Sir John Greg Gorton has received a rare bouquet from the normally acerbic Hillary Bray.

Yes, they’re a beautiful breed of bruisers and bludgers, hacks and hypocrites, toadies and timeservers but there have been some undoubted good guys among their number, and John Gorton certainly fits into this category.

Good guys not perfect guys for Sir John certainly had his flaws, but he was a key shaper of contemporary Australia.

Sir Les Patterson once recalled how all of those who “crouched in close proximity to Gough’s fundament discovered sunshine wasn’t the only commodity to hit them fair and square in the face”.

Whatever caused it, Whitlam sycophants have been blinded and much too much Australian history completely ignores the roles played by Harold Holt and Gorton.

Menzies may have been British to his bootstraps but Gorton was unmistakably Australian. Every other obit has used the word “larrikin”, but how else can you describe a PM who tried to climb over the fence of the American Embassy with a bottle in one hand and a bimbo in the other.

And all of this how he rose to challenge of bridging the aspirations of Menzies’ years and the seventies and his own lack of discipline shaped his Prime Ministership.

It seems ridiculous today that Gorton’s greatest crisis should have been over legislation giving the Commonwealth sovereignty over the continental shelf but such were the battles of those times.

The legacy of this is that we have the Great Barrier Reef, one of the keys in establishing international interest in Australia as a tourism destination and more as opposed to some rusty oil rigs run by old mates of Sir Joh.

All those who believe the sun first shone in December 1972 might like to look at Gorton’s interest in the arts and improving the status of women.

And while his own behaviour helped fuel the whispering campaigns that did so much do undo him, we should remember how Gorton had enemies as powerful as Sir Frank Packer fanning the flames higher.

Gorton, in the wake of the Menzies years, had to redefine Liberalism in a changing environment and that involved carrying his colleagues, as well as the voters.

He failed, but we should look at what replaced him the embarrassment that was Billy McMahon and the shambles of Gough Whitlam reign. It was not until the golden years of the Hawke-Keating relationships that an Australian government seemed to make a credible effort at managing the changing social, economic and cultural needs of Australia.

Whatever his flaws, whatever his mistakes, Gorton played it straight. He was the authentic article and that is why he deserves to be remembered.

Finally, virtually every obit got one important detail wrong. Gorton was not left out in the cold by the Liberal Party after his independent stab at the Senate in 1975 until a dinner at old Parliament House in 1999, his ninetieth birthday bash last year or the Rodent’s launching of his biography (and how the Short Man must have hated that). Hillary can remember enjoying the birthday cake at Gorton’s eightieth, a do at Parliament House thrown in 1991 by one John Hewson. Another good guy who lost in the end.

The Liberal Party shouldn’t forget them.

Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]

Peter Fray

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