Tuesday, October 23, 2012


THE DEVANNY FAMILY soon became almost household names in Sydney after their arrival from New Zealand in 1929 at the start of the Depression, with its attendant large scale unemployment , evictions, demonstrations , arrests . Jean, of course , was already known as the author of the banned novel , The Butcher Shop , which highlighted sexual oppression in marriage and had sold well in Britain . She , long before Germaine Greer, spoke about  sexual matters, birth control and the plight of women at the open air debating arena , the Domain, and other meetings. Hal , like a duck to water, became involved in union matters and was made publisher of the Workers’ Weekly where son and daughter Karl and Patricia worked for a time in the printery .
By Peter Simon
At one stage , in 1930 ,  all four members of the family were in prison at the same time. This was hailed as something of a record, a badge of honour in the revolutionary struggle . Hal, Jean and son Karl were arrested for engaging in an illegal procession  and all three served short jail sentences. Patricia, having joined the Young Communist League, was arrested and sentenced to fourteen days in prison for  participating in an unauthorised demonstration. While in  Long  Bay prison  Pat and several other women participated in a hunger strike to support the "Clovelly boys," who had been imprisoned for arson after they burned the house of  a landlord who evicted an unemployed family.

During a large demonstration copies of what were said to be a magazine called , War! What For?, were circulated by the Movement Against War and Fascism. This title , a slight variant of War-What For ? , the above title of the book by George Ross  Kirkpatrick (1867–1937) , an American anti-militarist writer and political activist , a copy of which  had belonged to the Australian activist/ politician , Harry Holland ,with whom Devanny associated in NZ.  Kirkpatrick had been the 1916 vice presidential nominee of  the Socialist Party of America. [ See Little Darwin post JEAN DEVANNY’S HECTIC EARLY NZ  LIFE , #2]

Jean and Hal absolved each other from their marital ties while still living in the same house. Both mother and daughter made separate trips to RussiaIn 1931,Pat was sent to a  communist international school in Moscow, where she studied Marxist-Leninist  theory.  Patricia is also said  to have studied music under Lenin’s widow, the incredibly brave and energetic , Nadezhda  Krupskaya, teacher, feminist writer, noted speaker, who opposed her husband  being embalmed and  put on display in the  Red Square , and a strong opponent of Stalin . ( After Krupskaya died in l939, incredibly, a  Russian chocolate was named  after her and is still sold today - after a recent capitalist makeover helped it  fight off  competition from companies like Nestle.) After returning to Australia in 1933, Pat  became national secretary of  the Young Communist League.

 A report in  Perth’s Daily News in September 1931 said, the New Zealand authoress , Jean Devanny , was travelling to Europe on a German steamer which had reached Fremantle. Mrs Devanny , it continued , was known as a vigorous and extremely realistic writer. Her outstanding book, The Butcher Shop, had been widely criticised for its outspokenness. Other of her books  which had  achieved popularity were The River and Bushman Burke. During the vessel's stay in port, Mrs Devanny would be the guest of Mrs Hugo Throssell – the Communist journalist and author, Katharine Susannah Prichard - at Greenmount. [ Throssell, a war hero, had received the Victoria Cross , committed suicide while his wife was  in Russia . ]At the time of her stopover in WA , Devanny was on her way to the World Congress of Workers’ International Relief, Berlin , delegates from which toured Soviet Central Asia .

Tragedy struck the Devanny family in September 1934 when Karl ,23, collapsed and died , the second offspring to die , daughter Erin taken by peritonitis in NZ.


Soon after , when the Australian government stopped Czechoslovakian journalist / author Egon Kisch from entering the country as a delegate from the International Peace Committee , Paris , to the 1935 Melbourne Congress Against War and Fascism , Jean Devanny became deeply involved, along with many prominent people, including Rupert Murdoch’s liberal minded uncle, Professor Walter Murdoch , subject of an earlier Little Darwin post in relation to his enlightened essays which were published as  newspaper articles by Keith Murdoch , Rupert’s father, in the Melbourne Herald, and in book form.

Kisch , a much travelled Jew , had written 22 books with titles such as Secret China, Changing Asia and The American Paradise , the latter predicting a major economic crash was coming in that country . A resident of Germany , he had   been  one of the intellectuals arrested and thrown into prison  by  Hitler’s regime, his books banned. Described as one of the most famous journalists in pre-war Austria , Kisch wrote a scholarly study , Classical Journalism, and spoke eight languages.

