The Salt Ash Master Spy

Lemon Tree librarian Marcia Lancaster with the signed book and a press clipping featuring our Master Spy.
Lemon Tree librarian Marcia Lancaster with the signed book and a press clipping featuring our Master Spy.

Hideaway Estate Salt Ash was not named after Australia’s most notorious Russian Spy but it very well could have been.

You see, this is where Wally Clayton and his wife Peace spent their twilight years.

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Walter Seddon Clayton was a committed communist who gathered top secret documents from his Canberra contacts and passed them on to the Russians. Indeed he was the reason ASIO was formed.

During World War Two, America and England shared classified secrets with Australia.

That stopped after the US cracked the Russian secret code in operation ‘Venona.’

They then discovered to their horror that leaks were coming from Australia.

Clayton quickly became the obvious suspect but what to do with him?

To admit in court that he was caught by cracking a secret code would alert the Russians so they tried other ways to break him.

He was put under surveillance, intimidated and appeared before a Royal Commission.

Nothing worked.

Clayton and his wife fled to Port Stephens.

Wally became a professional fisherman – and a good one.

He was known locally as ‘The Snapper King’ but ASIO didn’t give up.

They employed local fishermen to keep an eye on him lest he rendezvoused with a Soviet submarine.

Residents recall the Claytons spending their final years in quiet retirement at Salt Ash.

Tanilba hardware store owner George Robinson remembers delivering goods to their home and Mallabula’s Dr Ross Devine tended the ailing Wally.

After his death, a long lost tape recording surfaced in which Wally admitted his guilt to a fellow friend and Communist Party member.

In the Lemon Tree Passage Library there sits a book: ‘Australian Spies and their Secrets’.

It was donated by Peace Clayton and is signed by Wally.

Peace played golf at Tanilba and spent her final years in a nursing home.

Faithful to the end, she left her entire estate to the very much depleted Communist Party.


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