The Gluckman Affair 1960: A bystander’s view

The Gluckman Affair: An article by Geoffrey Bolton

In 1960 the Australian National University invited the eminent British anthropologist Professor Max Gluckman to visit Canberra to participate in their anthropology program and also to make a short visit to Papua New Guinea to meet with ANU anthropologists undertaking field work in the territory.  Prior to leaving Britain for the trip, Gluckman had applied for an entry permit for his three-week PNG trip.  But once in Australia, the Department of Territories refused to grant the permit.  Given Gluckman’s prominence and eminence as an anthropologist, the decision to refuse the application was met with incredulity and political uproar.

The distinguished historian Geoffrey Bolton (1931-2015) was a witness to the Gluckman affair.  Appointed as a Research Fellow at the ANU in 1957, not only was he based in Canberra at the time of Gluckman’s visit, but as Secretary of the ANU Staff Association, he was a participant in approaches to the authorities seeking a re-consideration of the government’s decision.  In 2008 he wrote an article on the Gluckman affair, based on a paper delivered to the 2007 Australian Historical Association conference.  The article was originally published in Les Louis’s Cold War Dossier, No.23, February 2008.  We gratefully acknowledge the support of Carol Bolton, Geoffrey Bolton’s widow and literary executor, for permission to re-publish the article.

John Myrtle



By Geoffrey Bolton

In 1960 Max Gluckman at 49 years old was internationally recognized as an eminent social anthropologist. [1] Of Russian-Jewish background he grew up in South Africa, became the Transvaal Rhodes Scholar to Oxford in 1934 and gained a doctorate in 1936. Director of the Rhodes-Livingstone Institute in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) from 1939 to 1947, he undertook extensive fieldwork in Barotseland and Zululand before taking a lectureship at Oxford. Appointed professor at Manchester University in 1949, he established a celebrated research seminar, sealing his reputation with the publication of Custom and Conflict in Africa in 1955. [2]

Like many South African intellectuals his political sympathies were radical. Although his wife was for a time a member of the Communist Party he tended to avoid political activities to give his time to anthropology. He was not entirely silent. During the early 1950s he served on the committee of the Anglo-Soviet Friendship Society. He signed petitions requesting the United States government to give Paul Robeson a passport and to commute the death sentence on the ‘atomic spies’ Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Between 1953 and 1963 he strongly opposed the British government’s attempt to unite Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (now Malawi) into a Central African Federation. But he was no unthinking fellow-traveller. When the Soviet Union invaded Hungary in 1956 he signed the statement sponsored by the Congress for Cultural Freedom denouncing the Russians, and he subsequently joined a protest against the Chinese government for arresting a noted anthropologist on political grounds. All these were matters of public record before his visit to the Australian National University in 1960.

The ANU had long been interested in Gluckman. The university’s original team of planners had included the New Zealand-born anthropologist Raymond Firth, confirming an expectation that the sociology and anthropology of Australian Aborigines and the inhabitants of Papua-New Guinea would rank high among its research priorities. Unlike his colleagues Mark Oliphant and eventually Keith Hancock, Firth was not to be enticed into taking the foundation chair, and during the 1950s ANU was making a sustained if desultory search for an anthropologist of comparable eminence. The first appointee, S F Nadel, died unexpectedly in 1956. Gluckman was sounded unsuccessfully in 1957, and late in 1958 the university appointed the 40-year-old John Barnes, an Englishman who had succeeded AP Elkin in the Sydney chair two years earlier. He lost no time in arranging for Gluckman to visit the ANU, and early in 1960 it was agreed that this should take place during the British university vacation in August-September of that year. At that time Barnes was not aware that Gluckman was a person of interest to the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO). In May 1955, probably when his coming to ANU was first mooted, he was the subject of an adverse report from the Director-General of ASIO, Charles Spry, to the ACT regional director. This report was reactivated in 1957 when Gluckman was being considered for the chair at ANU, and was added to in February 1960. [3]

The file does not reveal the nature of the adverse report. The ANU was well aware that the Commonwealth authorities kept a wary eye on academics seeking to undertake research or fieldwork in Papua-New Guinea. Permission had to be sought from the Administration in Port Moresby, but decisions rested ultimately with the Minister for Territories, who from 1951 to 1963 was Paul Hasluck. A former academic and practising historian, Hasluck had hitherto shown some flexibility in his decisions. Although in 1952 he upheld a veto on the application of the postgraduate Peter Worsley to enter Papua-New Guinea, he facilitated Worsley’s subsequent research project among the Aborigines of Groote Eylandt, who were presumably thought less susceptible to radicalism than the Papuans. [4]

