Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Ballad of Jack Elliott, Olympian, Boxer, Journalist, War Victim

John 'Jack' Elliott, 1927
One aspect of writing a book detailing historical events is that you can very easily go off on tangents that, while peripheral to the topic at hand, don’t quite fit into the overall narrative.  Such a tangent is the story of the death of John ‘Jack’ Elliott, Olympic boxer, silver medallist, suspected Nazi sympathiser and a victim of World War II.

I first learnt about Jack Elliott as I was researching and writing my forthcoming book, ‘Australian Gothic’, which will detail the story behind the 1929 Dracula stage tour of Australia.  I began to serialise the book in the pages of Monster! magazine, but felt that a book project would enable me to expand upon my findings and give me far more scope to detail the histories of the performers of the tour, in particular Ashton Jarry, Australia’s first stage Dracula.  One of the actors in that tour was a young lady named Helga Rolunde.

A natural beauty, precocious and talented, Rolundes turn as the Maid in Dracula marked her swansong from the Australian stage.  She entered the world of journalism, writing a regular column titled Little Stages for the Sydney Sun, before she passed away in 1935.  Along the way she met, fell in love with and eventually married John ‘Jack’ Elliott.  If you want to know more about Rolunde, get the book when it comes out, there’s a lot more detail in there.

Elliott was born in London, England, on the 14th of October, 1901.  He served, albeit briefly, in World War I, enlisting in the Royal Navy at the age of 17 and being mustered out in 1919.  While serving in the navy, he lost the top joint of his left thumb, something that was incredibly disabling for a person of his chosen craft.  He then turned his attentions to boxing.  
Probably the main principal of boxing is being able to form a fist.  As he was missing part of his thumb, Elliott had to teach himself to form a fist that would be powerful enough to incapacitate his opponent and also be able to sustain the force required to throw a snap left hook.  To his credit, Elliott was able to do both.  He boxed as an amateur, earning a call up to the 1924 Olympics, held in Copenhagen, where he represented England as a middleweight.  He reached the finals, losing to Harry Mallin on points, and earning the silver medal in the process.

He turned professional after the Olympics and began to box in England and Europe.  He was brought to Australia in 1927 as part of Charles Lucas’s boxing tour, at the time it was noted that Elliott would be fighting as a cruiserweight and that he was looking forward to Australia as the climate of England wasn’t to his liking.  Elliott reached Sydney in December and in early January, 1928; he had his first bout, fighting Australian George Thompson.  That fight was a messy affair, with fouls on both sides and Thompson winning by disqualification.  

To say that the fight wasn’t well received by both the media and the public is an understatement.  Big things were expected from Elliott and this fight was nothing short of a disgrace.  Thompson appeared to be the main offender, landing many low blows, faking injury and eventually head-butting Elliott giving him a concussion.  Finally, sick of the punishment, the two men began to wrestle and Elliott landed his own succession of low blows, causing him to be disqualified.  The head injuries that Elliott suffered were enough to keep him bedridden for over a week.

At the same time that Elliott was boxing in Sydney, he met Helga Rolunde.  The two fell for each other and began a courtship.  Elliott, assessing himself after the beating he had received, retired from boxing at the age of 30 and took up a job with the Sydney based sports newspaper The Referee, eventually becoming the paper’s editor.  Unlike most boxers of the era, Elliott was highly intelligent, well spoken, well-read and was perfect for the job.  Rolunde landed her job with the Sun at the same time meaning that the couple were now both journalists.

The two married, but it was short lived.  Rolunde died in tragic circumstances in 1935 and Elliott went off the rails.  Wracked with grief, he hit the bottle with a fury.  He continued to write, but found himself getting into scrapes and finding himself in trouble.  Finally, having never remarried and suffering longstanding guilt over Rolunde’s death, he left for England, in 1939, joining the AIF.

In the AIF, as a war correspondent, Elliott saw action in England, going as far as Russia and reporting on the Russian-Finland war, spending the bulk of his time in Finland.  He also visited North Africa and reported the war there.  Leaving the AIF in 1941, he returned to Australia and attempted to enlist, only to find that he was now being accused of being a Nazi sympathiser. 

John Elliott's War Identification Card
NAA: B883, NX677
He enlisted on the 8th of April, 1941 and stationed himself in the Labrador Hotel in Sydney, where he took up residence and devoted himself to writing a book about his experiences in Finland.  In May, 1941, it was reported to the Armed Forces Investigations Unit that Elliott’s former mother-in-law, Helga Swinburne-Johnston, also known as Helga Rolunde and Madame Rolunde, had been talking, in general, about her views on the war in Europe.  She had also hired a Frenchman to work with her and appeared to be very sympathetic to the Nazi cause.  Her prediction was that Germany would win the war.

At the same time two young ladies reported their encounter with Elliott at the Labrador.  He had been asked what he thought of the Russian situation and replied, “Just wait until the Germans get here, you’ll be clicking your heels then.”  At which point he neatly clicked his heels together and walked off.  The two girls quickly worked out that Elliott was a Finn and a Nazi and immediately reported him.  A dossier was requested on both Swinburne-Johnston and Elliott.

The dossier found that Swinburne-Johnston was nothing more than highly intelligent and well read on the European situation and not a Nazi, rather she could see things from all angles.  Elliott had his own defenders, an old friend who detailed his downfall and descent into depression after his wife’s death and that he was most certainly not a Nazi.  While the dossier was being presented another anonymous source informed on him.  His crime this time was to tell a girl she would soon be learning the Nazi salute.  When the source was tracked down, all they could say for sure was that Elliott liked to drink and that the Nazi salute comment had been said to a friend of a friend of a friend – in other words, it probably never happened.

Unaware of the surveillance, Elliott applied to be a war correspondent for Australia.  He was knocked back on the grounds that free-lance journalists would not be granted such status.  He then applied for, and was granted, employment with the ABC, who supported his application.  When high ranking military officers in the AIF were contacted about Elliott they all vouched for him and his patriotism.  The ABC vouched for him, as did the newspaper The Daily Mirror.  The more the army dug the more they discovered that Elliott had been unfairly slandered.  Finally the army investigators interviewed him and he was forthright.  He had been critical of the treatment of the Finns by the Russians, and still was. He had minimal contact with his ex-mother-in-law for personal reasons and he hated Hitler.  

That was good enough for the Army, they allowed Elliott to become a fully accredited war correspondent.  He was sent to Manila as the official roving reporter for the ABC and remained in the Pacific area for the duration.

"Off the record" The Cipher Message detailing
the true manner of John Elliott's death.
NAA: B883, NX677
On the 3rd of April, 1945, Elliott was shot dead.  He was 44 years old.  The official story was that he and a fellow correspondent were resting in a trench after a fierce battle when a Japanese soldier, who had been hiding underneath a pile of corpses, rushed the trench and shot them both, killing them instantly.  Elliott’s next of kin, his sister Louise, was notified and the story allowed to run in the newspapers.  The truth was somewhat more tragic.

Elliott and his friend, Bill Smith, were indeed resting in a trench when an Australian soldier with a Bren gun mistook them for the enemy and shot them dead from a distance.  This, of course, was reported to the higher echelon of the army and kept off the record.  Nobody, not even his immediate family, were to know that Elliott had been killed by his own side.  He was buried in Borneo and his effects sent to his sister.  The case was closed and the story of John ‘Jack’ Elliott, silver medallist in the 1924 Olympic Games, came to an end.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Published Projects: Where To Buy My Words These Days

Here's a quick run down of what I've had published recently and where you can get it all, if such is your desire.  All of these publications are print editions, I'll list where you can get e-Books later this week.  I'll update this blog each time something appears in print.

The Strange, Strange Story of Phillip Wearne 
by Daniel Best 
"Phillip Wearne, Australian comic book artist, spy, publisher and rogue. At the age of 17 he was publishing comic books, at the age of 18 he was in the RAAF. He fought L Ron Hubbard and Scientology, he infiltrated unions and the ALP and infuriated ASIO. Read about the incredible life of one of Australia's least known comic book pioneers."

