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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1309


Mr DAWKINS (Minister for Finance)(10.35) —I just want to take a moment or two to express my very great sorrow at the passing in Canberra on Sunday of Lady Gorton. When John Gorton became Prime Minister of Australia we found in Betty Gorton a refreshing change in the way in which she saw her role. She resisted the temptation to be seen simply as an extension of her notable husband who himself imprinted a new character on the role of Prime Minister; a character which was much admired by the Australian people. When John Gorton became Prime Minister Betty Gorton became the first Prime Minister's wife who did not conform to the role, too easily assigned, of dutiful consort and shadowy partner. I do not underestimate the difficulty of being a Prime Minister's spouse. But the example that Lady Gorton set made the task very much easier for all her successors. She was also I think part of the beginning of encouraging more and more women in Australia to pursue their traditional interests. I quote from one of the very few Press interviews which Lady Gorton gave on 25 February 1971:

Though she has filled a busy, hectic life Mrs Gorton does not see why she should be set up as an example to other women.

This is part of her charm. Not dictating from her own experience, she qualifies everything with a generous concern for the individual.

'Every woman must create her interests', she said. But how much she does this outside the home or not depends on her personality.

'If some women put all their talents into their home and this satisfies them, that is how it should be'.

But of course this was not sufficient for Lady Gorton. She pursued a wide range of interests in her own right. Lady Gorton was born in the United States of America. She and John Gorton met while both of them were holidaying in Spain in 1935. At the time she was a student at the Sorbonne. They returned to Australia and soon married. She lived the early part of her married life first as a farmer 's wife and then of course she became a farmer when her husband enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. After that she followed her husband's career and supported him as he entered the Australian Senate and then became Prime Minister of Australia.

Throughout his political career she continued to pursue her own very active interests in studying Asian languages, in undertaking a degree in oriental studies and compiling a dictionary in English-Malay. She was very much a mould- breaker. She was very much a quiet example for all Australians but particularly for all Australian women. She was a woman who was able to develop her own interests very actively but was still able to continue her role as wife, mother and grandmother. She was certainly not afraid to speak her mind. But at the same time she valued her privacy very much and, as a result, we were only allowed very occasional and brief glimpses of this very remarkable woman. Lady Gorton made a very important contribution to the life of the country that she adopted. I express in a very personal way my sympathy for her husband and her family.