Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

“Lock up Holt, Throw away Ky”: The Visit to Australia of Prime Minister Ky, 1967

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2015), 109, (1), 55–74.

Abstract

Nguyen Cao Ky’s trip to Australia in January 1967 was politically contentious and morally ambiguous. It threw a sharp spotlight on the vast deployment of state resources by a democratic government to protect a representative of a military junta. This article analyses, for the first time, Ky’s visit. It will examine the circumstances, the preparations, and the reception, both officially and on the streets. It will also examine the elaborate security arrangements and their impact on the character and efficacy of the anti-Ky protest movement.

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Footnotes

1.It is outside the scope of this article to examine the bitter ructions within the Labor Party and, especially, between Calwell and Whitlam, over the anti-Ky demonstrations, or their role in the imminent leadership contest (Calwell retired on 8 February) between Whitlam and Dr Cairns. SeePhillip Deery, “Arthur’s Last Hurrah: Calwell, Whitlam and the Ky Visit to Australia,” Recorder: Official Organ of the Melbourne Branch of ASSLH, no. 283(July2015):1–3. Google Scholar

2.John Murphy, Harvest of Fear: A History of Australia’s Vietnam War(:Allen & Unwin, 1993), 211–13;Glen St John Barclay, A Very Small Insurance Policy: The Politics of Australian Involvement in Vietnam, 1954–1978(:University of Queensland Press, 1988), 150;Val Noone, Disturbing the War: Melbourne Catholics and Vietnam(:Spectrum, 1993), 140;Peter Edwards, A Nation at War: Australian Politics, Society and Diplomacy during the Vietnam War 1965–1975(:Allen & Unwin, 1997), 141–44. Google Scholar

3.Nguyen Cao Ky, Twenty Years and Twenty Days(:Stein & Day, 1976), 85–86;Peter Howson, The Howson Diaries: The Life of Politics(:Viking Press, 1984), 259–65;Nguyen Cao Ky withMartin J. Wolf, Buddha’s Child: My Fight to Save Vietnam(:St Martin’s Press, 2002), 275–77;Richard Woolcott, The Hot Seat: Reflections on Diplomacy from Stalin’s Death to the Bali Bombings(:HarperCollins, 2003), 78–81;Tom Frame, The Life and Death of Harold Holt(:Allen & Unwin, 2005), 190–91;Mary Elizabeth Calwell, I am Bound to be True: The Life and Legacy of Arthur A. Calwell(:Mosaic Press, 2012), 178. The role of anti-Ky Monash University students is briefly mentioned inPhilip Mendes, The New Left, the Jews and the Vietnam War 1965–1972(:Lazare, 1993), 26;Daniel Robins, “Melbourne Maoists: The Rise of the Monash University Labor Club 1965–1967”(Honours diss.,Victoria University, 2005), 37–38. Google Scholar

4.A. A. Calwell, Be Just and Fear Not(:Rigby, 1972);Michael Hyde, It is Right to Rebel(:Diplomat, 1972);Bernie Taft, Crossing the Party Line: Memoirs of Bernie Taft(:Scribe, 1994);Paul Strangio, Keeper of the Faith: A Biography of Jim Cairns(:Melbourne University Press, 2002);Joan Coxsedge, Cold Tea for Brandy: A Tale of Protest, Painting and Politics(:Vulcan Press, 2007). Google Scholar

5.SeePaul D. Williams, “Holt, Johnson and the 1966 Federal Election: A Question of Causality,” Australian Journal of Politics and History 47, no. 3(2001):366–83;Martin Brown, “Paintbombs away on LBJ: Student Protest and the Anti-Vietnam War Movement in Melbourne”(Honours diss.,Victoria University, 2011);James Curran, “Beyond the Euphoria: Lyndon Johnson in Australia and the Politics of the Cold War Alliance,” Journal of Cold War Studies 17, no. 1(2015):64–96. Google Scholar

7.Peter Samuel, “The Ky’s to Canberra,” Bulletin, 14 January1967. Google Scholar

8.Memorandum, “Possible Visit by Sihanouk to Australia,”20 September1966, A1838, 1516/1/307 Part 1, NAA. Google Scholar

