In our column on 17 March,2006, “Republicanism and the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge,” we noted that research by a reporter, Mr. Peter Lalor, published in The Australian on 12 March 2007, had revealed the hitherto unknown fact that the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was the scene of a battle between republicans and monarchists. What is even more astounding, we said, is that neither the opponents of the Premier, Jack Lang, nor Mr. Lang himself, knew that their “battle” was one between republicans and monarchists.
In the ABC programme “Constructing Australia Pt1: The Bridge,” shown on Sunday 18 March,2007, there was also a suggestion that republicanism was involved. There were interviews with Paul Keating, and the New Guard was referred to as ‘ultra monarchist.” I think the programme could have demonstrated that the Governor was extraordinarily patient with Jack Lang, who had acted illegally by actually clearing all of the government’s bank accounts. We did not need Paul Keating’s insulting denigration of the Governor – of what relevance was that? The meeting between Lang and the Governor was surely more about his illegal acts than who should open the bridge. And we should have been told that Lang’s dismissal was followed by an election in which he was defeated significantly.
Incidentally, did you notice that when the Prime Minister had been taken off the Hercules after the incident in Iraq, he remarked: ‘I’d rather be in the hands of the RAAF than anybody else”? He was referring of course to the Royal Australian Air Force, whose proud name, like that of the Royal Australian Navy,as well as all of Her Majesty’s Australian Ships, are on the republicans’ long list of Australian names and symbols to be condemned to the scrap heap.
In the meantime, I have been taken to task for my comment that “Lang responded with the surprising decision to withdraw all money from the banks and hold it at the Trades Hall – in cash.” A reader says that I am “unnecessarily gilding the lily.” The reader asks for my authority, pointing out this is not the content of the NSW Government’s Circular of 12 April 1932 as described by Dr Evatt, in “The King & His Dominion Governors (2d ed), page 163.” I replied that according to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, which curiously questions the constitutionality of the Governor’s decision to dismiss Lang, he cleared the state’s bank accounts of their balances of one million pounds. He did not take a cheque – it was in cash. Where did he keep the cash? The citadel of Langism was the Trades Hall, and Answers .com and Wikiipedia say he kept it there. That seems likely – where else would he have kept it? Certainly not in his office. There is no mention of this in the summary of the circular in Dr. Evatt’s book, but the circular was a general one about keeping money away form The Commonwealth or the banks. The most extraordinary thing in the whole affair was withdrawing the cash.”
Another reader took me to task over the reference to the Balfour Declaration. I replied: “You raise the Balfour Declaration of 1917, concerning Palestine. I was referring to the Balfour Declaration of 1926 where, at an Imperial conference , it was affirmed that the then six Dominions -Canada, Australia, New Zealand , Newfoundland, Ireland and South Africa, and the United kingdom, were all autonomous and independent, but united in a common alleigance to the Crown. This preceded the Statute of Westminster, but in fact formally recorded what had already taken place.
I think you are right to describe the Depression as a cruel and austere time. But whatever one thinks of the morality of Jack Lang’s action, it was unrealistic. Not only the conservative UAP and the Country Party, but also the ALP condemned his action in refusing to pay the bondholders and removing all moneys from the State’s bank accounts and holding them at the Trades Hall. It was clearly illegal -the High Court had ruled that the Commonwealth’s garnishee to repay the interest the Commonwealth had paid was valid. The Governor was extremely patient but eventually, after several warnings, withdrew Lang’s commission. The electorate agreed.
Lang was expelled from the ALP and formed a new party, Lang Labor. He used to edit a newspaper, The Century, which contained forceful opinionated views reflecting his rather extraordinary personality. In later years he was befriended by Paul Keating, and not long before his demise was re-admitted to the ALP.
I know of no evidence that he was a republican, or opposed to membership of the Commonwealth. You may have noticed in the footage of the opening that the large flag flying near the official party was the Union Flag.
In fairness to the British, they were charged interest by the Americans, as they were in the Second World War.”