Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The funeral of the late Gough Whitlam

was a lavish affair. It was held in the Sydney Town Hall. There was an entire symphony orchestra. The ABC covered the event. All the living former Prime Ministers and the current one were present.  Two Prime Ministers, from the opposing side, were booed and heckled on entering and leaving - a disgraceful and disrespectful thing to do to both them and Whitlam. It was an event at which many people wished to be seen.
And now we have lost another Prime Minister. Fraser's funeral is to be held in Scots Church Melbourne - a suitable venue for a former Presbyterian. It won't be the same sort of lavish affair in the least. He would not have wanted that. Members of the public welcome and will be seated in order of arrival. There are arrangements for the overflow. 
There were no such arrangements for Whitlam's funeral. You had, apart from former Prime Ministers and the media, to have Labor credentials to enter the Town Hall. A friend of mine, a former Labor Senator, was nearly left outside because she didn't have the necessary invitation card. Only when vouched for by someone else was she allowed to enter.
Of the two men though I genuinely believe it would be right to say that Fraser did more, far more, for the country. He handed it over in good shape after years of hard work rebuilding it from a chaotic financial and social mess - the mess that Whitlam left behind.
And yet it is Whitlam who is remembered with warmth, gratitude and adulation. Ask anyone and much of what the Fraser government did will be attributed to Whitlam. Those who know better will claim Fraser only managed it because Whitlam had laid all the ground work. Did he really? I have been doing some reading for another purpose recently and , with no disrespect, his government did not achieve as much as is usually assumed. Nevertheless he is seen as a powerful figure in the past political history of the country.
I wonder what will be said at Fraser's funeral. Will they recognise his immense contribution? Of course they will recognise some of it. That is what state funerals are for. But, over the years he changed. He moved away from the politics of the party he once led. He became close friends, and was influenced by, the man he had once ousted - Whitlam. He eventually resigned from the party that had given him so much. Did he regret doing that? 
His funeral will be an awkward affair at best. The condolences in parliament were tinged with that same awkwardness. It was sad to hear a man who had contributed so much being honoured but not really praised.
We went to a funeral yesterday, the funeral of my cousin's mother. Her second husband was opposed to her maintaining any ties. It is one of those things you have to accept. We went yesterday because my cousin both wanted and needed us to be there. He has now lost both parents and his brother. He's the last of the four. 
The service was simple and it reflected her life of love of family and love of music and art. Her old "library ladies" - her work colleagues - came. Some of the staff at the nursing home slipped into the chapel as the service began. I couldn't help contrasting this with Whitlam's funeral. That was like the man himself - big, bold, ready to spend money. I can hear Fraser now urging restraint and saying, "I know you will have to do it but nothing too fancy please. I would rather you spent the money on trees or children or refugees."
And I will say the same when my time comes. A tree would be nice but forget the granite headstone please.  

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