Person - Paul Mortier

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PAUL FRANCIS MORTIER (1919 - 1965)

A staunch Stalinist of interest to Security and ASIO, Paul Mortier succeeded Pat Bullen as New Theatre Secretary 1949-50 with Miriam Hampson as his assistant before he resigned to work full-time for the Peace Movement. ASIO (who spied on his family home) described Mortier as tall and slim, a cigarette smoker, a CPA supervisor to keep NT on the right ideological path.

Paul Mortier's only theatrical appearance appears to be in a revival of Waiting for Lefty in 1941. His interest was in writing. For the 1949 revue Pot of Message he contributed a spoof on Warwick Fairfax, newspaper proprietor, art collector and ballet enthusiast:

I am Sir Warfare the lord of them all / Making hay with the press and the ballet

I’ve two houses, one wife – and a couch in the hall / And a sofa up in the chalet.

Though I spend lots of time on the Communist Plot / I’m familiar in circles of art

When I peer at the paintings and see a Red spot / It always gives me a start.


His sketches for street theatre included "Coal frolics" performed during the blackout crises of 1949:

A Darling Point dowager (member of the Bunyip aristocracy), presiding over her bridge party, addresses her maid.

MRS SNARLING: Bring in some tea, please, Mary. / MARY: I’m sorry mum, but there’s no gas mum, and we’re not allowed to use the electric stove, mum. / MRS SNARLING: Just go out and make the tea. You must realise that the restrictions are not meant to apply to us.

Born on 8 September 1919 at Richmond Victoria, an ex seminarian Mortier joined the CPA in 1939 and by 1940 was President of the Australian Labor League of Youth (ALLY). In this capacity he spoke at a July 1940 protest meeting re the raid on the New Theatre League and the confiscation of its props and scripts, and was elected to a committee to plan further public demonstrations and a procession. At the meeting (where plainclothes police took notes and a Security agent noted that “a militant note was struck throughout”) Mortier emphasised that many trade unions were supporters of the NTL. It was probably for this reason that most of the NTL articles were soon returned as a wartime government didn’t want unionists involved in industrial unrest. Mortier himself was raided.

In the 1941 State election Paul Mortier stood for the State Labor Party for the seat of Kogarah. Other unsuccessful SLP candidates included NTL members and supporters William Hortin (Canterbury), Rupert Lockwood (Concord), Sid Conway (Redfern), and Sam Lewis (Randwick). Others who called themselves Independents, in reality CPA, were Diana Gould (Phillip), Sam Aarons (Granville) and Stan Moran (Annandale).

Mortier enlisted in the AIF at Adelaide River in 1942 and was discharged with the rank of sergeant in 1946. In the army in the Northern Territory he became close friends with Frank Hardy. In 1947 as Secretary of the Darwin Communist Party he spoke against Truman’s speech denouncing Communism.

Mortier in 1945 married Dulcie de Vere Haslam (1920-2007), a university student activist, CPA member and journalist, and in charge of the Information Bureau of the Australia - Russia Society in 1947. They had two daughters and Dulcie became the main breadwinner as a secondary school teacher. When the Tax Department queried Mortier's finances in 1952, NT testified that he worked there on a voluntary basis but was paid expenses under £100 annually. He earned a pittance reviewing plays for Tribune. In 1952 he had his first nervous breakdown after which he was subject to bouts of depression.

Well-read and an effective Domain speaker, Mortier was a strict CPA theorist. In 1953 he told young people to turn their backs on jazz and embrace folk music instead. In Art: its origins and social functions, published in 1955, he gave the Party line that capitalism isolated working people from art, that art should be used to fight imperialism and build socialism. In 1962 he wrote in Tribune that Marxists could not support NT's production of An Enemy of the People where an individual stands up to an ignorant mob.

in 1955 Paul Mortier gave a talk to NT members on "Living in Moscow... a cultural fairyland" but was devastated the next year when Soviet leader Khrushchev revealed the human rights abuses of the Stalinist regime. Mortier's attempt to have the CPA leadership debate the issue led to his falling under suspicion as fostering "anti-party oppositionism". In 1965 he overdosed on barbiturates. NT members attended his funeral.


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