UK perspectives on the Whitlam dismissal: Some potential sources

11 November, as well as being Armistice Day, is well-known in Australian history for the dismissal of the Whitlam Government by the Governor-General John Kerr and the appointment of Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister in 1975. Much has been written on ‘The Dismissal’ or the ‘Constitutional Crisis’ from the Australian perspective, with our knowledge of the events of 1975 greatly expanded after the archival records were released by the National Archives of Australia in 2005. The second volume of Jenny Hocking’s biography of Gough Whitlam was published last year and has given us some fresh insight into the infamous incident in Australian politics.

whitlam-rally630

However while the Australian-based material has been used by many scholars, there are some files located in the National Archives in London that may present a different perspective on ‘The Dismissal’. Opened in 2005, there are three Foreign and Commonwealth Office files that relate to the events of 1975. These are:

FCO 24/2051 – Political situation in Australia: includes constitutional crisis following dismissal of Gough Whitlam, Labor Prime Minister of Australia, by Sir John Kerr, Governor-General, 11 November 1975

FCO 24/2052 – Political situation in Australia: includes constitutional crisis following dismissal of Gough Whitlam, Labor Prime Minister of Australia, by Sir John Kerr, Governor-General, 11 November 1975

FCO 24/2079 – Constitutional matters in Australia: includes disagreement between State and Federal Governments over proposed revised Privy Council Appeals Abolition Bill; constitutional crisis following dismissal of Gough Whitlam, Labor Prime Minister, by Sir John Kerr, Governor-General; and statute law repeals in Australian States

The National Archives’ catalogue does not give much information to what kind of material is kept in these files, but it would be very interesting to see if they contained any material showing how the Wilson Government viewed the events (especially as Wilson believed he was similarly under siege in 1974-76) or whether the UK, as the head of the British Commonwealth, considered any intervening actions. To my knowledge, these records have not been extensively used (my copy of Hocking’s biography is at the office so I can’t check whether she used them) and would be a great source for a different spin on a well-known historical episode.

I am planning to visit the UK in June next year and may check them out myself – but if anyone is visiting Kew sooner and wants to quickly peruse them for me, that’d be awesome! 😉

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4 comments

  1. Have you considered getting a research assistant – just for a day – to photograph everything in these files? Then can send to you via Dropbox. Someone I know did this on a project, and it was a very quick and relatively cheap way of getting to the files from Oz. The National Archives usually has a list of researchers available somewhere on their website, and a per diem isn’t expensive.

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