16th August, 1928


My dear P.M.,

Sir William Glasgow [1] had a useful talk to Hankey [2] at my house at lunch last week. It did something, I think, to clear Sir William's mind on the subject of Coast Defence.

Hankey emphasised that he thought the Commonwealth Government had taken the correct course in delaying their decision as to Coast Defence [3], but said the Air Force only contended now that they should take the place of the heavy gun (over 6"): therefore up to 6" the position was not affected. The experiments this summer had been very interesting but would need to be continued. One aspect that had emerged was that although the ship was screened by smoke from shore batteries, an aeroplane could see through this smoke and might even be able to use it as a shield to itself in attacking-but further experiments would be needed.

Sir William Glasgow said he favoured protecting Sydney and Newcastle in particular, and probably Darwin, by Coast Defences, and he would be content to leave the rest to the Air Force. Hankey thought that Albany should be added as a fortified collecting point for convoys.

Sir William Glasgow said the drawing of comparisons between South Africa and Australia was misleading. Australia was free from South Africa's internal problems but nearer to potential trouble centres. Sir Maurice Hankey agreed.

I am arranging for Hankey to see Sir William Glasgow again and I am going to ask him to put down on paper a short aide-memoire on the various subjects of importance that they will have covered, copies of which I will give Sir William and send you.

Large scale air manoeuvres are in progress all this week in the shape of attempts on the part of 'Eastland' to raid London and efforts to ward off the attacks on the part of 'Westland'. Over 300 machines are involved and the manoeuvres go on all night from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. every night this week. All that London sees is an apparently confused collection of machines from time to time from 8,000 to 15,000 feet up. The exercises, as in the case of most big scale manoeuvres, are useful for giving the higher air command practice in moving large groups. They are also probably useful in training ground observers, listeners and the Air Force signal service. I had an interesting hour in the control room at the Air Ministry last night. This is the centre to which all observers' and umpires' reports are telephoned and telegraphed. The movements, numbers and heights of all machines engaged, raiders and repellers, are indicated on a large table map and the wind direction and strength at various heights and atmospheric conditions generally indicated on another big map. In war some such centre as this would be the location of the Air Officer Commanding in Chief.

I have written a long personal letter to Henderson [4] by this mail in reply to letters he has written me recently on the following subjects. Firstly, he evidently objected to my saying that our information regarding the Dutch Islands, Malaya and the Far East is vague, muddled and defective. I have written him in terms that do not admit of misunderstanding as to how I regard the responsibilities of the External Affairs Department, particularly in respect of the wild and tempting island groups to our North.

The Defence Department is charged with collecting such Naval, Military and Air intelligence as would be of value to them in war.

The External Affairs Department is charged, in my opinion, with correlating all the Defence intelligence and superimposing political intelligence on the top of it. In my opinion the Defence intelligence is none too good about the N.E.I., and our External Affairs Department intelligence is worse still. We are in a deplorable state of ignorance about our back door. It should be the function of the External Affairs Department to stir up the Defence Department in this regard and to recruit any and every possible line of communication that might bring light to our darkness.

The other subject on which I have written Henderson is the question of educating the public mind through the Press and other public bodies by means of regular weekly articles on countries and subjects of world interest. He has written me a long letter saying that it is impossible to do this without making statements that will offend some country or other. I am afraid I entirely fail to see the force of this objection. I wrote 20 or 30 articles whilst I was in Australia and distributed them weekly to the Press and I contend that these were not uninteresting; were non-controversial, and could not conceivably get us into trouble with any country. In my opinion, it is quite possible to write articles of this type that are useful and interesting without being in any way emasculate through reticence. An article went out weekly practically without a break whilst I was in Australia. Not more than two have gone out in the nine months since Henderson got back to Australia. He has let the summaries of the foreign press continue to be circulated, but nothing else. He intends to stifle the system of distribution of information to the Press. I really have no available minutes here to do these articles myself and send them out, but I will try and get some typical ones done and will send them to you within the next month, and if, after glancing through them, you feel you can approve of them, I would be glad if you would pass them to Henderson.

Again with regard to the Netherlands East Indies, is it too much to think that at some time in the future Dutch New Guinea might be acquired by the Commonwealth, and thus secure the whole of the Island of New Guinea under one sovereignty? This may sound fanciful and I have at the moment nothing to say to back it up other than that it would probably be a boon in the future to have no neighbours on this big and potentially valuable island. Holland has done as nearly nothing as no matter, I believe, in the way of development in Dutch New Guinea. No doubt she finds that Java and Sumatra absorb all the funds that she has available for development, and the rest of the N.E.I. will have to wait its very distant turn.

By the way, if you find yourself able to answer my query as to how you would regard proposals for the formation of a big American Land and Development Company in T.N.G. and/or Papua, I would be most interested. As I said, I have no ulterior motive whatever in asking you this, other than that some such proposal may come to one's ears in the future. With American capital seeking outlets in all parts of the world, it would not be surprising if its eye lights on the huge undeveloped areas of New Guinea.

I went to see Sir Ronald Lindsay [5] at the Foreign Office in this last week, with regard to the Antarctic. Having only recently taken over the Foreign Office, he was fresh to the subject, but had been primed beforehand and quite appreciated the main points of the position. I explained our position in particular to him and said that whereas an Australian or a joint expedition to secure the sovereignty of a large part of the Antarctic was possible in the near future, it seemed improbable that it could be organised in time to forestall the 'Norvegia', and that I had come to see him to ask that no diplomatic stone should be left unturned to warn the Norwegians off. It was the opinion of the Foreign Office Legal Adviser [6] that if the 'Norvegia' indulged in flag-planting in Enderby Land or the vicinity, it would be hard to recover the position afterwards by diplomatic means or by arbitration as our claim was weak in international law. I suggested, therefore, that every means should be taken beforehand to warn the Norwegians off.

He appreciates the position and proposes to tackle the Norwegian Minister in London [7] when he returns in September. I sent him an aide-memoire of our conversation afterwards to ensure that it is not overlooked.

Officer [8] tells me that he has heard the story in several quarters in Australia that I am doing this job here on an honorary basis. I cannot imagine how this has got about. I take every opportunity to regard myself strictly on the same footing as other civil servants. I mention this story as it may possibly be used in the election, and it might be as well to scotch it at once if it does.

I am, Yours sincerely, R.G. CASEY

1 Senator Sir William Glasgow, Commonwealth Minister for Defence.

2 Sir Maurice Hankey, Secretary to the Cabinet.

3 Bruce had encouraged the Australian Defence Council to postpone any firm decision on coastal defences on the grounds that, with rapid changes in air technology, it was better to await imminent developments before deciding on the appropriate roles of the three services.

4 Dr Walter Henderson, Head of the External Affairs Branch.

5 Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office.

6 Sir Cecil Hurst.

7 Paul Benjamin Vogt, Norwegian Minister to the United Kingdom 1910-34.

8 F. K. Officer, of the External Affairs Branch in Canberra, was in London on his way to Geneva as an adviser to the Australian delegation to the 1928 session of the League of Nations Assembly.