Anne Andgel discusses her life and her work at the 1954 Royal Commission on Espionage.
Interview with Anne Andgel
D Tapscott: This interview is taking place today, the 13th of August 2004, at Old Parliament House. The reference number for this tape is OPHOHI77 and the interview is with Mrs Anne Andgel. Mrs Andgel was seconded to work on the Petrov Royal Commission in 1954. Mrs Andgel lives in Neutral Bay in Sydney.
Mrs Andgel will be speaking to Diana Tapscott for the Oral History Project conducted by Old Parliament House, which is a branch of the Commonwealth Government’s Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. On behalf of the General Manager of Old Parliament House, I would like to thank you for agreeing to participate in our program.
Mrs Andgel, do you understand that copyright is shared by you and Old Parliament House?
A Andgel: Yes.
D Tapscott: Thank you. This being so, may we have your permission to make a transcript of this recording should Old Parliament House decide to make one?
A Andgel: Yes.
D Tapscott: We all hope that you will speak as frankly as possible, knowing that neither the tapes nor any transcripts produced from them will be released without your authority, unless they’re required by law.
A Andgel: Fine.
D Tapscott: So, we will start–and I just thought, I’d like to sort of start with–your early years. Your place of birth and your early working career.
A Andgel: Okay. Place of birth, Sydney. Early working career, first of all I went to Fort Street Girls’ High School. That’s relevant because it gave me a certain partiality towards Dr Evatt who went to Fort Street High School, and in those days when you’re young, you think your high school’s great and all that sort of thing.
Having left school, I went to university with an exhibition and a bursary, which I managed to forfeit by joining ‘The Push’. But then I went to work and did my degree at night. I worked first of all in the state public service for about a year, and then the Commonwealth public service for five years.
D Tapscott: I’ll just cut in there, what was ‘The Push’? What do you mean by ‘The push’?
A Andgel: Straight after the war, which is when I went–this is the Second World War, there were a lot of returned servicemen, there were a lot of people with what you might call way out ideas then, and they formed a group of–they thought they were very interesting, they were different. They were just avant garde students, and they didn’t do very much study.
D Tapscott: What university did you go to?
A Andgel: Sydney, that was the only one at the time.
D Tapscott: Was it?
A Andgel: Yes, in NSW, yes.
D Tapscott: So where did you live in Sydney?
A Andgel: I lived in Newtown first of all, which is an inner west suburb, then I lived at Stanmore, and we were on the line to go to Fort Street Girls’ High School, which was a selective high school.
D Tapscott: Your parents were in Sydney?
A Andgel: My parents actually came to Australia from Poland, but they lived in Sydney when I was born, yes.
D Tapscott: Do you have siblings?
A Andgel: Yes I do. One brother, he’s just recently retired. His final position was Professor of Education at Macquarie University. He’s now an Emeritus Professor. Sounds good. I shouldn’t say that.
D Tapscott: That’s fine. So when you finished your university degree, what sort of work were you looking for in particular?
A Andgel: Well I was already working, this was the point, I’d been–after first year I did it at night, and I worked first of all in the Department of Social Services, and when I graduated I was I think automatically moved to the Commonwealth Office of Education because everybody in that office was a graduate. The kind of work we were doing when I went over there, apart from education experiments, was the Colombo Plan, and we were first of all approving students to come and study here, and secondly we were sending lots of equipment to south-east Asian countries.
D Tapscott: Did you find that a satisfying job?
A Andgel: It was more satisfying than other public service jobs, yes. And it was fairly easy to be promoted in it, yes. We all seemed to go from EO1s as we were in those days to EO2s to EO3s.
D Tapscott: What was an EO–what does that mean?
A Andgel: Education Officer. We were all Education Officers. Yes it was satisfying because at least you liaise with people who’d also had some sort of similar background.
D Tapscott: So how long were you in the Commonwealth Education Department?
A Andgel: Commonwealth Office of Education it was called.
D Tapscott: Yes. How long were you working there?
A Andgel: I was working there the best part of five years, but as soon as I married I had to leave, which was the custom in those days. But I did get a month’s pay because I’d spent five years.
D Tapscott: Conditions were different.
A Andgel: They were very different, yes.
D Tapscott: Did you at that time think that was an unfair —
A Andgel: Oh absolutely.
D Tapscott: You really felt it then, that it was unfair.
A Andgel: Oh yes, yes. But then as we were going overseas, it really didn’t matter. But it was unfair, yes. Because we had the same status as the men, but they didn’t have to leave.
