The Truth of the Palace Letters: Deceit, Ambush and Dismissal in 1975
Melbourne University Press, $29.99 pb, 272 pp
The Palace Letters: The Queen, the Governor-general, and the Plot to Dismiss Gough Whitlam
Scribe, $32.99 pb, 281 pp
In April 2011, the landmark High Court victory of four elderly Kenyans revealed a dark episode in British colonial history. Between 1952 and 1960, barbaric practices, including forced removal and torture, were widely employed against ‘Mau Mau’ rebels, real or imagined. Upon the granting of independence in 1963, thousands of files documenting such atrocities were ‘retained’ by the British authorities, eventually coming to rest in the vast, secret Foreign and Commonwealth Office archives at Hanslope Park. Now a small portion of that archive was opened to scrutiny, and a tiny ray of light shone on one of history’s greatest cover-ups.
The late twentieth-century retreat of empire posed a global challenge – what to do with the paper trail. Australian officials, rushing to grant the territories of Papua and New Guinea independence in 1975, considered moving a large swath of files from Port Moresby to Canberra. This cover-up was only avoided by the intervention of a diligent Australian archivist, Nancy Lutton, who judged that a new nation ought to inherit its history. A similar passion for ownership of the national narrative animated Jenny Hocking, Emeritus Professor of History at Monash University, to undertake her own legal battle to access files locked away by royal order and bureaucratic culpability.