Ten Journeys to Cameron’s Farm: An Australian Tragedy, (ANU E Press, 2013) is a remarkable new book by Cameron Hazlehurst, an Adjunct Professor at the Australian National University.
On 13 August 1940 one of the RAAF’s newest aircraft, Lockheed Hudson A16-97, crashed mysteriously in rough farmland outside Canberra, killing all ten men on board.
The dead were three senior Cabinet ministers (Sir Harry Gullett, Jim Fairbairn, and Geoff Street), the Chief of the General Staff (Sir Brudenell White), White’s principal staff officer (Lt Col. Frank Thornthwaite), the Minister for Air’s private secretary (Dick Elford), the first pilot (Flt Lt Bob Hitchcock), the second pilot (P/O Dick Wiesener), and two airmen (Jack Palmer and Charlie Crosdale).
Inspired in part by Thornton Wilder’s classic novella The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Cameron Hazlehurst’s Ten Journeys to Cameron’s Farm tells the life stories of each of these men, how they came to be together on the fatal flight, what the RAAF and Australian government knew about how they came to die, and what the nation was told.
The lives are set in interwoven dimensions: political, military, social, technological. We see these worlds through ten very different sets of eyes; surprising and poignant connections between the men and their families are traced. The emotional devastation of ten widows, nine of them mothers, two of them bearing children, one of them giving birth in the hour of her husband’s death, forms a tragic coda.
Among the themes and threads of the story are the making of military and flying reputations, the glamour and dangers of aviation in the 1930s and the first year of WWII, caste and class in the Air Force social environment, tensions and intrigue in the senior ranks of the RAAF, and the roles of the Aviation Minister Jim Fairbairn and Army Minister Geoff Street in inter-war and early wartime defence planning, the expansion of the armed services, and the appointment of senior AIF and RAAF commanders.
The career of one of the nation’s greatest military men, Sir Brudenell White, is told over two chapters drawing on unpublished diaries and correspondence. White’s links with the secret counter-revolutionary forces of the 1930s are brought out of the shadows. Fresh light is also thrown on Robert Menzies’ rise to power and those who supported him during a critical phase of Australian wartime history.
At the heart of the book is the flight and crash of Lockheed Hudson A16-97, the aftermath of investigations and partly secret inquiries, subsequent public and internal reports, and the impact on RAAF pilot training and posting, accident analysis and prevention.
The crash deeply distressed Robert Menzies in part for private reasons that have not hitherto been revealed. Persistent rumours surrounding the flying record of the pilot Bob Hitchcock, and the Air Minister Jim Fairbairn’s role in the crash, are subjected to thorough examination. Suspicions of a cover-up by the Air Force and government are explored, and some damning evidence evaluated.
The lavishly illustrated book blends narrative and analysis based on nearly four decades of research in official archives and unpublished private letters and diaries, newspapers, interviews with family members, colleagues, staff, friends of the men who died, politicians, public servants, Service officers, reporters, lawyers who conducted inquiries, and even firemen who attended the scene of the crash.
Though respecting the documentary record Hazlehurst takes more liberty in deduction, inference, and reporting remembered conversation than would conventionally be expected in a historical narrative. ‘Cameron Hazlehurst is a story-teller’, the political historian and biographer Ian Hancock writes, ‘one of the all-too rare breed who can write scholarly works which speak to a wider audience…The research is meticulous and wide-ranging, the analysis is always balanced and the writing at once skilful and compelling. This is a work of an exceptional historian.’
The Canberra press gallery journalist and biographer Christine Wallace says this is ‘a monumental work of historical research pegged n a single, lethal moment at the apex of government at an extraordinarily sensitive time in Australia’s history’.
Ten Journeys to Cameron’s Farm is not available in bookshops but can be accessed as an eBook or downloaded as a PDF ― the whole work or individual chapters ― free of charge. For lovers of books with the look and feel of paper, it can be ordered as a print on demand volume, all 670 pages of it.
This is the link: http://epress.anu.edu.au/titles/ten-journeys-to-camerons-farm