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Research Guides

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

Chapter 9 - Post-parliamentary life

The records relating to Whitlam held by the National Archives of Australia focus on his period as a Member of Parliament, including as Leader of the Opposition and Prime Minister. Material relating to his pre- and post-parliamentary life is more disparate and can be found across a range of repositories. The Australian National University (ANU) Archives holds material concerning Whitlam's post-parliamentary academic appointments at the university and the Whitlam family's broader connections with the ANU. The holdings of the Whitlam Institute are particularly important for the entire time period. It includes speeches and documents relating to some of the key interventions Whitlam made as Australian Ambassador to and later as an elected member of the Executive Board of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

On leaving parliament, Whitlam became a Visiting Fellow in the ANU's Department of Political and Social Change (1978–80). He was then appointed the ANU's first National Fellow in 1981, based in the Research School of Pacific Studies. The recordings of several of Whitlam's speeches during this time, as well as photos, are held by the ANU Archives.

In 1983 Gough Whitlam was appointed by the Labor government of RJ (Bob) Hawke as Australia's Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris. Gough and Margaret moved to the renowned Harry Seidler-designed Australian Embassy complex in Paris, commissioned by the Whitlam government, where they remained until the end of 1986.

Whitlam's young research assistant, Mark Latham, joined him in Paris for a month in 1984 to continue work on Whitlam's book The Whitlam Government, published in 1985. The association between Whitlam and Latham, a future leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was, at that time, close and further cemented in 1994 when Latham was elected ALP member for Whitlam's former electorate of Werriwa. When Latham resigned from the front bench in 1998 following a policy dispute with then-party leader Kim Beazley, Whitlam's former speech writer Graham Freudenberg sent a short letter, now held by the Whitlam Institute:

Dear Gough

I suppose you are the only person left to have any influence with Latham.

Would you please tell him to pull his head in?

At the end of his term as Australia's Ambassador to UNESCO in 1986, Whitlam was elected to the Executive Board of UNESCO, a position he held until 1989. On their return to Australia in 1986 Whitlam continued to play a significant role in Australia's political and cultural life and was an active member of a number of boards and commissions. He wrote several books and made regular contributions to newspaper opinion pages (see further details in Appendix 5: Bibliography) and was in great demand as a guest speaker.

Whitlam authored four major works dealing with significant aspects of his post-parliamentary career. The Italian Inspiration in English Literature (1980) and A Pacific Community (1981) resulted from his academic terms as National Fellow at the Australian National University and Visiting Professor at Harvard University. Abiding Interests (1997) and My Italian Notebook (2002) are broader reflections on his life's work and his great love of travel and antiquities.

Academic appointments

The ANU Archives includes material relating to Whitlam's association with the ANU, as well as that of his father, Commonwealth Crown Solicitor Fred Whitlam. A full online description can be found in Prime Ministers at the Australian National University: an archival guide.

National Archives of Australia

Series: M1740
Quantity: 0.2 metres
Recorded by: 1978– The Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam AC, QC (CP 99)

This series comprises folders of copies of correspondence relating to Whitlam's personal and general activities, including in his role as an ANU Visiting Fellow.