In 1959 Arnold and Trudi Epstein, a married couple of South African origin who had worked with Gluckman before coming to ANU, applied to enter Papua-New Guinea for research on the Tolai people of the Gazelle Peninsula, but were banned from the Territory on security grounds. Although the Tolai were regarded as one of the more sensitive societies in Papua-New Guinea, in August 1959 Hasluck overruled the ban after representations from Sir Leslie Melville, the Vice Chancellor of ANU. The Epsteins did creditable research, and connoisseurs of the ironic may note that Trudi Epstein, who in the eyes of ASIO was the more suspect of the pair, was appointed in 2005 an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

ASIO meanwhile formed the view that Gluckman was sending ‘a circle of his disciples’ to the ANU.[5]  This probably influenced what followed. On 1 March 1960, while still in the United Kingdom, Gluckman applied to the Department of Territories for permission to visit Papua-New Guinea for three weeks in August. The Administration in Port Moresby gave provisional approval on 23 March. Following the usual routine the Secretary of the Department, CR Lambert, asked the Attorney-General’s department for a security clearance, and early in May was advised of ‘adverse information’ about Gluckman. The alarm bells cannot have been ringing too vigorously, as it was 14 June before Philipps, the ACT regional director of ASIO, sought authority to advise the Administrator of Papua-New Guinea, Donald Cleland, believing that the final decision on Gluckman’s admission rested with him. The inexplicably leisurely approach continued, although perhaps, as Hasluck came to believe, ‘Some of the official conversations of which I was subsequently informed were not recorded on the files.’ [6]

It was 11 July before Cleland wrote stating that he had not yet been provided with further information about Gluckman. When this arrived he ruled against admission on 20 July. Meanwhile ASIO had discovered that ultimate responsibility lay with Hasluck, who had just returned from overseas. On 21 July he was presented with what he later described as a rather ‘bare’ departmental submission raising no questions. Not wishing to overrule Cleland, he approved the ban on Gluckman.[7]  Gluckman was advised three or four days later, but came to Canberra in August nevertheless. Hasluck believed that the ban on Gluckman originated with a junior official in the Port Moresby administration. Barnes later wrote: ‘But what did ASIO dislike about Gluckman, and what else, if anything, might the junior official have told Cleland orally? … My understanding is that it was his sympathetic attitude towards the formation of trade unions for indigenous workers in Africa that made Gluckman unwelcome in some parts of the PNG administration. Plans were being developed at that time for the establishment of trade unions in PNG. Some officials feared that if Gluckman came to PNG he would make contact with indigenous politicians and activists, who would, with his encouragement, start to demand a more militant version of trade-unionism than the paternalistic model proposed by the administration. [8]

Writing fifteen years later, Hasluck claimed that on the very day Cleland in Port Moresby announced the refusal of the permit, the story broke in the Australian press. ‘We were caught in a trap which seemed to me to have been contrived astutely by a journalist and some members of the academic staff of the Australian National University’[9]  Here his usually accurate memory seems to have failed him, as the veto was imposed on 21 July but it was not until 27 August that the Melbourne Age, having phoned Gluckman for confirmation, ran the story on its front page.[10]  My own memory, which is at least as fallible as Hasluck’s, suggests that during August it was known around the ANU campus that Gluckman was experiencing difficulty in gaining admission to Papua-New Guinea, but it was thought sensible to keep the matter quiet while there was hope that the decision might be changed, as it has been for the Epsteins. John Barnes sought an opportunity to discuss the problem with the Department, but ‘apparently he did so rather diffidently’ as neither Hasluck nor Lambert was made aware of it.

Many who were not of radical sympathies deplored the heavy-handed insult to a respected visiting academic, and the ANU Staff Association was pressed to take action. It happened that the president of the Staff Association was a grizzled and laconic physicist, William Berry Smith, or ‘Wibs’ as he was universally known from the acronym of his initials, who had earned marginal attention from the Petrov commission. The secretary was an inexperienced young research fellow in history, Geoffrey Bolton. Under Smith’s eye he drafted a letter to the Minister urging reconsideration of the ban on Gluckman and sent it on 25 August.[11]  It was only then that some people at ANU grew impatient with this policy of ‘wait and see’ and fed the story to the press in order to force the issue. [12]

