Bad timing for Australia’s most creative social democrat
Gough Whitlam: His Time: The Biography, Volume II
by Jenny Hocking
Miegunyah Press, $49.99 hb, 596 pp, 9780522857931
Jenny Hocking concluded the first volume of her Whitlam biography (2008) on the eve of her subject’s electoral victory in December 1972. Gough Whitlam had been the most effective and creative opposition leader in Australian history: since 1967 he had dragged a protesting Labor party into the second half of the twentieth century; provided the party with a contemporary social democratic agenda; broadened the appeal of the party beyond its historic working-class base; and seen off one Liberal prime minister, with another to follow. The challenge for Hocking in this second volume is to explain how this promise turned to dust and ashes within three years, with Whitlam’s dismissal by the governor-general, followed by electoral repudiation. Meticulous and thorough research, a broad understanding of both the personal and structural factors underlying his government’s failure, and a commanding narrative drive enable Hocking to meet the challenge. There is no better account of how the triumph of 1972 turned into the catastrophe of 1975.