Monday, March 1, 2021

Former NSW Premier Barrie Unsworth leads team trying to buy Sydney home once owned by Gough Whitlam

Former NSW Premier Barrie Unsworth leads team trying to buy Sydney home once owned by Gough Whitlam

A group of four people, led by former NSW Labor Premier Barrie Unsworth, have made an offer to buy a house that belonged to former prime minister Gough Whitlam.

Mr Whitlam and his family called the four-bedroom house in south-west Sydney home for 22 years, from 1956 to 1978.

The home is set to go to auction on Saturday, with a price guide between $720,000 and $750,000, but the four men confirmed they have already made an offer.

A determined Mr Unsworth said “one way or another we will acquire the house”.

“We will be there bidding on Saturday if necessary, but we have put a substantial offer forward to the vendor and we would trust that the vendor would see the benefit of accepting our offer.”

Barrie Unsworth is determined to buy the former home of Gough Whitlam.(AAP Image: Dan Himbrechts)

Mr Unsworth first became aware that the house at number 32 Albert Street in Cabramatta was for sale when he saw a story on the news.

“I immediately thought the house should come back to the people of Australia as a place you could visit and learn social and political history in a very important time in our lives,” he said.

Within days, he’d organised at meeting in an upstairs conference room at Trades Hall, Sydney’s historic trade union building.

A tiled dining room with heater, exposed bricks and floral wallpaper.
There home has plenty of original features, including patterned tiling in the dining room.(Supplied: Ray White)
A dated kitchen with damaged yellow cupboards and floral wallpaper.
The kitchen has original wallpaper but the cabinetry has seen better days.(Supplied: Ray White)

Also present were Mark Lennon, President of the NSW Labor Party, Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey and businessman Nick Whitlam, son of Gough and Margaret Whitlam.

“Barrie is a force of nature,” Mr Morey said. 

“Once he gets a plan, he gets everyone together and off he goes.”

The four men agreed to form a company to raise the capital to buy the house.

Word quickly spread on the NSW Labor Party grapevine and offers of money started trickling in even before they’d had time to set up a bank account.

“We have had a number of interested parties with large sums of money but there have also been a range of small donors who are party members who want to contribute to this,” Mr Morey said.

He described the Cabramatta house as “a time capsule about the early 70s”.

The living room of Gough Whitlam's former home has a fireplace and large bookshelf and floor-to-ceiling windows.
The living room features a fireplace and large bookshelf.(Supplied: Ray White)

Mr Morey said he’d like to see a bi-partisan approach to preserving the homes of former prime ministers, saying it was a great loss that John Howard’s childhood home is now a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet.

“You miss a historic opportunity to keep something that reflects a time and an era,” he said.

Nick Whitlam said he was 12 when his family moved into the house in 1957.

His parents had hired a local architect to design and build the single-storey building.

“It was quite a modern house. All the locals commented on the fact that it had a flat roof,” Mr Whitlam said.

It would be the family home for the next 20 years, during the tumultuous years of Gough Whitlam’s rise and fall from power.

Floor to ceiling windows feature in the living room of Gough Whitlam's former home.
Floor-to-ceiling windows feature in the living area.(Supplied: Ray White)

Nick Whitlam has been to see the house for himself, the first time he’d stepped inside for almost 50 years.

“It’s not in great condition but the important thing is inside is virtually unchanged, all the built-ins, be they cupboards and bookshelves.

“The bathroom’s completely intact, the kitchen, the laundry, even the Hills Hoist in the backyard.”

He has many memories of his father at the house.

“The telephone was right at the front door as you came in and so he was there a lot, right at the landing at the front door at the telephone.”

He recounted how his father would hold a surgery every Saturday at the house with constituents wishing to have an interview with him lining up outside.

“They were all sitting on the fence and Margaret [Whitlam] would bring out cups of tea and coffee and hot cross buns. It was quite a scene,” he said.

Gough Whitlam gives an interview on election night in 1972 after he was voted in as prime minister.
Mr Whitlam gives a press conference from his living room after winning the 1972 election.(ABC News)

The house was famously the centre of celebrations when Gough Whitlam won the 1972 election for Labor after 23 years of Liberal rule.

“He was down the road with Margaret at the Sunnybrook Motel watching the TV,” Nick Whitlam said.

“As the victory became certain, people came from all over the western suburbs and he marched up the street like Caesar through the throngs.”

Gough Whitlam’s biographer, Jenny Hocking, welcomed the effort to put the house in public hands.

“I think it’s a really terrific move to try and purchase the house at Albert Street,” she said.

“I think it’s a really critical part of our history.”

Gough Whitlam conducts a media interview in the backyard of his Cabramatta home.
Gough Whitlam is interviewed by ABC reporter Jim North in his backyard in 1967.(ABC News)

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