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Margaret Whitlam’s Waverley Connection

By Em Allen on June 21, 2012 in

Photo: Waverley Library Local Studies

Margaret Whitlam (nee Dovey) was born on November 19, 1919 at the family home at 2 Miller Street, Bondi. In 2005 she was quoted in an article in The Bondi View newspaper as saying she often re-visits Miller Street.

Her father, Wilfred Robert ‘Bill’ Dovey (1894-1969) was a New South Wales Supreme Court judge and also served as a Waverley Councillor from 1935 to 1936.

Margaret Dovey spent her childhood in Bondi, completing her infants and primary schooling at Bondi Public School on Wellington Street, starting in 1926, before undertaking her secondary studies SCEGGS Darlinghurst, where she excelled at sport.

Miss Dovey went on to become a particularly accomplished swimmer. She was a member of the Bondi Ladies Amateur Swimming Club, based at the Bondi Baths, and went on to join Harry ‘Salty’ Nightingale’s esteemed swimming group. Nightingale was a swimming coach, surf lifesaving pioneer and father of the Waverley Council lifeguard of the same name, Harry ‘H-Man’ Nightingale. He is also a Surf Life Saving Australia Hall of Fame member.

In 1937, Miss Dovey became an Australian champion in the 220 yards breaststroke and in 1938 she was a member of the Australian squad for the British Empire Games, finishing sixth in the same event. She also claimed the state open championship for the 220 yards breaststroke in 1939 and 1940.

Working as a trainee social worker, Dovey met her future husband, Edward Gough Whitlam, at the Sydney University Dramatic Society Christmas Party in 1939. She later recalled that her hair was wet at that meeting because she had just come from a swim. When she met Gough, each was immediately smitten with the other. They were married on April 22, 1942, in St Michael’s Church of England, Vaucluse a few weeks before Gough received his call-up papers as a RAAF navigator in World War II.

Her husband was elected to federal parliament in 1952 and became federal opposition leader and parliamentary leader of the Australian Labor Party in 1967. He was elected Prime Minister after leading Labor to victory in the 1972 election.

Upon Gough Whitlam’s election as Prime Minister, Margaret Whitlam quickly became known as an outspoken advocate for issues including women’s rights, particularly abortion law reform and conservation, influenced by Germain Greer. She faced widespread public criticism about her proactive role; however, she refused to limit herself to traditional preconceptions.

Margaret was described as “deeply and loyally in love” with her husband and together, they had four children: sons Nicholas, Tony and Stephen, and daughter Catherine.

Margaret Whitlam passed away in a Sydney hospital on the morning of March 17 this year following a fall. The Whitlam family declined an offer from the Australian Government for a state funeral.

Waverley Council recently announced that they will be naming the new pavilion at Waverley Oval in Mrs Whitlam’s honour. The pavilion, to be opened this month, will be called the Margaret Whitlam Recreation Centre.