I was twenty years old when I voted for the first time in
December 1949 .
Bob Menzies replaced Ben Chifley at that election and I didn't appreciate at the time, of course, what a momentous change it was to become. After the 16 years of Menzies that followed, there were another 6 years of dreary conservative Prime Ministers (Holt, Mc Ewan (for 23 days), Gorton and Mc Mahon) before the Men and Women of Australia decided It was Time and elected the Whitlam government only weeks before Xmas 1972.
During those 22 years of conservative governments I had been apprenticed to Harry Seidler, spent six years working in London and Montreal, and on my return, together with George Clarke and Peter Yeomans, had set up an architectural and planning practice in 1960 that worked all around Australia in the years that followed.
At university my political background had developed on the Left and as a planner I believed that the only way to get meaningful urban planning and good development in our cities was by strong State involvement to represent the public interest and counter balance strong commercial imperatives.
So after twenty plus years of conservative governments I was euphoric at Gough's election and that at last our wretched involvement in Vietnam was over, along with all the other things that followed in such quick succession.
I remember Gough particularly for two small personal contacts.
One day in mid 1972 in the lead up to the election we had a call out of the blue from Gough Whitlam, then Leader of the Opposition. A number of his policies were concerned about the problems of our cities, he said, and as he understood we were the leading urban planners he would like to pick our brains over lunch at the University Club. The meeting followed a few days later, it was a vigorous and practical discussion with him seeking opinions and references about everything, a few items that were hard to get he asked to borrow and copy. We were impressed with the range of his opinions and his openness and willingness to learn.
There was no follow up to that meeting, he won the election and his famous first hundred days of policy catch-up followed.
My second contact with Gough was twelve months later during the design stage converting Martin Place into a pedestrian area. As part of the planning process, property owners were invited to comment and object to what was being proposed. The Commonwealth Bank on the corner of Pitt Street and Martin Place in Stage 2 contained offices used by Federal Ministers and the officer who replied demanded that five dedicated parking spaces for commonwealth cars should be provided within the pedestrian areas where they could wait for the politicians who, he said, were often delayed. It was not only bad planning but bad politics, and unnecessary as there was ample dedicated kerb space in Pitt Street 50 metres away where cars could wait.
I sent the Bank's drawing to Gough with a note suggesting that taking up public space in the new plaza with chauffeur driven black cars waiting for politicians wasn't a good image. By return mail I received back a copy of the Bank's drawing I'd sent him on which he had inscribed in his bold handwriting 'Desist immediately! Gough Whitlam. It had been sent directly to the officer concerned and I heard no more about it.
Both these small matters were handled with a minimum of fuss in an intelligent and efficient way that augured well I thought, for the future of the new government. Alas twenty two years out of office and saddled with a number of bitter old Labor men and aided and abetted by Mr Khemlani, an intransigent Opposition refusing supply and the Governor General it was not to be.
Gough himself made mistakes like East Timor of course, and he wasn't interested much in the economy and we had to wait for Hawke and Keating to start to deal with that. But there have been few politicians like him in my lifetime, and he impinged on all our lives in all sorts of good ways as set down below. Most people in my generation remember where they were when Kennedy was assassinated and the Twin Towers were brought down. …… and where they were when Gough was sacked.
Gough was born in 46 Rowland Street in Kew. The house had been was slated for demolition until Planning Minister Matthew Guy issued an 'Interim Protection Order for the birthplace of Australia's 21st Prime Minister, the late Gough Whitlam".
Julianne Bell records in her blog that before the Minister belatedly acted to protect the house from demolition, flowers had been placed on the fence along with the following tribute from an anonymous donor:
"Edward Gough Whitlam
Thank you for bringing my brother home from Vietnam.
Thank you for my university education.
Thank you for my health care.
Thank you for fostering the arts and giving me pride in my country.
You are honoured in China for being the father of normalising relations with that nation.
Born in this house, how sad and ironic that your birthplace is being torn down by an international investor.
Rest in peace."
VALE GOUGH WHITLAM.