D Tapscott: I’m digressing a little bit here but I’m fascinated, did you have equal pay?
A Andgel: Yes, yes we did.
D Tapscott: Do you think that was across the board, equal pay with everybody or was it just for the graduates?
A Andgel: Oh no, I think it was just the graduates.
D Tapscott: I’m going to—
A Andgel: And when I say equal pay, I think it was but I’m not 100% sure.
D Tapscott: I’m fascinated of course with your work with the Royal Commission, and I’m just wondering if you could tell me how you got the opportunity to work on the Commission.
A Andgel: I think possibly we were between projects at the office, and thinking back probably, it could have been that I didn’t have a particular project for a time. I’m not sure why.
D Tapscott: Who was your supervisor at that stage?
A Andgel: Well we had Jock Weeden, but he wasn’t there the whole time I was. His name was spelled W-E-E-D-E-N, and I think he’d held a reasonably high position in the state education system, and there was another gentleman who’s surname was Pratt. Whereas they headed up the department, they weren’t actually around all that much.
D Tapscott: So how did the event come about that they wanted you to be part of the—
A Andgel: Well I think at that stage Ken Heard–who was the secretary of the Royal Commission–came to Sydney and he came to that department and said I’d like somebody to come over and help with the transcripts. I was either available or in between projects, or maybe they thought I was suitable, I can’t tell you.
D Tapscott: Could you describe the work that you did–you worked for him is that right?
A Andgel: No, when the Commission started, you had the court room and you had the daily proceedings, most of which were open to the public. Then there was another little office–this was all in the Darlinghurst court rooms–where a gentleman–and I can’t remember his name, he was much older than me–was the official editor of the transcripts. My job was to read them with him, and we would correct the English or the spelling.
I also spent a lot of time in court listening, so that when I went back to the office, I could say to him “No, they didn’t say that”, or he would say “Go over and check”. “See that they really said this or they didn’t say it”. Because in those days, you had court reporters, and they did the shorthand then the typing, so there were little errors came into it.
D Tapscott: So they were the court reporters and then they were typed. Is that when you got the transcripts?
A Andgel: Yes, yes after they were typed, yes.
D Tapscott: Right and you looked after the spelling and the grammar and all that sort of thing and checked all that.
A Andgel: And checking the material too, yes.
D Tapscott: Did you enjoy that work?
A Andgel: Oh yes, yes.
D Tapscott: Now it was an open hearing–that was one of the questions, could you describe what an open hearing is, if you could?
A Andgel: Yes, well you had the court room setup, you had your three commissioners, you had your–well they were barristers for each–there were three lots of barristers, there were the ones who were–I guess you’d say the UAP perhaps it was then, the Liberals. There was Doc Evatt and his crew, and then there was a Mr Hill who was representing the Communist Party, and they all sat in a certain part of the court.
Then the gallery was full of people who were allowed in, that was the general public. Then you had the plaintiffs, I suppose you’d call it, sitting in one part of the court.
D Tapscott: Was it full every day?
A Andgel: Oh yes, oh yes.
D Tapscott: There was a lot of interest was there?
A Andgel: Oh it was unbelievably full and people were fascinated, because in those days, spying was something that was not really believed, and the extent of it wasn’t believed in Australia. I can honestly say l dined out on that for months, because I was lucky enough to be able to go into the court room at any time that I wasn’t needed. And the transcripts didn’t come through until they were typed. So in the mornings more, but more often than not I would just sit there and watch the proceedings, and then go across to this little room we were in, the two of us, and read them through.
D Tapscott: So you had office space at the actual Darlinghurst Court?
A Andgel: Yes, yes. They seconded a room, yes.
D Tapscott: What was that office like, was it a cramped —
A Andgel: Yes, just a little room and we just had a desk. I wish I knew the gentleman’s name, it’ll probably turn up in some of the transcripts, because it did come out in a published form, and he just sat on one chair at the table and I sat at another.
D Tapscott: What were your hours in those days, Mrs Andgel?
A Andgel: I would say pretty well normal. I think the–I think I would get there by nine o’clock and leave there when the proceedings of the day finished, or when we were finished reading them. So I never worked back, no.
D Tapscott: Did you find the work stressful?
A Andgel: No.
D Tapscott: Any pressure for deadlines, things like that?
A Andgel: No, because as the proceedings continued, they immediately came over to us and we were kept up daily. So no it was never carried over.
D Tapscott: I was going to say you enjoyed your work, which is obvious.
A Andgel: Mm, mm.
D Tapscott: So how long were you actually there? What was your term?
