Sunday, 21 April 2024

    Growing up with the Whitlams

    The man who would become the most visionary and polarising political leader in Australia relocated his family from Cronulla in Sydney’s south to a four-bedroom, architect-designed modernist brick house in Albert Street, Cabramatta.

    It was 1957, and their house was on the part of the street where new houses with kerbs and guttering were replacing the vineyards and market gardens. I lived at the other end of the street, which was a dirt road, in a two-bedroom fibro house built by my truck-driver father.

    “I see those toffs, the Whitlams, have moved into the fancy house with the flat roof,” said Dad. That night, Dad, Mum, my sister and I had dinner at our scrubbed-pine kitchen table with red legs. My mind raced with questions.

    What’s a toff? Who are the Whitlams?

    “It’s Gough Whitlam,” he said. “Our new local member has moved here from Cronulla.”

    “Reckon Whitlam thought he’d have a better chance if he stayed in this electorate, which meant he had to move.”

    “Why do they live in a brick house and why is their part of the road sealed and ours isn’t?” I asked Dad.

    Dad grinned and looked straight at me with his dark grey eyes, as if summing me up.

    “Possum,” he said, which always made me feel snuggly warm, “jes remember, there’s many who’re better off than us, and many that aren’t. What’s important is to make the most of what you’ve got.”

    Our new proximity to the Whitlams, albeit at the opposite end of the street, meant our paths inevitably crossed.

    This is an edited extract from Christine Sykes’ Gough and Me: My Journey from Cabramatta to China and Beyond (Ventura Press, $33).


    ‘Have you met the Whitlams?’: growing up as Gough’s neighbour (The Age)


    The author’s parents, pictured at their Albert Street house under construction.CREDIT:COURTESY OF CHRISTINE SYKES