I have a limited amount of copies at my disposal which I'm happy to sign and send.  Just drop me a line if you wish to buy direct.

Monster! #27: Lovecraftian Horrors, Vol. 1 
by Tim Paxton et al. 
"Daniel Best on the subject of vintage horror entertainment Down Under, entitled “Australian Gothic”; this time Daniel covers the 1929 stage production of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA which toured Australia’s theatre circuit with considerable success in its day, but has since been as-good-as forgotten by history." 

Monster! #25: January 2016 
by Tim Paxton et al. 
" From a uniquely Australian perspective, Daniel Best contributes a fascinating scholarly piece about Lon Chaney’s much-sought-after lost film LONDON AFTER MIDNIGHT (1927), and is of the optimistic opinion—despite what naysayers may believe—that a copy of said film might conceivably one day surface Down Under. Not only does Daniel’s article alight on other aspects of Chaney’s career, but he also discusses lost films in Australia in general (etc)."

Monster! #20: August 2015 
by Tim Paxton et al.
" in “The Many Lives of King Kong”, Daniel Best gives us the lowdown about the great ape’s forays Down Under (i.e., in Australia)" 

Monster! #18 
by Tim Paxton et al. 
Part Three of the 2016 Rondo Award Nominated article.. "Daniel Best concludes his informative 3-part article about governmental censorship of Universal’s FRANKENSTEIN movie series (and other vintage horror movies) in Australia."

Monster! #17: May 2015 - Our BIGGEST Issue Ever!!! 
by Tim Paxton et al. 
Part Two of the 2016 Rondo Award Nominated article. "Daniel Best gives us “Frankenstein, The Australian Connection (Pt. 2)”, the latest instalment of his fascinating ongoing look back at governmental censorship imposed Down Under on movies in Universal’s Frankenstein series; this issue, he mostly discusses events from the 1940s.".

Monster! #15: March 2015 
by Tim Paxton et al. 
Part One of the 2016 Rondo Award Nominated article."Daniel Best's article "Frankenstein, The Australian Connection", which details the 1930s controversy and censorship in the land Down Under of Universal Pictures' first two Frankenstein franchise entries, James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935); the article includes seldom-seen ad-mats and articles reprinted from Oz newspapers of the period, as well as even reproductions of some of the censor board’s actual official documents pertaining to the films in question."

The Exploitation Of Nancy: Benoit vs Hustler 
by Daniel Best
"On the weekend of the 23rd to the 25th of June, 2007, the world of Wrestling and entertainment was rocked by the double murder and resulting suicide of professional wrestler, Chris Benoit who first killed his wife, Nancy, followed by his son Daniel before killing himself at their family home in Georgia. Shortly after Nancy’s death Hustler Magazine were approached by a photographer who informed them that he had nude photos of Nancy from a photo session done in the early 1980s. Huster bought the images and published them in their March 2008 issue. This was too much for Nancy's family who promptly sued Huster for publishing the photos without permission or compensation. This book covers every moment of every day of the court case case, as it unfolded." 

The 1955 Romance Comics Trial 
by  Daniel Best 
"In mid-1954 the Queensland Government set up a Board of Review, working under the Objectionable Literature Act of 1954 act. The board, consisting of four men and one woman, initially met once every fortnight with the view of examining all publications on sale in Queensland, barring newspapers, and ultimately to prohibit the circulation in Queensland of any material that they found to be objectionable. in late 1954 the Board banned romance comics as published by three Australian publishers. Only this time the publishers refused to accept the ban, a first for all concerned. The three publishers banded together to bring the appeal to the Supreme Court. Unlike earlier cases the appeal would consist of more than merely affidavits as for the first time in Australia, and perhaps in the world, a superior court listened to days of argument and a series of witnesses in order to decide whether a comic book had the power and influence to deprave the reader. This book provides the full details of what happened in court, when the publishers fought the censors, and won."

Gentleman Jim Mooney 
by Daniel Best et al. 
"Gentleman Jim Mooney was written with the direct involvement of Jim Mooney. It features rare and unpublished art, direct from Mooney's files, plus previously unseen personal photos. The book features contributions from Steve Gerber, Gene Colan, Roy Thomas, Joe Sinnott and others, plus all-new art as Sinnott, Norm Breyfogle, Bob Almond, Mark McKenna, Jim Tournas and Bob McLeod exclusively ink previously unpublished Mooney pencils. Also features is Mooney's niece Libby Titus, wife of Steely Dan Founder Donald Fagen plus an introduction by Stan "The Man" Lee. This fully revised and re-edited version of the book is sure to delight all that read it."

If you feel that way inclined then, by all means, visit the sites and buy a book.  And leave a comment - feedback is the best way to keep writers happy!  And if you want me to scribble in any of them, just let me know and we'll figure something out.

The Mysteries of Gredown Soon to be Revealed

The past few months have seen me engaged in some serious research into the history of one of my favourite Australian publishers, Gredown.  The main thing that I have learnt was that virtually everything we know about Gredown, and all that's been reported (including my own previously published research) has been inaccurate, to say the least.  I can't go into great detail here as the work was commissioned, but once it's published I'll let people know where they can find it - it'll be on sale for a very affordable price and is being published at some point this year.

Trust me on this, if you have even a passing interest in horror comics and the connections between K.G. Murray, ACP and even the Fairfax group, then you'll want to read this.  And you'll be seeing a lot more scans from own collection of Gredown comics, over 400 issues and growing...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Rondo Awards: Frankenstein: The Australian Connection, Pts. 1-3

So, here's the deal. Last year I decided to step back from writing about comic book related stuff and change direction. I moved into writing about horror movies, their history in Australia and the impact that they had upon our society as a whole - with a focus on censorship, what was released where and when and how it was promoted and seen within our young nation.

My first series, published in Monster looked at the history Frankenstein, tracing it from the very first stage performances in Tasmania in the early 1800s through to the movies and it's resurgence on television in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. I covered a lot of ground and uncovered a lot of information that, frankly, hadn't been reported anywhere before in regards to the original Karloff movie being banned for twenty one years in South Australia, censorship issues that Bride encountered and the many issues that the films came up against trying to get onto television. Along the way I was encouraged by Stephen Bissette, John Harrison and Tim Paxton, as well as my lovely wife and others, all of whom pushed me hard to get it out there and made sure my self-doubts were put to the back.

Now that series has been nominated for a Rondo Award. That is the pinnacle of horror writing, on a factual level. This is mega for me - it'd be like being nominated for an Academy Award really for acting. I am over the moon and even if I don't win (and I don't expect to) just being nominated tells me I've made the right call, writing wise, and I'll continue down this track. When I look at the names of people I've been nominated with; Tom Weaver, Steve Bissette, John Harrison, Gary Don Rhodes and many others whose well read books are on my shelves, well I have to slap myself because I'm not sure I belong in such company.

Visit the site of the Rondo Awards and vote (I'm in category 12. BEST ARTICLE). I'd like to think you'll vote for me in the category of Best Article and vote for Monster! for best publication. But the best is yet to come...wait until you see what I've uncovered now!

Spread the word! Vote for me, Stephen Bissette, John Harrison and Monster!!!

Since 2002, the Rondo’s have been fandom’s only classic horror awards — decided by fans, for fans. Every nominee below is being recognized for significant work or achievement in the year 2015. So add your voice and help make a difference.

–– All voting is by e-mail only. Simply copy this ballot (cut-and-paste works fine) and send an e-mail with your picks to me, David Colton, at by Sunday night at midnight, April 10, 2016.

— You can send a quick e-mail, or you can cut-and-paste the ballot and highlight your choices, or place an X next to your choices; or you can type your choices in an e-mail. And no, you do not have to vote in every category.

— One vote per person, please. Every e-mail must include your name to be counted. All votes are kept strictly confidential. No e-mail addresses or personal information will ever be shared with anyone.

