Hickie’s book presents an interesting challenge for historians. Published in 1985, its claim that Premier Robert Askin was corrupt, coming after Hickie’s article to that effect in the David Marr-edited National Times in 1981, had an enormous impact and has been believed ever since.
The evidence for this is circumstantial. All Hickie’s sources on Askin were dead or unnamed, like Askin himself and most of the over 430 sources Hickie claimed for the rest of his book. It is no exaggeration to say that few leaders in history have had their reputation destroyed on so little evidence. If Askin was corrupt, you’d think someone with direct knowledge of this would have gone on to the public record by now. But there is just silence.
Despite this, Hickie’s 536 page book is full of fascinating and often important detail. Which just adds to the mystery surrounding his treatment of Askin. Possibly the premier did receive money from organised crime every week for years – but we do not know.