SIR JOHN MONASH.
(BY C.B.F.) I.
When one has long wanted to meet a great man, alive and still a force In the world, an ¡mpression of him is often formed by the imagination quite different from the truth. It may be an impression representing the half truth, and, therefore, all the more mis- leading. My mind picture of Sir John Monash had been formed by much talking about him with those who had served under him in the great war, or who had been associated with him in some form of co-operation there- in. That is to say, the facts about him had a certain balance and proportion. There was life in them. One side of the impression in this respect was based upon an alleged col- lision he had had-call it a lack of co-opera- tion-with the late Federal Prime Minister, Mr. W. M. Hughes, in London. Peace was assured, and the general order for demobilisa- tion had been issued. Australian soldiers were full of the thought of a happy return to sunny Australia, and the sooner the better. Every effort was being made by the respon- ible Australian officers to forward demobili- sation. But when Mr. Hughes was interviewed by one and another, delay was still the prevalent condition. The Prime Minister was unwilling to issue the necessary ukase, or to sign anything that would send the trans- ports back to this continent filled with men eager for home, and sick of the reek of the battlefields.
THE BALANCE OF POWER.
By putting two and two together, some of the folk who watch things closely, and can read the signs, decided that there must be a political side to it all. Mr. Hughes, as Prime Minister, was not really the leader of a majority in the Federal Parliament. His position was governed by the balance of power, which he held as one of a minority of Labour members, who had been driven into the wilderness. But the wilderness had been found to blossom as the rose with an oasis called the National party in which Cabinet rank for this section had come as a matter of course. The possibility of another election in the near future seemed to be complicating everything in the Prime Minister's mind.
In desperation, apparently, Sir John was turned to for advice and relief. He was the strong man, capable for all things, and he took the matter in hand. In due course he had an interview with Mr. Hughes. The Federal Prime Minister was still adamant, or at any rate undecided which was as bad for ad- ministrative purposes. He would not sign the demobilisation orders. It was explained afresh what delay meant, and so forth. Then the Story runs that Sir John, who had kept quite cool, turned to Mr. Hughes and said: "Well, Mr. Hughes, I am afraid your refusal does not matter, because I have taken the respon- sibility of acting on your behalf. Several transports are now on the water with the first thousands of demobilised men, and others are following." These, or words of like effect, so it is alleged, brought the Prime Minister up standing, and then the language he used was painful, and free, not to say frequent. Nothing could be done by him, apparently, except to threaten pains and penalties. These were hurled at Sir John Monash, it was re- ported afterwards, at the end of a red-hot argument. But one wonders whether, after all, Mr. Hughes was not relieved. The "digger," however, said that Sir John was on a good wicket. He was neither a politi- cian nor a Civil servant, and he could snap his fingers at the Prime Minister. But I only put down the impression in my mind of a story absorbed by contact with returned men, and, as a result of an instinctive appreciation of dramatic turns in life. It is the picture of two strong men facing one another, and the soldier laying down the law to the politician. That has stood out in my mind as a tremen- dous thing for Australia at a very critical
MEETING SIR JOHN.
Now I write with the man himself clothed in flesh, and not garbed in the clouds and light- nings of a war-flushed imagination. Motoring with a friend through Gippsland last week I was introduced to Sir John Monash, and spent an hour by his side, or near it, as one of a company of journalists personally conduct- ed by him over the vast works at Yallourn, near Morwell, which is to solve the brown coal problem for the State of Victoria. Briefly, Sir John is nothing like the man of my imagination. He is neither tall nor physi- cally impressive. He is a Jew at first glance, and typical in face and feature. A short, thick-set man, he does not carry any of the advantages which one associates with fine soldierly presence; and to one content with first impressions, he could neither have led an army nor developed that daring plan of operations which helped so materially to end the war. But one knew that here was no boaster. The English critics of his book, "The Australian Victories in France in 1918," may have felt, perhaps, that it was another piece of brag-that was the impression of one well-known Australian in England after reading the critiques, who had not then read the book-but they could never have seen Sir John himself. Whatever may have been their convictions about his writing, they would not have associated him with the untruths and half truths of the swaggerer.
In my own case, it only needed a word or two to bring the real man forward. He was in the middle of a remarkable monument to his daring and skill as an engineer at Yal- lourn, but he did not say, "Look around" as though he were asking for an acknowledge- ment. For an hour and more I heard him giving facts and figures which paralysed the imagination, but he made no more of them than to convoy certain definite conclusions. Here was brown coal in illimitable quanti- ties, and there was the means for converting it into electricity for the service of Melbourne and the southern half of Victoria at a rate provitable to all concerned. The mind which had grasped at the certainty of victory on the battlefields of France in 1918 was now, in 1924, demonstrating the assurance of victory on a vast scale in Australia along the lines of peaceful development. It was the man of action grappling with a great practical problem, and not the politician talking about it.
Perhaps it was the contrast between the ordinary set speech of the political leader seeking to impress an audience, and Sir John's simple exposition as he led us from one point of vantage to another, that first held my at- tention. But the man grew upon me. He was masterful. His sturdy, stocky figure
seemed to expand as his faith in the great venture before him inspired him to fresh efforts to show what it all meant. Then it was that one began to study his hands. They
were so strangely out of harmony with his
body, but so curiously expressive of the soul within him. I could see his forbears of more than two thousand years back, as prophets and Jewish leaders of the Maccabean type, hold up just such hands in adjuration or command-the hands of a man of genius,
shapely and strong, but eloquent of mind and imagination. Sir John Monash has fine hands, and his face and eyes impress one. His address is that of a master. He would have little patience for the mere talker at any time, and he led us round the works at Yallourn inviting questions and answering them, but always absorbed in the matter in hand. "Brown coal? Yes, certainly. There it is burning under that boiler." But it was the mighty boilers that he was concerned with at the moment. Vast furnaces will consume im- mense quantities of brown coal; but it is what may be called the turning of the coal at the pit's mouth into electricity that caught one's imagination, and made the man before us grow bigger as we passed from point to
This, then, is the man who came back to Australia to be slighted by political leaders for whom he was too strong, but to be held in respect and esteem by returned soldiers erywhere. Sir John Monash has only to show himself at any centre and a crowd of admirers will block the way. He is such a busy man that he has little time for any- thing but his work, and when invitations for public speech or action reach him they have generally to be declined. Such an invitation came from Broken Hill on one occasion, and was put aside with regret. But Sir John desired to see Broken Hill as an engineer urgently interested in its mining problems; and without saying a word he went forth with packed bag to the railway station intent upon a private matter, like any no- body of us all. But the word was passed along the line in spite of him. "Sir John Monash is coming" was the slogan for Bro- ken Hill that day. The motor cars swarmed out and the crowd assembled, not to be denied their opportunity of a welcome. It was doubtless a surprise to Sir John, but to no- one else. When he came to Sydney recently he was seen and welcomed; but his stay was so short that few of those who wanted a word with him had any chance. Now that I have seen him and spoken with him, have asked questions and received answers, have watched him with his subordinates, and have studied his ways with ordinary folk, I am quite satisfied. Australian problems on the largest scale have at least one man capable of solving them; and his energy and resource ought to be our greatest immediate ??