— Feel free to spread the word about the Rondo voting — go social on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; place Rondo banners on websites, urge friends and fans to vote. But please do not mass-produce or duplicate ballots; suspicious ballots will be rejected at the sole discretion of Rondo organizers. Let’s keep this a fun vote!

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Strange, Strange Story of Phillip Wearne: Part Five

Continuing the story of obscure Australian comic book artist Phillip Wearne.

Part Five: Wearne's Final Years

Wearne’s divorce was taking its toll.  The courts had seized his taxation records and banking details and was busily trying to unravel it all.  Wearne had built such a complex web that it’s possible that even he didn’t know his true worth, not that his true worth was as impressive as he wanted to believe.  The court worked out that he owned two houses, one in Sydney, one in Melbourne, and both were heavily mortgaged.  He had recently sold a third property but had yet to disclose what he was set to earn from the sale. In addition to the house sale, Wearne was now stating that his Australian Trade Union Press was insolvent, possibly due to his ASIO surveillance, which had been reported to the relevant ministers of Parliament and then to members of the ALP who would then pass the information onto the unions.  Wearne’s accounts vanished and people couldn’t get rid of him fast enough.  As of May 1962 Wearne, by his own account, was unemployed and claiming no income which, he believed, excused him from paying any alimony to Joyce and Phillip.  In addition to that he was now toxic as far as the ALP were concerned.  A trial date for the divorce was set down for the end of July, 1962.  By now Wearne owed an incredible £325 in alimony and had been given until mid-August to pay.  Instead he left for Melbourne with Queitzsch.

The now defunct Nation exposed Wearne as early as 1961
Wearne’s financial dealings reached a new low when it was revealed that he had arranged for furniture to be purchased by Labour Newspapers and delivered to the family home.  Wearne wasn’t home the day it was delivered, so Joyce duly signed for it.  She also signed on the day the phone was connected, only to find that now she was liable for payment and now owed £1900, which she did not have.  Wearne, naturally, denied it.  The furniture was removed, leaving Joyce to fend for herself in an unfurnished house with a small child.

Wearne (1962)
The ASIO investigation into Probe signed it’s death warrant.  The newspaper was dead and buried by September, 1962.  Typical with Wearne’s publishing ventures, the end of Probe saw him slip further into debt as he refused to pay his office rent and printing costs. But Wearne wasn’t finished.  The court had ordered that he start paying alimony or face 90 days jail.  With everything taking its toll on him he got ready to play his trump card in the divorce and it would come at what was expected to be a simple two day trial for unpaid maintenance in February 1963.

The trial started simply enough until Wearne dropped a bombshell.  A witness, one John Campbell, was called to give evidence that Joyce Wearne had also committed adultery with him in 1960.  New laws regarding divorces had recently been introduced which meant that witnesses were bound to answer questions put to them if they were deemed relevant to the proceedings.  However any such answer might leave Campbell open to perjury, as this wasn’t raised in Campbell’s own divorce proceedings in 1960, so the magistrate denied the question and sought advice from the State Attorney General.  If Wearne was buying time he’d succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Wearne sues Scientology
The Scientologists finally threw Wearne out in March, 1963.  Wearne had paid dearly for his auditing sessions, which he stated he was coerced into undertaking – he claimed £2,700 – and he wanted justice so he turned on Scientology as savagely as he did anyone who he felt crossed him.  First he filed suit against the church in the Victorian courts, asking for his money back.  The Scientologists promptly paid him off, giving him £1,500, with the view of removing him as a thorn in their side.  He then made contact with John ‘Jack’ Galbally, a former Collingwood footballer, then a senior minister in the Victorian Government, who started a campaign against Scientology, mentioning the Church, and Wearne, in the House in November, 1963.  Then he reached out to ASIO and provided them with another report on the actions of the church.  The result of this was Wearne being invited to lunch, in Tasmania, by a man named Earl Wilkinson.

According to Wearne, Wilkinson informed him he was on the right track and offered to fund him to dig up more dirt on the Scientologists.  More importantly, for Wearne, was that Wilkinson told him that he, Wilkinson, was a CIA operative.  That was all Wearne needed.  With ASIO and now the CIA on his side, he felt invincible and unleashed on the Scientologists.

Wearne’s first step was to form a new company called The Committee for Mental Health and National Security.  He was the only real employee of the company and referred to himself as its Director, Publicity Officer or Investigating Officer, depending on who he was talking to. Others came and went into the Committee, including Douglas Moon, another ex-Scientologist who had a beef against the organisation.

Wearne attacked Scientology in 1964
Wearne promptly placed advertisements in Melbourne newspapers calling for anyone who had, “lost anyone as a result of the processes or teachings of mental health practitioners’ to contact him and speak to a Methodist priest, the Rev John Westerman.  At times it appeared that he was the only member of the committee but Wearne claimed, more than once, that there were several hundred members, all of whom had been brainwashed.  He wrote to ASIO again, a long, rambling letter in which he spoke almost in the third person, explaining how the Scientologists were brainwashing people for their own purposes.  Wearne claimed that the Scientologists wanted to rule the world in a subtle form of religious terrorism.  At the same time the Victorian Parliament was also investigating Scientology and announced both a ban and called for an official Board of Enquiry to look into the workings of the church.  Wearne was delighted; he would be a star witness.

As early as 1964 ASIO knew Wearne
was unstable
Called before the Board of Enquiry into Scientology, Wearne, representing the Committee for Mental Health and National Security, made a series of amazing claims.  He stated that ASIO had given him a codename along with a PO Box number where he could send his reports.  He also stated that Wilkinson had paid him for the duration of the Enquiry, had set up a phoney finance company (from which Wearne drained funds) along with coaching him on what to say.  Wearne drew more people into his web; one lunchtime meeting brought him face to face with the editor of the Melbourne Truth, Sol Chandler.  At this meeting, according to Wearne, Chandler revealed that he was working for M.I.6, the English Intelligence Agency.

Wearne stated that he often blacked out when being audited as his sessions would last for five hours a day, five days in a row.  The sessions, according to Wearne, consisted of him looking endlessly at books, bottles and walls and then being bombarded with questions until he became physically ill with stomach and back pains to the point of lapsing into unconsciousness. He also claimed that the Scientologists wanted to ‘clear’ Australia. The plan was to infiltrate the Australian Government, take it over and then use the country as a launch pad for world domination. Wearne himself had played a part in this with his publishing venture providing the means to spread propaganda, via Reality, Probe and the numerous union newspapers, as well as trying to get himself, and others, employment at the highest levels within the ALP. Thus, while denying any link between his publishing ventures to ASIO, Wearne was admitting to it under oath to the Board of Inquiry.

Eventually the Board figured out what the Scientologists had and what ASIO were rapidly working out – Wearne was unstable.  Both he and Moon all but kidnapped one witness and coached her overnight on what to say before the Board, resulting in Anderson officially warning Wearne about his constant approaches to potential witnesses and his attempts to force them into giving testimony against Scientology.

The Anderson Board wrapped up after hearing 160 days of evidence from 151 separate witnesses, both for and against, on the 14th of December.  Wearne had attended every day of the hearing, firing questions at witnesses. He was confident that the report, when issued, would feature him prominently and result in the downfall of Scientology. He filed suit against L Ron Hubbard personally claiming £105,000 for lost wages and mental damage for the five year time period that he was involved with them.

Throughout all of this drama, Wearne was still negotiating his divorce.  He ceased making repayments on the Sydney property, resulting in the bank threatening foreclosure, which would see Joyce and Phillip homeless.  The court demanded that he restart payments, Wearne refused and once again faced being thrown into jail.

