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What Gough meant to ordinary Australians

Among the crowd that gathered to mourn Gough Whitlam in Sydney today, The Weekly asked some of the attendees what the former PM meant to them.

Crowds turn out to say goodbye and Alison Clark holds her "Thanks Gough" sign.
About 2000 people gathered to remember the life of Mr Whitlam, the Prime Minister of Australia from 1972 to 1975, at a state memorial service at Sydney's Town Hall.
While former Prime Ministers, including Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd, Bob Hawke and Julia Gillard were in attendance, as was current Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott, many everyday Australians also turned out to say goodbye.
This morning The Weekly asked some of those who gathered to pay tribute about what the former Prime Minister meant to them. The stories from these everyday Australians evoked passion and emotion as they remembered the legacy of a man who was so ahead of his time.
Heidi, Sydney, 38: "He was the greatest leader the Australia's ever had and I hope that more follow in his example and everyone is inspired by him – I’d like to see more positive actions and courage like Gough demonstrated.
"I met him at a citizenship ceremony 12 years ago at Sydney's Town Hall and the only reason that the mayor and most of the people turned out at that event was because they had been educated by Gough and that was truth and that’s what everybody said and he there at that event."
Gough Whitlam, Australia’s Prime Minister from 1972 to 1975, died at the age of 98.
Jennifer, 54, a nurse from Sydney: "Gough did extraordinary things for women. I was living in the North West NSW bush with my family and my father left and left us with no income and it was under Gough Whitlam that my mother was able to apply for the deserted wives pension. Through that my sister and I were able to come to Sydney and go to school in Sydney because of the assistance that Gough had provided for country kids so I have very directly benefited.
"Actually growing up when we had no income, before the deserted wives pension, we were living on donated food so that strips yourself worth I can tell you, we had absolutely no income, my mother was depressed and it was an absolutely shocking time. But through the pension there was that little bit of sucker so I went on and became a nurse and I have worked with the marginalised constantly.
"I think what he has done is incredible, you know bringing in community health centres but also the things he did for women like no fault divorce, helping decriminalise abortion, there was so many things he did that people still reap the rewards of today."
Alison Clark, from Hurstville, studied a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Linguistics under the Whitlam government: "He did so much for health care, education and I get really emotional actually because my mother was able to get a divorce from an abusive husband through Gough's no fault divorce so that's why I am here because in three years he made such an impact on my life.
"I feel I am here on behalf of thousands of people who can't be here just to say thanks. The Town Hall can only fit a couple of thousand and I'm sure there’s millions more who would have wanted to say thanks so I made a sign and here I am.
"I actually remember when he was dismissed when I was 15 and that’s when I actually wrote to Gough and he actually wrote back thanking me for my support. I was only 15 at the time but I remember thinking it was such a blow to democracy what happened, it just wasn’t right and I felt very strongly about it even back then."
As an indigenous Australian Joe Flick, of Dubbo, was on his way to France to commemorate aboriginal soldiers in the First World War, but felt the need to stop by on his way to the airport to pay his respects to Gough: "I was lucky enough to work in the Northern Territory and just the impact that Gough had made on the Aboriginal people with his symbolic handing back of the land to Vincent Lingiari and his social commitment to all.
"I never ever met him but I always admired him, never met him but I felt I knew him. He was someone who had empathy, he was very kind and he was very forthright, if here was something that might not be in the best interest of Australians he had the guts to come out and say it. He was a special man."
Judy Cameron from Sydney says she owes her degree in Special Education to the Whitlam government: "He was the Prime Minister when I was in my 20s and he was the one when we were fighting for women's rights who helped push those things through so I guess I just have a real respect for him.
"But I'm here with my son today who's only in his 30s and he can still see how much Gough Whitlam did and how it’s all being taken away at the moment by this government and Tony Abbott."
Michael Peters, 50, a UNSW academic attended the memorial with his father, Petros Kyriacou: "We both knew Gough. Dad met him in ‘60s because dad is from Cyprus and he ran a campaign for support in the UN to pass resolutions for Cyprus and Gough assisted him in that.
"Later when the island was invaded by Turkey Gough formed a committee to lobby the governments around the world to free Cyprus from the Turkish invasion. And he was also involved in the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece.
"I was actually an intern at Gough’s office for a week or so when I was a high school kid and I knew him because of his involvement in archaeology and his involvement with the Greek community in Australia.
"I went to university because of him and studied Law and now I am an academic at UNSW. He changed Australia forever, while he wasn't a great success story because of his dismissal, I keep telling my students that a lot of the women in the class, a lot of the female lawyers, a lot of the Asian students, a lot of people need to thank him for that opportunity. In fact a lot of opportunities that women have people take it for granted now but they need to remember it hasn't always been that way and a lot of that is because of what Gough did."

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