Any boss who sacks a worker for turning up to Bob Hawke’s memorial service does not understand what he meant to the country.
Thousands gathered at the Sydney Opera House on Friday to celebrate the life of the larrikin Labor leader who became Australia’s third-longest serving prime minister.
Hawke, who died at his Sydney home on May 16 aged 89, was a Rhodes scholar, former trade union boss and world champion beer drinker and womaniser.
He had been prime minister just six months when he made his famous declaration after Australia II won the America’s Cup in 1983: ‘Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum.’
Robert James Lee ‘Bob’ Hawke (pictured) has been farewelled at a memorial service inside the Sydney Opera House on Friday
Aussie icons: Thousands gathered on the steps of the Opera House, with the Harbour Bridge in the background, to celebrate the life of Australia’s third-longest serving prime minister
Hawke, who died at his Sydney home on May 16 aged 89, was a Rhodes scholar, a former trade union boss and world champion beer drinker and womaniser – and one of Australia’s most popular PMs
The following year he recorded an approval rating of 75 per cent – the highest ever for any Australian leader.
On Friday he had an approval rating of 100 per cent on the steps of the Opera House forecourt.
Among those gathered was Isabel, who would not give her last name because she was supposed to be at work.
‘I’m having a sickie,’ the welfare worker said. ‘Hawkey would have liked that.
‘I’m here to honour an extraordinary prime minister, one of the best leaders we’ve ever had who stood up for social justice.’
Hawke won four elections for Labor: in 1983, 1984, 1987 and 1990.
The Concert Hall of the Opera House was the site of his first campaign launch which Hawke won under the ‘Bringing Australia Together’ banner.
On Friday he brought them all together again, including Labor prime ministers Keating and Kevin Rudd and Liberal PMs John Howard, Tony Abbot and Scott Morrison.
But it was in the faces on the forecourt of the Opera House that Hawke’s love affair with the Australian people was best explained.
Those crammed into the forecourt watching the service on a big screen were farewelling a rock star politician. Crowded House, Sting, Oprah and The Wiggles have all performed here over the years.
His wife, Blanche d’Alpuget (pictured right) said the final year of Hawke’s life was both difficult and one of the best time of their lives because of how close they were
Ms d’Alpuget speaks reminisced about her time with Hawke, including their special final days
Ms d’Alpuget (left) was joined on stage by Hawke’s granddaughter Sophie Taylor-Price (right)
Ms Taylor-Price said one of her youngest memories was joining her grandfather at a talk about climate change, a moment that inspire the rest of her life
The memorial service and stories about Hawke’s life proved an emotional affair for one man
Those who remembered his days in office well listened intently as speakers including Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former Labor leader Kim Beazley talked about the impact Hawke had on the country
As well as attracting plenty of Labor’s true believers there were no doubt representatives of Howard’s battlers and Morrison’s quiet Australians in the crowd.
Labor voters Bruce and Tanya Morton had come from Breakfast Point and were seated in the front row.
‘I’m here because I firmly believe he is the greatest prime minister we’ve every had,’ Mr Morton, 78, said.
‘His social justice programs were outstanding. I have great admiration for his capacity to be fully inclusive.
‘Everybody loves the fact that he was a man of the people. He had that wonderful way of drawing people together in harmony.
‘His concern for all areas of our society and his capacity to harmonise various sections of our society was an extraordinary ability.’
Hawke also famously had an extraordinary capacity for alcohol.
As a student in 1954 he entered the Guinness Book of Records by downing a yard of ale (about 1.4 litres or 2.5 pints) in 11 seconds at the Turf Tavern in Oxford.
‘This feat was to endear me to some of my fellow Australians more than anything else I ever achieved,’ he wrote in his autobiography.
His widow, with whom he was married 24 years, was joined by Hawke’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren inside the service
Hawke’s successor and sometime rival Paul Keating (right) offered his condolences
Actor Jack Thompson (left) arrives at the Sydney Opera House for the state funeral, as does former NSW Premiere Bob Carr (right)
Labor voters Bruce and Tanya Morton had come from Breakfast Point and were seated in the front row. ‘I firmly believe he is the greatest prime minister we’ve every had,’ Mr Morton said
And there was so much more. He created Medicare, sold off Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank and halted construction of the Franklin Dam in Tasmania.
Economically, perhaps Hawke’s two most significant achievements were floating the Australian dollar and deregulating the financial sector.
BOB HAWKE’S 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 Corporation.
- Campaigned against apartheid in South Africa.
He became Labor’s most electorally successful leader and its most esteemed elder statesman. He was the country’s favourite naughty old man, downing beers at the cricket for the cameras and chomping on cigars.
His popularity rested largely on an image of what was once considered a classic Australian man – sports-loving and egalitarian, form guide in hand while holding court in the public bar.
He was fallible, admitted some of those failings and sought forgiveness; the country accepted his weaknesses and moved on.
Hawke in some ways contradicted his blokey image by regularly crying in public. He wept when he discussed his daughter Rosslyn’s heroin addiction in 1984.
He wept after the massacre of Chinese protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and he wept again when discussing the hurt he had caused his family by walking away from first wife Hazel in 1994.
Hawke’s image took a battering in some quarters when he married his biographer Blanche d’Alpuget, with whom he had conducted a long-running affair, a year after his divorce.
But the public came to accept that relationship and watched the couple grow old together.
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten described Hawke as a personal, party and national hero
Labor voter, retiree Yvonne Molloy (pictured) of Ashfield, had the simplest reason for attending Friday’s service: ‘I love Bob Hawke.’
Mrs Morton told Daily Mail Australia she agreed with everything her husband had said.
‘I’m here to pay tribute to probably the finest Australian in my lifetime,’ the 76-year-old said. ‘I think he is a fine example of how far the bar should be raised in comparison to today’s politicians.
‘He stands out like a beacon as to how a prime minister should behave. We all just loved him.
‘We forgave him for his sins. We loved him for his naughtiness.
‘We knew that deep down he was a man of the people. He didn’t talk about lifters and leaners. He didn’t talk about winners and losers.
‘He talked about humankind and what was best for humankind.’
Another Labor voter, retiree Yvonne Molloy of Ashfield, had the simplest reason for attending Friday’s service: ‘I love Bob Hawke.’
‘I think he was a charismatic politician and a wonderful, very effective prime minister,’ the 68-year-old said.
‘He drew everybody together and I think that’s why everybody’s here.’
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she was ‘terribly sad to miss his memorial today’
Former PM Malcolm Turnbull and his wife Lucy arrived at the Sydney Opera House to pay their respects
Physiotherapist Erica Parcio-Cooke (pictured) made her way into the city from Campbelltown
Physiotherapist Erica Parcio-Cooke had come from Campbelltown.
‘I guess I’m here to honour and pay respect to such an influential leader,’ the 42-year-old said. ‘Irrespective of your political beliefs.
‘He was a prime minister for the people. People really connected with him. I don’t think politicians today connect as well as he did.’
As for Isabel taking a sickie, she hoped there would be no drama at work for her on Monday morning.
‘I seriously would get the sack,’ she said. Hawkey would be appalled.
Many of those at the service, like 56-year-old professional pianist Jim Wu, had been born in China.
Mr Wu was a student living in Sydney at the time of the Tiananmen Square protests and threw rocks at the Chinese consulate.
After the massacre Hawke granted visa extensions to all Chinese students living in Australia.
Eventually about 42,000 Chinese benefitted from that program.
‘We always remember that,’ Mr Wu said. ‘I think he is the greatest prime minister in Australia’s history.’