For well may we say 'God save the queen' -
because nothing will save the Governor General.
- Gough Whitlam
The Rt. Hon. Sir John Robert Kerr, K.C.M.G., L.St.J., P.C., A.K., G.C.M.G., G.C.V.O. was the Governor General of Australia from 1974 to 1977. He was born in Sydney on 24 September 1914 and died 25 March 1991.
He is most famous for sacking the Prime Minister Gough Whitlam on 11 November 1975. As a result, he is synonymous with the ALP catchcry: "A rat is a rat is a rat" - public opinion turned against him, and he resigned in 1977. He retired to London, where he died.
He had three children by his first wife, Alison Worstead. She died in 1974, and then he married Anne Robson in 1975.
He was educated at Fort Street Boys' High School. He received the University Medal and First Class Honours when he graduated with a Law degree in 1936. To take up the role of Governor General of Australia, he resigned from the position as the 13th Chief Justice of New South Wales. However, he had earned the respect of his peers in the thirty plus years he spent in the legal profession.
During World War II he attained the rank of colonel in the 2nd AIF in the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs. There, he helped establish ASOPA, a forerunner to the John Curtin School of Medical Research.
A colleague at the time, Peter Ryan, M.M. recently commented:
"But in fact Sir John Kerr is something quite different. Here was a man of true intellectual parts, experienced and able in the conduct of great affairs... He had the capacity and experience to handle the Australian Governor-Generalship, when Whitlam appointed him to it in July, 1974. The problem was his personality or, more precisely, the personalities of Kerr and Whitlam, brought into explosive apposition."
He was infamous for his propensity for a tipple and he was prime example for the expression:
"As drunk as a Governor General at Melbourne Cup."
Gough Whitlam draws attention to this when justifying why he appointed John Kerr as the G-G - when it is now perceived as instrumental in the unique stream of events that brought about Gough's downfall:
"It is my fault that I didn't check on his background because if I had asked any of the judges on the NSW Supreme Court, of which he was the chief justice, or any of the senior counsel whom I knew, about him, they would have told me he had a drink problem."
Unequivocally, he presided over the most controversial day in Australian political history. Even his allies of 1975 now criticise him over the handling of the dismissal, ten years after his death. Nearly thirty years after the sacking, it is still one of the driving forces behind the push for an Australian republic.