Gordon Bilney

Passed away at the age of seventy three, on October 28, 2012.

This biograhical material kindly provided by Dr. Richie Gun, lifelong friend and colleague of Gordon.


Title: Dr. the Hon.





BDS (1962), BA (Hons)(Politics) 1966


Having graduated in Dentistry, I returned next year to do a BA and graduated with Honours (2A) in 1966. At the end of that year I was selected to join the Diplomatic Service of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (then External Affairs) and went to Canberra to learn the trade of diplomacy. After a year I was posted as Third Secretary – lowest on the diplomatic totem pole – to Djakarta for a short period, coinciding with the bloody coup which overthrew then President Soekarno. I was then posted to Manila for three years. Postings to Geneva, the United Nations, and Paris (OECD) followed, and in 1980 I was appointed High Commissioner (Ambassador) to the nine Commonwealth Caribbean countries, based in Jamaica. For a period after the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972 I also served on Gough Whitlam’s personal staff, as foreign affairs adviser.

In 1982 I was approached by the then ALP State Secretary to stand for the marginal Federal seat of Kingston, in Adelaide’s south, at the 1983 election. After a hard-fought campaign I was successful in gaining preselection against 8 other candidates, later defeating the Liberal incumbent at the general election in which the Hawke Government came to office. In Canberra my main interests were in foreign policy, and I was elected to the Joint Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee of Parliament, later becoming its Chair. In 1990 I was elected to the Hawke Ministry with the portfolio of Defence Science and Personnel, and in 1993 to the Hawke and later the Keating Ministries, as Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs. In both portfolios I concentrated my energies on reducing the disadvantages suffered by women, especially in the Third World, and am particularly proud of increasing Australia’s aid contribution to family planning programs, more than threefold. Running Australia’s aid program, with all its opportunities to make a real difference to the lives of millions of people, was the most satisfying job I could imagine: and I loved it. 

 I was defeated with the fall of the Keating Government in 1996, after holding Kingston for a record 5 terms. After leaving Parliament, I became the language columnist (“Wordwatching”) for the Sydney Morning Herald, and also took up a board position in a start-up company (which failed dismally). In retirement I am an avid follower of the Adelaide Crows, and attempt to catch elusive fish.


My father Neil Joseph Bilney was a schoolteacher who taught me much that I value today, and my mother was a kindergarten teacher. They were divorced when I was eleven years old when my mother went to Sydney, while I lived with my father.

I married Elizabeth Joan Gunton (now deceased) in 1967, at the Australian Embassy in Manila. We first met through the Footlights Club revues at University with which we were both involved. We had two daughters (Caroline and Sarah), both now with two daughters of their own. We divorced in 1997 and I later married Sandra Colhoun.


As they say, if you can actually remember the 60’s, you probably weren’t there. I remember the 60’s at Adelaide University as an exciting time, of great events and of great personal happiness, joy even

 “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive

But to be young was very heaven!”

I had a very full life in those years. I was elected President of the Student Representative Council in 1961, and became International Vice-President of NUAUS (now AUS) the next year. I became very involved with the Footlights Club, of which I became Secretary, and for several years wrote many of the scripts for the end-of-year Footlights revues. I wrote an occasional column, as Angela E M Bidstrup, for “On Dit”. Student politics brought me in touch with my counterparts in other universities, many of whom became lifelong friends – Gareth Evans as Melbourne SRC President, Michael Kirby from Sydney, the late Peter Wilenski, my best friend and the brightest of his generation.

As SRC President I had to chair numerous student meetings in a packed Union Hall to protest against nuclear testing – the cause du jour - by the USA (mainly) and the USSR: the debate would be all one way, but when the phalanx of Aquinas- organised hands went up at the end, there were no American villains.

At the suggestion of David Combe, later to become ALP National Secretary, the moribund ALP Club was revived, David allowing me to become its first President as long as he was Secretary, thus controlling the membership list: great practice for his later life.  Our first speaker was Don Dunstan in the famous pink shorts, while John Bannon followed me as President.

One initiative of the SRC during my time was to invite visiting firemen to lunch, at SRC expense, to sing for their supper in the Union Hall. Dave Brubeck, Tom Lehrer, the horrible Eric Butler who provoked a near-riot among Jewish students, Bob Santamaria, some forgotten actors,  were among them.

Momentous events far away had a great impact. The dramatic 14 days of the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis, when the world came seriously closest to nuclear war: even in far-off Adelaide the tension was palpable. And in 1963 a defining moment, when President Kennedy was assassinated: I recall that our Politics lecturer, the late Bob Reid, offered to postpone that day’s final Honours examination, such was the shock we all felt (we declined). Closer to home, Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam war got off to an – initially - popular start, soon to change to dissent in Universities as students contemplated being conscripted for a stupid war.

In amongst all this I found some time to study, not very assiduously, but enough to score a reasonable Honours degree. And how not to mention the  sexual revolution, in its infancy then, but flourishing sooner among the more adventurous student women, to the delight of many.  

 All in all, wonderful years.    

Gordon wrote the song below as his contribution to 'Be Your Age', the Old Footlighters' Revue in the 2006 Adelaide Fringe. It is typical of the many pieces he wrote for the Footlights revues in the 50,s and 60,s.



