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Online Tributes Pour in for Former Australian PM, ‘Giant’ Gough Whitlam

Whitlam walks with President Nixon

Prime Minister of Australia Edward G. Whitlam leaving the White House, walking with President Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger behind them. Photo by Jack Kightlinger, White House photographer (Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Two words have trended on Twitter all day in Australia on 21 October 2014: Gough Whitlam. The death of the former prime minister from the left-wing Labor Party at the age of 98 has dominated all media, especially social media.

His three-year government from December 1972 until November 1975 is remembered for its reforming zeal, economic turmoil and its controversial dismissal by the Governor General Sir John Kerr.

The online valedictories have focused on his legacy, often with personal touches. Michael Halliday was one of many who commented on his physical and political stature (which is evident in the photo above with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger):

State Labor parliamentarian Anthony Carbines recalled the end of compulsory military service related to the Vietnam War:

Others mentioned the impact of health care reforms. Economics professor Rebee Tourky referred to his father in that and other contexts:

Nadine Simone Watson, a freelance French-English translator, thanked him for a head start:

His groundbreaking work in promoting the rights of indigenous people and women has been widely acknowledged:

His environmental accomplishments were recalled by the Labor Environment Action Network:

Some of the recollections of Whitlam's achievements were more obscure:

One of his art purchases for the National Gallery, which came under fire at the time, seems to have paid dividends:

He often made fun of himself but this self-deprecation was often been mistaken for arrogance or intellectual snobbery (criticisms that were often made of his character). His claim that he had walked across Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin was just one instance of his jokes being reported seriously.

Journalist for The Australian newspaper Peter van Onselen summed up the spirit with which most Australians wanted to remember the passing of our controversial PM:

Tigtog (aka Viv) from blog Hoyden about Town echoed a common comparison between Gough and today’s politicians:

The giants who strode the political landscape of my youth are toppling one by one, leaving only gnats swarming over the entrails of serious political principles while Big Money shakes shiny things at us all, politicians very much included.

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