Gough Whitlam was an Australian politician who was the 21st Prime Minister of Australia from 1972 to 1975. The Leader of the Labour Party from 1967 to 1977, Whitlam led Labour to power for the first time in 23 years at the 1972 election.

He was born on July 11, 1916 at Kew in Melbourne. He was educated at Mowbray House School, Canberra Grammar School and the University of Sydney.

He was very happily married to Margaret and had four children: Nicholas Whitlam, Tony Whitlam, Stephen Whitlam, Catherine Whitlam.

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He died: October 21, 2014 at Elizabeth Bay, Sydney

Gough Whitlam was Prime Minister of Australia for only 1071 days – however he nevertheless managed to sign off on a number of significant reforms, including universal healthcare, free university education, Indigenous land rights, no-fault divorce, diplomatic recognition of China and end of conscription.

Whitlam’s reforms were so wide-ranging that it’s easy to overlook some of his lesser known but no less significant achievements.

The Whitlam government had a heavy emphasis on sexual equality, pushing for equal pay for women, establishing the single mother’s benefit, and appointing a women’s adviser to the Prime Minister. He also was behind the  granting independence to Papua New Guinea. Papua had been administered by the Australian government since 1906 and New Guinea since 1919. The Whitlam government started the process of decolonisation shortly after its election in 1973, with full independence for Papua New Guinea achieved just two years later on September 16, 1975.

He was the father of Aboriginal land rights in Australia He left the political scene decades ago, but Aborigines still — and always will acknowledge him as the father of land rights in Australia. The Rirratjingu clan of northeast Arnhem Land recently held a small smoking ceremony in his memory, led by Yothu Yindi founder Wityana Marika, and grieved for the man who forced white law to recognise Australia’s first people.

The Aboriginal Land Rights Commission, also known as the Woodward Royal Commission, existed 1973 to 1974 with the purpose to inquire into appropriate ways to recognise Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory. The Commission was chaired by Justice Edward Woodward, who was appointed to the role by Gough Whitlam.

In 1972 at the launch of his party’s election campaign, Gough Whitlam, as Labor Opposition Leader, promised if elected to legislate for Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory of Australia. When elected, rather than introduce a national land rights law, the Whitlam Government chose instead to establish a precedent in the Commonwealth controlled Northern Territory. Justice Woodward was appointed as Aboriginal Land Rights Commissioner in February 1973 to inquire into appropriate ways to recognise Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory. The Northern Land Council and Central Land Council were established in the same year to assist with the work of the Commission.

Woodward’s final report as Aboriginal Land Rights Commissioner, presented to the Australian Government in April 1974 was based on the land councils’ submissions. The 1974 report found:

That all Aboriginal reserve lands should be returned to the Aboriginal inhabitants

That Aboriginal Australians had claim to other vacant crown land if they could prove traditional ties with the land

That Aboriginal land and Aboriginal sacred sites were to be protected

That Aboriginal land and Aboriginal land councils were to be set up to administer Aboriginal land

That entry to Aboriginal land for mining or tourism would be subject to Aboriginal control

That mining and other developments on Aboriginal land should proceed only with the permission of the Aboriginal land owners

That if mining companies were allowed to go ahead and mine in Aboriginal lands, the mining companies would be required to pay royalties to the traditional land owners

In 1976, the Fraser Government passed The Aboriginal Land Rights Act that allowed Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory to make claims on land to which they could prove traditional ties. The Land Rights Act is largely the product of Justice Woodward’s recommendations. At the time Whitlam came to power in 1972, Aborigines in northeast Arnhem Land were reeling from the 1971 Milirrpum v Nabalco case in the Northern Territory Supreme Court, which found that they had no sovereign rights to their land.

Gough Whitlam was the son of a solicitor who became a leading public servant, his background was unusual for a Labor man when he joined the party in 1945. In those days, many of the leading Labor personalities were Irish Catholics from working class background. Whitlam, an intellectual from an intellectual family, had never had to toil for his wages in the dust and heat.

In 1927 the Whitlams were among the first public service families to settle permanently in Canberra. Gough Whitlam completed his education at Canberra schools and at the University of Sydney, where he graduated in Arts and Law.

In 1941 he joined the RAAF. When he was discharged, his beliefs in progress and reform inspired him to join the Labor Party, although he had no intention of making a career in politics. He began to make a name as a successful barrister however impatience for national progress caused him to make a bid for a State Parliament seat in 1950 and, two years later, to win a by-election for the federal seat of Werriwa. He was to hold this seat, for more than 20 years and it gave him intimate knowledge of the needs and problems of Australian urban communities.

Whitlam entered Parliament at a time when successive Liberal-Country Party victories were shaking ‘old-style’ Labor to the roots. He was to encounter opposition from the old guard as he climbed steadily upward but, by 1967, he was leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party.

He backed his election campaign with an armoury of many promises of reform, including an end to conscription and withdrawal from Vietnam, equal opportunities for women, vastly increased funding for education and the arts, a harder line toward South Africa, recognition of Communist China, urban renewal, universal health insurance, revisions to the family law and improvements to public transport. He was to keep these and many other promises.

In 1972 Whitlam was the right man at the right time but after a while the ‘new’ Labor was bombarded by rocketing oil prices and it began to run out of financial fuel. Some members of Whitlam’s government, including Rex Connor and Jim Cairns, defied the Constitution in a secret attempt to raise a $2 billion overseas loan.  The two men gave misleading answers to challenges from a revamped Opposition, led by Malcolm Fraser, and Whitlam was forced to demote them.

Whitlam, campaigned against a background of rising unemployment and Fraser, determined to force a dissolution of Parliament, contrived a Senate blockage of Labor’s 1975 budget.

Whitlam still thought he would ride out the storm and, on 11 November 1975, he tried to present a plan of action to Governor-General Sir John Kerr. But Kerr demanded: “Are you prepared to recommend a general election?” When Whitlam refused, Kerr said: “In that case, I have no alternative but to dismiss you.”

Kerr commissioned Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister and the coalition won a resounding victory in the December elections.