Federal Politics

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A break in the rage as grieving PM exposes her heart

THERE is a nakedness to a child of any age confronting the death of a parent. Within the political furnace, it takes courage to expose yourself. The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, managed it with grace yesterday.

Ms Gillard has been devoured by grief in the past week-and-a-half. In faraway Vladivostok she learned her father, John, had died. She flew home, granting herself only a few days to gather herself before resuming duties as the Prime Minister. It meant flying to Narrabri in NSW for the funeral of a soldier cut down in Afghanistan. This week she has attended two funerals in Perth of other soldiers taken by war.

Finally, pale and drawn, she stood before the Parliament to speak of her father, but prefaced her tribute with the reflection that she had been overwhelmed by the kindness shown to her by those stricken by their own heartbreak at military funerals for young men.

''My father died at 83, so it is a different thing from a man dying in his 20s, 30s or 40s,'' she said.

Still, here was a man born in a Welsh mining village, intelligent enough to win a scholarship at 14 but prevented by poverty from taking it; a man who had led his family across the world, finally studying to become a psychiatric nurse, and living to see his daughter become the Prime Minister.

He deserved a eulogy and Julia Gillard was determined to deliver it to the nation.


She recalled a man who was proud to be Australian but who ensured his daughters, Julia and Alison, understood the richness of their Welsh heritage by playing them recordings of Richard Burton reading the poems of Dylan Thomas.

Thomas's most famous work is the villanelle for his own dying father, which ends with the words ''do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light''.

Ms Gillard, tears in her eyes, confided that ''the last thing my father taught me - 'In the life of a man there is a moment to go gentle into that good night'. And so it was.''

Here was a prime minister's heart exposed, and the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, honoured it, declaring everyone knew the place good parents had in the hearts of their children, and everyone felt for Ms Gillard at this ''very difficult and sad time''.

John Gillard had done Australia proud in producing a remarkable daughter, Mr Abbott said, and it was ''a remarkable parent who produces a prime minister of this country''.

And with that, the regular numbing political battle that passes for question time resumed.

Perhaps those around her took Ms Gillard too literally when she said her father ''felt more deeply than me, in many ways, some of the personal attacks that we face in the business of politics, but I was always able to reassure him that he had raised a daughter with sufficient strength not to let that get her down.''