Men and women of this column's readership, some of us are always going to remember where we were when we heard that Gough Whitlam was dead.
This columnist will remember being in the waiting room of the office of Windscreen O'Brien's, on unlovely Newcastle Street in Fyshwick, just after 8am and learning the news from the waiting room's TV set.
A few minutes later, the O'Brien's man may have noticed the extreme difficulty I seemed to be having in discussing with him the nitty-gritty of the broken window of my Barina. Did he think, from my emotional state, that I was still wobbly and upset by the way in which on Sunday thieves had smashed my car's window?
Lots of Australians of my generation (in our 60s now) and of my leftish, bleeding-heart, reform-hungry temperament will be finding ourselves very upset by the news of Whitlam's death. And of course it is ourselves, not the Whitlam family, that we are grieving for. We were young or youngish when a Whitlam government was elected in 1972 and have never known euphoria like it since. We look back, bourgeois, superannuated and idealistically shrivelled now, at the hopes we had for our selves, for Australia, for the world. We miss those times (and those radiant young people that we were) terribly.
As Whitlam was elected I had just finished my mind-improving, but deliciously useless four years of study for my Arts degree. There'd been oodles of Eng Lit and so of course we scholars had thrilled to that famous passage in The Prelude. HereWordsworth is remembering the bliss kindled in passionate bosoms (like his) by the revolution in France. It captures how so many of us felt (naively but sincerely) in 1972 at the moment of Whitlam's election.
Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven! Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
Has Australian politics, even Australian life per se, ever been a source of hope and joy for we 60-somethings since then?
When you are young and strong in love and your country somehow generates a leader (Whitlam) with grandeur you believe (in your naivety) that this is Progress in excellence that now will never lose its momentum.
Alas. One would hardly know from today's disappointing Australia that there had ever been a Whitlam era. Today's prime minister, a philistine, (Whitlam's erudition was always a joy) is something (knights and dames!) the Liberal Party's industrial chemists made in the party's laboratories from freeze-dried Tory sperm and eggs and DNA material harvested during the stale, forbidding Menzies' years that Whitlam's rise brought us such joyous delivery from.
It is dear Gough's fault that for those of us old enough to have known his heyday that today's Labor Party and the small, wriggling things it keeps choosing to lead it, seem so awful. In 1972 those of us young and strong in love imagined that henceforth every leader of the Labor Party would have something Whitlamesque about him or herself. A delusion.
My last flesh-and-blood encounter with Whitlam was in October 1999 when reporting the old man's launch of The Australian Oxford Dictionary at the ANU. He hadn't had time (the republic referendum was under way and he was busy with the anti-royalist Yes campaign) to even look at the dictionary or to prepare a speech - but he still bedazzled.
His anecdote-stippled chat had a cast of (his references to and quotes from) thousands. Some of those who got a mention were Dame Nellie Melba, Henry Kissinger, Sir Robert Menzies, George III (in his little-known and short-lived role of King of Corsica), the composer Verdi and John Wilmot the Earl of Rochester. Wilmot got a mention because he'd written of the dying King Charles II: "Here lies a great and mighty king/Whose promise none relies on;/He never said a foolish thing nor ever did a wise one."
Whitlam said that this was exactly what history would say of Charles III (at the moment the Prince of Wales, destined to succeed the present Queen) so we had better make sure that he just became King of England but not King of Australia.
Slow-witted Tony Abbott can't do better than threaten to "shirtfront" those he doesn't like but quick-witted Whitlam was a master of the malicious quip. At this occasion, unscripted, he bit quip-sized pieces out of so many people, but did it with great panache.
So for example, claiming that all previous Chief Justices except Sir Harry Gibbs were going to vote Yes in the referendum Whitlam noted (with a straight face and as if imparting a straight piece of information) that "Gibbs is of course the origin of the word 'gibberish'."
No, on Newcastle St. I was wobbling emotionally, not about my bashed Barina but about the end of the great man who once upon a time had made it feel blissful to be alive, and, better still, heavenly to be youngish. Are Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten having that magical effect on a single young person of today? Are those Australians who are young today doomed to never know what it is to be politically in love?