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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Gough Whitlam

Louis Kahan

fibre-tipped pen on paper (sheet: 56.0 cm x 38.2 cm)

Edward Gough Whitlam AC QC (1916-2014) was prime minister from the end of 1972 to the end of 1975. Born in Melbourne, educated in Canberra and Sydney, he was admitted to the New South Wales Bar after war service. He won the Federal seat of Werriwa in 1952, was deputy leader of the ALP from 1960 to 1967, and was then its leader until the end of 1977, a record term for the party. In 1972 he became the first Labor Prime Minister since 1949. During his term in office he abolished conscription; cut ties with South Africa; negotiated diplomatic relations with China; began inquiries into Aboriginal land rights; abolished fees for tertiary education; established the Schools Commission; introduced welfare payments for single-parent families and homeless people; ended the death penalty for Federal crimes; and reduced the voting age to 18. Whitlam's term came to an abrupt end on 11 November 1975. In the preceding eighteen months the government had been shaken by a series of scandals, resignations, sackings and ministerial reshuffles. In October 1975 the Opposition, led by Malcolm Fraser, used the Liberal majority in the Senate to block the supply of funds essential to the operation of the government. Aiming to force Whitlam to an early election, he justified his action on the grounds that the 'incompetence, the damage, the failures of the worst government in our history cannot be ignored'. Whitlam, in turn, declared that it was unconstitutional for the Senate to attempt to determine who should hold government. The deadlock continued for several weeks, with the government's money fast running out. On 11 November the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, having consulted the Chief Justice of the High Court, Sir Garfield Barwick, dismissed Gough Whitlam and appointed Malcolm Fraser Caretaker Prime Minister. Whitlam died at the age of 98 on 21 October 2014. Five thousand people, including seven past and present prime ministers, attended Whitlam’s state memorial service, with many more thousands gathering outside the Sydney Town Hall. In his eulogy, Indigenous leader Noel Pearson called Whitlam ‘Australia’s greatest white elder.’

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Mrs Lily Kahan 2017
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
© Estate of Louis Kahan

Accession number: 2017.72

Currently not on display

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Donated by

Lily Kahan (52 portraits)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

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On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Self portrait, 1949 Louis Kahan
Self portrait, 1949 Louis Kahan
Self portrait, 1949 Louis Kahan
Self portrait, 1949 Louis Kahan

A guy from Paris

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2018

Sarah Engledow on a foundational gallery figure who was quick on the draw.

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hand of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, 1975 Mervyn Bishop
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hand of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, 1975 Mervyn Bishop
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hand of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, 1975 Mervyn Bishop
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into the hand of traditional land owner Vincent Lingiari, 1975 Mervyn Bishop

A handful of sand

Magazine article by Ellen Kent, 2007

Ellen Kent examines the portrait of Vincent Lingiari and Prime Minister Gough Whitlam taken by photographer Mervyn Bishop.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.