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NEWS: The 8 most beautiful moments from today's memorial for Gough Whitlam.

gough whitlams memorial

How do you sum up a truly extraordinary life  in just a few words?

How do you edit the achievements of one of Australian history’s most prolific politicians, into a short and sombre speech?

Impossible tasks, taken on today by his family and Australia’s greatest politicians, artists and musicians as they gathered to remember former Prime Minister of Australia Gough Whitlam, who died on October 21, aged 98.

About 6,000 people registered to attend today’s state memorial service, but only 1,900 mourners could fit inside Sydney Town Hall — leaving many to spill across the pavement outside the hall, where they watched the moving service on big outdoor screens.

A candle is lit next to a portrait of Whitlam. (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Getty Images)
A candle is lit next to a portrait of Whitlam. (Photo by Daniel Munoz/Getty Images)
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This is what they heard.

1. “Australia’s greatest white elder” – Noel Pearson.

Aboriginal Australian academic and activist Noel Pearson delivered a passionate, moving tribute to Whitlam, speaking in particular about his contribution to anti-discrimination and land rights.

“Without this old man, the land rights of our people would never have seen the light of day,” Mr Pearson said. “He truly was Australia’s greatest white elder…

“He harboured not a bone of racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice in his body.”

Mr Pearson also remarked on how much social change Whitlam spearheared in only three years as the nation’s leader.

“In less than three years an astonishing reform agenda leaps off the policy platform and into legislation,” he said of Mr Whitlam’s reign.

“The country would change forever. The cosmopolitan Australia finally emerged like a technicolour butterfly from its long dormant chrysalis.”

2. “I shall be grateful til the day I die” – Cate Blanchett

Academy-award winning Australian actress Cate Blanchett also gave an impassioned speech at the service that, at times, was almost drowned out by cheers.

She described the former Prime Minister as “mighty”, adding: “I am the beneficiary of free tertiary education … good free health care. I am a small part of Australia’s coming of age.”

“The nation was truly changed by him, through the Arts and through gender,” she said.

“I shall be grateful ‘til the day I die.”

3. Cheers and jeers.

Former prime ministers Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, as well as current Prime Minister Tony Abbott, were among the mourners at today’s packed service.

The crowd cheered and gave a standing ovation as Ms Gillard entered the memorial service, and also gave Mr Fraser — who took over as Liberal prime minister after Mr Whitlam’s controversial 1975 dismissal — a warm reception.

In the only wrong note of the memorial, Tony Abbott’s arrival was roundly boo-ed.

4. From Little Things…

Kelly and  indigenous Australian singer-songwriter Kev Carmody performed a stunning rendition of From Little Things Big Things Grow, which the musicians wrote together in 1991 as an expression of the Gurindji people’s struggle for equality and land rights.

The crowd was moved by the quiet power of the song as it reflected Whitlam’s policies towards indigenous rights.

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5. “Margaret was always by his side, never in his shadow.”

Married in 1942, Gough and Margaret Whitlam were a formidable team — and when charity advocate and women’s rights campaigner Margaret died, her family released a statement describing their relationship as “a true political and personal partnership”.

At today’s memorial Senator John Faulkner remarked that: “Through all of it Margaret, was always by his side … never in his shadow.”

Gough Whitlams memorial
The crowd outside Sydney Town Hall during the memorial service today. Photo: Instagram

6. My father, the legend.

Mr Whitlam’s oldest child, Tony Whitlam, QC, addressed the service on behalf of the Whitlam family.

“Gough, of course, would have loved to speak today but the rules of the game have disqualified him,” Mr Whitlam said.

“That is just as well as I am told the Town Hall is booked tomorrow.”

He also recalled election campaigning with his father, armed with a megaphone down a river in a tinny, according to Fairfax Media reporter Lisa Visentin.

7. “He still touches millions.”

Graham Freudenberg told the service he fondly remembered Whitlam placing his hand on his shoulder for luck before every major speech.

He said the former Prime Minister “built a bridge between past fears and future hopes” and “believed profoundly in the Australian Labor Party as the mainstay of Australian democracy and Australian equality”.

“He touches, still, the millions who share his vision for a more equal Australia, a more independent, inclusive, generous and tolerant Australia, a nation confident of its future in our region and the world,” he said.

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8. “We want Gough.”

The crowd outside the service erupted into an impromptu chant of “We want Gough” at the conclusion of the memorial, according to Lisa Visentin.

Vale Whitlam.

Some touching moments from the  memorial:

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A few memorable Gough Whitlam moments:

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