John Fahey

Slurring a good name: The pitfalls of careless scholarship

Martin Munz
Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Recently a large cockroach appeared on the reputation and memory of my late father, Hirsch Munz (HM), suggesting that he was the mastermind of a second Soviet spy ring, not exposed in the Petrov Affair, from the time he was placed in Australia by Soviet military intelligence in the late 1920s to the 1950s. Despite this slur, he was a good man: his Australian Dictionary of Biography entry outlines his contributions to Australian agricultural science and to English and Yiddish letters. My father having died in 1978, there is no legal recourse to counter this untrue, gratuitous, and defamatory speculation about him. Fortunately, a historian friend alerted me to these allegations in John Fahey’s book Traitors and Spies: Espionage and corruption in high places in Australia, 1901–50 (Allen & Unwin, 2020) before they were publicised in an illustrated article in the Melbourne Herald Sun, its companion podcast, and an interview on ABC Radio. I was therefore able to promptly deny the allegations in the next day’s edition of that paper.

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I am a great fan of archives, and so is John Fahey, a former officer of an Australian intelligence service (the Defence Signals Directorate) turned historian. His previous book, Australia’s First Spies (2018), covered the same time period (1901–50) but focused on the good guys (our spies) rather than the bad ones (their spies). His itemised list of Australian, British, and US archival files consulted runs to several pages. Most of these are the archives of intelligence agencies. And here’s the rub: intelligence files contain many names, but not necessarily the names of actual spies.

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