Celebrating Gough

Once a generation many nations produce a politician bigger than the mere mortals they serve.

The USA worshipped John Kennedy in the 60s and more than 300,000 people lined the approach to Westminster Hall, London to farewell Winston Churchill in 1965. In neighbouring New Zealand, David Lange was a leader who was larger than life. And back home in Australia, Gough Whitlam was our man. Distance and darkness have been less than kind to the Whitlam government, with only his economic incompetence seen by many as a lasting legacy.

Yet there was so very much more that Whitlam did for this country and the new documentary, Whitlam: The Power and the Passion, explores his impact in gratifying detail. It’s also a fabulous trip down memory lane which reminded me that the 60s and 70s really were that exciting – and the baby boomer generation did herald a time of incredible change. Many well-known Australians from both sides of the political fence were interviewed about their memories of Gough Whitlam and his government.

Interestingly, they are named as their ‘role’ at the time, with Andrew Denton as ‘schoolchild’ and George Negus as ‘university student’. Major controversies from the time, including the Vietnam War, national conscription, our relationship with the USA and the rise of feminism, are reminders of how much progress we have made. The introduction of free tertiary education meant an entire generation had access to something previously available only to the very rich or gifted.

So many reforms to celebrate. But Whitlam and his government were not without faults and it is these we expect to see cause his downfall in episode two next week.

The first episode of Whitlam: The Power and the Passion screened on ABC1 at 7.30pm last Sunday, but you can still catch up on ABC iView before the second half at the same time on Sunday 2 June.

Read more about this compelling documentary.

If you missed Whitlam: The Power & The Passion when it screened on the ABC, fear not, we’re giving you the chance to win one of five copies on DVD. All you have to do is email us at [email protected] with the answer to the question below. Don’t forget to include your full name and postal address.

Q. What was Andrew Denton doing at the time Gough Whitlam was in power?

Written by Kaye Fallick