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"Rupert Lockwood (1908-1997): Journalist, Communist, Intellectual" by Rowan Cahill

Rupert Lockwood orating, the Domain, Sydney,
early 1960s. Photo: Lou Horton.
Rowan Cahill writes: In July 2013 I successfully completed a doctoral dissertation at the University of Wollongong, NSW, titled “Rupert Lockwood (1908-1997): Journalist, Communist, Intellectual”. Comprising some 460 pages, over one thousand footnotes, the dissertation takes the reader through some of the less explored by-ways of Australian history, much of it not on the public record before this outing. The dissertation’s Abstract, and an extract from the Introduction, minus relevant footnotes, follow. Scholars and general readers interested in the entire work can find it online with open access at 


This thesis explores aspects of the life, times, and career of Australian journalist Rupert Lockwood (1908-1997). During the Cold War, Lockwood was one of the best known members of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA), variously journalist, commentator, author, editor, orator, pamphleteer, broadcaster. His name is inextricably linked to the Royal Commission on Espionage (1954-55), as an unwilling, recalcitrant and hostile witness. In histories and commentaries Lockwood is generally referred to, often in a pejorative way, as “the communist journalist”. This thesis is an exploration of the life and the sixty-year career of Lockwood as a journalist and writer, in which membership of the CPA was but part (1939-1969). A general chronological framework is adopted, and the account developed with regard to three aspects of his life and career– as a journalist, as a communist, and as an intellectual.

By contextualising the communist period of Lockwood’s life in his overall life and times, the portrait of a significant Australian journalist emerges, one who chose to leave the capitalist press for the adversarial and counter sphere of labour movement journalism, the latter the site of his work from 1940 until retirement in 1985. The thesis also explores Lockwood’s considerable intellectual activity, and mounts a case for recognition of the originality and sophistication of his largely unacknowledged research and writings in the areas of Australian history, politics, and political economy.

Overall, this thesis contributes empirical knowledge and understandings to a number of aspects of Australian history: to labour movement history generally, and specifically to communist and labour biography; to journalism history; and to intellectual history. In so doing, it also contributes to the understanding of Australia between the two World Wars, and during the Cold War.

Introduction (extract)

During 1969 via Communist Party of Australia (CPA) Tribune journalist Harry Stein, I met the left journalist Rupert Lockwood (1908-1997). He was on the verge of leaving the CPA. Recently returned from assignment in the USSR, Lockwood was looking for a place to rent. Harry asked me if I knew of accommodation; the next-door flat was empty in the block where my wife and I rented in Balmain, so Lockwood and his wife moved in. Subsequently Rupert and I became friends, and remained so for the rest of his life. I delivered the eulogy at his funeral in 1997, and composed his gravestone epitaph. From Rupert I learned much about the less scrutinised by-ways of Australian political history; listening to him, a gifted raconteur, was like listening to a visitor from a parallel universe-Australia; the same Australia I lived in, with the same chronology and characters as mainstream history, yet in many ways so very, very different.

During the early 1980s I resolved to write Rupert’s biography; I made some inroads, and wrote on aspects of his life.  This was facilitated in part by a small deposit of his papers he left in my care in 1984. However, my own life-circumstances and the necessity of earning a living did not enable the pursuit of this task.  Historically too, it was difficult, since an understanding of his life required access to documentary materials not then in the public domain, including data in his Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) files, but more particularly his extensive personal papers which were gathered and made publicly available for the first time after his death. Also, as I explain later, for a full account of his life, Australian Cold War historiography had to dramatically change, which is what happened following the public release of the Venona transcripts by US authorities beginning in 1995. There came a time too in the early 1990s, especially as his health declined, when I ceased to regard him as a biographical subject, and regarded him instead as a human being and friend, to be supported and helped, not quarried.  It also took his death and time to put critical distance between him, me, and hagiography.

Following the death of Rupert in 1997, responsibility for the care of his personal records passed into the care of his eldest daughter, Penny. They did not come in one unified bulk collection, but had to be assembled from a number of locations. Overall, this assemblage comprised a substantial mass of materials, the bulk of which was created after the mid-1950s. Much of Rupert’s early records were destroyed, along with the family residence, in bushfires that ravaged the Sutherland Shire of southern Sydney during the fire seasons of 1956-1957. Scrapbooks of Lockwood’s journalism also perished at this time, apparently only one, containing some of his very early journalism, surviving. Lockwood was a prolific writer, and tracking down his work in a diversity of outlets, much of it uncatalogued and not the subject of bibliographic attention, was one of the basic tasks of this study. Between 1997 and 2011, Penny passed her father’s records into the care of the National Library of Australia (NLA). As MS 10121, they comprise fifteen metres of shelf in ninety-seven manuscript boxes, though this may change, as it is my understanding at the time of writing, there will be further, though small overall, record deposits in due course. Examination of this material was, and is, facilitated by the NLA Guide to the Papers of Rupert Lockwood prepared by Donna Vaughan in 2012.

