How many people do you know…

…who have ASIO files on them? I have known some, and a program coming up on Tuesday on SBS could add to that total. “In each episode of this new Walkley-nominated series, a ‘person of interest’ is given their previously secret ASIO intelligence file and asked to explain the allegations contained in it.”

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A young David Stratton visits the Soviet embassy in Canberra, blissfully unaware that Australia’s spy service is watching and snapping a photo.

Stratton is not and never has been an enemy of the state. Today he is the 74-year-old acclaimed film critic who co-hosts the ABC’s At The Movies with Margaret Pomeranz.

But on May 7, 1969, when the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation took its surveillance photo, he was a 29-year-old visiting the embassy for a visa to attend the Moscow Film Festival. He was director of the Sydney Film Festival, and that was reason enough for ASIO to open a file on him because the festival ran movies from the USSR and other exotic sources.

”But then, we also showed films from capitalist countries – from America and France and England and Japan,” Stratton recalls. ASIO’s interest in him, he suggests, was a ”staggering waste of time and nostalgiamoney”.

He is but one of many Australian ”persons of interest” to ASIO in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s who have since risen to prominence. Michael Kirby, future High Court judge, and Jim Bacon, future premier of Tasmania, were in its sights. So were the Reverend Ted Noffs, Dr Fred Hollows, writers Christina Stead and Christopher Koch, actors Peter Finch and Leonard Teale, poet Kenneth Slessor and painter Lloyd Rees.

Filmmaker Haydn Keenan has collected more than 100 hours of formerly secret ASIO surveillance footage, hundreds of its photos and thousands of documents during the production of a four-part documentary, Persons of Interest, which begins on SBS on Tuesday night.

So rich is this ”treasure chest”, he says, that the Stratton image is among many that did not make the final cut for the series, which focuses on four ASIO targets: novelist and outspoken communist Frank Hardy (a camera hidden in a briefcase snaps him greeting a Soviet poet at Sydney Airport); journalist Roger Milliss (whose father, Bruce, was secretly a Communist Party member while he was election manager for Labor PM Ben Chifley); 1960s Monash University activist Michael Hyde (who confirms students’ violent plots); and Aboriginal activist Gary Foley (who is alarmed to discover that he might have been suspected of plotting the assassination of a federal minister at the Channel Seven recording of Frost Over Australia)…

A must see, don’t you agree?

See Spies count the cost by Bridget McManus.

…Personal curiosity has so far not driven Keenan, who, in the 1960s, attended protests supporting the development of the Australian film industry, to inquire as to whether he has an ASIO file.

”I regarded myself as a humanist and, therefore, probably left of centre and leaning towards socialism, but the split between Mao and the society line of communists was pretty extreme. My theory now is that I don’t think we’ve heard the end of socialist humanism. We all have a dishwasher and two cars and four tellies and still people do not seem happy. Still, the split in Australia, where it shouldn’t be, between haves and have-nots, seems to increase. If there’s a class war, it’s been run by the right wing in Australia, and they’re winning.

”And yet, I started out thinking, ‘Oh ASIO, those buggers, the poor left’. As I went on, I started to move back towards ASIO, and I’ve ended up in the middle. I think we need an efficient professional intelligence service.”

Keenan hopes Persons of Interest will serve both as an account of systemic injustice and as a warning.

”It might be the history we could learn from. As [Justice] Michael Kirby says in the series, ‘A healthy scepticism never goes astray’.”

We are seeing it earlier than SBS planned. Rather a strange coincidence after my post yesterday – and not intended to detract in the slightest from the subject of the post – but we were meant to be seeing Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl, a follow-up to Once Upon a Time in Cabramatta, which was excellent. But:

Embarrassed SBS executives have announced they are pulling a new documentary from their schedules after it emerged one of the key figures in the program is reportedly a fraud.

Michael LaHoud, who stars in the production Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl, has claimed to have served a jail term of almost five years for armed robbery during which time he fathered three daughters in “conjugal visits”.

But court records reportedly show that the heavily tattooed LaHoud was in custody for just four days, while Middle Eastern crime experts reportedly have never heard of the so-called “gangster”…

Sucked in, apparently! In passing, put a big clothes peg on your nose and look at this bit of bile from an uber-Right source that I trust ASIO has a bloody thick file on! Now go and wash your hands! And watch this:

It was somehow fitting that episode 1 of series 7 of the beautifully made UK series Foyle’s War was on ABC1 last night.

Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks return for the first time since 2010 in three highly anticipated new episodes in Series VII of Foyle’s War. It’s 1946, and in the brewing Cold War climate of post-war Britain, Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen) and his loyal friend Sam (Honeysuckle Weeks) find themselves adjusting to a new era of secrets, intelligence, and security as the Iron Curtain descends and MI5 comes knocking.

For more benign and recent nostalgia at a local level see THEN & NOW: Growing up in the Illawarra and THEN & NOW: Living on the South Coast.

8 January

Persons of Interest did not disappoint. I was particularly interested as last night’s episode centred on Roger Millis, whose Serpent’s Tooth (1984) I had read with interest some years ago. On some of the matters that came up, see: