One of the many surprises to come from researching my recently completed documentary movie The truth about Lasseter (see July Newsletter) was the number of well-known and significant people who became associated with expeditions to locate the mythical “lost” gold reef in Central Australia that “Harold” (real name ‘Lewis Hubert’) Lasseter claimed to have refound in 1930, after supposedly first discovering it decades earlier.
Among these names was H. V. (Hugh Victor) Foy, the Bendigo-born chairman and managing director of Mark Foy’s department store in Sydney, who went in search of Lasseter’s reef soon after retiring in 1935. Another was a prominent accountant who served as Lord Mayor of Sydney in 1945 named W. Neville Harding, who twice went in search of the reef in 1951 and 1967—a nice piece of serendipity, since Harding was the alleged name of the Western Australian surveyor who featured in Lasseter’s accounts of first making his find.
What really grabbed my attention, however, was coming across a group of photographs in the National Archives which portrayed an attempt that took place in late 1939, even as Australia entered the Second World War. Among the people participating in this venture was a United Australia Party senator from NSW (Adam Dein), the Northern Territory Director of Mines (W. A. Hughes), and popular writer of Australiana (Frank Clune). What particularly stood out were captions to these photographs which recorded that the expedition had been organised by a ‘Mr. Morley Cutlack’.
Images in the National Archives from Morley Cutlack’s expedition to Ayer’s Rock (Uluru) in October-November 1939. The stone cairn pictured, found at a cave site out from the Rock on 10 November, was suggested by Cutlack to have some association with Lasseter.
It is probably only members of the relatively small community of Australian military historians who would make the connection that F. M. Cutlack—Frederic (often mistakenly shown as Frederick) Morley Cutlack—was the author of Volume 8 of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, covering the contribution of the Australian Flying Corps in three theatres of fighting from 1915. How many individuals would there have been in this country who shared a forename of “Morley” with the surname “Cutlack”, I wondered?
Initially, I thought it could not have been the same man, since nothing appearing in any biographical writings about F. M. Cutlack mentioned a connection with the protracted but futile quest for Lasseter’s Reef. But information appearing on the internet about ‘Morley Cutlack’ indicated he was a Sydney journalist, and that description certainly fitted F. M. Cutlack too. Fred began his writing career with the Adelaide Register in 1902, moved to the London Daily Chronicle in 1911, and on returning to Australia after the war joined the staff of the Sydney Morning Herald in 1920. He spent ten years from 1937 as an associate editor with that paper.
Commentators on the later Lasseter’s Reef shenanigans have described how Morley Cutlack and a prospector named S. R. (“Stan”) Hummerston—claiming that they had come into possession of Lasseter’s directions to the “lost” reef—set up companies called Border Gold Reefs Limited and South Border Reefs Limited to finance attempts at rediscovery. These expeditions began in 1936 and apparently continued until 1940. Even into the late 1940s Cutlack was continuing to seek investors for other dubious mining ventures.
Later commentary about all these goings-on portray the activities of Hummerston and Cutlack in thoroughly unflattering terms. The pair are described as ‘real shysters’ who conducted a ‘financial swindle’ by planting Lasseter “evidence” around the countryside to deceive investors. They are accused of conducting ‘a modestly successful scam for many years’, a ‘long running fraud, deluding shareholders into financing expensive junkets to Central Australia’.
It was almost with relief then that I picked up on two files in the National Archives (A367, C50181, and A52, 559/429 NOR) which reveal that the Morley Cutlack with an unsavoury reputation was actually one Morley Aubrey Hermann Cutlack. According to investigations conducted in 1948 by the Commonwealth Investigation Service (the forerunner to ASIO), this man was indeed an ex-journalist resident in Sydney, although he was also well known in Queensland. And sadly, he was believed to be a cousin of F. M. Cutlack—but that appeared to be the only connection between the two men.
Ironically, it was Hummerston who had the more tangible military association, although this was hardly of a creditable nature. The security investigators reported that in 1914 he had been sentenced to 15 months labour as a result of a court martial ‘for a breach of Naval Discipline’ while a crew member of the cruiser HMS Psyche, a year before this ship was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy. He was reportedly well-known to police, although it is not clear if this man was the same Stan Hummerston who found himself in Darlinghurst Court in June 1924, defending (successfully, it should be said) charges of alleged breach of agreement in repairing certain wharves and structures at Scotland Island, near Newport (see Sydney Morning Herald, 17 June 1924, p. 6).
In answer to my musing over how many Morley Cutlacks there could be in Australia, it would appear to be more than one might imagine. It seems that the author of the entry on Senator Dein (see Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, vol. 2, 1929-1962, pp. 422-426) managed to get M. A. H. Cutlack confused with someone called ‘J. M. Morley Cutlack’. And it also transpired that there is a headstone in the Northern Suburbs Memorial Gardens at Ryde, in Sydney, which commemorates a ‘Thomas Morley Cutlack’. So at least it is understandable that there is confusion.
One could at least hope that the National Library of Australia might get around to correcting the collection guide to Frank Clune’s personal papers (MS4951), which include Clune’s diaries and notes from the 1939 expedition, so that it does not continue linking ‘F. M. (Frederic Morley) Cutlack’ to that particular undertaking.