointed as full-time paid organisers. As a later circular by the movement put it, the AFM’s initial aim was to recruit 1000 people to “form an effective and solid body of public opinion in favour of Australian National Independence and Self Defence”.
The group’s first public action was to solicit membership by mail, with Cahill reportedly sending letters to Publicist subscribers and every organisation he could find which had the word “Australia” in its title. Public speaking training was also conducted within the movement in preparation for a series of public meetings to be held in Sydney.
These began a mere month after the formation of the movement, with the inaugural meeting held in November 1941. Around 200 people gathered to hear Stephensen and Mrs. Walsh denounce conscription for overseas wars and urge peace in the Pacific from a stage decorated with a large Australian flag. Cahill also warned the crowd about the Jewish refugee invasion from Europe. The meeting was a success, attracting 24 new members and a £100 donation.
A second meeting held later that month was even more successful, attracting 300 people. Meanwhile, the police spies in the audience impotently seethed, writing in their reports that members of the public attending were “brainless and easily led,” that Cahill was “morally low”, and Stephensen had “a slight facial resemblance to Hitler” and “tried to emulate Hitler’s mannerisms when speaking”. After a third successful meeting attended by 150-180, the reds, the media and the Jews also took note. A Labor Party splinter group hypocritically whined for the state to outlaw AFM, while Jewish Labor MP Max Falstein demanded a government report into this “anti-war, anti-democratic and pro-fascist organisation”.
Whether it was the hostility of the system, or the beginning of the Pacific war in December, the AFM struggled to recreate the success of these early meetings. Attendance and donations plummeted. By the beginning of 1942 the movement had also internally fragmented – the obsessively pro-Japanese Walsh was removed as organiser and forced out of AFM, while Cahill resigned to enlist in the military. It also lost its spiritual leader Miles, who died on 10 January at the age of 70.
Despite these setbacks, publication of The Publicist continued, and regular public meetings were held in the first two months of 1942. These would continue up until the violence of the 19 February meeting, when reds viciously attacked the Australia Firsters. Rather than organise their own security the AFM had relied on the police for protection, foolishly believing that they were not their enemies. The reds trashed the hall, and beat Stephensen to the point of permanent hearing loss, but were unable to stop his speech. The bloodied National Socialist continued to address the remaining crowd for a further 90 minutes, calling for the AIF to fight not the Germans but that “alien minority element in Australia, sufficiently wealthy, and sufficiently unscrupulous, to organise the forces of disorder for the purpose of overthrowing traditional political rights and establishing a reign of terror”. The response of AFM’s followers to this extraordinary display of bravery can be summed up in a single line from a letter sent from a supporter to Stephensen - “Hail Inky”.
Faced with a man and a movement they could not break, the Jews and reds screamed for their protectors in government to finish the job. Jewish NSW MLA Abram Landa used the violence initiated against AFM to call for its banning, in imitation of those who had used the red violence against Mosley’s BUF in Britain as a pretext to harass that organisation. Refusing to surrender to violence or legal threat, Stephensen planned a new public meeting for 5 March 1942. However, he was forced to relent after a personal meeting with the NSW Police Commissioner, who presented a document from the Commonwealth Attorney General threatening to ban the movement unless Stephensen cancelled the meeting. While Inky sent letters to state and federal parliamentarians pointing out the lies spread by the Jews Falstein and Landa, he realised that the path for legal activism was over. The AFM was to be disbanded, at least until the end of the war.
Ultimately, the organisation managed to attract fewer than 80 paid members over its five months of existence (a stolen membership list from February listed 65 names). The last paragraph in the last issue of The Publicist (March 1942) sums up the legacy of this remarkable group as an inspiration for future National Socialists: “Some of us will join the shades of our fathers without witnessing the consummation of our desires, but we have the consolation of knowing that effort in a great cause is never wasted.”
Internment and afterlife
The remnants of AFM were wiped out when Stephensen and 15 others from the NSW group were interned without trial in March 1942. While the state had been spying on the AFM group for years, it was the activities of the movement’s WA branch which provided the ultimate justification for their imprisonment. In a pattern familiar to nationalists the world over, a combination of police provocateurs and mentally unstable fantasists resulted in the discovery of a supposed plot in Perth to assassinate key public figures and sabotage infrastructure in support of a Japanese invasion. Despite some minor contacts with the WA group, those in Sydney and Melbourne were unaware of the fantastical plans of their compatriots. That mattered little in the hysterical atmosphere of wartime.
