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Research Guides

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

Chapter 5 - 'Whose party is this?' Gough Whitlam and ALP politics

From the time he joined the parliamentary Labor Party in 1952, Gough Whitlam sought to modernise its policies and its processes, to move it away from the bitter disputes that would split the party in the 1950s and consign it to electoral wilderness for decades. In 1960 Gough Whitlam was elected Deputy Leader of the ALP under the party's new leader, Arthur Calwell, and with that authority began a determined campaign to reform the Labor Party, to remake its policies, and make it once again electable and ultimately to form government. Calwell led the Labor Party to three election defeats and after the last of these, a catastrophic loss in 1966, Gough Whitlam was elected Leader of the ALP on 8 February 1967.

Whitlam's strategy for reform was three-fold: rebuilding the party platform to reflect a more contemporary policy agenda; the expansion of the party's membership base beyond its traditional union base; and the reform and democratisation of the party's structures and processes. During his early years as a member of the Labor Caucus his main policy concerns were state aid for government schools, the White Australia Policy, Indigenous rights and health care. By the late 1960s his concerns were increasingly focused on the need to intervene in the Victorian branch, the remaining bulwark against state aid and party reform, and an obvious drain on electoral support.

Three pivotal events stand out from this time as markers for Whitlam's 'crash through or crash' approach. First, Whitlam's near expulsion in 1966 when he was charged by the ALP Federal Executive with 'gross disloyalty'. Whitlam was charged over statements made to the media about the party's policy on state aid to government schools and during which he described the members of the ALP Federal Executive as 'the 12 witless men'. Second, Whitlam's abrupt resignation as leader in 1968 and narrow defeat of Dr Jim Cairns in the leadership ballot that followed. 'Whose party is this – ours or his?', Cairns asked in the unexpectedly close contest for the leadership. Finally, Whitlam's drive for the party's federal intervention in the Victorian state branch caused lasting enmities but achieved the necessary policy, personnel and procedural changes to lift the party's electoral support in Victoria off the canvas. Each of these episodes was politically perilous, even reckless, but together they ensured Whitlam's hold on the leadership, his authority over the party and an increasing electoral popularity that by 1972 would lead the Labor Party to office for the first time in 23 years.

The Australian National University Archives holds records of some trade unionists, which help to document Whitlam's battles within the ALP, including George Crawford. The National Library of Australia holds the federal ALP Caucus and secretariat records, as well as the records of various members of parliament, which focus on the period during which Whitlam wielded greatest influence over the party. The National Library of Australia also holds the papers of Alan Reid and Richard Hall, two journalists with significant interests in Whitlam's political trajectory. Hall joined Whitlam's staff in 1968 for five years. There are also important oral history recordings of interviews with numerous members of parliament.

Australian National University Archives

The descriptions of the three series below are from Prime Ministers at the Australian National University: an archival guide (


Files and loose papers, 1951–88

In the 1960s, when Whitlam waged a bitter campaign to change the internal structures and processes of the ALP, the fiercest resistance came from the Victorian branch. One of the branch's key officials was George Crawford; his papers document an important part of the setting for that campaign.

Series: NBAC Z494

Series: NBAC Z514
ALP Victorian branch, 1970–85

This file covers the power plays of factions (the Participants, Labor Unity, Socialist Left, Centre Unity and Centre Majority) within the Victorian ALP and union movement, and thus helps to document the context for Whitlam's battles inside the labour movement leading up to, and beyond, his gaining power in 1972.

NBAC Z514/34a
Subject file on Gough Whitlam, 1970s–90s

Among the hundreds of files compiled by trade union official Easson during 1973–94 is a file on Whitlam comprising mostly clippings, talks and similar material, but also a 1993 letter from Whitlam to Easson mentioning the Italian Socialist Party and migrant organisation ITAL Uil.