Now the mischief was out. On 29 August the Age carried an editorial: ‘In the years to come Australia will face a difficult task in justifying the slow rate of progress towards self-government in New Guinea, and simply cannot afford to give ammunition to our critics.’[13] On the same day a meeting of the Staff Association authorised Smith and Bolton to seek an interview with the Minister. Meanwhile Hasluck was taking advice from security officials. Philipps, ASIO’s regional director in the ACT, wrote on 30 August: ‘… there did not appear to be a real basis for not allowing GLUCKMAN to go to New Guinea … they may have to allow GLUCKMAN in, and it was a matter which may go to the Prime Minister and Cabinet.’ The head of ASIO, Brigadier Spry, told Hasluck that the information against Gluckman was provided by a source ‘very sensitive in such matters’, whose cover had to be preserved. He was almost certainly referring to sources of information from British intelligence. Spry probably, and Prime Minister Menzies certainly believed that Australia would lose access to British intelligence if the accuracy of that intelligence was queried. [14] This consideration apparently overruled all others when Hasluck took the matter to cabinet. It was now impossible for the Government to climb down without loss of face.[15]

Later on 30 August the Vice Chancellor of the ANU, Sir Leslie Melville, called on Hasluck to request a review of the decision. Melville expressed concern lest the stigma of having been refused admission to Papua-New Guinea might prejudice Gluckman’s plans for academic work in the United States of America. Hasluck replied that ‘quite apart from the question whether the information on which the decision had been made was adequate or complete, the Government had been placed in a political situation which increased the difficulty of reconsidering the decision’. However if at some future time Gluckman made another application submitting additional information and references Hasluck undertook to consider it strictly on its merits. [16]

In the House of Representatives members of the Labor Opposition raised the Gluckman affair briefly on 30 August and at greater length at the adjournment debate on the evening of 31 August. Hasluck and Menzies adhered to the security argument: the information from ASIO was enough to justify the ban, though it could not be divulged to the public. The right-wing cold warrior WC Wentworth, said he could not support the Government’s cover-up. It was playing into the hands of the Communists to call a distinguished scholar a security risk without supporting proof. [17]  Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes thought likewise: ‘I feel the mistake was in inviting Security risks to this country at the taxpayers’ expense. But, having invited him, he should be given a visa and I would have gone with him.’

The political correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Hasluck, having been more than usually self-confident when the debate began, ‘was badly rattled and very unhappy when the Opposition had finished with him.’ [18]  By now the press was in full cry. The Left whooped with joy at the story’, Hasluck later recalled, but it was not just ‘the Left’. The Sydney Morning Herald, the Melbourne Sun, the Canberra Times, the Hobart Mercury, The West Australian and even the organ of the Graziers’ Association, Muster, all attacked the decision. [19]  Only the News Weekly, the National Civic Council’s publication, justified the ban, citing the various left-wing causes with which Gluckman had been associated but ignoring his protests to the Soviet Union and China.[20]  The Leader of the Opposition, Arthur Calwell, thought News Weekly might have been fed inside information, and perhaps he was right; two days later when the fortnightly Observer mentioned Gluckman’s protests to the Soviet Union and China in an editorial criticising the ban, somebody at ASIO complained that they had not known about them (and presumably neither did News Weekly).[21]

Meanwhile the controversy extended beyond Australia. The Manchester Guardian defended Gluckman in an editorial: ‘There is nothing in his character or career to justify refusing him entry into New Guinea’, adding that the Australian government’s attitude was ‘ridiculous’, if not smacking of McCarthyism. A Cambridge anthropologist, Michael Fortes, wrote to the Times expressing surprise that Australia, having nothing to hide in Papua-New Guinea, should have imposed-the ban. The incident might discourage young scholars whom the Australian universities were endeavouring to attract to New Guinea studies.[22] Somewhat later the Economist ran a long story from its Canberra correspondent suggesting that, while the Administration cannot have thought that Gluckman could start a revolutionary organisation in Papua-New Guinea in less than three weeks, they may have feared ‘that after his return he might make speeches or write articles critical of Australian policy, thereby presenting its Afro-Asian critics in the UN Trusteeship Council with fresh ammunition.’ With his scholarly background Hasluck might have been expected to credit Gluckman ‘with the desire to pursue anthropology rather than revolution. Mr Hasluck, however, has his ideals and plans for New Guinea, and would like to guard it from contamination like an ambitious mother preserving her daughter from the beatniks.’[23]

It must have been during this week – before 3 September, when Hasluck left Canberra for his home in Western Australia – that ‘Wibs’ Smith and Bolton obtained an interview with the Minister at Parliament House. It did not last long. Memory suggests that Smith and Bolton sat on one side of a table, with Hasluck and another cabinet minister, Gordon Freeth, on the other. I am not sure why Freeth was present; perhaps another Western Australian was needed. After we had been presenting our case for a few minutes, and apparently receiving a polite hearing, a door opened behind the Ministers, revealing the imposing figure of Robert Menzies. He spoke no word, but caught Hasluck’s eye and almost imperceptibly jerked his head. Within two minutes Smith and Bolton were out in the corridor.

