The death of former prime minister Bob Hawke aged 89 six months ago led to an outpouring of grief rarely seen for a politician in this country.
Among those to pay tribute to Hawke were world leaders, famous figures from business, science, sport and the arts, as well as his political and trade union colleagues.
But it was the response of everyday Australians which perhaps best showed the esteem in which the nation’s 23rd prime minister was held after more than half a century in public life.
Hawke was a Rhodes scholar, ACTU president and the only man to take Labor to four federal election victories but also a front bar drinker, gambler and ladies’ man.
In death Hawke was lauded as much for his down-to-earth ‘man of the people’ image and deep affinity for mainstream Australia as for any of his great talents or achievements.
The Labor giant’s eldest daughter Sue Pieters-Hawke has now gathered memories of her father from friends, family, political allies and foes, and staffers in a book called Remembering Bob.
She has also collected anecdotes from Australians who knew her father from their work as hotel staff and police officers, from neighbours, a pharmacist and a doctor, as well as strangers who met Hawke only once.
Anthony Marano (far right) ran into Hawke (third from left) at a Melbourne bar after a day at the races in 2008. He and his friends spent eight hours with the former prime minister while his wife Blanche d’Alpuget rested in the couple’s hotel room
Hawke was a Rhodes scholar, ACTU president and the only man to take Labor to four federal election victories but also a front bar drinker, gambler and ladies’ man. A makeshift tribute is pictured at the Sydney Opera House on May 17, the day after Hawke’s death
Sue Pieters-Hawke fondly remembers bush holidays with her father Bob, mother Hazel and siblings. This picture, from the family’s private collection, was taken about 1987 when they were staying in cabins at Pebbly Beach on the NSW south coast
A racegoer tells of ‘kidnapping’ the former prime minister from a Melbourne bar for an eight-hour drinking session while his wife Blanche d’Alpuget slept in the couple’s hotel room.
A mother describes squealing and flinging herself upon Hawke like a star-struck teenager when she bumped into him at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show – then hysterically bursting into tears.
A television scriptwriter recalls when the producers of A Country Practice wanted someone powerful to assure the children of Wandin Valley that nuclear war was not inevitable – and Hawke happily agreed to play himself.
Ms Pieters-Hawke has pulled all these stories together in Remembering Bob, which also features photographs from the family’s private collection, in a ‘celebration’ of what her father stood for.
‘At the memorial and the wake, it was wonderful how many people had stories about Dad that others mostly hadn’t heard before,’ Ms Pieters-Hawke said.
‘There were hours of boisterous reminiscing by many of the wonderful raconteurs who had known Dad – as well as being a great storyteller, he was the object of many a good story.
‘So in someways I feel as though this book, a collection of those stories and more, is a people’s eulogy.’
The death of former prime minister Bob Hawke (pictured) aged 89 six months ago led to an outpouring of grief rarely seen for a politician in this country. Now his eldest daughter Sue Pieters-Hawke has collected memories of her father in a book called Remembering Bob
Bob and Hazel Hawke play with their grandchildren on the lawns of Kirribilli House in Sydney
Hawke gave up alcohol throughout his prime ministership but had been a heavy drinker in his trade union days. He is pictured after downing a beer on day two of the fifth Ashes Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2018
This is an extract from ‘Remembering Bob’ edited by Sue Pieters-Hawke (Allen & Unwin) out now:
I have lived in Sydney all my life but I love going to the races and whenever I can I head to Melbourne for the Spring Racing Carnival, as I love the atmosphere and excitement of Derby Day at Flemington.
In 2008, I was at Derby Day with both Melbourne and Sydney friends and after a long day at the track we headed to the CBD for dinner. We ended up at Becco, an Italian restaurant and bar in Crossley Street, Chinatown, which is a Melbourne institution.
After dinner we went into the bar for a drink and who should we find sitting there having a beer, but Robert J Hawke himself. Only in Australia could you walk into a bar and find a former Prime Minister sitting alone without any security or minders, having a beer.
My friends and I gathered at the bar to order drinks, and in a matter of minutes we were invited by Bob to join him for a drink. The excitement was palpable and we enthusiastically surrounded him, and the night was about to get interesting.
We had some pretty women in our group and Bob was enjoying their company and they his. He explained that Blanche had left him in the bar after dinner as she was tired, and went back to their hotel across the road. Bob had intended to follow not long after, but our arrival changed those plans.
After a couple of hours of great storytelling and drinking, we mentioned to Bob that we had been invited to a party in Brighton and he needed little encouragement to come with us.