NBAC Z514/357

National Library of Australia


This extensive collection comprises Caucus minutes (1906–89); correspondence books (1909–17); minute books; Labor Senators' Party meetings (1915, 1916); attendance rolls for federal Labor members at Caucus meetings (1914–38); Caucus committee files; Caucus general correspondence; and agendas, resolutions, circulars, contacts, submissions, reports, committee lists and other papers. The files include information relating to the ALP Federal Executive (1956–65); Select Committee on Voting Rights for Aborigines (1960–65); Federal Conferences (1961, 1966); legal documents on Portuguese ship-jumping in Darwin (1962); the Richardson report on parliamentary salaries (1948–59); and files on notices of motions. The collection is restricted.

Finding aid online.

Series: MS 6852
Quantity: 19 metres (96 Boxes), 14 cartons and 1 folio box

The federal parliamentary Labor Party was formed in 1901. Archibald Stewart was elected first Federal Secretary of the ALP in 1915. In 1963, Cyril Wyndam was elected the first full-time Federal Secretary. This extensive collection includes minutes, agendas and reports of meetings of the ALP Federal Executive and federal conferences, and correspondence between the Federal Secretary, ALP members of parliament and other office holders (for instance, branch secretaries). The collection is restricted.

Finding aid online.

Series: MS 4985
Quantity: 117 metres (577 boxes) + 103 cartons + 3 folio boxes + 3 folio volumes
EG Whitlam, Answer to the Federal Executive, 3 March 1966

In March 1966, Whitlam was charged by the ALP Federal Executive with disloyalty over statements he had made to the press about ALP policy, particularly about state aid to government schools. This item is Whitlam's response to the charge.

Box 120
Transcript of interview with EG Whitlam on Seven Says, ATN7, 15 February 1966

In this interview Whitlam delivered a withering assessment of those Caucus members pushing for a High Court challenge to all state aid to non-government schools. He explosively described the members of the ALP Federal Executive as '12 witless men' before reiterating his willingness and readiness to assume the position of leader of the party. Following this interview, the Federal Executive promptly charged Whitlam with 'gross disloyalty'.

Box 120

This large collection contains papers accumulated by Richard Hall during the course of his career as a journalist, author and political advisor. There are two series of papers relating to Hall's work with and on Gough Whitlam. Series 14 records his time as press secretary to Whitlam from 1969 to 1972. Series 30 comprises research material collected for Hall's unfinished biography of Whitlam.

Finding aid online.

Series: MS 8725
Quantity: 21 metres (132 boxes) + 3 folio boxes
First days: a biography of Gough Whitlam

This item includes information on Whitlam's family history and some correspondence with Hall. It includes research material on Whitlam's family and early years – his education at Telopea Park School and the University of Sydney, as well as copies of school journals to which he contributed. There is also information on the ALP, including copies of minutes, speeches and policy material.

Series 30

Fred Daly was the House of Representatives ALP Member for Martin, NSW, from 1943 to 1949, and for Grayndler, NSW, from 1949 to 1975. In the Whitlam Labor government, Daly first held the Services and Property portfolio and secondly, Administrative Services. He was also Father of the House. He later became an author, commentator and public speaker. The collection includes a large number of press cuttings, press releases, reports, campaign material, Hansard extracts, correspondence, notes and diaries. References to many individuals and events occur throughout the papers, particularly across the series 'Chronological files', 'Elections', 'Subject files' and 'Personalities'.

The papers contain material relating to Whitlam's confrontation with the ALP Federal Executive in 1966 and his resignation and re-election as leader in 1968.

Series: MS 9300
Quantity: 20 metres (142 boxes + 3 temporary boxes)
Whitlam's letter to WH Hartley, Victorian State Secretary, 26 February 1968

A key part of Whitlam's agenda for reform of the ALP was his determination to restructure the Victorian branch. In this letter to Bill Hartley, Victorian State Secretary and prominent opponent of Whitlam's policy development and drive for reform in the Victorian branch, Whitlam detailed the urgent need for reform arguing that the ALP's dismal electoral standing in Victoria was holding the party back.


