Gough Whitlam (L) with George Gouliovas, Orlandina Maria Villa-Gouliovas and Italian wrestler Mario Milano.
Former world heavyweight champion wrestler, George Gouliovas remembers his koumbaro, Gough Whitlam.
The news of Gough Whitlam’s passing kept long-time friend, and former world heavyweight champion wrestler, George Gouliovas awake whilst dawn was breaking in Australia.
Residing in Greece and saddened by the loss, he says the world has lost one of the most personable and significant individuals to feature in political history.
Speaking to Neos Kosmos, Gouliovas explains he first met the former prime minister in 1974, when he was in Australia for a world wrestling championship competition. He says he was impressed by the man, who went on to become his koumbaro, but also captivated by his knowledge and logic.
“It was the first time I ever felt like I wanted a relationship with someone involved in politics. He was someone that was completely detached from what’s expected from politicians.
“Unfortunately, politics is a dirty game, but he was a clean person.”
He describes Australia’s political giant as a “people person”, someone who concerned himself with the wellbeing of his constituents and compatriots, evident in his policies.
And it was his love for everything Hellenic – from the landscape, to philosophy, history and fluency in the Ancient Greek language – that mesmerised Gouliovas.
When asked what it was about Hellenism that captivated Whitlam, Gouliovas replied – “what was it about Hellenism that he didn’t love”.
“It’s very hard to find an individual who understood the wisdom and ideas of our predecessors …and he believed in it so much, in its significance.
“In my opinion he was the most frequent to travel from Australia to England to speak to the English about the Elgin Marbles. I believe that when he spoke about Greece he had a fire burning in him that made me believe that through his wisdom I was witnessing a reincarnation of an ancient Greek philosopher. He knew so much about Greece that no matter how many times we’d meet up, whether it was just the two of us, or with other Greeks, I for one felt uncomfortable because of the little that I knew about Greece compared to him.”
Whitlam had reportedly travelled to Greece over 25 times and one of Gouliovas’ fondest memories was celebrating Whitlam’s birthday at a restaurant in Plaka, Athens.
“I remember he’d pick up olives with his hand and he’d dip them in tarama, eat them and lick his fingers. And Margaret – his remarkable wife – would say to him, ‘Gough don’t do that, people will see you’. But he’d say ‘I’m not bothering anybody! It’s just so delicious that I want to eat it and lick my fingers without bothering anybody’.
“Mr Whitlam was very down-to-earth. Everyone thinks that they’re grounded, that we have our feet on the ground, whereas he was really grounded, the rest of us are all daydreamers.”
Gouliovas explains the following day Margaret and Gough were bound on a trip visiting ancient sites throughout the country. They started in Athens, and worked their way to Corinth, through to the ancient theatre at Epidaurus, Olympia, back to Corinth and finally back to Athens. With them was Whitlam’s personal driver of 15 years, Michael Vlassopoulos. Upon their return, Gouliovas asked him how he found the trip and he said despite enjoying himself he had been left red-faced.
“He said ‘Giorgo, from the point we left Athens and on the whole trip, whatever he saw in every ancient city, whatever you can think of, he knew about it. Two or three times he forgot the dates of the events that he was referring to and he became frustrated. Margaret would say ‘don’t worry Gough, don’t worry’, but Gough would say ‘don’t tell me not to worry about it! I’m supposed to remember’ – we (Greeks) don’t even know our culture or history.”
Whitlam’s love for Greece and Hellenism took him on many ancient treks, including retracing the steps of Alexander the Great.
On his travels, Whitlam had written a letter to Gouliovas, who showed it to writers and artists, journalists and people he claims held cultural positions.
Without affording them contextual background, he asked if they could explain what the words ‘Priene’ and ‘Aphrodisias’ meant to them.
“After 10 minutes they told me ‘we can’t find the meaning, tell us, who told you?’. I said ‘ladies and gentlemen, no one told me, they were written on a piece of paper with small Greek letters, and of the 10 Greek words only two had grammatical errors, and the person wasn’t even Greek’. They asked me ‘if he wasn’t Greek what was he?’ And I said Australian.
“I said the person told me that ‘Priene’ is a small city in Asia Minor which was the birthplace of one of the Seven Wise Men of ancient Greece, Bias of Priene. It was one of the towns he would pass through for the third time with his wife and their group of friends, on the trek following Alexander the Great. He was such a special person, with such a deep understanding of Greek history and such a love of the ancient Greek spirit. And everyone’s jaws dropped … they’re all supposedly at the forefront of the cultural arm in Greece.”
He says Whitlam was a “special person”, highly educated with “so much wisdom”, and believes his own representatives in Greece should consider him an example when undertaking their roles.
“I don’t think I will ever, or have ever, met anyone like him, because they don’t exist and I don’t think the world will ever be graced by such a person.”
“If Greek politicians had one ounce of the Philhellenism of Mr Whitlam, even the smallest love for Greece, and an ounce of his spirituality, and if there was someone advocating for Greece like Mr Whitlam did, Greece at present would be a paradise. Unfortunately our politicians … well, there is no need to tell you, you see it, you read about it and you learn about it everyday.”
Gouliovas says it was his humbled nature, despite his many riches, that kept him grounded. He was happy with life’s simplicities, he didn’t need extravagant housing and was happy to spend his days with his wife of 70 years.
source: Neos Kosmos