Skip to main content

Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam, AC, QC

In July 1998 Mr Whitlam, former Prime Minister of Australia, became the Foundation Patron of Australia’s first prime ministerial library.

Mr Whitlam has had a long-standing personal involvement with cultural heritage institutions throughout the years. In supporting the JCPML, its aims and objectives, he and Mrs Whitlam had travelled to Western Australia each year to participate in the JCPML Anniversary events and attend openings of our major exhibitions in the John Curtin Gallery.

Their commitment to the JCPML had been invaluable to the development of the library and its programs, and their personal involvement had been a source of inspiration.

Mr Whitlam had generously donated copyright in his John Curtin Memorial Lectures and the inaugural JCPML Anniversary Lecture he presented in 1998 to enable open access to this material by researchers.

In announcing his retirement as active Patron of the JCPML in 2008, Mr Whitlam said ‘As long as I was sufficiently mobile I greatly enjoyed being the patron of a foundation honouring the Australian Prime Minister who took the initial steps to ensure that World War Two would be succeeded by more effective structures than those which succeeded World War One.’

Mr Whitlam had agreed to continue to hold the title of Foundation Patron of the JCPML, as recognition of his contribution over more than a decade.

Brief Biography

Gough Whitlam was Australia’s 21st Prime Minister, leading the nation from December 1972 to November 1975. He was born in the Melbourne suburb of Kew in 1916. He completed his arts degree at the University of Sydney. Mr Whitlam’s law studies were interrupted by World War II and he served in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) from 1942 to 1945. Following the war, Mr Whitlam completed his law degree and was admitted to the New South Wales and Federal Courts as Barrister.

In 1945, Mr Whitlam joined the Australian Labor Party and held the seat of Werriwa in the House of Representatives from 1952. He retained the seat of Werriwa through 11 federal elections over the next 25 years. Mr Whitlam was known as one of parliament’s most articulate members.  From 1967 to 1972 he was the elected Leader of the ALP. As Leader of the Opposition he led the reform of the ALP platform, seeking to modernize the party’s views by emphasising urban development, housing, education, foreign affairs and health.

From 1972 to 1975 Mr Whitlam served as Prime Minister of Australia. His was the first Labor government after more than two decades. He was the first prime minister to visit the People’s Republic of China. The Whitlam government drew on international agreements to develop programs for human rights, the environment and conservation and fostered Australian participation in international organizations. They initiated Australia’s first federal legislation on human rights, the environment and heritage. Following the Dismissal of his government by the Governor General in 1975, Mr Whitlam served as Leader of the Opposition for two years and remained in Parliament until 1978.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Mr Whitlam has received many honours and held many public positions. In 1976 he was awarded the Socialist International Silver Plate of Honor and in 1978 he received the Companion of the Order of Australia. From 1983 to 1986 the Hawke government appointed him as the Australian Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris. He was the first national visiting fellow of the Australian National University and a visiting professor at Harvard University and the University of Adelaide. In 1985 he was appointed to Australia’s Constitutional Commission. He was Chairman of the Australia-China Council from 1986 to 1991 and chairman of the Council of the National Gallery of Australian from 1987 to 1990. In 1988 he was named Member of Honour by the World Conservation Union and chaired the General Assembly of the World Heritage Convention. He was awarded the Redmond Barry Award by the Australian Library & Information Association in 1994 in recognition of his outstanding service to cultural institutions. In 1995, both Gough and his wife Margaret were part of the team bidding for Sydney to host the 2000 Olympics.

Since 2000 he had been involved in the development of the Whitlam Institute at the University of Western Sydney, who hold his papers from his public life. He is the author of numerous publications dealing with government and the law including The Truth of the Matter (1979), The Whitlam Government 1972-1975 (1985) and Abiding Interests (1997).

The Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam died 21 October 2014.

The biographical information is referenced from the National Archives of Australia web resource Australia’s Prime Ministers.