Francis (Frank) Eugene Stewart was the ALP Member for Lang, NSW, from 1953 until his death in 1979. Between 1973 and 1975, he was Minister for Tourism and Recreation, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Minister Assisting the Treasurer. This series comprises subject files, published material and correspondence. It covers Stewart's career as an Opposition member and his term as a minister in the Whitlam Cabinet. There are extensive files on the issues of divorce law reform, abortion, human rights and homosexuality. Stewart's long association with the Pacific Area Travel Association is also covered.

Series: MS 6128
Quantity: 5.8 metres + 1 folio item
Whitlam, telegram and letter to ALP Caucus members, 1968

In April 1968, Whitlam resigned the leadership of the ALP over the treatment by the ALP Federal Executive of Brian Harradine, then Secretary-General of the Tasmanian Trades and Labour Council and an executive member of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. The ALP Federal Executive had upheld a complaint about Harradine made by the Victorian Central Executive, refusing to let him take his seat on the party's Executive. On 19 April 1968, Whitlam sent a telegram to all Caucus members citing his disappointment in the Federal Executive over its handling of the Harradine Affair and its lack of proper process. He made clear that he wanted a 'mandate' to renew his campaign for party reform. This box in the series contains Whitlam's telegram and his subsequent letter (23 April 1968).

Box 31
Cairns, letter to ALP Caucus members, 24 April 1968

In the leadership contest that followed his resignation, Whitlam was challenged by Dr Jim Cairns, ALP Member for Yarra. In a powerful letter to Caucus members, Cairns asked, 'Whose party is this – ours or his?' Whitlam was re-elected as leader, defeating Cairns by just six votes.

Box 31

This small collection comprises nine folders of documents primarily relating to Lance Barnard's overseas travel. It also contains some press clippings and personal correspondence with his family. Barnard held the seat of Bass, Tasmania, for the ALP from 1954 to 1975. He was Deputy Prime Minister from 1972 to 1974, and also held the portfolios of Defence, Navy, Army, Air and Supply.

Series: MS 7774
Quantity: 0.1 metres (1 box)

Arthur Calwell was born in West Melbourne on 28 May 1896. He joined the Victorian Public Service in 1913, held the federal seat of Melbourne for the ALP from 1940 to 1972, and was Leader of the ALP from 1960 to 1967. This collection comprises correspondence, reports, personal documents, minutes, cuttings, family documents, photographs, subject files, biographical files, invitations, speeches, publications, an original Jeff cartoon and official gifts. The collection covers Calwell's entire career, including his early involvement in the Victorian branch of the ALP, Australian Public Service Association and Melbourne City Council. There are extensive papers relating to the Curtin and Chifley ministries and particularly the Information and Immigration portfolios. Later papers relate to elections, divisions within the ALP, relations with the Catholic Church, immigration, education, the Vietnam War and overseas visits.

Part of the collection is accessible for research; permission is required to access other parts for research. Finding aid available in the Library.

Series: MS 4738
Quantity: 49 metres (288 boxes) + 1 A3 carton + 5 folio boxes + 2 folio items + 1 folio metres

Clyde Cameron was the ALP Member for Hindmarsh, SA, from 1949 to 1980. Cameron had a long and influential involvement in the labour movement and ALP politics through the Australian Workers' Union (AWU) and SA Branch of the ALP, and as a federal Labor parliamentarian and minister, writer and commentator. The collection was donated to the National Library of Australia by Cameron in regular instalments from 1973. It comprises correspondence, diaries, memoirs, a wide range of ALP materials including minutes, reports, articles, press releases and speeches, AWU rule books and publications, an extensive collection of pamphlets and other materials. Cameron collated, indexed and bound much of the collection, which is restricted.

Finding aid online.

Series: MS 4614
Quantity: 32 metres

Alan Reid was a political journalist, author and member of the Canberra Press Gallery. The bulk of the collection comprises subject files containing newspaper cuttings, but also telexes, notes, letters and printed material, ranging in date from 1976 to 1985. Other papers include copies of press reports (1942–45); personal correspondence (1971–82); a typescript diary (1971–82); a paper on the 1975 constitutional crisis; notebooks (1969–70); papers on the 1973 Australian Constitutional Convention; reports and agenda papers of the 1977 ALP National Conference; miscellaneous notes; and lists of names and addresses.

