It would have been hard for Alice Welch to know the little old lady she played golf with was married to a Soviet spy.
Looking back on her 15 years of teeing off at Tanilba Bay with Peace Clayton, Mrs Welch said there were no red flags.
‘‘I never suspected in a million years,’’ Mrs Welch, 95, said. ‘‘I only knew we played golf together.
‘‘She was a ladylike woman, very nice. You wouldn’t say really reserved, but a little reserved.’’
Peace’s husband, Walter Clayton, was tracked by ASIO for 50 years until his death in 1997, but no proof has aired of him doing anything illegal, until now.
Mr Clayton never wilted under ASIO’s watch, but a new book says a friend taped him admitting that he sent lists of potential Australian Soviet agents to Moscow.
The Family File, by Mark Aarons, is released this week.
Talk of Mr Clayton’s past in Melbourne as a communist organiser in the 1930s had circulated around Port Stephens for years, but the book has brought it into focus.
Mr Clayton lived most of his life accused of being Klod, a shadowy figure who relayed state secrets to the Kremlin after WWII until the rouse was uncovered by Britain and the United States.
The US government was so angry about Klod’s leaks that it banished Australia from sharing western secrets until it set up a counter-intelligence unit.
So it appears Mr Clayton was the reason for ASIO.
The author’s late father, Laurie Aarons, was a party comrade who interviewed Mr Clayton in 1993 and secretly recorded his only confession: admitting to making the lists.
The tape containing that conversation was hidden by Laurie Aarons for 12 years, but was found in 2005 by Mark, who has made the contents public in the book.
Retired Port Stephens Examiner journalist Geoff Walker first stumbled on Mr Clayton’s story at a local library in 2003 when he opened David McKnight’s Australia’s Spies and their Secrets.
Written inside the cover of the book was: ‘‘Donated by Wal Clayton’’.
Mr Walker had been vaguely aware of Mr Clayton when he was alive.
‘‘He was just a quiet little old fellow,’’ he said.
‘‘My wife as a golfer had been invited by his wife to their house in Salt Ash.’’
Aarons details how Mr Clayton drifted from job to job, which he put down to ASIO agents scaring Mr Clayton’s bosses with talk of his communist past.
Mr Clayton took to fishing at Broughton Island, off Hawks Nest, and became known as the ‘‘Snapper King’’.
But even then, Aarons says, Mr Clayton was watched.
Two local fishermen were paid to scrutinise his movements, and were told he might rendezvous with a Soviet submarine.
Mr Walker said Peace Clayton died some years after her husband and left her estate to the remnants of the Australian Communist Party.
Mrs Welch said she sometimes missed her old golfing partner.
‘‘She was a very nice person, really,’’ she said.