The divorce entered a new stage, its fourth year, with Wearne asking for a reversal of the decree which had been granted the year previously; on the grounds that Joyce had committed adultery, presumably before Wearne had. This resulted in yet another two day trial, after which the court decided enough was enough and made the decree absolute in early October, 1964.  Wearne wasn’t free of Joyce though, he would still have to pay alimony but he rarely would.  With the divorce and the Scientology battle weighing him down, Wearne skipped on yet another debt, this time rent payments for his old office in Carlton.  Ironically, for a man who owed thousands, this simple debt of £165 would lead him into bankruptcy with the commencement of formal hearings in the South Yarra courthouse.  From owning three houses, luxury cars, business and offices, Wearne was moving between small flats in South Yarra and Toorak, leaving once the landlords’ realised he couldn’t pay rent.  Adding insult to injury, once the divorce was settled, the Tax Office had jumped in and hit Wearne with a bill of £27,418. It was more money that just didn’t have.  Despite selling the Randwick property that he had bought for himself and Jill to live in, his debts far outstripped his assets; most of the latter were on hire purchase anyway.  Appearing before Justice Clyne on the 10th of November, 1964, Wearne was formally declared bankrupt. He now had no house, no money, no car and no reputation.

Throughout it all Wearne kept up his one-sided correspondence with ASIO.  Over the next few years Wearne would claim to have found the true source behind Scientology (Chinese Communists), long rambling reports and a host of outlandish claims.  ASIO had heard enough.  Wearne had given them nothing of value and they were keen to wash their hands of him.  A directive was sent out to all offices informing staff not to encourage Wearne, let alone invite him to any offices.  Wearne knew nothing of this and firmly believed that he was working undercover for the organisation and continued to bombard them with reports.  Always on the make for money, Wearne eventually suggested that ASIO place him on the payroll, a request that was ignored.  A similar request to the Australian Commonwealth Police was also ignored to the point of not even being acknowledged.  Wearne had no idea if his letters and reports were getting through, but he kept up with them regardless.

This massive, 14 page manifesto written by
 Wearne was dismissed by ASIO as
 being plagiarised.
Wearne was finally caught out by ASIO for his old trick – he had plagiarised several communist and anti-communist writers in his latest report, as well as trying to pass off L Ron Hubbard’s own writings as his own.  His latest report was given back to Wearne, by hand, without comment.  ASIO now wanted to keep him under surveillance from afar and from September, 1965 onwards, ASIO would not make any direct contact with Wearne.  As far as they were concerned, he was dead.  Wearne kept supplying them with reports though, attacking not only Scientology and communists, but also the Securities and Exchange Council, the Christian Ant-Communist Crusade and the newly minted Psychological Services Bill.

In late September, 1965 The Anderson Report was tabled in Victorian Parliament.  The report called for more public awareness, the registration of psychologists and generally denounced Scientology as a religion, instead calling it ‘pseudo-science’.  For all his efforts, Wearne was mentioned twice in the report, once referred as being vehemently anti-Scientology and the other when he attempted to explain the difference between Scientology and Christian beliefs.  It wasn’t the personal vindication that he had expected but it made him happy that Scientology was now officially banned in Victoria.  Similar bans followed in South Australia and Western Australia.

The Church of Scientology would now attack Wearne as ferociously as he had attacked them. They issued several documents and pamphlets attacking the Anderson Inquiry as being illegitimate, and Wearne as a person, taking care to note that he had no academic qualifications, was not an expert in Scientology or psychiatry, even though the Board has given him similar access to evidence as they did lawyers. These attacks would continue long after Wearne was dead.

ASIO blackballed Wearne in 1970
By 1966 Wearne’s mental health had deteriorated considerably.  He was 41 years old, bankrupt, and had a failed marriage behind him along with a string of failed businesses and publishing ventures.  He was being shunned by ASIO – labelled as being not a responsible informant.  The CIA, if Wilkinson was ever connected with them, denied knowledge of him and he was reduced to supplying endless, rambling, reports to investigative agencies that would never read, let alone act upon, them.  His magus-opus came with a fifteen page, single spaced, tightly typed, virtually unreadable document in which Wearne outlined the woes of the world, tracing them all back to communism and mental health.  The document was incredible; again ASIO duly filed it and refused to acknowledge that they’d even received it, keeping up their silence.

Wearne moved back to Sydney after marrying JillaineQueitzsch in 1966 and tried to settle down.  He bought yet another house, this time in Randwick.  He made his will in 1967 while aged 41.  In it he left everything to Jillaine, other than a single painting (Bacchus by Myer Issacman) to a close friend. He appeared to settle into a quiet life, but reared his head once more in 1970 when he attempted to establish contact with ASIO.  He first asked for permission to deal with an ‘overseas crowd’ – with the implication being the CIA.  This time the plan was to establish a Securities and Exchange Council which would be in competition with the stock exchange and funded, presumably, by the CIA.  This time he’d reached a new branch of ASIO, with new people who weren’t aware of him.  A quick check of the files brought him undone. “He was in 1966 and may still be an Undischarged bankrupt and is something of a con-man in business,” the internal memo read.  “Wearne appears to suffer from psychoneurotic condition and consideration will be given to blacklisting. At next contact Wearne may be informed that his activities are of no concern but at same time he should be firmly discouraged from meddling on (sic) fringe of security.”

Wearne was also described as being, “…obsessed with National Security.”  It was all too much for ASIO who formally blacklisted him in early February, 1970.  The processes were put into place, the electoral office contacted for details of Wearne’s address and the application for blacklisting was approved.  It made no difference; this attempt would be Wearne’s last contact with any intelligence agency and he would be dead before the blacklisting process could be completed.

Wearne's death certificate showing he
 died of a drug overdose.
It is not known if the overdose was
 accidental or deliberate.
Wearne was increasingly depressed by the lack of action and responses from ASIO and had turned to medication for help.  Typical for Wearne, it was all or nothing.  At some point on Friday, the 6th of March, Wearne took an overdose of Mandrax, which was commonly available in Australia in the early 1970s.  It is unknown if the overdose was taken on purpose or accidently, but it no longer mattered, it would prove fatal.  Jillaine found him unresponsive in their bed at Wood Street and called for an ambulance.  He was taken to the Prince of Wales Hospital where he was pronounced dead.  How he died isn’t important anymore.  Wearne passed away on the 7th of March and was laid to rest at the Roman Catholic Cemetery at Botany in Sydney’s outer suburbs on the 11th of March.  He was 44 years old. The death certificate listed his occupation as ‘pensioner’.

An autopsy was carried out and, as the death was drug related, an inquest was held on the 17th of August, but the findings were inconclusive.  The coroner found that Wearne had, “Died from the effects of poisoning due to Methaqualome following his admission to that hospital on 3rd March, 1970, from 21 Wood Street Randwick, but wether (sic) accidentally ingested or otherwise the evidence adduced does not enable me to say.” Nowhere in the coroners findings is a beating mentioned, only a drug overdose. The first theory also does not give an explanation as to why Wearne would be transported across Sydney, from Kings Cross to Randwick when the St Vincent Hospital is closer.

Wearne was worth a considerable sum.  His estate was probated as being worth in excess of $12,300 after death duties, taxes and other expenses, the bulk of which came from the Wood Street property that Wearne owned in Randwick.

Even in death Wearne figured in dealings with ASIO and the Scientologists.  For decades since his passing the Church of Scientology has sought to discredit Wearne by painting him as vexatious, a drug addict, a liar and worse.  For years a violent scenario was told by Scientologists who supposedly witnessed how Wearne met his demise.  Wearne, it was said, had taken to hard drugs and, in doing so, had fallen into his usual habit of grabbing what he could and not paying.  He owed money, lots of it, and he had finally ripped off the wrong person. Legend has it that Wearne was taken to the back of a Kings cross nightclub and beaten to death.  His body was dumped onto the gutter where it was discovered and duly taken by ambulance to hospital only to be pronounced dead.  This untruth was probably told by Scientologists in an attempt to further disgrace Wearne’s name.