Series: MS 7796
Quantity: 6.3 metres

These boxes contain a collection of press clippings on Whitlam during his rise to power. They were collected by Reid during research for his book, The Whitlam Venture (Hill of Content, Melbourne, 1976).

Boxes 43–44

Lance Barnard spoke of his family background; early life; beginnings in politics and early career; Australia's defence policy and capabilities in the 1960s and 1970s; Australia's involvement in, and withdrawal from, the Vietnam War; and Whitlam and the Labor Party in opposition and in government.

Series: TRC 4900/53

Arthur Calwell spoke of his childhood; his debut in the ALP; his political career; the problems of unemployment and immigration in the post-war years; his interest in broadcasting; his thoughts on state religion; and the two-party system in Australian politics.

Series: TRC 1/259–260

Calwell discussed his childhood impressions and some of the reasons he became interested in politics; Dr William Maloney; wharfies and social reform; the public service and political parties; the ALP; the National Civic Council; BA Santamaria; the Petrov Affair; Dr HV Evatt; the Catholic Church and politics; the Democratic Labor Party; immigration; displaced persons; the White Australia Policy; population growth; Keith Murdoch; the Australian press; the Vietnam War and demonstrations against it; Gough Whitlam; Bob Hawke; the future of the ALP; the Communist Party; US bases in Australia; Liberal–Country Party failures; the future election program; Sir Robert Menzies; Sir William (Billy) McMahon; and the future of the Country Party.

Series: TRC 121/7

Clyde Cameron talked of his early life in Murray Bridge, SA, and his involvement in the Amalgamated Shearers' Union; influences on his political life; Norman Makin; Jim Cavanagh; life as a shearer; shearing in New Zealand; life as a union organiser; Aboriginal people as unionists; the National Civic Council; the 1921 ALP Conference; Ted Theodore; Tom Dougherty; communists; Weil's disease; and Dr HV Evatt.

He also discussed the 1943 membership drive; BHP; land prices; bribery in amalgamations; John Bannon; industrial groups; Jack Schmella; democratic socialism; union rules; the Dethridge Award; and Con Bowen. He covered the 1972 election; Gough Whitlam; migration; abolition of the Department of Labour and National Service; election of Cabinet; the Loans Affair; Whitlam and Rex Connor; rise in inflation; his move from the Labour and Immigration portfolio; Caucus rules on the dismissal of ministers; the 1975 and 1977 elections; and Frank Crean.

Series: TRC 121/24

James (Jim) Cope was the ALP Member for Cook in 1955, Watson from 1955 to 1969, and Sydney from 1969 until 1975. He was Speaker of the House of Representatives (1973–75). He spoke of his early life; joining the ALP in 1930; political meetings of the 1930s; the Depression; academics in parliament; pre-selection for federal parliament; communists in the union movement; his commitment to Redfern; controversies in Caucus; his election as Speaker in 1973; his resignation as Speaker; dismissal of the Whitlam government; parliamentary privilege; retirement; the ALP; Gough Whitlam; Arthur Calwell; and Jack Lang.

As Speaker, Cope at times struggled to maintain control of the House in early 1975, as 'the meat in the sandwich' between Gough Whitlam and Leader of the Opposition Billy Snedden. After a torrid day in parliament in which Whitlam led Labor members to oppose a ruling by Cope, Cope resigned. Cope maintained that Whitlam had not forced him to resign, but that he had decided to 'take it on the chin' in the interests of the ALP.

Series: TRC 4900/2

James (Jim) Cope was the ALP Member for Cook in 1955, Watson from 1955 to 1969, and Sydney from 1969 until 1975. He was Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1973 to 1975. Cope spoke of his early life in Sydney; the Depression; his early interest in politics; his selection for the seat of Cook; electorate work in Cook and Watson; the ALP and Democratic Labor Party split; Dr HV Evatt's retirement; Eddie Ward; the Public Accounts Committee; Arthur Calwell; responsibilities as Speaker; security; improvements to Parliament House; protocol; the Speaker's wig; Chairmanship of the Joint Houses; televising parliament; his resignation as Speaker; the retirement age for pre-selection; and the Official Establishments Committee.

