Edward Gough Whitlam was the 21st Prime Minister of Australia from 1972 to 1975, and a genius of humanity. I think that perhaps the only person worthy of delivering Gough’s eulogy would be Gough himself, such was his colossal self-belief… and thank god for that self-belief.
His words will be remembered for their soaring eloquence, their fierce fight, and earthly consequence.
Many would consider that Gough was ahead of his time, but the fact is that he walked in perfect step and unison with the aspirations of a people, where perhaps so many other politicians were kept a step behind only because of a lack of imagination and bravery. Gough bravely imagined an Australia, and Australia bravely imagined with him.
His hard-fought reforms included the advance of Aboriginal land rights, the advance of universal health care, the advance of diplomatic relations with China, the advance of universal access to university, the advance of the end of conscription and withdrawal of forces from Vietnam; the advance of Australia fair.
Whitlam fought to remove injustices and discrimination against Australian women. He fought for fair pay and conditions for women and undoubtedly improved the basis of equality upon which women could participate in society. Gough’s commitment to the women of our nation was perhaps not only guided by his sense of social justice but also by his heart. This commitment to Australian women was perhaps best embodied by his relationship with his wife Margaret Elaine Whitlam – a great political union and Australian love story. I think Malcolm Turnbull’s sentiments put it perfectly that if indeed Gough is in heaven, he is certainly there with Margret.
After the dismissal of his government in 1975 Whitlam was the Leader of the Opposition for two years, and he remained in parliament until 1978 – a rare act of public service from a former Prime Minister. He was not a man who allowed himself to be consumed by hatred, as many politicians can be, for he was the personification of optimism and hope.
Many people muse that Australia should only become a Republic with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, but as it was Gough’s dream for Australia to stand on her own two feet in the world, perhaps, once again, it is time.
I too have ridiculous self-belief, but I do know this: I am not worthy of writing about this great man. So perhaps I’ll speak to you, Gough. Gough, I hope my generation understands what you have done for our country. I don’t know whether you made the times or the times made you, probably both, but it certainly was time, and it still is time.