- Note that The Returned and Services League (RSL) of Petersham proudly supports the efforts of Dr Saleam and his party to return to a White Australia: the Party’s annual talkfest, the Sydney Forum, is taking place there today.
Petersham RSL is always interested in hearing from the general public, and can be reached on (02) 9560 8355 or by fax on (02) 9564 1841. But please: no old diggers with memories of WWII, mmmkay?
The Audacity of Hate
September 26/27, 2009
For someone who dreams of steering the nation to a new dawn, Jim Saleam is a man with a chequered past. Greg Bearup talks to the self-styled leader of far-right politics in Australia.
In his 10th straight year at university but flush with his dead father’s cash, Jim Saleam bought a house at 725 Princes Highway, Tempe, for $90,000. It was 1983 and this grim little terrace, along the main trucking route to Port Botany and just beyond Sydney airport’s runways, has been the Australian headquarters for hate politics ever since.
The house, an old shopfront with a couple of bedrooms up top and a kitchen out back, is a suburban fortress. Heavy metal grilling covers every opening and coils of barbed wire run along the top of the fences. It’s known as “The Bunker” or “Saleam’s Lot”.
Hard-core members of the radical right — skinheads, fascists and ordinary, hard-working salt-of-the-earth racists — have gathered here to plan their revolution and their political vendettas. It was once the office of the violent National Action, and is now the headquarters of Australia First — which Saleam claims will soon be registered as a party and able to field candidates at the next federal election. After the implosion of One Nation without Pauline Hanson, Australia First aims to emulate the British National Party’s electoral success in the European Parliament. It’s a prospect that sends shudders through those who’ve had dealings with Jim Saleam.
The NSW Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal — an adversary since university — was so concerned that Saleam’s party might get a foothold, he recently sought an assurance from Labor’s national secretary that it would never get Labor preferences. He feared it would gain momentum just as One Nation did with the help of Coalition [p]references. “He is an evil, evil man,” the Treasurer tells me.
Roozendaal’s house was vandalised and graffitied after he spoke out against Saleam; Saleam denied any involvement and blamed “provocateurs”. This man scares people, not because they think that his party has much of a chance, but because they fear the damage he could do in his push for power.
“We’ve got a lot of interest from what I broadly call the patriotic nationalist underground scene in Australia,” Saleam tells me. “Many groups are looking at us to see whether or not we may be the pole that they can hang themselves to.”
But Jim Saleam has a past that may shock even some of his most strident supporters, the faithful who attend his lectures at Tempe to demand an “Australia for Australians”, an end to non-European immigration and foreign ownership, citizen-initiated referendums — and a return to a White Australia Policy.
Outside his house hangs an Australia First banner; in the window are numerous flags, both Eureka and official, and a bust with a bucket on its head fashioned to look like Ned Kelly’s helmet. It wears a T-shirt proclaiming, “Dinky-Di Aussie Patriot — do you have a problem with that?”
Saleam wooed his wife here when she came to meetings, and it’s where he raised their two children — a daughter, now 17, and a son, 20. He’s sat at the kitchen table and tapped out a thesis on the extreme right in Australia that earned him a PhD from the University of Sydney and the title “Dr Saleam”. But this place has seen more than study and domestic bliss. It was from here that campaigns were planned — campaigns so vicious and unrelenting that some of those targeted had to move house and are still scarred by the harassment.
Saleam was living here in 1989 when he provided a shotgun to two skinheads who fired into the home of Eddie Funde, the African National Congress representative in Australia. Funde and his wife were inside and shotgun pellets narrowly missed their sleeping baby. Saleam was sentenced to 3½ years’ jail for his involvement.
It was also the venue for an insurance scam in which he falsely claimed the house had been robbed. He was jailed for two years for fraud.
It was here, in 1994, that Jane Mengler, his former wife and the mother of his two children, opened the heavy security door to two men with balaclavas and rifles. They burst in, shoved her up against a wall in the kitchen and shot her in the shin. She now walks with a permanent limp.
