New book looks at the dobbers who did their work for ASIO
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New book looks at the dobbers who did their work for ASIO

Originally published in The Age.

HISTORY: Spies and Sparrows: ASIO and the Cold War, Phillip Deery, Melbourne University Press, $34.99


Tony Abbott complained “I never thought dobbing and snitching was part of the Australian character”. The former PM had copped a $500 fine last year after a member of the public photographed him on a beach walk without a facemask. But dobbers and snitches are very much celebrated in the murky business of Australian espionage, where they are known by a less disparaging label, as “spies and sparrows”.

Still, such surveillance work can carry a social cost and stigma, even when ostensibly carried out in secret. Phillip Deery’s new book details the highly personal consequences of spying in early ASIO operations in the Cold War – not only for the targets of intelligence operations, people branded subversive and often unaware of the reasons why, but also for those persuaded to inform on behalf of security agencies.

Such as Anne Neill, a “fluttery old lady” in the 1950s, according to her ASIO case officer, who all the while harboured a special disdain for the small tribe of Adelaide communists that she’d ingratiated herself with by sewing theatre costumes and performing secretarial jobs. After outing herself to a local newspaper as an informer, Neill later took up with anti-Semitic conspiracists on the far-right, paranoid about imagined threats.

Read the full review at The Age.

Areas of expertise: Australian foreign policy and politics; Australia’s intelligence services; international relations in Asia