The Prime Minister who was one of us

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

HOW do you explain the enduring popularity of one Bob Hawke?

Hawke, who died yesterday aged 89, was not a leader for this modern age of increased political correctness, of ‘posts’ and hashtags, where everything is sacred in the protection of one’s brand.

He was a reformed drunk, a womaniser, a larrikin, prone to incredible displays of emotion.

Writer Craig McGregor shadowed Hawke for a profile when he was still leader of the ACTU, describing how he would “work, play, get drunk, fall asleep at his desk, womanise, arranging trysts with young female journalists”.

Giant of Australian politics Bob Hawke dies

And perhaps this explains it – Hawke was flawed. Hawke was human.

He sounded like one of us.

He didn’t listen to Mahler, a la Keating, or speak Mandarin like Rudd, or if he did he never spoke about it.

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And unlike John Howard, he actually looked like he had played a bit of cricket instead of just watching it on the box.

(He obviously needed to work on the short ball though.)

Bob Hawke with second wife Blanche d’Alpuget.

He once greeted footy great Ron Barassi in a Melbourne pub with that most quintessential of Australian salutations: “G’day f*ckface.”

According to McGregor, one of Hawke’s favourite expressions was: “You can get f*cked”.

He wept when he read an account of the Tiananmen Square massacre, stopping to wipe snot from his nose.

But he could be a cruel man.

McGregor wrote, in his book Left Hand Drive, of how badly behaved the drunk Hawke could be.

“I saw him turn on his daughter and Hazel, his wife, shouting, swearing, gulping whisky, hurling abuse at anyone who disagreed with him as he became drunker and drunker – a bellicose, maudlin, spiteful drunk, beyond the reach of reason,” he wrote.

Hawke gave up ‘serious drinking’ in office unless, of course, there was a beer on offer at a cricket ground.

In Hawke, who once spent an entire flight to Perth meticulously marking out a form guide for race meets around the country, we could see something of ourselves – the anger, the frailty, the laughter.

He was a leader in which we could see the best and worst of ourselves.

A quick look at the present political scene will confirm it … we will never see his like again.