I speak in tribute a great Australian woman and feminist Margaret Whitlam AO, who died on 17 March 2012.

Although, feminist is not a term she would have readily used to describe herself instead she referred to herself as a 'relaxed gradualist'. In the 1987 book the 'Matriarchs' she is quoted, 'I am a feminist in so far as I don't want to be trodden on and I don't want to be used as somebody's handbag. I am not an accessory". Margaret Whitlam was a woman I greatly admired. She was a firm believer in the Women's Movement and an advocate for women's rights. She will always be remembered as a strong outspoken woman and champion of social change. As a young woman she was an accomplished athlete who represented Australia swimming breath stroke in the 1938 Empire Games. She played tennis, hockey and it is said was a proficient backyard cricketer, later in life she was also a keen golfer and while at the Lodge declared Tuesdays Golf Day. Margaret Whitlam never lost sight of her strong principals of social justice. Some of her work and activities included social worker, journalist, TV presenter, book reviewer, tour leader, author, Red Cross volunteer, later in life she also taught English to migrants. We also remember her well for her passion for the Arts.

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She remained at the heart of the community, and for the community. She was duly recognised for this work 1983 when awarded the Order of Australia. She declared she was celebrating the award with Gough over a simple dinner of sausages and mash. That says it all about Margaret Whitlam she never believed she was ever due anything. In the early years her intellect, wit and her grounding were evident to those around her. As noted in the book "Prime Ministers Wives", she was quickly identified as an electoral asset: "Margaret Whitlam – well educated...well travelled and with a mind of her own – fits well with the ALP's election slogan, "It's time" and 'Margaret Whitlam is Gough's secret weapon ...the best public relations agent Gough could have...The lady doesn't need slits.' It was believed that not since Enid Lyons had there been a more controversial woman in the Lodge, largely due to her readiness to speak and write with unrestrained candour about a wide range of topics. Margaret Whitlam was a reflection of a fresh, new, modern Australia. She had her own views and no fear of expressing them—views which still, 40 years later, can still be considered progressive. Speaking to the press soon after the 1972 election, she spoke openly in favour of equal pay for women, the need for the decriminalisation of abortion, the legalisation of marijuana
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and her belief that marriage was not necessary unless the couple involved intended to have children, she could see no problem with de-facto relationships. She always went to great lengths to point out that her views were her own. In 1973, she opened her first media conference in Britain with the tantalising offer: "Ask me an outrageous question and I'll give you an outrageous answer." She urged women to have faith in themselves and find strength in unity. At a 1975 equality symposium in Adelaide Margaret said of women: 'We do not exist as people in our own right. We are often missing from history. Our language virtually ignores us. Our names are not our own. Our lives are lived through others. We are someone's daughter, someone's wife, someone's mother. Our role in life is largely determined for us. Our God is masculine. Our laws are made by men. We are attacked by men, defended by other men. Even our bodies are not our own'. It is statements such as these that inspire so much respect. She was so well loved throughout her life by those who did know her and then by so many Australians who had never met her but who felt they knew her from her writing. It would be remiss of me in paying tribute to Margaret Whitlam if I did not mention her long and enduring partnership with Gough.
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In 1939, she met Gough at a Sydney University Dramatic Society Christmas party. He was, "just the most divinelooking man I'd seen, he had this beautiful dry, dry wit -- and he was tall". Two years later, Gough proposed and they were married at St Michael's, Vaucluse, on April 22, 1942. It was a marriage that endured almost 70 years. Margaret attributed the success of her long and sustaining partnership to her husband's "extraordinary sense of humour". He repaid the compliment by dedicating his books to her: "To my best appointment", "my most constant critic", and in a book about Italy, to "my prima donna". In 1997, after public voting in a National Trust poll, Gough and Margaret were the only couple to be declared National Living Treasures. I wish to express my condolences to Gough as he faces a future without 'the love of his life', treasured partner and companion. My thoughts are also with Gough and Margaret’s children Antony, Nicholas, Stephen and Catherine and partners, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Vale Margaret Whitlam

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