30th Annual Lionel Murphy Memorial Lecture - The Secret History of the Dismissal of the Whitlam Government: The Palace Connection

Date & time
6–7pm Wednesday 18 October 2017

Finkel Theatre

John Curtin School of Medical Research, 131 Garran Road, The Australian National University

Professor Jenny Hocking FASSA, Monash University


For interstate visitors, we offer suggestions for accommodation near ANU.

Sarah Parker

Part of the Lionel Murphy Memorial Lecture series

Jenny Hocking
PHOTO: Janusz Molinski Photography

The dismissal of the Whitlam government by the Governor-General Sir John Kerr in 1975 remains one of the most contentious episodes in Australian politics. The history of the dismissal is no less contentious and has never been settled. In the decades since, long-held secrets have unraveled and dramatic archival revelations have transformed our knowledge and understanding of the dismissal. The role of High Court justice Sir Anthony Mason as Kerr’s confidante and guide, and Kerr’s secret communications with Prince Charles and the Queen’s private secretary, remained hidden from us for nearly 40 years until revealed in 2012 in Jenny Hocking’s biography of Gough Whitlam.

Now Jenny Hocking is pursuing the release of the ‘Palace letters’, correspondence between Kerr and the Queen, her private secretary and Prince Charles regarding the dismissal, through a Federal Court action against the National Archives of Australia. The Palace letters are embargoed on the instruction of the Queen until at least 2027, and potentially indefinitely. Speculation that the Palace was at least aware of, and at worst involved in, the dismissal has only intensified with the refusal to release the Queen’s correspondence with the Governor-General at such a significant time in our history.

Kerr always claimed that in dismissing Whitlam he acted in order ‘to protect the Queen’. In the 2017 Lionel Murphy Memorial Lecture, Professor Jenny Hocking asks: Why would the Queen need protecting from an Australian political issue? What are the implications of this for our national autonomy as a constitutional monarchy? What did the Palace know about the dismissal? And why is the Queen refusing to lift her embargo on the Palace letters? Here for the first time, Jenny Hocking will discuss the latest revelations from the archives and will reveal the final piece in the secret history of the dismissal of the Whitlam government – the Palace connection.


  • Professor Jenny Hocking »

    Professor Jenny Hocking FASSA is Research Professor and Australian Research Council Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) Fellow in the National Centre for Australian Studies. She is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia and in 2014 was appointed the inaugural Distinguished Whitlam Fellow with the Whitlam Institute, Western Sydney University.

    Professor Hocking is an award winning author and scriptwriter and a regular commentator on Australian politics and history, political biography and counter-terrorism. She is the author of several books including The Dismissal Dossier: Everything You Were Never Meant to Know About November 1975 (MUP 2015), Gough Whitlam: His Time (MUP 2012) and Gough Whitlam: A Moment in History (MUP 2008), Frank Hardy: Politics Literature Life (2005) and Lionel Murphy: a Political Biography (CUP. 1997). The second volume of Jenny Hocking’s definitive two-volume biography of Gough Whitlam, Gough Whitlam: His Time, won the 2014 Barbara Ramsden Award in the Fellowship of Australian Writers Literary Awards and was shortlisted in the 2013 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards (Australian History Prize), the National Biography Award, the Queensland Literary Awards and long-listed in the 2013 NiB Waverley Awards for Literature. The first volume, Gough Whitlam: A Moment in History, was shortlisted for the 2009 Magarey Medal for Biography, the Queensland Premier’s Awards, The Age Book of the Year and the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and long-listed in the 2009 Walkley Awards.

    Professor Hocking’s research has been supported by several Australian Research Council Grants and Fellowships. She is currently working on an ARC Discovery Grant project, From Sarah Wills Howe to Thomas Wentworth Wills: An Australian Family Biography, a biographical study of the Wills family a significant yet overlooked colonial family. From the economic success of its matriarch Sarah Wills, who arrived in Sydney in 1798 with her convict husband Edward Wills, to the tragic decline and suicide of her grandson, the sublimely gifted sportsman Tom Wills, the project will bring a new perspective to these early years of colonial settlement.

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