The Memorial Service For Gough Whitlam Is Chaotic, Hundreds Turned Away

Gough Whitlam campaigning in 1972 with singer Little Pattie. Photo Graeme Fletcher/Keystone/Getty Images

Hundreds of elderly people, including some who camped overnight in Sydney to attend this morning’s state memorial for former prime minister Edward Gough Whitlam, have been involved in heated exchanges with security and protocol officers more than two hours before the service is due to begin.

Whitlam died last month, aged 98. He was Australia’s 21st prime minister for three turbulent years in the 1970s.

ABC local radio is reporting that elderly mourners who’ve travelled from far away have already been involved in arguments with organisers about attending the service after being turned away.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is believed to partly to blame for the chaos after organisers changed their plans halfway through due to demand. Some would be mourners claim they were told the seats would be allocated some who registered on a first-come-first-served basis.

Paul Kidd, who travelled up from Victoria to attend after registering told ABC radio that he arrived early this morning, only to be told the system was changed and the seats had been allocated by ballot and the recipients informed by email.

He said he wasn’t even asked for his email at the time. The subsequent confusion has led to angry exchanges as other mourners arrive, not realising they’ve missed out.

Around 900 members of the public are included among the 1900 mourners at Sydney Town Hall, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Australia’s six surviving former PMs, and members of the Gurindji people, to whom Whitlam granted land rights.

More than 6000 people are believed to have registered to attend the memorial service and have arrived this morning not realising that their registration was not an acceptance to attend the service.

A live screen has been set up outside the Town Hall in Sydney Square for people who missed out on a seat.

Live screens have also been set up in Freedom Plaza, Cabramatta, not far from where Whitlam once lived, as well as Federation Square, Melbourne. The service will be screened from 10:30am to 1pm, with the official program due to begin at 11am.

The service is also being broadcast live on ABC News 24, local radio and streamed on the ABC website.

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