10.G. A. Jockel, Assistant Secretary, DEA, toBorder, “Secret,”19 December1966, A1838, 3014/10/10/2, NAA. Google Scholar

12.Australian Embassy, Washington to DEA, 14 December 1966, A1838, 1516/1/307 Part 1, NAA; A1388, 3014/10/10/4 Part 1, NAA. The same concern about “Peaceniks” and “Vietniks” was expressed by the US Deputy Ambassador to South Vietnam, William Porter (standing in for Henry Cabot Lodge) in a 20 December meeting with Border: Border to DEA, 21 December 1966, p.2, A1838, 1516/1/307 Part 1, NAA. According to one newspaper report, the State Department had previously vetoed a proposal that Ky and his wife visit the USA for a series of speeches and a television appearance;Age, 24 December1966. Google Scholar

14.Ky, Twenty Years and Twenty Days, 86. He was undaunted by the prospect of protests against him in Australia:“They make me a little sad, but they do not worry me”;Daily Telegraph, 11 January1967. Google Scholar

15.Even the pro-war Asian correspondent, Denis Warner, believed that Holt had “erred” in invitingKy;Courier Mail, 27 December1967. Google Scholar

18.R. A. Woolcott, “Probable Visit of Marshall Ky to Australia,”23 December1966, A1838, 3014/10/10/2, NAA. In 1956, Ky undertook 79 hours of flying training in Queensland. At a press briefing Holt detailed the background and objectives of the visit; see the six-page“Visit to Australia by Prime Minister Ky,”11 January1967, A2880, 17/2/13, NAA. Google Scholar

19.Text of press briefing, 11 January1967, p.3, in A4940, C4493, NAA. See also Hasluck to Plimsoll, Secretary, DEA, 15 December 1966, A1388, 3014/10/10/2 Part 2, NAA. Cabinet did not discuss the visit until it reconvened on 10 January 1967; see Cabinet Minute Decision no. 11, Second Holt Ministry, Cabinet Decisions 1–350, A5840, vol. 1. Google Scholar

20.DEA to Australian Embassy, Saigon, 24 December1966, A1838, 1516/1/307 Part 1, NAA. TheCanberra Timesalso incorrectly reported that Cabinet had approved the visit “before Christmas”;Canberra Times, 10 January1967, 2. Google Scholar

21.Ky, Buddha’s Child, 276. Google Scholar

22.Woolcott, The Hot Seat, 78. Google Scholar

23.Interview withArthur Calwell byMel Pratt, 25–28 May1971, Mel Pratt Collection, ORAL TRC 121/7 (1:42), National Library of Australia (NLA). Google Scholar

24.DEA to Border, 18 January1967, A1838, 1516/1/307 Part 1, NAA. See, for example, Daily Mirroreditorials: “No Time for Junkets,” 28 December1966;“Cold Shoulder for Ky,”9 January1967;“Silent Raspberry,”10 January1967: “We don’t approve of Marshall Ky and we don’t want him here.” The diplomat, James Dunn, learned at “first hand” that editorial opposition to Ky’s visit in several papers had been “personally ordered by Sir John Williams”; Australian Embassy, Saigon, to DEA, 11 January 1967, A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 2, NAA. There is no clue in the brief biography of Williams, the managing director of theHerald & Weekly Times, to explain his behaviour;David Dunstan, “Williams, Sir John Francis, 1901–1982,” Australian Dictionary of Biography,National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, accessed September2015,http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/williams-sir-john-francis-15864/text27064. Google Scholar

25. Age, 24 December1966. In contrast, Border judged Ky “able and confident” although acknowledged that he was “flamboyant,” liked the limelight, and possibly saw the trip as assisting his political ambitions; Border to DEA, A1838, 3014/10/10/2, NAA. Google Scholar

26. Sydney Morning Herald(SMH), 27 December1966.The SydneyJewish News, 30 December1966, commended Calwell for his “timely and penetrating opinion” about this “unwelcome guest.” Google Scholar

27. Canberra Times, 16 January1967. Google Scholar

28. Sunday Mirror, 4 July1965. Google Scholar

29.See, for example, OZ Magazine, no. 32 (January1967). It also featured on placards carried at various demonstrations and on leaflets and flyers; see CICD Papers, 1979.0152, box 72, file 5/25, University of Melbourne Archives. Google Scholar

