Skip to content | Skip to document navigation

Research Guides

Gough Whitlam: Guide to Archives of Australia's Prime Ministers

Chapter 10 - Ephemera and realia

Gough Whitlam's formal woollen dinner suit; the 'It's time' 1972 election campaign badges and strategy; Whitlam's Papua New Guinea cufflinks; even the Prime Ministerial suite in Old Parliament House where Whitlam toiled: these objects and more survive as ephemera and realia in archival repositories.

This chapter describes some of the surviving non-textual materials relating to Whitlam's life and work. These eclectic audiovisual records and other objects shed light on some of the important and iconic moments of Whitlam's career. Also listed is a selection of personal photographs. Examples from several large holdings of official photographs, relating in particular to Gough and Margaret Whitlam's official overseas visits, are listed in previous chapters.

Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House

During Whitlam's time as a Member of Parliament, including as Prime Minister, and indeed from the time the Australian Parliament and many public servants, including Fred Whitlam, moved to Canberra in 1927, parliament was conducted in the Provisional Parliament House, now Old Parliament House. Old Parliament House is a nationally listed heritage building. It is both home to, and the most important object in, the collection of the Museum of Australian Democracy. Bob Hawke was the last Prime Minister to work from the Old Parliament House offices, which housed the Australian Parliament from 1927 until the move in 1988 to Parliament House on Capital Hill.

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy remains at the site in front of Old Parliament House, where it was established in 1972 under a beach umbrella. Whitlam, as Opposition leader, held a press conference at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in early 1972, where he was challenged by Indigenous law student and activist Paul Coe to differentiate Australian Labor Party (ALP) policy on Indigenous Australians from that of the Liberal Party. Whitlam announced in his famous 1972 policy speech that the ALP would 'legislate to give Aborigines land rights'.

Temporary Prime Ministerial Suite, 1972–73

The Museum of Australian Democracy website explains that when Whitlam came to power in 1972, the:

previous small Prime Ministerial suite and the Cabinet Room in the front eastern section of the building was undergoing refurbishment. The temporary office accommodation for the Prime Minister and his staff during the refurbishment was in the extreme southwest corner of the southwest wing, at the rear of the Senate, where there was also a temporary Cabinet Room.

The Whitlam government moved into these offices on its election in December 1972. It was from here that Whitlam and his deputy, Lance Barnard, ran the country during the first two weeks of the new government. This arrangement came to an end in August 1973 when Whitlam and his staff were relocated to the remodelled offices in the eastern front section of the building.

The office space in which the Duumvirate and the Whitlam Ministry that followed it worked has since had various mundane uses.

Room M152
The Cabinet Table, 1972–88

Large square oak table with cut-out section in centre; top comprises 16 panels with black leather surfaces, the four outer and four inner corners are rounded; top rests on an oak apron with white buttons on the outer edge; resting on 20 slab feet.

This table was used as the Cabinet Room table in the Cabinet Room at the Provisional Parliament House between 1972 and 1988.

Unlike every other government since 1956, the Whitlam government had no inner Cabinet and no outer Cabinet; all 27 ministers met at all times as the Whitlam Cabinet. The Cabinet Room in Sydney could not hold the Whitlam Cabinet, while in Canberra members could barely squeeze around the old oval Cabinet table. It was only after the Parliament House renovations had been completed months later that the Whitlam Cabinet could comfortably meet around its new, custom-built square table.


Powerhouse Museum

Photograph of Gough Whitlam and Vincent Lingiari by Mervyn Bishop, 1975

The photograph was taken at a ceremony in 1975 to return the land at Daguragu to its traditional owners, the Gurindji people, in the Northern Territory. Prime Minister Whitlam pours soil into the hands of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari in a symbolic gesture. The Australian government gave back the land after Vincent Lingiari and four other traditional owners petitioned the Governor-General in 1967 and staged a permanent walk-off. The petition argued that 'morally the land is ours and should be returned to us'. Mervyn Bishop was Australia's first Koori press photographer. He worked at The Sydney Morning Herald for 17 years.

Morning suit and tie, mens, wool/silk, made by RT Whyte's Mansworld/ Turnbull & Asser, worn by Gough Whitlam, Canberra, Australia/England, 1973
Gough Whitlam had the suit made to wear on an official visit to Japan, 25–31 October 1973. As well as Prime Minister of Australia, Whitlam was Minister for Foreign Affairs. Japanese protocol demanded formal dress and the Whitlams were informed they would require a morning suit and 'long dress' when meeting the Emperor and Empress of Japan on 26 October 1973. Whitlam recalled that this was the only time he ever needed such a formal mode of dress and subsequently he wore the suit only once.
Dinner suit, mens, wool, made by Sam Catanzariti, used by Gough Whitlam, Canberra, Australia, [1964]

Worn by Gough Whitlam on formal occasions while leader of the ALP and Prime Minister of Australia.


