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Remembering Gough: A Giant of Our Time

Today, the 11th of July we celebrate the birth of Edward Gough Whitlam. As Australia enters one of the most challenging times of its history, with social and economic issues creating division and dissention, it may be a good thing to reflect on someone who made such an enormous difference in the post-war evolution of the nation.

Edward Gough Whitlam was born on the 11th July 1916 [1] and served as the 21st Prime Minister of Australia, between 1972 to 1975. As the Leader of the Australian Labor Party from 1967 to 1977, Whitlam led his party to power for the first time in twenty three years at the 1972 election. Whitlam spent most of his political life reaching for higher ground, pushing the nation to be greater than the sum of its parts.

Jupiter, the planet of growth, expansion and altruism sits conjunct the MC reflecting his great aspirations as well as his inspirational leadership. Jupiter is the exalted lord of the Cancer Ascendant, suggesting that his primary motivation for nurture and connection is realised in his public life as well as through his personal creativity, with the Moon in Scorpio in the 5th house. It is interesting to note when looking especially at the Ascendant and the realization of the primary drive, it is not always the sign ruler that holds sway.

Often, in my opinion, the expression of the primary motivation will look to the ruler which is in the best position and condition to realise this drive. In Whitlam’s case, the sign ruler of the Cancer Ascendant is the Moon and although in a reasonable position in the 5th house, is in the sign of her fall while the exalted lord, Jupiter is in a very strong position, high in the chart, conjunct the MC. Jupiter is also in a tight square to Neptune re-enforcing Whitlam’s idealistic and visionary capacities.

The Cancer Ascendant has the Sun and Venus on either side, evoking the charisma and charm he exuded however Saturn sits on the other side of the Sun, bringing a certain gravitas and authority. Adding an extra flavour to this loaded 1st house, is the Mercury-Pluto conjunction which was evident in Whitlam’s command of language and the certainty and forcefulness of his ideas and opinions. For extra emphasis, this Pluto-Mercury combination sits in a tight sextile to the elevated Jupiter, bringing in the breadth and certain recklessness to his speech and ideas.

The Mercury-Pluto combination also gave Whitlam eloquence as a speaker as well as a rapier wit which he used liberally in the rough and tumble debate in the House of Representatives. He called fellow parliamentarians Bill Bourke “this grizzling Quisling[2]”, Garfield Barwick (who would, as High Court Chief Justice, play a role in Whitlam's downfall) a “bumptious bastard”, and stated that Bill Wentworth exhibited a “hereditary streak of insanity”.[3]

Gough was heavily influenced by his father, Fred Whitlam, who served as Australia's Crown Solicitor from 1936 to 1949. Fred Whitlam was a pioneer of international human rights law in Australia and argued Australia's case for a permanent international human-rights court, an idea whose time was yet to come. In Gough’s natal chart we see the Cancer Sun conjunct the Ascendant and Saturn, echoing a father figure that was prominent, respected and exacting. It was said of the senior Whitlam that he was:

:….. a public-spirited, meticulous and dutiful man with an inquiring but cautious mind, who was always very concerned to make sure that whatever was done was right, both in the sense of legally unexceptionable and soundly based on principle…”[4]

The Sun, Ascendant, Saturn conjunction also trines the Scorpio Moon, softening the hard-edged Sun-Saturn combination.

Gough’s own achievements echoed the concern for those whose circumstances were limited by social, economic, educational or legal constraints. His achievements included in education: the introduction of needs-based school funding so schools in lower socio-economic areas were not disadvantaged, and the extension of tertiary education with the abolition of fees. In the realm of family law, reforms in divorce and child custody was made accessible to all. Social welfare reforms included indexing pensions so that beneficiaries were not disadvantaged by rising cost of living and in industrial reforms moving to equal pay for women at a time when women were paid 25 per cent less than male employees doing the same or similar work. Youth was given a voice in the national debate with the lowering of the voting age to eighteen as well as introducing the one vote-one value principle which saw electoral laws governing electoral divisions of the House of Representatives have the same number of enrolled voters, and finally he initiated the process to facilitate Aboriginal land rights. These reforms and innovations are an excellent expression of the Jupiter-MC conjunction square the Neptune.

On the other side of this idealism was a conflict between the ideal visualized and the very different reality. Gough had big ideas and when he was first elected, there was a gap of ten days before he could appoint his Ministry. He was unwilling to wait, so once Labor’s win was secure, he had the Governor-General, Sir Paul Hasluck, swear him in as prime minister and Labor's deputy leader, Lance Barnard, as deputy prime minister. The two men held 27 portfolios during the two weeks before a full cabinet could be determined. For two weeks the so-called duumvirate [5] held office, Whitlam sought to fulfill those campaign promises that did not require legislation. The rapid pace and public excitement caused by the duumvirate's actions caused the Opposition to be wary of giving Labor too easy a time, and gave rise to one post-mortem assessment of the Whitlam government: “We did too much too soon”.[6]

Whitlam could also be reckless and arrogant as well as principled, humane and provocative. As a consequence, he made enemies on both sides of the political divide. His Scorpio Moon is the dispositor of the Cancer stellium in the 1st house, describing a person who had strong emotions which were channeled in diverse and different ways. The Moon is in the sign of her fall and also is quincunx Uranus and trine Saturn. Gough never chose the easy way out and his involvement in the social justice issues was one expression of this. Although he was prime minister for fewer than three years between 1972 and 1975, Whitlam pushed through a raft of reforms that radically changed Australia's economic, legal and cultural landscape.

