Vale, Freda Whitlam

Vale, Freda Whitlam

Freda Whitlam passed away on Wednesday 30 May, at the age of 97.

Freda was the ninth Moderator of the Uniting Church in Australia’s Synod of NSW and the ACT and an influential member of Penrith Uniting Church.

Freda was also a passionate advocate for education. She sat on the board that founded Western Sydney University, and helped bring to Australia the University of the Third Age (U3A), a movement that provides education to seniors, to Penrith and the Blue Mountains. Freda remained active in this space, teaching Latin at U3A well into her 90s.

Much like her brother, former Prime Minister Edward ‘Gough’ Whitlam, Freda was a witty and commanding presence.

A Fulbright Scholar (1954), Ms Whitlam was famously sacked as Principal of prestigious private school Presbyterian Ladies College in Croydon (the details of which form the basis of a book by William McKeith) for her progressive attitudes toward girl’s education, a year after her brother’s dismissal from the Prime Ministership. Freda was then subsequently awarded the Order of Australia Medal for her services to the school in 1987.

In many ways Freda was ahead of her time. In 1993 she was among prominent signatories on a reform charter that tried to abolish all criminal sanctions for the personal use of illicit drugs. The reforms were part of a charter developed in 1993 by the Australian Parliamentary Group for Drug Law Reform, convened by the then Independent Canberra MLA Michael Moore.

Uniting Church NSW/ACT Moderator Rev. Simon Hansford told Insights that Freda would be missed.

“Freda was truly a servant of God her entire life,” Rev. Hansford said. “The Uniting Church has always been proud of the leadership we have received from our leaders, women and men, lay and ordained.”

“We give thanks to God for her leadership and her ministry in all elements of her life.”

In 2009, Freda was the subject of a biography written by Noelene Martin. Freda: A Biography of Freda Whitlam was launched by Dr Barry Jones on 16 March at Western Sydney University.

In a 2009 interview promoting the book, Ms Martin said that she chose to write the book because Freda’s story deserved to be told.

“I found out that Freda in her own way had been influential— in education and in connection with the church — but she’d been overshadowed by Gough,” Ms Martin said.

“She made a contribution I thought was of equal importance but the way people saw Gough often influenced the way they saw and reacted to Freda.”

Freda was a passionate advocate for women’s ministry, which she referred to as, “One of the glories of the Uniting Church.”

Freda’s funeral will be held on 15 June, 11am at Penrith Uniting Church.

Insights sends condolences to Freda Whitlam’s friends and family.

Image: Freda with Aunty Mae Robinson and Pearl Wymarra at the 2012 Yarramundi Lecture (Source: Western  Sydney University News Centre).

Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor

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