22 August 2022

Albanese to be first sitting PM to visit Griffith

| Oliver Jacques
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Al Grassby, Margaret Whitlam and Gough Whitlam in Griffith

Al Grassby, Margaret Whitlam and Gough Whitlam outside the Yoogali Club in 1972. Photo: Griffith City Library archives. Found by Chris Robson and Christine Del Gigante.

Budding prime minister Gough Whitlam packed out the Yoogali Club in 1972. Future prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had Griffith women “swooning” over him as he labelled the town the “pot capital of Australia” in 1977. But Anthony Albanese will be the first ever sitting Prime Minister to visit Griffith in its 106-year history when he touches down on 26 August.

Mr Albanese will be the keynote speaker at the Bush Summit, which brings together politicians and business leaders to discuss regional issues.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister said “he is looking forward to returning to Griffith … there is nowhere better for the summit to be held than in the nation’s food bowl and he is looking forward to trying out some local produce and popping into some local businesses”.

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Region Riverina spoke to Griffith Genealogical & Historical Society life members Anne Gribble and Wendy Polkinghorne, history expert John Robinson, longtime Labor stalwarts Alan and Peggy Delves, Library veteran Christine Del Gigante and several other local history buffs. None could recall a sitting Prime Minister ever coming to this town, to the best of their recollection.

“If none of us can remember it, it didn’t happen,” Ms Gribble said.

According to Alan and Peggy Delves, aged 91 and 88 respectively, “the closest would have been Gough Whitlam back in 1972, just before he was elected prime minister”.

“He packed out the Yoogali Club,” Peggy said. “It was electrifying and the crowd was overflowing.”

Mr Whitlam visited Griffith during the It’s Time election campaign on 19 November, 1972, to help the local federal member Al Grassby try to retain his seat of Riverina. Mr Grassby won easily, contributing to Mr Whitlam becoming the first Labor prime minister in Australia for 23 years.

Al Grassby with two women

Al Grassby in Griffith. Photo: Griffith City Library archives.

Peter Knox, a 50-year Labor member and future candidate for the seat, said he became a Labor Party member because of Mr Whitlam’s visit.

“The Yoogali Club is really big but I remember people standing on the steps outside because they couldn’t fit inside,” he said. “Gough was so inspirational.”

“I can’t remember [former Liberal prime minister] Robert Menzies ever coming to Griffith. But [former Labor opposition leader] Kim Beazley did visit, he had a few drinks at the Area Hotel.”

Peggy Delves would go on to serve as an electorate secretary for the Labor’s state member Lin Gordon in the late 1970s.

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Around the same time, in 1977, an ambitious young journalist named Malcolm Turnbull spent several days in Griffith, where he bravely reported on the illegal drug trade for the now defunct Bulletin magazine.

“The women were swooning as he walked by,” according to Terry Jones, author of the book The Griffith Wars.

Mr Turnbull’s article, titled “Pot capital of Australia”, opened with the hook: “They call it Calabresi Corn in the sleepy town of Griffith. In the big cities it is called grass or dope or pot. The name doesn’t matter much … marijuana is big business.”

Mr Turnbull would go on to serve as prime minister between 2015 and 2018. He did not return to Griffith during this time.

The Bush Summit will be held at Griffith Regional Theatre on 26 August. NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet and Griffith mayor Doug Curran will also address the forum.

Original Article published by Oliver Jacques on Region Riverina.

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