Vale Gough Whitlam! – The Power and the Passion.

Vale Gough Whitlam! The nation not only mourns a great statesman but also the most exciting and progressive era in Australian history. We all woke up to the sad news that our 21st Australian Prime Minister Edward Gough Whitlam departed this earthly realm aged 98 in the early hours of Tuesday 21 October. His followers and political detractors alike were united in their praise for the achievements of the great man. As a respect for their former colleague normal business was suspended in parliament. For one day parliamentarians dispensed with their adversarial approach as one after another from all political spectrums Labor, Greens and Liberal honoured the legacy of Gough Whitlam legacy paying their tribute to him.

“It’s Time!”
Gough and Little Pattie It's TimeThose of us who are old enough remember with nostalgia those heady days when the slogan It’s Time, a catchy tune, was sung out on our TVs. The slogan It’s Time, was conceived by Paul Jones, the creative director at Sydney ad agency Hansen-Rubensohn–McCann-Erickson. The song was written by Jones and advertising jingle writer Mike Shirley, it was arranged as well as produced by Pat Aulton. Lead singer, Alison McCallum, was accompanied by a chorus comprising a “Who’s Who” of Australian entertainment and sport personalities, including Barry Crocker, Bert Newton, Bobby Limb, Dawn Lake, Hazel Phillips, Chuck Faulkner, Col Joye, Graham Kennedy, Jack Thompson, Jacki Weaver, Jimmy Hannan, Judy Stone, Kevin Sanders Little Pattie, Lynette Curran, Terry Norris, Ade and Rob Dames, among others. The TV spot mainly focuses on McCallum and the other singers performing the song, intercut are pictures from Whitlam’s private photo collection reaching a demographic of women and younger people.

There was a sense of anticipation in the air – hope of radical change that would usher us out of the ‘Menzian torpor’ as Paul Keating so aptly described it on Lateline. We had waited so long for a change of government with the Liberal Coalition govt having held power for 23 years. I can remember as a child giving my Communist father some money from my pocket money to help get rid of Bob Menzies. The Menzies era so praised by John Howard whose values epitomised the white picket fence of the 50s where women knew their place and kept the home fires burning and in the pre pill era where women crossed their legs and thought of England. A time where crooner Frank Sinatra’s song Wives and Lovers bombarded us with sexist messages with the refrain:

Hey, little girl, comb your hair, fix your make-up, soon he will open the door,
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger, you needn’t try any more………..

Day after day, there are girls at the office and the men will always be men,
Don’t stand him up, with your hair still in curlers, you may not see him again.”

Gough Whitlam the Visionary
When Gough Whitlam swept into power 2 December 1972 there was a seismic shift in the Australian way of life. We were ready to embrace change and move into the 20th century with his far-reaching social and political reforms. Gough Whitlam was born 11 July 1916 in Kew Victoria. The number 11 in numerology is the visionary and Gough certainly was that. Gough Whitlam's natal chartHis exact time of birth is not known but it has been rectified to 7.20 am from an approximate time according to Astrodatabank. This would give him a Cancer ascendant and what is striking is the preponderance of planets in the element of Water – 5 planets in Cancer – Sun conjunct Saturn and Venus, Pluto and Mercury all conjunct in Cancer and Ceres the asteroid that is the Universal Mother is also in Cancer and his Moon would likely be in the Sign of Scorpio – hence the documentary about aptly titled the Power and the Passion. With so much water he would be very sensitive and compassionate and nurturing and really personified the Father of the nation in the sweeping reforms he enacted to help all strata of society. With Mercury conjunct Pluto in Cancer he would have a very probing mind which would have been suitable for the law and everyone attested to what an erudite man he was. In fact this quality aroused the suspicion of those in power in the Labor Party – they regarded him as an upstart who hadn’t come through the usual channel of the trade union ranks. He has been described as a maverick social democrat. His Pluto Mercury conjunction and Uranus square Moon would have endowed him with his courage and fostered his unorthodox methods and in his word his ‘crash through or crash’ approach. Even before he became Prime Minister he took the bold step of visiting Communist China in an era where anti communism still prevailed where there were ‘reds under the bed’. This move aroused the ire of the then PM Billy McMahon. Whitlam was vindicated when it was discovered that President Nixon had sent Henry Kissinger to China and Billy McMahon looked even more reactionary and out of step with global trends.

Gough and Lingiari

Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari

Gough in China

Gough Whitlam and Zhou Enlai

It is amazing to see how rapidly Gough Whitlam with the assistance of his Deputy Lance Barnard changed the face of Australia within 13 days of taking power. He was a man on a mission and nothing was going to stop him from carrying out his program. He set the wheels in motion for equal pay for women, introduction of no fault-divorce, scrapped the tax on the contraceptive pill, recognised China, ended conscription and brought the troops home from South Vietnam and imposed sanctions on apartheid South Africa to name but a few. He also announced a judicial inquiry as the first move towards legal recognition of Aboriginal land rights and a Department of Aboriginal Affairs was established. He is best remembered for his visit to the Northern Territory community of Daguragu immortalised in the Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody song, From Little Things Big Things Grow. On 16 August 1975, Whitlam, the “tall stranger” of the song poured sand into the hand of the Gurindji leader Vincent Lingiari, to signify the return of part of the Gurindji’s traditional lands, marking the end of a nine-year struggle, which began when Aboriginal stockmen and their families walked off the Wave Hill Cattle Station.

