I rise this afternoon to pay my respects to Margaret Elaine Whitlam, a significant figure in the political history Australia and whose passing aged 92 will be mourned by many.
Born on November 19, 1919 in Bondi, Margaret was the daughter of NSW Supreme Court Justice Wilfred Dovey and his wife, Mary.
Margaret was a talented swimmer, having finished 6th in the 220 yards breaststroke at the 1938 Empire Games in Sydney and was studying social work when she met Gough in 1939.
It was at a Sydney University Dramatic Society Christmas Party where the relationship kicked off. Of that night spent dancing she was to say, ‘that was it for both of us.’
There began what became an adventure and a romance of a lifetime, including nearly 70 years of marriage.
As an outsider looking in, Margaret Whitlam appeared to be so much more than the wife of a Prime Minister, indeed, the first Labor wife to be in The Lodge for 23 years.
She was a constant for the community, actively engaged in the arts, with the environment and with broader social service.
This included as a director of the Sydney Dance Company, the boards of Australian Opera and the New South Wales State Library, chair of the National Council for International Literacy Year, a goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO, the board of the ACT Council of Social Service and I am sure many, many more roles too numerous to mention.
On top of this Margaret Whitlam wrote for Woman’s Day and was a regular on television talk shows.
As the Prime Minister’s wife, she would also travel the world with Gough and I have read reports of her being feted abroad. She conducted her own press conference, which opened with the words, ‘Ask me an outrageous question and I’ll give you an outrageous answer.’
This irreverence and frankness is one of the endearing traits that made the Whitlams not only successful but also admired.
Today I respect one of Labor's truly endearing, and esteemed, national figures. It is true my politics is at a different end of the spectrum to theirs, but this does not diminish the respect I have for their long and significant contribution to Australian public life.
Margaret Whitlam’s support for women and women’s causes, including equal pay and abortion law reform, is to be admired.
So too her deep and abiding affection and support for her husband, and the role he sought to play, is something to behold.
Margaret Whitlam once said she wanted to be remembered as a ‘fair, tolerant and reasonably patient person.’ No doubt she will be remembered for all of this, and much, much more.
Margaret Whitlam left an indelible mark on Australian society and will be greatly missed.
My condolences go out to Gough and the entire Whitlam family, including children Antony, Nick, Stephen and Catherine.
I wish you all only good health and you can be assured your mother’s memory and contribution will forever live on.