His wife Margaret, represented by the Capricorn 7th house, also broke the mould. Up to that time, politicians' wives had no opinions for public consumption, but she was not constrained and, as a new wave of feminism broke, she played a large role in the 1972 campaign that swept Whitlam and the ALP into office. Her strength and resilience are symbolised by the ruler of the 7th house, Saturn conjunct the Sun in the 1st house. Saturn is in the sign of its detriment, and she was never going to be the conservative politician’s wife.

The relationship between Gough and Margaret was passionate and intense with Venus, planet of relationships also in the 1st house in Cancer, conjunct Pluto and sextiling Jupiter and the MC. Over time, Margaret also became larger than life and was a force to be reckoned with. She quickly became known as an outspoken advocate for issues including women's rights, particularly abortion law reform and conservation. She faced widespread public criticism about her proactive role; however she refused to limit herself to traditional preconceptions. This is also described by the Moon-Uranus square; as the woman in Gough’s life, she was different and unorthodox, non-traditional, vocal and visible.

Margaret was a regular guest speaker on radio and television, and wrote a column for the magazine Woman's Day, where she offered an insight into the life of a prime minister’s wife. Together the Whitlams not only stood tall but exhibited a refreshing modernity.

Gough has the North Node in Capricorn and the South Node in Cancer across the 7th – 1st axis. The major statement is one of cooperation vs independence. The North Node describes the major challenges in life while the South Node describes the instinctive behaviour the person resorts to when things become difficult or they are thwarted in their quest of the North Node. For Whitlam, the major challenge with the North Node in the 7th was the development of cooperation, companionship and competition. His political life was one in which he was constantly having to negotiate within his own party as well as the opposition and the different States.

Gough was at his best when he could get people working together but when the challenges of doing this became overwhelming, he would instinctually become aloof and proceed to make unilateral decisions which alienated both supporters and opponents. This aloofness, isolation, and an overt sense of independence are described by the South Node in the 1st house. When this occurred, Whitlam was described both in the press and by his colleagues as arrogant and pompous. In an article by Paul Kelly in The Australian, Whitlam was described as, “... an imperial social democrat, a bizarre identity. ‘I don’t care how many prima donnas there are, as long as I’m the prima donna assoluta’ he joked. But, like many of Gough’s jokes, this had much truth.” [7]

The arrogance is emphasised by the stellium in the first which includes Pluto-Mercury square the Jupiter on the MC, as well as a prominent Sun-Saturn conjunct the Ascendant. The Nodal axis in Capricorn-Cancer emphasises a Moon-Saturn flavour of isolation and rejection.

Gough Whitlam was a giant of our times but like many giants, he also had clay feet. The astrology of his chart paints a picture of a man whose determination, as described by his Sun-Saturn and idealism as portrayed by Jupiter on the MC propelled him to dizzying political heights. His arrogant eloquence, described by Mercury-Pluto in the 1st house also described an articulate and perceptive person who also had an intimidatory manner which often both attracted and alienated him from supporters and opponents alike. The prominent and powerful planets in the first house were his strength as well as his downfall. What we do remember is the giant of a man who dominated Australian politics and whose legacy of reform brought Australia to the forefront of the international stage.

This article was first published in the FAA Journal March 2016. Revised July 2019


  1. Source: AstroDataBank - rectified C rating. Dennis Sutton gives a rectified time of 7:19:32 AM from unspecified data stated by his family, given in Sutton's 50 Australian charts, published 1996.

  2. A quisling is a person who collaborates with an enemy occupying force. The word originates from the Norwegian war-time leader Vidkun Quisling, who headed a domestic Nazi collaborationist regime during the Second World War.

  3. Jenny Hocking. The Dismissal Dossier: Everything You Were Never Meant to Know about November 1975. Melbourne University Press. 2015, p 172.

  4. Paul Hasluck, The Chance of Politics, Text Publishing 1997, p. 198

  5. A coalition of two people having joint authority or influence. [sourced 13/2/16]

  6. Freudenberg, Graham (2009), A Certain Grandeur: Gough Whitlam's Life in Politics (revised ed.), Viking, p 253

  7. Kelly, Paul Gough Whitlam: Hero and villain, The Australian, 25 October 2014 [sourced 12/2/2016].

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