As I Please: After Margaret

I looked around the crowd after Margaret Whitlam’s memorial service recalling my earlier definition of death: being now unavailable for interview.  Barry Jones; Paul Keating; Bob Carr; Kevin Rudd; John Brown; Mike Rann; Bob Hawke; Bill Morrison; Laurie Brereton; Tanya Plibersek; Marie Bashir; Little Pattie; Julia Gillard; Quentin Bligh; Annita Keating; Tom Uren; John Faulkner; Barrie Unsworth; Michael Egan; Evan Williams; Nathan Waks; Kim Williams; Jim Spigelman; Malcolm and Tamie Fraser; like a marble frieze of an era not quite past they stood in groups in the threatening rain aware that time was going, significant history gone, and, one by one, in a decade or so, they too would be no more.

It seemed preposterous that Margaret was not among them. Like Uluru we all of us knew she would always be there; she would stand and speak with brave humour at Gough’s funeral in Sydney Town Hall; she would joke at the party afterwards. The time was out of joint. This was the wrong order of things. It could not be; but it was.

I thought of all the times I had stood in rooms and galleries and foyers where she was, on crutches of late, or in wheelchairs, turning up for the opening night, the launching, the gallery opening, the prize night, showing the flag, and how often I had not bothered to go up to her and shoot the breeze with her, as I always used to, when I was younger and more insecure. I felt she would always be there. She was an icon of that long-established agnostic sect, the Australian Labor Party, which I paid in this life of late my dues to. She was our Good Queen Bess, or Florence Nightingale, our Madame Curie, the healing pool we went to when the aches of office, and loss of office, had grown too much for us to bear alone. She would cheer us up when we were down. She would tell Gough to shut up when he had talked too long, often in those words. She was our Ombudsperson, our better angel, an ever present help in trouble. And now she was gone.(MORE TO COME)

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