59C. CONSCRIPTION.

"Conscript first the wasters and the loafers of the cities and make them fight".

Lewis H. Lasseter, The Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser, 28/04/1916, pg2.

There is a great deal more to this letter than Lasseter's moderate, and some may say, sensible views on conscription, an issue that polarised Australia at the time; the letter is notable for the authors extraordinary hypocrisy, his purposely targeted readership and the creation of another 'tabloid credential', This is an excellent example of Lasseter using the Press for his own ends and he was a master at it.

When Lasseter wrote this letter he was stationed at Seymour in Victoria, in training with the 10th Field Engineers, this unit left Melbourne for Great Britain on the 16th June 1916 and Lasseter was not aboard the Runic, he had been transferred to the Engineers reinforcement unit on 24/05/1916, the day the Company's numbers were finalised before embarkation, in short Lasseter didn't make the cut. The Engineer reinforcements were on the high seas to Egypt in July but Lasseter was not on the roll, he had been transferred to the 2/3 Pioneer reinforcement unit a couple of weeks earlier, he remained with this unit until 04/07/16 when he was transferred to the Langwarrin Army camp apparently unattached to any unit. Lasseter remained at Langwarrin until the 10th September when he was sent to the No. 5 Australian General Hospital for treatment to an "old eye injury", and returned to duty on the 22nd of September, he was posted to the next draft of Pioneer reinforcements and was discharged from the Army as medically unfit, blind in the right eye, on 17 October 1916. The Pioneer reinforcements sailed for England the following month.

I make that six transfers in eight months service, Lasseter was a military nomad, apparently not wanted in any unit, however, Lasseter was cleverly arranging his affairs to stay one step ahead of an overseas posting, he was laying the groundwork to defraud the Repatriation Commission, with the claim that he was injured while on duty, blinded in the right eye. Two days after his discharge Lasseter applied to the State War Council and the Red Cross for financial assistance to pay household expenses, the first of several such imposts on the taxpayer and charity, Lasseter had become one of those he had disparaged in his letter, a parasite, and would remain so until he reenlisted in August 1917, and not a great deal changed then.

Now to the more notable and subtle parts of Lasseter's letter and that is where it was published and the 'tabloid credential'. In 1916 there were dozens of daily to weekly newspapers between Brisbane and Melbourne, the papers of course being the only form of mass communication and Australia was well served in that regard, this letter on a controversial issue would have found a place in any big city broadsheet, as many of Lasseter's letters did, yet this letter appeared in a six to ten page bush biweekly, The Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser, where Lasseter was well known. Immediately prior to enlisting he was the Express and Advertiser's Tabulam correspondent, writing under the by line Tabulam Tinklings, and he could be reasonably certain that his letter would be printed and certainly his name recalled by perhaps several hundred readers, and that was the purpose of the letter, not to espouse moderate opinions on conscription, but to inform the populace of Tabulam and thereabouts that he had enlisted and would soon be serving overseas with the 10th Engineers. Lasseter left Tabulam in late November 1915 somewhat under a cloud of debt, and doubt that the Army would accept him at five foot two inches and 35 years of age.

The following month Lasseter perfected his technique in targeting a narrow audience with a specific message when he caused his obituary, Died of Wounds, to appear in the Sydney Mail. This time the target was precise, the Negus family, where Lasseter and his family were trying guests en route to Melbourne where Lasseter enlisted. A fortnight later Lasseter resurrected himself with a correction to the obituary, he was now blinded in the right eye, with the additional information that he was a former resident of Tabulam, a minor fact not known to the Army at this time. In the usual circumstances the obituary and its correction would appear in Victorian papers, Lasseter's home State, and always in The Argus and The Age and  perhaps with greater detail in the Geelong Advertiser and the Colac Herald, the Local papers in Lasseter's circumstances, no doubt the Herald readers would be very interested in the doings of one of their more infamous sons. But Victoria in general and Lasseter's family in particular, were quite unaware that Lasseter had come to grief.

Lasseter's earliest forays into the esoteric business of 'disinformation' through the Press were remarkably successful, distant relatives in Sydney were left with the impression that their freeloading in-law had died of wounds while serving overseas, no doubt he was suitably mourned and any debts written off, as intended. The citizens of Tabulam and thereabouts were perhaps mildly surprised that Lasseter had enlisted and was on his way to war, also intended. He also had an impressive tabloid credential, the Sydney Mail article for the 29th Nov 1916 leaves the reader with the distinct impression that Lasseter had died of wounds while serving with The ANZAC Mounted Corp in the Sinai; in April 1919 The Argus mentioned that Mr. L. H. Lasseter was the Secretary of the Toora Branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Association.

Lasseter's best publicised tabloid credential came to light at Dashwood Creek on the afternoon of 28/07/30, four days west of Alice Springs, when Errol Coote heard hot words pass between Lasseter and Blakiston-Houston over Lasseter's claim to have designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Captain dismissed Lasseter as a lunatic, "You think I'm a blasted liar, shouted Lasseter, wildly waving his arms. Here's proof! he waved a page from a magazine", the magazine being the Australian Coal, Shipping, Steel and the Harbour for the 2nd September 1929 and not likely to have a readership of thousands and the page showing Lasseter's claim to have designed the Bridge in 1913 with a plan of a spring loaded spider webbed arch likely to collapse under it's own weight. I'll have a great deal more to say about Lasseter and the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the disgraceful history that has given a whiff of legitimacy to Lasseter's claim that he designed the World's heaviest arch bridge in 1913, I reckon a hard forensic examination of the paper, pen and ink used to draw Lasseter's plan would show products made circa 1929.

LASSETERIA

 

The Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser (NSW : 1904 - 1929), Friday 28 April 1916, page 2.http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article128601633. The Sydney Mail, 29/11/1916, pg 21 @ 13/12/1916, pg 26. Australian Coal, Shipping, Steel and the Harbour. 02/09/1929.