An instigator of social change, the legacy of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam has greatly shaped Australia.
But while his achievements such as Medicare, relations with China and free university education have been reflected on after news of his passing broke this morning, Mr Whitlam actually also played an important role in the formation of Penrith too.
The Labor giant introduced a number of important policies that saw Penrith grow from a country town to a regional hub, and was no stranger to the region.
On August 21, 1973, Mr Whitlam announced a new policy, the Metropolitan Area Improvement Program for the Western Sectors of Sydney.
“We have chosen the Western sectors of Sydney and Melbourne as the first in a series of urban projects because it is in these areas that the problems of inequality and deprivation are more obviously observed. Experience gained will be useful in solving problems in other areas resulting from similar processes of rapid urbanisation,” he said.
Through the program, Penrith was given $800,000 for the purchase of community reserves, planting trees, widening roads and restoring buildings.
A further $300,000 was allocated to infrastructure in Penrith and sport and recreation projects received $250,000.
In conjunction with the NSW Government, the capacity of the the St Marys sewerage treatment plant was doubled.
On September 11, 1974, Mr Whitlam attended a Penrith Council civic reception, a time when local governments were struggling financially.
“No-one knows better than those involved in local government the long years of neglect and indifference from which it has suffered and the atmosphere of perpetual financial crisis that surrounds it for generations. I have often marvelled at the dedication and fortitude of men and women who have continued to serve local government in the face of such odds,” Mr Whitlam said.
That same day he officially opened the Rank-NEC TV factory in Penrith.
Five months later and Mr Whitlam was back again, this time for the Nepean District Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society’s Annual Agricultural Show.
“Penrith is the centre of a thriving and prosperous community rich in history, rich in natural beauty, rich in natural resources. In your annual show we see bountiful evidence of your rural prosperity… Here in Penrith, in the Nepean district, you are building up the strength and riches of our nation,” he said in high praise of the region,” he said.
The tributes for Mr Whitlam, who died at age 98, have been flowing all morning.
UWS Vice-Chancellor Professor Barney Glover said the country had lost one of its “greatest social reformers”.
“Gough Whitlam was a remarkable man and a true visionary,” he said.
“Gough Whitlam valued education because of its intrinsic worth. He valued education because it cut-through barriers to equality and offered opportunity to all. He valued education as a public good not simply a passport to personal benefit. He was instrumental in ensuring that higher education was the right of all Australians and not a privilege reserved for the few.”
NSW Labor leader John Robertson said it was a sad day.
“Today the Labor Party has lost a giant and our nation has lost one of its great leaders,” he said.
“As Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam changed this nation forever. Gough not only breathed new life into Australia, he inspired a generation that will remember his contribution forever.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott led tributes in Federal Parliament, which has suspended normal proceedings for the day.
NSW Premier Mike Baird said Gough Whitlam was a favourite son of NSW and a giant of the national political stage.
“All politicians reflect their times, but very few shape them. Gough Whitlam was one of those select few,” he said.
“Mr Whitlam represented the people of Werriwa, in outer western Sydney, for 26 years. He brought Labor back into power federally in 1972 after it had lost itself in a wilderness for 23 years.
“Mr Whitlam’s enduring legacy for Australia includes a national health insurance system, accessible tertiary education for all, Aboriginal land rights and government support for private schools.”