Huge public outpouring of affection: Former prime minister Gough Whitlam.
Huge public outpouring of affection: Former prime minister Gough Whitlam. Photo: Steven Siewert

There has been a rush on seats for Gough Whitlam's state
memorial service, with nearly twice as many people applying as there
were available spaces.

Late on Sunday afternoon the Department of Prime Minister and
Cabinet, which is handling applications, had received nearly
3966requests. The Sydney Town Hall can accommodate only 2000 people.

Many will miss being inside the building for Australia's largest memorial service in living memory.

The choice of the Sydney Town Hall has bemused some who had
wondered about a bigger venue. But the Whitlam family has been involved
in planning every detail of the memorial for years and the Sydney Town
Hall, as "the people's place", was deemed the most suitable venue.

The Whitlam children – Tony, Nick, Stephenand Catherine –
have organised the service, which will take place on November 5 at 11am.

Senator John Faulkner, who had continued to visit Mr Whitlam
every week until his death, and former Whitlam speechwriter
GrahamFreudenberg, are among those who will deliver tributes.

Mr Whitlam's funeral is a private family affair.

The memorial is shaping as the largest public display of
affection for a political leader since the funeral of Robert Menzies in
May 1978, when the great and good attended the service in Scots' Church,
Melbourne and hundreds of thousands lined the streets to see his
funeral cortege pass on the way to the Springvale crematorium.

Over the years many came to believe Mr Whitlam had minutely planned his memorial services.

One of the fondest came in the political commentator Laurie Oakes' 2008 book Power Plays: The Real Stories of Australian Politics
in which he posits the Whitlam funeral plans and suggests not only
Sydney Town Hall but a catafalque bearing the coffin proceeding to the
Mortuary Station, where he would be taken to Canberra to lie in state.

Mr Whitlam did little to disabuse such flourishes of
immortality. But Mr Oakes also revealed the music that may be heard on
Wednesday week.

"One of the pieces Whitlam has selected is Va, pensiero, the slaves' chorus from Verdi's opera Nabucco which gave expression to the Italian people's aspirations for liberty and self-government. Va, pensiero became the theme song of Garibaldi's followers during the Risorgimento – the uprising to unite Italy," Oakes wrote.

"The second piece he has nominated is more esoteric, but no less Whitlamesque – The March of the Consular Guard at Marengo,
by an obscure French composer, celebrating one of Napoleon's great
victories. Whitlam was fascinated by Napoleon even as a child, but his
sister, Freda, once told me that it was not so much the warlike side of
Napoleon that appealed to young Gough as the French emperor's civic
achievements and the legal system he established."