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Gone but not forgotten



Gough Whitlam has died at the age of 98.

I had an early encounter with him electioneering in western Sydney when he was newly in opposition, soon after he had usurped Cocky (Arthur) Calwell as leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party and was still hated by elements of his own party.

I liked Cocky too.  He'd addressed us at University once, revealing that he hid his considerable intellectual light under a barrel.  He was an able man but in the Labor Party of the day to seem too smart or well spoken (like that bastard Menzies) was believed to be a handicap, hence his 'rough diamond' persona.

Gough was a new breed: smooth, well presented and intellectually arrogant.  He had quite a fight on his hands to gain and retain leadership.  And he used his eventual victory over the Party's 'faceless men' to persuade the Country that he was altogether a new broom. 

It was time for a change not just for the Labor Party but for Australia.

I was a Young Liberal and had been right behind the Liberals until one day when Billy McMahon told us that a key strategy for winning the coming election was to pray for victory.  I took that to imply that because Whitlam was a suspected atheist he was a lesser man. 

The only other interpretation was that McMahon actually believed in the power of prayer.  I was appalled at the thought.  This is not a desirable quality in a Prime Minister who’s decisions need to be rationally based - not on the prospect of divine intervention.

My choice was clear, I voted for Whitlam.


Gough WhitlamWikipedia - Public Domain


Suddenly tertiary education was free.  The Arts got more funding, newly enriched celebrities and academics came on-board and sang his praises.  Health got properly supported, and with defeat in Vietnam still fresh in our minds we were making tentative steps to reconcile with China.

Then the economic wheels started to fall off.  A new gas pipeline was to connect Australia, West to East, in a National energy grid, but lacked funding.  The cupboard was bare; and inflation had reached 20%. Treasury installed a revolving front door as Treasurers came and went.

I was living in England at the time but my parents and friends in OZ weren’t happy. 

I returned just as the Khemlani (overseas loans) Affair rocked the country.  Supply was blocked by the Senate. 

Like Thomas à Becket turning on Henry II, Gough’s old legal partner in chambers, husband of his wife’s friend, and friend of several friends, John Kerr, whom Gough had hoped was a puppet Governor-General, turned on him and dissolved Parliament. 

At the resulting double-dissolution General Election, Australia turned on him too.  It was a landslide win for the Liberals.  

Gough was gone but not forgotten.   He became a revered elder statesman.

Later in life even his old enemy Malcolm Frazer recognised this when he delivered the Gough Whitlam Oration in 2012.


Gough Whitlam Oration AAP/Bruce Postle


More than any other politician he changed the course of my life and that of all Australians. Neither of my children would have been born but for him; nor their other siblings; nor any of their friends.

I have no idea what Australia would be like today without Gough Whitlam. He undoubtedly changed it forever.  And on the whole, having recently returned yet again, I like it as well or better than any other place I’ve lived or visited.

Good on you Gough!  May you be remembered fondly forever.


21 October 2014



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