April 2013


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.

Cover: April 2013

April 2013

From the front page

Misleading parliament? A-OK

Peter Dutton’s was an open-and-shut case

In The Big House

The quintessential American cultural experience is still college football

Image of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Portrait of Joseph Roulin’

‘MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art’

An eye candy-laden, educational treasure hunt of an exhibition


The return of the Moree Boomerangs

The First on the Ladder arts project is turning things around for a rugby club and the local kids

In This Issue

Bob Katter in a Mareeba cafe. © Nic Walker / Fairfax Syndication

The Heart and Mind of Bob Katter

Adventures in Katterland


Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg (directors)

Counting the numbers: Graham Richardson in December 2000 with Inside Sport model of the year finalists © Jaime Fawcett / Newspix

The Rolling of NSW Labor

Party boys

Madeleine: The life of Madeleine St John, Helen Trinca, Text Publishing; $32.99

‘Madeleine: The life of Madeleine St John’

By Helen Trinca

More in Arts & Letters

Image of Leonard Bernstein

Leonard Bernstein: show tunes and symphonies

Centenary celebrations highlight the composer’s broad ambitions and appeal

Still from Leave No Trace

The hermitic world of Debra Granik’s ‘Leave No Trace’

The ‘Winter’s Bone’ director takes her exploration of family ties off the grid

Image of Low

Low’s ‘Double Negative’: studies in slow transformation

Twelve albums in, the Minnesota three-piece can still surprise in their unique way

Covers of Motherhood and Mothers

To have or not to have: Sheila Heti’s ‘Motherhood’ and Jacqueline Rose’s ‘Mothers’

Heti’s novel asks if a woman should have a child; Rose’s nonfiction considers how society treats her if she does

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

Read on

Image of Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Portrait of Joseph Roulin’

‘MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art’

An eye candy-laden, educational treasure hunt of an exhibition

Image of Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton

Turnbull fires back

Unlike Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull never promised ‘no wrecking’

Image from ‘In Fabric’

Toronto International Film Festival 2018 (part one)

A British outlier and a British newcomer are among the stand-outs in the first part of the festival

Image from ‘Patrick Melrose’

Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as the imperfect Patrick Melrose

The actor brings together his trademark raffishness and sardonic superiority in this searing miniseries