In July 1949, Australia’s greatest code-breaker Captain Eric Nave was enjoying his 160 days of accumulated holidays before starting a new job with (the newly formed) ASIO on 15th December 1949. I suspect he was at his house in Adelaide Melbourne at the time, but asked over by his father in Adelaide, where he had lived until early on in the war.

Hence I strongly believe that the “local naval decoder” referred to in reference #4 below was Eric Nave. I would be delighted if anybody has suggestions as to how this could be tested or pursued further in the archives.

(1) The Adelaide Advertiser, 26th July 1949, p.3

Yesterday the police interviewed two suburban telephone subscribers whose numbers corresponded with those on the back of the book, but they knew nothing of the matter.

(2) Adelaide News, 26th July 1949, p.1

Phone number found on cover of book

[…]The woman whose telephone number appears in pencil on the cover of the book told police that when she was nursing at North Shore hospital in Sydney about three and a half years ago, she gave a similar copy to a lieutenant who served in the Water Transport section of the Army.

Later, she said, the lieutenant wrote to her mother’s home in Melbourne. She replied to his letter, telling him she was married.
Subsequently, the woman told police, she and her husband settled in Adelaide. Last year a man called at the house of a neighbor, inquiring for a nurse he once knew.

This afternoon the woman is being shown the plaster cast of the Somerton victim, which is now in a storeroom at Adelaide Museum.

Acting on the possibility that the “Rubalyat” in their possession did belong to the lieutenant, police set out to decipher a number of block letters pencilled on the back of the book.

Although the lettering was faint, police managed to read it by using ultra-violet light. In the belief that the lettering might be a code, a copy has been sent to decoding experts at Army Headquarters, Melbourne.

(3a) The Adelaide Advertiser, 27th July 1949, p.1

Army Officer Sought To Help Solve Somerton Body Case

[…]The police have also forwarded to Army Headquarters, Melbourne, a copy of a series of letters printed in pencil on the back of the book. They believe that it is possible that the letters may be some coded message. Police located the woman from a telephone number, also written in pencil on the back the book.[…]

(3b) Adelaide News, 27th July 1949, p.1

Yesterday police traced a telephone number pencilled on the cover to the Adelaide woman who gave a similar copy of the book to the Army lieutenant.

Efforts to decipher several rows of block letters, believed to be a code, on the back of the book are continuing. A Navy “code cracker”, is tackling the task this afternoon.

(4) Adelaide News, 25th August 1949, p.22


Police were told today that Australia’s top cipher experts had failed to crack the code in the back of a copy of Omar Khayyam’s “Rubaiyat’ believed to be connected with the Somerton body mystery.

A naval spokesman said experts in Melbourne had worked on the code for weeks. Melbourne authorities had informed him that the frequency of the occurrence of letters, while inconclusive, corresponded more favorably with the table of frequencies of initial letters of words in English than with any other table.

A reasonable explanation would be that the lines were initial letters of words of a verse of poetry or something like that.

Before a copy of the code was sent to Melbourne, a local naval decoder expressed similar views.

The code, printed in pencil in the back of a copy of the “Rubaiyat” from which the words “Tamam Shud” – meaning “The End” – were torn, was thrown into the back of an unattended car at Glenelg about the time the body of an unknown man was found on Somerton beach on December 1, 1948. In the clothing on the body was a neatly trimmed piece of paper with the words “Tamam Shud.”

(5) Adelaide News, 27th August 1949, p.2

Many try to solve Somerton code

[…]Expert opinion is that the code was made up of initial
letters of words from a verse of poetry or something similar.

The code is:
M R G O A D A B D [sic]

Vic. man’s claim

Melbourne. – A former newspaper seller, Mr. Ernest Jessup, of Caulfield, thinks he may have solved part of the code.
This is how he worked it out:
MRGOADABD [sic] – Mr. Goddard
MTBIMPANETP – Pantryman(?).
MLIABOAIAQC – Mail-boat-AQC (AQC, A class quarters?)
Mr. Jessup believes this hides the name of a ship – his guess is an Indian ship.

26 thoughts on “Eric Nave and the Rubaiyat…


    The little things are important.

