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“A Giant of a Man”. Yes he was indeed.

Image from sbs.com.au

Image from sbs.com.au

Gough Whitlam (1916-2014).

I recall the first time I laid eyes upon him. It was at a Labor rally at the suburban Greensborough Football oval in Victoria.

The “Its Time” slogan had indelibly entrenched itself on my political awareness. All that I thought decent about Labor and its reformist zeal was encapsulated in the words of this intellectually formidable man.

Having played both football and cricket on this oval its environs were familiar to me and we secured an excellent vantage point to view the proceedings. A social cricket match was in progress of which Bob Hawke was a participant and when I went into the club-rooms Bob was alone taking off his pads.

“G’day” he said in inimitable Hawke speak.

“Make any?” I replied.

“Yeah got a few mate”.

I visited the men’s room and when I came out he was gone. He had begun to speak when I returned to my wife. He spoke for an hour off the cuff, without notes, and with earnest enthusiasm.

As the sun was making its way to its place of rest everyone looked toward the park entry. The assembled comrades waited with anticipation. With his back to the sun standing in the back of a ute he rode toward the stage. I felt the awe of his presence. His charisma was something I had never, until that time, experienced in a man.

In contrast to Hawks raspy delivery Whitlam was all eloquence and style and he took me on a journey that had “It’s Time” engraved on every word he spoke.

It’s a journey that has lasted 52 years and adhered social justice, the collective common good and social reform on every fiber of my being.

Gough made it so that it would never go away. My hope in his passing is that the Labor Party might once again find those ideals that Gough with such clarity of vision, and force of personality, sought to execute and did.

To those who would be critical I say this. The best measure of a man is the legacy he leaves behind.

In his book “Crash through or Crash”, Laurie Oakes said this:

In his brief three years the Prime Minister produced profound and lasting changes – reforms which could not have been so broadly conceived and so firmly implemented by a lesser man. The Whitlam Government without doubt was the most creative and innovatory in the nation’s history. Under Whitlam, Australia’s foreign policy came of age. His Government made education its top priority and poured money into schools and colleges throughout the country. It created Medibank, set up community health centres, gave a new deal to pensioners, took an active role in urban improvement and development, provided funds directly to local government, and gave a healthy boost to sexual equality and aboriginal advancement. It promoted greater Australian ownership and control of resources, legislated against restrictive trade practices, introduced the most civilised and sensible divorce laws in the world, gave encouragement to the arts, and in its final budget implemented some fundamental reforms which made the income tax system considerably more equitable. Whitlam himself dominated both his party and the Parliament, and he commanded respect when he travelled overseas in a way no previous Australian Prime Minister had done.

His record:

1. ended Conscription,
2. withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam,
3. implemented Equal Pay for Women,
4. launched an Inquiry into Education and the Funding of Government and Non-government Schools on a Needs Basis,
5. established a separate ministry responsible for Aboriginal Affairs,
6. established the single Department of Defence,
7. withdrew support for apartheid–South Africa,
8. granted independence to Papua New Guinea,
9. abolished Tertiary Education Fees,
10. established the Tertiary Education Assistance Scheme (TEAS),
11. increased pensions,
12. established Medibank,
13. established controls on Foreign Ownership of Australian resources,
14. passed the Family Law Act establishing No-Fault Divorce,
15. passed a series of laws banning Racial and Sexual Discrimination,
16. extended Maternity Leave and Benefits for Single Mothers,
17. introduced One-Vote-One-Value to democratize the electoral system,
18. implemented wide-ranging reforms of the ALP’s organization,
19. initiated Australia’s first Federal Legislation on Human Rights, the Environment and Heritage,
20. established the Legal Aid Office,
21. established the National Film and Television School,
22. launched construction of National Gallery of Australia,
23. established the Australian Development Assistance Agency,
24. reopened the Australian Embassy in Peking after 24 years,
25. established the Prices Justification Tribunal,
26. revalued the Australian Dollar,
27. cut tariffs across the board,
28. established the Trade Practices Commission,
29. established the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service,
30. established the Law Reform Commission,
31. established the Australian Film Commission,
32. established the Australia Council,
33. established the Australian Heritage Commission,
34. established the Consumer Affairs Commission,
35. established the Technical and Further Education Commission,
36. implemented a national employment and training program,
37. created Telecom and Australia Post to replace the Postmaster-General’s Department,
38. devised the Order of Australia Honors System to replace the British Honors system,
39. abolished appeals to the Privy Council,
40. changed the National Anthem to ‘Advance Australia Fair’,
41. instituted Aboriginal Land Rights, and
42. sewered most of Sydney.

RIP Gough Whitlam.

17 comments

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  1. Robert Vidas

    With John Monash, Bernie Banton, Caroline Chisholm, John Curtain and Lachlan Macquarie, one of the greatest Australians.

  2. Michael Taylor

    I remember reading about a time that Gough Whitlam and a local Labor candidate were walking from the centre of the ground at a rugby game in Brisbane, and being booed at every step. Gough turned to the local bloke and said: “This is the last time I’m going to a rugby game with you”. (Or words to that effect).

