April 2013

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Bob Menzies and Gamal Nasser

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Prime Minister Menzies did not think very highly of Egyptians. “These Gyppos are a dangerous lot of backward adolescents, full of self importance and ignorance,” he recorded in his diary. He was just the man, in short, to head a diplomatic mission to Cairo to negotiate with the Egyptian president, Gamal Nasser.

In 1956, Nasser, whose modernising regime had overthrown the playboy King Farouk, nationalised the Suez Canal. This infuriated the British government. Anthony Eden, Britain’s benzedrine-addled, old-Etonian Tory prime minister, wanted the upstart killed. Failing that, the Egyptians must be taught a painful lesson in the correct behaviour towards their former colonial masters.

Nasser’s decision to “seize” part of his own country was met with enthusiasm at home and broad international acquiescence. The Americans, not yet fatally hooked on Middle Eastern oil, and unwilling to give an opening to the Russians, advocated a peaceful resolution. But Australia was only too willing to champion the tattered remnants of colonialism. While a military strike was being secretly plotted by Britain, France and Israel, Bob Menzies was dispatched to Cairo to waggle the imperial finger in Nasser’s face.

The suave 38-year-old Nasser, hoping that negotiations would lower the temperature, wondered why the British had sent “an Australian mule”. Menzies, an old Empire hand, knew how to deal with these querulous wogs. First, he tried charm. At the official dinner, he waxed lyrical about the surrounding gardens and did Churchill impressions, whispering in Nasser’s ear throughout the dinner. But at the official talks, when Nasser described plans to place the canal under international control as “collective colonialism” that would compromise Egyptian sovereignty, Menzies leant forward, eyebrows bristling, and told him he was asking for trouble.

That was the end for the Menzies mission. Soon after, Israel invaded Egypt. This provided a pretext for the French and British to bomb airfields and land troops. Menzies, by then homeward bound, was informed of the attack by telegram. It was sent to the wrong address.

More than a thousand Egyptian civilians were killed. The Americans, focused on the Soviet invasion of Hungary, threatened to devalue the pound. Within a week, Britain and France were forced to withdraw. Israel stayed. Eden lost his job.

Nasser’s prestige was hugely enhanced by the failure of the Anglo-French attempt to topple him. Menzies went on to serve another ten years as Australian prime minister. In his memoirs, he conceded that Nasser, despite his “irritating mannerisms” and “immaturity”, was an impressive and courageous patriot.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

From the front page

Image of Clint Eastwood in Cry Macho. Image © Claire Folger / Warner Bros.

Slow motions: Clint Eastwood’s ‘Cry Macho’

Despite patient filmmaking, the 91-year-old director’s elegiac feature is unable to escape the legend of the man

Image of The Sea of Hands, representing support for reconciliation and the rights of Indigenous Australians

The truth about truth-telling

Revisiting trauma is not the road to justice for Aboriginal people

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time today. Image © Lukas Coch / AAP Images

An epic troll

Who is the government’s “anti-troll” law actually designed to protect?

Image of coal for export, Newcastle, NSW

The fossil-fuel industry’s grip on Australian hearts and minds

Is there hope that public misconceptions of the importance of coal and gas can be overcome?

In This Issue

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Child photography vs pornography

Shaddap you Facebook

All That Is, James Salter, Picador; $29.99

‘All That Is’

By James Salter

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

At the Vung Tau RSL

Veterans return to Vietnam

‘Sleepwalk with Me’ film review

Call a somnambulance


More in Arts & Letters

Still from ‘No Time To Die’

The Bond market: ‘Dune’ and ‘No Time To Die’

Blockbuster season begins with a middling 007 and a must-see sci-fi epic

Abbotsford I

New poetry, after lockdowns

Bing Crosby and David Bowie on Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas, circa 1977.

Oh, carols!

The music of Christmas, from the manger to the chimney

Image of Gerald Murnane

Final sentence: Gerald Murnane’s ‘Last Letter to a Reader’

The essay anthology that will be the final book from one of Australia’s most idiosyncratic authors


More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller


Online exclusives

Image of Clint Eastwood in Cry Macho. Image © Claire Folger / Warner Bros.

Slow motions: Clint Eastwood’s ‘Cry Macho’

Despite patient filmmaking, the 91-year-old director’s elegiac feature is unable to escape the legend of the man

Image of Anthony Bourdain in Roadrunner. © Focus Features

End of the road: The Anthony Bourdain documentary ‘Roadrunner’

Morgan Neville’s posthumous examination of the celebrity chef hews close to the familiar narrative

Image of test cricket captain Tim Paine announcing his resignation. Image via ABC News

Cricketing institutions are on a sticky wicket

Tim Paine’s sexting scandal reveals more about institutional failures than personal ones

Craig Kelly addresses protestors outside Victoria's Parliament, 12 November 2021

At the end of our rope

The prime minister’s belated response to death threats against political leaders is a sign of our dangerously hollowed-out politics