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The Petrov Affair ~ Australia’s Cold War Flashpoint
January 2nd, 2008

Australia never experienced anything at all remotely resembling the Cuban Missile Crisis or McCarthyism but we did have the Petrov Affair.

Back in April 1954 Australia had its very own Cold War drama when Vladimir Petrov defected while employed as a third secretary at the Soviet Embassy in Canberra, Australia’s capital city.

The episode became known as the Petrov Affair and it dominated the Australian political landscape and newspaper headlines. Australians were caught up in “stories of espionage and political conspiracy”.

As the Old Parliament House web site states, “The defection of the Petrovs came to be regarded by Western intelligence services as one of the most important of the Cold War era and it had a profound and lasting impact on the Australian political landscape, with the Labor Party Split a direct consequence of the events of 1954-1955.”

The Old Parliament House (now known as the Museum of Australian Democracy) has an exhibit commemorating the event and in support they have created a web site rich with resources suitable for students of Cold War history near and far. There is also a web quest that students can explore. The resources are particularly useful for students of Australian history at Stage 5 of their schooling in NSW. There is a wealth of documents, photographs, media files and links to investigate. There is also a Wikipedia article regarding the event.

15 Responses to “The Petrov Affair ~ Australia’s Cold War Flashpoint”

  1. eric todd Says:

    what is the background event of the petrov affair and why was the australians concered about communism

  2. John Larkin Says:

    Eric, in a nutshell, a significant percentage of the Australian population were concerned with the spread of communism. The accession of the communists in China in 1949 concerned many. Prime Minister Menzies attempted to ban the Communist Party via legislation yet the High Court put an end to that. A referendum in 1951 also failed to achieve the dissolution of the Communist party in this country. So although a large number of Australians were concerned about communism the numbers were not sufficient to see it banned and the fact that such a ban would threaten freedom of association and freedom of speech in this country.

    Communism received a great deal of negative publicity in this country. Many saw it as a threat to free enterprise, capitalist enterprise, private land ownership, religious freedom and also freedom of speech. Why not check out the links in the blog post for more information Eric?
    Cheers, John.

  3. luke Says:

    i need help with a q please
    List the main events of the petrov affair

  4. John Larkin Says:

    Hi Luke

    Thanks for the question. Now, I have just updated the links in the blog post and they should help you with information regarding the Petrov Affair. The resources at the Museum of AUstralian Democracy are good.

    Carefully read each resource and perhaps even print each page. You could highlight key personalities, dates, events and reactions.

    Following that you could create your own notes based on the highlighted points and then produce your summary. Good luck! You can meet the challenge!

    Cheers, John.

  5. daniel walsh Says:

    hi there i have a quick question what happened after mrs petrov was taken away?

  6. John Larkin Says:

    Hi Daniel

    Follow the links that I shared in the blog post and I am sure you will find that which you seek. A little intellectual elbow grease can go a long way.



  7. Sheela Says:

    Hello John,
    I have to a history assignment on the petrov affair and how it influenced Australia’s fear to south east asia and helped with creating the new policies?
    I can’t seem to find any info on that, just about Russia.
    Would you have info?
    Thank you.

  8. John Larkin Says:

    Hi there Sheela,

    There are links in the blog post that will help you plus some links on this page:

    All the best.

  9. Mila Says:

    Hi, i have understood by reading the events at the old parliament website what happened in the petrov affair. however our task is to write a front pg feature article and im having trouble pinpointing exactly what part of it caused the petrov affair to get so much media attention.
    thanks for your help this site is really useful

  10. John Larkin Says:

    Hi there,

    The Petrov Affair was front page news as Australians were quite wary of communism. Read this article regarding this fear or apprehension. This article also gives some good background: Plus this article:

    The wariness towards communism had subsided somewhat by the time of the Petrov Affair. A key to your newspaper article would be the timing of the release of the news of the Petrov Affair by Menzies. When was the spy scandal revealed to the parliament at that time? Why not earlier?

  11. Mila Says:

    everything is much clearer now, i’ve even almost finished.
    thanks again for your help.

  12. John Larkin Says:

    Well done!

  13. Sabrina Says:

    Hi, I’m not sure but i was given a question that asked me how and why the Petrov affair influenced Australia’s policies towards Southeast Asia. Did the Suez crisis, Vietnam War and the Indonesian Sukarno have anything to do with this question at all?

  14. rhian Says:

    hi there,
    at the moment im doing an assignment on the petrov affair. i was just wondering if you could help me with some of the consequences of the event aswell as how australia felt afterwards. Ive had a look at your bolgs but i still need so help, maybe just tsome bullet points if possible.thanks

  15. David Says:

    i have a assignment due soon and i can’t find info on how the petrov affair affected australia in the treat of communism during the cold war period. could u help?