Vale Gough Whitlam

In 1972 my mother was a member of the Dandenong Greek Community’s Women’s Committee when Gough Whitlam was campaigning for the federal election under the banner “It’s time.” As part of that campaign he visited the Dandeong Greek community on the feast day of its patron saint, St Pantaleimon.

The celebration was typical of such events: lots of food, music and people everywhere. The Dandenong Greek Community president introduced Whitlam to the ladies of the Women’s Committee. What impressed my mother the most about the man was that after hearing each woman’s name he greeted her formally pronouncing her surname, no matter how long, in flawless Greek. “How do you do, Mrs Lambrellis?” and so on, down the line of women. Each one addressed personally.

It wasn’t just the sort of campaign hand-pressing and photo-opportunism that we’re used to seeing now. Whitlam made it clear in his behaviour not only that day but in the policy of multiculturalism that he championed, which was groundbreaking at the time, that he understood and valued the migrant communities of Australia. He understood and valued their history and what had driven them to leave their homes and come to Australia. He understood and valued what they offered Australia both in enriching the culture and in building the nation. In championing multiculturalism, he championed them. And they loved him for it.

Three decades later when my brother was working as a contractor in IT, he would impress and awe his much younger colleagues by telling them that he’d gone to university for free. No, he hadn’t received a scholarship; university was free for all back then, a legacy of another Gough Whitlam policy to abolish tertiary education fees.

I enjoyed a year and a half of free university education myself, before the policy changed and fees were re-introduced. The policy had been in place for 17 years. An entire generation had been afforded the opportunity for a higher education irrespective of their financial position. With his “free university education for all” policy he had democratised education and truly paved the way for Australia to become the clever country.

These are just two examples of personal touch-points for my family in relation to the incredible, iconic and visionary Gough Whitlam, who passed away today. Prime Minister from 1972 to 1975, Whitlam’s vision for Australia was transformative and nothing short of revolutionary.

You can read elsewhere the long, long list of achievements of his government, and you can read about his life in his obituary, including the political mistakes he made and the flaws of the man.

More telling is the outpouring of respect evident in the speeches made by both sides of politics in Parliament today, and the outpouring of love evident in the comments left by readers in online forums, a lot of which begin with an expression of thanks for the ways in which the writers’ lives were enriched by Whitlam’s policies.

He was visionary and brave and a man of intellect and great ideas. What I admire most about him is that he was an egalitarian who appealed to people’s better nature. He reached out to the “men and women of Australia” and asked them to build with him a modern Australia that was fairer for all.

One of the The Age’s online forums includes my own comment on Gough Whitlam’s passing:

“I was only a small child when Gough Whitlam enacted his vision for a modern Australia, however I have been a beneficiary ever since. There was never anyone like him, nor, in these risk-averse, over-spun political times, are we likely to ever see anyone truly like him again. A visionary who believed in a better Australia and had faith in Australians. What a lucky country we are to have had him; can’t even imagine where we’d be without him. Thank you Gough Whitlam, and may you rest in peace.”

Portrait of Gough Whitlam


My top 5 tips to help you survive (and maybe even thrive in) redundancy

a green field with a tree on the right, and a path on the left leading to the horizon, and a bright blue sky

After writing stories about loss for three weeks, it’s time for something completely different with a post on surviving redundancy. Though now that I think about it, losing one’s job is also a type of loss so perhaps not as different as I first thought.

I was first made redundant in 2011 when I was working for the State government. A change of government led to different priorities and my job was suddenly obsolete. Instead of letting me go and paying me out, I was redeployed into another job within the Department and the short version of the story is that ultimately it was a fantastic outcome for me.

Twelve months later, a massive restructure and substantial funding cuts resulted in my role being made ‘surplus to requirements’, along with a couple of hundred other roles. Many newly created or rationalised jobs were ‘spilt’ and people who did not find their existing role within the new structure could apply for those jobs.

It took about six months from finding out I would lose my job to actually leaving, giving me ample time to think about what I wanted to do next.

Emotionally that period was a rollercoaster: there were highs and lows. I not only survived it, however, I went on to thrive. I am now doing what I love for a living, and while my work life doesn’t always go to plan, I do consider myself to be living the dream. Redundancy could’ve been the worst thing that happened to me, but instead I consider it to be one of the best. I know it’s a bit of a cliché to say stuff like that but for me it’s true.

So, on that basis, here are my top tips for how to survive – and maybe even thrive in – redundancy.

1. Empower yourself – take back control.  In most cases, redundancy is something that happens to you, out of your control – kind of like a natural disaster. It often leaves you feeling powerless and somewhat helpless. How you respond, and all the decisions you make after you’ve been made redundant, however, are up to you.

Decisions you can make include your attitude, your approach, your next career move, what assistance you seek.

With every decision you make you will feel more and more empowered and less and less like so much flotsam and jetsam floating along in the wake of the company’s restructure tsunami.

In my case, the first decision I made was not to panic. I then chose to see redundancy as a huge opportunity for positive change in my life. During my second redundancy I decided not to apply for one of the roles that were up for grabs in the new structure because none of them suited my career goals.

