“I value the language of academia, with its theories and lateral thinking, but I also love the language of the Australian larrikin, so down-to-earth and expressive,” Iron Mark wrote on Monday.

Back in the 70s, his old boss’s missus, Margaret Whitlam, gave us a lesson in our linguistic heritage when she re-introduced the word “hoo-ha” to the Australian vernacular. Even Barry Humphries seized hold of it.

No doubt Whitlam still wields the word the way she wielded it back then. So no doubt she’d say that the storm over her comments on Janette Howard is just a hoo-ha.

Tony Wright broke the yarn in The Bulletin yesterday, writing on femocrat Susan Mitchell’s Margaret Whitlam; A Biography:

“She is useless in terms of how little she really gives the community,” Mrs Whitlam is quoted as saying…

“You have certain obligations to make the most of the position, to accept invitations, to support charitable causes, to let yourself be known to the people of Australia. I mean, people want to see you. What is she hiding?”

He then ran through a list of engagements in Janette Howard’s diary before concluding: “Most of these sort of engagements tend to fall beneath the media’s radar”.

Whoops! According to Mitchell, Margaret Whitlam says of Janette “What on earth does she do with all her time?” – but Margaret Whitlam says she now says something different. She says the quotes come from cuttings file and are seven years out of date. “At the time, I thought she was [humourless]. We all change, we all grow up and grow into the job,” she says. And Whitlam adds that the last conversation she had with Janette Howard was “very congenial”.

Whatever the case may be, Whitlam has been poorly served by her biographer.

There’s always a touch of the Ozymandias about Gough and Margaret Whitlam: long fallen, vain – but still with that certain grandeur. Now Mitchell has made Margaret Whitlam look like a batty old biddy.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW