Aussie Odinists behind barbed wire

Odinists come in many different sizes, shapes, and political allegiances. But this writer has never met one who believes that the power of the state should prevail over the rights of individuals. The call to the individual conscience that is one of the keystones of Odinist morality is tolerated, nowadays, in times of peace. But when the State, that “coldest of all cold monsters”, feels itself to be under threat, it is quick to turn on all free-thinkers – and Odinists are no exception.

Australia’s first prominent Odinist, Alexander Rud Mills (1885-1964) attended Melbourne University as a classmate of future Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies. Mills became a solicitor and a poet, and his free-thinking nature was probably encouraged by his friendship with W.D. Cookes, the Director of the Rationalist Association of Australia. In the spirit of Odinist inquiry, he traveled with Sidney Webb to the Soviet Union, and was disgusted by Soviet collectivism and contempt for individuality. As his spiritual affinity with our ancestral religion grew, he published a series of books on the old religion. One of his earliest texts was Hael! Odin!, published in 1933 under the name Tasman Forth. From the same year came a discussion of the Christian ethic in politics called And Fear Shall be in the Way. Probably his best-known book was The Call of our Ancient Nordic Religion, which is still available in several libraries.

Rud Mills

By 1936 Mills was advocating the establishment of an Odinist church, the Anglecyn Church of Odin. He was recruiting converts to the old faith, and according to one historian, Barbara Winter (The Australia First Movement and the Publicist, 1936-1942, Glass House Books, 2005), by about 1934 “up to 120 members [i.e. Odinists] used to practice ‘the Ritual’ every Thursday evening and hold Odinist ceremonies on Mills’ land at Croydon”. The future of Australian Odinism looked assured. Then, with the onset of World War II, Australia itself looked to be threatened.

At the beginning of the war there were several possible attitudes that people might take. One was that Australia’s long-term security was bound up with the fate of the British Empire. This was the view of the Prime Minister, Mills’ old classmate, Sir Robert Menzies. On the 3rd of September 1939 Menzies broadcast that Australia was now a participant in a war he variously described as a “tragedy”, a “wanton crime”, and an “agony”. Some took a different attitude. The war in Europe didn’t affect Australia directly, and Australia’s armed forces might well be required to defend their homeland if Japan advanced southwards. The chief proponent of this isolationist position was the Australia First Movement, which urged that “Australia should look to its own interests without regard to the total allied strategy”. This movement was supported by the poet Ian Mudie, novelist Miles Franklin, Sir Thomas Gordon, Adela Pankhurst Walsh of the famous suffragette family, and the Women’s Guild of Empire. It was led by Percy Reginald Stephenson (1901-1965).

“Inky” Stephenson was a prominent man of letters. He had been taught Latin at Maryborough Boys’ Grammar School by Gordon Child, and gone on to study arts at the University of Queensland, where he became a close friend of the writer and future prominent communist, Jack Lindsay, and the famous grammarian Eric Partridge – and also became member number 45 of the Australian Communist Party (later denouncing communism as “only banditry disguised as a political philosophy”.) In 1924 he gained a Rhodes Scholarship, and after his studies at Oxford he became manager of the Franfrolico Press in 1927. Here he published authors like Aldous Huxley, Jack Lindsay, Hugh McCrae and Kenneth Slessor. He translated and published Nietzsche’s The Antichrist in 1929, and after moving to the Mandrake Press he published DH Lawrence’s paintings, the first English edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and works by Aleister Crowley. On returning to Australia in 1932 he became managing director of the Australian Book Publishing Company, and brought out works by Norman Lindsay, Banjo Paterson, Henry Handel Richardson, Eleanor Dark, Randolph Hughes and Xavier Herbert.

Stephenson was no lightweight, and no disgruntled “outsider” figure. All his life he had advanced the careers of new, and particularly Australian, writers. It was probably inevitable that he would adopt the isolationist position with regard to the war in Europe. In September 1941, Stephenson launched the Australia First Movement.

At the outbreak of the war the Federal Government had passed a “National Security Act” giving the authorities sweeping powers to rule by regulation. In effect, Australia (like Britain under Churchill) had moved close to being a dictatorship.

