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Michael Bialoguski (1917–1984)

by David McKnight

This article was published:

Michael Bialoguski (1917-1984), medical practitioner and intelligence agent, was born on 19 March 1917 at Kiev, Russia (Ukraine), and named Mykolo, younger son of Polish parents Gregorii Bialoguski, veterinary surgeon, and his wife Paulina, née Dudelzak, dentist. His father was a non-practising Jew, his mother a Christian; Bialoguski described his religion as Calvinist on his military papers but did not adhere to any religion later. In Wilno, Poland (Vilnius, Lithuania), he attended secondary school (1927-35), studied viola at the conservatorium of music from 1927 and enrolled in medicine at the Stephen Bathory University in 1935. He married Irena Vandos but they divorced in 1941. An account of his early life held by the Australian Security Intelligence Organization states that he was jailed briefly after protesting against some of the actions of the occupying Red Army.

Supposedly en route for Curaçao, he left Poland, travelled across Russia to Japan and in June 1941 arrived in Sydney. He copied music and worked for radio stations as a violinist and musical arranger. On 30 March 1942 he enlisted in the Australian Army Medical Corps, Militia. He served as an orderly at the 113th Australian General Hospital, Concord, before being discharged on 1 December to enable him, with Commonwealth government financial assistance, to study medicine at the University of Sydney (MB, 1947; BS, 1963). He married Agnes Patricia Humphry, née Ryan, a 35-year-old divorcee, on 17 May 1943 in the registrar general’s office, Sydney; they were to be divorced in 1954. After a year (1948-49) in general practice at Thirroul, he set himself up in Macquarie Street, Sydney.

Hostile to communism and fascinated by spying, Bialoguski had offered his services to the Commonwealth Investigation Service in 1945. The CIS engaged him as an agent as did its successor, ASIO, in 1949. He was naturalised in 1947. At the Russian Social Club, Sydney, in 1951, he met Vladimir Petrov, a third secretary at the Soviet Embassy, Canberra. To Petrov, Bialoguski appeared an attractive prospect as a spy and he allocated him the code name `Grigorii’. But the hunter was already the hunted and Bialoguski studied Petrov’s every move. While working for ASIO Bialoguski had developed a left-wing persona, seeming to sympathise with the leftist Polish and Russian immigrants on whom he informed. As a doctor, he appeared as a respectable left-wing face for bodies such as the New South Wales Peace Council and the Save the Rosenbergs Committee.

ASIO had several code names for Bialoguski including `Jack Baker’ and perhaps most appropriately `Diabolo’, given both Bialoguski’s physical appearance (he sported a devilish beard) and his infuriating manner. In 1952-53 Bialoguski and Petrov became close friends over drunken dinners at nightclubs. For a time Petrov gave `Grigorii/Diabolo’ some minor espionage tasks but Bialoguski’s cultivation of him meant that they began to share a double life. Bialoguski played a key part in edging Petrov towards defection, suggesting a joint business with him, first a restaurant and later a chicken farm. He introduced Petrov to H. C. Beckett, an eye surgeon, for medical reasons. Beckett, on behalf of ASIO but without Bialoguski’s knowledge, suggested explicitly to Petrov that he defect. After problems with their colleagues in the Soviet embassy, Petrov and his wife Evdokia did so in April 1954. At the royal commission on espionage which began hearings in May 1954, Bialoguski gave convincing evidence about Petrov’s disenchantment with the Soviet Union despite claims by Bert Evatt that Bialoguski was part of a conspiracy to damage the Labor Party.

When extracts from Bialoguski’s book The Petrov Story (1955) were published in the Sun (Sydney) and the Herald (Melbourne) in June, the Telegraph (Sydney) and Argus (Melbourne) released his ex-wife’s version of his life and character. Patricia Bialoguski said that when she met Michael he had a `strange—almost weird—personality’ but that he had swept her off her feet. She described a clever, manipulative, self-absorbed and ambitious man, who could also be charming and entertaining. Even after discounting the bitterness of a former wife, this account accords with the perceptions of others. Bialoguski sued for libel and was to win his case in May 1961, the jury awarding him £1000 in damages.

In the late 1950s he was a minor press celebrity, subject to various public indignities. When he applied in May 1957 for a reduction in the alimony he paid to Patricia, the Sun reported: `“Spy” Doc Can’t Pay!’. Bialoguski’s counsel argued that his client’s medical practice had suffered because of his public role. The registrar in divorce described Bialoguski as `something of a showman, a free spender of money’ but accepted that his book had netted him very little for film and television rights and reduced the alimony. While most public portrayals of him are unflattering, he had a more compassionate side. In a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald (2 June 1962) he noted:

The memories of my student days at the Sydney University still haunt me with the image of senior honoraries omitting to exchange greetings with the bedridden, neglecting to express regret when examining a man in pain, showing little consideration for the shy or courtesy for the old, often stooping to a display of witty sarcasm at the expense of a patient and for the benefit of an appreciative student gallery.

Bialoguski married 26-year-old Nonnie Frieda Peifer, a secretary, on 16 January 1957 at the registrar general’s office, Sydney. Passionate about music, in the 1950s he had tried vainly to convince (Sir) Eugene Goossens to teach him conducting and had played the violin in the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. In 1964 he and his wife moved to England and he continued to work as a medical practitioner. There he was able to realise some of his musical ambitions. He studied conducting, conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and in 1969 hired the New Philharmonia Orchestra for a concert which he conducted at the Albert Hall. This performance was the start of a short but intense period of achievement, during which he formed the Commonwealth Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted in Westminster Abbey and the Albert Hall. Survived by his wife, and their two daughters and one son, he died of cancer on 29 July 1984 at Kingswood, Surrey, and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Manne, The Petrov Affair (1987)
  • D. McKnight, Australia’s Spies and Their Secrets (1994)
  • series A6119, items 1-4, 325, 992-3, 2644-9, series A6980, item S200513, and series B884, item N321158 (National Archives of Australia)
  • M. Bialoguski diaries, 1953-55 (National Library of Australia)
  • I. Boyle, The Divided Mind of Michael Bialoguski (typescript, 1996, copy on ADB file)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David McKnight, 'Bialoguski, Michael (1917–1984)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Mykolo, Bialoguski
  • Baker, Jack
  • Diabolo

19 March, 1917
Kiev, Ukraine


29 July, 1984 (aged 67)
Kingswood, Surrey, England

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.