The family of Graham Freudenberg, his influential political contacts, his many friends and admirers, the Australian Labor Party and Australia itself are diminished by his passing after a long illness.
Graham was a modest man whose knowledge for history, literature and politics made him a national figure on the Australian political scene for nearly 50 years.
He had a deep interest in and understanding of politics and was recognized as Australia’s greatest political speech writer.
His writing and creative skills enhanced the political images of some of the country’s most prominent political figures of his era.
These included Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke, Arthur Calwell, Neville Wran, Bob Carr and others for all of whom he was a regular creator of profound and often winning political speeches.
His success as probably the first to make a career of political speech creation has led political leaders of all parties to attempt to duplicate Freudy by hiring speech specialists of their own. This was prompted by the obvious influence Freudy’s speeches provided those utilizing them. Those seeking their own “Freudy” have not been successful.
Graham came to excel as a political thinker and speech creator almost by acccident. Way back in 1960 the then new Labor leader Arthur Calwell advertised for a press secretary. Press secretaries in those days after more than a decade of coalition government were not speech writers. Most were approaching middle age with no stellar journalistic career behind them and who were generally friends of the governing parties. Their activity involved mostly the creation of short press statements for their ministers or departments.
Journalistic skills, let alone speech writing, were hardly required.
A large field applied for the Calwell position. Arthur struck it lucky when the job went to Graham then a little-known young reporter on the Melbourne Sun.
Freudy however had a deep knowledge of history and an exceptional skill as a user of words.
Vietnam was to become the political issue of this period and Graham felt opposed to his new boss’s initial support for the war.
As the popularity of the new deputy leader Gough Whitlam increased Calwell moved his sympathies to the left wing of the Labor Party for numbers to protect him from a possible leadership bid from Whitlam or his followers,
The Left strongly opposed the Vietnam War and Calwell’s new allegiance saw him become a strong critic.
Freudy felt comfortable with this new attitude and probably first became noticed as a notable speechwriter of rare talent with some of the best speeches of the period for Calwell in opposition to the war.
However, as months wore on Freudy’s well developed political instincts told him that things were changing in the Labor Party which would probably benefit from a change to a more contemporary figure than Calwell — like Gough.
In mid-1966 he quit Calwell’s staff and went back briefly to his old newspaper the Melbourne Sun. He seemed to see clearly that Labor’s future lay with Whitlam not Calwell a man of the 1930’s and 1940’s.
Whitlam himself wad faced with a problem. When he became Labor leader in February 1967 after Calwell’s massive defeat in the Harold Holt “Vietnam election” the previous year he was deeply conscious of Freudy’s talent but a trifle dubious about his ability to handle a change of masters.
Helped by the persuasion of his then Chief of Staff, John Menadue, he decided to re-engage this young man of exceptional talent.
This led to the creation of one of the most exceptional partnerships in Australian political history. Freudy and Gough became almost as one in the expression of the many new ideas the new leader brought to his party.
This resulted in a near win in the 1969 election after the Vietnam election wipe out. It culminated in Labor’s 1972 election victory – its first in 23 years. The winning campaign was launched by one of Freudy’s most memorable creations – Whitlam’s opening speech at the Blacktown, Sydney Workers’ Club, that year.
For three years he was at Whitlam’s side for any major initiative of the many which Gough introduced in his short period in government. There were many of them, including introduction of Medibank, recognition of China, ending the White Australia Policy which were opposed by the coalition parties at the time. But after more than 25 years of Liberal government since the Whitlam government, they have not been reversed.
After Whitlam’s departure in the questionable circumstances in 1975, Freudy served the newly elected NSW Premier, Neville Wran, building an almost equal political partnership here.
With both Whitlam and Wran he developed very strong personal relationships which no doubt contributed significantly to the partnerships’ successes. He later went on to be of great use to leaders like Bob Hawke and Bob Carr.
Freudy had an almost unique manner of speech production. He worked almost exclusively very late at night on into the early hours of morning, fortifying himself throughout his hours of endeavour with an impressive supply of canned beer.
Speeches were first created in an awkward left-handed scrawl. Freudy was known to say that he gained his political thoughts largely from his writing hand. These efforts were later dictated to female staff none of whom seemed to mind keeping these unusual hours to help Freudy in his work.
Though a man of small stature he was a regular and considerable drinker, very rarely being seen worse for his indulgence. He was also a heavy smoker. Through in his months of illness he carefully controlled his drinking but was unable or unwilling to free himself of his tobacco habit. He was smoking right through his last weeks of life though he had had ample medical warning of the likely outcome of his illness.
He made no complaint.
It is not hard to identify Labor Party leaders who contributed less effectively to the Party’s wellbeing than did Freudy.
No provision was made through pension or superannuation by the Labor Party to help him financially once he ceased work.
He stressed to intimates that he wanted no posthumous recognition. A testimonial given him by the NSW Labor Party in 2018 was all the recognition he required. The event was extremely well attended and was a high-ticket item. Most attending believed they were contributing to Freudenberg in his retirement.
Sussex St was using the much admired and popular Freudy to raise money for its own purposes with little thought being given to Freudy’s wellbeing in retirement. Ironically, they were seeking to benefit from the popularity of the man who in 1989 they dumped from the State Upper House ticket in favour of the infamous Eddie Obeid.
Again, Freudy made no complaint.
In asserting that the testimonial was all the recognition he required he would almost certainly be disappointed.
He is remembered fondly and admiringly by literally scores of friends with whom he worked and played over the years. Equally well and fondly will be the memories of the many speeches he contributed on major political issues over more than 40 years.
Graham’s life and his pioneering skills as a political speech creator remain the benchmark for future practitioners of this craft.
To the many people who knew him well, he was both personally and professionally, a special person.