30. Canberra Times, 27 December1966. Google Scholar

31. Canberra Times, 28 December1966;Herald(Melbourne), 29 December1966;Calwell toHasluck, 29 December1966, A1838, 1516/1/307 Part 1, NAA. Google Scholar

32.Hasluck toPlimsoll, 30 December1966, ibid. Google Scholar

33.Hasluck toCalwell, 31 December1966, ibid. Google Scholar

34.Hasluck toPlimsoll, 30 December1966, ibid.In this period Holt, not Hasluck, took the lead as foreign affairs policy maker, especially concerning Asia. Hasluck, it seems, “was relegated almost to a back seat.”Alan Reid, “Further Asian Involvement,” Bulletin 89(21 January1967):5. Google Scholar

35.Border to DEA, 31 December1966, A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 1, NAA. Google Scholar

36. “Text of News Item from Saigon,”23 December1966; Border to DEA, 21 December 1966, A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 2, NAA. Google Scholar

37. DEA to Border, 19 December1966, cablegram 1802, A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 1, NAA. Google Scholar

38.Border to DEA, 11 January1967, ibid. Google Scholar

39.Border to DEA, 21 December1966, A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 2, NAA. Border consulted with Porter, US Deputy Ambassador to South Vietnam, who concurred. Google Scholar

41.Howson, Howson Diaries, 260. See, for example, the extensive program, routes, accommodation and transport arrangements just for Madam Ky: A463, 1967, 296, NAA. Google Scholar

42.Howson, Howson Diaries, 260. Google Scholar

43. “Ky’s Visit: Press Handling,”inward cablegram to DEA, 12 January1967, A4531, 221/4/1/1, NAA. Woolcott accompanied Ky throughout his Australian tour; he described it as a “delicate assignment”:Woolcott, Hot Seat, 78. Google Scholar

44.The following is based on Dunn to DEA, 17 January1967, A1838, 1516/1/307 Part 1, NAA, andWoolcott, “Impressions of Prime Minister Ky,”pp.1–3, 1 February1967, A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 2, NAA. See also“Questions Which Prime Minister Ky May Expect from the Australian Press,”no date, pp.1–3, A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 2, NAA; “Ky’s Visit: Press Handling,” outward cablegram to DEA, 12 January 1967, A4531, 221/4/1/1, NAA. Google Scholar

45.Woolcott, “Impressions of Prime Minister Ky,”p.1, 1 February1967, A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 2, NAA. Google Scholar

46.Dunn to DEA, 17 January1967, A1838, 1516/1/307 Part 1, NAA. This desire, to meet, present gifts to, and even dine with families of deceased soldiers, had been repeatedly expressed; see Australian Embassy, Saigon, to DEA, 31 December 1966, 2 January1967, A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 1, NAA. Google Scholar

47. “Visit by the Prime Minister of South Vietnam and Mrs Ky,”(8 January1967), A452, 1966/7097, NAA; Australian Embassy, Saigon, to DEA, 14 January 1967 and 16 January 1967, A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 1, NAA. The size of the official party was 14. The non-official “supporting staff,” which flew in a separate plane, was huge: it numbered 43, making a total of 57; A2880, 17/2/13, NAA. There were serious misgivings in both Saigon and Canberra about these numbers; see Border to DEA, 6 January 1967, 7 January 1967, 11 January 1967; DEA to Border, 11 January 1967, A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 1, NAA. Google Scholar

48. Courier Mail, 19 January1967. The plane was purchased from a private American company when Ky became Premier. According to Woolcott, the plane “reminded me of something out ofThe Arabian Nights”;Woolcott, Hot Seat, 80. Google Scholar

49. NT News, 17 January1967; ASIO Regional Director, NT to Headquarters, ASIO, 19 January 1967, A6122, 2631, folios 133–34, NAA. Google Scholar

50. “Ky should make visit in civilian dress,”DEA to Border, 30 December1966, A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 1, NAA. He was also not to be referred to as “Marshall” because of its military association. Google Scholar

