The Whitlams on Whitlam: “He took the theft of his name so gracefully”

Tim Freedman from The Whitlams has paid tribute to the iconic Australian PM who gave his band its name.

The singer has been doing the media rounds today following the death of Australia’s 21st prime minister Gough Whitlam, who passed away this morning aged 98. Speaking to triple j, Freedman said naming his band The Whitlams came with the full support of the great man himself. “I was personally thankful that he took the theft of his name so gracefully when he realised it was in the name of art,” he said. “But more broadly we were all very lucky that a man with such supreme talents decided to dedicate them to public service and to the improvement of his country.”

Freedman also opened up to triple j’s digital station Double J about the “warm friendship” he struck up with Whitlam and his late wife Margaret in his later years. “I would sometimes take him lunch in his office when he became a bit less mobile and he would allow me to escort Margaret to concerts when he became immobile,” he told Double J. “I’d take her to classical concerts and he’d joke that he’d have to get a young girlfriend if this kept up.”

“We were the only rock band that he and Margaret ever saw.”

He said the pair turned up to a Whitlams gig at The Factory Theatre in Sydney about eight years ago. “At first he would say he was more into Chopin and Gilbert & Sullivan, but we were the only rock band that he and Margaret ever saw,” he said.

The name The Whitlams came to Freedman while lying in bed one night in 1991. He also wrote a tribute song, ‘Gough’, which appeared on their first album Introducing the Whitlams in 1993. “He was like this knight in shining armour that suddenly appeared in Australian history,” he said. “He had the learning and the bearing of someone who you would have thought came from the conservative side of politics, but he had all these progressive ideals and he was happy to live in a modest family home in Blacktown or Cronulla and be a good local member.”

Tributes have poured in for Whitlam from all sectors of the music community including triple j presenters Zan Rowe and Lindsay “The Doctor” McDougall, who thanked him for the station’s very existence. Sydney rapper Urthboy praised his egalitarian values, while Clare Bowditch posted an excerpt from his famous “It’s Time” speech on her Instagram. Isabella Manfredi from The Preatures said Whitlam ushered in an era of “progressive optimism and a new global self-consciousness”.

“My mum, whose father didn’t believe in tertiary education for women, would never have been able to go to university if it weren’t for the Commonwealth Scholarship,” she told triple j. “Neither would [Preatures guitarist] Gideon’s father or mine, who were both migrants from working class families. If we think of the wealth and opportunity this generated for Australia alone it is a staggering achievement. Gough’s vision was based on the belief that Australia had its own innate strength and contributions to make as a world leader and innovator, not a follower.”


(Photo via Double J)