Nobody was allowed to see Labor elder statesman Gough Whitlam shuffle into Courtroom One at Glebe Coroner’s Court, the Geelong Advertiser reports.
The former prime minister was already waiting, sitting in the witness box with his walking frame by his side when lawyers, family and the media were ushered into the court.
Mr Whitlam may not have wanted the public to see him hunched over a walking frame, but there was no mistaking the persona once he was in the witness box.
“I do,” he boomed in his unmistakable slow tenor when asked whether he vowed to solemnly tell the truth.
Now 90, Mr Whitlam was giving evidence at the coronial inquest into the death of one of five Australian-based journalists killed in East Timor in 1975.
His reputation was on the line. But he shared none of the apparent nervousness of the court officer who recited the affirmation to one of Australia’s official National Living Treasures.
Dressed in a navy suit, white shirt and blue tie with a neat white handkerchief in his breast pocket, Mr Whitlam was at his distinguished and urbane best, every inch the leading QC who once mesmerised crowds with his oratory.
He raised the occasional laugh from the packed courtroom, read notes without the aid of glasses and had no problem hearing proceedings.
Only the slight hunch and occasional shake in his hands betrayed his years – and perhaps his odd lapse of memory.
During evidence, he stared blankly when it came to remembering the name of the opposition leader in October, 1975. Who was that man who ruined my career?
When referring to the opposition’s threat to block supply in the Senate, he said “the leader of the opposition …” and then sat quietly for several seconds with a quizzical look, trying to recall the name of Malcolm Fraser.