Desmond Ball’s labours through four decades to elucidate the character of US defence and intelligence facilities in Australia, to document the evidence, test the balance of benefits and dangers to both national security and human security, and then tell the story to his fellow Australians is unparalleled in Australian intellectual and political life. The dedication, often neglected, to the most famous and influential part of this work, A Suitable Piece of Real Estate: American Installations in Australia, was the call ‘for a sovereign Australia’. We might best sum up the character of Ball’s work of a lifetime – or more precisely, this one, brightly coloured, thread of a multi-stranded body of work – by recalling the enduring watchwords of an earlier Australian nationalist, Joseph Furphy: ‘temper democratic, bias Australian’. Both elements are keys to understanding the animating force behind Ball’s work on US installations in Australia – the concern for a fully and properly informed public as a prerequisite to democratic debate about the bases, and concern that Australians identify their country’s specific interests in the bases, citing Malcolm Fraser’s prescient but often ignored 1976 warning that ‘the interests of the United States and the interests of Australia are not necessarily identical’.
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