Gough Whitlam was fond of replying to requests for interviews from historians by saying that all the answers could be found in the archives. ‘Go to the documents, comrade’, was his refrain. However, official documents rarely tell the whole story, particularly those from the modern era, whose authors are conscious that their words could so easily be exposed to public scrutiny. In particular, they are usually bereft of the innermost thoughts and motivations of the politicians and public servants. By contrast, politicians’ diaries can be goldmines. Written contemporaneously, an unguarded diary entry can transform our understanding of people and events.