The Honourable (Edward) Gough Whitlam, AC QC
State Memorial Service
The Honourable Antony Whitlam QC
Sydney Town Hall
5 November 2014
Auntie Millie Ingram gave a moving Welcome to Country. I also wish to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation on whose land this notable building stands. I pay respect to Gadigal elders – past and present – and to so many other indigenous Australians we are honoured to have join with us today, including members of Vincent Lingiari’s family.
This is a celebration of the life of Edward Gough Whitlam. I shall try to remember that.
Gough himself, when speaking on occasions like this, had a tendency to become so enthusiastic in his advocacy of projects associated with the departed person that the subject of the proceedings rated only a cursory mention.
I am Gough’s eldest child. The only advantage primogeniture appears to have given me upon my father’s death, is this speaking slot.
Gough, of course, would have loved to speak today, but the rules of the game necessarily disqualify him. That is just as well because I gather the Town Hall is booked tomorrow!
There can be no complaint about Gough’s family cycle. True, his dear wife of nearly 70 years, our mother Margaret, predeceased him. But they both far exceeded all actuarial estimates for their generation.
Gough’s only sister, Freda, survives him and we are delighted that she is here today.
All Gough’s children are here today. There are four of us – and that is now the final count. I say this because, not so long ago, when Gough was growing older and more frail and, as Catherine says, more lovable, a visitor to his office politely asked how many children he had. Gough looked up and answered: “Four” and then with a cheeky smile and eyes glinting he added: “…….. so far”. Gough was also a much loved patriarch for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Today’s speeches remind us of Gough’s purpose in life. They were delivered with power and beauty that leave us all in awe.
Cate is a woman of courage and conviction who refuses to be boxed in by her talent in theatre and in cinema. Noel is an iconoclast of great forensic skill, with a poet’s gift for language that he employs tirelessly in the interests of all Australians. Coming from a younger generation, their assessments of Gough’s impact are especially satisfying. Cate and Noel have added great lustre to this occasion.
Graham and John are, of course, of the Labor Party. Graham was Gough’s collaborator from the time he became Leader. John was Gough’s closest friend and confidant in the last years of his life. They are both family, and they know how grateful we are to them for what they have had to say.
Gough’s time in government was the pinnacle of his career. It is a particular pleasure, therefore, that Doug McClelland, Les Johnson, Kep Enderby and of course, Paul Keating, are here with us today. Unfortunately Bill Hayden and Tom Uren are unwell and cannot attend. Bill’s moving tribute to Gough is etched in our hearts and minds.
For Gough, public service remained the most noble pursuit and there was no more important or honourable occupation than being a member of parliament. All his life he placed his faith in parliamentary government, responsible government and the two-party system.
To the end of his days Gough was conscious that he owed everything that he had been able to achieve in government to the selfless efforts of members of the Australian Labor Party and to the confidence placed in him by so many of them.
The media coverage of Gough’s death has been generous, and we have been greatly touched by the affection and respect from the public.
There has, of course, been an information overload about the details of Gough’s life. However, I will flesh out two subjects.
First, the matter of religion. Gough’s irreverent wit should not be misconstrued. It is true that Gough himself was not a religious person. However he grew up in a strongly religious household. His mother came from a prominent Baptist family in Melbourne. In Canberra Gough’s parents and his sister became Presbyterians. At the Canberra Grammar School, Gough repositioned himself as an Anglican. He married our mother Margaret in the Church of England, and he was astute to have each of us baptised and confirmed.
Gough’s sister, Freda, was moderator of the Uniting Church in this state.
Gough’s love of history informed a broad knowledge of religion. As children we were aware of this early. To keep us occupied on long car trips there were no video games or sing-alongs. Rather we were bombarded with the most exquisite detail of the doctrine and liturgy in different rites of the Christian Church. Gough did not claim to be a scholar, but he did have a lifelong fascination with religion.
Gough employed religious imagery in his speech. Many of his attempts at self-parody about matters divine have been recalled with evident amusement during the past fortnight. As I have said, Gough himself was not a religious person, but by his background and disposition he did not scoff at people who were religious and he was genuinely respectful of their beliefs and moral values. They included many of his closest friends.
In every way, Gough was ever keen to inculcate in his children the virtues of religious tolerance. Plain courtesy and consideration for others was a big part of that. And of course, this was more than just religious tolerance. It was a quality that informed so much of what he aspired to do for our society as a whole.
Now a little more biography and geography.
