The Mungana Affair ranks as one of the most widely known and least understood scandals in Australian political history. Its impact on both Australian and Queensland politics can be viewed from at least five different aspects. First, it was a recurrent issue in Queensland that disrupted state political life for many years and culminated in periodic bitter party clashes between 1926 and 1931. Second, it impinged upon federal politics and at one point indirectly hastened the disintegration of the federal Labour government by removing from office its treasurer, E.G. Theodore,' at a time when Australia was confronted by the onslaught of the Great Depression. Third, it injured and in some cases ruined several political careers, including those of William McCormack, the former Queensland premier; N.F. Macgroarty, the Queensland attorney-general; A.D. McGill, chairman of the Country-National party in Queensland; and Theodore himself Fourth, it illustrated some of the problems inherent in state capitalism, highlighting the most outstanding example of government inability to successfully operate a state enterprise in mining and smelting. And fifth, it evinced questions of political morality, particularly in the stand taken by the Queensland Country-National party leader, A.E. Moore,' on conflict of interest, a subject which has too seldom been given serious attention in Australia.
The names of Theodore and McCormack have remained synonymous with Mungana. This connection has probably contributed to the lack of treatment given them by political biographers, although their contributions to unionism, the Labour Party and public office were very significant for Queensland and even Australian history. Mungana is now a ghost town with a vivid and economically important past. It has innumerable parallels in Australia with, however, one difference. The names of most deserted or near-deserted mining settlements mean nothing to present-day Australians, but Mungana has retained special significance as the name of a resounding political scandal. Perhaps the one piece of writing that has rekindled the Mungana Affair and Theodore's involvement in it, is Frank Hardy's fictional version of Ted Thurgood and the Mulgara Company in Power Without Glory.
It has been almost customary for historians to mention the Mungana episode with caution, and to underestimate its impact on political life in 1930-31. Histories of Queensland have without exception contained only a brief report of the royal commission or merely the verdict of the 1931 trial. Writers on federal politics have either referred non-committally to the event or have assumed quite incorrectly that the failure of the civil suit against Theodore demonstrated his innocence. Moreover, since 1931, historians and sundry writers have attempted to vindicate Theodore for his part in the Mungana Affair. It is now an article of faith among Labour people that Theodore was framed by calculating Nationalist party strategists, and that he was exonerated by his acquittal in the legal action which followed the royal commission of 1930. Recent examples amply illustrate this conviction. In his foreword to Irwin Young's biography of Theodore, the former Labour prime minister, E.G. Whitlam, wrote, "the dishonour of Mungana lay not with Theodore but with those of both parties who used Mungana to destroy a great Australian's political career and a great Australian." Further, he expressed the hope that Young's biography would "explode the myth of Mungana". This line was reiterated by Colin Hughes in a review of the biography.'' He asserted that it "probably settles the question once and for all". In fact, Young's biography, completed by another hand after the author's death, is wholly unsatisfactory in its treatment of Mungana.
The complexity of the issues involved and the elusiveness of much of the evidence partly explain the limited analysis to date, particularly of the events that culminated in the civil prosecution of Theodore and of his lifelong friend William McCormack. A study of the scandal and its elements of mystery and intrigue, based on official records and on some important private letters to and from McCormack, has resulted in a reinterpretation of the traditional views presented by historians and writers. Accordingly, this book claims to give a full and detailed account of the Mungana Affair, despite the refusal of the Queensland Mines Department to permit access to records relating to the Chillagoe smelters. It is doubtful whether any evidence that may subsequently come to light will modify the conclusions reached.