The Oz Loves a Red Herring


In last weekend’s edition, The Australian gave considerable space to a "new" book on Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett: On Burchett by Tibor Méray (Callistemon Publications, PO Box 293, Belgrave, Victoria 3160).

In fact this book is not so new. In October 1992, Quadrant magazine published a chapter of a then unpublished book by Méray under the title ‘Burchett in Budapest – 1956: The Anatomy of a Lie’.

I have in front of me a letter to Quadrant (December 1992) from my late mother challenging Méray’s version of events. She points out that she couldn’t have climbed a tree in the garden of his house in Budapest in 1956, as Méray claimed, because she was then in Hanoi with her two infant sons. But such errors of fact have never bothered the anti-Burchett zealots. They favour effect over fact.

From my reading of The Australian‘s extract from Méray’s book, his thesis seems to be that Wilfred Burchett was sent on a top secret mission to Korea by the all-powerful Australian Communist Party to help Chinese Reds conquer the world. The "secret" is so deep that the whole truth can never be revealed. How convenient!

At this point one could justifiably ask: And who cares? The Cold War is long over!

So why give a PO Box publication such prominence in the only national newspaper?

The victimisation and vilification of Wilfred Burchett by various conservative governments and their media allies is probably the greatest political scandal in Australian history. And the campaign continues, nearly 25 years after his death.

To quote an email from John Pilger yesterday (with his kind permission): "The latest ‘book’ on Wilfred seems as pathetic as those who keep on … History has long reclaimed Wilfred Burchett as the great reporter he was. Haven’t they heard?"

I have bad news for the anti-Burchett cold warriors in Quadrant, The Australian and elsewhere.

Wilfred Burchett’s private archive has finally made it to these shores, preceded by his famous Laissez Passez Tenant Lieu de Passport, issued by the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, on which he travelled for 17 years because the Australian government refused to issue him with a passport for his alleged sins. Burchett fought long and hard to have his birth rights restored and his name cleared but ended up dying in exile in Sofia, Bulgaria. The forces allied against him were too powerful and succeeded in keeping him out of the country for good.

What were they so afraid of? Inconvenient truths?

The archive contains Burchett’s vast correspondence with various world luminaries such as Arthur Miller, Harrison Salisbury of the New York Times, Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia, letters to family, friends and colleagues, evidence of him helping release American prisoners of war and civilians during the Vietnam War, letters of support and appreciation from British PoWs in Korea and much more. From the archive emerges the real Wilfred Burchett – the genuine humanist and internationalist, not the Stalinist monster, KGB agent and brainwasher created over decades by successive smear campaigns in Australia.

It is our intention to reopen the dossier to settle the matter once and for all. Stay tuned – and expect many red faces!

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.