Immigrants and Spies: My father, my memories by Barbara Mackay-Cruise

This beautifully written book, Immigrants and Spies: My Father, my memories, tells the story of a remarkable man, Noel W. Lamidey, who not only headed up one of Australia’s first immigration schemes after the WWII, but his role in the formation of ASIO as well. Told through the eyes of his youngest daughter, Barbara or Boo, it’s also the story of Australia post-World War One and Two and the role mainly white immigrants from the British colonies played in shaping what we are today.

Starting in the 1930s in Canberra, before seguing back in time and moving forward again (and taking us from England to Tasmania, Melbourne and the nation’s capital), this memoir also takes the reader on a journey through the post-Federation Australia, the Depression and then onto London and Europe and its rebuilding after the horrors of the Second World War.

While I loved reading about Barbara’s idyllic Australian childhood, her memories of school the neighbourhood, the apparent simplicity of life in then agrarian Canberra, and the loving close-knit family of which she was a part, the food they ate, the hobbies she engaged in, as well as meeting characters from Australia’s political and cultural history, I found the parts set in London and the politicking behind funding and organising the mass immigration (of almost all white folk) – and too many young children – to Australian shores from Britain and other colonial outposts, not only riveting, but relevant to today as well.

There’s no doubt, despite battling contrary personalities of different political persuasion, Noel Lamidey was a man with compassion and keen to do his job well. Certainly, from his daughter’s perspective and what his letters (parts of which are reprinted in the book) indicate, he was a man with a great deal of humanity who didn’t see the hundreds of thousands of displaced, broken, fearful people as a problem so much as a great potential which Australia could mutually benefit from.

Experiencing and witnessing first-hand the devastation of returning soldiers (British) who found the promised welcome and new life back “home” a shibboleth, seeing the terrible misery of the survivors of the Holocaust and the Nazi regime, Lamidey knew Australia was a solution. The only problem was, that while the English and Australian press basically produced propaganda to keep migrants keen and willing to uproot themselves for the promise of a new and better life, the reality was often very different.

Italian immigrants arriving by ship

Not only were the waves of migrants from the northern hemisphere unable to be accommodated in adequate housing in Australia, instead being put in internment camps where they were segregated by sex – including established families, but they were often met with contempt by Australians who feared their jobs would be taken. Rather than being regarded as “New Australians”, these migrants were quickly reminded they were “wogs, dagos, huns and pommy bastards” and made to feel unwelcome. Not by all, but enough for many to give up after a short time and return home. Not surprising when the promised housing was a freezing or boiling hut enclosed behind wire and shared with other men or women and you couldn’t see your loved ones. Sympathy was in short supply for those who “gave up” or complained and they were swiftly referred to as “whinging poms.”

Distressed by this situation, Lamidey would lament if only those so far away could see the conditions these immigrants had survived and wished to escape – then maybe, just maybe, compassion would be offered instead of name-calling; understanding that they felt let down instead of assuming ingratitude.

Despite all this, the book is neither sentimental nor judgemental, after all, this is, as the subtitle suggests, one woman’s memories – about her father, about life throughout these turbulent, remarkable years where, because of immigrants, the face of Australia would be forever changed and for the better. It might be easy to read this and feel uncomfortable with how obviously racially and culturally biased the immigration scheme was – but that was a fact – one upheld by the “White Australia policy” which wasn’t disbanded until the 1970s. But we mustn’t shy away from what was a part of our history, even if it was colour-blind.

As I read, I couldn’t help but compare much of what unfolded with what is happening today as our world is once again being torn apart by war – affecting people deeply and tragically; displacing them, rendering them not only homeless, but nation-less as well. And what do we do?

In one of his unpublished books held in the national archives, Aliens Control in Australia, and from which Barbara quotes, Lamidey makes this observation: “When passions are let loose by war it happens all too often that foreigners whether or not of enemy origin, and even locally born persons bearing foreign names, become the object of denunciation and persecution.”

He could have been writing about today.  Plus ca?change

Noel Lamiday and his wife, Lillian

Exploring a particular slice of history and from an unapologetically narrow perspective, this is a fascinating and gorgeously told story that I couldn’t put down. The last ten pages are interviews with a few prominent Australian immigrants and their stories – and they resonated.

Like many people, I too come from an immigrant family – one side of my family escaped the Holocaust (and later, my mother came from Israel to start a new life here and give us one), and my other side came out from Ireland and Scotland. Likewise, Lamidey brought his new wife to Australia from England after serving in WWI, raising his family here before taking them to England as work dictated. His efforts and contributions, coloured by his mainly positive experiences as a migrant, made him determined to offer the same to others. Not always successful, he never stopped trying.

A terrific and, in the end, very positive book that will appeal to those interested in Australian and British history, politics, enjoy a well-written memoir, or just want to learn what it might have been like for their ancestors – the machinations behind their relatives/family’s decision to cross to the other side of the world.

There’s no doubt, Lamidey was a champion in his daughter’s eyes and, I suspect, he will be in many others’ as well.



