134. JAPANESE FILE the.
"I have some secret information of value to transmit".
Lasseter to Japanese Consul General, 3rd of March 1930. 

 

Amongst his many self proclaimed talents Lasseter fancied himself as a strategist on the grand scale and as early as July 1926 gave warning of Japans warlike intentions towards Australia, showing remarkable perception some fifteen years ahead of hostilities. In a letter to H. B. Honeysett, (Social Welfare Officer for the Canberra Capital Commission and Editor of the Canberra Community News) dated 22/07/26, Lasseter makes some valid but at the time common enough criticism of Australian Naval policy; in locating critical bases in southern ports while the most likely attack would be from the north. Specifically from Japan and on Sydney. "The best place geographically speaking - for a naval base to defend Australia, is Townsville".

Lasseter makes a reasonable argument for establishing the Queensland port as a major defence facility and points out that the Singapore naval base would be useless in the defence of Australia if the Japanese constructed bases in the Marshall Islands and New Caledonia. He was especially critical of British influence on Australian naval strategy and, "in the event of War with Japan & indications point that way; our best hope is the American fleet".

Lasseter reinforced his concerns by citing details of a conversation that he had overheard in 1905, between Baron Kogoro Takahira, Japanese emissary to Washington and John Hay, the American Secretary of State. The Statesmen were discussing Japanese/American education issues at the Clifton Springs Sanatorium where Lasseter allegedly worked as a farm hand. According to the eavesdropper the conversation moved to foreign policy and bilateral relations in the Pacific, with a warning from Takahira to America, "keep free from entangling alliances with a European power". Takahira reassured Hay that America need fear nothing from Japan, pointing out the strategic impossibilities of invading the American west coast, "while no further away lies an empty continent just as rich in potentialities", Lasseter took this to mean Australia.

In 1905, Japans immediate interests lay to the west in China and Siberian Russia, vast in resources and potential and perhaps the most valuable of all, an enormous population. At the turn of the Twentieth Century, Australia was well known as a harsh land, over 4000 miles to the south and still seen as a British colony. Australia was not part of Japans expansionist intentions, modest as they were at the time. It was the weakening of European power and the rise of America, as a consequence of the First World War, that caused Japan to consider opportunities further afield.

Lasseter's call to arms in 1926 was indeed prescient, but hindsight in relation to the 1905 meeting in Clifton Springs. As Hubbard has noted in, The Search for Harold Lasseter, warnings from well placed strategists were being made as early as 1923, that Japan was 'testing the waters' in the Pacific. By now it shouldn't be a surprise to find the search for that Centralian gold reef and its creator leading down byways of Japanese American foreign policy, with inconclusive results. John Hay died in office in July 1905 and was succeeded within the week  by Elihu Root (America was well served by her Secretaries of State) Kogoro Takahira became Ambassador to America in early 1908 although he was carrying out diplomatic negotiations with America several years previously and the Japanese American education situation does not appear to have become a diplomatic crisis until 1906. There's enough jumbled history in Lasseter's recollection to suspect newspaper accounts and a fertile imagination.

Nevertheless Lasseter gives the impression of genuine alarm at Japanese intentions for Australia and to find a begging letter to the Japanese Consol General is a contradiction of Lasseterian proportions, worthy of pursuit. Into the National Archives and the arcane ways of the security services, who discovered Lasseter's apparently traitorous approach to the Japanese Emperor....after the Second World War! 

Hubbard's observation when he first viewed the Japanese file, "I doubted I would get to the bottom of the story ~ it would be easier to find Lasseter's Lost Reef", came to mind when first perusing the three sheets of paper comprising National Archives Australia file C443P1/J244, a copy of an envelope, the above letter and an enigmatic file note from a N.S.W. Detective Sergeant, dated 1946. A disappointingly thin file with few clues to other leads. Two questions immediately came to mind, what was Lasseter's secret information and what was the reaction of the Consol General when he saw Lasseter's letter written on an undated invoice from a dunneyware company. "No reply" is understandable.

In choosing to ignore Lasseter's letter, the Consol General (whether miffed or amused) effectively closed the matter and we can only speculate on what Lasseter's secret and valuable information may have been. Perhaps the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the layout of Canberra or the Flinders Naval Depot, all places were Lasseter had worked. Or given the date his letter was received in the Consulate, 3rd of March, 1930, maybe the secret directions to a valuable gold reef.

The Authorities had no idea that Lasseter had approached the Japanese with devious intent until 1946 when the Commonwealth Investigation Branch carried out a review of Consular documents seized during the war. The purpose of the review, under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Jackson was to determine the extent of Japanese sponsored espionage and search for evidence of "improper relations", between Australians and the Consulate. On the 4th of April 1946 one of Colonel Jackson's men, a New South Wales Detective Sergeant by the name of Alfred Wilks found Lasseter's letter in the Consulates Miscellaneous file, book No. 41 for the period December 1929 to May 1930. The letter was document No. 162 on the file and sufficiently 'improper' for Sergeant Wilks to remove it and follow up for possible prosecution.

It was probably Colonel Jackson who pointed out that while Lasseter's approach to the Japanese was improper if not treasonable, the Japanese had not responded and Lasseter was now dead sixteen years and we'll never know what he had for sale; Case closed! There is no fat dossier on Lasseter lurking in the corridors of the security archives, those three thin pages are all there is. I guess I had hoped for a find like Lasseter's last white travelling companion, Paul Johns, who turned out to be a Nazi thug and arrested by M.I.5, with much correspondence between Britain and Australia. Lasseter's career in espionage went as far as the Consulates Miscellaneous file, at least they were polite enough to do that for posterity (I think many others would have balled the written insult to the rubbish bin)

The letter was received in the Consulate on the 3rd of March 1930, the same day that Lasseter expected the Bailiff to arrive, as he had mentioned to his business partner the previous Friday. The same W.F. Roberts whose address Lasseter uses if the Japanese care to contact him. I wonder if the Colonel investigated Mr. Roberts for any "improper relations" with the Japanese, the Terranora buildings have superb views of the shipping traffic on Sydney Harbour. As for the Bailiffs interest in Lasseter and whether he paid a visit on Monday, Sullivan has not yet determined. And it was a bad news day on other fronts, the West Australian Government were not interested in his enormous gold reef and Arthur Blakeley and the Commonwealth have no intention of sending a prospecting expedition to Central Australia. Under the circumstances it would be easy to excuse Lasseter's letter as an act of financial desperation but his intent was inexcusable with a fair dash of hypocrisy given his earlier concerns. There is nothing in the incident to enhance Lasseter's reputation; desert his family?, certainly; sell his country? apparently and mentally unbalanced, so it seems.

In due course Colonel Jackson completed his investigations into Japanese espionage and had little to report. He concluded with, "The records examined indicate that there was little in the way of an organised (Japanese) spy system in Australia". As for Lasseter and his letter that the Consol General ignored, his valuable secret died within the year leaving us with the gift of endless speculation. And the sordid little incident did not come to light until the victors reviewed momentous events that went largely as Lasseter predicted.

LASSETERIA


R.Ross. 1999-2006

Hubbard, Murray. The Search for Harold Lasseter, 83,84,156.157. National Archives of Australia. Series: C 443 P1. Item: J 244. http://www.naa.gov.au/