BLAST FROM PAST: The Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, gives a child a soft drink when he called at Biddle’s Hotel at the eastern end of Victoria Street during a 1974 Mackay visit.
BLAST FROM PAST: The Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, gives a child a soft drink when he called at Biddle’s Hotel at the eastern end of Victoria Street during a 1974 Mackay visit. Daily Mercury Archives

Rocky Labor stalwart describes family link to Gough Whitlam

NOT many Australians can say former Prime Minister and "father of modern Australia" Gough Whitlam nursed their sons.

But former Member for Rockhampton and Labor Party stalwart Robert Schwarten can.

Mr Schwarten's family, including his wife Judy, sons Evan and Chris, and parents Evan Snr and Bonnie Schwarten, were well-acquainted with Mr Whitlam during his political and post-political life.

Mr Schwarten had very fond memories of the "hilarious and witty man" who yesterday morning died peacefully at age 98.

Mr Whitlam visited Rockhampton many times.

His more notable visit, for Mr Schwarten, was in 1983 when he vested Evan Snr and Bonnie with Australian Labor Party life memberships at the city's School of Arts.

The event drew a crowd of many hundreds.

The Schwartens have a collection of photos of a young Evan Jnr and Chris (The Morning Bulletin's night editor) sitting on Mr Whitlam's lap during one of many visits to the region.

"He rang me when I was elected to parliament and again when I lost in 1992," Mr Schwarten said.

"He again rang me when I got back into parliament in 1995 and again when I became a minister in 1998.

"He also called dad (Evan Snr) when he was dying and mum after dad's death ... I would say his greatest legacy was to educate the baby-boomers through his free university (policy), which enabled a whole generation, including me, to gain tertiary qualifications."

Mr Schwarten said Mr Whitlam's tertiary education policy created a new class of educated people who made contributions in several academic areas.



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