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Keane's Trunk

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Richard Valentine Keane (14 February 1881 – 26 April 1946)

Keane was vice-president of the executive of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party in 1928 and its president in 1930 and from 1937 to 1938. In 1925, he stood unsuccessfully for the Australian Senate and the Victorian Legislative Council. In the October 1929 election, he was elected as the member for Bendigo in the Australian House of Representatives, but lost it at the October 1931 election. He was narrowly defeated for Bendigo at the 1934 election, but was elected to the Senate at the 1937 election. He became leader of the government in the Senate in 1943. On 29 April 1940 at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, he had married Millicent Dunn, a 37-year-old typist.

In October 1941 Keane was appointed Minister for Trade and Customs and Vice-President of the Executive Council in the first Curtin Ministry and was responsible for administering wartime rationing and price controls. In April 1946 he travelled to North America again. Accompanied by Millicent, Keane returned to Washington to negotiate the winding up of Lend-Lease arrangements, and to discuss postwar trade policy. His mission was nearly complete, a fact he had conveyed in a wireless conversation with Ben Chifley, when he died on 26 April 1946 (27 April, Australian date) at an emergency hospital in New York Avenue, Washington. A Requiem Mass was celebrated for Keane on 30 April at St Matthew’s Cathedral, Washington, by the Most Reverend John McNamara, Auxiliary Bishop of Baltimore, attended by members of the Australian community and American officials. Keane’s body was returned to Australia on the SS Mariposa. A state funeral with a Solemn Requiem Mass, at which Archbishop Daniel Mannix presided, was held at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne, on 31 May, and Keane was buried in Brighton Cemetery. Millicent, the two daughters, Nance and Pat, and son, Rex, of his first marriage, and a daughter, Virginia, of the second, survived him.

Even after his death, he was haunted by customs. In what became known as the ‘Keane Trunks Case’, goods valued at over £1000 which had been despatched from Washington to Millicent were seized by customs. The case revolved around the 4 trunks that had been addressed to Mrs Keane the late senator's wife. They were brought back to Australia by Miss Rosetta Kelly, the goods mentioned in the charges included women's wear, cosmetics, perfume, handbags, jewellery, wrist watches, and numerous pairs of nylon stockings. More interesting is the unexplained business of the metal key chains, bearing the names of several important men.

The men possibly connected to Keane's trunk were...

W. Urquhart - William Maurice Urquhart, Managing Director of Sydney Pincombe Pty Ltd. Early in 1948, it had been alleged that Mr Urquhart had opened six different bank accounts, through which £29.000 had passed in the past two years, that while he was national service officer, he had purchased a private safe, in which he kept large sums of money, that he had used Government cars for purposes outside of his work as an officer of the department. There was also a Public Service inquiry into his release from national service obligations of certain barmaids, charges were made against him by another officer, but at the inquiry no evidence was given as to the existence of bank accounts or the large sums of money.

E.J. Ward - Edward John Ward, Minister for External Territories. It appears he was also tied up in some dodgy dealings with Mr Urquhart, long before the Keane trunk case. [*]

Ossie Porter - O.R "Ossie" Porter, Racehorse owner. Mr Porter was investigated, and his horse "Bidwell" was disqualified for 2 years by the V.R.C. Committee, following a steward's inquiry into his performance at Moonee Valley in September of 1950. This gives a possible link to Mr Urquhart who was also investigated due to gambling. Perhaps Ossie Porter was paid to throw a race?

Pat M. King -

Virgilo Frittolis -

Stan Hunt - Councillor on Mulwaree Shire Council, something of an aristocrat I believe. Also it would seem a keen cyclist.

Edward McMahon - Died 08-Dec-1949, this is his obituary

Len Curry -

Harry Goodman - Merchant, Later in 1948 he was convicted along with another company director of receiving stolen goods. [*]

J.O. Goldstein -

Frank Carberry -

Percy Page - Secretary of Melbourne Football Club and previously the secretary of Richmond Football Club.

Andy Buck -

Robert Mitchell - Trustee of Robert Mitchell & Co Public Accountants, and also director of International Merchandising Pty Ltd who bought the lot containing the key chains.

Ken Horman - A representative of the Printing Industry Employes Union.

Stan Neilson - Boxer and member of the RAAF?

and John Heighway -

(I am having problems finding information on these guys. Can anyone help fill in the blanks?)

When the items from the trunks went up for auction, a mixed lot [#995] which included the key chains sold for £805, to a mystery bidder.

The lot consisted of:

42 base-metal cigarette lighters,

17 base-metal key chains, (composed of the names of the men listed above.)

2 women's base-metal dress rings,

10 base-metal finger rings,

33 strings of imitation pearl necklets (with diamante clasps),

37 base-metal powder compacts,

5 men's gold wrist watches,

6 women's gold wrist watches,

3 women's gold wrist watch bands,

1 man's base-metal wrist watch,

1 woman's base metal wrist watch,

1 woman's textile evening handbag,

137 assorted plastic and composition buttons,

6 manicure sets with plastic fittings,

2 Bakelite desk calendar sets,

2 automatic Bakelite calendar sets,

18 fountain pens (not gold or gold mounted),

and 12 Eversharp fountain pen and pencil sets (not gold or gold-mounted).

[*][**][***]

Please excuse the random leap to conclusions but I am suddenly envisioning a group of powerful and rich businessmen entering into a 'tontine' [To much 'Simpsons' I guess ;)].

It was later revealed that the lot was bought by International Merchandising Pty Ltd. though the name of the actual buyer remains a mystery. It is interesting to note that Robert Mitchell the director of International Merchandising Pty Ltd was one of the names on the key chains.[*]

Mr Keane's father was called Timothy, I wonder if there were any ties in any of the cases?

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