Gough Whitlam represented the federal electorate of Werriwa from a 1952 by-election until his resignation in 1978. The electorate has a long history of being held by Labor, ever since the 1930s. From 1934 until 2005, the seat was only held by four MPs, three of whom rose to a high rank in the federal ALP. Gough Whitlam from 1952 to 1978, and then John Kerin from 1978 to 1994 and Mark Latham from 1994 to 2005. Kerin served as Treasurer in the Hawke government, and Latham led the ALP to the 2004 election. From 1954 to 2005, every change of MP in Werriwa took place at a by-election.
The 2005 by-election was won by Chris Hayes, who held the seat until 2010. In 2010, he shifted to the seat of Fowler, immediately north of Werriwa, and Laurie Ferguson, who had represented Reid since 1990, took over Werriwa.
I have a particular personal interest in Werriwa. I lived in the electorate for most of my life until 2010, and ran in the electorate in 2004 and at the 2005 by-election.
Werriwa is a particularly fascinating seat, and that’s what I want to cover today.
Werriwa has existed continuously as a federal electorate since 1901, but the seat covers a very different area today to its original territory in 1901. Werriwa originally covered a large part of southern New South Wales, including Lake George (which gives the seat its name) and what is now the northern suburbs of Canberra.
With the use of historical maps, I’m going to trace how Werriwa shifted regions gradually over time, moving from a southern NSW rural electorate to a suburban seat in south-western Sydney.
The first set of federal electoral boundaries were drawn in 1900, and Werriwa was a large, rural electorate. The seat included the major centres of Yass and Goulburn. It also stretched south to the Molonglo River, covering what is now the northern suburbs of Canberra. The seat did not include Cootamundra, but included areas immediately to the east of Cootamundra.
The name “Werriwa” is the local indigenous name for Lake George, a lake immediately to the north-east of Canberra.
The original seat of Werriwa was won in 1901 by the Free Trade party.
At the next redistribution in 1906, Werriwa began its shift towards Sydney, losing those areas now contained in Canberra, and its southern border ran along the northern shore of Lake George. The seat also gained Cootamundra, and continued to cover Yass and Goulburn. The new boundaries in 1906 saw the seat won by Labor for the first time. Labor retained the seat in 1910.
The 1913 redistribution saw the seat shift further north, losing Yass and more areas near the current city of Canberra. The seat became a thin seat running east-west, from Grenfell in the west to Mittagong, Picton and Moss Vale in the east. At the 1913 election, the seat was won by the Liberal Party, but Labor won the seat back in 1914. Labor MP John Lynch left the party in 1916 over the conscription fight, and was re-elected once in 1917 as a Nationalist. He lost his seat in 1919 to Labor’s Bert Lazzarini.
The 1922 boundaries shifted Werriwa further east, reaching the coast and the outskirts of Sydney. The seat stretched as far west as Boorowra, but on its eastern boundary it included Wollongong, Heathcote, Campbelltown, Camden and Cabramatta. The seat still contained Goulburn.
Lazzarini held on to the seat from 1919 to 1931, but in his final year he left the ALP to join the Lang Labor breakaway party. Lazzarini lost Werriwa in 1931 to the Country Party’s Walter McNicoll.
In 1934, another set of boundaries saw Goulburn distributed out of Werriwa for the first time since Federation.
The new boundaries saw the seat entirely contained in the Illawarra region, the Southern Highlands and the southwestern fringe of Sydney, including Cabramatta, Holsworthy and Sutherland.
The new boundaries were more friendly to Lazzarini, who won the seat back (as a Lang Labor candidate). He rejoined the ALP in 1936.
Werriwa shrunk even more in 1948, coming closer to Sydney. The 1948 redistribution saw a large increase in the number of electorates, so Werriwa was one of many seats covering a smaller area.
The new Werriwa covered Cabramatta, Fairfield, Liverpool, the entire Sutherland region as well as Helensburgh.
Lazzarini was re-elected on the new boundaries in 1949 and 1951, but died in 1952. The 1952 by-election, won by Gough Whitlam, was fought on the 1948 boundaries, and Whitlam was re-elected in 1954.
New boundaries were drawn for the 1955 election, and Werriwa lost the Sutherland area and moved deeper into Western Sydney. Werriwa in 1955 stretched from Holsworthy in the south to Wentworthville in the north. Gough Whitlam was re-elected to represent this area in 1955, 1958, 1961, 1963 and 1966.
Werriwa finally began to resemble the seat of today after the 1968 redistribution. This electorate stretched from Ingleburn in the south to Cabramatta and Canley Vale in the north.
These were the boundaries that Gough Whitlam represented as Labor leader, winning this version of Werriwa in 1969, 1972, 1974 and 1975.
The next redistribution, in 1977, cut out Cabramatta and shifted Werriwa south to take in the centre of Campbelltown. Werriwa has remained a seat based on the Campbelltown and Liverpool local government areas since the 1977 election. Gough Whitlam won Werriwa one last time in 1977, and resigned in 1978. The 1978 by-election was won by John Kerin.
Werriwa became a seat almost entirely contained in the City of Campbelltown in 1984, and shifted slightly north into Liverpool in 1992. The 2000 redistribution saw Werriwa lose the Campbelltown city centre and gain more parts of Liverpool LGA, and the seat has only undergone minor changes at the 2006 and 2009 redistributions.