And then there was the incident in 1991, when a small group gathered for a little celebration on Hitler’s birthday. Saleam was not at home, but two skinheads, Wayne “Bovver” Smith and Perry Whitehouse, mates of Saleam and members of National Action, were residing at 725 Princes Highway. Smith was a fearsome thug who used to terrify students, pastors and gays and was, says a former National Action member, “one of those kids at school who’d thump you in the face and steal your sandwiches”. He also bulled the smaller Whitehouse relentlessly. One day Whitehouse snapped. He raced upstairs and grabbed a .22 rifle. ASIO was bugging the house at the time and recorded the entire incident.
“I’ll show ya what I got to say,” Whitehouse yelled as he came downstairs.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. “That’s what I’ve got to f…’in say.”
Smith’s last gasps could be heard on the bug as Whitehouse danced around, mocking him. Smith was wearing a T-shirt that stated, “Say no to the new gun control laws.”
There are a lot of skeletons in Jim Saleam’s Tempe closet.
Saleam answers the knock on the side security door to let me in. He is a short man with Kevin Rudd’s hairdo and a moustache on a round, pock-marked face. He wears a sports jacket without a tie and looks like a travelling stationery salesman from 1986.
He leads me into the front room, the old shop, and dirty light filters in through curtains tacked up behind the Ned Kelly bucket. We sit on plastic chairs at a plastic table. Outside I can hear the bip-bip-bip-bip-bip-bip as a pedestrian crosses the highway at the lights. At other times, there’s just a rattle of trucks.
On the walls are prints of works by the Australian impressionists Frederick McCubbin and Tom Roberts. Old greeting-card and newsagency racks are filled with browning copies of hand-stapled pamphlets like The Asianisation of Australia Vol 2 and an old “Free Pauline Hanson!” flyer. And there’s Saleam’s baby, the journal of Australia First, Audacity, which carries the strap line: “Anybody who is against the White Australia Policy is against the Australian nation — Jack Lang.”
Saleam admits he has never had a real job but says he does a bit of “legal advice work” and is a self-taught expert in stylometry — it allows him to read documents and assess their truth by the style of the writing, he claims. I had been told by many that he has been on the dole for years, but when I put that to him he refuses to answer, saying it would only play into the hands of his enemies.
In 2001, he joined Australia First — the party started by renegade politician Graeme Campbell after he was expelled from Labor. When Campbell jumped from his own ship and stood for One Nation, Saleam, through a series of deft political maneuvers, seized control of the party. He went on to play a “mentoring” role to the Patriotic Youth League — the self-proclaimed “radical nationalist” group who came to wider public attention for their part in the 2005 Cronulla riots.
We settle in the gloom to talk about his vision for Australia. Saleam says his political lineage comes not from the right, but from the left. He refers to the Labor greats John Curtin and Jack Lang and says the name of the National Resistance group (the precursor to National Action) came from a speech from Arthur Calwell, who, Saleam says, stated: “Australians would always show resistance to those who seek to change their society.”
He vehemently denies that he has ever been a Nazi and says the “one time” he was photographed with a swastika on his arm, at a protest in Brisbane in 1975, was during an elaborate attempt to infiltrate the Australian Nazi party to prove they were agents of the special branch of the Queensland police. (He’s fond of such grand conspiracies.)
“I believe the real founders of Australia, who ran through the Labor [sic] movement, intended Australia [to] be founded a different sort of society … founded on an ethnically European model,” he tells me across the plastic table. The model he advocates takes us back to the largely European composition of Australia in 1966. It all went downhill from there, he says, with the effective abandonment of the White Australia policy by Harold Holt.
“At a certain time in our history, that European model was overthrown … and Australia was thrown open to mass re-colonisation,” Saleam asserts. People like Bob Hawke, Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Don Dunstan and Gareth Evans were true revolutionaries who sneakily implemented their ideals to make Australia non-white.
In Jim Saleam’s Australia, immigration would be restricted to Europeans. There would be “incentives” for non-Europeans to return to their country of origin, and criminals and those on visas or with temporary citizenship would be deported.
Multiculturalism, he says, has crushed the way of life for ordinary Australians. “The great unwashed working and farming and other people don’t really count any more and they go off to Anzac Day and that is all they get.” There may be a need for some forced relocations, he says, for those who don’t want to go.
