Former Australian MP, and noted philhellene Gough Whitlam passes

Former Australian MP, and noted philhellene passes

Former Australian MP, and noted philhellene Gough Whitlam has died at age 98, remembered as a visionary and a giant of Australian politics by friend and foe alike.

Euthimis Tsiliopoulos
ΓΡΑΦΕΙ: EUTHIMIS TSILIOPOULOS

Former Australian PM Gough Whitlam has died at age 98. He was remembered as a visionary and a giant of Australian politics by friend and foe alike.

A great humanitarian, a significant philhellene with great classical education, a civic reformer and social democrat, the prime minister of Australia during 1972-1975, Gough Whitlam, has passed today at age 98.

On his facebook page, Kostas Karamarkos, who had occasion to meet the late statesman says: “The down and out of Australia, the socially, financially and politically weak of Australia, including Aborigines and migrants, the reformists in this great land of the south, but in other lands as well, won’t let your legacy wither away in the wind Gough.

However, my highlight, my luck, was to be able to seat very close to you on the same table and to hear you tell stories under the Acropolis one night, while you were celebrating your 84th birthday, at a dinner hosteded by the then Secretary General for Greeks Abroad Dimitri Dollis.

You, Margaret, Steve Bracks, who was visiting Greece as Premier of Victoria at the time, a few Australian journalists, all under the Acropolis, at Dionysos by the Acropolis…

You, great reformist, philhellene and story teller, you said a lot, as usual, that night…

What still remains vividly in my memory though, was a story you told us about a Socialist International gathering in Copenhagen Denmark sometime in the 1980s I believe, and what the late Prime Minister of Turkey Bulent Ecevit told you in relation to the second invasion of Cyprus in August 1974…

When Ecevit realised that James Callahan, U.K. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was not in a position to take an independent stand on behalf of Britain, (in a tripartite conference that included the three guarantor powers of Cyprus, namely Britain, Greece and Turkey), without constantly consulting Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State at the time, then…

Ecevit took full advantage of the power vacuum (due to the Watergate scandal) that existed in the US and the British reluctance to have its own independent stand and policy on Cyprus and… Ordered the second invasion of the still occupied island state of Cyprus…

Gough Whitlam. His vision matched the size of Australia, his programme outlasted his governments, his life was well spent.

Gough, you will be remembered by many...

P.S. I was lucky enough again to seat close to Gough Whitlam in the early 2000s, at the Hellenic Club in Canberra, during a function organised by the Hellenic Council of Australia if I remember correctly, where he was recognised for his contributions to Greek and Migrant Australia.”

Mr Whitlam led Australia through a period of massive social change from 1972 to 1975 before his ousting by governor-general Sir John Kerr, in the infamous dismissal episode.

Despite being in power for only three turbulent years, Mr Whitlam launched sweeping reforms of the nation's economic and cultural affairs, cementing his place as one of Australia's most revered leaders.

He stopped conscription, introduced free university education, recognised communist China, pulled troops from Vietnam, abolished the death penalty for federal crimes and reduced the voting age to 18.

"Our father, Gough Whitlam, has died this morning at the age of 98," Mr Whitlam's family said in a statement.

"A loving and generous father, he was a source of inspiration to us and our families and for millions of Australians.

"There will be a private cremation and a public memorial service."

Condolences have flowed in for the former Labor leader, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying he inspired a legion of young people to become involved in public life.

"Gough Whitlam was a giant of his time. He united the Australian Labor Party, won two elections and seemed, in so many ways, larger than life," Mr Abbott said.

Whitlam's achievements and reforms
  • Universal health care through Medibank (now Medicare)

  • Free university education

  • Indigenous land rights

  • Racial Discrimination Act

  • End to conscription

  • Abolition of death penalty

  • Diplomatic recognition of China

  • Family Law Act

  • Legal Aid

  • World's first no-fault divorce procedures

  • Welfare payments for mothers and homeless

  • Reform of Australian Labor Party

  • Launched construction of National Gallery

  • Bought Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles for $1.3m

  • Australian Film Commission

  • Australia Council

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