Tony Jones on Lionel Murphy, ASIO & Croatian fascism

Paul Lynch


The Twentieth Man is the first novel by Tony Jones of ABC fame. It’s a pretty good yarn. It’s a thriller based on the sensational true events surrounding the presence and activities of the Ustasha, a fascist racist ultra-nationalist Croatian group in Australia. It’s a ‘work of fiction based on real events’.


The best known political event featured in the novel is the ‘raid’ by Attorney General Lionel Murphy on ASIO in 1973. The book also features the arguably more sensational invasion of Yugoslavia by the Ustasha in 1972, and the threats to murder the prime minister of Yugoslavia during his visit to Australia the next year.


The novel features a large range of real figures—obviously Murphy (‘call me Lionel’), but also colleagues Arthur Gietzelt, John Wheeldon and Jim McClelland, and ASIO chiefs Peter Barbour and Jack Behm. The novel’s skewering of Billy McMahon is delightful. George Negus and Kerry Milte as Murphy’s staffers get significant roles. Paul Hogan makes an appearance, as do Simon Wiesenthal, Michelle Grattan, Richard Carlton and Mungo McCallum. Mentioned in passing is Wally Clayton (also known as Klod), a member of the Communist Party of Australia who was described by Mark Aarons in The Family File as ‘Australian spymaster for the Soviets’.


The novel starts with the bombing of two Yugoslav travel agencies in Sydney’s George Street in 1972, a story covered by (fictional) ABC reporter Anna Rosen, an anti-Vietnam war activist and university student newspaper editor. The then Liberal-National coalition government and its Attorney General, Ivor Greenwood, had been resolutely denying the existence of Ustasha anti-communist terrorists in Australia. They maintain this position, which is resolutely supported by the anti-communist zealots in ASIO. This was of course nonsense and is consistently attacked in the novel (as it was at the time) by Murphy and the Labor opposition.


The leader of the Ustasha network is Ivo Katich, a figure seemingly based on the actual fascist war criminal, Srecko Rover, who—like Katich—was from Sarajevo, was involved in mobile court martials (summary executions), and was indicted at Nuremberg. The story of Rover is best told in another book by Aarons entitled Sanctuary.


In Jones’s novel, 20 people (including 11 Australians) are part of a military incursion from Austria into Yugoslavia (Bosnia). The history is that, in June 1972, 19 and perhaps 20 were part of the incursion, which gives you a hint about the book’s title. The incursion seems to have been based on a distorted Guevarist guerrilla foci strategy to inspire Croats to rebellion. It was a catastrophic failure (more Bolivia than the Sierra Maestra). In Jones’s story, after Labor wins power in 1972, ASIO still refuses to take the Ustasha and its activities seriously. This becomes critical with the prospective Australian visit of Yugoslav Prime Minister Bejedic, who is the target of an attempted assassination—as it turns o