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We wanted Gough

So much has been said of the late Gough Whitlam since his passing this morning that I doubt there is anything new I could offer.

Carol wrote a brief article (We want Gough) a couple of years ago to celebrate his 96th birthday and to save me what might be a laborious task scratching around for those few extra elusive words, she has kindly let me reproduce it here. The words she found two years ago still fit nicely today.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with some of the initiatives of the Whitlam government, it cannot be argued that with his election as Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam brought Australia into the modern era.

When Whitlam was elected, there was a degree of staleness about the Liberal’s reign. The Menzies era had extended beyond the memories of many with subsequent Liberal Prime Ministers, Holt, McEwan, Gorton and McMahon being decidedly uninspiring. Then there was the deceit and chaos of Vietnam, and the disruption of young men’s lives with the conscription lottery.

Society was demanding a change of emphasis, post War baby boomers were looking for a far more egalitarian society. Successive Liberal governments sought to maintain the status quo, a classist system with an inward looking narrowness prevailed. God Save the Queen was our National Anthem.

The dynamism of Whitlam’s “It’s Time” election campaign was a reflection of a society changing, the entering of an era where politics was the realm of everyman.

Whitlam’s list of achievements during the short term of his Prime Ministership include:

  • 1972: ended conscription during Vietnam War.
  • 1973: created new government departments including Aboriginal Affairs, Environment and amalgamation of armed forces into Defence.
  • 1974: Aboriginal Land Fund Commission, Australian Legal Aid Office, National Employment and Training Scheme.
  • The Health Insurance Act 1973 established ‘Medibank’, a national health scheme funded by levy which provided free public hospital treatment and medical benefits totaling at least 85 per cent of the cost of doctor and hospital services.
  • The Trade Practices Act 1974 outlawed restrictive trade practices and ensured consumer protection and product and manufacturing liability.
  • The National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act 1975 established a service to plan and manage national parks in line with international standards.
  • The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 enabled Australia to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination.
  • The Family Law Act 1975 replaced the existing grounds for divorce with a single ground, irretrievable breakdown of marriage (for example, having separated and lived apart for 12 months or more) and the extension of federal jurisdiction to maintenance, custody and property matters.

(A more detailed list of his achievements can be found in today’s article by John Lord).

No article on Gough would be complete without a mention of Margaret. Her influence on how many women perceived their roles in society is quite profound. This is giving due regard to the fact that prior to Margaret, the role of the partner of a Prime Minister was either tea and scones on the lawn, or as an attractive accessory.

“He admired her intellect, wit and commitment to improving the lives of others; she described him as ‘delicious’ and ensured his feet remained well-grounded.”

For myself, this era brings memories of the Draft, the Moratorium, and the anti-racism rallies (most especially around the Springbok tour). It was the beginning of a new Australian nationalism (which embraced multiculturalism), the fostering of the arts, the belief in a new society where irrespective of class, that all should have opportunities to succeed.


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  1. stephentardrew

    Thanks for the memories Michael.

  2. Matters Not

    Michael. Some ‘words’ I associate with E G Whitlam

    It’s Time!

    Men and women of Australia …

    … because nothing will save the Governor General

    Kerr’s cur.

    I remember being at a party the night of the election. What a night to remember.

    I also remember going to the Kedron Brook Hotel in Brisbane (over the road from where I was working at the time) when he was dismissed. We thought there would rioting in the streets.

    There should have been but apathy ruled. As usual.

  3. DanDark

    Rest In Peace Gough …….

  4. Matters Not

    Kedron Brook Hotel should be Kedron Park Hotel. Still suffering from the after effects of that ‘dismissal’ day apparently. Just sayin ..

  5. John Kelly

    Gough was the one that convinced me to start voting Labor. I was a conscript in the Menzies/Holt years (1965/67). It was the lies about our involvement in Vietnam learned a few years later that helped me realise we were just a lap dog to the Americans and the British. Gough changed that. I never trusted conservative governments after that.

  6. John Fraser


    @Matters Not

    That means you must have been teaching at Kedron State High before it became Kedron Teachers college.

    The Keddy Park was one of my drinking/eating places while I was fighting Airportlink.

    Just a short walk along the Brook from the Avenues.

    I have had an "association" with the Keddy since 1966.

  7. John Fraser


    In Australia's early 1970s there were 2, 6 foot 4 inch giants on the political scene.

    In the 2nd decade of the 21 century there are 2 political midgets on the Australian political scene.

