Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Former Senator Button remembered with laughter, applause.

Download WordDownload Word



This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Parliamentary Library.


It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in an y other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.


For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.





Tuesday 15 April 2008

Former Senator Button remembered with laughter, applause


MARK COLVIN: Laughter and applause punctuating the mourning and the grief.

The state funeral of the former Labor senator John Button in Melbourne today reflected the spectrum of the man's personality and his life.

Friends and family shared stories that painted a portrait of a man with a wicked sense of humour a great storyteller and an unforgettable father.

Jane Cowan reports.

JANE COWAN: The public face of John Button is well known.

He was the long-time leader of the government in the Senate, the hands on, hard-hat minister of the Button car plan.

The policy innovator and the party reformer.

But to the 800 people who packed into St Michael's Uniting Church in Collins Street today to remember him, John Button was many other things as well.

The former Victorian Labor minister Jim Kennan was John's friend for almost 40 years and remembers him as a great practical joker.

JIM KENNAN: Sometimes if he knew you were on a flight behind him you'd be coming down the elevator to the luggage area and there he would be in the line of drivers with a placard held up with your name on it.

(Sound of crowd's laughter)

JIM KENNAN: You know you really didn't know quite how to respond.

JANE COWAN: It was writer and editor Morag Fraser who today described John Button as a rare and wise man.

MORAG FRASER: John was a sparkling man. He was complex, naughty individual who retained a child's capacity for wonder.

JANE COWAN: At university John Button made his law degree palatable by moonlighting in fine art lectures. Someone who took Wednesday afternoons off to hole up in a movie cinema.

For today's ceremony John Button chose the music himself in the days before he died.

(Sound of a hymn playing)

JANE COWAN: The former Victorian premier John Cain told of a mischievous John Button, who used his way with words to write openly for the sixties journal Labor Comment, but who adopted an alter ego called Arthur Cartwright, who also liked to write letters.

JOHN CAIN: By the mid 1980s he was still about …Arthur Cartwright. He was writing letters to Michael Duffy…


JOHN CAIN: And to Peter Bowers, Sydney Morning Herald journalist and to the Fairfax family about Peter Bowers.

JANE COWAN: Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke sent a message from China, read today by Bill Hayden.

BILL HAYDEN: I salute the memory of a remarkable, talented, congenial and courageous man.

JANE COWAN: The former Labor leader Bill Hayden himself remembers John Button counselling him in a firm but respectful way in 1983 to stand down so Bob Hawke could go on to win the next election.

BILL HAYDEN: I suppose if I'd been a quicker thinker I should have challenged John and inquired directly; but do you really think Bob would want to take this job?


(Singer and guitarist).

JANE COWAN: John Button's son Jamie told how exciting it was to grow up in a house where plots were always being hatched and visitors constantly arriving.

JAMIE BUTTON: In our living room Nick, aged 10, took the liberty of asking Gough Whitlam if he hated Sir John Kerr. Well Nick, said Gough, as a good Christian one shouldn't hate anyone. But Gough, Nick replied, what about as a bad Christian?

JANE COWAN: Jamie Button remembers his father always telling stories around the dinner table.

He told how his father had mellowed in retirement, learning to cook prawn curry, buying a house at the beach, gardening and enjoying his grandchildren.

Jamie Button said, since being diagnosed with cancer six months ago, his father had got on with dying in the same no-fuss way he lived.

And he pledged to remember him just like that.

JAMIE BUTTON: I have a strong memory of walking back from the MCG to his house in Richmond in about 1983. And he walked us to the gate and we had one of our warm but awkward goodbyes. Nick and I walked off. I looked back and he waved. Then we walked a long way down the street and I looked back again. He was still standing at the gate looking after us. That was our Dad.


MARK COLVIN: John Button's son, the journalist James Button. Jane Cowan was the reporter.