Series: TRC 121/9

Frank Crean was the ALP Member for Melbourne Ports from 1951 to 1977. In 1956, he was elected 'shadow' Treasurer (Labor did not have a formal shadow ministry until 1969), a position he held for 16 years. When Labor was elected in 1972, Crean became Treasurer in the Whitlam government until 1974, when he was moved to the Trade portfolio. He spoke of his early life and early political influences; the Depression; his studies and first political activities; his entry into the Victorian state parliament; joining the ALP; the Victorian referendum on bank nationalisation; the defeat of the Cain government in Victoria; his interest in adult education and libraries; the qualities required in a politician; the 1949 federal election; the move to Canberra; the death of Ben Chifley; his years as Treasury spokesman; the 1968 resignation of Gough Whitlam; his attitude towards party infighting; currency revaluations; Vietnam War moratoriums and Whitlam's stance on the issue; the 1969 election; Labor in government and its relationship with the public service; the Australian press; handling inflation (the 1973 Budget); why he lost the Treasury portfolio; Dr Jim Cairns; the May 1974 election; prices and wages control; the faults of the Whitlam Ministry; the Whitlam Cabinet and its workings; Whitlam's advisers; the Loans Affair; and 11 November 1975. Crean also looked back over his parliamentary career and spoke of various politicians and advisers who played a role either in his career or influenced various governments.

Series: TRC 4900/11

Fred Daly talked of his early life near Tamworth and in Sydney; the Depression; joining the ALP; learning the party machinery; his decision to stand for parliament; pre-selection for Martin; conditions during the war; his swearing in and reply address; women in the House of Representatives; blackouts during the war; the Opposition; conscription; John Curtin and Winston Churchill; problems for the government during World War II; the Pharmaceutical Health Bill; effects of the war on families; Curtin's health; founding of the United Nations; Curtin's death; Chifley's election by Caucus; Frank Forde; Curtin as Prime Minister; Chifley's election as Prime Minister; the end of the war; Chifley's plans for post-war Australia; post-war reconstruction; immigration; bank nationalisation; Sir William McKell's appointment as Governor-General; communists and the ALP; unions; Menzies' attack on socialism; Chifley's reasons for continuing controls; the coalminers' strike; redistribution of electorates and increase in size of parliament; the Communist Party Dissolution Bill; Bills opposed by Chifley; the 1951 election; Chifley's death; and the 1944 referendum.

Series: TRC 121/96

Daly spoke of his family background; early life; the Depression; his early involvement in politics; the 1943 election; his political career; politicians and issues during his career; life as a backbencher in Canberra; women in parliament; Billy Hughes; the effect of World War II on parliament; Sir William McKell; the 1948 redistribution; JT Lang; Ben Chifley; the Nationalisation of Banks Bill; the National Coal Strike; the 1949 election; the Menzies government; division within the ALP; the Democratic Labor Party; Robert Menzies; John Gorton; the 1972 election; being a minister and the Leader of the House; Gough Whitlam; the Gair Affair; Jim Cope's resignation; and the 1975 Dismissal of the Whitlam government.

Series: TRC 4900/63

Kenneth Wriedt was an ALP Senator for Tasmania from 1968 to 1980 and Minister for Primary Industry in the Whitlam government. He spoke of his family background; early career on the sea; his beginnings with the ALP; his 1967 election to the Senate; his political career; Gough Whitlam; committees; the 1972 election of the Labor government; primary industry; the superphosphate bounty; the 1975 Dismissal; foreign affairs; Vietnam; trips overseas; the Loans Affair; his transfer from federal to state parliament; Robin Gray; and the Tasmanian state parliament.

Series: TRC 4900/68 Kenneth