21 oct. 2014


Former Australian Prime Minister Whitlam has died at 98. I was kind of fortunate to meet him in person in Sydney, in the late 1990s. The occasion was an official reception at the Spanish Consul-General's residence in Potts Point. I was there not because of the passport I held but because of the job my wife had at the time. I certainly felt like fish out of water.

After being given drinks upon arrival, we were introduced to Whitlam, who turned out to be a chatty, warm, genial old man (he must have been around 82). Delicious Spanish canapés were being distributed while we talked. Whitlam showed some interest in us, a young couple who had recently married and decided to settle in Australia. He subtly inquired if we still spoke different languages at home (we were childless at the time), and I promptly confirmed we did.

Whitlam instantly showed his wit and affability by telling us that, as long as we used the same language for 'pillow-talk', mutual understanding would be a certainty. But then, at some point during the chat, a little morsel of food left his mouth and landed on my shirt, leaving a little stain. I did not take much notice. A day or so later, being the Labor hero he undoubtedly was, and held in a status of almost sainthood by my in-laws, I was urged not to wash the shirt.

The indelible mark Whitlam left on my memory has nothing to do with the shirt or the canapé stain. His was a peculiar, mythical presence, a larger-than-life figure, yet that day he came across as one of the most down-to-earth, straightforward politicians you could expect to meet.

98 years of living is a lot of years: a very long life, one to be celebrated , now that it has come to an end.

2 comentarios:

  1. Respuestas
    1. Thanks, Catherine. I believe he was a person of astounding political stature. His major achievement is possibly the fact that he caused Australia (a place that at times seems to be almost pathologically averse to change) to be transformed. What a difference it makes with the current lot!


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