Title: With My Little Eye
Author: Sandra Hogan
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Release: February 2021
Over a decade ago, Sue-Ellen Doherty connected with Queensland-based journalist, reviewer and business-writing teacher Sandra Hogan to assist her in publishing the story of her youth.
The product of their collaboration is With My Little Eye, a novel that recalls the true story of the Doherty children—three kids who were recruited into the ASIO by their parents in the 1950s.
Since before they could talk, Mark, Amanda and Sue-Ellen, were taught by their parents, Dudley and Joan Doherty, to learn car number plates, note strange behaviours and, perhaps most importantly, avoid drawing attention to themselves. The children grew to become unwitting foot soldiers in Australia’s battle against Soviet infiltration in the Cold War. They each attended political rallies, watched houses owned by communist sympathisers, and insinuated themselves into the UFO Society.
Comprised of assignations, hidden cameras, gangsters, Soviet defectors, and informants, With My Little Eye blurs the boundary between the mundane suburbia we all know and the exceptional spy narrative most of us don’t, and it is these two juxtaposed worlds that make this a noteworthy work of non-fiction. This novel is multifaceted, not only in its content but also in its mode of delivery. The text is divided into two distinct parts: The Children and Sue-Ellen. Within each part is a number of chapters, some of which are interrupted by photographs and italicised paragraphs that collaboratively validate this unbelievable tale of children, spies and secrets. Hogan has created a work as hybrid as the experiences detailed within it, a remarkably compelling read full of contrasting elements, places and people that will no doubt change the way we view ourselves as a country.
What moved me the most was the novel’s explanation of the lasting impact of secrets. In the prologue, Hogan writes, ‘When Sue-Ellen told me about the night it happened, she was nearly sixty. It was the first time she had ever told the story—not just to a journalist, but to anyone. She looked surprised to hear the words coming out of her mouth’ (p. ix). Being sworn to secrecy for a lifetime is incredible to comprehend, and while most of us won’t experience pressure at that capacity, there is an enduring lesson that can be taken from With My Little Eye. Sue Ellen’s story highlights the perpetual impression on a person of secret-keeping and how this can be potentially harmful, even to the most ‘ordinary’ and composed-looking of people.
Sandra Hogan’s With My Little Eye is an incredible read. It is critical but hilarious, apparently simple but deeply complicated. I encourage everyone to pick up a copy of this biography—you won’t be disappointed by this true story of a family of spies living in the Australian suburbs.