Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Harry in the frame for new agency

In August 1915, Harry Freame was badly wounded at Gallipoli and finally repatriated to Australia. By 20 November 1916, the day he was officially discharged from the Army, he was living at 2 Bondi Road, Bondi.

Freame’s return to Australia coincided with the attempts to establish a new intelligence network to monitor Japan whose translation efforts were headed by James Murdoch. 

Murdoch. a journalist and teacher, had been appointed as a professor at Sydney University to allow him to take up the role.
Harry Freame in Sydney c1920. It is likely he was recruited to intelligence activity as a Japanese speaker.This is the sixth in a series on Australia's early intelligence activities, the second on the life of Harry Freame.  
 Murdoch had a major problem in finding sufficient Japanese speakers and began to recruit from Japan. His recruits entered the country despite the then White Australia Policy. Murdoch’s wife was Japanese too. It seems from immigration records that the White Australia policy was bent to allow all this to happen.

 This was neither the first nor the last time that this happened. The White Australia Policy was never an absolute, but more a barrier that could be relaxed when circumstances demanded it.

It seems likely that Harry Freame was recruited to this intelligence effort. We have no direct evidence for this. However, intelligence historian John Fahey mounts a fairly convincing case.

Fahey shows first that Freame was linked through the Army to two of the people involved in the creation of this new intelligence network. He has also found references to an unnamed Japanese speaking Australian ex-serviceman who was being used by the group.

Freame was a native Japanese speaker. We know of no other Japanese speaking ex-serviceman at this point, so the connection seems likely.

In all this, it also seems likely that the newly appointed Japanese consul in Sydney was well aware of Australian activities including Freame’s possible involvement.

Australia was in many ways a very small goldfish bowl. The newspapers covered new arrivals, while the Japanese or Japanese speaking community was very small that they were known to everyone including the Consul.

There is no evidence that I know that either Japan or the Consul were especially worried about Australian activities at this point. However, it does seem possible that files were created that might later prove fatal to Harry Freame. 

As I described in an earlier column, political infighting led Prime Minister William Morris Hughes to cancel this first Australian intelligence operation targeting the Pacific in general, Japan in particular.

By the time Freame became involved again, Australia was in the position it had been in 1916. It had a renewed interest, but no structure and very few Japanese speakers.

I am jumping forward. Even before Hughes closed the Pacific Intelligence Branch that had been carrying out Australia’s Pacific intelligence activities, Harry Freame had decided to return to New England.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express Extra on 27 February 2019. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because they are not all on line outside subscription. You can see all the Belshaw World and History Revisited/History Matters columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012, here for 2013, here for 2014, here for 2015,  here for 2016, here  2017here 2018, here 2019