The best of Margaret Whitlam

Margaret Whitlam

Margaret Whitlam is no longer with us, but she left us with quite a legacy.

Margaret was the wife of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and, at the very same time, something a whole lot more complex. She spoke her mind, didn’t bite her tongue. A woman in the 1970s refusing to be pigeon-holed? How outrageous. She was a champion swimmer, an advocate for women’s rights, the legalisation of marijuana, wages for house wives and contraceptive advice.

She was ahead of her time.

Her husband, now 95, said she was the love of his life.

‘‘She was a remarkable person and the love of my life,’’ he said.

‘‘We were married for almost 70 years. She encouraged and sustained me and our four children, their families and many other people in a life full of engagement with Australians from all walks of life.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said:

‘‘Margaret was an accomplished woman in her own right, with an abiding commitment to social issues, reflecting her own professional training, as well as a tireless advocate for the arts, the environment and women’s rights.”

She had been an inspiration to many women ‘‘to lead lives of greater ambition and purpose’’.

‘‘Through her own independent activism and advocacy, she also helped redefine the role of ’first lady’, giving it a new and deeper significance in the life of our nation,’’ Ms Gillard said.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said she was a trailblazer. ”Modern women have a lot to thank her for.”

Rather than us tell you what she was all about, let’s leave it to some of her more memorable quotes to do just that.

On politics


“I’m prepared to voice my own opinion, my own personal opinion on things, even if they’re political.

“What am I to do? Stay in a cage – wide open to view, of course – and say nothing? That’s not on, but if I can do some good I’ll certainly try.”

On being a Prime Minister’s wife

“If you say nothing you’re just dumb. If you talk, you’re too talkative.”

On her husband’s dismissal as Prime Minister

“He said something about he’d given him a note sacking him. I said, ‘Why didn’t you tear it up?’ he said ‘oh, I couldn’t do that’. Silly man, I’d have torn it up; who was to know he’d been given anything.”

On former PM John Howard’s wife Janette

“She is useless in terms of how little she really gives the community.

“She doesn’t even go to the old people’s homes that Howard visits. The only thing she goes to is big, public things.

“I fear she’s a steely woman. Never contributing anything else but a smile. Nor a grin – a grin indicates some sense of humour.”

On meeting her husband

“I do believe it was instant. I thought he was dreamy.”

On the younger wife of Sir William McMahon

“I’m a different age, a different shape and a different person. My main decoration is, I suppose, my conversation.”

On the media, in Britain

“Ask me an outrageous question and I’ll give you an outrageous answer.”

On her writing while ‘in office’

“I came to represent all the ungainly people, the too-tall ones, the too-fat ones and the housebound as I’d been, who’d never go to China or Buckingham Palace and went through me.”
On inflation

“[It’s] a lot of hoo-ha.”
How do you remember Margaret Whitlam?