  8. Heraclitus

    For all of you old farts like me that remember the 1975 ‘Dismissal’ and have not heard what Fredd Dagg (in The Fred Dagg Tapes) had to say or would enjoy hearing his brilliant stuff again:

    First clip: Kerr’s account of the sacking: Money for Judgment:

  9. Heraclitus

    Second Clip. Whitlam’s reply: The Truth of the Pudding:

  10. Heraclitus

    Last clip – which was done by the Gillies Report and introduced by the Daggy one (John Clarke). I wish the ABC could produce such material these days.

  11. Kaye Lee

    WE may have wanted Gough but the CIA most definitely did NOT welcome his questions about Pine Gap. I normally shy away from conspiracy theories but this one certainly makes me feel very uneasy considering Kerr’s involvement with the Australian Association of Cultural Freedom, an organisation spawned from the CIA’s own front organisation, the Congress for Cultural Freedom.

    Add to that the Nugen-Hand bank, and one could be justified in questioning our association with the US, and just how much money they have paid the Coalition over the years.

  12. Matters Not

    must have been teaching at Kedron State High

    No John Fraser, I have never taught at Kedron State High School. Or indeed at any high school for that matter. But I did work in a professional capacity at North Brisbane College of Advanced Education (NBCAE).

    And later at Carseldine as QUT, both full-time and part-time for many years. Like Kedron it too has now closed.

  13. John Fraser


    @Matters Not

    Hard to tally all the school closures with the population growth.

  14. Matters Not

    normally shy away from conspiracy theories

    So do I. Nevertheless I subscribe to the ‘theory’ that Murdoch has had a ‘powerful’ influence on the outcomes of past Australian elections.

    Or has that ‘theory’ now become the ‘fact’?

    And yes I do understand that many people contribute to the theory that people make up their minds free from outside influences. At the same time, some people believe pigs fly. Of their own accord and not as a result of some form of ‘explosive’ force.

  15. John Fraser


    "I see the [Liberal] party as having moved leagues to the right and I see the Labor Party having moved leagues to the right of Gough Whitlam's period," Mr Fraser said. "We both bemoaned a bit of this when we met. The whole political spectrum is entirely different from what it was in my time and in his time."

    Read more:

    That leaves The Greens to carry the "Light on the Hill" for those who care not for the right.

  16. Annie Byam

    Kaye ……. ( October 21, 2014 at 9:16 pm – your comment ) ……….

    Damn good questions there. And a very interesting link.

    Most of our association with the U.S. has ended up stinking like 7 day old fish – left on the piers to rot. ( refer most recent wars ).

    They tentatively put their toe in the door ( in the Northern Territory ) and now it is their whole bloody leg. sans armory !!

    Well – we let ’em in ……… ( 2011 – under Julia’s Government no less !! ) …….. and here they will remain – with manipulative manouvres to take an even further hold over their ‘allied’ partner – Australia, ( for as long as it suits them to see it that way ).

    Wonder just how much money they have squirrelled into whichever government has been in command. I rather think the LNP would have longer arms and bigger hands for the dosh, than the ALP would.


  17. Matters Not

    Hard to tally all the school closures with the population growth

    John, when there is a decision to close a school these days, the ‘punters’ go ballistic. Not so in times gone bye.

    I’ll bore you with some figures. In 1958 there were 31 schools closed in Queensland. A year later the number was an additional 33. In 1960 the number rose to an additional 44. In 1961, there were 48 new school closures, followed by 51 closures in 1962.

    In 1963, there were 89 schools closed. A peak of sorts, because in 1965 only 49 schools were closed, followed by a further decline to only 25 schools closed in 1966.

    However in 1967, there was an upswing with 66 schools closed.

    One could go on. .

  18. John Fraser


    @Matters Not

    Now "bore" me with class sizes …. up to the present.

    And to keep things interesting lets add the number of private schools that have opened.

    Then lets go on a theoretical ride of what will happen with a major downturn in the economy and rising unemployment …. who will pay the private school charges ?

  19. matters Not

    John Fraser, class size only became important in Queensland because of Mike Ahern as Chair of the Parliamentary Select Committee’s investigation into education in Queensland.

    Not only did he recommend class size targets but sex education as well.

    But what else could one expect from a committed Catholic? Just jokin …

  20. John Fraser


    @Matters Not

    Class sizes come into the equation as they are getting bigger even as we write.

    Pyne's idea of raising production is to increase class sizes.

    Why are there 4,000 teachers unemployed/underemployed in Australia ?

    I keep returning to this “bone” because Gough Witlam did so much for education in Australia.

    And today is a good day to remember.

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