By 1942 there were 6,780 people held in Australian concentration camps, including foreign nationals and people perceived as political dissidents. A parliamentary faction led by the member for Bondi, Abram Landa, and the Labor backbencher SM Falstein, began agitating to have the leaders of the Australia First Movement incarcerated.

Rud Mills had had some contact with Inky Stephenson. To start with, he had sent another Odinist, Leslie Cahill, to Sydney to try to convert Stephenson to Odinism. He had also written articles for Stephenson’s monthly, The Publicist. Finally, when Stephenson came under government suspicion, Mills wrote a letter that was intercepted, offering him legal advice. At the urging of Landa and Falstein, Stephenson was arrested on the 20th of March, 1942, and interned for three years, five months and one week. With him in the concentration camps, guarded by machine guns and barbed wire and starved of rations, were about twenty other members of Australia First. These people were prisoners of conscience in the strictest Amnesty International sense of the phrase. (Not one was ever charged with a single offence.)

Soon to join them was Leslie Kevin Cahill. He had enlisted on the 20th of January 1942, and served as an army private. For having tried to convert Stephenson to Odinism, he was arrested on the 10th of March. He ended up at Loveday concentration camp in South Australia, where he was held until the 6th of February 1944.

Now it was the turn of Rud Mills. On the 10th of March, 1942, Major Ted Hattam of Military Intelligence and Sub-Inspector Birch of the Victorian CIB Special Branch called at his Canterbury flat. Apparently believing that Mills’ faith in his ancestral Gods would somehow make him pro-German, they searched his premises, but found nothing incriminating. He remained free until the 7th of May, when he was taken under armed guard to a detention camp in Broadmeadows. From there he was sent to Loveday. Mills was forced to appear before a military tribunal in July 1942. Despite having been systematically starved of rations for three months, and despite having at least once been beaten with a rifle by a sadistic camp guard, he still put up a good showing. The tribunal recommended that he be released without restriction. On the 17th of December 1942 he walked out of Loveday concentration camp as a free man.

In 1944 the Attorney-General, Dr Evatt, set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the detention without trial of Australian citizens. Rud Mills was tormented for three days in the witness stand, but failed to crack.

In its report, the Commission concluded that “after the outbreak of war he [Mills] had not disclosed in his conduct any hostility to the allied cause”. One might wonder why they thought he would. After all, Sir Robert Menzies had also done everything he could to avoid the war. Even as late as the 18th of August 1939 he had argued that the British and Germans “have more in common than not, and the things we argue about are mere froth on the surface”.

This was precisely the point that Mills had made in the 1930s. But Mills’ internment had shown that what was an acceptable sentiment in the mouth of a Christian politician was unacceptable from the pen of an Odinist poet. Others took the point. Most of the Odinist circle faded away. The Anglecyn Church of Odin either dissolved or went very deeply underground. Leslie Cahill vanished from public life so completely that no photo of him is known to survive. Rud Mills fought for compensation for his illegal imprisonment, but received nothing. The book that he planned to write about his incarceration never appeared.

Ironically, Odinists in Germany were also persecuted at the same time as Rud Mills. Members of Odinist or heathen organisations were harassed by the security police and banned from joining the dominant Nazi party (NSDAP). From June 1941 their organisations were formally banned, their assets confiscated, and some of their leaders sent to concentration camps.

 

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UPDATE!

A nephew of Rud Mills and Evelyn Price was bequeathed the copyright to all of Rud Mills’ published and unpublished works, photos and other memorabilia by Evelyn. She also designated him Mills’  literary executor.

This generous man has now signed and dated  (12 September 2011) a formal statement. In it he freely transfers all residual rights in Mills’ literary estate to the Odinic Rite of Australia.

Essentially, this means that no-one else can legally publish or re-print any of Mills’ intellectual property without first obtaining permission from the Odinic Rite of Australia.

The repercussions of this man’s generosity will presumably become apparent in the months and years to come. For the moment, suffice it to say that several individuals and groups hostile both to Mills and to Odinism have quoted from Mills’ writings at unlawful length, and have also illegally used his private photographs and other intellectual property.

While the Odinic Rite of Australia is certainly not litigious, we are now in a position to warn people hostile to Mills and to Odinism that they should obey the law in future.

Published on November 20, 2009 at 12:36 pm  Comments Off  
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