Farewell Gough Whitlam (1916- 2014)

Photograph, 'Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional owner Vincent Lingiari', by Mervyn Bishop, Northern Territory, Australia, 1975
Photograph, ‘Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hands of traditional owner Vincent Lingiari’, by Mervyn Bishop, Northern Territory, Australia, 1975. Collection: MAAS

Former Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam led Australia through a period of massive social change from 1972 to 1975 before his ousting by governor-general Sir John Kerr. The photograph above was taken in 1975 at a land hand back ceremony for the Gurindji people in the Northern Territory. The then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari as a symbolic gesture of the return of land. This photograph signifies the Australian Government giving back land to Indigenous people after Vincent Lingiari and four other traditional owners petitioned the Governor-General in 1967 in Australia’s first Aboriginal land rights claim.

Gough Whitlam had been elected Australia’s 21st Prime Minister in 1972 and with his Labor government, the first after more than two decades of Liberal-Country Party rule, set out to transform Australia through a wide-ranging reform program. This included strengthening ties with Australia’s Asian neighbours.  At the time Japan was one of Australia’s biggest trading partners and Whitlam set out to reassure Japan “that she will continue to have secure access to Australia’s resources at fair prices”.1

Mr and Mrs Whitlam were received in audience by the Emperor and Empress and were given a luncheon at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.
Mr and Mrs Whitlam were received in audience by the Emperor and Empress and were given a luncheon at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

At the invitation of the Government of Japan, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and his wife Margaret arrived in Japan for an official visit on 26 October 1973. One of their first functions was a meeting and lunch with the Emperor and Empress of Japan at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

The black morning suit worn by Gough Whitlam,pictured in the photograph above is on display in the Powerhouse Museum Clothes encounters until end of January 2015. This exhibition explores clothing worn or created by a diverse range of Australians, from different eras and walks of life, in response to significant political, creative and social encounters in their lives.

1. Exhibition website Clothes Encounters , When Gough met the emperor’

Written by Anni Turnbull, Curator,Design and Society

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