Australian National University Archives

Series: ANUA 19
Gough Whitlam, Visiting Fellow/National Fellow, 1978–83
This two-part file documents the selection and administration of Whitlam as an ANU Visiting Fellow (1978–80), then its first National Fellow (1980–81). It covers his conditions (research assistance and subsidised University House flat), remuneration, scholarly standing, and election as an Honorary Fellow of University House in 1982. The papers include internal memos by, and letters from, Vice-Chancellor Anthony Low; letters to Low from Whitlam, students and members of the public; press items about protests when it was thought that Whitlam's tenure was to be extended; reports of overseas trips Whitlam made while a Visiting Fellow; and copies of addresses he gave during the period.
ANUA 19/ & C
Series: ANUA 53
National Fellowships, 1980–97
This item includes a small number of files on Whitlam's appointment as a National Fellow. He was appointed on 14 November 1980 on the recommendation of the Honorary Degrees Committee.
ANUA 53/
John Curtin Memorial Lectures, 1970–84
The item documents the establishment and administration of the lecture program, and includes copies of the speeches, some of which were also published. Whitlam delivered the 6th lecture; the relevant file includes correspondence between Vice-Chancellor Low and Whitlam.
ANUA 53/ parts 1–2
EG Whitlam, 1978–80
This item includes 'Major activities and engagements at ANU', 1978–80.
ANUA 53/370
Series: ANUA 51
Audio and video tapes, 1972–95
Whitlam's 1975 lecture, 'Government of the people, for the people – by the people', was the 6th John Curtin Memorial Lecture. It is among those that were recorded on audiotape by the ANU Instructional Resources Unit.
Series: ANUA 55
Folder relating to Whitlam's appointment as a Visiting Fellow, 1978–80
The papers document the negotiations between ANU Vice-Chancellor Anthony Low and Gough Whitlam, which began five months before his retirement from parliament in July 1978, to his appointment shortly thereafter as a Visiting Fellow in the Research School of Pacific Studies. They provide a genuine 'insider perspective' of a controversial decision from which one can piece together how the decision was internally negotiated, made and defended, and the media managed. The folder includes correspondence between Low and Whitlam; anonymous letters of protest from the public at the announcement of Whitlam as Visiting Fellow; press cartoons drawing on the speculation about Whitlam's appointment – especially a series of comic strip cartoons by Larry Pickering called 'The Ishbondogla Gang', published in The Weekend Australian in mid-1978; notes from academics about leaking of the news; extracts from the ANU Council and other official documents about the appointment; Low's chronology of the negotiation steps in the six months prior to the announcement on 14 July 1978; letters from supporters, especially Dr Stephen FitzGerald and Dr WS Ramson, doubters (Trevor Swan) and external advisers (JDB Miller); and memos, some labelled 'Very confidential'.
ANUA 55/4/35 (or 55/35?)
Series: ANUA 312
Sir George Knowles, 1981–85
The file covers the commission, preparation and editing of a 500-word entry on Sir George Knowles authored by Whitlam. The article appeared on page 623 of volume 9 of the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB), published in 1983. Deputy General Editor Chris Cunneen suggested Whitlam as author. A factor may have been that Knowles (Commonwealth Solicitor-General, 1932–46) and Gough's father Fred Whitlam (Crown-Solicitor, 1936–49) knew each other well and shared involvements with the University Association of Canberra and the Canberra University College Council. Whitlam's characteristic and, at times, irritating love of accuracy and detail are evident in his correspondence with editors Geoff Serle and Bede Nairn. In one letter, he acknowledged his sister Freda's help in fixing the start date of Knowles' secretaryship of the University Association to 1928. This proved to be out by a year, prompting the margin note, from the ADB: 'Hooray Freda got it wrong.'
