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Not Just For this Life: Gough Whitlam Remembered

Gough Whitlam was a great man, a man who was a big man, a man who made an impact on whomever he met, whatever cause he adopted; a man who, once met was never ever forgotten, a man who changed the face of Australia forever in a manner that was both as colourful, great, large and majestic as the man himself.

When he finally left this mortal coil to take on the man upstairs on 21 October, 2014 at the age of 98, his passing unleashed an event unprecedented in Australian Politics, an event which began as a conventional condolences motion; it became something else when members of both sides of the house wanted to speak about this remarkable man and the effect he and his policies had on their lives.

That Gough would have enjoyed this event goes without saying as he always appreciated being the focus of change; and perhaps as Graham Freudenberg AM says in his introduction to this collective work, when reflecting upon this remarkable event, ‘It may turn out that this was the occasion when this Parliament House found its soul.’

Of the many, many speech, 93 in total, one thing becomes apparent; wherever he went, whatever he was involved with, whomever he became in contact with he was genuine, he was visionary and he remained true to his personal ideals, those of Belonging, Courage, Equality, Enlarging, his beloved Comrades (which included everyone) and finally Grace, each of which are the sub headings for the various chapters, but each sums up the true measure of the man.

So much that was voted into Parliament in the three short years he was Prime Minster from 1972 to 1975 now make up the very fabric of Australian society, and set Australia onto the pathway of becoming a nation in its own right, a country with a voice of its own, a country that could stand tall and be proud of the achievements gained in its own right, not as a mouthpiece to the USA or Great Britain. Under his tutelage Australia came of age!

That he was controversial goes without saying, that he set out to right great wrong’s, that he truly believed in equality for all, that he took Australia, an Australia that was a marked ‘by intense effort carried on the expectation of failure’ and gave it a good shake, preceded by the unforgettable It’s Time campaign, changed the face of not just Australia, but also Australian politics.

His dismissal from office by non-other than Graham Kerr, the Governor General of Australia, on 11th November, 1975, bought on an outpouring of outrage from some and relief from others is typical of the man himself. He was larger than life and in his outrage at what he considered a great injustice, truly magnificent. Anyone who witnessed his dismissal , witnessed his outrage, will never forget that moment in history when Whitlam uttered those famous words Ladies and gentlemen, well may we say ‘God Save the Queen’, because nothing will save the Governor-General.”

In today’s world of ceaseless mediocrity, of constant static chatter that is considered Parliament, a touch of the days of Gough Whitlam would make a refreshing change.

His legacy will live on as a massive component of Australian life, a component we now all accept as the ‘norm’, but was not only a mere 45 years ago!

Women’s Rights, Aboriginal Rights, Medicare, PBS, no fault Divorce Laws, making Education the right of all peoples, and so much more can be attributed to this man and his vision. The list goes on and on.

As you wander through this remarkable collection of accolades, several things becomes apparent; he was a man who became a legend, a man who was much loved and respected by the people who knew and worked with him, along with the many young Australians now benefiting from his legacy. These things are Respect, Belonging, Courage, Equality, Enlarging, Grace and most importantly the fact he considered everyone a Comrade, regardless of whom they were or where they stood in life.

The words of Cate Blanchett in her Obituary sum up a remarkable legacy when she states, ‘The scale of Gough Whitlam’s ambition and vision will be forever remembered.’

Vale Gough Whitlam!

Author edited by Wendy Guest, Gary Gray
Publisher New South Publishers
ISBN 9781742235103
Distributor New South Books
Released July 2016