A Andgel: From memory, four months. Once they had closed sessions, which they did afterwards, I wasn’t there anymore.
D Tapscott: Who were the people that came forward to give evidence, could you tell me who they might have been?
A Andgel: Well first of all, you had–well Petrov didn’t come in for a couple of weeks, but you had Rupert Lockwood–he was a character. You had some of the ASIO personnel giving evidence. Dr Bialoguski, a rather colourful man, was required to give evidence; some of Evatt’s staff. And then of course there was examination and cross-examination all the time.
D Tapscott: From the footage that we see, the movie footage about the Petrov affair there, there seemed to be a lot of anger and protest from the general public. Can you tell me whether that had any effect on the hearing, and whether you were concerned about the protests? Well this is our sort of thinking, you can see people outside and there were arrests and things like that, but that wasn’t evident that —
A Andgel: No, no.
D Tapscott: So you didn’t ever feel threatened by any of it?
A Andgel: Oh not at all, no.
D Tapscott: So are there any special moments of the Royal Commission that particularly stand out in your memory?
A Andgel: Well of course everybody was waiting for Petrov himself to be in the witness stand, and then she was as well. But what stands out in my memory–and I might be at cross purposes here–but up to that point of time, we’d lived in the western suburbs, had been very much part of a Labor family, thought Dr Evatt–because as I say he’d gone to Fort Street, he’d left with an exhibition bursary like I did. I thought he was really terrific. And I think what amazed me was when I used to go over–and this was at least two or three times a day to say would you mind telling me is this what you said–because his associate or–it was Clive Evatt I think, I’m not sure. I think it was his nephew. I was surprised at how rude they were.
As for the gentleman Mr Hill he more or less brushed you away, and the three conservative commissioners and their associates were so polite I actually got quite a culture shock out of that. Because my sympathies had been on the other side, but they were really in my opinion quite rude and didn’t want to be bothered, and the conservatives were quite polite, helpful.
D Tapscott: So you met Dr Evatt at the Royal Commission?
A Andgel: When you say met, I mean I had to go across and speak–I think it was Clive Evatt and say look, the transcripts say that this and this was said, is this correct, and either he or his associate would say yes or no, or no we didn’t say that, no we didn’t mean that, because that’s how it was done.
D Tapscott: How did you–the demeanour of the Petrovs when they came into court, did you notice anything about their demeanour, what they were like?
A Andgel: There was nothing startling in my memory. I thought they were rather subdued.
D Tapscott: Did Mrs Petrov speak English?
A Andgel: Haltingly from memory but I’m not quite sure, I think haltingly, yes.
D Tapscott: So she had to take the stand as well?
A Andgel: Yes.
D Tapscott: Were you there when–was she cross-examined quite severely?
A Andgel: I don’t have a very good memory of that, I don’t know if it was a closed session or not.
D Tapscott: And you saw Petrov in the stands?
A Andgel: Yes.
D Tapscott: How did he cope with all that?
A Andgel: I don’t remember anything outstanding at all. The outstanding thing that I remember was Dr Evatt getting very, very agitated and I thought perhaps had lost the plot a little bit, but I realised afterwards that a great deal of political–what shall we say–I can’t think of the word–consequences had risen after the Commission or just before. But I thought that he was behaving quite irrationally in court and that upset me.
D Tapscott: You could see that happening.
A Andgel: Yes, yes definitely. In fact he was almost demonic at times.
D Tapscott: Was he.
A Andgel: Yes, yes.
D Tapscott: So he was put under pretty torrid interrogation was he do you think?
A Andgel: Well he was doing the interrogating, but he felt he’d been cheated I guess, and as I say, he got very emotional when he was cross-examining people.
D Tapscott: So he was doing the cross-examining and he was taking it very much to heart.
A Andgel: Yes, very much so, yes.
D Tapscott: Do you recall who his supporters were in the court, or who was with him to support him? Was it his own staff?
A Andgel: No I just recall an associate and somebody else of his–of legal staff. I don’t recall a group or anything like that, but there must have been.
D Tapscott: I think we’ve probably covered most of my questions about what I’d like to talk to you. But is there anything you’d like to tell me about the particular time? What year were you there at the Commission?
A Andgel: 1954.
D Tapscott: And it was for a period of what, four —
A Andgel: Four months and it was from day one of the public hearings until conclusion, which I think was about four or five months.
D Tapscott: And then after those four months it was a closed hearing then was it?
A Andgel: My memory is that it was a closed hearing. I know I certainly went back to the office, and there was no reason to go back except I wasn’t needed anymore.
