Goodbye Gough and thanks

We don’t normally acknowledge the passing of historic figures but for those of us who lived through the Whitlam era, and the years before it, it would be remiss not to say something.

When the Whitlam Labor Government was elected in December 1972, after 23 years of conservative rule, within days the Government had abolished conscription, withdrawn troops from Vietnam, banned sporting ties with South Africa, recognised China and, after 23 years of inertia and forelock tugging, these were exciting days, never really reproduced.

Then followed the establishment of universal free health care through Medibank, the introduction of needs-based school funding, extending tertiary education and making it free, reforming family law, boosting the arts, indexing pensions, supporting equal pay for women, voting at 18, one vote-one value and aboriginal land rights. He removed sales tax on contraceptives and broke the cultural cringe and obsequiousness to Britain by introducing an Australian honours system and a new national anthem. He made relations with Asia a priority and the extraction from the Vietnam war ended Australia’s flirtation with following the US into military folly not revived until Howard invaded Iraq. Australia grew up.

It wasn’t without mistakes (after all, he appointed John Kerr as Governor General) but it was a privilege and a joy to live through this exciting era.

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