Internment of the group proved to be extremely controversial – in that supposedly less enlightened age, politicians were actually willing to question despotic actions committed under the guise of preserving democracy. The matter was raised repeatedly in federal parliament, and Attorney General H. V. Evatt quickly admitted that there was “no guilty association between the Western Australian conspirators and the sixteen New South Wales internees”. By March 1944 Robert Menzies, leader of the opposition, demanded an inquiry into whether the internments were justified, and whether compensation should be paid to the internees. The government agreed, and the inquiry started in June.
By the time of the inquiry, the internees had been shunted around various internment camps, and held alongside hostile Communists and Jews. The Sydney AFM members and associates had been gradually released between 1942 and 1944 (though many were subject to orders that restricted their movements and freedom of association), with Stephensen the only remaining member imprisoned. He had continued his nationalist agitation within the camps, organising a prison labour strike, and giving pro-Axis speeches. The last internees were only released after the Japanese announced their intention to surrender in August 1945.
The inquiry was finally tabled in parliament in September 1945. Army Minister Forde announced that eight of the 16 were “wrongly detained and were not disloyal,” and they were paid compensation. Stephensen was not among them, nor was Cahill or Walsh.
The internments destroyed the momentum of AFM, and set back the cause of Australian National Socialism by nearly 20 years. While Stephensen stated shortly after release that he was “unwavering in my adherence to the ideas of ‘Australia First’” and that defeat was only temporary, he would never again recommence political activities. Stephensen would wait the rest of his life for that propitious moment when “the General Public realise by themselves that they were misled about World War II” and he could restart AFM a vindicated man. Nor could he find the funds to relaunch The Publicist, as he had intended. Instead, he would spend his time much as he had before 1936, after a few years of self-imposed exile on a farm in Victoria’s Yarra Valley. He wrote a large number of books and articles (both under his own name and ghost-written for popular travel and history author Frank Clune), ran a Sydney literary agency and continued to defend his reputation from the lies of the press and rivals.
Stephensen with the aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira in the late 1950s. Stephensen was a true believer in the aboriginal Aryan (or black Caucasian) theory.
Throughout, Stephensen remained defiant in his views. He advocated “Australian National Socialism” to his friend the Labor MP Arthur Calwell in 1959, in order to bring about “the development of our continent as a permanent Homeland for a self-dependent, self-defending White Race Nation”. Inky also proposed that Calwell form a “White Australia League” to defend the policy against the growing pressure levelled against it by international capitalists, communists and race-traitor churches. He savaged allied triumphalism in a newspaper article of the same year, noting that the war had “destroyed the British Empire, spread Communist dictatorship over half Europe and half Asia, and weakened the prestige of the white race”. Stephensen also saw through the false post-war choice of having to choose between the USA and USSR. In private correspondence he noted “Russia and the USA are the left and right hands of the Jewish world-wide grip” and that any future war between the two would be “Russian Jews versus AMERICAN Jews, phoney all the time, just to get the mug non-Jews under war regimentation, to kill one another off in millions. The Peace Treaty at the end will make Jerusalem the capital of the World”.
While largely staying out of politics, Stephensen did maintain a minor link with Australia’s post-war National Socialist parties. He exchanged letters with members of the Australian Nationalist Workers’ Party (1957-1962), which had links to Colin Jordan’s British National Socialist Movement, and George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party. The Nationalist Workers’ Party would later become the Australian National Socialist Party (ANSP), and spark a wave of National Socialist activity that would continue well into mid-1970s. The ANSP reportedly had another link to AFM, though the involvement of former Australia Firster Tom Graham.
The Bulletin’s “tribute” to P. R. Stephensen.
Unfortunately, the country that Stephensen had endured so much for failed to listen to his warnings. He died in May 1965, immediately after delivering a speech on his involvement in publishing D. H. Lawrence’s much censored Lady Chatterley’s Lover to a private club. As in life, the establishment types met his death with hypocritical denunciation, slander or complete incomprehension. His obituary, published in the 5 June 1965 Bulletin, claimed that “few will ever be found to agree with his political beliefs,” asserted that The Publicist had been “National Bolshevik”, and praised a positive reference in Foundations to the first Australian born (and Jewish) Governor-General Isaac Isaacs.
Thankfully the 21st century is proving rather more favourable to Inky’s vision, and the ranks of those fighting for “a self-dependent, self-defending White Race Nation” are growing ever stronger as Australians contemplate the situation created by those who imprisoned him. Australian National Socialism lives on as the ultimate destiny of our people, heedless of the lies of fools, and the hysterical brutality of the “crushing systems”.