Booing Howard and Abbott: The expression of an enthusiasm maintained

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Some people seem to think the passionate reaction to Abbott and Howard by the crowd outside the Whitlam memorial yesterday was inappropriate; Judy Crozier says that’s ridiculous.

MY MOTHER WOULD HAVE SAID the crowd’s reactions at Gough Whitlam’s State Memorial service were beyond the pale.

But then, my mother, bless her, was a conservative born in 1918 who may never have voted Labor in her life. Or she may have once — who knows? She kept how she voted a secret.

She was not consumed by a passion for left politics that reforms the social infrastructure of whole nations; she didn’t spend her life in a tension of hope for social transformation.

But I have.

I’ve had a day or so to consider the meaning behind that crowd’s response at Gough Whitlam’s State Memorial Service.

I watched the service from my couch, with a box of tissues next to me. The tears, strangely, first sprang up when ex-PM Howard arrived at Sydney’s Town Hall and was roundly booed before entering to take his seat.

Odd, I thought to myself, dabbing my eyes. Why now?

Because, I responded, this is visceral.

And I realised that even through the screen and from another state, I felt a bond with these men and women of Australia — who felt as I do, who had worked and fought probably for decades as I had, who have never felt that politics was any kind of game, who have never felt politics was anything other than welded to the very real business of life.

They were, as I was with them, at one with the Whitlam of our youth, who said:

“Maintain your rage and your enthusiasm…”

We knew well enough what would have been his reaction to the passion of the day, to the cheering of the heroes and the booing of the villains. We hold our passions dear.

These men and women were making this occasion their own, and across the nation most of us – true believers, participators and witnesses – understood that this was the case. We were present at Gough’s memorial and it was ours, as he was ours and we (most of us) were the workers for the Party that made this country great.

Once again, he and we were present for the making of Australian history.

Others since then have argued that that level of participation, the way these men and women asserted themselves and made their passionate statements of approval or disapproval, was wrong, was bad manners. But this is an absurdity for anyone who has slogged through rain and sun to go letterboxing, who has argued for hours in branch meetings or at policy committees, organised or attended all of those fundraisers.

Don’t be ridiculous.

Gough Whitlam believed in the assertion of passion and belief, equally for all.

As Graham Freudenberg said:

“He believed profoundly in the Australian Labor Party as the mainstay of Australian democracy and equality.”

And there it was, his Party, represented that day inside and outside the hall — and vocal, dammit, as it always should be.

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