Subscribing to a grand vision by promoting inequality, inspiring and expanding people’s horizons by liberating their talents, is surely a worthy charter for national leadership.
Gough Whitlam AC QC (1916 – 2014) , who died aged 98 on October 21, joined the Labor Party in 1945 and in 1952 became the member for Werriwa in south-west Sydney. He served for 26 years as Deputy party leader 1960 – 1967 and Leader of the Opposition 1967 – 1972.
Achievements do increase with a passage of time and such intense moments in life that Gough Whitlam and all those around him encountered, create a sharp learning curve for us all.
This striking man of both perception and influence became a popular Labor leader.
During a tumultuous political life he was a man in no way diminished by his failures. He understood imperfection, striving to do his best without losing his sense of humour about his frailties.
By 1972 aged 56 Gough Whitlam had left all others in his wake both metaphorically and in reality when he declared ‘It’s Time, showing us all what we can aspire to. Prime Minister 1972 – 1975 he and his government was, during the fervour of a constitutional crisis, dismissed on the 11th November by the Governor General.
Gough Whitlam once blamed ringing all the bells at airport security on his ‘aura’.
He also believed ‘a funeral pyre in the Senate would be more in keeping for a venue for his memorial service’, a fact Master of Ceremonies journalist, author and broadcaster Quentin Dempster related, during the remembrance held in the Town Hall at Sydney on 6th November 2014. Dempster noted ‘ … he liked the idea’ of taking the Australian parliament’s ‘Upper House with him on his continuing journey, at least part of the way’.
Serving in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II, rom 1942 Gough Whitlam was a Navigator based at Gove on the eastern Arnhem land coast.
By the end he was assigned to the RAAF Pacific Echelon at General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters at Leyte and Manila, flying members of MacArthur’s staff between the Philippines and Australia.
The experiences he had and the people he met would stay with him all of his life.
Gough Whitlam had a truly remarkable intellect and his banter and witty repartee punctuated many speeches during his memorable career. When he raised those defining eyebrows, you knew you were in for an assault of wit and eloquence second to one.
Aboriginal leader and spokesperson Noel Pearson’s oration at his memorial was also beautifully crafted and powerfully delivered. He offered his thoughts on the ‘old man’ as he called Gough Whitlam, the man who was still empowering articulate young Australian students on the day he died, speaking forcefully about their sense of loss at the death of the 98 year old politician, who had left office long before they were born.
Pearson re-affirmed ‘”the land and human rights of our people would never have seen the light of day” if it hadn’t been for Gough Whitlam.
The modern cosmopolitan Australia we enjoy today only developed post World War II, and it certainly owes a great deal to Gough Whitlam. Today each and every one of us enjoys the legacy of his era in Australian politics, one we must never take for granted.
As a young mother of three children under five by then, I remember him well, as he both energised the political landscape and the people while giving Australian women hope of better things to come, a world in which they would have a voice valued by the men in both their personal and professional lives.
While it may have not happened completely for my ‘lost generation’ it became a reality for the next and it’s a feat decades on that Australian women of my generation reflect on with gratitude.
Australia’s internationally successful actor Cate Blanchett carved an indelible impression on women of Australia today at the ceremony.
Her defining quote – “I was but 3 when he passed by, but I will be grateful until the day I die” struck many chords and brought great applause.
She is one of the women of his ‘new age’, one who enjoyed fully the benefits of his vision in education and health.
Others noted ‘You would go to the barricades with such a man’… and, ‘the Whitlam touch is on us all’.
As the service progressed Gough Whitlam we discovered, was a larger than life a character quite capable of changing himself.
Cate Blanchett drove home many points added to by others, revealing how and why Gough Whitlam’s scale and vision will always be remembered.
Here is her full speech, courtesy ABC
Gough Whitlam was a man with an irresistible attraction for many. He was about real reform of age old attitudes, social and moral concerns.
He sought to break down the very real barriers of class and race that existed in the 1950’s post World War II Australian patriarchal society that I grew up in.
He wanted to exceed all boundaries and replace them with the unapologetic principle of equality, believing democracy in action would shape a confident, generous and outward looking country.
Above all the politics he espoused were those wedded to principles of fairness and forgiveness.
He dragged us out of our complacency as a ‘colony’ and helped re-invent this country and its people for the modern age.
He didn’t do this singlehandedly, but with the help of those around him who supported his vision. And there were those that were perhaps not as pure in their intent.
Nation of immigrants pouring into this country over three decades helped us to crash through prejudice and intolerance of race and religion, battling prejudice while we learned how to live in a multi cultural society. What he did do was create a new agenda for Australia, ensuring that the Australian Labor party too became a mainstay for Australian equality and democracy.
There was an Australia before and after Whitlam and, they were very different.
He was both the bridge and the powerhouse, the man who helped invent Australian modernity and style.
During the 60’s and early 70’s in Australia Gough Whitlam inspired Australians, challenging them it was ‘time’ to seek to understand why it was important to debate and discuss progressive change, not just dismiss it out of hand.
He wasn’t discouraged at seeking to achieve what many other people of his age and generation would have seen as impossible.
