The much-anticipated talk on Gough Whitlam on Saturday evening was well attended by locals and visitors alike.
About 130 people showed up for the hour-long address presented by the Whitlam Institute’s John Faulkner who was a Labor Senator for NSW from 1989 to 2015 and leader of the Senate Opposition from 1996 to 2004, and knew Mr Prime Minister Whitlam personally.
As well as talking about Whitlam’s life, Mr Faulkner discussed the man’s continuing impact on Australian politics.
“The really significant thing we still see today is that Labor not only formed government in 1972 under Whitlam, it went on to do so again under Hawke and Keating, and again in 2007 under Kevin Rudd and then Julia Gillard,” Mr Faulkner said.
“Without those changes he made to the Labor party at state and federal levels it would have been extremely hard for them to win any election,” he said.
“He made the Labor party electable and I think that’s changed the course of modern Australian politics.”
In discussing the major party reforms of the 1970s, Mr Faulkner mentioned Broken Hill’s role. The city hosted meetings of the NSW and Victorian Labor parties which were disparaged at the time by the press as a ‘Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’.
Mr Faulkner also discussed the part played by Gough’s wife, Margaret, in his political life.
He said Margaret would heckle Gough during his speeches if he was going on for too long, and in later years banged her cane to the same effect.
“When I talk about Gough I do make a point of talking about Margaret as well because, of course, they had a very long partnership, just shy of 70 years’ marriage.
“They shared Labor values and her contribution to the nation was also a very impressive one and warrants being honoured in a speech like this.”
Discussing the Whitlam government’s dismissal by then Governor-General John Kerr, Mr Faulkner’s speech became even more impassioned as he described the “betrayal” Whitlam experienced.
But he said Whitlam never let the later events of his political career get him down, and the man enthralled and engaged everyone he met.
“He was such an engaging and knowledgeable individual, at times forceful about his view, opinionated, but always an incredibly interesting and enlightening experience,” Mr Faulkner said.
“He liked to be the centre of attention; once he was asked in Paris, where he was living as Australian Ambassador to UNESCO, if he missed the ‘fun’ of Canberra. His response was ‘the fun is where I am!’”
At the end of his speech, quite a few of the older listeners approached Mr Faulkner to talk about meeting Whitlam themselves, and it was clear they appreciated his talk.
An exhibit on Gough Whitlam’s life, ‘The Way of the Reformer: Gough Whitlam in His Century’ is on display at the GeoCentre until May 13.