Gough was a personal inspiration and idol. He inspired my own politicisation and life-long efforts to work towards a more socially just, equitable society, free of discrimination on the basis of race, religion or gender. A society, where access to education from primary school through to University was free and of high quality. A society that ensured access to health care for all. A society, where the Arts were valued and Australia found its voice via literature and the performing and visual arts.
I well remember the 1972 "It's Time" campaign. It was a truly exciting and liberating moment in history. I was thirteen. My parents were Labor voters as were my maternal grandparents. I grew up under the shadow of the Vietnam War, with two much older brothers and their peers living under the shadow of the birthday ballot for conscription. The election of the Whitlam Government ended conscription and Australia's participation in that war. He also freed seven men from prison who were incarcerated for refusing to go to war.
Personally, the Whitlam government opened the door for me to go to university, one of many young women, for whom Gough's policies ensured we enjoyed the same privilleges and access to education as our brothers. Ours was by then a single income family, living on the fairly low income of my dad's wage as a men's wear salesman. Free university enabled me to take my place in society, empowered by a tertiary education and access to a career in teaching, where I continued to pursue and inspire the ideals Gough made explicit in Australian society.
I was the first woman on either side of my family to go to university; a fact that was celebrated by my family at the time I graduated with my Bachelor of Arts in Humanities; for that I owe my undying gratitude to the Whitlam government!
The Whitlam government instantly doubled funding for The Arts. They restructured and revitalised the Australia Council and set up the Australian Film Commission. This meant, for the first time in my experience of the history of Australia, we began to hear Australian accents and voices reflecting our culture in film and on television. Films like 'The Adventures of Barry Mackenzie', 'Alvin Purple' and the far more serious 'Picnic at Hanging Rock', 'My Brilliant Career' and 'The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith', as well as ' Breaker Morant' and 'Galipoli' all owe their production and success to these halcyon years of the 'Second-Wave' of the Australian film industry made possible by Gough and his leadership team. That we continue to produce and indeed have gained a significant place amongst the film-makers, actors, directors, cinematographers and more within the international film industry, owes its renaissance and success to Gough's commitment and valueing of Australian identity and culture!
As a Drama teacher, the Whitlam government gave the seed funding to Melbourne's legendary Pram Factory and the Melbourne Performance Group. At Deakin University, where I studied Drama, former members of these pivitol, landbreaking performance companies led my own journey as a custodian and facilatator of Australian performing Arts within Victorian schools for the next thirty years.
The Whitlam government also ended the days of reactionary censorship, including banning of literature and films on grounds of overt sexual content. Whilst on our family's bookshelves were copies of then banned books, such as D H Lawrence's 'Lady Chatterly's Lover' and Frank Hardy's 'Power Without Glory', smuggled illegally into our home via my family's left connections, most Australians could not read such classic masterpieces until Gough's government caterpaulted censorship laws to match progressive values and ideals.
New Australian television productions, like Number 96 and the Box, that we regularly watched at home, would have been banned on the grounds of overt sexual content and the inclusion of gay characters, prior to Whitlam's sweeping and inclusive social reforms and agenda!
As an Australian with Greek, German as well as Scottish, Irish and English ancestry, the policies of the Whitlam government allowed us to celebrate our non British ancestry with equal pride for its contribution to and within our society for the first time. I remember having a very soft spot, for the Whitlam government's minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Al Grassby, whom I was later to meet and befriend. Those of us with non-exclusive British decent could now proudly take our place within a multicultural Australia, instead of being tarred with ignobling 'New Australian' or 'deigo' tags. Again, within my teaching I championed multicultural education and valuing of the diverse cultural experience of all the students I taught. Believe me, working in schools with up to 97% of students from non-English speaking backgrounds, without Multicultural, anti racial discrimanation policies established under the Whitlam government, my job as a teacher would have been much harder and several generations of young Australians would have been marginalised and disenfranchised, rather than taking their place at the centre of our community. As well, Whitlam became champion to Greek Australians for working towards the return to Greece of the Elgin Marbles, stolen by the British from the Acropolis in Athens and housed in the British Museum. This made my Greek Australian grandfather particularly happy!
Gough's government also legislated for 'Equal Pay for Equal Work' of women. This meant I entered the work force at full pay rates for jobs I undertook, unlike my grandmother's, mother's and even brothers generations who until 1973 were paid at 2/3rds of the male award rate. Women were also dimissed from their employment after marriage, it being presumed that their husbands would 'keep them', whilst they looked after the home and bore children.Under the guidance of Gough and his openly feminist wife Margaret all this changed. Margaret herself was an empowering role model for women in Australia and Gough fully supported and endorsed women's liberation and emancipation. He began moving Australia from a patriarchal society to one where gender inclusiveness was vital, though sadly, the reality, for Australian women, took years to catch up to the ideals of his legislative reforms. Even now we still have a long way to go!
Another item that was high on Whitlam's agenda and also close to my own heart, was recognition of Australia's Aboriginal and Islander peoples. He started upon an agenda of reform and inclusion that continues to this day.
Meanwhile, the Whitlam government delivered universal health care, via Medibank, now Medicare. This was a key reform and ongoing legacy, that ensured Australians would not be forced into poverty, or lose everything as a result of ill health or injury. My own Pa Ludbrook, suffered the loss of a lifetime savings whilst nursing his wife Elsa,in the 1950s, through a prolonged battle with uterine cancer.
Gough achieved so much in three short years of goverment. His untimely dismissal from Australian politics soured my own view of politics for many years and annually, on Rememberence Day, November 11th, set aside to remember the victims of war and Australian service men and women, my own thoughts invariably turn first to Gough Whitlam and his extraordinary government! Well shall we remember you Gough!
Thankyou Gough, for the rich legacy you have made to Australian identity and culture and to the shaping of the person I am today!