Having thus introduced Rupert Lockwood, it is reasonable to ask, of all the Australian journalists who have been, and of all the Australian communists who have been, why does he warrant the special attention accorded to him in the following study? I respond thus: during the period from late 1939, when he joined the CPA, through to 1968/1969 when he left it, journalist Rupert Lockwood became one of the Australia’s best known communists. A journalist by training and profession, he was “highly intelligent, articulate and gutsy”; he was also a powerful orator, pamphleteer, broadcaster, and historian. When Lockwood left the CPA, there was a great deal of publicity nationally; his death in 1997 warranted national and international attention. Amongst rank and file Australian communists during the time of his party membership, Lockwood was highly regarded. During 1945 when future ASIO  counter-intelligence operative Dr Michael Bialoguski was a fourth year medical student at Sydney University, and began his penetration of the CPA on behalf of the Commonwealth Investigation Service (CIS), he came to the following understanding of  Lockwood:

….Rupert Lockwood occupied a position of great authority (within the CPA). It actually reminded me of the scholasticism of the Middle Ages when any theological dispute was won merely by proving one’s argument to be identical with a quotation from Aristotle.

In Sydney communist circles… was sufficient to state “but Rupert Lockwood said so”—in order to settle an argument beyond doubt.

Indeed, according to the way Bialoguski saw it, “Communism was a religion and Rupert Lockwood a high priest”.

Lockwood’s name is inextricably linked to the Royal Commission on Espionage (1954-55), more generally known as the Petrov Royal Commission, as a high profile, variously recalcitrant and hostile, witness, author of Exhibit (Document) J. It was his involvement in this event that propelled him to national notoriety. Historically and politically, Document J, and therefore Lockwood, figure in the politically traumatic ALP Split of 1955, because the document resulted in drawing Labor Party leader and lawyer Dr. H. V. Evatt before the Commission, as legal counsel for members of his staff who were referred to in it. As historian Robert Murray noted, it was Evatt’s Commission appearance that was “one of the last straws that finally broke Labor unity”, and this as Waterford observed, ultimately led to the destruction of Evatt’s public credibility. The Split was an ideological and sectarian splintering that, in tandem with the prevailing system of preferential voting, kept Labor on the Federal Opposition benches until 1972. For his inadvertent contribution of a significant ‘straw’ to this process, if for nothing else, Lockwood warrants a footnote in Australian history.

But, as this study demonstrates, there was more to Lockwood than all of this. From 1952 until retirement in 1985, he was primarily either associate editor or editor of the Maritime Worker, national journal of the Waterside Workers’ Federation (WWF), part of a communist team with “impressive talents” that headed up the federal office of that union on the frontline of the Cold War in Australia, the waterfront. While employed by the WWF, in effect permanent part-time employment, Lockwood had time for special CPA assignments, and other journalistic and authorial work. As this study will show, the latter included original and significant work in the realms of Australian history and political economy. 

Lockwood was a member of the CPA for about thirty years; his career as a reporter, journalist and writer spanned over sixty years, more when his childhood experiences/training are included, which is when he was introduced to the world of newspapers and journalism. An active member of the Australian Journalists’ Association (AJA), he was one of three journalists responsible for drafting the AJA’s Code of Ethics in 1942 (adopted nationally in 1944). Further, the bulk of Lockwood’s career as a journalist was either with non-communist publications, including the Melbourne Herald and the ABC Weekly, or the labour movement press, primarily the  Maritime Worker. Lockwood’s close journalistic link with the CPA newspaper Tribune, amounted to a period of about twenty, not continuous, years.

Lockwood tends to enter the Australian historical record, described as/referred to as “the communist journalist”. This term was generally used by the media in reporting the proceedings of the Petrov Royal Commission, and continued thereafter. In a sense there is an appropriate logic to this description, as Lockwood was, at the time, a member of the CPA, and a journalist, hence the term has a certain legitimacy. However, this was  not the intent of the original use, as the term was coined at the height of the Cold War in Australia, and with regard to Lockwood at the same time the press was referring to him as a spy, and to Document J, the cause of his notoriety, as a ‘scurrilous’ and ‘filthy’ piece of writing. Apart from its appropriateness, therefore, the term “communist journalist” was, and is, a pejorative. Non-communist journalists at the same time, or subsequently, were not described/identified as such, while the term ‘communist’ is a fluid term, having many political and propagandist uses, its meaning and understanding often depending on historical/political contexts and user intent. Further, the description is a limiting term with regard to Lockwood, since it ignores at least half of his professional life, and makes no attempt to identify or acknowledge the talents and experiences he brought to the service of the Australian Left and to the labour movement, and what he did in the service of both.

Also with regard to Lockwood, the term ‘communist journalist’ serves to both prescribe and proscribe understanding of the journalist and his work, the word ‘communist’ carrying considerable emotional and political connotations with the aim/effect of undermining the veracity of the word ‘journalist’. The term connotes a sense of ‘otherness’, of being ideological in a way that journalists working for capitalist media outlets were/are not, and therefore somehow limited, inferior, tainted, less credible, not a real journalist.  Continued use of this term pigeonholes Lockwood, metaphorically chains him to a single event in Australian history, works to frustrate acknowledgement of his significant contributions to Australian journalism, and effectively closes the door on the life and times of a significant Australian journalist and the way he worked at and interpreted his profession. The following study does not aim at a total biography of Lockwood, but will focus on three main aspects of his life and career—as journalist, communist, and intellectual, roles that at times meshed and intersected. (End of extract)

The entire thesis is available with open access, online at