51. SMH, 19 January1967. As theNT News, 18 January1967, correctly predicted, “There is not a shadow of doubt that Madam Ky, a striking beauty in face and figure, will be a centre of attraction in the South.” Indeed, pictures of her soon appeared on the front pages of all major newspapers and, according to theDaily Mirror, 20 January1967, she became“Australia’s pin-up girl.” News-Weekly, 25 January1967, claimed that she was a “weapon of feminine beauty.” Similarly, Holt told Ky that she was his “secret weapon, a very effective public weapon”;Herald, 23 January1967. In Melbourne, she revealed that she underwent an operation to give “her eyes a rounded western look” because“I wanted to be beautiful”;Age, 23 January1967. Google Scholar

52.Cited inGregory Pemberton, “Australia’s Road to Vietnam, 1945–1965,”inGregory Pemberton, ed., Vietnam Remembered(:Weldon, 1991), 37. Google Scholar

53.SeeAdam Scanlon, “The Australian-American Alliance: Holt, LBJ and the Vietnam War”(MA diss.,Victoria University, 2013), 74, 89. Google Scholar

54.See the six-page“Order of Arrangements for Arrival at RAAF Fairbairn,”A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 1,NAA. Google Scholar

56. Age, 19 January1967. Google Scholar

57.SeeCanberra Times, 19 January1967;SMH, 19 January1967. Google Scholar

58. Tribune, 10 January1967. Google Scholar

59.Reports in theAge, AustralianandCanberra Times, 19 January1967. For police reports and the full transcript of the subsequent court proceedings of those arrested, see A431, 1976/402, NAA. Google Scholar

61. Bulletin, 28 January1967. Google Scholar

62. Canberra Times, 19 January1967;SMH, 19 January1967. Google Scholar

64.P. J. Lawler toHolt, 17 January1967, “Possible Statement,”pp.1, 5, in A4960, C4493, NAA. Google Scholar

65.See Cabinet Minute, 17 January1967, Decision no. 50, “Demonstrations against Prime Minister Ky,”A5840, vol. 1, NAA. Google Scholar

66. SMH, 20 January1967;Canberra Times, 20 January1967. Google Scholar

67.See Cabinet Minute, 19 January 1967, Decision no. 49, “Summary Record of Meeting of Prime Minister Ky and His Party with the Cabinet,”A5840, vol. 1, NAA. This echoed his appraisal given to Johnson, General Westmoreland and US officials at the Manila conference in October 1966; see “Notes of Meeting,” Document 280, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Volume 4, Vietnam 1966,Office of the Historian, US Dept of State, accessed September 2015,https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v04/d280. Google Scholar

68. Canberra Times, 20 January1967, reported that Ky was “unhappy” at being kept “away from the Australian people.” Google Scholar

69.DEA inward cablegram, 19 January1967, A4531, 221/4/1/1, NAA; DEA outward cablegram, 24 January1967, A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 2, NAA. See, for example,“A Serious Young Man Proves He Has Charm,” SMH, 20 January1967;“Marshall Ky: The Urbane Visitor,” Canberra Times, 20 January1967. Surprisingly, Ky also attracted positive reactions, albeit grudgingly, from a Brisbane communist, Fanny Ryland, ASIO Report, “Secret,” no. 132/67, 26 January 1967, A6122, 2642, folio 59, NAA; Sam Goldbloom, a Melbourne peace activist close to the CPA, ASIO Intercept Report, A6122, 2641, folio 15, NAA; and Julie Dahlitz, from the Melbourne Anti-Ky Action Committee, ASIO Intercept Report, VIC. W441/3, 19 January 1967, VIC.W440/11, 19 January 1967, A6122, 2641, folio 83, NAA. Google Scholar

70. Athens Daily, 26 January1967, newspaper clipping in A1838, 3014/10/10/4 Part 2, NAA. Google Scholar

71. Australian, 20 January1967. Google Scholar

72. SMH, 20 January1967;Canberra Times, 20 January1967. Google Scholar

73.ASIO Intercept Report, NSW/W.422/198, 19 January1967, A6122, 2631, NAA. Google Scholar

74. Sun, 25 January1967. Google Scholar

75.See“No. 9 Situation Report,”20 January1967, A6122, 2631, folios 122–25, NAA. Before he departed, ASIO monitored Stein’s movements and conversations via phone bugging; see Intercept Reports, NSW/W.422/200, 23 January 1967, A6122, 2641, folio 141, NAA; NSW/W.422/224, 23 January 1967, A6122, 2642, folio 48, NAA; NSW/W.422/228, 24 January 1967, A6122, 2642, folio 62, NAA. Google Scholar

