Gough Whitlam’s Eulogy For Sir James Killen

Gough Whitlam has delivered the eulogy for Sir James Killen at his funeral service at St. John’s Cathedral, Brisbane.

Killen died last week at the age of 81. A Member of Parliament for the House of Representatives Division of Moreton from 1955 until 1983, Killen served as Defence Minister in the Fraser Government.

In his eulogy, Whitlam said: “Jim Killen was a proud Australian parliamentarian and a great one. In his career Parliament was as significant as the ministerial offices he held with distinction. His influence, his abiding interest in the great affairs of our country, his fascination with the intricate interplay of the political machinery, his knowledge of and respect for the Constitution, all came from his love of Parliament. He understood completely the indispensable role of strong political parties as the mainstay of our parliamentary democracy.”

This is the text of the Eulogy delivered by Gough Whitlam at the state funeral of Sir James Killen, at St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane.

Denis James KillenThe last time I spoke in public about Jim Killen was at the Irish Club on 19 November 2005, his 80th birthday.

The last Jim spoke in public about me was in Sydney last July, my 90th birthday.

Between those two public occasions, we spoke to each other by phone, regularly and almost religiously, usually Sunday, as indeed we had done for more than a decade, and were to do almost to the end.

The Killen family have asked me to speak on their behalf today. Diana has given me their names:

“His wife Benise and her family, my sister Heather and her partner Matt Rothman, Dad’s sister Dawn and her husband Jim Slaughter, his granddaughter Dana and her husband Rob Westbrook, Dana’s father Erik Kampe and his wife Monique, his granddaughter and my daughter Amanda, who is currently studying in Denmark, his nieces Peta and Suzanne and their families.”

We will also remember today Diana and Heather’s mother Joy, Jim’s wife and partner for 50 years, and their sister Rosemary. I shall say something later about their lives together.

The last time I spoke to Jim was three weeks ago in hospital. On Thursday week I phoned Lady Killen before she visited Jim in hospital. Last Friday morning she phoned to tell me he had passed away.

Jim’s and my telephone talks usually took place on Sunday after he had come home from this Cathedral. He often read the lesson, preferring passages from the Old Testament. He told me that he felt an affinity with the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs. I asked him if he meant Job or Jeremiah. Jim was, of course, a pillar of the church. He once attributed to me the position of his hero, Winston Churchill, a flying buttress supporting it from outside.

Before we both succumbed to the temptations of the telephone, we used to exchange messages by hand-written notes across the chamber or by that wonderful old device, the telegram, or by letter.

I often recalled that, when Jim was minister for defence in the Fraser government, he had greeted his counterpart from Turkey in memorable fashion. He had said to the visiting minister:

“Excellency, we had a man named Paul who wrote a letter to Ephesus. He never received a reply.”

The Turkish minister responded with panache:

“Excellency, I assure you that the letter was delivered. Turkey’s postal service is world class.”

Accordingly, since then I have sent cards or messages to Jim not only from Ephesus but also from Rome, Corinth, Thessaloniki, Crete and Cyprus, all inspired by ‘unanswered’ letters in the New Testament. They were all delivered. They now rest in the Killen files. He often promised me they would all be published in his next book.

We celebrate a life inside Australian politics, as Jim chose to call his first book. All of us who have shared that kind of life know how much more than just politics is involved in it. We know how much we depend upon the families who have to live that life with us and the burdens we impose upon them. In Jim’s case – and mine – our wives, above all. All of us in Canberra knew the reliance Jim placed on Joy, his good companion for 50 years. They were foundational Young Liberals together.

When I spoke to Diana this week, she gave me some of those details which make the story come alive:

The never-ceasing demands of elections, the press, party officials, parliamentary colleagues and constituents.

The conversion of the family home into a permanent campaign headquarters.

The speeches Joy had to make and the speeches she helped to write and her own love of the English language complementing Jim’s, and perhaps, sometimes restraining his tendency to hyperbole.

The hard slog of organising absentee and postal votes.

All the essential details involved in making our parliamentary democracy work.

Meanwhile, bringing up a family, trying to make a normal family life for their three daughters, Diana, Rosemary and Heather, and succeeding. Twenty-five years ago, Joy and Jim farewelled Rosemary in this Cathedral.