  2. petebowes: you and I both know that, but I merely reproduced what was in the newspaper for a bit of colour – still, ‘[sic]’ added as appropriate.

  3. I’m with you on this Eric Nave hunt, old boy, and am already a length in front.

  4. john sanders on July 15, 2017 at 2:01 pm said:

    Perhaps nothing more than a known target, initialised and replicated surveillance report, corrected for sequence. Not my preference but I’ve just been looking over similar rough on site observer jottings and noted the similarities in format; could have been attendees at a meeting of nazis in Hahndorf or a criminal collective of car thieves at the Thomson home in Moberly St. Glenelg (spelt backwards); and why not?.

  5. john sanders on July 16, 2017 at 12:12 am said:

    Take care Gordon; he’s been described by his fellow travellers as being totally off his flaming head, most complexing, dangerously resolute, most unreliable, dishonest and as cunning as they come , ruthless and devisive though rather uncommonly decent in outwardly manner.. I’m talking about Bob Wake, not your mate Pete.

  6. john sanders on July 16, 2017 at 4:48 am said:

    The more I think about how the beach operation went down with it’s over played complications and nuances, it seems most likely that Bob Wake and his team were involved. Just the sort of excercise to ensure his appointment as the first ASIO chief of operations, seeking to acheiving this end by enlisting the aid of all his old wartime confederates from the various spy agencies, like military intellience and the CIS along with state police Special Branch units, of course not forgetting the ACP. He was a dangerous, crafty ruthless old fox without peer and he would have had no qualms when it came to the planning/executing sanction upon a former Axis agent like SM, who in his mind had it coming anyway. He was most likely taken down this path by the promise of appointment by influential old SA Labour Party stalwarts like Clyde, Doc, Jim and his pal Alan from Foreign Affairs who needed to pull off some sort of cunning stunt to impress the likes of the visiting MI5/6 kingpins Percy and Roger. Upon the ultimate successful outcome of said operation, he secured with all fail safe detection measures put into affect, the thing eventually blew over and our man got the nod. Sadly for him and to his lifelong detriment, he only enjoyed his post for a year before being dumped with the unexpected election of a new conservative government and promotion of his lifetime nemesis and persecutor, the ever faithful servant of the ruling class administration, Brig. Charles Spry. So I’d say the book and code would have been part of the foil, along with the well publicised Kean suitcase and effects which a man like Wake would have considered to be his ‘piece de resistance’. No wonder that the fledgling agency of ASIO chose a title ‘the case’ for its very first operation against the new red menice, those God awful Soviet illegals and their home grown sympathisers. Of course ‘good times’ Bob played it down because like most of his old crew and probably many Australians of the working classes of that era, he did not have much against either the unions or our recent victorious wartime allies from mother Russia.

  7. Like a snake, I glide through the dry weeds, ready for an unwary foot. Don’t you think ‘smeared’ is a better way of describing what the police did to the indentations?
    Yes no or maybe?

  8. milongal on July 16, 2017 at 10:02 pm said:

    Foil Caps on.
    This is just a training exercise gone wrong. We’ve set up a back story, found a recent stiff (John Doe) that died of inconclusive causes and placed him on the beach with a few special clues (transport tickets, suitcase and possibly the TS fragment – although that might come later (and possibly other clues that were never picked up)) to test the agents of our newly formed agency. Shame we forgot to plan for the local constabulary getting there first, and boy have they made a mess bringing attention to it. Now we need to obfuscate what was going on, so let’s make sure that TS fragment gets found, and then one of our “businessmen” can find the gibberish it’s meant to link to. As long as the public is all confused by it, our agents can continue working it out….

  9. John sanders on July 16, 2017 at 10:52 pm said:

    Like a cut snake in the grass; most assuredly.

