Gough Whitlam

The Truth of the Palace Letters by Paul Kelly and Troy Bramston & The Palace Letters by Jenny Hocking

by
January–February 2021, no. 428

In April 2011, the landmark High Court victory of four elderly Kenyans revealed a dark episode in British colonial history. Between 1952 and 1960, barbaric practices, including forced removal and torture, were widely employed against ‘Mau Mau’ rebels, real or imagined. Upon the granting of independence in 1963, thousands of files documenting such atrocities were ‘retained’ by the British authorities, eventually coming to rest in the vast, secret Foreign and Commonwealth Office archives at Hanslope Park. Now a small portion of that archive was opened to scrutiny, and a tiny ray of light shone on one of history’s greatest cover-ups.

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In 1975 the governor general, John Kerr, removed a democratically elected Labor government, amid great intrigue and subterfuge. The dismissal of the Whitlam government remains one of the blights on our democracy – perhaps the most controversial event in Australian political history. And yet the full record of what happened in the weeksand months leading up to the dismissal is still unavailable to Australian citizens because of the intransigence of Queen Elizabeth and the expensive lengths to which the National Archives of Australia have gone to suppress access to John Kerr’s correspondence with Buckingham Palace.

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The dismissal of the Whitlam government by the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, on 11 November 1975 was one of the most tumultuous and controversial episodes in Australian political history. The government had been elected on 2 December 1972 and returned at the May 1974 double dissolution, with Whitlam becoming the first Labor leader to achieve successive electoral victories.

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On his first day in Australia's foreign service in 1961, Stephen FitzGerald was told to learn the language of the enemy: 'a country we have no diplomatic relations with, which our government denounces as an aggressor, instigator of subversion in Southeast Asia and major threat to Australia.' He took on the assignment with apprehension. China was completely foreign t ...

I have never met an Aussie I didn’t like.’ The half-compliment was the best President Richard Nixon could muster during a restrained exchange with Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in the Oval Office in July 1973. After the turbulent build-up to this meeting, rivetingly conveyed in James Curran’s history Unholy Fury: Whitlam and Nixon at War, one almost expe ...

Edward Gough Whitlam bestrode the Australian political stage like a colossus for over a generation: first as federal Opposition leader, then as prime minister, and finally as martyr. A legend in his own lifetime, this last role threatens to turn him into myth. More books have been written on aspects of his short and turbulent government than on any other in Australian history. There are already three biographies: a competent quickie by journalist Laurie Oakes in 1976; an eloquent political biography by his speechwriter Graham Freudenberg in 1977; and a psychobiography by the political scientist James Walter in 1980, which depicts Whitlam in terms of a particular personality type – the grandiose narcissist.

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This is a massive book, as large in scale as the author himself, running to over 700 pages, and – at a rough estimate – to something like 300,000 words of text, lightened only by a few photographs, all of them of Gough Whitlam with friends and enemies.

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