Gough and Blue Poles

Gough Whitlam and Blue Poles

Whitlam, Nureyev and Helpmann

Whitlam with Nureyev and Helpmann

One of the Whitlam government’s other very important legacies was the supporting of the arts both financially and in his own personal patronage. He did this by doubling the funding for the Australia Council and the support that gave inaugural National Gallery of Australia director James Mollison the power and the budget to amass a contemporary art collection containing works of global such as Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles. Creative Arts Professor of Flinders University Julian Meyrick attests to the fact that Whitlam was a seminal figure in Australian culture. He said Whitlam “loved the arts, he was such an erudite man. The action of purchasing Blue Poles then sticking it on his Christmas card…it marked a kind of change historically in Australia’s attitude towards modern art.”

Whitlam’s unorthodox method included bypassing the usual protocol of having Billy McMahon as caretaker Prime Minister and having the then governor-general, Sir Paul Hasluck swear him in as Prime Minister and Lance Barnard as Deputy Prime Minister three days after the December 2 election. They ruled as the “duumvirate until final election results came in on December when Mr Whitlam could assign portfolios to ministers already chosen by the Labor parliamentary caucus. Some people refer to the days before Gough as BG and those after as AG.

My Memories of Gough Whitlam
I was reminiscing while drinking a glass of on wine to farewell the great man on Tuesday night while watching documentary, The Power and the Passion. I remember years ago accompanying my friend, Michael McCarthy, to a Labor fund-raising party in Randwick held in the garden of the home of some Greek people and there was Gough himself towering over everyone just mingling with the guests. The former Labor MP Jeannette McHugh a friend of Michael’s was also there. I also remember when Gough was dismissed seeing the news flash on TV. I had not long returned from my first overseas trip and was still suffering from jetlag. Having visited Spain amongst other European countries I remember thinking to myself maybe it will be an announcement of Franco’s death but was totally dumbfounded when I heard that John Kerr had sacked the Whitlam government.

Gough Whitlam’s Legacy Remembered
So many letters have appeared in the newspapers particularly from women not only mourning the death of Gough but also expressing their gratitude for his making it possible for them to gain a university education as a result of his abolishing university fees in 1974 which remained in place for 14 years. He also gave the Commonwealth complete control over university funding as well as introducing a system of student income support that survives today through Youth Allowance, Austudy and Abstudy. There have been also grateful letters from men who escaped the draft when Whitlam ended conscription and pulled out our troops serving in the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam.

Whitlam abolished knighthoods and changed the national anthem. Whitlam’s independence stance from both the UK and the US earned him many enemies both here and abroad. His ending of the Vietnam War and questioning the role of Pine Gap angered the American military establishment. In an article entitled the British-American Coup that ended Australian Independence written for the Guardian John Pilger outlines the chilling facts of the role of the CIA’s and MI6 in Whitlam’s dismissal when he dared to assert his country’s autonomy.

The Dismissal

Whitlam's Dismissal

Gough Whitlam on steps of Old Parliament House Canberra

In the words of Gough Whitlam’s biographer, Professor Jenny Hocking: “The dismissal is one of the most closely examined periods of our political history, yet there was another piece of the historical puzzle for me to find – the revelation that the high court judge Sir Anthony Mason had been in secret discussion with Sir John Kerr in the months leading up to the dismissal.

She said that her news shocked Whitlam. He went unusually silent. He changed the subject and seemed not to respond. Then suddenly, and to nobody in particular, he said; “What can you do? What can you bloody well do?” She reported there were tears in his eyes

Hocking summed it up this way, “We should remember Whitlam’s political achievements as the first leader to take the Labor party to successive electoral victories and as a prime minister who achieved an enviable record of reform in the face of unprecedented obstruction.”

“The way of the reformer is hard in Australia,” he once said, but Whitlam’s own story shows us that it can be done. It is a dualism that even in his darkest moment emerges in his best-known and unscripted speech, from the steps of old Parliament House, “Maintain your rage – and your enthusiasm.”

Gough Whitlam’s State Memorial

Gough and Margaret Whitlam

Gough and Margaret Whitlam

As I complete this tribute to the great man, Gough Whitlam, I am very emotional watching the state memorial for him as one person after another pays tribute to him – Kerry O’Brien who was the MC, Graham Freudenberg, Cate Blanchett,  Noel Pearson and John Faulkner attested to his many reforms in so many areas from the Crowd at Whitlam's memorialarts, women’s rights, land rights, education and health. Noel Pearson summed it when he said that although Gough Whitlam was only in power for a short time he achieved so much he did not really need any more time. Tears came to my eyes when they played the song From Little things Big Things Grow. To conclude the eulogies Gough’s eldest son, Tony Whitlam paid tribute to his father. The final song, Jerusalem, was the one played at Margaret Whitlam’s funeral and fittingly they displayed a photo of Margaret and Gough now reunited in the hereafter. So many people wished to pay tribute to him that there was not enough room in the Sydney Town Hall. Vale Gough and thank you for all that you have done for all of us – your legacy will be felt for many generations to come. Thank you for your vision, your courage, your passion and caring. You will be remembered with great fondness by so many.Thanks Gough

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