In 1947 our family (comprising Gough, Margaret, me and Nick) moved to Cronulla. When Gough entered parliament in 1952, his seat of Werriwa included the whole of the Sutherland Shire and extended all the way down to Helensburgh and right across to Liverpool. My favourite boyhood memory of election campaigning with my father is of him trawling for votes, armed with a loud speaker, not being driven along streets in a flat-bed truck or a van, but motoring along the Woronora River in a “tinny”.
In 1955 there was a redistribution, and the Shire and points south were cut out of Werriwa. The new seat extended along an axis north from Liverpool to the western edge of Parramatta at Wentworthville. So at the end of the school year in 1957 the family (now increased with the addition of Stephen and Catherine) moved to a new house at Cabramatta. That is where Gough and Margaret lived until he became Prime Minister. He never had a flat in town. During the whole of that time (for the last 13 years of which Gough was successively Deputy Leader and Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party, with functions to attend all over the metropolis), if he was in Sydney, Gough slept at home in Cabramatta.
Against that background, you can imagine my surprise, in the wash-up of Gough’s death, to read one of the more antic commentators thrillingly expose “the myth that Whitlam was a western suburbs kid made good”. I had never heard of such a myth. Has anyone? I did know that he had lived most of his adult life far from the centre of town in two houses built on unsewered blocks of land.
I did know that for 20 years he had been an energetic local member in western Sydney where he had witnessed the problems of its rapid development, and where, with his vast knowledge of European culture, and the history of the Mediterranean people, he accorded unfeigned respect and dignity to all the area’s many immigrants.
After parliament Gough remained vigorously engaged in our national public debate on many issues. Constitutional reform and equality of electoral enrolment spring to mind, but it is difficult to think of a significant topic on which he did not feel obliged to express a view.
It was a brilliant decision of Bob Hawke’s government to send him to UNESCO. It got him out of the way and it allowed Gough to employ his great talents in the interests of world heritage and culture.
Many talented and dedicated men and women have served on Gough’s personal staff. Until he became Deputy Leader in 1960 there was only his electorate secretary, the late Norma Thompson, whom we always knew as Miss Thompson. She operated from a corner in his office in the old Federal Members Rooms in the Commonwealth Bank’s “money box” building in Martin Place.
Of the others engaged over the last half century, it would be invidious to single anybody out. They all endured his occasional changes in temperament, but at the same time they will all know how much he valued the contribution of each of them. It is truly gratifying that so many of them have taken the trouble to join us here today.
Stamina is an essential ingredient in the make-up of any successful politician. Gough was lucky enough to have it in spades for most of his life.
For the past few years, Gough has lived in an aged care facility at Lulworth where he was wonderfully looked after by everyone.
Until the last couple of months Gough continued to go into his office four times a week. There were also increasingly frequent attendances upon all kinds of health professionals. Again I will not single anybody out. They know how grateful we are to each of them for their skill and care.
The grace and serenity with which Gough accepted the decline in his health were quite striking. My brothers and I owe a particular debt to our sister, Catherine.
The man whose appearance always brightened up his demeanour and to whom all his children are forever indebted for his devotion and love, is his driver, Michael Vlassopoulos.
This is a State Memorial Service. Prime Minister, we are most grateful to you for authorising this occasion.
We are also conscious of the great honour done us by the presence of HE the Governor-General, HE Lady Cosgrove and so many other distinguished persons and representatives of foreign governments who have gathered with Gough’s family, friends and supporters here today.
It is a particular pleasure to welcome so many from Papua New Guinea, including Prime Minister O’Neill and Gough’s old friend, Grand Chief Michael Somare.
At the start of today the genius of William Barton reminded us that we are here in Australia, a land where the indigenous peoples have lived for thousands of years. The road to reconciliation and recognition started with the Whitlam government, but it should be remembered that its land rights proposals were in substance implemented by Malcolm Fraser’s government.
The attendance of representatives from the Gurindji people is a truly humbling testament to Gough’s legacy.
Events at Wave Hill are the subject of the moving song written and performed today by Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody. This song was written in the early 1990s around the time of Paul Keating’s great Redfern speech. Soon after, a brilliant young aboriginal lawyer called Noel Pearson came to public attention in the wake of the Native Title cases. The road ahead may be tortuous and difficult for all Australians but we need not be divided on partisan lines.
The artistry of the orchestra and choirs today has been sublime and utterly spellbinding. Gough’s idiosyncratic predilections in the music for this occasion have been brilliantly vindicated.
The next piece, Jerusalem, was the recessional hymn at Margaret’s memorial service. William Blake was, just like Gough, a radical. An Oxford theology professor has written that the words of this poem “stress the importance of people taking responsibility for change and building a better society”.
In that spirit, it is a fitting piece to end the celebration of Gough’s life, and the symmetry provides a neat memory for us.
Thank you all for coming.