I want now to give you some of Diana’s words which are appropriate, I think, even in a Cathedral, for a good racing man like Jim:

“In his choice of wives, Dad, in racing parlance, backed a double. And if you add his daughters, he won the quinella.”

Our friendship began, of course, in Parliament. When Jim took his oath as a member of the House of Representatives in February 1956 he was distinguished by a trademark RAAF moustache. In March 1960 Arthur Calwell, later a Papal knight and privy counsellor, and I were elected leader and deputy leader of the Labor Party. Realising that Jim needed to be better educated, we arranged for ‘pairs’ to be given to him to attend lectures and sit for exams in law at the University of Queensland. During the 1964 Senate election campaign, he took his final exams. Siting beside him was another successful candidate for the Queensland Bar, the governor of Queensland.

Jim Killen was a proud Australian parliamentarian and a great one.

In his career Parliament was as significant as the ministerial offices he held with distinction. His influence, his abiding interest in the great affairs of our country, his fascination with the intricate interplay of the political machinery, his knowledge of and respect for the Constitution, all came from his love of Parliament.

He understood completely the indispensable role of strong political parties as the mainstay of our parliamentary democracy.

That is one of the reasons why his friendships and regard reached across the House and across the parties, to his jousting partners and peers in wit, like the late Fred Daly and the late Mick Young, the other great leaders of the House.

Jim was the last member of the House of Representatives to be created a KCMG. I wrote a letter supporting the nomination which led to his being appointed a Companion in the Order of Australia.

Jim Killen’s example can still inspire a new generation.

Only last May I was able to report to Jim that I had just opened the new electorate office in Morningside for Kevin Rudd, who said that he learned a priceless lesson from Jim about how to nurse a marginal seat into a healthy majority. He visited a shopping centre in his electorate every Saturday morning. What Jim Killen had done in Moreton, Kevin Rudd decided to do in Griffith.

Jim’s wit was not restricted by party allegiance or undue deference.

Diana told me another story. In the 1960s the family bought Rosemary a puppy dog, which they called Ming Ming. Menzies, assuming the dog had been named after him, said to Jim:

“Thank you, Killen, for the double if doubtful compliment.”

Killen responded: “Well, you know there was a Ming Dynasty before yours.”

We are all indebted to Mr Don Smith of East Fremantle, who had preserved this vignette in a letter to The Australian this week:

“When he visited an ailing Bob Menzies in hospital in Melbourne, the former prime minister said: ‘You know, Killen, there was a time when I seriously doubted your judgment’ to which Jim responded ‘What a remarkable coincidence!'”

Jim Killen often seemed to belong to another age. There was an air of the Regency about him or even the parliament of Pitt and Fox, of Burke and Sheridan. In his book, Killen – Inside Australian Politics, Jim tells us:

“At an early age, I was sent to live with one of my mother’s brothers and his family, the Sheridans, on their property near a little place called Surat (west of Toowoomba).”

So I was not surprised when, in one of our conversations, Jim speculated on his descent from Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the great Anglo-Irish comic dramatist, orator and parliamentarian. If Jim never wrote plays, he certainly loved the theatre of politics and starred in many of its best dramas.

Nor is it surprising that in the same book Jim quotes, approvingly, Churchill’s remark of Menzies in 1941:

“My, you Australians do conduct your politics with a fine 18th century robustness.”

You will forgive me if I mention that Jim used that quotation from Winston Churchill in the context of a review he wrote in 1979 about my own book, The Truth of the Matter, concerning the events of 1975. In Killen – Inside Australian Politics, Jim wrote:

“I was asked to review it. I did so with total honesty, as the exercise of the Reserve Powers had long occupied my interest … Gough Whitlam remarked, ‘It must have taken a lot of courage to write what you did’.”

So, on behalf of his colleagues on both sides, I pay my tribute in those terms – his honesty, his courtesy, his courage, his willingness to see the other side – but also his zest for life, life as it can be lived to the full in the honourable profession of politics.

Only once did I feel that the zest for life had left him for a time. It was when Margaret and I went to Joy’s funeral. Today, among the people of the city he served in the Parliament of Australia, I express our gratitude to Benise, who restored his zest for life in abundant measure, to the end.

Whether or not my great predecessor, Sir Robert Menzies, ever sent Australia’s most famous political telegram, the overflowing congregation in the largest Gothic church in the Southern Hemisphere will endorse the sentiment.

“Killen, you were magnificent!”

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