“Saleam [Saa-leem],” I say, “isn’t a very European-sounding name.”
“It’s pronounced Saleam [Sail-’em],” he says, correcting me. “Saleam.”
He then leads me through an elaborate family history and says that his grandfather’s family was Greek and that Greece was then part of the Ottoman Empire, but also a part of Europe. The family were bureaucrats, he says, and lived for a time in Constantinople but ended up as public servants for the Empire in Syria and what is now modern-day Lebanon. “It is a very convoluted family history and I understand that my grandfather was adopted by a merchant who cared for him as a child because his parents had died. They died of smallpox or one of the epidemics that ravaged the Turkish Empire.”
His grandfather, George Saleam, ran away from the merchant at the age of 16 and boarded a ship bound for Australia. He ended up in Maryborough, Queensland. “All I know is that when my grandfather applied for citizenship, he was classed as a white person,” Saleam emphasises. Ordinarily, these matters would be of little consequence, but for a man preaching racial purity, and for his followers, they are important.
Equally important is his denial of ever having been a Nazi. If the far right in this country is to attract more than just a few crazies and skinheads, there can be no taint of Nazism. After all, it was our patriotic diggers who sacrificed themselves to defeat that evil empire.
Jim Saleam is guarded about his childhood. He can talk for hours about how the special branch framed him or the history of the nationalist movement in Australia, but I have to drag information from him about his time in Maryborough.
“My parents divorced in the 1960s when I was about eight,” he says at our second meeting at The Bunker. “You might say the family dissolved. Asking to interview any of my family is pointless as there is simply no relationship.” He will not give me details of his mother or sister. After her marriage break-up, his mother left with his younger sister to live in another town and he rarely saw them. “I believe my mother is gravely ill,” he says. “So I am told.” He lived with his father, Jim snr. I ask how he felt about his mother leaving when he was so young. “It was never any particular impediment to me,” he replies, without emotion.
His dad, he says, was “just a bush sort of person”. They had a “fairly good” relationship but because Jim snr was not “academically minded or interested in politics or history” they didn’t have a lot in common. The father provided for the son but was not a great emotional support for a young boy separated from his mother.
Jim snr let him read and study, and do basically as he liked, and as a 15-year-old Saleam wrote to “every conceivable political organisation in the country”, both left and right, asking for information. He hadn’t, by this stage, come to the conclusion that his political destiny lay with the far right, he claims. It was only when he was at uni in Brisbane, when Malcolm Fraser was elected as PM, that he realised both sides were in cahoots and that there was a need for a radical third way.
Did growing up with the name Saleam — I mispronounce it Saaleem again — present any problems in Maryborough? “It’s Saleam [Sail-’em]!” he corrects, and says he was never taunted about his name or his “European” origins.
“Jimmy, Greek?” says Dr Michael Monsour, who owns a large medical practice in Maryborough. “Greek! Ha! Ha! Jimmy was a Leb, just like us.” The Mounsours and Saleams came to Maryborough around the same time, in the late 19th century, and their families have been friends for more than 100 years, “given the shared history”.
Saleam’s grandfather, George, landed in Maryborough without a cent but was a hard worker and a shrewd businessman. He set up a drapery business, invested his savings in real estate, bought the picture theatre and, by the time he died, owned dozens of properties in the district and was one of its wealthiest citizens. “The Saleams owned half of Maryborough’s main street,” says Monsour, “and we owned the other half.”
But the early part of the last century was an uneasy time for people like the Monsours and the Saleams, living in the shadow of the White Australia policy. Lebanese were not legally able to own property. They were, in fact, illegal immigrants and classified as Asiatics, along with Japanese, Chinese and Indians, according to Marilyn Lake, professor of history at La Trobe University. The border had to be drawn somewhere; the Greeks were in and the Turks and Syrians (and the Lebanese — Lebanon was then part of Syria) were out. It was a common practice for Lebanese to claim they had come from Greece for fear they might lose their properties.
“Maybe that’s where Jimmy got the Greek fantasy from,” says Monsour.
