Wednesday, November 9, 2016


The unexpected  discovery in Townsville  of  a  dramatic  novel  about a  supposed Japanese spy (who turned out to be a  German )   aboard  a  Royal Australian Navy  vessel  operating out of  Darwin in WWll  has  thrown  light  on   the  prolific  output of  the  late  British  journalist  and pulp fiction writer, Gene Janes . Entitled  Traitor  Aboard , the book , first published  in  1967, was  written  under  one  of  his  noms-de-plume , Owen Gibson.
By  Peter  Simon
The  story opens  with a member of Naval Intelligence  under the guise of a  war correspondent , suspiciously discovered  not to be a member of the  Australian Journalists' Association , arriving  in  steamy  Darwin and  boarding  the naval ship  in  a   bid  to  uncover  the  traitor . The  skipper  likes  to  tipple .
In real  life , Gene  Janes , in Queensland at the time ,  was   attracted  to Darwin   through his  admiration for the  crusading  editor of  the Northern Territory News , Jim  Bowditch.
 Janes  , with  literary  ambitions, encouraged by his mother,   had  worked  as  an  office  boy  in  the BBC, London , selling  the  Daily  Worker  on the side . He  applied   for  a  position in the Talks Department  at the  BBC which was  run  by  Kim  Philby , one of  the  Cambridge Spy Ring , who   later  defected  to  Russia.
Philby  told  Gene he might be another  Shakespeare, but he was  too  young .
Gene  told me  in  Darwin  that   British Intelligence should have   twigged  that Philby   was  sympathetic  to  Russia  as  he wore  a  Russian badge on  his  lapel .
During WWll  Gene  served in the  navy  and  said  that while  squinting into the sun  in the Mediterranean he shot  down  a  friendly plane  with a Bofors  gun , the  pilot surviving .
Rapidly reading Traitor  Aboard , I  smiled    at  Gene's    detailed  description of the  Tribal class destroyer's  armament. Close range weapons included Oerlikons  and  the  quad  Bofor - the quick firing  40 mm  job  amidships , a popular  gun  that  had  superseded  the  "Chicago  piano"- the multiple pom-pom.  
After the war, aged 22, Gene came to Australia and worked  at the Garden Island  dockyard ,wrote  short  stories  and radio scripts , mixed with actors and artists He met his  English wife , Muriel  ,who came  to Australia on a holiday .  
Between the l950-1960s period , he  wrote many pulp fiction  books .The Calvert  Publishing  Company  described him  as one  its most popular authors who wrote  commissioned  stories with army, navy and air force  settings, a detective series  , one about  death in a nudist  camp , even romance stories , written under his wife's name . Science  fiction  also interested  him . One of his   books  about   the  Z Force  was made into a movie . Novelist  Ruth Park backed   his  application for a grant to write a  novel about Cyclone Tracy .
At one stage , Gene worked in  a Torres Strait  lighthouse and  in  a row got a  can of red paint and splashed it  down the  white side of the building .  Over  radio and  in newspapers  , he  became aware  of  this  audacious , crusading editor in Darwin .   Muriel   told  Gene  this Jim Bowditch sounded like an editor  he would like  working  for . So  Gene  applied  for  a  job  on the NT News .
What transpired when  Gene and his  family and the pet dog  arrived in Darwin  to  find the entire newspaper staff  on strike over the replacement of  Bowditch  as editor  was covered  previously  in  this  blog's biography of "Big Jim " Bowditch .