2. Create a blue-sky vision of your work life.  This is probably something that is good for everyone to do at any point in his or her career, but it’s especially helpful in the case of redundancy.

Creating a blue-sky vision involves thinking about what your work life would look like if it could look like anything at all. What would you be doing? Who would you work with? What kind of company? Self-employed? Work from home? Full time or part time?

And don’t come up with a vision but then dismiss it because it’s not feasible or likely. It’s supposed to be a blue-sky vision. Not blue-sky-with-rain-clouds.

This is not about dreaming or fantasising for the sake of it. It’s about building an identifiable vision of your future so that you can make decisions in the present that will help you get there.

You create a blue sky vision so that every decision you make takes you closer to doing what you love, not further away.

In my case, I’d created a blue sky vision of my work life about a year before I was first made redundant. I knew I wanted to work part time as a freelance technical writer. I’d use the down time to write creatively on whatever personal project I wanted.

With my vision in place I was able to negotiate a move back into IT when I was first made redundant. It was one step closer to where I wanted to be. When my team planned out the year’s work, I selected all the writing projects up for grabs. Another step closer. When I was made redundant the second time and had more decisions to make, I had my vision to guide me. Now I’m doing exactly what I dreamt of four years ago.

3. Get your facts straight.  As well as having a blue sky vision to guide you in your decision making, it’s critical that you are making decisions informed by facts as you navigate the post-redundancy world.

Get a handle on the following to help you assess your options and make decisions quickly and confidently:

• your payout figure
• your bank’s flexibility regarding any loan repayments
• the health of the job market in the areas you’re interested in
• the assistance available to you, whether provided by your employer or other
• any other factors relevant to your situation

In my case, once I was told what my payout figure would be and had spoken to my bank, I had a greater sense of financial stability and security, despite my looming unemployment. This in turn gave me the confidence to take a financial risk and move into contract work (as opposed to seeking another permanent full-time role).

4. Find your purpose and keep busy. Irrespective of whether you are let go on the day you are told of your redundancy or you have a long period between finding out and finishing up, it’s imperative that you keep busy.

If you’re kept on at work as I was it can be difficult to find the motivation to even go into work, let alone finish projects you are working on. You can find yourself thinking, “Why am I bothering when they don’t value my work and are letting me go?”

The reason is you. Keeping busy will help remind you that you are a capable, valuable contributor to a workplace who can finish projects. It’s to help keep your self-esteem and self-belief intact.

If you’re let go on the spot, you may feel you need a short break to get over the shock of what has happened. Calculate a timeframe you’re comfortable with (a couple of days or a week, perhaps) and then get stuck into something. It could be intensive job seeking, or home projects, or planning and going on a holiday. Whatever you do, don’t just sit at home and stew about what has happened to you.

We all need to have a purpose in life to help us get out of bed in the morning. Find your purpose and get to it. Trust me, it will keep you feeling good about yourself.

In my case, there was very little work for me to do in the six months after I found out I was losing my job. I was starting to doubt my usefulness and my skills. I ended up taking on a big project that was outside my normal duties that helped me to leave my workplace with my head held high, knowing I’d made a valuable contribution.

5. Get your story ready for recruiters. Note I said ‘story’, not ‘CV’ or ‘résumé’.

When you see recruiters (and/or prospective employers), they are most likely going to ask you why you left your last job and what you’ve been doing since you left. It’s imperative that you are not only prepared for these questions but that the story you tell reflects positively on you as a potential candidate.

Despite the frequency with which redundancy plays out in both private and public organisations, there still seems to be a perceived stigma about being made redundant; some of the people I worked with expressed hesitancy about revealing to recruiters that they’d even been made redundant.

Firstly, there is no shame in redundancy. It’s a fact of modern work life. Secondly, recruiters (and other employers) know and understand this fact.

In any case, being made redundant is just the start of your story. What recruiters really want to know is how you have handled it (including what you’ve done since finishing up), as that tells them what kind of person you are.

It almost doesn’t matter what your story is, as long as you don’t come across as desperate, cynical or negative. If you haven’t worked for a while, instead of bemoaning that fact, tell recruiters how great it’s been to have the time between jobs to spend with your family or get into home projects or take up a new hobby or do volunteer work. Whatever it is, tell them you’ve been doing something and loving it.

If your story reflects a confident and positive outlook on life, you are more likely to come across as an appealing candidate.

Bonus tip: Road-test your story with someone who can give you honest, constructive feedback about how you come across.

In my case, my story included how I viewed redundancy (i.e. an opportunity), the decisions I’d made about my career options, and my vision of the future. When queried about the four month break since I’d last worked, I explained I’d decided to take time off to travel and enjoy life a little before taking up work again, and how wonderful that had been. I never sounded bitter about losing my job, and I never sounded desperate about getting work again.

Redundancy often comes as a great shock, and while it is the end of your current job, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world.

Remember the saying, “When one door closes, another one opens”? Well, actually, I think there are multiple doors you can go through.

As long as you are empowered, visionary, informed and believe in yourself, you will be able to choose the right door for you, open it, and confidently walk through.