76.For example,“The Unwanted American,” Farrago, 31 March1967. Google Scholar

77.SeePeter A. Thompson andRobert Macklin, The Battle of Brisbane: Australians and Yanks at War(:ABC Books, 2000). Google Scholar

78. Courier Mail, 20 January1967. Google Scholar

80. Ibid. Google Scholar

81. Courier Mail, 20 January1967. Google Scholar

82.See front-page reports in theAustralian, Courier Mail, SMHandSun, 21 January1967. See also“Queensland Police Terror,” National U, 1 March1967;“Police Bash, Kick Woman,” Tribune, 25 January1967; and the press statement detailing police brutality, 25 January 1967, issued by Jack Egerton on behalf of the Queensland Trades and Labour Council (TLC) in A6122, 2642, folios 91–92, NAA. A subsequent meeting of the TLC, which was devoted to the event, condemned “agents of the Security Police [being] inside the trade unions themselves”; such an “agent” was present at that meeting. See ASIO Report, no. 137/67, 31 January 1967, A6122, 2642, folios 67–69, NAA. Google Scholar

83. “Visit to Brisbane of Prime Minister Ky,”ASIO Report, 65/11/117,K. A. Donovan, Regional Director, Queensland, to Headquarters, ASIO, 23 January 1967, A6122, 2631, folio 144, NAA. Google Scholar

84.Intercept Report, 21 January 1967, Q.W443/15, A6122, 2641, folio 98, NAA. See also“Police Methods: A Weapon against Government Critics?” Newsletter(Queensland Peace Committee), 6 February1967, in A6122, 2642, folio 118, NAA. Google Scholar

86.ASIO Report, no. 132/67, 26 January 1967, A6122, 2642, folios 60–61, NAA. The ASIO informant noted that “No member had the answer as to why the Eureka Youth League or the younger CPA members had failed to demonstrate”;ibid., folio 59. Google Scholar

87. Sun-Herald, 22 January1967; aboard the launch was NSW Premier Robin Askin who, in an unprecedented offer, pledged State government foreign aid to Saigon. Google Scholar

88. Ibid. Google Scholar

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90. Tribune, 25 January1967. Google Scholar

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95.“No. 8 Situation Report,” ibid., folio 79. Google Scholar

96.See, for example, the four-page report, derived from “extremely delicate (and irreplaceable) sources,” summarising CPA activity regarding Ky’s visit and sent by Spry to Holt, 12 January 1967, NAA A6122, 2628, folios 86–89. Operation “Shiver” involved the continuous observation of CPA headquarters, generally from 6am to 10pm: Deputy Director General, NSW Operations, to ASIO Headquarters, 12 January1967, A6122, 2628, folio 42, NAA. Google Scholar

97.Cited inBeverley Symons andRowan Cahill, eds, A Turbulent Decade: Social Protest Movements and the Labour Movement, 1965–1975(:Sydney Branch, Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, 2005), 7. Google Scholar

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99.Intercept Report, NSW/W.446/1, 16 January1967, ibid., folio 129. Google Scholar

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112.A previously sceptical clergyman described how he was “deeply stirred” by Calwell’s speech: “one of the finest bursts of oratory I have yet heard from a politician”; Rev.A. J. Lloyd to editor, Australian, 3 February1967. Google Scholar

113.The “protective measures” put in place at Portsea were extraordinary; see Minute, “Secret,” 17 January1967, A6122, 2630, folios 82–84, NAA. Google Scholar

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120.Memorandum, no. 91/67, 19 January1967, A6122, 2631, folio 53, NAA. Moral judgments were not uncommon: Scanlon was described as having “a general unwashed appearance”; Memorandum, no. 189/67, 11 January 1967, A6122, 2642, folio 94, NAA. Google Scholar

121.Intercept Report, VIC.W431/113, 12 January1967, A6122, 2641, folio 4, NAA. Google Scholar

122.Correspondence, Dave Nadel to author, 7 April2015. Google Scholar

123.Edwards, A Nation at War, 143. Google Scholar

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Author details

Deery, Phillip