Neal Blewett reviews 'Evatt: A life' by John Murphy

John Murphy opens his magisterial study of Herbert Vere Evatt – the fourth major biography of the good doctor – with an essay on the challenge of writing biography in general, and of writing one on Evatt in particular. He prefaces this discussion with a short description of one fateful and illuminating incident late in Evatt’s political career. On the evening of 19 October 1955 in the House of Representatives, during a debate on the Petrov Royal Commission, Evatt, then leader of the federal ALP, stunned his followers and invited the derision of his opponents when he claimed that he had been in communication with Vyacheslav Molotov, Russian foreign minister and a Stalin henchman for thirty years, who had declared that disputed documents before the Commission were forgeries. The prime minister, Robert Menzies, who had feared a forensic dissection of the Commission Report, could not believe his luck: ‘The Lord hath delivered him into my hands.’

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Published in November 2016, no. 386

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