The next thing I know we are piling into a maxi taxi van in the rain with our freshly ‘kidnapped’ Prime Minister. The van was a nine-seater but I think we had thirteen people packed into it, which the driver had noticed.
We were so busy squealing with laughter at Bob’s running commentary and with the van rocking and the windows all fogged up, nobody noticed that after ten minutes we still had not left the kerb. When someone called out that we were not moving, I asked the driver why he was not taking us to our destination and he said angrily that there were too many people in the cab and he would not leave until four people got out.
Bob, who was sitting near the front, yelled out, ‘Mate, I am the f***ing Prime Minister of Australia, now take us to f***ing Brighton.’ The driver turned around to confirm whose voice he had just heard, and immediately said ‘Yes sir’ and pulled away from the kerb with much haste. I thought that we were in the presence of greatness!
Hawke was a keen racegoer and form student who liked to gamble on thoroughbreds. He is pictured at the 1989 Golden Slipper in Sydney
When we arrived at the house in Brighton, we walked into what was a fairly subdued gathering at 1 a.m., but our arrival caused much excitement when they saw who we had brought with us.
As all the men in our group were in suits, a woman asked me if we were Mr Hawke’s security detail, which I happily went along with. She asked me what it was like looking after Mr Hawke and what sort of hours did we work? I explained that looking after Bob was very exciting as we never knew where we could end up, and that we only finished our shift when Mr Hawke was ready to go home.
My new job of being part of Mr Hawke’s security detail was doing wonders for my ego and my popularity with the opposite sex, so I remained in character for the rest of the night.
Bob was holding court by the swimming pool with both men and women listening intently and beer flowing freely. I have never seen someone so popular with young people wherever we went.
Hawke married his biographer Blanche d’Alpuget (pictured) in 1995 a year after his divorce from first wife Hazel. Mrs Hawke, who died aged 83 in 2013, had been a widely admired figure
Before I knew it, it was 5 a.m. and we were all exhausted, so we suggested to Bob that we would head back to the city to call it a night. He said he was happy to leave if we were, so three of us shared a cab with Bob and dropped him off at the Sofitel Hotel in Collins Street. He told us that he had a wonderful night and now he had to explain to Blanche where he had been for the last eight hours.
Even though I am a long-term Liberal voter, I have always admired Bob Hawke as a great Australian and a true embodiment of the Australian spirit, the likes of which we will probably never see again in political life. Politicians today seem so dull when compared with Bob and meeting him by accident in a Melbourne bar will always be one of the highlights of my life.
I don’t think I have ever laughed so much as I did that night, nor did I learn so much in such a short time, from a funny, charismatic and intelligent man who charmed the pants off everyone who came anywhere near him.
Bob Hawke, I will miss you and I will never forget our chance meeting which turned into one of the best nights ever. You are a great Australian.
Sue Pieters-Hawke writes: ‘It was a family tradition to pile on Mum and Dad’s bed on weekend mornings to read the papers and much about. That tradition continued in The Lodge. This is mid-1983 and my daughter Sophie is with her Nan and Pop’
Sandra Groom was overwhelmed when she met Bob Hawke as a 38-year-old mother. She is pictured on her 40th birthday
It was around 1987. I was thirty-eight years old, in the prime of life, a professional, mature, and (I now realise!) an attractive woman. I had taken our son Joshua (then aged ten) and three of his mates to the Royal Easter Show. They were having a ball; I had a challenge keeping track of all four boys, as they were running all over the place, going on rides, wanting show bags, eating ice cream and hot chips.
Suddenly, I was face to face with the Prime Minister of Australia. I literally bumped into him, and his eyes lit up. I could not believe who I was looking at. He was handsome, charming and magnetic. My jaw dropped, and then inexplicably, I turned into a ‘teenage groupie’. My heart pinged, I sighed, my knees shook, I squealed in delight, I flung myself at him, trying to hug him and shake his hand, and spoke gibberish in my haste to ‘get acquainted’. I think I may have tossed my hair. (I’m cringing as I recall this.) And I giggled. All without a shred of shame. And I couldn’t have cared less where the four boys in my charge were, either.
It took only a couple of minutes, but the sheer force of his charisma hit me like a brick; it was a palpable thing. I cannot remember what he said, but his smile was enough. I just clung to his hand, trying to prevent him from leaving, but his aides murmured in his ear, and then he said goodbye, and as he walked away, I realised I was CRYING! Yes, CRYING! Then I realised that all four boys were standing, staring, open-mouthed, at what had just happened. Thank God I hadn’t mislaid them, after all, in my brief encounter with the PM. That had never happened to me in my life before – or since.
