Bandung to Bali iX- the Great Gough Whitlam and me – 17 February 1973

After tea Dad says we have to stay at the table as he has something exciting to tell us.

Not another baby I think to myself. (That was what happened last time we had to stay at the table and get some exciting news.)

“Well,” starts Dad, “First of all – you all know our new Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam?”

Tony and I nod earnestly. Tony can recite all the Kings and Queens of England and all the Prime Ministers of England and Australia too. 

“Well our new Prime Minister is a great man and all of our lives are going to change because of him,” Dad declares.

Mum’s mouth goes into a tight smile. Dad teases her that she 

voted for old Billy Big Ears. Mum says it’s a secret who you vote for and no-one else’s business.

Try as we might it is hard to see how the new Prime Minister is really that exciting but he is fun to watch on the telly.

“Is he the one with the really big head?” asks Matt slowly.

“Yes Matt I suppose he does have quite a big head.” Dad sighs.

Dad was over the moon at the election last year. He says voting for Labour is like barracking for The Cats – you have to really believe in them to keep doing it.

“Last year I sent off a letter asking the government for money to do some work for them and Gough Whitlam has said yes!”

“The money is so I can go and study in Indonesia!” Dad effuses. “And I have some extra leave from work so we can all go together.”

“Did you get a letter from Gough?” Tony realises how important this is.

“Do we have to go to school?” Matt looks bright eyed.

“No, I got a letter from someone in the Department of Education and no, we don’t know about schools in Indonesia yet. You might all have to do school at home.”

“When do we have to go?” I have a hundred questions in my head. I want to be a vet and now I’m not going to go to school?

“We’ll be going in April and we have lots to do. But the most important thing is you will all have to learn Indonesian and learn about the country,” Dad tells us.

Dad gets the big Philips Atlas from the bookshelf and lifts it up onto the table. He opens out the page on Indonesia. It is the most beautiful map in the whole world – all the islands stretch and spin around the pages.

“We’re going to fly all the way to here,” Dad says

Dad bends over the map and makes a long arc from Melbourne to Jakarta. 

“And we’re going to live here,” traces his finger a little way south-east of Jakarta.

“Bandung,” he says.


Gough Whitlam was elected in December 1972 and returned the first Labour Party to government since 1949.

In the first two weeks after the election, before the cabinet could be properly formed, a duumvirate was put in place where Whitlam and his Deputy sought to enact those areas which didn’t require any legistlative change or parliamentary debate.

The large pending IN TRAY shown in Michael Atchinson’s cartoon, shows the many other real issues Whitlam had to deal with.

This released a significant number of grants which had no doubt been sitting for decisions before the election and was probably the reason my dad received notice that his grant was approved so soon after the election.

Clifton Pugh’s 1972 Archibald prize winning portrait of Gough –  perfectly captured Whitlam’s personality but caused some controversy in the art elite and was regarded by some as a ‘caricature’.

I first saw the original in the Old Parliament House and the energy of the person comes through with this great open gesture. Strangely it wasn’t until I had a go here at sketching from the original that I noticed his left fingers are flexed, not open.

The other powerful photographic portrait of Gough Whitlam is by Mervyn Bishop (1975) and shows Gough pouring sand into the hand of Vincent Lingiari in a telling gesture of the story towards reconciliation with the indigenous peoples of Australia and the recognition of their land rights.

More on this image can be read from the National Portrait Gallery magazine.

A large collection of Mervyn Bishop’s extraordinary portfolio of work can be seen at the Gallery of NSW

‘The Cats’, for those not totally au fait with the game of Australian Rules Football, are the Geelong Football Team. My Dad was, is and ever will be a Cats supporter.

The images shown here are a painting by Clifton Pugh and a photographic image by Mervyn Bishop and a drawing by Michael Atchinson the copyright for each is most likely owned by either the artist who produced the image, the person who commissioned the work, or the heirs thereof. It is believed that the use of this low-resolution images of works of art

  • for critical commentary on
    • the work in question,
    • the artistic genre or technique of the work of art or
    • the school to which the artist belongs
    • is done in the spirit of fair use by Chas Spain.

3 thoughts on “Bandung to Bali iX- the Great Gough Whitlam and me – 17 February 1973

    • Thanks Marco – that’s really kind. I’m enjoying ‘rethinking’ the history around this time. Strange to look at bigger events and see how they can come down to having a personal impact – like this one (which I was of course oblivious to as a young person!).


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