Saleam sends me documents regarding his grandfather’s application for naturalisation, claiming it proves his case. It doesn’t. The pertinent part of the document says George was of good character, “not coloured, and is a native of Constantinople, but as his parents removed to Syria while he was an infant, he has always claimed Syria as his native country”.
Saleam has made many bitter enemies in the labyrinthine world of far-right politics, and they provided Good Weekend with countless documents they say are from the National Archives of Australia and claim they prove his grandfather was born in Lebanon.
But the most compelling evidence comes from the people of Maryborough — the Saleams’ family solicitor, old school teachers and other Lebanese in town — who all believed the Saleams were Lebanese. “That’s the crazy thing about all Jim’s Nazi goings on,” says Monsour. “If Hitler was about today, Jim’d be lined up against a wall and shot — he’s certainly no Aryan.”
When old George died, Jim snr inherited a “very large” property portfolio that included flats, houses, shops and the picture theatre. John Boge, the family solicitor, said that old Jim “retired” at an early age and lived off the rent, selling off a property if he needed cash.
He married a pretty woman many years his junior and they had two children. “Unfortunately for Jimmy, she ran off with ‘Roger the Dodger’,” Boge explains. “While Jimmy [snr] was looking after the picture theatre, it seems she was looking after the boarders.”
Good Weekend spent several days ringing around Maryborough and found that young Jim is remembered as being a “spoilt little bastard”, “a little prick” and “a shit of a kid”, who never wanted for anything, “apart from a few good kicks up the arse”. In a very working-class town, he was one of the spoilt rich kids.
Would he have had a hard time, I ask Michael Monsour, because of his heritage? “Look, we got a bit of ribbing for being Lebs, but both our families were part of the fabric of the town by then,” he says. “Any hard time Jim got was for being Jim, not for being a Leb.”
Monsour remembers the fascination Saleam had with the Nazis and says he was often in strife for painting swastikas and giving the Nazi salute. He doesn’t know what inspired it. “While our fathers were friends, we all steered clear of Jim,” the doctor says. “He was the leader of a younger group of kids, none of whom were quite normal.”
Monsour’s recollections are backed by Ashley Taylor, a teacher at the Maryborough State High for Boys during Saleam’s student days. “I remember one particular incident where he rounded up some of the young fry for a Nazi rally,” Taylor says. “It caused a huge stink.” Many of the teachers were returned servicemen. One, a decorated airman, had to be restrained from taking young Jim into a room and thumping him. “We wondered where all this came from,” says Saleam’s old teacher. “Especially as his family were Arabs.”
Saleam may have been a troublemaker, but he was also academically gifted and had it not been for a run-in with the principal, he’d have been the school’s dux. He was suspended before the final exams but was still allowed to sit them. He finished his days in Maryborough doing his leaving exams in a hallway outside the headmaster’s office. Saleam passed with ease and won a scholarship to the University of Queensland.
The next year he was charged with breaking a window of a Brisbane Maoist bookshop, dousing the shop with petrol and setting it alight. People in Maryborough were not surprised.
Apart from bill posting and arrests for street protests, this is the only crime that he admits to and when I ask him about it, he brushes it aside. “Oh, I had a dispute with the people at the shop. That’s true. It went by, end of story.” A condition of his sentence, according to a report in The Courier Mail, banned him from having any association with the National Socialist Party of Australia — the Australian Nazi party.
He ignored this court order and in February 1975, he was pictured at a protest wearing a Nazi armband. Saleam tells me he was simply trying to infiltrate the organisation.
However, Good Weekend has uncovered more photographs of him wearing a Nazi armband, apparently taken a month later — in front of a war memorial, no less — in Brisbane’s Centenary Park.
“So you were only photographed the once in a Nazi uniform?” I ask him over the phone.
“Look … I can’t recall. I may have gone to some other event … but, as I say, it was all part of the one infiltration.”
His “infiltration” of the Nazi party was the start of his many troubles, he claims. Uncovering the nexus between the police and the Nazis put him permanently on the “special branch shit list” and the trouble flowed south when he moved to Sydney in 1976.
