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‘DARK SECRETS: The True Story of Murder in HMAS Australia’ with – Robert Hadler
October 21, 2020 @ 6:00 am - 7:00 am
Zoom Webinar: Tuesday October 20, 2020 @ 7.00 pm to 8:00pm (Australian Eastern Standard Time)
A dark secret lurked aboard HMAS Australia, the flagship of the Royal Australian Navy.
This would prove to be one of the most controversial events in the history of the Royal Australian Navy and trigger unprecedented legal and political events.
In 1942, with a Japanese invasion on New Guinea looming, those aboard the ship were shocked and completely unprepared to deal with the brutal murder of a young sailor by two shipmates who were allegedly part of a homosexual group on the flagship.
A swift military investigation and court martial were conducted. The officers faced a difficult, almost impossible task. How were they to prove the guilt of sailors accused of murdering a shipmate without exposing the motive for the crime, which would unleash embarrassing propaganda onto the world for the enemy to exploit?
The RAN was placed under the operational control of the Royal Navy in 1939. This meant that Australian sailors, in Australian warships, even in home waters, were subject to British naval law during the war. This would have profound implications for the sailors who murdered Jack Riley. The death penalty only applied for treason under Australian military law. The death sentence applied for murder under British law.
The incident was a massive shock to the new Labor Government. It owned the RAN but it had no control over it. Even worse, the Labor Government was opposed to capital punishment but it could not overturn a death sentence without the agreement of the British Government. Unfortunately, Whitehall and the Admiralty were not keen to make an exception that may undermine naval discipline across the fleet. This led to a diplomatic standoff that would take Royal intervention to resolve.
The Labor Government was so angry about the situation that its Attorney General, Bert Evatt, decided to use the Australia incident to adopt the Statute of Westminster so Parliament could over-ride British law. However, the Conservative parties controlled the Senate and opposed adoption of the Statute during the war. It would be a bold gamble by Evatt that would make or break his political career.
The full details of the murder, the names of the sailors involved in an alleged homosexual group on the flagship and the dark motive for his murder have been buried for more than two generations in the National Archives. The ultimate fate of the sailors convicted of his murder has also been hidden for far too long. It is well past time that the full story of the three sailors and what happened on board Australia that dark night on the Coral Sea in 1942 and afterwards is finally told.
MHHV Members $5, General Public $10.
About the presenter
Robert Hadler is a former award-winning economics journalist and foreign correspondent who also worked in the Commonwealth public service, as a political advisor, for industry and lobby groups and as a senior executive in some of Australia’s biggest companies. Since 2015, Robert has been a Non-Executive Director on Government, private and not-for-profit Boards. His passion is writing about Australian history, and in particular controversial events that sparked military, legal and political challenges and triggered reforms that changed the future direction of the nation.