In 1989 an ex-Margii named Evan Pederick confessed to the outrage. This is the first time his life story has been told, and it’s riveting and instructive. The account of how a kid from Perth became a terrorist fits in with what we now know about how radicalisation occurs.
The process is mainly social, not religious or ideological. Pederick was lonely, weak-willed, and at odds with his parents. He dropped out of university and drifted around Australia. Ananda Marga found him in a shared house in Hobart and reeled him in, step by step. In return for adopting their values and cutting his ties with the outside world, he found companionship and purpose. Then he planted a bomb that could, had it exploded at another time, have killed not three but a hundred fellow human beings.
Imre Salusinszky is a former academic, journalist and political adviser. This is an authorised and a sympathetic biography, based largely on interviews with Pederick, his own unpublished memoir, and court transcripts. It tells how Pederick’s eventual abandonment of extremism was also social – he got a job in the public service and found companionship with normal people. This reflects how experts today speak of ‘‘disengagement’’ rather than “deradicalisation”.
Eventually he became a Christian and decided he had to confess the terrible thing he’d done. As part of his confession, he accused Anderson of ordering the bombing. This means the two men’s stories have become entwined. Anderson has always denied any role in the bombing.
Anderson had already been charged with involvement in the bombing, on the evidence of an unreliable criminal informant named Ray Denning. Anderson had previously been convicted of an unrelated bomb offence on the evidence of a dodgy character named Richard Seary, whose evidence was ultimately deemed unreliable. Anderson’s conviction was later overturned. This had made him a cause celebre on the left, and in 1989 he again found plenty of supporters, including Wendy Bacon, John Pilger and Manning Clark.
There were suggestions that Pederick’s accusations against Anderson were unreliable just like those of Seary or Denning. It emerged at Anderson’s trial that there had been gaps and errors in the evidence Pederick first gave police. Some said this indicated duplicity, for surely one would remember the details of such a terrible act with unusual clarity? Salusinszky draws on academic research to refute this: memory is fallible, especially if affected by trauma.
At Anderson’s trial Pederick made an important error in his description of what had been happening outside the Hilton when he said he tried to detonate the bomb. Anderson was convicted, but ultimately acquitted on appeal, because of the errors in Pederick’s evidence at the trial.
Pederick was frustrated by this outcome. There was later an appeal against his own conviction, even though it had been based on his own confession. Some said that confession had been a fantasy. Salusinszky notes Pederick was examined by four psychologists and found quite sane. His conviction was upheld by the appeal court.
This book is a fascinating contribution to our understanding of the Hilton bombing. The evidence it provides from the trials persuades me Pederick planted the bomb at the Hilton. As to any other conclusion, you will need to read it yourself.
Pederick is now an Anglican minister. Anderson was for many years an academic at the University of Sydney, which sacked him early this year for showing students an image of the Israeli flag superimposed with a swastika.
Michael Duffy is the chair of BAD: Sydney Crime Writers Festival and author with Nick Hordern of Sydney Noir and World War Noir, histories of the city’s crime and corruption.