ASIO claimed that he was an unreliable witness and one that they never encouraged.  The truth is that Wearne, for all his flaws, and there was certainly many of them, got caught up in a whirlpool which he couldn’t get out of.  But, from the young man who, aged 17, managed to produce a comic book, through to the man he became, Wearne’s worst enemy was himself.  He managed to do more in his 44 years than most people would ever manage to do; more is the pity that he didn’t stick to the comic books.  It would have been safer.

Wearne’s first publisher, Henry ‘Harry’ Hoffmann left the publishing field completely in 1949 and moved back into his role as a customs agent.  He passed away in 1972.

Jillaine Wearne was a widow at the age of 42.  She remained in the Randwick property for much of the 1970s, eventually moving to Double Bay. She never remarried and passed away in 1985.

Doug Maxted, Wearne’s friend from art school and his replacement in Hoffmann’s comic books, moved back to England and forged a long career drawing for IPC titles such as Valiant, Roy of the Rovers and Tiger.  He moved back to Adelaide in 1983 and passed away in 1999 at the age of 85. His passing saw the last link with Hoffmann’s Adelaide publishing venture go.

Max Judd, Wearne’s other art school colleague, created several stories for Hoffmann’s many comic books, such as The Strata Rocketeers, Racey Rhodes and the Sky Police. He would eventually leave the comic book industry and fade into obscurity.

The Scientologists would move on from Wearne, as would ASIO, the CIA, MI6, the ALP and every other organisation that he’d touched. In their combined history Wearne barely rates a footnote mention.

Wearne’s first wife, Joyce, was still alive at the time of the writing this article, having celebrated her 90th birthday in 2015. After her divorce was finalised she became a highly successful company director, in conjunction with her son, Phillip, who is still living, and her third husband.  She still lives in Sydney.

She refuses to speak about her second husband.


Burrows, Toby and Grant Stone (eds.), Comics in Australia and New Zealand: The Collections, the Collectors, the Creators, The Haworth Press Inc, New York, 1994
Ryan, John, Panel by Panel: A History of Australian Comics, Cassell Australia Limited, NSW, 1979
Shiell, Annette (ed.). Bonzer: Australian Comics 1900-1990s. Redhill South, Vic.: Elgua Media, 1998

NAA: A9301, 442738
NAA: A1336, 39178
NAA: A6122, 2608
NAA: M132, 297
NAA: A6122, 2609
NAA: A6122, 2610
NAA: A6122, 2612
NAA: M1353, 26
NAA: B2455, HOFFMAN H E 1744

NEWSPAPERS (1889 – 1970)
Australian Capital Territory
The Canberra Times
New South Wales
Barrier Miner
Goulburn Evening Post
The Sydney Morning Herald
Courier Mail
Queensland Times 
Sunday Mail
The Telegraph
South Australia
The Daily News
The Mail
The News
The Register
The Weekly Times
The Age
The Nation

Australian Trade Union Press.Reality : a publication of Australian Trade Union Press Pty. Ltd 1960
Doherty, Bernard, Colonial Justice or a Kangaroo Court?Public Controversy and the Church of Scientology in 1960s Australia, Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review, Volume 6, Issue 1, 2015, pgs. 9-49
Hubbard College of Scientology.Kangaroo Court : an investigation into the conduct of the Board of Inquiry into Scientology, Melbourne, Australia Hubbard College of Scientology, Church of Scientology of California East Grinstead, Sussex 1967
Maxted, Douglas F. and Connell, Daniel.  Doug Maxted interviewed by Daniel Connell [sound recording] 1995
Tampion, Ian Kenneth.A Petition, not an indictment, to the Victorian Parliament, [by Ian Kenneth Tampion and others] Church of Scientology of California East Grinstead (Saint Hill Manor, East Grinstead, Sussex) 1972
Victoria. Board of Inquiry into Scientology.and Anderson, Kevin. Report of the Board of Inquiry into Scientology Govt. Printer Melbourne 1965
Victoria. Hansard 42 CA V273 Nov-Mar 1963-64
Wearne, Phillip B. The Legion of space : an inter-planetary adventure strip / by Phillip Wearne Messrs. H.E. Hoffmann and P.B. Wearne Largs Bay, S.A 1943
Wearne, Phillip B. The space legionnaires : an interplanetary adventure strip / by Phillip Wearne Messrs. H.E. Hoffmann and P.B. Wearne Largs Bay, S.A 1944
Wearne, Phillip B.  The Legion of Space / Phillip Wearne  Invincible Press Sydney  [1949 - 1950]
Wearne, Phillip B. ProbeCarlton, VIC, 1961

Correspondence between Doug Maxted and John Ryan, 1978
Divorce papers Joyce Patterson Wearne - Phillip Bennett Wearne, Jill Quietzsch
Probate packetsPhillip Bennett Wearne
Ryan, John. and Nicholls, Syd. and Cross, Stan. and Mercier, Emile. and Dixon, John. and Donald, Will. John Ryan collection of Australian comic books, ca. 1940-1960 [manuscript] 1940
Wearne, Phillip B. What is Mental Health to do with Nation Security? 1966

The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance and support of Prof Bernard Doherty, Kevin Patrick and Jeremy MacPherson.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Strange, Strange Story of Phillip Wearne: Part Four

Continuing the story of obscure Australian comic book artist Phillip Wearne.

Part Four: Wearne hits a money maker and meets the Scientologists

It was in Melbourne in the early 1950s that Wearne became attached to the Australian Labor Party, working as a Publicity Officer.  Nobody could ever clarify exactly what Wearne did for the ALP, or why he was drawing a salary, and Wearne himself, when asked, was evasive.  What is known is that Wearne had found the perfect get rich quick scheme, with minimal effort and almost no outlay.  As the money came flooding in he set up house in Toorak, bought a Jaguar and a striking white MG and dressed himself in expensive clothing.  The way Wearne made money is still a confusing web, even today.

Wearne set up a company called the Australian Trade Union Press.  The ATUP drew up and accepted contracts from unions all over the country and produced the official union newspaper for three state branches of the ALP; The New Age in Queensland, The Western Sun for Western Australia and South Australia’s The Herald. Wearne would then sell advertising space in the newspapers that he produced, charging both the unions and the ALP, and filled the rest of the newspapers with editorial content.  Wearne was pulling in an amazing £500 weekly, although that amount would rise considerably and Wearne himself would deny it. When it came to the union movement what Wearne did next was incredible.

He was able to tap into the goodwill that each union had, managing to convert an otherwise intangible asset into a money making machine. He approached the unions, offered to produce their publications free of charge; all they had to do was provide the editorial, gratis.  Wearne then sold advertising space to interested parties.  As the unions had members who would automatically buy the newspapers, he was guaranteed a sizable profit before the presses ran. As with the ALP, Wearne would insist on being called that union’s Publicity Officer, thus guaranteeing him an official title, removed from that as a publisher. The key clause that he wrote into each contract with each union was that only he could speak on its behalf and accept the many calls from salesmen who wanted to buy advertising space. In this manner he was able to open shop in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, with each city having a different company set up with the bulk of the shares in Wearne’s name and a token share in the name of another person Wearne nominated.  At his height his publishing arm produced the following: The Retort, The Voice, The Gasworker, Solidarity, The Bricklayer, The Plasterer, The Journal, The F.E.D. Journal and Reality. All of these were produced for various Unions.  The potential was almost limitless.  For example, Queensland branch of the ALP had their publication, The New Age, taken over by Wearne with an established fortnightly distribution of 15,000 copies.  In addition to the publishing and advertising, Wearne also controlled the distribution of all his publications.  Life was looking up for him, and he was finally, in his own eyes, ready to settle down.