When Kisch arrived aboard the Strathaird at Fremantle on November 6 ,l934 , he was not allowed to land   and  subsequently was  subjected to a dictation  test in Scottish Gaelic , which he failed, and was told he would be deported. Professor Murdoch , of  Perth University , was one who spoke out about the government’s extraordinary action . Three days earlier , a  NZ unionist delegate to the same peace conference, Gerald Griffin, known to Jean Devanny , had been banned from entering Australia and sent packing back across the Tasman because he failed a test in Dutch. He simply returned on another ship with a different passport and added a new dimension to the bizarre situation as he flitted about the country making public speeches , dodging police .

Kisch’s case, a cause celebre, received extensive newspaper coverage . When the ship reached Melbourne there was a flurry of activity .Unable to come ashore , he  jumped from the vessel as it prepared to sail to Sydney with him aboard , and broke a leg. The High Court eventually ruled that Gaelic was not a European language and quashed Kisch’s conviction as a prohibited immigrant . He was allowed to enter the nation and addressed rallies. At one large gathering  , Jean Devanny delivered a moving  speech ,  during which Kisch cried ,and at the end of her oration she went over and kissed him. The elusive Kiwi delegate Gerald Griffin also spoke .


The Jean Devanny papers in the Special Collections at James Cook University library contain references to Kisch , his style of reportage , and how he had urged her and others to set up a League of Writers in Sydney , a branch of which later formed in Melbourne. The preliminary meeting had involved Kisch, Devanny, Katharine Susannah Prichard, journalist and  poet Bartlett Adamson and editor ,critic , Les Woollacott ( mentioned in the recent Little Darwin series about John Ashe , the Australian composer , singer , of Townsville),Tom Fitzgerald and probably Robert Southern and Leon BattDevanny was elected its president.

 Years  later, Rod Adamson, son of Bartlett Adamson, working in the film industry in Czechoslovakia , sent Jean a letter saying he had spent a wonderful  evening with Egon Kisch in Prague.  Kisch, he wrote, had been  very interesting to talk to and had a great sense of humour. Egon admired Australia very much and loved " swearing like an Australian. " Egon sent greetings to all.


About 1970, I attended a large Sydney auction of Australiana said to have belonged to Professor George Mackaness , historian, teacher, author, an avid collector , who wrote about book collecting and produced many Australian historical monographs . It was an interesting offering of books and ephemera , some in bundles ; my buys included two half leather bound volumes of the 1886 Picturesque Atlas of Australasia ( blown away  in Cyclone Tracy)  and a worn copy of the 1936 book  ON THE PACIFIC FRONT  The Adventures of Egon Kisch in Australia, by Julian Smith.

A pencil annotation claimed Julian Smith was actually the controversial Rhodes Scholar, author, publisher , Percy “Inky”Stephenson, responsible for the publication of Xavier Herbert’s , Capricornia , involved in the publication, through Mandrake Press, of an illegal, unexpurgated edition of  D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Stephenson , a powerful speaker and polemical writer, had crossed swords with many in London and Australia , verbally and in print. He unleashed a withering  broadside against the Sydney Telegraph in particular and many other journalists in the process , especially those who did book reviews , when it dared  ridicule Capricornia, which won the 1938 Sesquicentenary Prize

 However, it  has  also been firmly  claimed that the respected economics journalist , Tom Fitzgerald , working on the life of wartime Prime Minister , John Curtin, when he  died , had  been  the  author of  the  book.

Research revealed that Mackaness , a member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers , in which Jean Devanny was a major player , had been at loggerheads with Stephenson during the Kisch affair , especially for him (Inky) inviting Kisch to a FAW luncheon at which British Poet Laureate , John Masefield, was the guest speaker. At that function, attended by 500 , the Press had  been more interested in Kisch than the eminent poet.
The book contained other pencilled entries : P9, author Bartlett Adamson is branded an arch Commo! Then , beneath the captions for two photographs , the bottom one showing , Max Meldrum, Vance Palmer , Egon Kisch , Katharine Prichard and the elusive Kiwi peace delegate  Gerald Griffin , is : Commos all!


