Nation celebrates life of Bob Hawke

Bob Hawke. Photo: Getty
Bob Hawke. Photo: Getty

PRIME Minister Scott Morrison has led the tributes to Bob Hawke at a state memorial attended by thousands at the Sydney Opera House.

Mr Hawke’s wife Blanche d’Alpuget, children and grandchildren were among the first to arrive for the political giant’s service on Friday.

The 89-year-old ex-Labor prime minister died peacefully at his Sydney home on May 16.

Giant of Australian politics Bob Hawke dies

Five former prime ministers – Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull – joined Mr Morrison inside the opera house Concert Hall, alongside federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese, the Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and a throng of other dignitaries and well-known Australians.

Craig Emerson, Mr Hawke’s former “economic, environmental and horse racing advisor” and close friend, was MC at the memorial.

Indigenous federal Labor MP Linda Burney opened the service with a traditional welcome to country, followed by the national anthem.

 

Mr Morrison was first to speak, saying Mr Hawke loved Australia and Australians loved him “deeply” in return.

The State Memorial service for former prime minister Bob Hawke at the Sydney Opera House. Photo: AAP

“Australians, all let us rejoice for the life of Robert James Lee Hawke,” the prime minister told the crowd.

“Father, husband, son, friend, grandfather, colleague, passionate Australian. The 23rd Prime Minister of Australia.

“We thank Bob Hawke for loving Australia and loving Australians with every fibre of his being, with every measure of his enormous enthusiasm, with every laugh, every tribute, every tear and every moment of his great devotion.”

Mr Albanese described Mr Hawke as a “giant”.

“Bob Hawke was not towering physically but somehow he seemed bigger than all of us,” the Labor leader said.

The Prime Minister who was one of us

“He was Australia amplified but he almost wasn’t part of our lives at all,” noting his brush with death while on a motorbike ride in 1947.

Ahead of the service, Mr Hawke’s son Stephen said while there were many public memories of his father, to him he was simply “my dad”.

“It’s really not much more complicated than that – he was me old man,” he told ABC television.

“He wasn’t the perfect father but he was very much a loving father and was loved in return by all of us.”

Popular impersonator Max Gillies said Mr Hawke had a good sense of humour and probably considered the Opera House his own.

“The last time I remember him being here he stepped off a barge, silver suit … I think he thought this was his place,” he told AAP.

“He didn’t stand on ceremony but he wasn’t averse to ceremony.”

Mr Hawke launched a number of his campaigns at the Sydney Opera House, including his successful 1983 election bid.

Free tickets to the service were snapped up within 25 minutes.

Mr Hawke made the Guinness Book of Records for downing a yard glass while a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and in his later years indulged fans at the cricket by knocking back drinks.

But he gave up alcohol after entering politics and proudly boasted he “didn’t touch a drop” while in federal parliament.

The former ACTU leader rose through union and Labor ranks and won the ALP four elections, with his late first wife Hazel by his side. He was prime minister from 1983 to 1991.

In 1991, his treasurer Paul Keating replaced him as leader, his marriage hit the rocks, and eventually he and Hazel divorced. He married his biographer Blanche d’Alpuget in 1995.

A private family funeral was held some weeks ago.