When Sir John Kerr presented the 1977 Melbourne Cup, it was almost exactly two years since he had committed his constitutional faux pas. He was dapper in a a three-piece suit and, it seemed, awfully drunk.
His obvious inebriation, combined with his thicket of white hair and his aristocratic bearing, made him seem more like a Barry Humphries’ character than the governor-general.
The crowd hissed as he tottered through his speech.
“Any little noises that you may happen to hear are only static,” he proclaimed. “It’s just something wrong with the system.
“Cheers from a small minority! However, life is wonderful for all of us.”
Whitlam later said Kerr was a “drunk” and he made an mistake in appointing him.
The irony is that Kerr, much more so than Whitlam, was a true working-class man. Born in Balmain, the son of a boilermaker, he won a scholarship to Sydney University, where he studied law and won the university medal.
He later became a member of the Labor Party and a a protege of Labor great H.V.Evatt as he forged a brilliant legal career. He was made chief justice of NSW in 1972, and in 1974, after a period of negotiation with Whitlam, he was announced as governor-general-designate.
Whitlam thought he knew was he was getting: a Labor man. But Kerr’s political views had evolved and he had firm views on the exercise of the governor-general’s reserve powers.
Sir John will always be viewed by many as the villain of the extraordinary 1975 story. He was also a former intelligence officer, leading some to believe his role in the dismissal was part of an intelligence conspiracy.
Following the dismissal,Whitlam and his supporters denigrated him, and he was often abused when he appeared in public, even after he left his vice-regal role.
He eventually moved to London to escape the public disapprobation, where, according to historian Phillip Knightley, he “could be seen most days, usually the worse for wear, at one or other gentleman’s club”.
He died in 1991. His family did not request a state funeral, which would have been his due as a former governor-general.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.