“It was said of Caesar Augustus that he found a Rome of brick and left it of marble. It will be said of Gough Whitlam that he found Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane unsewered, and left them fully flushed.”
From Laurie Oakes’ book Power Plays: The Real Stories of Australian Politics:
Happy 80th, Gough! Now, about your funeral
16 July 1996
Here’s a cheerful thought for Gough Whitlam as he celebrates his 80th birthday – a spectacular funeral is being planned for him. Not that anyone is in a rush, mind you. Fortunately, the great man is in such robust health that official approval of arrangements for a state funeral fit for such a legend will very likely not be required until well after Prime Minister Mark Latham, a former Whitlam staffer and protégé, moves into the Lodge. But it is best to be prepared. Something special will be called for – not at all the sort of thing that can be thrown together overnight. So an informal group of family and friends has been discussing the matter, on and off, for some years. The plans are stowed away in a file kept by the former prime minister’s eldest son, Nick. Big, wonderful, over-the-top plans, like the man himself; mostly serious, but with an element of tongue in cheek, as you’d expect.
Winston Churchill issued instructions for his own funeral. Whitlam is not that involved, even though the plans are of Churchillian proportions. In fact, apparently he goes uncharacteristically quiet when the matter of funeral arrangements is mentioned in his presence. But he has made one major contribution: his wishes on the music that should be played are part of Nick’s file.
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So . . . the funeral plans. One of the pieces Whitlam has selected is Va, pensiero, the slaves’ chorus from Verdi’s opera Nabucco which gave expression to the Italian people’s aspirations for liberty and self-government. Va, pensiero became the theme song of Garibaldi’s followers during the Risorgimento – the uprising to unite Italy. The second piece he has nominated is more esoteric, but no less Whitlamesque – The March of the Consular Guard at Marengo, by an obscure French composer, celebrating one of Napoleon’s great victories. Whitlam was fascinated by Napoleon even as a child, but his sister, Freda, once told me that it was not so much the warlike side of Napoleon that appealed to young Gough as the French emperor’s civic achievements and the legal system he established.
Abraham Lincoln’s funeral is the loose model for what is being planned. The idea is that the main ceremony would be held in Sydney Town Hall, after which a catafalque bearing the coffin would proceed to the historic Mortuary Station, built in 1869 and heritage-listed. Lincoln became the first president to lie in state at the US Capitol rotunda before being carried home to Springfield, Illinois, by train, with stops along the way for people to pay their respects . . .
Not surprisingly, the funeral will be private. But I bet the memorial service on 5th November will go close to breaking records for attendance:
This evening, then, let’s charge our glasses and drink to the memory of one of Australia’s greatest-ever prime ministers. Let’s have music, dancing, merriment, and celebration of the light that has been, and the light that will come again as long as the men and women of Australia keep the faith.
(Image Credit: Australian War Memorial)
(Image Credit: Sydney Morning Herald)
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(Image Credit: News Limited (sorry))
(Image Credit: ABC)
(Image Credit: Courier Mail)
(Image Credit: SBS)
(Image Credit: ABC)
(Image Credit: Wentworth Courier)