Gluckman meanwhile was behaving with impeccable urbanity. As a guest of Australia (he told the Press) he felt it would be improper to discuss the Government’s decision. When it emerged that the Colonial and Commonwealth Relations Office in London and the governments of South Africa, Southern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia all denied that they had any complaints against Gluckman from a security point of view, he simply commented that the adverse information must have come from security services operating outside the normal organs of government. [24]

Hasluck and Cleland, he said, were ‘victims trapped by this iniquitous system of secret reports’, and he felt more sorry for them than he did for himself. When the newspapers published a photograph of Gluckman and John Barnes at a weekend holiday at Tuross Heads, the ASIO operatives were reduced to semiotic conjecture. Because Barnes was looking up at Gluckman as they walked along, wrote an operative, it showed his subservience to Gluckman’s dominance. There was a simpler explanation; Barnes was about fifteen centimeters shorter than Gluckman. The myth of Gluckman as some kind of anthropological Svengali was hard to kill. The Liberal backbencher Dudley Erwin claimed that ‘Professor Gluckman has some strange theories concerning the human race’. These, he said ‘would be dangerous if expressed to sensitive, primitive natives … Some of these could undo work which had taken administrative officials and missionaries many years to accomplish.’ [25]

The controversy flared again after the weekend because Gluckman, having been denied access to Papua-New Guinea, applied for permission to enter the western half of New Guinea, then still under the rule of the Netherlands government. On
5 September the Dutch charge d’Affaires, Dr Insinger, announced that permission would be granted immediately, adding gratuitously: ‘Professor Gluckman is a man of outstanding qualities and of great international reputation. We welcome all such outstanding scientists.’[26] This earned him a long interview the following day with the formidable secretary to the Department of External Affairs, Sir Arthur Tange, who expressed strongly the federal government’s extreme concern at Insinger’s statement.

The Labor Opposition resumed its attack in both houses of Parliament, with a full-scale House of Representatives debate on 8 September; but little new material emerged on either side, and the Menzies Government had the numbers.[27] Gluckman eventually withdrew his application to visit Dutch New Guinea because, he said, he did not wish to cause difficulties between the Netherlands and Australian governments. The Canberra Times reported him as saying, shortly before he left Australia on 18 September, that ‘it would have been profitable for all of us if Paul Hasluck, Donald Cleland and I sat down together to talk.’[28]

The heat was going out of the controversy. The ANU Staff Association resolved that in future cases such as Gluckman’s should be referred to a specialist administrative tribunal, and this was supported by its Federal Council, but nothing came of the idea.[29]  The Council of the Australian National University authorised the Vice Chancellor, Sir Leslie Melville, and the Pro-Chancellor, Dr HC Coombs, to seek an interview with the Minister in order to ‘discuss ways of removing any danger that may exist that legitimate research in Papua-New Guinea may be hampered or restricted.’[30]

Two such hardened veterans of bureaucratic procedure were soon able to negotiate new rules for consultation with the Department of Territories. These protocols appear to have worked smoothly in later years. When Barnes recruited to his staff an academic of Communist background Hasluck advised him that the man would not be allowed to enter Papua-New Guinea, not because he was just a member of the Communist Party but because he had been secretary of the Cambridge University Communist Party cell, thus showing stronger commitment. Subsequently however he was allowed to begin archaeological research in the Territory.[31]

On 19 September the assistant secretary of the Department, John Willoughby, minuted that ‘if he had known there would be so much fuss, he would have recommended issuing the permit for such a short period, keeping a close watch’, though he added that he would still favour refusal for a long visit.[32] Hasluck’s second thoughts were cooler. When ASIO approached him in 1962 with a proposal to set up a similar organisation in Papua-New Guinea, Hasluck threw cold water on the notion.[33]

To Cleland he wrote: ‘To my mind, the fatal flaw in the approach of the security people is that they tend to relate everything to the subversive influence of this or that person, and consequently they fall into the error of thinking that if you ignore or silence the subversive influence all will be well.’ A decade and a half after the controversy, he saw poor administrative procedure at the root of the problem. ‘In my own view’, he wrote, ‘there were insufficient grounds for refusing the permit, and the incident would never have occurred if the application had been handled in a straightforward way at the appropriate level.’ He added: ‘My view of the Gluckman case is that it showed that any report from a security organisation should be received only as information and not as “advice”, and should be weighed by a responsible authority against all other available information and not be handled at a junior level.’[34]

So the Gluckman affair was neither a deliberate attempt to stifle academic inquiry nor a manoeuvre to fend off a source of international criticism of Australia’s paternalistic trusteeship in Papua-New Guinea. It was simply the result of a bureaucratic stuff-up. It will be for later historians to decide whether Australia’s politicians and security services, with nearly half a century of additional experience, had developed a surer sense of risk assessment in the ‘war against terrorism’ in the first decade of the 21st century.


