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Memento : Issue 36
MEMENTO ISSUE 36 15 Flying Officer Gough Whitlam's wartime experiences were formative. During a lengthy period of training at the RAAF Initial Training School at Bradfield Park in New South Wales, Whitlam learnt morse code, maths, meteorology and navigation. At the end of his initial training, his marks were among the top for his group of trainees, and he was placed third overall. From Bradfield Park, Whitlam was then posted to the No. 1 Air Observers School in Cootamundra, NSW, where for the next three months he undertook further navigation training. By the end of his training he was ranked as a Flying Officer. In September 1943, after 15 months of training, Gough Whitlam was assigned to Squadron 13, then stationed in Canberra, where it was being re-equipped with Navy Ventura aircraft after sustaining heavy losses and damage during the Japanese air raids on Darwin in February 1942. For the next 10 months, Gough stayed with his parents, Fred and Martha, and his sister Freda (who had also enlisted with the RAAF as a non-commissioned officer). Margaret, now pregnant with the couple's first child, also stayed with the Whitlams during this time in the city of Gough Whitlam's childhood. He often had his Air Force comrades over to dinner, where they were treated to his mother Martha's renowned hospitality. An influential father Gough Whitlam's father, Fred Whitlam, an often overlooked senior public servant, is an important figure in his own right. One of the most satisfying aspects of our extensive research project has been bringing to light Fred Whitlam's influence on his only son and his own significant contribution to Australia's political landscape. Fred Whitlam was part of the first wave of public servants who moved to the fledgling city of Canberra in 1927. He served as Crown Solicitor from 1936 and was a prominent member of the Canberra community. As secretary of the Canberra College Association, he was instrumental in the formation of the Australian National University. He was also an elder of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, chairman of the Australian Churches Committee on International Affairs, and a driving force within the Canberra branch of the Institute of International Affairs. In 1946, Fred served with the Australian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference led by Labor Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs Dr HV Evatt, where Evatt put forward the proposal for the establishment of an international human rights court. Fred Whitlam retired as Crown Solicitor in April 1949 but continued to be closely involved with United Nations matters as an adviser to the Department of External Affairs and as Australian representative at the 1950 and 1954 sessions of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. A turning point Significantly, Gough Whitlam's war service alerted him to what he saw as crucial flaws in the Australian Constitution and the need for expanded Commonwealth power. One of the most important political events during Whitlam's RAAF years was the 1944 Referendum on Post-War Reconstruction and Democratic Rights. The Labor Government, as it entered the war under Prime Minister John Curtin, was aware that its wartime powers were temporary. It proposed to extend the powers granted to the Commonwealth during wartime to the significant tasks of rebuilding and reconstruction in peacetime. The cause was taken up primarily by Evatt who, as Attorney-General, introduced a Bill in October 1942 which recommended that a number of powers -- including the power to make laws regarding employment, health, transport and for the Aboriginal peoples of Australia -- be transferred to the federal parliament after the war. The Bill also incorporated aspects of the four key freedoms then considered fundamental to democratic citizenship: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear. These proposals were put to the people in the 1944 referendum. Gough Whitlam, now stationed at Cooktown, Qld, followed every constitutional move in the complicated developments towards the referendum. As Crown Solicitor, his father was the formative draftsman of the documents relating to the referendum. [above] As Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam handed title of land at Wattie Creek in the Northern Territory to the Gurindji people, represented by Vincent Lingiari, in 1975. NAA: A8598, AK6/5/80/11