When Gough Whitlam died, he was lauded by both sides of politics as a visionary and a giant.
Two weeks ago, on the day Mr Whitlam passed away, his long-time friend and now himself a Labor statesman, Senator John Faulkner, told the Labor caucus the former prime minister was a “towering figure in our party and in our lives for as long as I can remember”.
“He was a great parliamentarian, he was a great leader, he was a great Australian and for so many of us, and it’s what makes it so hard today, he was a great friend and mentor,” he said.
More accolades will flow on Wednesday when the nation again pauses to mourn the loss of Australia’s 21st prime minister, in a state service that will honour his legacy of reform and more than five decades in public life.
The commemoration, at the Sydney Town Hall, is expected to be held in front of about 2000 people, including Mr Whitlam’s family, as well as former Labor prime ministers Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.
Former Liberal prime ministers John Howard and Malcolm Fraser are also expected.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who says the commemoration will honour Mr Whitlam’s service to the nation as an RAAF flight lieutenant, as an MP, a prime minister and a UN ambassador, will also attend.
“Whether you were for him or against him, it was his vision that drove our politics then and which still echoes through our public life four decades on,” Mr Abbott said recently.
Millions more are expected to watch the service on television, including at various live sites around the country.
Mr Whitlam, the prime minister of Australia from 1972 to 1975, died on October 21 at the age of 98.
He is lauded for sweeping cultural and economic reforms, such as abolishing conscription, introducing free access to university and granting land rights to indigenous Australians, and upon his death last month was praised by leaders from all sides of politics.
That ambitious reform agenda, however, eventually led to parliamentary deadlock and Mr Whitlam’s demise when he was controversially dismissed by the then governor-general, Sir John Kerr, in 1975.
The service will be held from 11am.
A condolence book will be available to the public at the Town Hall and at Parliament House in Canberra.