PM Whitlam's sacking was key moment in Australian history

PM Whitlam's sacking was key moment in Australian history
This May 8, 2007 file photo shows former Australian prime minister Gough Whitlam in Sydney.

SYDNEY - Gough Whitlam remained one of Australia's most admired figures despite being the country's only prime minister to be sacked, a key moment in the nation's political history.

Whitlam, who died on Tuesday aged 98 was a flamboyant and erudite war veteran who ushered in a series of important social reforms during just three years in power from 1972 to 1975.

His centre-left Labor government stopped conscription, introduced free university education, recognised communist China, pulled troops from Vietnam, abolished the death penalty for federal crimes and reduced the voting age to 18.

But Whitlam will be best remembered for the events of November 11, 1975, when he became the nation's only leader to be dismissed by the representative of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, governor-general Sir John Kerr.

His removal from office did little to diminish his stature and Whitlam remained an enduring presence in the national consciousness.

Despite increasing frailty which left him wheelchair-bound and living in an aged-care home in later years, Whitlam regularly visited his office and remained a key figure in the Labor Party.

"Whitlam, in the days of his power, had an enormous presence which filled the Australian room in a way that very few others have ever done," said Graham Freudenberg, his advisor and speechwriter from 1967-1977.

"He did have a charisma that very few Australian leaders have had."

Freudenberg said Whitlam's passing marks the end of an era of nation-building leaders whose ideas were forged on World War II battlefields, and who felt as a result that "not only was change urgently needed but that change was possible".

Pushing for "a more independent Australia, a more independent foreign policy, a lesser dependence on the United Kingdom, less sycophancy towards the United States was very much in the mood of those times", he said.

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