‘I literally bumped into him, and his eyes lit up,’ Sandra Groom recalls. ‘I could not believe who I was looking at. He was handsome, charming and magnetic. My jaw dropped, and then inexplicably, I turned into a “teenage groupie”.’ She is pictured on her 70th birthday last month
In the mid-1980s, when the Cold War was still on, I was a script writer on A Country Practice. In response to recent surveys revealing that an alarming proportion of young people were so fearful of a nuclear war that they couldn’t see the point in getting married and having children, we plotted an episode to address the issue. It involved a young Wandin Valley High student who has become suicidal because of the recurring nightmares he’s been having about the destruction of the world as we know it. His schoolmates rally round him, and come up with the idea of staging an anti-nuke rock concert to raise awareness of the issue. But they’ll need to have a high-profile public figure as guest-of-honour.
We racked our brains at the plotting session. Who could it be? A rock star perhaps? A famous writer; a politician, maybe? How about the Prime Minister? But who would you get to play Bob Hawke? More brain racking, until a light went on upstairs, and I said, ‘Why don’t we ask the man himself?’ And the rest, as they say, is history. The only time a sitting Prime Minister of Australia has appeared in a television soapie.
A Country Practice scriptwriter Leon Saunders was racking his brain over who the show’s producers could get to play Bob Hawke in an episode about young people fearing nuclear war. The answer was the man himself (pictured)
We staged the concert at a showground near Richmond. Bob was flown into Richmond airbase, and driven to the location in a white limo, Aussie flag flying. He delivered the script I’d written, from memory, word-for-word, in which he promised the kids of Wandin Valley he would do everything in his power to prevent the possibility of nuclear war.
I was introduced to him at the end of the shoot. He shook my hand and said, ‘It was a great speech. I couldn’t have written a better one myself, and I can’t offer you a greater compliment than that.’
You might say humility was never Bob’s strong suit. But his occasional lack of it gave me one of the proudest moments of my life. And the script, ‘Listen to the Children’, went on to win a Media Peace Award from the United Nations Association in 1986.
Thanks Bob, for being one of the great leaders of my lifetime.
Ms Pieters-Hawke remembers playing board games, dozing, reading and chatting during a long weekend with her father at Pebbly Beach (pictured). ‘Dad, as usual, had work to hand’
I met Bob when I was a fourteen-year-old participant in the public speaking competition Youth Speaks for Australia. The speech we were to give was about being Prime Minister of Australia. Bob was there as a visiting dignitary, and he told me that I could do anything I set my mind to in life, and that I should aim to be the first red-headed female prime minister!
My path lead me elsewhere, and Julia Gillard took that title, but Bob’s words inspired and motivated me. I was an awkward black girl from an abusive home where my father told me that I was useless and, like all women, I would amount to nothing. Yet this jolly man who shook my hand and looked me straight in the eye told me different.
Now, over forty years later, I have spent my life aiming for my dreams, and whilst I did not become prime minister, I have had a very busy and productive life where I remembered Bob’s words: I could do anything if I set my mind to it. I am an accomplished nurse with a Bachelor’s and two Masters’ degrees, and my own business. This one encounter when I was fourteen years old shaped my life, and I will always remember him for this.
Sue Pieters-Hawke (pictured) says her favourite story in Remembering Bob involves her father telling 14-year-old Llyr Otto she could be Australia’s first red-headed female prime minister
In the early 1980s, when I was in my early twenties, I decided to sell candles to the picnic-going public at the Concert in the Domain series in Sydney. At one of these concerts I learnt that Prime Minister Bob Hawke would be arriving, so when I saw the limo arrive onto the lawn backstage I hot-footed it there.
Remembering Bob, edited by Sue Pieters-Hawke and published by Allen & Unwin, is available now
Bob got out of his limo, dressed immaculately in his suit, and I approached in T-shirt and shorts and announced: ‘Ah g’day Bob! Wanna support free enterprise and buy a candle?’
His reply was instant and unmistakable: ‘I do enough to support free enterprise!’ followed by a 30-second speech.
My response? ‘Ah, so you wanna buy a candle?’
Bob patted his suit pockets, which were empty, and frustratedly turned to his entourage, who handed him the few dollars.
‘Thank you, Bob. Can you autograph the label on one of the candles?’
