In the recent tsunami of love for Gough, one member of the family seems to have been forgotten. No disrespect to Gough, but I remember Margaret Whitlam with great affection. Back in 1974 I found myself at Government house in Kirribilli. It was a party in honour of Margaret, given by people she had worked with during a series of weekly television shows. My eighteen year old son was with me, both of us slightly bemused at being there, but I told him to enjoy the food and went off to talk to friends I’d sighted.
A short time later I saw him sitting on a settee at the end of the vast room in surprising company – just he and Margaret Whitlam. They were busy talking. Half an hour later I spotted them still in the same place, Margaret and my son in conversation. The party was for Margaret and my son seemed to have taken over the guest honour. But as she was doing most of the talking, and he was eagerly listening, I didn’t interfere.
Eventually it was time for her to give a speech, which she did with her usual charm, and soon after this the party broke up. My son joined me, but then before we left he went to shake hands with Margaret and to thank her. “Thank her for what?” I asked, as we went to find a taxi. He told me she’d noticed his English accent, acquired since we’d taken him to England at the age of two, and how he explained to her he’d come back to Australia on a working holiday, to find out whether he wanted to return to live, or remain in England. Margaret had given him lots of advice, telling him about jobs he might find here
My son said, “I didn’t want to monopolise her, since it was her party, but whenever anyone came to interrupt us, she said she was busy talking to me. She wanted to know all about us, where we’d lived, where I went to school.”
“Amazing,” I said. “She was the amazing one,” he answered. “She really made me feel at home.”
It was no surprise that he decided to return and live in Australia, and in time my wife and I joined him. A few years later his sister did the same. Our entire family returned to live in Australia after a twenty year absence, and I’ve always felt that was due to Margaret Whitlam. If the Prime Minister’s wife could sit and chat with an 18 year old in preference to important guests, it was time to come home.