[1] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol. 22, pp 506-08

[2] M Gluckman, Custom and Conflict in Africa Basil Blackwell, Oxford 1955

[3] The source for this and all other material not otherwise referenced is the Department of Territories file on Gluckman (NAA M331/1 [42]), including ‘Secret summary of events’ compiled by Paul Hasluck on 7 or 8 September 1960 and ‘The Gluckman affair’, a summing up presumably by an ASIO official some time after 19 September 1960.

[4] John Barnes to Geoffrey Bolton, 13 November 2005 (in possession of author)

[5] Memorandum, ‘The Gluckman affair’ (NAA M331/1[42])

[6] P Hasluck, A Time for Building, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1976, p 405

[7] Ibid; also Hasluck’s statements in Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives 23, p 864 and p 958; memoranda, ‘Secret summary of events’ and The Gluckman affair in NAA M331/1/[42]

[8] Barnes to Bolton, 13 November 2005

[9] Hasluck, op.cit. p 405

[10] Age, 27 August 1960

[11]  This is confirmed in ‘Secret summary of events’. In a draft reply the Ministry of Territories stated that the delay in processing Gluckman’s application ‘was due to procedural causes and not to any matter directly linked with the merits of the application’, but this was deleted from the final text.

[12]  In his letter of 30 August to the Minister Bolton explained that the Staff Association had not leaked news items to the press. On 6 September Hasluck replied: ‘I assure you that at no time did I assume that there had been any departure from normal courtesy on the part of the ANUSA.’ When Spry suggested that the Staff Association protest was engineered to test the government’s reactions, Hasluck said he thought the Staff Association’s letter ‘very inoffensive and well worded’.

[13] Age, 29 August 1960.

[14] As Menzies informed the House of Representatives, they should not take a step ‘which would involve us in the loss of access to information bearing on the security; the territorial integrity and the political integrity of Australia’
(CPD H of R 23, p 961)

[15] Sydney Morning Herald, 3 September 1960

[16] ‘Secret summary of events’

[17]  CPD H of R 23, pp 648-62; Wentworth at pp 649-51, Kent Hughes at p 662

[18] Sydney Morning Herald, 1 September 1960

[19] Ibid; Sun, 1 September 1960; Mercury, 1 September 1960; The West Australian, 1 September 1960; Canberra Times, 3 September 1960; Muster quoted at CPD H of R 23, p 962 (Clyde Cameron).

[20] News Weekly, 1 September 1960. I am grateful to Susan Harvey for help with this reference.

[21] Calwell at CPD H of R 23, p 955; Observer, 3 September 1960; memorandum, ‘The Gluckman affair’

[22] Times, 30 August 1960; Manchester Guardian, 2 September 1960

[23] Quoted in Bulletin, 28 September 1960, p 40

[24] Sydney Morning Herald, 5 September 1960

[25] Herald (Melbourne), 5 September 1960

[26] Age, 6 September 1960 (and editorial)

[27] [27] CPD H of R 23, pp 948-62

[28] Canberra Times, 14 September 1960. Earlier Gluckman was quoted as saying: ‘I know both Mr Hasluck and Brigadier Cleland to be humane, fair and liberal men.’ (Age, 5 September 1960)

[29] Canberra Times, 6 September 1960; Age, 15 September 1960

[30] Age 14 September 1960. As a public servant Coombs could not become Chancellor until his retirement, so ANU got around this by appointing absentee Chancellors resident in England for whom Coombs could be seen as deputising.

[31] Barnes to Bolton, 13 November 2005. Barnes comments: ‘I think there were at most half a dozen members in the cell. . .’

[32] Note on file, M331 11 [42]

[33] Hasluck, A Time for Building, p 404

[34] Ibid, pp 405-06. This was not mere hindsight, as he expanded on these views with great clarity in a memorandum to CR Lambert, the secretary to the Department of Territories, 1 September 1960. (‘Secret summary of events’).