State Library of Victoria


Started by trade unionist and politician Fred Riley, this collection contains much of the State Library of Victoria's collection of political ephemera relating to a range of Victorian social and political movements. It includes handbills, flyers, leaflets, posters, badges and stickers from various Victorian political and community organisations.

Trade unions, political parties and university clubs and societies are strongly represented in the collection. Environmental groups, international activists, feminist organisations and anti-war groups also have a presence. The collection includes material relating to: conscription; the land rights movement; anti-nuclear activism; trade unions; conservation; women's rights; peace movements; alternative media; and political parties.

Quantity: 40 metres
File – Whitlam, Edward Gough
This file contains political ephemera relating to Gough Whitlam.
Poster – ALP; federal election [1972]

ALP poster: 'From the people who pioneered child endowment...It's time. Vote 1 Australian Labor Party.'

Produced for the campaign preceding the 2 December 1972 election. It is a portrait of Gough Whitlam with a baby.

Poster – ALP; federal election [1972]

'It is time: He's PM.'

This is a hoarding of The Sun newspaper, printed 3 December 1972, to report the ALP's victory of the 2 December 1972 election.

Poster – Australia; economic conditions [1974]
Save Our State (SOS) Campaign open letter to Whitlam.
Poster – ALP; federal election [1974]

ALP poster: 'Only Whitlam will reduce home interest rates by 3% – Whitlam, he's so much better.'

Produced for the federal election of 18 May 1974. It includes a portrait of Gough Whitlam.

Poster – ALP; federal election [1975]

ALP poster: 'Fraser causes chaos...City Square rally 12.30 today.'

Produced for the campaign preceding the 13 December 1975 election. It includes portraits of Gough Whitlam (at a rally) and Bob Hawke.

Poster – Australia, politics and government [1976]

'Culture vultures present: 11th Nov Remembrance Day Massacre.'

The poster is signed 'l.l.: MOLL' (pseudonym of the artist Phil Pinder). It refers to the dismissal of the Whitlam government by Governor-General Sir John Kerr.

Transferred from the Picture Collection; formerly accessioned at H37814. Printed by PIT Press, Bundoora, Vic.

Poster – ALP; federal elections [1977]
ALP poster: 'Australian Labor Party New South Wales How to Vote.'

Whitlam Institute

The Institute lists the following as treasures of its collection
Original Letter of Dismissal from Governor-General Sir John Kerr to the Prime Minister, the Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam, on 11 November 1975
One of the most significant documents in Australian political history, this is the original letter given to Whitlam by Kerr to terminate his commission as Prime Minister and dismiss the Government from office. Whitlam called on the Governor-General at 1 pm on 11 November 1975. He intended to ask the Governor-General to call a half-Senate election to break the deadlock that was blocking the passage of his Budget. The letter was lying face down on Kerr's desk when Whitlam walked into his office. Before Whitlam could ask the Governor-General to call the election, he was handed the letter. 'We shall all have to live with this,' Kerr said to Whitlam.'You certainly will,' Whitlam replied.
Wedding photograph
Edward Gough Whitlam married Margaret Elaine Dovey in April 1942; this is their wedding portrait. The ceremony took place at St Michael's Church in Vaucluse, NSW. They were married for almost 70 years, until Margaret's death in March 2012.
Papua New Guinea cufflinks
These distinctive cufflinks were given to Gough Whitlam as a memento of the celebrations to mark Australia's granting of independence to Papua New Guinea. Whitlam had long been an advocate for greater autonomy for Papua New Guinea, and once elected, his government moved speedily to bring about the country's independence. A range of powers was handed over throughout 1973, to the extent that by year's end, the country was largely self-governing. The independence ceremony in September 1975 was the culmination of these efforts. The cufflinks depict the Papua New Guinean flag, the design of which consists of a bird of paradise and, like the Australian flag, the Southern Cross.
1972 'It's time' speech
This is the original copy of perhaps the most important speech of Gough Whitlam's political career – his 1972 election policy speech. It laid out the guiding principles of the Whitlam government and detailed the policy program it intended to enact. The speech contained around 200 specific promises. Whitlam regarded the speech as the contract between his government and the Australian people, and referred to it often in retrospect. It's now famous opening line – 'Men and women of Australia' – was appropriated from the oratory of war-time Labor Prime Minister John Curtin. This copy of the speech shows the final amendments Whitlam made before he delivered it.
Whitlam's school report cards
These are Gough Whitlam's school report cards from his time at Mowbray House School and Knox Grammar, starting from when he was seven years old. They detail his academic performance, revealing a particular proficiency in English and mathematics, and contain fascinating observations of Whitlam as a boy. In 1925, Whitlam's Form Master recorded that Whitlam took 'proper pride in being neat & tidy in all written work' but that he was inclined to be 'excitable & boisterous in manner at times, but is now exercising more control'. Later that year, his headmaster noted: 'He has a facile mind: there is a danger that he does things too easily. Let him see that he always feels the weight on his shoulders.'
'It's time' badge
'It's time' was the slogan adopted by the Labor Party throughout the 1972 election campaign. Intended to seize the public mood for change and renewal after 23 years of conservative government, the campaign was ground-breaking in its style. The Gough Whitlam Prime Ministerial Collection contains numerous objects of ephemera associated with the iconic 'It's time' campaign, from badges to posters, and from bumper stickers to paper banners. The collection also contains a copy of the famous 'It's time' television commercial.
Recording of 'It's time 1972' election campaign advertisement and jingle released in October 1972

