Sydney McMahons Point
McMahons Point property for sale. Image – McGrath Lane Cove.
  • The house was used by the Petrovs after defecting to Australian in 1954
  • The property was on land owned by African-American convict Billy Blue in the early 1800s
  • The price guide for the auction property is $7 million

A historic McMahons Point house in Sydney, used as a secret safe house by ex-Soviet spies during the ‘Petrov Affair’, has hit the market.

The four-bedroom north shore property housed Soviet spy couple Vladimir and Evdokia Petrov after they defected to Australia in 1954.

Three years earlier, the Petrovs had been moved to the Soviet Embassy in Canberra by Soviet security chief, Lavrenity Beria. After leader Joseph Stalin died in 1953, Beria was murdered by Stalin’s successors. Mr Petrov feared that should he return to the USSR, he would suffer the same fate.

He made contact with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and offered to provide evidence of espionage in return for political asylum. Operation Cabin 11 and 12 – the secret codename for the defection – sprang into action.

Mr Petrov did not tell his wife, Evdokia, of his attentions, with some sources suggesting he was planning to defect without her.

Two Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs agents falsely told her Mr Petrov had been kidnapped by Australian authorities, and two couriers arrived to take Petrova back to the USSR. Word of this had leaked on 19 April, a few weeks after Mr Petrov had formally defected.

As she was escorted by KGB men to the aircraft at Sydney Airport, violent anti-Communist demonstrations occurred.

 Evdokia Petrova
A distressed Evdokia Petrova being escorted by KGB personnel at Sydney Airport, 1954. Image – Public Domain.

The Prime Minister was aware of the incident. When the aircraft stopped for refuelling at Darwin airport, ASIO officials boarded the plane under the pretence it was carrying illegal arms, and seized her back from the Soviets.

The officials offered Petrova asylum, which she accepted on the morning of 20 April after speaking to her husband via phone.

The event made international headlines at the height of the Cold War.

Rumours spread later that Prime Minister Robert Menzies had timed the defections to coincide with the 1954 federal election, which he won despite losing the popular vote.

The couple initially lived in the McMahons Point house before settling in Melbourne. Due to a “D-Notice” – which banned the media from publishing items too sensitive for national security – the whereabouts of the couple was not made public. Not a bad place to be holed up.

Storied History

The house’s extraordinary history predates the Petrovs by more than a century.

petrov bedroom
Source: McGrath, Lane Cove.

The sandstone house was originally built on an estate acquired by African-American convict slave Billy Blue, who had gained it under the Crown Grant back in 1817. The house was built on a 15-acre allotment in the 1830s which now spans what is now known as McMahons Point.

Billy Blue was deported from Kent in 1796 after stealing raw sugar, and was granted the land after serving his sentence. As a boatman, Billy Blue ran the first services across Sydney Harbour.

With all this history, it’s not surprising the home falls under a local heritage listing, retaining many original features such as its sandstone walls, multiple fireplaces and timber.

petrov house
Source: McGrath, Lane Gove.

The house is perched on a now 594 sqm block, with the current owners having purchased the property back in 1993 for $810,000.

“It’s pretty rare, especially on big blocks like this; they have been subdivided over the years,” McGrath Lane Cove listing agent Brent Courtney told Domain.

“Because of its character, people often need to go away and think about what they can do with it,” Mr Courtney added, noting the site has development approval for off-street parking and potential for a modern extension on the side of the house.

Due to heritage restrictions, the views can never be built on.

The property is scheduled for auction on October 8 at 6pm with a price guide of $7 million.

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