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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Ainsley Gotto (1946–2018)

by Rachel Baxendale

Ainsley Gotto, who became former prime minister John Gorton’s principal private secretary at just 22, has died, leaving behind a ­secret trove of official and personal documents that will now be made public by the National ­Library.

Ms Gotto, 71, is famously ­remembered for the words of sacked minister Dudley Erwin who blamed her for his downfall, telling journalist Laurie Oakes, “it wiggles, it’s shapely, it’s cold-blooded and its name is Ainsley Gotto”.

Ms Gotto remained in Mr ­Gorton’s office after he resigned as prime minister and became ­defence minister in 1971, before going on to a career as an entrepreneur and businesswoman.

In October 2015 she donated 20 boxes of documents to the ­National Library, adding to a collection of personal letters, official documents and insight into the inner workings of the Prime Minister’s Office that now comprises more than 45 boxes.

“The story can go no further until I die or release the papers,” Ms Gotto said at the time.

“Presumably on my death they can do anything, but I don’t have any intention of dying.”

Ms Gotto was born in Brisbane in 1946, attended school in Melbourne and completed a stenography course at Canberra Technical College aged 15.

She worked for Mr Erwin, who was then party whip, before heading to Gorton’s office where Mr Erwin later said she “ruled with a ruthless authority”.

In his biography of Gorton, Ian Hancock wrote that despite the rumours, there was nothing to suggest the former prime minister had had a relationship with his chief of staff.

“There’s a much more interesting story than that,’’ Hancock said.

“At the time, she was in a relationship with Race Mathews, Gough Whitlam’s chief of staff.

“If you can imagine a circumstance where the chief of staff to Malcolm Turnbull was in a ­relationship with the chief of staff to Bill Shorten, you can imagine how inconceivable this was.

From 1972 until 1978 Ms Gotto worked for talent management company Drake International, before stints in television, running an interior design consultancy based on the Gold Coast and her own company Ainsley Gotto International, and a period as president of the Australian chapter of Women Chiefs of Enterprises International.

Ms Gotto returned to Canberra in 2008 as chief of staff to then opposition finance spokeswoman Helen Coonan.

Ms Coonan remembered her as “one of Australia’s political legends” in a statement released on behalf of Ms Gotto’s friends and family.

“A Liberal warrior to the last, she was a participant in political events over five decades,” Ms Coonan said.

“In her later years she confined her political activities to the support of constituents in the seat of Wentworth, including electorate work in the office of Malcolm Turnbull.

“She remained a mentor, ­adviser and supporter of many younger people aspiring to political office.”

Ms Gotto died on Sunday afternoon in the Wolper Jewish Hospital in Sydney’s Woollahra.

Her sisters Kerrie and Debra predeceased her and she is survived by her nephews, niece and great-nephew Roman Gotto Smith.

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Citation details

Rachel Baxendale, 'Gotto, Ainsley (1946–2018)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 18 April 2024.

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