Hubert Lazzarini, 1995–98
Whitlam also contributed a 750-word piece on federal politician and minister in the Curtin and Chifley governments and his predecessor in the seat of Werriwa, Hubert (Bert) Lazzarini. However, the biography, which appeared in 2000 on pp. 68–9 of volume 15, is suggestive: 'Following the April 1951 polls, [Lazzarini] announced that he would not contest the next. Chifley thought that a local candidate should replace him. In a protracted contest EG Whitlam emerged from a final scrum of nine.' What is clear from the file is Whitlam's enthusiasm for the research required to write the articles. He stayed in touch with General Editor John Ritchie and sent as much material to ADB from his inquiries of, for example, the Land Titles Office and the Electoral Commission, as it traditionally sent to authors. Not surprising, then, was Whitlam's admission (letter of 4 June 1996) that he 'was carried away by the subject's exceptional ethnic background, electoral mobility and factional experience'. The ADB kept internal assessments of Whitlam's drafts – 'Very flat & one dimensional. It's Pol Sci r/t [rather than] biography' – before negotiating a shorter final draft.
Series: ANUA 225 & 226
Envelopes of photographs of people and events, 1948–2005
Gough Whitlam was a regular visitor to the ANU, appearing in many photographs taken at events on campus. He was photographed with Vice-Chancellor Sir Leonard Huxley and Professor Dale Trendall, Master of University House in October 1962; with Sir Ernest Titterton, professor at the Research School of Physical Sciences, in 1973; delivering the John Curtin lecture in October 1975; and at a Convocation luncheon in 1978 speaking on Australia's regional opportunities and responsibilities.
Photographs of Whitlam with Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, in 1973 and with Dr Stephen FitzGerald and Hua Kuo-feng, Chinese Premier, July 1976 ANUA 225/1315
Whitlam launched Stewart Harris' book, This is Our Land, and was photographed with Indigenous spokesman Paul Coe, October 1972 ANUA 226/478
Whitlam launched Dr HC Coombs' autobiography, Trial Balance, 1981 ANUA 225/248
Whitlam was photographed with Rafe de Crespigny and two delegates from a Libyan trade mission, November 1979 ANUA 226/552
As Australian Ambassador to UNESCO, Whitlam donated Journal of Pacific History, published by the Research School of Pacific Studies, to the organisation in Paris, 1985 ANUA 226/522
In December 1994, Whitlam attended a conference on campus on the Labor tradition in foreign policy. A drawing by Rik Bigwood of Whitlam, Gareth Evans and Arthur Calwell illustrated the event, 1944 ANUA 226/565
Margaret Whitlam was photographed at the Australian Playwrights' Conference at Burton Hall, May 1977 ANUA 226/458
Margaret Whitlam was photographed at University House, 1990 ANUA 225/1314
Gough's father HFE Whitlam was photographed at the dinner for the retiring Interim Council, July 1951 ANUA 12/9
Series: ANUA 240
Photographs, 1974–97
Whitlam visited the ANU's Northern Territory campus in Darwin in August 1994 with Dr HC Coombs. There are several photographs of Whitlam with Coombs, Dr Deborah Rose and other staff.
ANUA 240/3
Series: ANUA 235
Research material for University House history, 2002–05
The file on 'University House history' includes a copy of the ANU Reporter for Winter 2004 with a photo of Whitlam (p. 15) and references to a 1981 ceremony at University House when Whitlam launched HC Coombs' autobiography Trial Balance. A second file contains letters by Whitlam sent to University House Master Professor John Richards in October 2003, which summarise his relationship and his father's with the ANU. As for University House, Whitlam stressed his being made an Honorary Fellow in 1982, his use of the House when staying overnight in Canberra, and his work with former House Master Ralph Elliott on Italian influences in Chaucer. There is also a photograph of Whitlam at the 3rd Wine Symposium in 1979.
ANUA 235/2, 4, 6


