AUSTRALIAN LABOR ICONS
first met Bob Hawke 12 years earlier when, as President of the ACTU
and candidate for Wills, he came to the Coburg Football Club to
give a motivational speech prior to the 1980 VFA finals series.
had a long association with sport.
I played first grade cricket at university in England,"
he began, the words delivered with the air of confidence we might
have expected from an Australian captain.
The ear was tugged and the eyebrows lifted as Hawke led us
through the vast array of challenges "public life had presented".
me say that unless I'm required in Poland to help Solidarity in
its negotiations with the totalitarian Polish government I'll see
you during the finals," he said as he prepared to depart. The words "totalitarian government" hung in the air
like a neon advertisement for Labor revisionism. There was no mistaking Hawke’s self-congratulatory manner.
didn't see much of Bob Hawke again until he turned up at the 1988
Grand Final against Williamstown.
that he was the Member for Wills and the game was to be played at
the Essendon Football ground, in the Liberal heart of the electorate,
he had every reason to be in attendance.
Known for moments of extravagance where sport was concerned,
Hawke was in his element at Windy Hill.
Before the game he appeared in the change-rooms with his
entourage and returned amidst the pandemonium to hoist the Cup and
pose for photographs. It
was the populist Hawke at his best.
"Hazel and I would love to throw a roast and a few
spuds on the BBQ at the Lodge for you and the boys",
said the PM as we dissected the win over Terry Wheeler's
Williamstown in 1988.
Well, you wouldn't expect that from Johnny Howard!
he slobbered over the America's Cup I was embarrassed.
When he fraternised with the rich I could only wonder why
he was in the Labor Party.
Yet his ability to engage the ordinary punter was beyond
reproach. Malcolm Fraser
tried it at Carlton but never looked comfortable.
Hawke by contrast was in his element with an adoring crowd.
He had a tendency to draw his face very close when engaged
in personal discussion.
Essendon, in the aftermath of our Grand Final victory, the Prime
Minister provided the crowd with a vignette from that narcissistic
love affair. Leaning over with his face almost touching mine, as the crowd
grappled with their own ecstasy, he whispered, "Given the quality
of your pre-match speech to the players we should be putting you
up for pre-selection for the Labor Party."
They were to be prophetic words.
As coincidence would have it, a photographer pressed the
shutter on his camera at exactly the right moment to capture me
in a pose which suggested I was about to devour Hawke's ear.
the silvery-voiced bloke on the end of the phone dropped the name
‘Jim Cairns’, my heart skipped a beat. …. When Cairns stood on the
back of a truck in Swanston street in 1970 and swept us up against
the imperialist USA and its murderous attack on the people of Vietnam,
I felt truly independent and proud. I admired him unreservedly and didn`t care what he and the
enchantingly beautiful Junie Morosi did under the cover of dark. Watching him fall under a barrage of cant and hypocrisy from
those who never questioned the dalliances of the ruling class made
me so angry. I wasn't
able to tell him then and I wanted to tell him now.
Jim Cairns was not on the phone to talk about himself or be indulged. He had a simple message.
rationalism is threatening the fabric of our lives. We must put the market to the service of our community and
society," he said.
in the ALP, not Hawke, not Keating, was singled out for criticism. I sensed he was almost embarrassed to be speaking in a way
that might be construed as disloyal to the Party. This was obviously a by-election which meant a great deal
to those who believed the ALP had lost its way.
My Letter to the Australian in 2010
Blanching at the idolatry
Amid the postulating about whether Bob Hawke or Paul Keating was the greatest, one sobering event has been ignored. After Hawke was banished by Keating in 1991 the punters who supposedly adored him voted independent in the 1992 by-election and 1993 election for his old seat of Wills. In fact voters sent more primary votes my way than to the ALP in 1992. The lesson surely, is that ‘ordinary’ people are not so beholden to idolatry as to be incapable of turning their backs on supposedly god-like politicians.
The ‘two bulls in the paddock’ were career politicians in a power struggle, not gallant soldiers risking their lives, as author Blanche d’Alpuget romantically implies when she says ‘ they would fight until their legs and arms come off’. Blanche’s rarefying of political squabbles is as sad as it is unnecessary. As the punters discovered when Prime Minister Hawke appeared in the rooms after Coburg’s VFA premiership win in 1988, no one could charm like the silver budgie. And as anyone who watched Keating during the Mabo debates knew, his working class origins were no impediment to sophistication of thought and vision. If only it was the quality of a Prime Minister’s ideas and character, rather than their capacity to win a power struggle that set tongues wagging!