One of our greatest voices has fallen silent. Graham Freudenberg, the man who reached deep into the Australian Labor Party and found the words within its heart, is dead. Somehow we must now find the words without him.
As ‘Freudy’ put it, the Labor Party was built on speeches. For the rest of us in the Labor family, there was never any question as to who the master builder was.
It was not a surprising fate for the boy who was, in all probability, the only chicken pox-afflicted 11-year-old in Australian history who chose to while away his days of sickness devouring a book about Disraeli. Characteristically, Graham assessed himself as having been a “peculiar boy”.
It was Arthur Calwell who was the Labor leader who won the lottery of political life when he took a chance on this little-known reporter from the Melbourne Sun. In Calwell’s service, Graham crafted the speeches of which he would remain proudest: powerful, eloquent and, as it turned out, prescient warnings about the Vietnam War.
Many Labor leaders would go on to benefit from Calwell’s hiring masterstroke: Bob Hawke, Neville Wran, Bob Carr, and of course, Gough Whitlam, the leader with whom Graham enjoyed the most celebrated of his partnerships.
Graham may have shunned the keyboard as he worked, but he was pragmatic about embracing other writing aids: tobacco, and a production line of beer consumed at just the right pace deep into the night. This was the fuel of a thousand speeches. Sometimes the words came slowly, but they arrived with precision and a rare power.
We can only imagine how things might have turned out if Graham had entered the NSW Parliament in 1991, as so many of us had hoped, but there is something fitting that he continued what he saw as the great privilege of service the way he did.
Graham’s words gave Australia a better understanding of itself, of its democracy and its politics. His words elevated. They gave clarity and, vitally, they gave heart. And while his words were for all of his beloved country to hear, there was no doubting where his heart was. There’s a line from Graham’s eulogy to Gough that fits Graham just as perfectly: “He believed profoundly in the Australian Labor Party as the mainstay of Australian democracy and the mainstay of Australian equality.”
The hearts of all of us in the Labor family are broken. In our sadness, our love and our gratitude, let us think back to Gough’s words to Graham, gently laying his hand upon his scribe’s shoulder that fateful day at Blacktown Civic Centre in 1972 and whispering in his ear, “It’s been a long road, comrade, but I think we are there.”
On behalf of the Labor family I offer my sincere condolences to Graham’s family and friends.