In 1983, Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke offered Whitlam the position of Australian Ambassador to UNESCO, based in Paris. At the end of his term as Ambassador, Whitlam continued his work with UNESCO as an elected member of the UNESCO Executive Board. Whitlam played an important role during a time when the United States and United Kingdom withdrew their financial support for UNESCO and UNESCO's viability was seriously threatened. Among other records relating to Whitlam's involvement with UNESCO, the Whitlam Institute holds copies of his influential 1985 speech to the General Council of the United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on the UNESCO predicament, 'United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – Partner or Puppet?'

Whitlam Institute

Photographs at UNESCO House, Paris, 26 August 1983
Three black and white photographs of the new Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, the Hon. EG Whitlam AC, QC, at UNESCO House, Paris, France, with Mr Amadou-Mahtas M'bow, Director General of UNESCO. In one photograph, Mr M'Bow receives Whitlam's credentials as the new Permanent Delegate of Australia to the organisation.
EG Whitlam, Dispatch No. 1/84, 'UNESCO 1984 and 1985', to B Hayden, 4 January 1984
Address by the Australian Ambassador to UNESCO, the Hon. EG Whitlam AC, QC, to the National Press Club, Canberra, on 21 March 1984
This is the typed, 11-page speech Whitlam made, as Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, to the National Press Club in Canberra. In the address, he mentioned that Labor governments had supported UNESCO and ratified several UNESCO Conventions. Newspaper coverage of UNESCO and its activities had, in Australia and other Western countries, often been inaccurate and critical. Mrs Jeane Kirkpatrick, US Ambassador to the United Nations, had stated in a National Press Club speech a month earlier that the United Nations method of operating was similar to that of a political system. Whitlam stated that the same principles applied to UNESCO. He provided some reasons for the lack of good media stories and gave examples of successful projects.
EG Whitlam, Dispatch No. 2/84, 'The Specialised Agencies and the Parties of the Right', to B Hayden, 6 June 1984
EG Whitlam, 'Western Governments and Multilateral Organisations', Address to mark the First Constituent Meeting of the International Advisory Board of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Rome, 3 September 1984
Speech: 'United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – Partner or Puppet?' delivered on 13 April 1985
This is the typed, 17-page address on the formation, history and structure of the United Nations, and some problems and suggested ways to improve the organisation, given by Whitlam as the Permanent Delegate to UNESCO. Whitlam talked about the withdrawal of the US and the proposed withdrawal of the UK from UNESCO, and the effect this would have on the organisation and on those two countries.
EG Whitlam, UNESCO General Conference, General Policy Debate, intervention by Gough Whitlam (Australia), 27 October 1987
EG Whitlam, 'Intervention by the Hon. EG Whitlam AC, QC', Item 4.1, UNESCO Executive Board, 26 May 1988
EG Whitlam, 'Intervention by Mr Gough Whitlam', UNESCO Executive Board, 18 May 1989
EG Whitlam, 'International Law-Making', 18th Fullagar Lecture, Monash University, 16 August 1989
EG Whitlam, Proceedings of the 25th Session of the General Conference of UNESCO, 19 October 1989
General Policy Debate, UNESCO, Paris, 17 October–16 November 1989
EG Whitlam, 'Report to Australian National Commission for UNESCO on the 25th Session of the General Conference of UNESCO, Paris, 17 October–16 November 1989', University House, Canberra, 1 February 1990
Diplomatic passports for Edward Gough Whitlam from 1976 to 1993
A total of 11 diplomatic passports were issued to the Hon. Edward Gough Whitlam QC, MP. They contain stamps from the various countries he visited in an official capacity, including Egypt; Iran; United States of America; France; Bolivia; Chile; Spain; Vietnam; Argentina; Philippines; and Romania.

Later public life

On their return from Paris, Gough and Margaret Whitlam showed no sign of slowing down, taking on a range of public and quasi-governmental roles. In 1986 Whitlam was appointed a member of the University of Sydney Senate for a second term, Chair of the Australia–China Council and, from 1987, Chair of the National Gallery of Australia. He also served as a member of the Hawke government's 1985 Constitutional Commission, the official records of which were published as the Final Report of the Constitutional Commission in 1988 (see Appendix 3: Bibliography).

Margaret Whitlam was involved in several arts bodies, including the Australian Opera and the Sydney Theatre Company. She was a judge of the National Book Council Awards and a member of a NSW Government committee reviewing adult education. In the 1990s, Margaret Whitlam accepted an offer from former social work colleagues then operating a study tour company called International Study Programs, to join them as a tour leader. Margaret then led several cultural tours through England and Europe. Gough soon joined her and together they led highly popular educational tours to Europe, South America and South-East Asia. Gough was now following Margaret in her successful role as an educational tour guide leader, although she continued to run her favourite music and literature-focused tours on her own. It was a new chapter in their relationship, which had until then largely revolved around Gough's work and political prominence.

