Gough Whitlam

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Gough Whitlam : biography

11 July 1916 –

In 1918, Fred Whitlam was promoted to deputy Crown solicitor and transferred to Sydney. The family lived first in the North Shore suburb of Mosman and then in Turramurra. At age six, Gough began his education at Chatswood Church of England Girls School (early primary schooling at a girls’ school was not unusual for small boys at the time). After a year there, he attended Mowbray House School and Knox Grammar School, in the suburbs of Sydney.

Fred Whitlam was promoted again in 1927, this time to Assistant Crown solicitor. The position was located in the new national capital of Canberra, and the Whitlam family moved there. Gough Whitlam remains the only Prime Minister to have spent his formative years in Canberra. At the time, conditions remained primitive in what was dubbed "the bush capital" and "the land of the blowflies". Gough, who had always attended a private school, was sent to the government-run Telopea Park School, since no other school was available. In 1932, Fred Whitlam transferred his son to Canberra Grammar School, where, at the 1932 Speech Day ceremony, Gough Whitlam was awarded a prize by Governor-General Sir Isaac Isaacs.

Whitlam enrolled at St. Paul’s College at the University of Sydney at the age of 18. He earned his first wages by appearing, with several other "Paulines", in a cabaret scene in the film The Broken Melody—the students were chosen because St. Paul’s requires formal wear at dinner, and they could therefore supply their own costumes. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree with second-class honours in Classics, Whitlam remained at St. Paul’s to begin his law studies; he had originally contemplated an academic career, but his lacklustre marks made that unlikely. Dropping out of Greek classes, he professed himself unable to care for the "dry as dust" lectures of Professor Enoch Powell.Grosz, Chris; Maloney Shane: The Monthly, No 77, April 2012

Early political career

Candidate and backbencher

With his war service loan, Whitlam built a house in seaside Cronulla. He also bought the block of land next door, using the prize money (£1,000 in security bonds) he received for winning the Australian National Quiz Championship in 1948 and 1949 (he was runner-up in 1950). He sought to make a career in the ALP there, but local Labor supporters were sceptical of Whitlam’s loyalties, given his privileged background. In the postwar years, he practised law, concentrating on landlord/tenant matters, and sought to build his bona fides in the party. He ran twice–unsuccessfully–for the local council, once (also unsuccessfully) for the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, and campaigned for other candidates. In 1951, Bert Lazzarini, the Labor member for the Federal electorate of Werriwa, announced that he would stand down at the next election. Whitlam won the preselection as ALP candidate. Lazzarini died in 1952 before completing his term and Whitlam was elected to the House of Representatives in the ensuing by-election on 29 November 1952. Whitlam trebled Lazzarini’s majority in a 12 per cent swing to Labor.

Whitlam joined the ALP minority in the House. His maiden speech provoked an interruption by future Prime Minister John McEwen, who was told by the Speaker that maiden speeches are traditionally heard in silence. Whitlam responded to McEwen by stating that Benjamin Disraeli had been heckled in his maiden speech, and had responded, "The time will come when you shall hear me". He told McEwen, "The time will come when you may interrupt me". According to early Whitlam biographers Laurie Oakes and David Solomon, this cool response put the Coalition government on notice that the new Member for Werriwa would be a force to be reckoned with.

In the rough and tumble debate in the House of Representatives, Whitlam called fellow MHRs Bill Bourke "this grizzling Quisling", Garfield Barwick (who would, as High Court Chief Justice, play a role in Whitlam’s downfall) a "bumptious bastard", and stated that William Wentworth exhibited a "hereditary streak of insanity". After he stated that future Prime Minister William McMahon was a "quean", he apologised.