D Tapscott: Were people fascinated, did they ask you a lot about —
A Andgel: Oh constantly, constantly. What was this one like, what was that one like. Dr Bialoguski was a character. He would get on the stand and he would give descriptions of walking up and down the streets of Canberra with a matchbox with a little mirror in it and he’d be waiting on a corner smoking, and he’d be watching the spies out of his little mirror.
D Tapscott: And he would tell you this —
A Andgel: He did this on the stand.
D Tapscott: Is that right?
A Andgel: Oh yes, yes. And it was all this intrigue and counter intrigue, because he was a double agent, and I was totally fascinated because I’ve always been a music lover, and he used to play violin in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
D Tapscott: Yes and he had this double life.
A Andgel: Yes.
D Tapscott: What about Richards, did you —
A Andgel: I don’t recall, no.
D Tapscott: Any of the other characters that you could recall?
A Andgel: Oh Rupert Lockwood who was really sending up the whole affair.
D Tapscott: Any other characters that come to mind?
A Andgel: No, not easily.
D Tapscott: Mrs Andgel you’ve very kindly given us this official pass, the original official pass which you were given for the Royal Commission. Now, there’s some numbers on the back. Could you perhaps tell us what they’re all about?
A Andgel: Yes, well I believe that those telephone numbers related to a building in Double Bay somewhere near Red Leaf Pool, and one day I know the editor and myself went out there. I think it was full of ASIO files, and for some reason we had to go and look through them, that’s all I can remember, it was a one day thing. But the reason I’ve scribbled that was probably to tell me where to go, because we used trams in those days.
D Tapscott: There was nothing provided.
A Andgel: Not for us, no.
D Tapscott: It looks like old telephone numbers.
A Andgel: They are, yes.
D Tapscott: Was there anything in the storage that you found?
A Andgel: I don’t recall, I just remember bundles of notes.
D Tapscott: Well Mrs Andgel thank you for coming in, and I think I’ve asked all the questions I would like to ask. If there’s anything further you’d like to add, I’d welcome anything else you’d like to share with us about the time that —
A Andgel: Well I can only say that at the time, it was incredibly interesting for people. I think everybody had an opinion. It was the first big–what shall we say–scandal that we had in this country I think. It certainly took the public imagination, and I know there were headlines all round the world, Russian spies in Australia. I understand that Petrov did give quite a few names to ASIO.
I know that I was bombarded with questions at home, that I was constantly being asked to go out, what was this one like, what was that one like. And yeah it was a turbulent time.
D Tapscott: Did your family–were they worried about the time, what could —
A Andgel: Didn’t seem to be, no.
D Tapscott: What could happen or what they thought it could lead to?
A Andgel: No, no. I don’t think anybody wold have noticed me particularly. I just went into this little office and into the court room. I mean I became quite well known, and I was being forever asked to come and have a drink–which I don’t do you see–afterwards by the–there were normal police and there were federal police. And everybody got quite jolly and they all knew each other by the end of the four or five months.
D Tapscott: Lots of security?
A Andgel: Oh yes, oh yes. All the doors, you had to show the card every time you went in and out, until you were actually known. Well I was there for such a long time that they just knew me, yes.
D Tapscott: So you got to know the guards and so forth.
A Andgel: Yes, and the editor himself didn’t actually get into the court room nearly as much as I did because I was free in the mornings while the shorthand typing was going on, so I would just sit down and listen to the proceedings and then go across and read them with him, yes.
D Tapscott: Is the Darlinghurst court house still there today?
A Andgel: Yes.
D Tapscott: Functioning as a court house?
A Andgel: Yes, they seem to have quite a lot of criminals in Sydney [LAUGHS]. Yes it does, yes.
D Tapscott: The Royal Commission, I think–it started off here in Albert Hall if I understand it. That was I think before it was moved to Sydney. Do you recall that?
A Andgel: I don’t recall anything like that. All I know is that when it started in Sydney, it seemed to me like this is the beginning of proceedings. So I don’t know what went on in Canberra. The judges were–there were two of them sitting, I’m not sure about the third.
D Tapscott: It would have it on record who the judges might have been, yes.
A Andgel: Yes, well I can remember Owen and Ligertwood, and I can’t remember the third. I mean I could easily look it up, but I’m sure you’ve got it on record.
D Tapscott: Well look thank you for your time.
A Andgel: That’s my pleasure, I hope it’s been of some use.
D Tapscott: It’s very good indeed, and I’ll just stop at this stage.
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