After 45 Years Of Secrecy, Letters Containing Major Royal Tea About The Whitlam Era Are Here

After four years of waiting for a High Court ruling, the National Archives of Australia have finally released the so-called “palace letters” between Governor-General Sir John Kerr and the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Martin Charteris. The letters date from 1974 to 1977, right around the time Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was dismissed.

The letters were first requested by Whitlam’s biographer Professor Jenny Hocking, however the NAA kept pushing back on the grounds that they were “private property”. As of May, they’re deemed to be property of the Commonwealth.

For context, Whitlam was possibly the most (some might even say only) progressive Prime Minister in Australia’s history.

In just three brief years he accomplished a whole lot. A few of those things include introducing free healthcare and uni (the latter of which has since been wound back), recogninsing Aboriginal land rights (which has since been watered-down), advocating for women’s rights, changing the national anthem, funding the arts, pulling Aussie troops out of Vietnam, the list goes on.

There are over 1,200 pages of letters, so it’ll take some time to rummage through them, but here’s what we know so far.

In letters written immediately after Whitlam was sacked, the Governor-General and Queen’s personal secretary both said that the Queen had not been informed of what just happened. The Palace then thanked the Governor-General for supposedly keeping the Queen in the dark.

“If I may say so with the greatest respect, I believe that in NOT informing The Queen what you intended to do before doing it, you acted not only with perfect constitutional propriety but also with admirable consideration for Her Majesty’s position,” the Queen’s personal secretary Sir Martin wrote on November 17.

However in earlier letters, the Governor-General quite explicitly discussed sacking the PM, so it’s not as if the Queen would’ve been totally caught off guard by the decision, either.

People are understandably confused.

They’re also a bit put off by the amount of sass the letters contain against Whitlam.

In one letter, the Governor-General said Whitlam had threatened to call the Palace upon hearing the news he was about to be sacked.

“To this I replied that this would be useless as he was a the time no longer Prime Minister,” the Governor-General wrote.

Following this, another letter reveals Whitlam rang up Buckhingham Palace as a “private citizen” and asked to be reinstated as Prime Minister. He was unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, a letter from the Palace said: “If I may permit myself a last reflection, it is that should the Member for Werriwa [Gough Whitlam] be returned to power, he ought to be extremely grateful to you!”

From first analysis, the general gist of the archives is that they absolve the Queen herself of any accusations of interfering in the whole situation. But that’s of course taking everything at face value.

There are also still lingering accusations of CIA interference in the dismissal, which the letters have not yet shed any light on.

If you’ve got some time on your hands and a penchant for digging in to what just might be the biggest political scandal in Australian history, you can view the full trove here. If the National Archives of Australia website is down (which it may well be due to so many people scrambling to view the letters), the good folks over at Guardian Australia have also uploaded the documents.

Get reading.