His integral instinct was to solve problems rather than use them as an excuse and he certainly didn’t shy away from controversy.
He changed a culture previously comfortable with complacency, believing earnestly in advocacy, the importance of debate and brinkmanship observing that only the ‘impotent are pure’.
Generations of Australians have benefited from his very real lack of prejudice and contribution to the transformation of our outlook on life.
Gough Whitlam had the will to be just and the strength and courage of his convictions, wanting to achieve a style of modernity before its time, one shaped by a moral vision of, and about promoting universal opportunity for everyone.
He certainly believed in the role and responsibility of democratic institutions and the power of progressive government. His son told everyone there that his father’s political principles were forged and shaped in the evolution of the Westminster government system, one he never lost his faith in despite events.
While its democratic checks and balances may have reigned him in at a time when he may not have appreciated it to the full, nevertheless he would have defended to the end, which he did valiantly giving service to his country during World War II and for all of his life.
The memorial service was indeed compelling viewing and in reality must have been deeply moving for all those able to be there and there is no doubt Edward Gough Whitlam would loved to see how many cultures and causes were represented.
From international and national heads of government to the heads of industry, as well as those who represented the various and varied aspects of his life most especially arts and culture, they all worked hard to balance mourning and loss at his passing by also ensuring they celebrated his life.
Cate Blanchett was a powerful speaker, reaffirming that in any so-called civilised community, the arts must occupy a central place and that their enjoyment should be seen as an important tool in the enrichment of our daily lives and cultural heritage.
She reminded us this was a truth Gough Whitlam emphatically believed, and that he also subscribed to the notion that all other reform naturally flowed from such an engagement, the arts causing society to flourish.
The enjoyment of our arts Gough Whitlam believed is an end in itself.
Being born estranged from Australia and its freedoms Gough Whitlam empowered indigenous people who had suffered much over the centuries since the arrival of people from other lands.
He understood the importance of protection for the indigenous people from both discrimination and its malice. Gough distributed opportunity, breaking down the barriers of class and race replacing them with the unapologetic principle of equality.
Gough Whitlam’s was indeed a big life, one completely dedicated to public service. He and his wife Margaret and were inseparable and both authentically Australian, believing family life was at its centre.
Despite all that happened to him, she never once wavered in her belief of him or his abilities and that indefatigable unflagging energy was required if he was to get the job done. ‘
This was especially evident after his dismissal and when he became Australia’s Ambassador to UNESCO, playing an important role on the world stage.
He changed his focus, contributing both to the growth of world culture and heritage by promoting the importance of a creative culture.
The important UN declaration of Human rights – Gough Whitlam is the one who signed us up.
He was the leader who appointed a woman to look after women and established the Family Court to safeguard the rights of children.
He was both modernising and an enabler, who extended social opportunities for women in Australia.
During the service we discovered that grace and serenity accompanied his latter years for which his family were internally grateful.
While he himself did not practice the faith he was born into Whitlam had a broad knowledge of matters of religion, including the liturgy of the Christian church… he waxed lyrically about the ‘divine’, which often included himself.
However, he was always respectful of religious leaders, urging tolerance and respect for other people, their views and the right to have them There is no doubt he was influenced greatly by his knowledge of history, one that ensured he wanted to live in a modern society that was all inclusive.
Whitlam made the Labor party ‘worth electing’ by captivating the community with his passion and conviction that Australia required their consensus for change. He showed us what we can and will achieve if only we would aspire to change and embrace it.
Few people served the truth or involved the people of Australia in the decisions that daily affect their lives today than Gough Whitlam, who is considered ‘the best Prime Minister Australia never had… noted his friend John Faulkner.
He attended to detail and the policies he advocated and enacted looked forward to an Australia where you could realise ambitions and fulfil potential by enacting fair and sweeping electoral reforms.
Six thousand people registered to go to the service, with only 1000 seats being available. Many more travelled far and wide to be there, not knowing they would not be able to ‘get in.
Protesting verbally and clearly upset at not being able to pay their respects, they certainly extended his legacy of people speaking out, which he would have certainly approved of.
The well thought out ceremony was indeed a fitting tribute to the might of the man and it ended with a poignant and short rendition of the rousing Jerusalem, a truly wonderful piece of music with wonderful words that he himself chose to befittingly honour his life and service.
It is a song of praise, stirring and inspiring patriotic fervour. Like Gough, it has staying power. With music from Hubert Parry and words by William Blake, who we discovered was Gough Whitlam’s favourite poet, fittingly this work was integral to a spirit of change that prevailed during the nineteenth century.
Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem
Brimming with emotion and sentiment, the memorial service for Gough Whitlam, was all about he who must be respected. The service documented how we shed the fears and prejudices of the past to allow for the arrival of hope in the future.
It certainly made for gripping television and it would be hoped the ABC in their wisdom seeks to repeat it many times for all those unable to be there who would want to offer respect.
Vale Gough Whitlam AC QC, you forged a bond with the Australian people becoming at 98 ‘Australia’s Greatest White Elder’, a friend without peer, the people’s choice.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014
Noel Pearson’s Salute to ‘Australia’s greatest White Elder’