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Thanks for the ride. I’m glad we got off in time.

547270-goughI was at a party in Spring Hill, Brisbane, when Billy McMahon conceded defeat to Gough Whitlam. It was the early days of the Bjelke-Petersen regime, and simple-minded university students like me, who had spent much of the last year learning the art of protest, were overjoyed by the news. Finally there was a serious crack in the cast-iron bubble of conservatism in which we had been trapped all our lives — not to mention a worthy opponent for Joh. For the first time in Australia, the things the world had been talking about since 1966 were on the lips of those who had the power to make them real.

A little more than three years later, our dreams were in tatters. I remember weeping as one of my cousins expressed his satisfaction that Gough had been sacked by the Governor-General and his hope that the Australian electorate would vindicate the dismissal. I could not begin to imagine how someone I knew to have a good heart and a kind soul could entertain such an obviously wrong-headed thought. The next day, full of emotion and revolutionary fervour, I hopped on the back of a truck full of suburban anarchists, waving angry placards and heading for one of the mass rallies that were being held all around the country to protest the infamy of Sir John Kerr’s action.

All was in vain.

Yesterday, to my surprise, my tears flowed again when I heard that the man who rocked our lives had received his final dismissal. It was many years since my free subscription to Australia’s biggest political fan club had lapsed. Indeed, I have often sympathised with codgers around my age or a little older bemoaning the perceived deterioration in Australia’s social fabric that Gough had begun: the welfare mentality, the countless couples who have split their families without ever trying to work through their problems, the national addiction to credit at individual and corporate levels, and the bitter schisms between Australians over issues that only proliferate with the years. These are widespread phenomena in the western world, but, say the codgers, it was Gough who brought us up to speed with the handcart to hell.
They are exaggerating, of course. There were also many things we welcomed then, however cautiously that are now things that most of us would fight to keep: Aboriginal land rights, national medical insurance, legal aid, and fault-free divorce, to name but a few. Gough and his band of merry men pointed their arrows at worthy targets that had had too many days in the sun. But unfortunately Robin Hood was not Whitlam’s role model. Rather, this classical scholar saw himself as Gough the Great, slashing through all the Gordian knots he could see as quickly as possible. He wielded a two-edged sword, elating and deflating millions at the same time as he carved out a place in history for himself. (more…)

Oct 22, 2014 | Categories: Features, In passing... | Leave A Comment »

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