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Margaret Whitlam AO

1919 – 2012

Margaret Whitlam AO (1919-2012), social worker and writer, was a champion swimmer as a schoolgirl. As Margaret Dovey, she won the Australian Championship for the 220 yards breaststroke, set a junior NSW 100 yards record and competed in the 1938 Empire Games. She married Gough Whitlam four years later, just before he was posted to Gove, NT with the RAAF. Both actively supported Prime Minister Curtin's bid for re-election in 1943. That year Margaret worked for the Family Welfare Bureau, and five years later, by which time she had had two of her four children, she graduated with a degree in social work from the University of Sydney. Gough Whitlam entered parliament as the member for Werriwa in 1952, and having worked hard to support his campaign, Margaret subsequently took on many public duties in the electorate. From 1964 to 1967 she was a medical social worker at the Parramatta Hospital. In the last week of 1972, just after Whitlam had become Prime Minister, she entertained Germaine Greer at the Lodge, and the National Times described her as 'one of the most outspoken and forthright women' to have occupied the Prime Ministerial residence. An active member of the Labor Party Women's Conference, from 1972 to 1975 she maintained a high profile as Whitlam's constant companion and a frequent guest speaker, broadcaster and columnist. She published the autobiographical My Day in 1973, served on the International Women's Year Advisory Committee from 1974 to 1975, and was a Director of Commonwealth Hostels Ltd from 1974 to 1977. She was a director of the Sydney Dance Company from 1977 to 1982, and from 1982 to 1983 was Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Law Council of NSW. Between 1989 and 1991 she was Chairman of the National Council for International Literacy Year and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for International Literacy Year, and she acted as a travel consultant for international study programs throughout the 1990s. Other boards and committees on which she served included the ACT Council of Social Services, the Australian Opera, Musica Viva and the Library Society Committee of the NSW State Library.

Updated 2018