Both Gough and Margaret were members of the 1995 Sydney bid team that successfully canvassed support for the Olympic Games to be held in Sydney in 2000. In 1997 Gough and Margaret became the only couple to be jointly honoured by the National Trust of Australia as National Living Treasures. In 2007 Gough and Margaret Whitlam were awarded the first national life memberships of the Australian Labor Party.

University of Sydney Archives

G.001 SENATE, 1851–1987
Whitlam served on the Sydney University Senate from 1981 to 1983 and from 1986 to 1989. Records less than 30 years old or containing personal information are generally not available for research use. Questions relating to access should be directed to the Sydney University archives.

Whitlam Institute

The Whitlam Institute collection contains all of Whitlam's available speeches on a searchable database. Examples are listed below.

EG Whitlam, 'Vietnam', ANU Seminar, Canberra, 22 September 1978
EG Whitlam, 'Commemorative dinner speech', Citizens for Democracy, Italo-Australians for Labor and the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW, 11 November 1978
EG Whitlam, 'Australia's regional opportunities and responsibilities', Address to ANU Convocation Luncheon, Canberra, 15 November 1978
EG Whitlam, Launch speech: 'The truth of the matter', Launching luncheon, National Press Club, Canberra, 8 February 1979
EG Whitlam, 'The truth of the matter', Sydney Journalists' Club luncheon, 14 February 1979
EG Whitlam, 'The Connor legacy', Inaugural RX Connor Memorial Lecture, University of Wollongong, 26 September 1979
EG Whitlam, 'Indonesia and Australia: political aspects', The Indonesian Connection Seminar, ANU, Canberra, 30 November 1979
EG Whitlam, 'The Pacific framework', Opening of the 3rd National Conference of the Asian Studies Association, Griffith University, NSW, 25 August 1980
EG Whitlam, 'Book review of Manning Clark's A History of Australia V: the people make the laws 1888–1915', 1981
EG Whitlam, 'The 3rd Whitlam lecture', Citizens for Democracy and the Fabian Society, The University of Sydney, 10 November 1985
EG Whitlam, 'Australian intervention', Executive Board Debate on the Director-General's Oral Report, 13 May 1986
EG Whitlam, 'Talking points for London launch of The Whitlam Government', Australia House, London, 17 July 1986
EG Whitlam, 'A longer view', Address to the inaugural meeting of the South Australian Branch of the Australian Fabian Society, Adelaide, 13 February 1987
EG Whitlam, 'Dragging the chain 1897–1997', The Second Vincent Lingiari Memorial Lecture, Northern Territory University, 29 August 1997
EG Whitlam, 'Eulogy for Nugget Coombs', St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, 14 November 1997
EG Whitlam, 'John Curtin: party, parliament, people', Inaugural Curtin Anniversary Lecture, Curtin University, John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, 5 July 1998
EG Whitlam, letter to the editor, The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 February 1999
EG Whitlam, 'Go to the documents: an address on the role of historians', Opening Address, National Biannual Postgraduate History Conference, The University of Melbourne, 20 July 2001
EG Whitlam, '30th Anniversary Sino–Australia Relations', Queensland government function, Beijing Hotel, 29 July 2002
EG Whitlam, 'The relevance of the Whitlam government today', Keynote Address, 30 Years Later: The Whitlam Government as Modernist Politics, Conference, Old Parliament House, Canberra, 2 December 2002
EG Whitlam, 'Joint Sitting: 30th Anniversary', Whitlam Institute within the University of Western Sydney, 6 August 2004
EG Whitlam, '1974 Cabinet Papers Go Public', Speech to the National Archives of Australia, 10 December 2004
EG Whitlam, 'Speech by the Hon. EG Whitlam AC, QC on the occasion of the bestowing on Gough and Margaret Whitlam, Life Membership to the Australian Labor Party', ALP 44th National Conference, Sydney Convention Centre, 28 April 2007
EG Whitlam, 'Australian National University commencement dinner', Bruce Hall, ANU, Canberra, 7 March 2008