Australians all let us rejoice, for Gough is, thankfully, long gone
2 December 2022
Today is the 50th anniversary of the election of the Whitlam government. The hagiography is coming in a torrent: Whitlam the visionary; Whitlam the courageous; Whitlam the Prime Minister who changed Australia forever; Whitlam the international statesman; Whitlam the victim, politically slain by Sir John Kerr’s ‘coup’.
I was in Grade 5 on December 2, 1972. In a class of forty, the teacher and all but two pupils were starry-eyed Whitlamites, seduced by the It’s Time slogan and the galaxy of TV and pop stars who sang it in that – admittedly – catchily brilliant campaign ad. Even I can still remember its words.
Needless to say, I was one of the remaining two, preferring Tiberius with a telephone, Billy McMahon, to Great Man Gough.
And of course, it’s forgotten today that Whitlam only scraped over the line in 1972, with a nine-seat majority, where Labor’s modest seat gains were almost offset by seat losses, primarily in Western Australia. Even the prospect of voting for a scheming dolt like McMahon didn’t stop millions of Australians from rejecting the Whitlam siren song.
But today, you’d be forgiven to think that Whitlam was elected by unanimous acclamation, such is the mythology of Labor.
Fifty years on from December 1972, Whitlam fanboys and girls yet again reel off his ‘achievements’ which, lumped together, sent the political axis of Australia to the Left where, even despite the Howard years, it has stayed ever since. Indeed, with the sort of social progressivism, wokeness, and economics of the contemporary Green-Left and Labor leaders like Anthony Albanese and Daniel Andrews, that needle is being pushed even further leftwards. If the Liberal party does not regather its centre-right wits soon, that needle will stay permanently in left-wing territory.
Three years later, however, came The Fall. You won’t believe it from the gushing Whitlam worship but, on November 11, 1975, the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief, a relief confirmed by the Coalition’s crushing election win on 13 December.
Clearly, by then the Liberals needed a campaign song that outdid It’s Time so, in a free period at school, second-former me had a stab at an anthem to the tune of Advance Australia Fair. I can’t remember what I did five minutes ago, but I still remember these doggerel words:
Australia’s sons (well, that’s how it was then), let us rejoice
For Gough has come and gone,
He ruined our economy, and still he pulls us down
Our land abounds with Whitlam’s gifts
There are beggars in the streets
In every state, in every vote,
The Libs on the thirteenth
In joyful strains then let us sing
The Libs on the thirteenth.
I posted it to the Liberal campaign, but answer came there none. Perhaps then federal director Tony Eggleton wasn’t as enamoured of it as he should have been, for he instead opted for a jingle sung by the sultry Renee Geyer: Turn on the lights, Australia. But I still reckon mine summed it up better.
The official one was an appropriate slogan, however, because, for even pre-teen conservatives (I was 10 in 1972), the Whitlam years were three long years of darkness. The Dismissal allowed an emergence from a national nightmare for all but the most rusted-on Labor supporters.
So, when you read column after column celebrating Whitlam’s 1972 election as the coming of the Messiah, remember the reality: the incompetence, the chaos, the economic foolishness, the stupidity, the profligacy, the arrogance of Whitlam and his crash-through-or-crash government.
Because they did not deserve the mythology Labor’s ever since woven around a divisive, dangerous, and flawed prime minister. They deserved to crash, and crash they did.