12th Assembly 2009

Freda Whitlam: a ‘great woman of the church’

Most Australians would hear the name of “Whitlam” and immediately think of ex-Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. However, a new biography reveals the significant contribution Freda Whitlam, the sister of Gough, has made to the life of the Untiing Church and the wider community. 

fredaNoelene Martin, the author of Freda: A Biography of Freda Whitlam, signed copies of the book at the 12th Assembly on July 18. The book was launched by Barry Jones on March 16 at the University of Western Sydney.

Having met Ms Whitlam in 1996 when Ms Martin’s husband was minister of the Penrith congregation, she came to believe Freda’s story deserved to be told.

“I found out that Freda in her own way had been influential — in education and in connection with the church — but she’d been overshadowed by Gough,” said Ms Martin. “She made a contribution I thought was of equal importance but the way people saw Gough often influenced the way they saw and reacted to Freda.”

The church has always been a presence in Freda Whitlam’s life and she was Principle of Presbyterian Ladies College in the days before Union.

After union Ms Whitlam became Moderator of the Synod of New South Wales and she was later nominated for President. Ms Whitlam also sat on the board that established the University of Western Sydney and she was instrumental in setting up the University of the Third Age in Penrith and the Blue Mountains.

“Freda has always given her best,” said Ms Martin. “She’s a great encourager and she has a vision. She sees things that need doing and she’ll either do it herself or find someone else who will.

“I think she’s one of the great women of the Uniting Church — a significant Christian woman and a significant Australian woman.”

Ms Martin feels strongly about the importance of women’s stories being heard. “A lot of women have stories that haven’t been told. We hear a lot of stories about the men but the women are often overlooked.”

Ms Whitlam herself, who was present at the book signing, went one step further in praise of the place of women in the church, saying, “One of the glories of the Uniting Church is the women’s ministry.”

Perhaps this call to women’s stories is one reason Freda: A Biography of Freda Whitlam has had such a good reception.

“A lot of people have said they couldn’t put it down,” said Ms Martin. “The response has been very positive.”

To purchase the book contact Noelene Martin.
Phone: (02) 4751 8816
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.