  10. John sanders on July 17, 2017 at 12:14 am said:

    Of course the CIS cover operation at Glenelg that fateful evening was one targeting subversive elements of the newly formed local youth chapter of the international Zionist workers league headed up by a local redcross nursing sister known for her work with the Soviet friendship association and sheepskin for Russia appeal. She happened to be under Bob‘s tutelage and so that night‘s coverage of the meeting was a sham to give the main event deniability should any suspicions arise. To that extent many of the team in place assumed they were present for the reasons connected with communist insurgency as indeed they seemed to be. They must have wondered why the merry crowd seemed not to be concerned by their obvious presence and in such numbers as to present them in quite a ridiculous light. Meanwhile the big fellow along with his adjutant Augo the Swede and two of his heavies had taken care of business at nearby Summerton beach and returned to the by now well attended jolly party and proceeded to make themselves noticed. Next day when Wake reported on the previous night’s sherade he had nothing much to say excepting that none of the main targets had attended the show and that infact they had seemed to have been tipped off possibly by a bent copper. He made brief mention of a middle aged well dressed though hatless gent and a lady companion who had shouted a tirade of abuse upon the peaceful gathering before then continuing on along South Terrace towards the crippled children’s home. This report under cover of its CIS file No. W9048 was forwarded for favour of appraisal to the director with copies to both the AG‘s and Foreign Affairs departments and as anticipated no response was forthcoming and the matter was finalised then PA’d as a matter of course.

  11. Milongal: ASIO was so newly formed, it was still a paper exercise. ASIO conspiracy theories don’t work for me, sorry. 🙁

  12. john sanders on July 17, 2017 at 5:42 am said:

    Following on from the hyperbole we might swing back to the all important (as some would have it) tamam shud code translation which many have had a crack at cracking without making much headway it seems. At the end of the day it may have been all ado about nothing meaningfull and perhaps merely random jottings to confuse and distract. Like others I’ve offered a few fairly lame attempts to encrypt the text and only succeeded in impressing myself much to my own later embarrassment. One of the other more notable efforts was that appearing in GF’s much flaunted and off qoted (or miss quoted) SM bible which although quite impressive with its word/letter charts and computations provides no meaningful clarity for the layman with a few interesting exceptions for those more perceptive. Presented before the sitting senate of the Australian Parliamment at question time by Mr. James Cavenagh MLA as part of his efforts to get government response to various allegations of possible CIA/ASIO involvent in four suspicious deaths his claims were treated with derrision as one (including himself) might well have anticipated. I’ve looked at the covering informant introduction letter by the alleged code breaker and have come to the following conclusion. That it was concocted by cohorts of none other than the big man Mr.Wake himself who at that point was close to the end of his rather adventurous life on earth. There can be no doubt that he lived in interesting times and made the most of his time though perhaps being guilty of certain indiscretions including even homicide. This last flutter may have been either his final shot at redemption and/or justice for what was deemed a worthy cause in his jaundiced view or else a bitter attempt to gain due notoriety and recognition for involvement in the ‘show’ at Somerton Beach at the very least. By cohorts we could include some members of the big felow’s immediate family and perhaps his lifelong pal Val who stuck with him through all his trials and tribulations to the very end and beyond to include also his legacy. The only mute satisfaction that came from ‘conspiracy Jim’s’ presentation to the house occurred some years after the great man’s demise when the organisation he so proudly helped found received its come-up-ance at the hands of his steadfastly loyal old party stalwarts (refering of course to the Commonwealth Police raid on the now somwhat debugged ASIO headquarters) not that they were given much time to gloat if you happen to be knowledgeable on your Australian political history. Whether the various elements of this synopsis have anything to do with the true facts of the matter or not all I can say is that there is still much scope for healthy well considered and good hearted reasonable debate. I certainly don’t put my personal thoughts across as being anything more than a possible case scenario based on what I gain from information just like many others that proliferate this and other less reputable links.

  13. Carefully painted over then, better?

  14. Petebowes: I need to write up an updated reconstruction of what happened to the Rubaiyat, it seems to be a topic that has people confused.

    As always, there are those who cherrypick only those fragments of accounts that fit their preferred story and resolutely stick their fingers in their ears for the rest. But you have to take the whole of the evidence into account, however troublesome and awkward that may be.

  15. I know, the Nave scenario … in it’s entirety.

  16. milongal on July 17, 2017 at 9:22 am said:

    I’m disappointed NP. I even found all four letters ‘ASIO’ in a random arrangement in the ‘code’ -there’s an ASD and a DSTO too….this couldn’t just be chance.

    And it’s in big letters I can read….