Four (or maybe a few more) people on stage, recognizably Howard, Latham and a generic Democrat or 3, plus an MC.

 Costumes/makeup? Don’t be silly – but each would be identified by the appropriate Party hat - blue, red, and yellow and green, and perhaps big rosettes.

HOWARD  - (Looking at the program – speaks to the MC, and/or others on stage):

“This next thing, it says here “With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan”. What does that mean?”

 MC: “Well, it’s just to say that Gilbert and Sullivan are asserting their rights to being the original owners of this song. We have, as it were, stolen it from them – so we make an apology for that”.

 HOWARD: “Gilbert and Sullivan? But they’re dead, aren’t they? So it’s nothing to do with us”.

 MC: “Wellll….”

 HOWARD: “Did they wear the baggy green? Ay?”

 MC: “Welllll…”

 HOWARD: “Were they at Gallipoli? Ay? Ay?”

 MC: “Welll…”


HOWARD: “Not part of our culture, see? Stolen? That’s ridiculous! There’ll be no apology as far as I’m concerned!!”

 “ I will decide who sings this song, and the manner in which it is sung!”

 I am the very model of a modern politician

My principles I don't let interfere with my ambition

I'm known as Honest Johnny, though the rationale seems odd to me

I'm glad the voting public have all suffered a lobotomy

When I say “never ever” in my leadership capacity

Remember who’s the rodent, with the talent for mendacity

(?Business? rodent  / mendacity – why can’t he just say “lying rodent?”)


I’ll steer this ship of State, and never let another cove aboard..... 


Cove aboard? Drove a Ford? Mmmmmm....Ah!


If Kimmy ever threatens, I just shout out "Children overboard"!


Refrain - all


If Kimbo ever threatens he just yells out "Children overboard"!

If Kimbo ever threatens he just yells out “Children overboard”!

If Kimbo ever threatens he just yells out “Children over-overboard”!


I ring up George each Tuesday just to get my next instructions

It’s such a shame we never found those tools of mass destruction

But I won’t tell a lie – I simply alter my position

For I’m the very model of a modern politician.


ALL: No he won’t tell a lie, he simply alters his position

        For he’s the very model of a modern politician.




I am a different model of a modern politician

I'm into reading kiddies' books, it goes with Opposition

My temper is notorious, my mates say I'm the crabby one

For when I take a taxi ride I like to biff the cabby one

I'm sad to say they've got me down by playing all their dirty tricks

Some people reckon I was never cut out for the politics

But one thing I can still do, I can talk submerged in wet cement...


Wet cement? Testament? Mmmmm...Ah!


And when I write a book I cover all my friends in excrement!


Refrain – all


And when he writes a book he covers all his friends in excrement!

And when he writes a book he covers all his friends in excrement!

And when he writes a book he covers everyone in excre-excrement!


And now I’m in retirement, every day is like a week to me

But now I’ve got the time, nobody seems to want to speak to me

I guess they’re trying not to give me any ammunition

For I’m the very model of a modern politician.


ALL: We think they’re trying not to give him any ammunition

           That psychopathic model of a modern politician.





Now I’m the very model of a different politician

To keep the bastards honest, was our challenge and our mission

We went for all the policies the others were discardin’

‘Cos we still believed in fairies at the bottom of the garden

Then Megsy Lees decided that we had to be more relevant

And cuddled up to Johnny like a rabbit to an elephant

She voted for the GST – and left us flabbergasted


Flabbergasted? Plastered? Half-masted? …..Ahh!


But now she’s out of Parliament – and we’ve become the bastards!



Now Meg is out of Parliament and we’ve become the bastards

Now Meg is out of Parliament and we’ve become the bastards

Now Meg is out of Parliament and people know the bastards now are us


When Cheryl left our Party ‘twas a very sad defection

The only good it did was give old Gareth an erection

It’s very sad, but now we’re in a terminal condition

Extinction of the species for some different politicians.


ALL: It’s very sad, but now we’re in a terminal condition

Extinction of the species for some different politicians.



LAST VERSE -HATS COME OFF  (Slow and mournful, maybe each person doing alternate lines)


It’s hard to change the model, with these modern politicians

You criticize the Government, they’ll have you for sedition

It’s seven years for saying Philip Ruddock uses thuggery

And seven more for shouting “Johnny Howard, go to buggery!”

You’re not allowed to tell your wife they’ve put you in the slammer

When we get another flag there’ll be a sickle and a hammer

It’s hard to work out how we ever got into this possie


Possie? Cossie? Mozzie? ‘…Ah…


Remember when you used to be so proud to be an Aussie!


Yes, remember when you used to be so proud to be an Aussie

Yes, remember when you used to be so proud to be an Aussie

Now all we do is yell out “Oy!” and “Ozzie! Ozzie! Ozzie!”



Take our advice, when all else fails, go home and hug your teddy

For quite soon we’ll join the U.S.A., we’re nearly there already

We’ll sing “God Bless America” quite free of inhibition

A wonderful achievement for our modern politicians.


We’ll sing “God Bless America” quite free of inhibition

So put your hands together for our modern politicians!