“I had today a message received from the Gurindji,” Mr Snowden said in Federal Parliament. “It says: ‘Very sad we lost that old man, but good because now people all over Australia will be reminded of his great legacy and the great thing he did with our leader, Mr Lingiari. That old maluka, old man, understood our important role in land rights. We will meet today to plan how we will mourn him’”
We did. We really called him Super-Gough back then. Just for a very short, blindingly bright moment in time we thought that he could walk on water; could part the Red Sea if he put his mind to it. And we, as Australians, could follow him in doing so.
Except for a few mean-spirited Murdochites, all sides of politics have come together in tribute at the great man’s passing. So too have us ordinary guys who can remember him putting our giant red soporific ship on a brand new course. He changed lives – he changed a whole nation for the better. To me the best of the reported tributes is the above. Of all the iconic snaps taken of Super-Gough during his brief time at the helm, one linked to these words is clearly the stand-out. Sure, it’s not the one of a t-shirted SG flanked by a buxom young pop-starlet telling us all ‘It’s Time’. It’s not the one of him sitting, chewing the fat with Chairman Mao on his ground-breaking visit to China whilst Leader of the Opposition. Remember our odious political midget of a PM back then telling us all how inappropriate this was as Communist China was a pariah-state. He did this on the very day President Nixon announced he was about to follow in EGW’s footsteps. It also isn’t the one of a stentorian SG standing on Parliament steps, behind David Smith as he read aloud that infamous document. Whitlam was about to unleash his contained rage. No, for me the image I cherish most, from those heady days, is a handful of red dirt being poured from a white hand into a black one – two mighty leaders of their people finally being on the same page. In Vincent Lingiari’s words, ‘We can all be mates now.’ If only.
Sure, as some witless souls have printed in recent days, the cabinet he presided over became more and more shambolic as time headed towards November, 1975 – a new week, a new scandal. There was the Loans Affair, as well as an affair of a very different nature featuring femme fatale Junie Morosi – just to cite a couple. So it was possibly appropriate that SG was unseated in a similarly outrageous manner, a way that we will never forget, by ‘Kerr’s cur.’
It says something of the man that he is now, or was, best of mates with the ‘cur’. For several decades together they became the conscience of our land. I have no doubt Malcolm Fraser wept again when the news reached him of SG’s passing. It is ironic that he is now the venerable figure on the landscape that points us towards ‘the light on the hill’. He leads the railing against the deplorable policies of Abbott and his abysmal cronies, as SG would surely have done in his pomp.
I remember exactly where I was when that other, earlier news reached me. On that eleventh day of an eleventh month I had finished my morning’s teaching and was heading for the staffroom to enjoy a break. A colleague, Sandra Skeels, passed me, coffee in hand, on her way out for duty. ‘Have you heard, Steve?’ she intoned. ‘They’ve sacked Gough.’ There was little enjoyment for me in that room of refuge back in ’75. All teachers then were Labor to their bootstraps.
No doubt, up there beyond the silver lining, Super-Gough will seek out Vincent Lingiari one more time. ‘Walk with me a little old fella comrade – talk with me. Remember a time when you and I sat down together as one. We started something, you and I. From that little thing, that pouring of dirt, something big may yet grow.’