After throwing himself into radical student politics at the University of Sydney — where he wrote his master’s thesis on the leader of the American Nazi Party, George Lincoln Rockwell — Saleam joined a group called National Resistance that eventually became National Action, which he headed for 10 years.
“National Action,” a former member of the group tells me, “was like a model aircraft club with the occasional murder. There were the skinheads and the thugs and the nutters on the fringes, but basically, apart from that, it was a bunch of blokes without girlfriends.”
However, it was no laughing matter for those who had bricks thrown through their windows at midnight. One of the many targeted was the Reverend Dorothy McRae-McMahon, of the Pitt Street Uniting Church, because of her liberal views on a range of issues from homosexuality to refugees. Her church was graffitied, week after week, and human excrement and vomit were smeared under the front door of her house. She was eventually forced to move.
Once, half a dozen men in jackboots and shaved heads marched into her church and began shouting at the congregation. They left National Action leaflets on the communion table. Another time they set fire to an effigy of a woman and were arrested. One of them was Wayne “Bovver” Smith.
McRae-McMahon did not wish to talk when contacted by Good Weekend, fearing that it could spark more attacks. Several other targets, including members of the police force, asked not to be quoted for the same reason.
“The guy is a voyeur of violence,” says one former member of National Action. “He would send his thugs out to do his dirty work and wait for them to report back. He got off on directing the violence but was never involved.”
It may be hard to believe that Jim would be able to woo someone into becoming Mrs Saleam, but a former National Action member describes Jane Mengler as a “notorious persons’ groupie”. She was said to have been involved with a figure from the Griffith Mafia scene before meeting Saleam.
The marriage did not last long, but produced two children before Jane fell in love with someone else and left. It’s a common enough story, but this one had some twists. A man called Ziggy Pohl had been in jail since 1973 for the murder of his wife, Joyce, at Queanbeyan, NSW; in 1990, Roger Bawden walked into a police station and said he could no longer live with himself and admitted he had killed Joyce Pohl. Jane saw a story about Bawden on 60 Minutes and “instantly bonded with the man on screen”. They married in a prison chapel in 1993.
It is not known what became of the marriage — Bawden was sentenced to 15 years — but a year later, Jane was back at 725 Princes Highway. This was when the two men burst in and shot her in the leg.
On a sunny winter’s afternoon I go to an “executive” meeting of Australia First at The Bunker. There are eight men and two women in attendance, and when I sit down, an odd-looking man in combat pants and a “Dinky-Di Aussie Patriot — do you have a problem with that?” T-shirt shoves a biscuit at me. “It’s an Anzac,” he says.
With everyone seated, Saleam delivers a pep talk to the troops beneath a banner proclaiming: “Identity, Independence, Freedom”.
Afterwards, I am allowed to talk to only two hand-picked members, Tony Pettitt, a truck driver, and Terry Cooksley, a retired typewriter technician. Both men were previously members of One Nation and Cooksley also belonged to National Action.
Cooksley tells me he arrived in Australia as a £10 Pom and that it was then a paradise. “I could walk down the street, read all the signs and you never had to lock your car or your house”. Then the Third World migrants arrived and “things turned to shit”.
“If they want something, they just take it,” Pettitt adds. “No concern for the rule of law. Different values.” Pettitt will be one of the party’s leading candidates at the next federal election.
I ask the men about Saleam’s criminal history and whether it was an impediment to their electoral success. Both men say they believe he was framed and that the police do it all the time. One moment we are talking about Roger Rogerson shooting Warren Lanfranchi in a Sydney lane and then, the next, Pettitt chimes in to give an example of how easy it is to frame someone like Saleam: “Yeah, look at Saddam Hussein. Mass weapons of destruction. Where are they?”
There is irony that is lost on or unknown to these two men. The building we are sitting in was paid for with the remnants of George Saleam’s estate. Jim Saleam has been able to spend his entire adult life pursuing his racist agenda principally because his grandfather slipped through the White Australia net to become a successful and valued Australian.
Now, 40 years after those rallies in Maryborough with the young fry, “none of whom were quite normal”, Jim Saleam is still doing the same thing. I wonder what old George would think of his grandson.