Whitlam Institute

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The Hon John Faulkner

The Hon John Faulkner delivered the below speech at the opening of the exhibition Dedicated to the Dedicated: Whitlam, the Arts and Democracy on Thursday 6 June 2019 at the Margaret Whitlam Galleries, Whitlam Institute within Western Sydney University, Rydalmere.


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The very many distinguished guests who are with us this evening and L & G, Let me also begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land and by paying my respects to their elders past & present.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Whitlam Institute – located here in this wonderful and important historic building - unites two great passions of Gough Whitlam: education and the delivery and development of services to the suburbs of Western Sydney.

But Gough, of course, is remembered for much, much more.

We have heard Carrillo Gantner and Rex Irwin provide their perspectives about some very important elements of the Whitlam legacy.

Gough Whitlam was the Prime Minister of universal health care, aboriginal land rights, diplomatic relations with China, an end to conscription and rights for women.

But, we should not forget, his advocacy and commitment  - often accompanied by howls of criticism – to a program for arts and culture that united the practical and the romantic, the suburban and the international. He supported the arts, and artists.

Think of this. On the one hand Gough Whitlam’s vital and close engagement with Australian cultural life was a passion – a passion that never waned.

On the other hand, in many ways Gough Whitlam was the first Prime Minister of the suburbs. He led Labor to victory on a platform that contained a great many prosaic commitments - transport, health, housing costs, education, telephone services and sewerage.

I hope this event tonight will remind us that the life of the suburbs, and the life of the mind, are not inevitably separated. They are inextricably linked.

Remind us that Australians do feel pride in our culture. That there is an interest in our lives being explored and our stories being told in every kind of cultural and artistic form.

I hope tonight will remind us that over recent years we have not celebrated enough our national artistic and cultural life - which is such an important part of the generous, cosmopolitan, vital nation that we know Australia can be.

I hope tonight will remind us that governments can sustain their nation’s creative communities, and can promote and foster artist’s efforts depicting an authentic Australian voice.

L & G, before his death Gough made his enduring hope clear that the Whitlam Institute would uphold the abiding interests of his long public life.  He said: “ The Whitlam Institute exists to help in the great and continuing work of building a more equal, open, tolerant and independent Australia.”

I can assure you we work hard here to fulfill that ambition.

I am always frank with people at events such as this in stressing the challenges we face in continuing the Institute’s critically important work.

How important it is to increase access to our magnificent Prime Ministerial Collection – unsurpassed anywhere in this country.

How important it is to continue to engage with the community – particularly with kids from right around the country - in our very successful civics education programs and our influential public policy work.

L & G, to sustain the Institute and the Collection into the future, we will continue to ask for support: your support, the support the community and the support of government.

So I would ask, if you are able, to please consider supporting the work we do.

L & G The launch tonight of Dedicated to the Dedicated: Whitlam, the Arts and Democracy is yet another step forward for the Institute with this first ever public display of such a wonderful collection of artworks.

I would like to place on record my thanks to Catherine Dovey, the Whitlam family Board member here at the Institute, who enquired last year about the folio of artworks gifted - by a grateful arts community - to her parents back in 1979.

The “rediscovery” of the folio following Catherine’s inquiry has led to this event tonight.

To the artists and their families whose permissions have made the exhibition possible, and to the exhibition’s curator, Guy Betts, and everyone who contributed to the exhibition content - we sincerely thank you all. I particularly acknowledge Bruce Petty, one of the original contributors to the folio, who is with us tonight.

To our guest speakers, thank you so much. We are honoured to have you both speak at this launch.

Simply put, Carrillo Gantner is without question, a cultural leader in Australia; and there has been no better-known art dealer in this country than Rex Irwin.

I did however read a Sydney Morning Herald piece where Rex expressed somewhat different views after retiring from his famous gallery. He is quoted as saying:

A woman said to me the other day: "Are you the Rex Irwin?" and I said: "No, I used to be."

As always, thank you to the University and the Vice-Chancellor.

The Institute is encouraged and strongly supported by Western Sydney University itself. That successful relationship – now in place since our establishment – forms the bedrock for the work of the Whitlam Institute.

Thank you also to all our Institute staff and our archivists who work so hard to make an occasion like this work so well.

And finally L & G, on behalf of the Whitlam Institute, I thank you for sharing this experience with us tonight.

Jenna Beck