Wearne married in 1955
Wearne met Joyce Bower, a recent divorcee with a young son, when she came to work for his company in 1954.  Joyce had married a man named Fred at the age of 22 but the union didn’t last, despite the pair having a child, Phillip, who was born in 1951.  Joyce separated from Fred six years later, obtaining a divorce in 1953.  Finding herself a single mother with no form of support, Joyce went looking for work and was hired by Wearne’s company in Sydney.  In November, 1955, the pair married, with Wearne now describing himself as a Company Director.  The following month Wearne moved back to Adelaide.  He remained until October, 1956, when he moved, with Joyce and her son, Phillip, back to Sydney.  Wearne had itchy feet. He had no sooner than he settled back in Sydney when he was back in Adelaide, this time for a short visit.  Wearne returned to Sydney until May 1957 when he moved to Melbourne.  Wearne would divide his time between Melbourne and Sydney, leaving Joyce to live alone in Sydney.  The continued absences meant that young Phillip lived with his maternal grandmother for much of his childhood. Something had to give, and it would.

Even more important for Wearne is that, while in Melbourne, he joined the Hubbard Association of Scientologists International in 1958. He also set himself up with another perk of being rich; a mistress.

It’s highly likely that Wearne saw Scientology as yet another way to get rich quick with minimal effort. In this he was to be greatly disappointed.  The various techniques that the scientologists engaged didn’t sit well with Wearne.  After one processing session he began to hallucinate that he had been caught in a web and devoured by a forty foot spider as a child.  What didn’t help Wearne was that he was continuing to drink and had begun to use drugs as a form of release.  Whatever happened to Wearne during his time with the church is a matter of contention.  For Wearne it wasn’t the processing as much as the electro shock treatment that he alleged was given to him. No matter, by 1962 Wearne was done with Scientology as a religion, but he was only just starting on it as a target and cause.

Wearne began the first of many failed publishing ventures with Reality. Reality was a free publication aimed at members of the ALP, but only lasted eight months before it folded.  Reality was a forerunner to his next publication, Probe and both newspapers covered very similar ground, controlling workers, brainwashing and mind control.  As with Reality, Probe was issued free of charge, only this time to as many Federal Government offices that he could get to as he wanted everyone and anyone to read his thoughts.  The first issue of Probe, published in July 1961, contained a series of sometime rambling articles about management techniques and staff retention.  However it was an article that Wearne wrote about security checking using L Ron Hubbard’s E-Meter that drew attention to him from the highest spy agency in the country, The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation – ASIO for short.

After reading Probe some agents at ASIO toyed with the idea of obtaining an E-Meter for their own use but dismissed it.  Instead they began to investigate Wearne and placed him under surveillance. Using an undisclosed source within the Scientologists they quickly ascertained that Wearne was acting alone and they quickly disassociated themselves with Probe.  This went against a disclaimer that Wearne included on the rear of the newspaper, stating that, “Probe Magazine acknowledges the assistance and copyrights of the Hubbard Communications office and its Trustees for Technical Information made available.”  This led ASIO to come to a conclusion, that being that Wearne was clearly associated with Hubbard.  They needed to establish the link further, so surveillance was stepped up.  In addition to his divorce, ASIO were checking into him, he was missing his court ordered payments to Joyce and a warrant of possession was about to be issued against him.  Things would only get crazier for Wearne.

Wearne always needed money. His marriage came to a crashing stop in 1961.  Wearne, now with three companies under his control, all haemorrhaging cash, told Joyce in February, 1961, that he was heading to Melbourne for three weeks in order to oversee his business ventures there.  He came back for six nights, left again for Melbourne, where he bought a house, and returned to Sydney where he bought another house, all without telling Joyce.  He moved into a house and set himself up.  It came undone when Joyce, in company with un-named friends, attended Wearne’s new residence to find a Wearne in residence, clothed only in a dressing gown and a naked woman in his bed – it was his mistress.  The woman gave her name as Margaret Mead, but her real name was Jillaine ‘Kanga’ Queitzsch.

Jillaine Quietzsch (1947)
Jillaine Isabel Queitzsch, of German descent, was born in Brisbane in 1928.  She came from a well off family and managed to become somewhat of a socialite while still a teenager.  She lived in Europe while in her early teens and was frequently mentioned in Brisbane newspapers, described as being a striking beauty.  She spent her early 20s travelling the globe, managing to meet the Queen while living in London in 1953.  She was in New York at the age of 25, before heading back to London where she remained until 1957.  Once back in Australia she settled at Kangaroo Point, Queensland, and started a career as a model.  Intelligent, attractive and vivacious, Wearne was immediately smitten.

Wearne didn’t deny the charge of adultery; indeed he drafted and signed a confession on the spot, stating that he had met Queitzsch in 1960 and begun an affair with her, eventually bringing her to Sydney after the first three week Melbourne trip in February and setting up house with her.  Other reports have Wearne marrying Queitzsch as early as 1958, but Wearne was still married to Joyce at that point.  Still, Wearne couldn’t care less what was going on, he allowed Joyce to file for divorce – it was just another battle to be fought and he had bigger fish to fry.

The divorce proceedings began in October, 1961 when Joyce claimed in court that Wearne had deserted her and left her without any income.  Even more damning was the charges that Wearne was earning more than £5,000 a week, if not more, from the ALP alone.  The list of publications that Wearne was associated with and making money from read like a Who’s Who of Australian Unions.  They included;
Australian Labour Party
The Federated Engine Drivers' and Firemen's Association
The Gas Employees Industrial Union
The Leather and Allied Trades Union (Glue and Gelatine Section)
The Association of Architects, Engineers, Surveyors and Draughtsmen of Australia
The shop Assistants and Warehouse Employees' Federation of Australia
The A.L.P. and Trade Union Co-Ordinating Committee
The Federated Municipal and Shire Council Employees' Union of Australia
The Hospital Employees' Association of New South Wales
The Australian Builders' Labourers’ Federation (N.S.W. Branch)
The Rubber, Cable and Plastic Workers' Union (N.S.W. Branch)
The Club Managers' Association of New South Wales
The “Herald” The Official Organ of The Australian Labour Party (S.A. Branch)
The United Trades and Labor Council of South Australia
The Labor Day Celebration Committee of South Australia
The Australian Tramway and Motor Omnibus Employees' Association
The Australian Railways Union (S.A. Branch)
The Transport Workers' Union (S. A. Branch)
The Federated Engine Drivers' and Firemen's Association (S.A. Branch)
The Federated Gas Employees' Industrial Union (S. A. Branch)
Australian Government Workers' Association Federated Clerks' Union
Australian Builders' Labourers’ Federation (S. A. Branch)
Operative Bricklayers, Tilers and Tuckpointers' Society of South Australia
The Plasterers' Society of South Australia
The Carpenter's and Joiners' Union (S.A. Branch)
The Baking Trades Union (S.A. Branch)
The Shop Assistants' and Warehouse Employees' Federation of Australia (S.A. Branch)
Australian Labour Party (Queensland Branch)
The Boilermakers' Union (Queensland Branch)
The Hospital Employees' Union (Queensland Branch)
The Amalgamated Food Union (Queensland Branch)
Australian Labor Party (Western Australia Branch)
The Australasian Meat Industry Employees' Union West. Aust. Branch)
The Australasian Society of Engineers (W.A. Branch)
The Western Australian Timber Industry Industrial Union of Workers
The Hospital Employees' Federation (W.A. Branch)
The Electrical Trades Union (W.A. Branch)
The Clothing Trades Union (W.A. Branch)
The Painters' Union (W.A. Branch)
The Water and Sewerage Employees' Union of Western Australia
The Transport, Timer and Building Trades Union Committee (Hobart)
The Federated Engine Drivers' and Firemen's Association (Tasmania Branch)

Wearne confesses to adultery, 1961
Wearne was the official Publicity Officer for each branch and union, was producing a newspaper for each and making extraordinary amounts of money for the time.

