One of the odder episodes recounted in my new book The [Un]documented Mark Steyn is my dinner at Buckingham Palace on the eve of the referendum on the Australian monarchy. A man whose political fortunes helped shape the republican movement died today at the age of 98.
Gough Whitlam was a controversial Aussie Prime Minister who was even more controversially transformed into an ex-Prime Minister. In 1975 - on Remembrance Day of all days - he was fired by the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr. By the time David Smith, the viceregal secretary, came to the steps of Parliament House in Canberra to proclaim the ensuing dissolution of the Senate and the House, a turbulent crowd had gathered. As Whitlam stood behind him, Smith concluded the proclamation with the traditional injunction, "God save the Queen!" Whitlam then stepped forward and snarled, "Well may we say God save the Queen ...because nothing will save the Governor-General!"
It was a vivid reminder that the reserve powers of the Crown are real and, in certain circumstances, absolute. "The Dismissal", as it's known Down Under, was still very present in the Aussie consciousness when the republican debate came to the boil in the late Nineties - and I went for my eve-of-referendum dinner at Buckingham Palace:
Steyn confessed that he kept trying to slip Australia into the conversation but it got him nowhere.
Those words come from a book on the Aussie monarchy called Head Of State, written by (just to bring it all full circle) Sir David Smith, the man whose "God save the Queen!" brought forth Whitlam's sneering response on the steps of Parliament House. Sir David was kind enough to call my Palace column "undoubtedly the best summary of the referendum". Mr Whitlam would not have agreed.
Gough Whitlam, AC, QC, flight lieutenant with the Royal Australian Air Force, ambassador, Prime Minister, and a most consequential figure in Australia's evolution: rest in peace.