Almanac Music – Gough and The Whitlams: we’ll play chess and drink claret


I liked The Whitlams before I ever heard them.


How could I not enjoy a band named for this iconic leader, a man whose disgraceful 1975 dismissal interrupted Singing and Listening one Tuesday afternoon at Kapunda Primary School? The man whose perfect photo with Percy Jones hangs in the North Fitzroy Arms. I always bow at its altar.


“Gough” is my favourite Whitlams’ song and we played it at our wedding reception. It captures the wide-eyed awe I always felt about the man. I would’ve loved for Gough to, “Come over have dinner with me, we’ll play chess and drink claret.”


I’ve been wondering about other Australian Prime Ministers and how they might connect to music. It follows from a game I like to play when someone says something – generally a snappy, domestic phrase that could, with minor adjustment, be the title of a country music album. For example, Claire might yell out from the shower, “We’ve run out of shampoo!” That’s my cue and I’ll yell back in my terrible American accent,


And the nominations for best Country Album are: (dramatic pause and then I lean into the microphone) Running Out of Shampoo by Claire and The Cactus Girls!


Or I’ll remember that most vital chore as I scramble about Friday morning. The bins! Again, I then put on my imaginary black Stetson and announce to the imaginary music awards auditorium,


And the winner is: (another dramatic pause) Putting Out The Bins by Chester Pink and the Garbage Trucks.


But which other PM moonlights in music?


John Howard and the Horrible Bowling Action for their (unlistenable) record A Dead Ball in Pakistan. We’ve all watched the video of JH harpooning one into the pitch just beyond his (doubtless) sensible fecking shoelaces.


Defending himself he later explained, “They had a ball that was basically the inside of a tennis ball with some white tape around it.” What? Sorry, Little Johnnie but that’s just backyard cricket as millions of us know it! It’s how I spent half a dozen summers with my mate Nick down at his Port Willunga beach shack.


(Bob) Hawkey and Singo – A Beer with Belle du Jour. I’m anticipating a Dolly and Kenny style duet here. The story goes that, back in 2000, Singo hadn’t bought Bob a gift for his 70th so gave him a share in his racehorse, Belle du Jour. The filly then won the Golden Slipper. To celebrate Singo famously shouted the bar at Rosehill. A karaoke hit.


Paul Keating (performs solo; no backing band tolerated) – Flogged with a Warm Lettuce, the follow-up to All Tip and No Iceberg. Its first single is the surprise indie smash, “I Wanna Do You Slowly.”




The Whitlams’ leader is Tim Freedman and his sweetly sung songs of gentle optimism and suburban irony are Sunday barbeque joyous. Their best tunes also include ‘Melbourne’, ‘No Aphrodisiac’ and ‘You Sound Like Louis Burdett’ which was modified among my peers to honour the cult Adelaide oval curator Les Burdett.


At uni I once caught a bit of the Midday Show (probably having just arisen) when the preposterously coifed Ray Martin asked, “Who’s Australia’s greatest living politician?” His guest was Gough and he waited with faultless theatrical effect before replying with his very E. G. Whitlam vowels, “Well, Ray, I can tell you who the second greatest is.”


We’re going to see The Whitlams tonight at The Gov’s early show. They’re on stage at 6.30 so we’ll be home just after sundown for hot chocolate and a (shared) digestive biscuit. As we slide into the weekend I’ll be humming,

It’s for you Gough, you Gough, you Gough

Edward Gough Whitlam


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About Mickey Randall

No, instead I get out my Volleys, each with the inescapable hole, just by the little toe. What if someone bought a pair of Volleys and they didn’t develop these holes? The absence of holes would itself make a psychological hole.


  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Great band, great man, wouldn’t it be great to have Gough leading us today! Fab read as always Mickey.

  2. Yes, Col. Back when, regardless of where you stood, the prime minister was prime ministerial. In the next day or so, my lunch will be a tribute to their tune, “I Make Hamburgers.” Thanks.

  3. DBalassone says

    Enjoy the concert Mickey. I was late to the party but I am very fond of Blow Up The Pokies, Charlie No. 1, Melbourne and The Curse Stops Here. Infact the entire Side 2 of “Little Couds” (subtitled “The Apple’s Eye”) is a place of sonic beauty for me.

  4. DB- For such a Sydney band I’d suggest that “Melbourne” is among their best observed songs. But I also really love Up Against The Wall when Freedman notes-

    She was one in a million
    So there’s five more just in New South Wales.


  5. I reckon Tim Freedman is a very under-rated songwriter.
    For example, ‘Blow up the pokies’ is witty, sardonic and beautiful all at once. Brilliant.

    My first and only visit to the Gov was a surreptitious visit earlier this year, when three mates and I crossed the SA border (with questionable border permits) to see none other the hero of our youth, John Schumann, play the Redgum songs of our youth.

  6. Gough announcing them as the winner of the best group ARIA was memorable.

    My favourite track is still the Stevie Plunder composition ‘Following my own tracks’. Such a bright, breezy tune with some quite dark lyrics laid on top.

    ‘I make hamburgers’ is another cracker of a tune.

    Enjoy the gig.

  7. Daryl Schramm says

    Mickey. Never got into ’em. Enjoy the night. Had a busy day cleaning up after the hailstorm just before lunch. A bottle of cleanskin Clare Valley Riesling and Radio Margaritaville on the laptop suffices for the moment.

  8. Smokie- The Gov is Adelaide’s best live music venue. I love going there and my muso mate Trev reckons lots of artists think it among the country’s finest “rooms.” The last time I saw The Whitlams at The Gov was over twenty years ago, on a similarly stormy night.

    Greg- Hamburgers was the encore and they played six new songs which will be on the album coming out in January. Two of them were about their former road manager Sancho (I think) who died suddenly a few years ago. For such a sunny band, The Whitlams have known more than their share of tragedy.

    Daryl- sounds like your night went pretty well! Driving home around 8.30 during the last storm front was tricky! Branches and upturned bins everywhere.

    Thanks everyone.

  9. roger lowrey says

    Top yarn that Mickey. Agree about the great man.

    I once had lunch with Singo and the NSW Sussex Street gang in Chinatown. If I ever were doing a 48 hour yum cha before I must die with a cast of whoever I wanted to have, he would be top of the list. He does a very thorough lunch!


  10. Thanks RDL- lunch with Singo? Part of the vernacular of this community is acknowledging various highly-accomplished lunchers as being Group 1. Among these do you think think Singo could be described as Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe?

  11. Great read Mickey. And don’t be so harsh on yourself. You have a great American accent! :)

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