This famous Labor Party campaign advertisement for the 1972 'It's time' election was sung by Alison McCallum and featured a multitude of prominent Australian actors, singers and personalities, including Little Pattie, Bobby Limb, Bert Newton, Jack Thompson, Judy Stone, Chuck Faulkner, Ian 'Molly' Meldrum, Noeline Brown, Lynette Curran, Terry Norris, Jimmy Hannan, Col Joye and Hazel Phillips. Interspersed are flashes of photographs of Gough Whitlam as a child, along with more contemporary shots.

At the time, this was a unique political advertisement. Prior to this jingle, the advertising medium had been used in a much more formal manner.

The two-minute video is available online.

Letters from the public
In the years after his prime ministership, Gough Whitlam received a vast volume of correspondence from members of the public, which expressed their views on a wide range of matters and sent messages of good will. The Whitlam Prime Ministerial Collection includes many of these letters and Whitlam's personal responses to them, providing valuable insight into public perceptions of Whitlam and his government. Many of the letters convey the appreciation ordinary people felt for the Whitlam government's achievements in areas such as health reform, tertiary education, voting rights, social security and conscription. They are often very touching and personal in tone. One concludes, 'I want to thank you for being you.'
Predictions for 2010 and 2030
In 2000, Gough Whitlam attended the planting of a 'Millennium tree' and time capsule on the grounds of Westmead Hospital in New South Wales. He was asked to contribute to the time capsule. His offering comprised various predictions about the nature of Australian society in 2010 and 2030. Among other things, Whitlam predicted the advent of an Australian republic, the adoption of a joint currency by Australia and New Zealand, and the merger of Victoria and Tasmania.
The 'Letter of Passion'

Despite the romantic name by which this document has become known, it is not a love letter. This handwritten letter from Gough Whitlam to his wife Margaret, from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) station at which he was based during World War II, expressed his passionate interest in, and opinions about, the Australian Constitution. During 1944, a referendum took place to determine whether the Constitution should be altered to grant the Australian Government the power to legislate in a broader range of areas for the immediate post-war years. Whitlam passionately supported the reform proposal, actively campaigning in support of the 1944 Referendum on Post-War Reconstruction and Democratic Rights to his RAAF squadron. Whitlam nominated his involvement in the 'Yes' campaign during the 1944 referendum as one of the defining and most formative episodes in the shaping of his political outlook. The failure of the 'Yes' campaign was a key catalyst for Whitlam's decision to enter public life. Although the 'Yes' vote fell short of a nationwide majority, one of its best tallies was recorded in Whitlam's No. 13 Squadron and in the services in general.

Flag flown to the moon
The final moon landing of the Apollo program took place during the first week of the Whitlam government. In recognition of Australia's contribution to the success of the US space program, Whitlam was given a framed Australian flag that had been flown to the moon aboard Apollo 17 between 6 and 19 December 1972. The object was signed by all of the Apollo 17 astronauts.
'It's time' campaign proposal
The planning and focus for the 'It's time' campaign heralded a new era in Australian political election campaigns, utilising enhanced communication technologies and targeted strategies. The strategies included months of radio and television exposure that brought the voice and face of Gough Whitlam into Australian homes; striking banners and stickers; and a modern slogan and jingle featuring well-known singing and television personalities of the early 1970s. This item was given to the collection by Whitlam's speech writer, Graham Freudenberg. The marketing ideas were so new to politics that the document explained the role of a 'focus group'.
World War II mementos
During World War II, Whitlam served in the RAAF for nearly four years as part of No.13 Squadron based on the Gove Peninsula in Arnhem Land. Trained as a navigator, Whitlam eventually rose to the rank of Flight Lieutenant. The Whitlam Prime Ministerial Collection contains several mementos from his time in the RAAF, including photographs, portraits and the program from Whitlam's 'passing out' dinner. The program includes a witty and somewhat nostalgic poem written by Whitlam.
Telegram from Professor Manning Clark AC
This short but poignant telegram was sent from the renowned historian to Whitlam on the occasion of his retirement from politics in 1978. 'This is a sad day for all of us who were inspired by your great vision,' Clark said. 'Time will indicate your great achievement.'