  17. milongal on July 17, 2017 at 9:43 am said:

    Incidentally, though my previous was facetious, I did work for a Govt TLA (three letter acronym) as they became a FLA (Four letter acronym), and then taken over by another FLA (although the press had us – the smaller Agency doing the take over), and it was occasionally reported as “The customisation of Immigration” (we just preferred watching youtube videos about the Border Farce and referring to ourselves as DImmiBoP (rather than the unpronouncable DIBP (I suspect Immigration wanted to avoid pronounceable acronymns…they never got over the boss of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship being referred to as the DIC head)).
    Politics (and sensibilities) aside.

    I digress (as I am wont to do). This transformation (reformation whatever, I forget the word for their changes that weren’t changes – I remember the marketing about no more changes but a rose by any other name AKA if it looks like a duck….) took over a year (and was underway well before ScoMo announced it). From memory most of the changes were effective 1July 2015 (new financial year), but it was announced bout a year before that (and I think was internally known – at least to some degree – even earlier (we were particularly amused at the fitness regimen – which recommended starting with more pushups than were required as training to pass their fitness “standard”)).

    Different times, and all that, granted; but the wheels of bureaucracy are slow, and ASIO appeared less than 6months after SM which at least makes it more plausible than some of the other theories I’ve heard….(NOTE: “More plausible” != “plausible” necessarily)

  18. John sanders on July 18, 2017 at 12:13 am said:

    It has just this morning been announced that Australia‘s ASIO and the Federal Police will amalgamate and I think it may then use the appropriate acronym POLIO. People in the know say that it will come with a huge increase in federal funding to enable the transition and pundits say that it will have a ‘crippling’ effect on both the flagging budget reserves and the effectivness of other security agencies. PS: Apparently another mob with internal corruption problems known as Border Farce which comes under Peter Dutton‘s portfolio of Immigration may also be brought into the collective and will most likely be known as FARCICAL…What hath God ‘rort’.

  19. john sanders on July 18, 2017 at 6:56 am said:

    As a consequence of a royal commission into Australian espionage in 1954/55 it was more or less affirmed that the alleged Venona spy ring was not an entity in itself and those folks such as Ian Hill, Alan Dalziel and Frances Bernie of Doc Evatt’s External Affairs Department were unlikely to have given information concerning our wartime operations to the likes of Nostov and associates within the KGB/NKVD in Canberra or Sydney. There was clear evidence however to show that the Soviets were getting information from somewhere which wass subsequently passed on through most reliable channels, to the Japanese high command on imminent allied operational details within days of planning. If it wasn’t through the Soviet Embassy in Canberra as seems to have been the case, then in my view there only could have been one likely alternative source, that being within the Royal Australian Navy’s most sophisticated telegraphic cable links to both international and Territorial theatres of operation. I’m not sure whether Eric Nave was called to give evidence at the Commission but consider it unlikely in view of his fairly low rank within ASIO at the time. He would certainly be a person of interest in my view bearing in mind his intimate knowledge of Japanese military radio/telegraphic communication methodology etc., not to mention his linguistic skills. Of course one of his people at Naval HQ Cerberus (FRUMEL) was CPO Edmund Harkness, Jessica Thomson’s brother who may also have had the necessary technical expertise if he had any treacherous inclinations. Their were others within the same facility that I know of who were in a position to aid and facilitate with incoming or outgoing top secret ciphertext. Has this got anything to do with us, or indeed is it within the parameters of our inquiry?. Well we’re not to know but seeing that these names have come up, we surely must give them a run for their money.

  20. Note: added Adelaide News 27th July 1949 (as quoted by Feltus but accidentally omitted here).

  21. John S: The mower mows on, though the adder may writhe,
    And the copperhead curl round the blade of the scythe.

  22. milongal on July 18, 2017 at 9:45 pm said:

