Life & Arts

Comrade Gough and the Australian Republic

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Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam appeals for a "yes" vote during a pro-republic rally in the Queen's Chamber in Melbourne on 4 November, 1999, with his usurper and fellow republican Malcolm Fraser looking on behind him (Image via by Will Burgess / Reuters)

Gough Whitlam was a great Australian patriot and a passionate advocate for an Australian republic, as veteran republican campaigner Roy McKeen can attest.

IN AUGUST 1996, I represented the Gold Coast Forum of the Australian Republican Movement, where I was convenor/chairman at a debate on the future directions of the Australian Constitution.

The debate was sponsored by Griffith University, to celebrate its founding 25 years prior and was held in the Legislative Council Chamber in the Queensland Parliament House, Brisbane.

Among the speakers that day were Gough Whitlam; Tony Abbott, former governor general Sir Zelman Cowen; former Chief Justice Sir Anthony Mason; then Queensland premier Rob Borbidge; then Brisbane mayor Jim Soorley; former Queensland premier Wayne Goss; editor of The Australian newspaper at that time, Paul Kelly; as well as several professors of law.

In the morning, I had made a passionate speech about the republic, in which I chided Tony Abbott for, as a Catholic, supporting a monarchy which

“… is soaked in anti-Catholic bigotry.”

At lunchtime, I went to the gent’s toilet and, as I stood at the urinal, who walked in but Gough Whitlam and stood beside me as we both did our business!

After we had both zipped up, we washed our hands and Whitlam shook hands with me and said:

“Well done, comrade.”

That was all. And he walked away.

That was the only time in my life that I have been called “comrade.”

Apparently, Whitlam called everyone “comrade.” It saves remembering names!

I think I’ll have it inscribed on my urn.

Comrade Roy

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