Joyce began to unravel Wearne’s business dealings in court. “I say that the Respondent received the gross proceeds of all advertising space sold in the publications of the abovementioned organisations amount to an average of £5,000. per week and more,” Joyce claimed in her affidavit.  “These moneys were banked in the name of the Respondent and he paid the expenses of distribution of the expenses of printing and producing the said publications were borne by Labour Newspapers (South Australia) Limited of which the Respondent was the majority shareholder and governing Director. The accounts for printing were rendered to the Respondent who paid to the account of' the said Company moneys from his own accounts to meet these charges.  From the gross amounts received in respect of each publication as before mentioned, the Respondent paid to the organisation concerned an amount equivalent to 2 ½ percent of such gross amount.  The balance of the gross amount so received was retained by the Respondent and after payment of the before mentioned expenses and outgoings the balance represented his profit from the said publicity business so carried on by him.”

In short, Wearne was laundering money through his many businesses, moving cash from location to location in order to hide his true income and minimise his tax.  The court, and in particular the Australian Taxation Office, took particular interest in this turn of events, particularly as Wearne was already crying poor and had stopped paying tax a few years earlier.

Wearne, it was claimed, had the capacity to earn upwards of £50,000 per year.  The average annual wage for 1961 in Australia was just over £3,100.  The houses that Wearne had bought were around £5,000 each.  Joyce was existing on £20 per week and, to add insult to injury, Wearne wrote her a letter to inform her that he was selling the house she was currently living in.  Joyce wanted justice and asked for custody of Phillip (Wearne's step-son), maintenance in the form of £50 per week, the house that Wearne was offering for sale, along with its contents and all costs.

The beginning of the end,
Joyce files for divorce
from Wearne
Wearne wasn’t going to give in without a fight.  Firstly he denied the figures that Joyce was stating.  According to Wearne during, “1956 and November 1960 he carried on business on his own account as a Publicity Officer for Labour Party and Trade Union Publications and that his net weekly income varied. At no time was it £1,000. His taxable income for the year ended 30th June 1959 was £4,092. His taxable income for the year ended 30th June 1960 was £1,784. In November 1960 his said business was purchased by Australian Trade Union Press Proprietary Limited. Since 26th March 1961 the Respondents only means of livelihood has been £300 per week which he has received on account of the purchase price payable by Australian Trade Union Press Proprietary Limited. Such weekly sum of £300 has been applied to meet the mortgage payments as aforesaid and £2,000 has been loaned back to the said company to keep its bank account in credit.”  Despite the claims of large amounts of money coming in, Wearne was crying poor. Everything he owned, from his houses to his clothes to his cars, the Jaguar and the MG were owned by the company. Further muddying the waters, Wearne sold his publicity business, which controlled the accounts of the unions, to his parent company the Australian Trade Union Press, and was merely drawing a weekly salary, paid to him by himself.

As he was struggling, or so he claimed, Wearne’s counter offer was insulting – no house, no furniture, custody of Phillip, £3.50 per week and each party would pay their own costs. Wearne then instructed his lawyer to draw up papers selling the family house for £500 to his own company, Australian Trade Union Press.  Upon learning this Joyce immediately applied to the court for an order preventing the sale. It was granted.

ASIO find Wearne
One another front, ASIO found it hard to believe the Scientologists when they said that Wearne, and Probe, had no connection with them.  ASIO were already investigating the organisation in Australia and this was more attention than they wanted.  More inquiries, this time to Wearne’s printer, Southdown Press, revealed nothing they didn’t already know, but in January 1962 ASIO decided that Wearne was a loose cannon.  “There is little doubt that Wearne is certainly a go-getter,” read a memo from the Regional ASIO Director of Victoria, “one might say a con-man, who is prepared to approach anybody or anyone if he can see a chance of making a bit for himself.” The Scientologists had also worked that out and promptly threw him out of their organisation.  Wearne was ready to fight that battle as well.

TOMORROW: Wearne fight Scientology and ASIO, and loses. His final years.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The Strange, Strange Story of Phillip Wearne: Part Three

Continuing the story of obscure Australian comic book artist Phillip Wearne.

Part Three: Wearne Grows Up

By mid-1945 Wearne was busy trying to get himself out of the R.A.A.F.  The war had finished and he wanted to pick up his career where it left off.  He had managed to obtain leave for the legal action against Hoffmann in 1944 and now he wished to be released so he could finish the third instalment in the Space Legion series.  Sensing that the R.A.A.F might refuse his request, Wearne approached the Federal Member for Boothby to contact the Minister for Air, Arthur Drakeford, to plead his case.  The book, T.N. Sheehy wrote, would earn Wearne the rich sum of £300.  If Wearne couldn’t be given leave, then surely he could be released from duty earlier than expected? The reply was as expected; Wearne would have to go through the proper channels, the same as anyone else.  Another tack was tried when Horace Wearne fell ill.  Again bypassing the regular channels, Wearne contacted Sheehy who contacted Drakeford.  This time the R.A.A.F, like Hoffmann, had reached their breaking point with Wearne and duly released him.

Wearne in the RAAF. Obviously
before he got airsick
When Wearne was finally released, in October, 1945, it was to the Thyer Rubber Company, where he was to be employed as a rubber worker.  Horace, although described as being ‘gravely ill’, would last until June, 1946, before he passed away at the age of 47.  Once back in Adelaide Wearne went right back to his old jobs.  He approached Hoffmann with the view of having his comic books reprinted and new strips published, only to find that he was not a wanted commodity.  Hoffmann, twice bitten, wanted nothing to do with Wearne and was more than content to continue publishing comics with the more reliable, and more stable, duo of Doug Maxted and Max Judd.  Wearne then re-joined the City Taxi Service as a cab driver, working his way up to a supervising position before he decided to move to Sydney in December, 1949, believing that he would be offered a position with Ezra Norton.

Ezra Norton was the son of John Norton, the proprietor of The Truth. Ezra grew up around newspapers and as soon as he was able he began to work in the industry.  Ezra was disowned by his abusive father, as was his wife, Ada, who promptly took to the courts to gain control over the newspaper empire John Norton left his estate to his daughter, Joan in his will. Once Ada succeeded, she, Ezra and Joan each received a third of the estate, thus allowing Ezra to gain control of The Truth. Choosing to do battle with Sir Frank Packer, Norton then founded a daily newspaper, titled The Daily Mirror in 1941.  It was at the Mirror that Wearne often told people that he had serialised Legion of Space for publication, but there is no record of the strip ever appearing on a daily basis, or even as a Sunday strip. In the mid-1970s comic book historian John Ryan began to note what strips appeared where in Australia by physically reading every newspaper stored and having other, trusted, people do the same for Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart.  Nowhere does a mention of Wearne or a Legion of Space newspaper strip appear in Ryan’s copious notes.   The likely scenario was that Wearne was hired as a staff artist and did uncredited spot illustrations for The Mirror and other Norton publications.

In 1955 Wearne successfully filed
suit against Hoffmann for
 ownership of his work
What Wearne did do was to arrange for his two 1944 comics to be reprinted by Norton’s comic book line, Invincible Press in 1949.  Sales of the two reprints were good enough for Norton to commission two more Space Legion books, which Wearne duly delivered in early 1950. Unlike his previous efforts, where he at least attempted to disguise the source material, Wearne now outright plagiarised Jack Williamson’s work.  And that was it.  Wearne’s comic book career was finished.  Williamson’s own Legion of Space book was finally published as a paperback in 1947. This was followed up by a magazine reprint in 1950.  By now it was clear, for anyone who cared to look, that Wearne hadn’t written his work, but no matter, Wearne was long gone, drawing an end to his career as a comic book artist.

Wearne failed as a comic book creator due to his inability to come up with another solid concept or even an idea.  He could keep mining the Legion of Space series for as long as Jack Williamson was being published in the USA, but that was it. He seemed incapable of generating any original ideas and was also reluctant to work with other writers.  If he had recognised his limitations as a writer and worked only as an artist, he could have forged a career along the lines of his peers, Australian comic book artists such as Keith Chatto, Len Lawson (who, despite his later criminal actions, was writing and drawing one of the most successful comic books of the early 1950s with The Lone Avenger), John Dixon and Maxted. But Wearne’s ego would never allow him to relinquish control.