    @JS: I thought the ABF (in fact I thought all of immigration) was involved in forming a larger agency with AFP and ASIO.
    Customs has for a long time had a bit of an identity crisis (and the merge with immigration hasn’t really helped). People watch “Border Security” and don’t seem to realise that most of what goes on there (even the stuff that involved Customs officers was either Immigration’s role or AQIS’s role). Although Customs has had investigative and intelligence arms, their primary role would seem to be revenue collection rather than border control in a police-sense. All the same, under Pezzulo (ex defence) and Qandvilieg (ex AFP, although I think insiders scoff at the idea of “ACT Policing” being part of the AFP) they adopted some mantra of “uniformed disciplined force” and decided that they were a police force not a tax enforcement agency – and this gradually evolved into the border force (there are many laughable aspects to this, not least their fitness requirements (the term ‘fitness’ may be used loosely – I think walking 5km in 45 minutes may have been part of the criteria*) which are a sliding scale dependent on age and gender – apparently young officers will chase fitter bad guys, or something)
    Anyway, the two top dogs seemed to think they’d have a higher profile and therefore better funding (or at least resume’s) and leveraged the Lib’s “Stop the Boats” to their advantage to align themselves as a pseudo police force (My mail is that defence gets annoyed that Customs/ABF get a lot of praise for their maritime work, when often they essentially just commandeer Defence boats).
    When the ABF was announced, I was a little worried. What sort of person will want to work in a Uniformed Disciplined Pseudo-police Force? I would imagine those qualified for a Police force would end up in a police force and the discards would end up happy in their roles in the ABF – but these will essentially be meatheads with attitude problems (and I suspect often people self-obsessed with their own powers and authority). Couple this with the decision to allow them to take firearms into an otherwise sterile area (the old policy was no firearms – because a weapon is a weapon and may get into the wrong hands).

    In the meantime, the staff in the Department (and ABF) are miserable because they haven’t managed to negotiate an Enterprise Agreement for 5 years and the siloed attitudes that they’d spent so long getting rid of have been instantly returned along with attitudes that Uniformed (ie ABF) officers somehow do more important work than the un-uniformed Public Servants who support them.

    Dutton in charge of anything is a worry, but in this case it would seem to be one of our least worries.

    And I do like POLIO and FARCICAL as potential names for them (I had others in mind, but they were a little crude).

    (Apologies for the hijack).

    *When the ABF was first announced a fitness standard needed to be established (naturally) [To be fair, part of this was because in theory any ABF officer should be able to be rostered to any ABF role at any time (they had some theory they could reduce corruption by making it less predictable where and when you’d work, so you couldn’t plan to let your mates through at the airport; or ignore their freight at a Container facility)]. PArt of the fitness was some small number of pushups (I think Males under 35 had to do about 15, and at the other end of the spectrum Females over 50 had to do 1 (yes, one)). As with any good bureaucracy, the next step was to create a “training plan” to ensure that current officers would make the fitness grade. This included advice to start by doing 8 pushups x 3 repetitions, and over a few weeks work up to doing 15 pushups by 3 repetitions. Even 6 pushups was more than the requirement for several of their categories – but they couldn’t see the problem with training people to do 1 pushup by asking them to start with 6 pushups (18 really, but with 2 breaks)….

  23. John sanders on July 18, 2017 at 10:22 pm said:

    Nick P: …..and as Nagaina passes rustling through the grasses, young young Rikki Tikki Tavi rests behind the garden gate. In anticipation no sign of agitation; looks like he his sleeping, but instead he lies in wait.

  24. Petebowes: actually, I was referring to the last page of the Rubaiyat. The story Gerry Feltus tells isn’t consistent with all the evidence, and it requires a lot of care to come to a properly nuanced position as to what happened to it.

  25. john sanders on July 20, 2017 at 1:02 am said:

    What our friend Nave really deduced from the code was more that likely a sequence of letters in English as opposed to his beloved Japanese ‘pijin’ perhaps. I apologise to all for being responsible for this threadline in the first instance. Now we should discourage it’s continuance as it can hardly be of use in its current form and hardly conducive of intelligent discussion.

  26. bdid1dr on July 23, 2017 at 3:31 pm said:

    Yesterday I read a small ‘detail’ of the coroner’s report : The Somerton Man’s feet which were oddly squashed together, so that the big toe and the little toe seemed to be squashed together. There was NO inherited condition concerning those toes. The man was a ‘refugee’ from White Sands. Nearly all men living in the towns around White Sands wore pointed toe Cowboy style boots. Besides the pointed toes, the heels were most often as much as TWO inches high. The purpose of the pointed toes and high heels were for prodding horses into the roundup (or movement) of cattle .

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