About fifteen years later as I left Jack Cowin’s office after watering the plants, I headed down the corridor to catch the lift back down. Bob’s office was just along the corridor. Blanche and Bob got in the lift at the same time, both immaculately dressed. I was in my The Plant Man company uniform. Bob immediately struck up a conversation like a good old mate, even though he would not have known me from Adam.
The thing that struck me both times was his accessibility, warmth, sincerity, and his natural engagement with people.
Spin bowling great Shane Warne celebrates with Hawke after Australia won the World Cup in a final against Pakistan at Lord’s in 1999
BOB HAWKE’S MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS AS PM
Opened the economy by floating the dollar and deregulating the financial system.
Cut tariffs and reformed the tax system.
Established Medicare in 1984.
Led international efforts to protect Antarctica from mining and to save Tasmania’s Franklin Dam.
Increased the old-age pension, doubled public housing funds and the number of childcare places.
Established the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooporation (APEC).
Campaigned against apartheid in South Africa.
I worked with Bob Hawke as one of his close personal protection officers from 1989 to 1991. There were numerous special moments during my time with Bob, but the one I used to tell the new AFP recruits was about the day we escorted Bob to the Adelaide Grand Prix and I was introduced to Johnny Farnham who kissed me on the cheek. I told the recruits that this was the highlight of my career and I have never washed that spot since.
I also mentioned that the biggest disappointment of my career was when we were at the Raiders grand final and my boss, Bob Heggie, told me to get the cars ready whilst he accompanied Bob Hawke to congratulate Mal Meninga, Laurie Daley and Ricky Stuart on their winning the premiership.
I remember escorting Bob early most mornings to the Royal Golf Course in Canberra after a late finish the night before. Bob made a comment in his farewell speech to me that I was a good operator but hopeless in spotting the golf balls for him. I was later told by my colleagues that they always carried a spare ball or two just in case they lost sight of the original one.
Hawke was a lover of all sports.He is pictured with Canterbury-Bankstown’s captain Steve Mortimer after the Bulldogs beat the Dragons in the 1985 NSW Rugby League grand final
We went to many events and I always enjoyed the races and chatting to Tommy Smith and Bart Cummings. This was very special, as my dad, Archie Turner, was a prominent trainer in the Canberra/Queanbeyan region.
An overseas trip to PNG proved to be very eventful in more ways than one. We started at Port Moresby, and the hotel we were staying in was broken into by some raskols who stole money from the reception. Later on, Larry Andrews and I did advances to Rabaul and Madang where the locals followed us around due to an interest in my light-coloured hair. Larry also negotiated to sell me to one of the PNG police for one cow, two pigs and several chooks.
Bob Hawke was always kind and respectful towards all members of the Prime Minister’s Squad and treated us like family, which made our job very enjoyable despite the pressures of protecting him in and outside Australia.
Hawke is pictured with contestants in the Miss South Pacific Beauty Pageant in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, in 2010
My fondest memory was when Bob Hawke was Prime Minister and he had been playing golf at the Lakes course, he arrived back at the Regent and I opened the door of his car. As he was getting out I softly asked, ‘How did you hit them?’
He quickly replied, ‘Ah Ken, it’s got to be my grip.’ He showed me his grip. ‘I couldn’t get the five iron off the ground.’
Looking at his grip, I said, ‘You have to bring your right hand a bit more over the top.’
He said, ‘I will give it a go next time I play.’
One of his security people came over and quietly said, ‘When you are ready, Mr Hawke,’ who replied, ‘I will just be a minute. Ken and I are working on my golf grip.’
A couple of young guys were walking past, and one of them said, ‘G’day Bob!’ to which the PM replied: ‘And a g’day to you, son!’
Hawke was a keen golfer who could often be found on the course. He loved most sports
It was then that I thought: only in Australia could a hotel commissionaire give the PM advice on his golf grip, and only in Australia would the PM reply to a casual ‘G’day!’
Another day, Mr Hawke arrived at the Regent and, after greeting him, I said, ‘I have a problem. My son would like your autograph.’
‘Leave it with me,’ was Mr Hawke’s reply.
Later that morning, one of his staff handed me an envelope. My son was very happy with the autographed photo of the PM.
Mr Hawke was a great man and a great PM.
Remembering Bob, edited by Sue Pieters-Hawke and published by Allen & Unwin, is available now. It can be bought here.
Australians gather on the steps of the Opera House in Sydney to celebrate beloved former prime minister Bob Hawke’s life at a state funeral on June 14