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Monday, 28 November 2011

The Green Hermes Typewriter and The Reds Under Australian Beds

From the mid-1950s until she retired aged 65 on July 19, 1980, Maria Anna Allyson was a typist with William Adams Tractors at 691 Geelong Road, Footscray, Melbourne.
To her workmates and the few neighbours she befriended, Mrs Allyson (above) seemed otherwise to be just an ordinary Australian suburban housewife.
William Adams Tractors, Footscray
Away from work, at her home south-east of the city centre, Mrs Allyson seldom ventured beyond the back garden, except to go to the Bentleigh shopping centre (below) for groceries.
She and her husband Sven Allyson (below), who worked processing film for Ilford, were childless, yet nonetheless quite unremarkable in 1950s middle-class Victoria.
Migrants, obviously, but in the immediate post-World War II years, tens of thousands of them had flocked into Australia from various parts of Europe, seeking a new life, a fresh start in the wide open, sunny suburbs. Scandinavian, perhaps, with names like Maria Anna and Sven?
Possibly, but who cared?
In 1956, Melburnians were far too preoccupied with other matters to concern themselves with yet another hard-working, quiet-living couple, even of European origin. Melbourne was preparing to play host – despite the best efforts of philandering Philadelphian Avery Brundage – to the Summer Olympic Games at the end of that year.
Maybe Maria Anna and Sven might break their routine, and brave it all the way into the city itself, to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, to cheer on their countrymen and women: Danes, Swedes, Finns or Norwegians, competing at the Olympics?
Maybe not. In later life, though, Maria Anna Allyson did become a bit more sociable, and a little bolder, and volunteered to help deliver “meals on wheels” to the needy and the homebound.
Aside from that, however, the Allysons continued to lead their sedate lives in Bentleigh, for the best part of 40 years.
Then Sven, who was overly fond of a drink, became too ill for Maria Anna to care for him, even with the help of her sister, who had joined her in Australia in 1990.
Sven was put in a nursing home. On June 14, 1991, he died, and was buried without fuss. Oddly, or so it seemed to the few who noticed at the time, Maria Anna did not attend her husband’s simple funeral service.
Marie Anna lived on alone another 11 years, and died on July 19, 2002, aged 86. No funeral notice was published, and a small group of friends were there when she was cremated at Springvale.
A week later, the true identity of this colourless suburban couple became known. The Australian Government’s D Notice, which had protected their real names and their whereabouts since 1954, was no longer effective.
They were not Sven and Maria Anna Allyson at all. They were Влади́мир Миха́йлович Петро́в and Евдоки́я Алексе́евна Петро́ва: Vladimir Mikhaylovich Petrov and Evdokia Alexeyevna Petrova, the infamous Soviet spies. Indeed, Vladimir was not even a Petrov, but born Afanasy Mikhaylovich Shorokhov (Афанасий Миха́йлович Шорохов).
The Petrovs had come to Australia in February 1951, ostensibly as low-ranking diplomats to work at the Soviet Embassy on Canberra Avenue, Manuka, Canberra, Vladimir as third secretary and Evdokia as an accountant and secretary.
In truth, they were both 20-year experienced special agents. Vladimir was an MGB colonel and its controller in Australia, while Evdokia was an MVD captain with expertise in codes and was in charge of secret operations.
With the death of Stalin and murder of his secret police chief Lavrenti Beria (above)in 1953, life for the Petrovs in the Soviet Embassy suddenly became untenable. The Petrovs had learned the true excesses of the Great Purges while decrypting signals which set quotas for the murder of citizens. As Beria recruits, they believed that, on returning to the Soviet Union, they would soon join the lists of those to be killed.
On April 3, 1954, Vladimir defected, without telling his wife of his decision. He had no family in the Soviet Union, she did: a beloved mother and sister.
Evdokia was told by her embassy bosses that Vladimir had been kidnapped by the Australian secret service, ASIO. She was taken from her home and placed under house arrest at the embassy.
Two special KGB (as it was by then known) agents, Jarkhov and Karpinsky, were flown in from the Soviet Union to escort Evdokia back to Russia.
Word of this spread through Sydney, and on the fateful day of her departure, April 19, a large, angry crowd of anti-Communist East European migrants, believing she was being forcibly removed from Australia, turned up at Mascot Airport to try and stop Evdokia from boarding.
In the pushing and shoving and shouting that ensued, Evdokia lost one of her red shoes. The shoe was to become a symbol of one small, relatively insignificant Cold War triumph for the Good Guys over Evil.
The Australian Government and ASIO acted, and while Evdokia was in the air in a British Overseas Airways Constellation passenger plane between Sydney and Darwin, messages were sent to the captain of the flight and to Australian agents and police in the Northern Territory to intervene.
At 5 o’clock the next morning, the plane landed in Darwin and Evdokia’s “couriers” were overpowered and disarmed. Evdokia was freed into Australian custody. She was returned to her husband in Sydney. The couple were debriefed by ASIO and MI5.
With Vladimir’s £5000 lure money from ASIO and a pension from the Government, the Petrovs later settled in Bentleigh in Melbourne. In 1956 they quietly became Australian citizens. And Maria Anna Allyson started to earn a living as a typist.
The Australian Embassy in Moscow was expelled and the USSR Embassy in Canberra recalled. Diplomatic relations were not re-established until 1959.
The Petrovs’ defection, however, was to have a much more lasting impact on Australian federal politics.
Bob Menzies
Soon after, Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies’ conservative (Liberal) Government, doubtless benefitting in at least some small way from the defections and widespread rumours of an Australian Communist Party Soviet spy ring, was returned to power.
The narrow election result was to prove the beginning of the end for the Australian Labor Party’s gifted but erratic leader, Bert “Doc” Evatt (below), a former justice of the High Court of Australia and the third President of the United Nations General Assembly.
In the aftermath of the poll, Evatt made claims of a conspiracy and the Labor Party split in two. Labor did not return to Government until 1975, 21 years later.
At the end of the Cold War, decoded cable traffic between Canberra and Moscow was released by the FBI. The conclusions of an Australian Royal Commission at the time of the defections were proved to be true.
There had not exactly been a Soviet spy ring in Australia. But, yes, there were Soviet sympathisers within the Australian Communist Party, and, yes, some had tried hard to be helpful to their Soviet masters. There had been some espionage.

And the green Hermes 2000 portable typewriter that led to this post? It once belonged to the Communist Party of Victoria, and was used in its Melbourne office in the mid- to late-1950s. A very slender connection, I concur, but why let such detail get in the way of a good story?
(The typewriter’s serial number, by the way, is 2072501, so it was made in 1953-54, right at the height of the Petrov Affair).


maschinengeschrieben said...

Australian communists type on a Swiss typewriter... Interesting. Enjoyed this (hi)story, though. :)

word verification: caught

Richard P said...

Thanks for the education in Australian politics and history. I wish typewriters could speak (more directly than they usually do)!

Rob Bowker said...

Phew! What you need is a little red star. It'll sit prettily on that green without having to get the spray-paint out.

Robert Messenger said...

Great idea, Rob! Thank you. I was tempted by the idea of a hammer and sickle somewhere on the front.

Thank you, Richard. I hope it wasn't too indulgent of me. If typewriters could talk, I want the Miles Franklin Corona 3 to speak to me. Congrats on completing the Gil.

Thank you, maschinengeschrieben, I'm glad you found it interesting.