‘He was a man. Take him for all in all, I will not look upon his like again’ - Shakespeare (Hamlet)‘Dying will happen sometime. As you know, I plan for the ages, not just for this life’
– Gough Whitlam, 16 July 1916 to 21 October 2014
The passing of Edward Gough Whitlam, on 21 October 2014 at the age of ninety-eight, has divided the nation neatly into Gough enthusiasts and detractors while generating a tumult of emotions from both camps - an almost spooky re-enactment of the 1975 Dismissal. Whatever the triumphs or shortfalls of his government were, it’s difficult to dispute Whitlam’s role in our country’s development. Labor politician, Tanya Plibersek, stated that it was fitting that Whitlam was Australia’s twenty-first prime minister because it marked our nation’s coming of age. Under Whitlam, Australia changed the way it saw itself, helping to create an open, inclusive, and compassionate society.
In its three short years (1972 to 1975), the Labor government under Whitlam activated, with lightning speed, the policies that engineered social change, dragging Australia into the modern era. For those who remember a pre-Whitlam Australia will recall a dreary and insular period of the White Australia policy, protectionism, and social conservatism; a sleepy, cultural backwater wangled by the Menzies government in the 1950s. Australia bypassed the 1960s altogether. While hippies were experiencing free love and wore flowers in their hair in San Francisco and other parts of the world, Australia was comfortably slumbering in a social and cultural coma. To give a clearer picture, 1960s Australia went something like this:
- left wing political movements were under constant routine surveillance
- James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, was banned, as was Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
- there was no film industry to speak of
- the music scene was a joke
- talented Australians such as Germaine Greer, Clive James, Barry Humphries, Brett Whitley, and The Easybeats left the country to gain recognition elsewhere
- the contraceptive pill was only available to married women
- abortion was illegal
- single mothers, homosexuals, and lesbians were ostracised from mainstream society
- women and children abused in toxic nuclear families were invisible and lived lives of quiet desperation
- women in general were treated as second class citizens and were denied the social and financial opportunities gifted to men
- indigenous and new Australians (Italians, Greeks, and Lebanese) were low on the social and political rung (Aboriginal land rights were not recognised and indigenous people did not have the vote)
By the early 1970s, social change was germinating. While Whitlam was applauded for introducing reforms that were already in place (such as no-fault divorce and the removal of troops from Vietnam) this didn’t prevent him from being extolled as an Agent of Change (Uranus bi-quintile the Ascendant/Uranus quintile Jupiter on the Midheaven/Moon semi-square Pluto). His 1972 political campaign’s catchphrase, It’s Time, adds up to 32/5, which signals a shift in consciousness.
A psychically loaded birthdate – 11 July – expresses Messiah-like qualities. A mythological figure with a penchant for cherishing ideals that weren’t always practical, Whitlam reached for a higher ground (first house Neptune square Jupiter on the Midheaven). An influential 26/8 life path denotes a visionary leader of Roman God proportions with the ability to direct the Australian Labor Party (ALP) out of the wilderness of twenty-three years of conservative rule.
A stellium of planets in Cancer (Sun, Mercury, Venus, Saturn, and Pluto) indicates a strong humanitarian streak. Whitlam was genuinely interested in and concerned about people. He cared deeply and intensely about his country, and had the ability to regenerate it (Scorpio Moon as chart ruler in the fourth house). A fourth house Scorpio Moon can dramatically finish certain life phases; clearly illustrated by the dismissal of Whitlam’s government on 11 November 1975 (transiting Sun eclipsed his natal Moon). Altruism is expressed via the Jupiter conjunct Midheaven quintile Uranus aspect:
‘In spite of repeated disappointments, he never lost that faith in humanity. This, above all, made him such an attractive human being’ – Mungo MacCallum, political journalist
The Whitlam family’s own experience of living in the post war electorate of Werriwa, in Sydney’s western suburbs, highlighted disadvantages in education, health, housing and infrastructure. Whitlam tried to correct the deficiencies that Australians in the new suburbs such as his were facing (even up to the 1970s, Sydney’s outer areas such as Blacktown and Penrith lacked sewerage systems). For Whitlam, government was an instrument to improve life for all Australians. He took public service seriously (Sun conjunct Saturn sextile Jupiter on Midheaven).
