Gough Whitlam has been remembered as a visionary leader as Australia officially farewells one of the country’s most notable prime ministers.
Thousands gathered in Sydney for Mr Whitlam’s state memorial service at Town Hall in the CBD on Wednesday, including all six living former prime ministers and the current national leader, and a host of other dignitaries and celebrities.
His former political speechwriter and close friend Graham Freudenberg paid his respects to the Labor heavyweight at the service.
“He touches us in our day to day lives and in the way we think about Australia and we way we see the world,” Mr Freudenberg said.
“He touches still the millions of Australians who share his vision for a more equal Australia and a more independent, inclusive, generous and tolerant Australia.
“Optimism, enthusiasm, confidence against fear, prejudice, conformity – that is his enduring message to the men and women of Australia – never more than now,” he said, to the applause of mourners.
“You would go to the barricades with such a man.”
Former Whitlam press secretary Kerry O’Brien, MC of the event, told the high-powered audience inside the Town Hall 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.
The joke was a reference to the Senate’s refusal to pass the government’s budget bills – a crisis which ultimately led to the Whitlam Labor government’s dismissal in 1972.
Aboriginal elder Auntie Millie Ingram, who delivered the Welcome to Country, earlier lauded Mr Whitlam’s inclusive stance toward indigenous peoples when in government.
“Thank you from my ancestors … you shone a light that led the way for us,” she said.
“Mr Whitlam you were a brave and inspired man and we loved you. You will live on in our memories.”
Actress Cate Blanchett said despite being only three when Mr Whitlam became prime minister, she was hit with a “great sorrow” over his death.
“The loss I felt came down to something very deep and very simple,” she said.
“I am the beneficiary of free tertiary education.”
Ms 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.
Cape York Indigenous leader Noel Pearson said Whitlam was a trailblazer in Aboriginal reconciliation.
“The Whitlam government is the textbook example of reform managing government,” Pearson said.
“His ‘devil may care’ attitude is unlikely to be seen in government again.”
Mr Pearson said land rights for his people would have been dead had it not been for Whitlam’s introduction of the Racial Discrimination Act.
“Only those who have never experienced prejudice can discount the importance of the Racial Discrimination Act,” he said.
“This old man was one of those rare people who never suffered discrimination but understood the importance of protection from its malice.
“He harboured not a bone of racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice in his body.”
Songwriters Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody performed their 1993 hit From Little Things Big Things Grow, which is based on the story of the Gurindji strike and the Indigenous Australian struggle for reconciliation and land rights.
Senator John Faulkner said Whitlam would have been a success in whichever profession he entered.
“Gough Whitlam always thought and planned on a grand scale,” he said.
“He was a great Australian prime minister, great in every sense of the word.
“His prodigious gifts would have meant guaranteed success in any career he chose.
“His formidable memory, pointed wit, remarkable intellect and soaring imagination made him feared at the dispatch box and inspiring on the campaign trail.”
In the final speech of the service, Whitlam’s eldest son Tony paid tribute to the other speakers.
“Gough of course would have loved to speak today but the rules of the game necessarily disqualify him,” Tony Whitlam said.
“Today’s speeches remind us of Gough’s purposes in life. They were delivered with power and beauty that leave us all in awe.”