Many artists broke into the comic book scene at the same time as Wearne.  The downturn in the Australian comic book industry came in the 1950s when imports began to flood the scene in the form of cheaply manufactured reprint comics. Comics were also under fire from censors at the time, in Queensland in 1954, the newly established Literature Board of Review banned numerous comic books that they felt were undesirable, resulting in publishers filing suit in court.  From action to horror to romance, comic books were not seen as a viable career. Many of the publishers soon discovered that importing material was cheaper than paying local talent and that was it.  The Australian comic book industry was dealt a blow that, even today, it has never fully recovered from.

Artists, such as Monty Wedd, Stanley Pitt, John Dixon, Phil Belbin and Keith Chatto had long and illustrious careers due to the high quality of their artwork, their eagerness to work, their ability to adapt to the changing times and their ability to hit deadlines.  Others, such as Moira Bertram, Hart Amos, Jeff Wilkinson, Peter Chapman, Albert DeVine, Kathleen O’Brien, Arthur Mather, Larry Horak and many more, had mixed successes, through no fault of their own.

Some continued with art, either in comic books, advertising or in newspapers with strip art and spot illustrations, others simply left the industry completely never to return. Some moved into new industries and eventually drifted back when the scene became healthier. Some, like Arthur Hudson, were firmly rooted in advertising and dabbled in comic strip art; Maurice Bramley was another who moved from commercial illustrations to draw more comic book covers than arguably any other Australian. Paul Wheelahan, a protégé of Stan Pitt and the creator of the long running comic book The Panther (72 issues), left the field in 1963 to become one of Australia’s most prolific writers of western pulp novels. Wilkinson and Maxted eventually returned to England and worked there for IPC.  There was work if people wanted to fight for it, but Wearne wasn’t for fighting.

Wearne never returned to comic books. Ezra Norton saw more value in publishing books that collected strips he was already publishing in his newspaper.  Boofhead and Bluey and Curley went side-by-side with reprints of American and British titles as Buzz Sawyer, Garth, Candy and Tim Tyler’s Luck.  To his credit Norton did preserve with original books such as Tim O’Hara (Carl Lyon, who would eventually replace Stan Cross on the highly successful Wally & The Major newspaper strip), Dan Eagle (Moira Bertram) and Virgil Reilly’s Silver Flash titles. Wearne’s storytelling and artistic abilities were as good as any of the second tier artists working at the time.  The difference between the creators mentioned and Wearne is that they were less trouble for Norton to deal with. Wearne wanted to be rich with little effort.  He quickly realised that he’d not become wealthy from comic books as page rates and pay for artists had dropped from what it once was and the work had become harder.

While in Sydney Wearne began to study Business Management at Sydney University before flying back to Adelaide and continuing taxi driving.  In December, 1950, Wearne decided to move to Melbourne and re-join the R.A.A.F. It was a good plan, but as he was leaving, he managed to burn bridges with the Adelaide taxi driving industry.  He had another reason to want to leave Adelaide, one that would see him locked up.

The News, 13th December, 1950.
 Wearne arrested.
Wearne gave his notice and headed out to Parafield Airport to board his Melbourne bound plane on the evening of the 12th of December, 1950. He had almost reached the tarmac when he was arrested by the police and lead away to the city watch house.  Facing court the next morning, Wearne was charged with embezzlement – he had kept the proceeds of jobs that he had done during his employment at Leonard Johnson’s taxi company.  The amount, £27 (worth over $1,000 in today’s money), was discovered missing on the 11th of December after Wearne had handed in his daily takings on his last day of duty.  Once the shortfall was discovered, Wearne was given the benefit of the doubt and asked to repay the money by 6pm that night.  Instead he went home, finished packing and headed to the airport the next day.  To place this crime in context, the average weekly wage at the time was just over £8.

Knowing he was leaving the state, Leonard Johnson called in the authorities and had him detained.  Wearne pleaded not guilty, quietly repaid the money and the charges were dropped.  Wearne was now free to head to Melbourne and re-join the R.A.A.F.  But there was more than one stumbling block in the way.  The R.A.A.F didn’t want him anymore than the taxi industry did and although he had applied in Adelaide for a posting in Melbourne, Wearne settled in Sydney.

At that time many former service personnel were signing back up as jobs weren’t as bountiful as before the war.  To this end the armed services could afford to be picky and when Wearne’s application arrived his former commander was contacted for his comments.  “Teleprinter operator,” the report read. “Failed at EFTS as pilot. Although educational standard ok, past service reports do not impress as being suitable type.”  Not knowing this, Wearne went through the process of re-enrolling, pumping himself up as a business leader, a supervisor and generally a man in charge of lesser beings.

Wearne was given a time and date to attend a formal interview as part of the process, but didn’t make it, due to illness. The only difference it made to Wearne’s application was to give the R.A.A.F an easy way out. They informed Wearne that the quota was now full and they’d let him know if a vacancy arose in the future.

The RAAF formally rejects Wearne, January 1951
Now firmly entrenched in Sydney, Wearne formed a company called Realty Factors with himself as director.  Realty Factors purpose was to buy and sell land and buildings and to arrange loans and packages for interested parties.  In order to raise the necessary funds, Wearne brought in investors, one unknown in the form of William Duffy and others whose names Wearne did his best to keep out of the limelight.  Wearne had decided that, in order to get rich quick, cutting investment deals with shady individuals and criminals was a good option, as long as they remained silent partners and didn’t get upset.  One man who connected himself with Wearne was already known to a lot of people, especially the authorities, Abe Saffron.

Abraham ‘Abe’ Saffron, also known as Mr Sin, was already linked to organised crime in 1952 when Wearne joined forces with him.  Saffron, who always described himself as a property developer and nightclub owner, was a loan shark who wasn’t above using violence as a way to collect outstanding debts. He also had links to high political circles, and this would have appealed to Wearne, along with the promises of earning easy money as a front man.  In 1975 Saffron reached his zenith, so to speak, when he became embroiled with the disappearance and presumed murder of an anti-development campaigner, and newspaper publisher, Juanita Nelson, who was leading a public campaign against him.  Although suspected, there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Saffron and Nelson’s body was never found.

1953. Wearne finds himself mentioned in newspapers connected with notorious criminal Abe Saffron
That was in the future, but in 1953 the mention of Saffron’s name in any property deal was enough to have any licensing court asking serious questions.  Saffron’s own company, Macleay Enterprises, was in the process of being wound up due to court orders and Saffron himself was busily fronting court charged with giving false evidence to a Royal Commission.  Wearne was hauled before the Goulburn Licensing Court where his connections with Saffron were exposed.  While admitting that Saffron had been a member of the firm, Wearne stated that he was long gone and wouldn’t be admitted back in.  It was of no use, his name was linked to one of Sydney’s most notorious criminals. Saffron wasn’t the only underworld figure that Wearne worked with during this time.  He worked as a legitimate front man for several well-known criminals, using his skill as a baby-faced, articulate cleanskin to get his way, but Saffron was the first to be publicly linked with him, thus meaning his use as a front was now at an end.  His own front man, Leslie Davis, withdrew from Realty Factors and went it alone, finally being granted the hotel license that had been sought by Saffron.  Once free from the Realty-Saffron tangle, Wearne not only refused to talk about this period of his life, but would actively deny it had ever happened.

Once Jack Williamson's The Legion Of Space
appeared as a paperback novel
in Australia, Wearne
was exposed.
As was his wont in life, Wearne deflected attention by fleeing.  This time he flew back to Adelaide for his brother’s wedding.  Neil Wearne, who would later become an author in his own right, married his fiancée, Jeanne Simpson, at Scots Church in August, 1954. From there he went to back to Sydney and began to divide his time between there and Melbourne.

TOMORROW: Wearne Gets Married, Wearne Gets Divorced, Wearne Makes Money and Picks Fights He Cannot Win