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Memento : Issue 29
Dr Heidi Zogbaum is a research fellow at La Trobe University where she also teaches central and east European history. Born and educated in Germany, she came to Australia in 1972. She has published widely on European and Mexican history. In her latest book, Kisch in Australia: The Untold Story, Dr Zogbaum draws on records held by the National Archives of Australia to uncover the reasons why the Lyons government attempted to ban Egon Erwin Kisch from entering Australia. The following story by Dr Zogbaum reveals what she found. Kisch first came to the attention of the Australian government after the Investigation Branch – the forerunner of ASIO – saw an advertisement for the peace congress in a Melbourne newspaper and began to investigate the two overseas delegates, Gerald Griffin from New Zealand and Kisch from Paris. Based on information sent from Special Branch/MI5 in London, the outgoing Minister for the Interior, Eric Harrison, signed a ban on Kisch entering Australia. According to a mysterious British agent codenamed ‘Snuffbox’, Kisch had been refused entry to Britain the previous year because of ‘subversive communist activities’. Recently appointed Attorney-General Robert Gordon Menzies reconfirmed the ban. When the Strathaird docked at Fremantle en route to Melbourne, customs officers searched Kisch’s luggage hoping to find communist propaganda material but only found travelogues from the public library of Paris. Besides speaking at the peace congress in Melbourne, Kisch was intending to stay a further two months to collect material for a travelogue on Australia to join his other famous books on the USA, China and the Soviet Union. People in Perth who knew of Kisch’s arrival, and were waiting for him on the dock, were outraged at the high-handedness of the Lyons government. They alerted their friends in Melbourne, and the International Labour Defence – the Comintern’s (Communist International) legal arm – took In November 1934, Czech writer and journalist Egon Erwin Kisch made his spectacular entry into Australia – and into Australian history – by jumping overboard from his departing ship onto the Melbourne dock, breaking his leg in the process. Kisch had come to Australia to speak at a peace congress at the invitation of the Movement Against War and Fascism, a pacifist, communist front organisation. Although he had a valid visa stamped by the British Consul in Paris, upon arrival in Fremantle, Kisch was prevented from landing on the grounds that he was a ‘dangerous communist’. His ticket and passport were confiscated and he was made a prisoner on the Strathaird to be sent back to Marseilles. Kisch must land Egon Erwin Kisch on board the Strathaird before his leap to the wharf, Melbourne, 1934. Private collection of Dr Marcus Patka, Vienna Autumn–Winter 2005 MEMENTO 11