A highly physical Taurus in Jupiter sits on the Midheaven. Liberal frontbencher, Malcolm Turnbull, states that what people remember most about Whitlam is ‘a bigness, a generosity, an enormous optimism’. Indeed, at 194 centremetres tall, he was an inescapable human tower of power and fortitude. Smugness is often associated with this aspect. Modesty was never Gough Whitlam’s strong point:‘He was someone who, whether in a small room … or at a public event, everyone else seemed to fade to black and white, while this giant of a man – physically, intellectually – appeared in full colour and dominated wherever he was’ – Anthony Albanese, Labor politician.
As a politician, Whitlam was incorruptible (Jupiter conjunct Midheaven). He shaped public opinion and didn’t pander to focus groups or big business (Jupiter conjunct Midheaven quintile Uranus square Moon semi-square Pluto/Moon quintile North Node). Whitlam possessed an independent mind and a unique way of looking at the world. Quick witted and good with words, he had a wide variety of interests and an impressive body of general knowledge (Mercury sextile Jupiter/Mercury conjunct Pluto), qualities severely lacking in our current batch of political leaders. He also believed that education was the key to equal opportunity.
To list and elaborate on the changes brought about by the Whitlam government would require a sizeable amount of blog space. I don’t need to regurgitate what is already (better) articulated across the internet and in modern history books. But I do need to mention Whitlam’s commitment to culture (Sun, Mercury, Venus, Saturn, and Pluto in Cancer/Venus conjunct Pluto/Venus sextile Jupiter-Midheaven), because it’s one of those formative things that has shaped me, especially the birth of one of his more exciting ventures, that of a youth radio station in 1975 - Double J (now Triple J).
Idealistic young Australians in the late 1970s and 1980s enjoyed the opportunity to form bands and develop their craft free from exorbitant financial constraints. Punk rock, with its anti-establishment philosophy, gained momentum in the mid-1970s as both a musical genre and a lifestyle. This newly found DIY culture influenced kids from the suburbs to create some of Australia’s most innovative and experimental music. Double J was instrumental in giving this underground music a voice. It’s difficult to believe now, but the following bands – some of them considered unlistenable – were on high rotation:
~ Severed Heads ~Tactics ~ Boys Next Door ~ Radio Birdman ~ The Scientists ~The Saints ~ SPK ~ The Riptides ~ Machinations ~ Laughing Clowns ~ The Triffids ~ The Go Betweens ~ David Virgin ~ Primitive Calculators ~ The Stems ~ Died Pretty ~ Sekret Sekret ~ Sardine ~ Do Re Mi ~ X ~ The Eastern Dark ~ Wet Taxis ~ The Celibate Rifles ~ The Sunnyboys ~ Cosmic Pyschos ~ The Hard-Ons ~ The Plunderers ~ Pel Mel ~ Mark of Cain ~ La Femme ~ The Riptides ~ Makers of the Dead Travel Fast ~ The Numbers ~ Toys Went Berserk ~ The Moodists ~ Psychotic Turnbuckles ~ Box of Fish ~ World War 24 ~ The Whitlams (of course) ...
Love or hate him, it’s almost impossible to feel indifferent about Gough Whitlam. I’m not alone in my yearning for that era when politics was open, positive, and about governing citizens, not managing the economy at the cost of civil liberties. The Whitlam government certainly had its flaws, but it always pushed the boundaries of stifling conservatism. Before fear and greed kicked in, vision was still considered an honourable quality in a leader. Gough envisioned that Australia could be a progressive, exciting, and benevolent society where equality of opportunity belonged to everyone. Oh, how far we have fallen. In the name of Edward Gough Whitlam, we need to maintain the rage.