"Julian Smith" certainly used   a writing  style similar to that of  Stephenson . The Australian government was mocked , especially the Attorny-General, Robert Menzies, referred to   as Signor Menzolini, a play on the Italian Fascist , Mussolini .

The Kisch affair  inspired  numerous poems , some of which were included in the book, one headed THE NO-BALLING OF THE  GAELIC appeared in The Bulletin . A clever piece by Adam McCay of the Sydney Telegraph was inspired by a report that John Masefield, back in England , said his impressions of  Australia had not yet enabled him to write an Australian poem. So McCay wrote a parody of  Masefield’s famous poem, Sea Fever.

I must go down to the Wentworth (hotel),

To the writing lads and the lunch ,

To the fish course and kisch course ,

Where the authors mouth and munch

The ham beneath the lettuce , and the waiters walking,

And the slow word , and the dull word , and Mackaness talking

I must go down to the Wentworth,

To the Fellowship and the fray ,

Where White wouldn’t and (Billy )Hughes couldn’t

And Stevens kept away ;

And all I ask is the woeful yarn of a Czechoslovak rover

And his quiet grin and his deep sigh when the Gaelic test’s over .

The Kitsch affair exposed sections of the Australian way of life to scrutiny and criticism . It caused a revolt in branches of the Australian Journalists’ Association when a proposal that  there be a protest vote against the government over Kisch’s treatment was disallowed by the president . The Journalist subsequently ran the first Kisch story translated in Australia , a newspaper anecdote entitled The Pensioned–off Leader Writer. In a whimsical  twist,   Kisch was greeted by Gaelic pipers on a visit to Kurri Kurri , the bandmaster giving instructions in Gaelic .

The controversial  Communist journalist/ author , Wilfred Burchett, wrote that he had  been involved in the Kisch  affair  and  this  had  influenced  his  future  career. Burchett later  encountered   Kisch in Prague  after it had  been liberated from the Germans.

 Whoever the  author of  the book was , he did not  pull any  punches,  tackled fascist groups in Australia, had a  go at several prominent politicians and members of the legal profession. In a chapter headed KISCH AND THE JEWS , he charged that there had been a burst of anti -Semitism called forth from the Sydney Bulletin. The publication , he said , had called Kisch all kinds of a Jew and all kinds of  a Communist . In its bellicosity it had implied that Peace  was both a Bolshevik plot and a Jewish conspiracy.

Near the  end of  the book, it was  suggested Australia should send an ambassador of peace to Europe to reciprocate Kisch’s mission . There were many thinkers, writers, journalists, poets, artists and scientists in Australia who could carry out such a task with credit to themselves and to the  people of this country. There was   an extensive two page list of  those who came to mind , including Jean Devanny , described as an author, orator and critic , Professor Walter Murdoch , Katharine Susannah Prichard, a novelist and strenuous anti-war propagandist, Bartlett Adamson and L.L. Woollacott.

At the time, the Kisch  affair  received coverage in the Darwin  press , one story  saying he planned to address   the  Fellowship of Australian  Writers on  the working conditions of  European authors. He was also  working  on  a book  to be entitled  The Jump to Australia . This , however , evolved into  Australian  Landfall  .


Following the above post, a Little Darwin reader drew our attention to the fact that in 2007, Tasmanian poet ,Tim Thorne , issued a book entitled A Letter to Egon Kisch . At the time , Radio National Book Show poetry reviewer, Geoff Page, praised the work thus ... "In this new livre composé, Tim Thorne establishes the convention of bringing Kisch up to speed about what's been happening in our great country lately -- Kisch himself having died in Czechoslovakia in 1948. Although the book has many precedents, Juvenal's Satires and Byron's Don Juan among them, A Letter to Egon Kisch is without parallel in Australian poetry at the moment. It's a full-on, denunciatory political/cultural satire with no holds barred, as savage on the Labor Party as it is on the Liberals -- lamenting (as did Juvenal) how much everything (and I mean everything) in the poet's country has deteriorated in recent years..." ( It is a  great piece which can be viewed on  the Australian  Poetry Library  website )

NEXT : Devanny’s interest in the NT, involvement with Territory identities  and Aboriginal “ slave labour” on cattle stations.