How Gough Whitlam Changed Australia’s Music Landscape

Former Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam died this morning, 21st October 2014, aged 98. With his passing, Australia loses a huge figure from its political past, a strong personality whose penchant for change has had a lasting impact on the country’s arts industry, and especially how we consume our music. As a tribute to Gough, we offers up this snapshot of his achievements, marking his indelible influence on Australia’s cultural and musical life.


He Put The ‘Fund’ Back In Arts Funding

Whitlam was a notorious supporter of Australian arts, and jumped at the opportunity to inject more money into the industry as soon as he took office. Arts funding was almost doubled in 1973 thanks to the Whitlam government’s budget. Their reconstitution of the Australian Council for the Arts also helped to secure a strong future for music and arts.

Playwright David Williamson told ABC News this morning, “The arts wouldn’t be in nearly the position it is in Australia now if it wasn’t for Gough. He came in and said, ‘I don’t care what anyone says, the arts are important,’ and he doubled the arts budget on the spot. I think we’re all a much richer and artistic country because of it.”

He Is Primarily Responsible For triple j

In 1975, the Whitlam Government established 2JJ (which became known as Double J) radio in Sydney, as part of his dream to create a National Youth Radio Network. He was famously sacked by the Governor General later that year, before his dream was fully realised but, of course, his efforts live on today in the form of triple j and the recently reestablished Double J.

He Introduced FM Radio To Australia…

It’s hard to grasp just how pivotal the introduction of FM radio was to Australia, especially now everything is shifting into the digital sphere. The Whitlam Government introduced FM in Australia, which we all known sounds WAY better than AM, in 1974. The improved audio quality led to a more immersive listening experience, while the technology’s capabilities allowed for the licensing of more radio stations across the country.

..And Championed Australian Community Radio

Many people ascribe the birth of the community radio movement in Australia to the Whitlam Labor government. Whitlam granted the first low-powered community radio licenses for the broadcast of educational material between 1972 and 1975. Since then, the community radio sector has seen strong growth but continues to fight for funding. Truthfully, without the strong support of Whitlam, they wouldn’t be here.

Radio licenses were also awarded to multicultural services for the first time under Whitlam’s guidance. Early stations such as 2EA in Sydney and 3EA in Melbourne led the way for a rich and vibrant multicultural radio industry to spread across Australia.

He Guaranteed Australian Acts Got Radio Play

Whitlam guarded and shaped the music industry during radio’s formative years. His government threw its support behind Australian music-makers by introducing a rule which meant that at least 10 percent of commercial radio airtime had to consist of Australian music. There’s no doubt this helped some Australian bands rise to prominence on the commercial airwaves.

Currently, at least 25 percent of commercial radio airtime between 6am and midnight must consist of music created by Australians, although this amount fluctuates down to a minimum of 10-percent depending on genre.

..And Truly Inspired Australian Artists

Of course, Sydney rockers The Whitlams have Gough as their namesake, and released a music video for their song Gough (below) in 1993. Written by lead singer Tim Freedman, the autobiographical tune tells of a “story about a man called Gough and a little boy who wanted to be tarred with the same brush?”

Watch: The Whitlams – Gough

It’s more than jaunty piano tunes, though. The ALP conjured up their election campaign song It’s Time in 1972, featuring a chorus of Australian musicians, entertainers and sportspeople including Col Joye, Bert Newton, Little Pattie, Barry Crocker, Graham Kennedy, Jack Thompson and Jacki Weaver. It was recorded at Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion and led to a win for Whitlam at the 1972 federal election.

The campaign’s song has been praised for reaching an unusually wide demographic, notably inspiring women and younger Australians. More importantly, the inclusion of so many artists in the campaign proved that the industry believed Whitlam would make a real difference. And so he did.

Who in Australian politics today is inspiring this kind of support from our artists? Vale, Gough. You are sorely missed.

“Time for freedom / Time for moving / Time to be clear / Yes, it’s time!”

Watch: ALP’s “It’s Time” Campaign Advertisement, 1972

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