Mark Bourrie’s new book ‘Big Men Fear Me’ gives shape to an era and man almost erased by history. It is worth reading.
On Monday evening, in a packed lecture hall at the University of Melbourne, the Melbourne University Political Science department honoured a former leader of the Australian Labor Party, Bill Heffernan, as the Victorian Politician of the Year for his leadership of that party.
While many of Bill’s supporters were glad he was still alive and had not been forgotten, many were troubled by a public declaration given following the announcement by the University of Melbourne that it was taking away his honour.
Bill took the unusual step of speaking to the crowd before the award ceremony.
His speech was to a packed room of 250. Many were supporters of his, other speakers were from the Liberal Party with whom he had served for many years. A handful from the Labor Party were also present.
One man, whose name was not mentioned, appeared to be having a go at Bill, saying, “Well Bill, you were always a very clever man, so you ought to have learned this stuff by now but clearly you don’t.”
Bill had been asked what he thought he had learned in politics, and responded with, “I know that what I do is not particularly important by comparison with what someone else does”.
It was the response Bill gave when he was inducted into the Institute of Engineers Australia’s Hall of Fame in the 1980s.
The hall was renamed as the ‘Bill Heffernan Hall of Fame’.
It was a simple and modest ceremony; he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and then the University hosted him for dinner.
Bill Heffernan’s career as a politician had been more than simply about the public service.
He had been a minister of finance under Gough Whitlam and was later the Minister for Housing (1981-86) and Minister for Family and Community Services (1984-87).
He had also been Deputy Premier of Victoria in the 1980s under Peter Blatherwick, from 1986 to 1989.
In 1987, he was elected to the House of Representatives.
By the time of his death in 2008, the Labor Party had returned to power, and in his farewell speech, Bill