  3. Billy muddle moir

    ‘It’s time’ brought tears, John, and your words are in the same vein.
    It is, for me, disgusting that Abbutt head of Australala is involved in his memory.
    It is a tragedy that your list will never be seen by any of the people who believe the liberal propaganda.

  4. Michael Taylor

    Thanks MN.

  5. stephentardrew

    I agree John but sadly he fell on his sword through a lot of contributing events, some internal, and others external. The dismissal was unfair and their are implications of wider influences however we have heaps to thank Gough for. He certainly changed my life and political outlook. Your list is certainly impressive. Unfortunately I think, whether left or right, great leaders are also prone to narcissism. The dismissal certainly caused him untold grief throughout much of his life. They were truly heady years of change and reformation of the Australian psyche. Looking back at the pre-Whitlam era is like being caught in a cultural straitjacket. The sixties led to a complete transformation of political values and Gough was an important part of that revolution. Now we are being dragged back to the fifties by fools.

    Onya Gough!

    As an ex South Australian I also admired Don Dunstan who was a great intellectual and decent individual.

  6. corvus boreus

    Ave atque vale, Edward Gough Whitlam.
    We live our lives today much enriched by your legacy.

  7. M-R

    I can’t prevent myself from asking: that listing of Gough’s legacy – what will this current guvmint’s be …?

  8. Rob Coughlan

    Thanks for summing up How I feel. I first voted in 75 thanks to Gough. He defined my politics from an even earlier age. I have measured all governments ever since by the achievements of the government he led. I have found them sadly lacking.

  9. SmeeAgain

    @Billie Muir No, i just sent it to 2 Liberal voters I know 🙂

  10. bilko

    Thank you John
    He dragged Australia with his vision into the future. My family benefited through my son going to the ANU, something not on the cards back in the UK.
    Vale Gough

  11. John Kelly

    I used to vote DLP until Labor’s narrow loss in 1969 kickstarted a keener interest in politics. He was so charismatic. He had a vision for a new, more dynamic Australia, one that I wanted to be a part of and help grow.

  12. Annie Byam

    M-R ….

    Abbott’s list ( by comparison )

    1 ) ……… a ghastly draconian budget.
    2 ) ……… umm – ah – er – nuffin !!

    ______________________

    On a serious and thoughtful side, Gough Whitlam was a leader, a statesman, a progressive thinker, an action taker, and a darned good bloke all round. …….. A man who could be trusted. ….. A rare person to find in politics, in any era.

    Vale – Gough Whitlam ……… Rest in Peace.

  13. cornlegend

    I was lucky enough to get drafted off from the Union that employed me to work full time on the ‘Its Time’ campaign
    I got to know Gough then, during his time as PM, and after.
    He was a bloke that could hold a rally, or a ALP Conference , or even a local branch meeting spellbound.
    He was a bloke that was inclusive when it came to ALP members and had generally good relations with all the factions within the Party.
    I was at a meeting immediately after the ‘Dismissal” and was absolutely ropable about Hawke.
    People and members were ready to again take to the streets, and were more determined and militant than I had ever seen.
    Hawke urged everyone to sit back and let the A.C.T.U take the lead in the fight.
    They didn’t and to a large degree the momentum of the people fizzled out.
    I was really dirty on Hawke and was letting it be known about him and those supporting that action, and I was blaming the Right.
    Gough collared me and said “Don’t worry about the factions Comrade, worry about the enemy. If they carry a Union card and an ALP membership, they are us ”
    Gough had a special touch when dealing with the rank and file.
    Gough had a way of dealing with everyone,
    At a rally in Wollongong during the Its Time campaign some Friends of the Earth demonstators were outside the venue.
    Gough and Tom Uren went over and engaged in conversation, and asked how long they had been there.When he heard it was hours, he sent a Labor member to buy them all
    hamburgers and a drink.They ended up handing out ALP leaflets as well
    I have been very privileged to meet Gough and Margaret many times over the years,and thankful for the opportunity provided to me both in Labor and the Unions that came about in no small part due to my early involvement with Gough and Labor.
    I will treasure the letters and Xmas cards I received from my hero.
    The only way that i can honour Goughs memory is to dedicate all my time into getting Labor re elected and an end to LNP reign
    Rest in peace Gough you bloody legend

  14. Rotha Jago

    That is an exhaustive list, but not a complete one. In the late 70s I attended a talk by a medico and institution manager named Ian Hamilton. He spoke about the effects of the policy of ‘Normalisation’ on the care and residential accomodation of handicapped people. He reminded his audience that to be handicapped before Whitlam was to live in a hospital like institution, surrounded by white clad nurses and doctors, to have no privacy and no rights and no self determination. When Normalisation was instituted, he said that it hit the medical and nursing staff hard. No longer uniformed and much less powerful to control and determine the lives of their charges, they had many adjustments to make. At a time when love or hate for that reforming Labour Government was still part of the national conversation, he commented. “I don’t know what you think about the rights or wrongs of that Government, but they will all go to Heaven because of what they did for handicapped people”.

  15. MissPamela

    Namaste Gough Whitlam! At the risk of mixing languages, but in due to the current government’s desire to destroy all that is you accomplished – Morituri te salutant!

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