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range weapons included Oerlikons and the quad Bofor - the quick firing 40 mm job amidships , a popular gun that had superseded the "Chicago piano"- the multiple pom-pom.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 .