Gough Whitlam praised at memorial service in Sydney Town Hall

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28 Oct 2018

TRIBUTE: Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody perform indigenous land rights anthem From Little Things, Big Things Grow at Gough Whitlam’s memorial service in Sydney.GOUGH Whitlam has been warmly remembered as a visionary leader in a celebration of the life of a giant of Australian politics.
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Mr Whitlam was farewelled in a two-hour memorial service in Sydney’s Town Hall before prime ministers past and present, his family and admirers.

His former political speechwriter and confidant Graham Freudenberg, indigenous leader Noel Pearson, his eldest child Tony Whitlam and actor Cate Blanchett all provided touching tributes.

The speeches focused on Mr Whitlam’s enduring legacy, his many reforms and his legendary wit.

‘‘Optimism, enthusiasm, confidence against fear, prejudice, conformity – that is his enduring message to the men and women of Australia – never more than now,’’ Mr Freudenberg said to applause. ‘‘You would go to the barricades with such a man.’’

Former Whitlam press secretary and ABC personality Kerry O’Brien, MC of the event, told the high-powered audience that Whitlam himself chose the venue for his send-off.

But his first choice was a funeral pyre in the Senate.

‘‘He rather liked the idea of taking the upper house with him,’’ Mr O’Brien quipped in reference to Mr Whitlam’s problems in the Senate that contributed to his political demise.

Indigenous leader Noel Pearson said Mr Whitlam transformed the lives of indigenous Australians.

He referred to Mr Whitlam affectionately as ‘‘the old man’’ as he spoke of his plethora of reforms.

‘‘Apart from all this, what did the Romans ever do for us,’’ he quipped in reference to Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody performed indigenous land rights anthem From Little Things, Big Things Grow.

Mr Whitlam’s son Tony joked his father would have loved to have spoken at his own service.

‘‘But the rules of the game necessarily disqualify him,’’ he said.

‘‘That is just as well because I gather the Town Hall is booked tomorrow.’’

Labor stalwart and his closest friend in his final days, John Faulkner, said Mr Whitlam wasn’t without his faults.

He recounted Mr Whitlam’s famous wit when he set off a metal detector at an airport and blamed his ‘‘aura’’.

Blanchett said she was only three when Mr Whitlam rose to power but his death had caused her great sorrow.

‘‘The loss I felt came down to something very deep and very simple,’’ she said.

‘‘I am the beneficiary of free tertiary education.’’

Blanchett also paid tribute to Mr Whitlam’s women’s rights reforms, introduction of free health care and arts policies.

‘‘I was but three when he passed by but I shall be grateful until the day I die,’’ she said in a nod to late prime minister Robert Menzies’s famous tribute to the Queen.

The service was screened outside Town Hall, Melbourne’s Federation Square and in his old electorate, the southwestern Sydney suburb of Cabramatta.

Flags on the Sydney Harbour Bridge are flying at half-mast.

Mr Whitlam died on October 21 at the age of 98 and was cremated in a private funeral last week.

There was confusion before the service with organisers accused by mourners of botching the ceremony as they were turned away at the door.

‘‘I think it was a poor decision to have it here,’’ Arthur Crutchfield, 75, told AAP, unaware the venue was his hero’s choice.

‘‘You could have filled up the Sydney Cricket Ground, ANZ Stadium.’’

AAP

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