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King Charles II by Antonia Fraser

imgres-1It is a literary accomplishment to write a detailed and well-researched biography so that it reads like a rollicking piece of great fiction. Antonia Fraser’s, King Charles II is, like her other fabulous historical non-fiction works, such a book. In this wonderful and erudite tome, she tells the tale of a monarch who, against a backdrop of religious, political and cultural upheaval, dissent and change, rises above the conditions of his early childhood and the untimely and savage death of his father, Charles I, and consequent exile, to restore the monarchy and an uneasy peace to England.

Known as the “merry monarch” (among other less favourable appellations) and for being lazy, lustful, debauched, dissolute and inclined to petticoat government, Fraser presents a different picture of this rather marvellous and fascinating king. Born to loving parents, Charles was given all that a young royal should be: a good education, belief in himself and his family, an understanding of the important role he was set to inherit, and an awareness of the religion he must adopt as his own: the Anglicanism of his father as opposed to the Catholicism of his mother.

Protected from much of what was occurring in the realm and beyond its borders, the execution of his father was a shock. First challenging Oliver Cromwell and his troops, Charles is later forced to flee England. His unbelievable flight (Fraser describes this period of his life wonderfully, claiming the truth is better than much of the fiction – she is right) allows for the rise and ultimate rule of the Protector, Cromwell and the period known as the Interregnum. Homeless and dependent on the grudging charity of his Scottish vassals as well as various rulers across the continent for many years and the loyalty of committed (if few) royalists, Charles, as Fraser argues, could not help but be affected both by what he endured (poverty, dependence, hunger, pain) and witnessed in the lives of others. These experiences would remain with him for the rest of his life.

Restored to the English throne in 1660 and returning by invitation of the Parliament that was only recently the enemy of the monarchy, Charles determines to be an arbitrator. For all the goodwill and gratitude Charles has, the return of the king also inspires opposition. Describing the rise of the Whigs and the development of the Tories, Fraser paints a picture of a city (London) and of a country slowly tearing itself apart with political and religious discord and suspicion and a monarch seemingly helpless to prevent it. Only, as the author acknowledges, he isn’t helpless at all. Learning from his mistakes, Charles uses whatever in his power to delay what he feels are poor decisions or the pressure of the Commons. Proroguing parliament many, many times, he manages (mostly, but not always) to avoid catastrophic results; procrastinating (like Queen Elizabeth First) becomes a strategy to exert benign control, a practising of what Fraser terms “negative capability”. It is a stroke of brilliance that allows Charles II to have his way without accusations of absolutism sticking.

Weathering the storms of anti-Catholic sentiment and various plots and accusations against the throne, particularly those delivered towards his immediate family, lovers, and favoured retainers, as well as enormous debt and an inability to repay it, Charles II also had a reputation as a seeker of pleasure and an irreverent ladies man. The father of his people, he was also father to 12 illegitimate children from different women – nobles, actresses, and gentry. In fact, the only woman with whom he had a long relationship and who did not produce a child was his wife, Catherine of Braganza – a tolerant and devout woman who stood by Charles even after his death.

A good, interested father, and a well-regarded lover, Fraser argues that far from using women, Charles II adored and respected them. Allowing women on stage for the first time in English history, and encouraging female playwrights such as Aphra Behn, women, according to Fraser, held a better position in the seventeenth century than they did in the nineteenth. But it wasn’t only women who piqued his insatiable interest, Charles also supported science, music, landscaping, building and, importantly, was the monarch who ruled throughout the Plague that decimated a quarter of London’s population in 1665, and earned the undying admiration of his people when he fought side by side with them during the Great Fire of 1666.

There was much to esteem about Charles II and, if it hadn’t been for his wheelings and dealings with his cousin, Louis XIV, from whom he was promised money ensuring he wasn’t dependent on parliament for the same, his record (disregarding morality) as a tolerant (he tried to introduce Bills to allow religious toleration, but such was the anti-papist sentiment in the country, the Commons and Lords wouldn’t pass it) would have been relatively unblemished. Relatively.

Certainly, the popularity of the king rose and fell according to various goings-on at home and abroad – war with the Dutch, religious persecution, accusations levelled against his brother and queen and the choler and sustained antagonism levelled against him by figures such as Shaftesbury who could stir up both the gentry and the masses.

Overall, however, Fraser tries (and succeeds) in persuading us that far from being a “merry” monarch, Charles II was melancholy, “cynical and dissimulating”. He was simply able to hide it well and present, especially in the first decades of his reign, a contented, “lazy” face. But she also describes him as “witty and kind, grateful, generous, tolerant, and essentially lovable, he was rightly mourned by his people…”

Beautifully written, impeccably researched, peppered with quotes from dramatists and poets of the age, as well as from Charles II himself and those nearest and dearest to him (such as his wife and his mistresses like Nelly Gwyn), we are given insights into the man “born the divided world to reconcile,” this is a book and life that is difficult to tear yourself away from.

For lovers of British history or just history; for those wanting an insight into the tumultuous Seventeenth Century and an oft misunderstood but charismatic ruler who formed a bridge between the Interregnum and the events leading to James II’s fall, as well as those that changed the world (from colonial expansion, trade and the beginnings of factories, never mind religious division and dissent), this is a terrific book by a marvellous historian and writer.


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