Address to the Whitlam Institute, Parramatta
FRI 01 JUNE 2012
Friends, this year we celebrate the 60thanniversary of Gough’s election to Parliament, which brought into public life one of the finest minds of a great generation.
Gough, who is so well-known for his deep love of literature, was very fond of quoting the last lines of the Inferno, when Dante and Virgil returned from the deep and “came forth to see the stars once again.”
Gough Whitlam is one of those stars, one of those stars for the Australian nation, for the Labor movement and the Labor Party.
Gough Whitlam would surely have become pre-eminent in whatever profession he chose.
If he’d gone into academia, he would have been a vice chancellor; if he’d gone into the law, he would have been a chief justice.
But he chose politics, because he understood its dignity and he saw its possibilities.
He brought a depth of analysis to public affairs grounded, as he expressed it, in “the tradition of optimism about the possibility of human improvement and human progress through the means of human reason.”
They were wise words then, just as they are wise words now.
Friends, in 2012 the “certain grandeur” of our friend Gough Whitlam endures as we celebratethe 40thanniversary of the government that bears his name, while the rancour and pettiness of his opponents pale into merited insignificance.
The thousand days of the Whitlam government were a brilliant, transforming moment – our own touch of Camelot.
Graham Freudenberg once wrote that “Those of us who were there have a duty to educate those who were not.”
Graham and Gough have laid down that record in their writings, their interviews and their lectures.
But it is a story that must speak to future years and future generations as well.
Not only as an artefact of history or literature, but as the inspiration of a living tradition of social action to shape the Australia of tomorrow as Gough has shaped the Australia of today.
So it’s fitting that the Whitlam Institute has found a home here in the region where Gough became the first leader to elevate the needs and aspirations of suburban Australians to the level of national concerns.
Here in the university of which Gough can rightly claim to be the father.
Here, in one of our most important heritage buildings, founded by Governor and Mrs Macquarie to provide care and opportunity for the girls of the new colony.
Indeed, surely there is an appropriate symmetry for me as the first female prime minister of our nation, to be here today to celebrate the fact that more than half the enrolments of this university are now made up of women, many of them migrants and many of them refugees; many more the first in their family to receive the benefits of higher education.
So, it was a wise choice of this venue to host the Whitlam Institute, and my colleagues are here today to celebrate it.
And today we enable the job to be completed with a grant of $7 million to achieve full restoration and functionality of its eastern wing.
That work will include a public library displaying a collection of Gough’s personal books and papers, plus accommodation for the Institute itself.
Perhaps for all of us most poignantly, it will include a public gallery on the top floor named in the honour of Margaret, remembering her lifelong connection with the arts.
And, more broadly, honouring what Gough Whitlam himself called "the longest prime ministerial marriage in Australian history”; a partnership without which the Whitlam legacy cannot even be imagined.
So friends, here today with a contribution from the Federal Government and joined by a contribution from the University itself, we can complete the task began 12 years ago when the University kindly agreed to give the Whitlam Institute a home.
So friends, in these historic walls, one of the nation’s greatest stories can be told and retold, and one of nation’s greatest sons can be esteemed.
Gough, you are in our thoughts today, and we thank you for giving us so much; the men and women of Australia, so much to remember and so much to preserve.