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The Independent Weekly
Bob Hawke came into my life
in 1997. Since then I have
come to know and admire
him, and indeed to crack the
odd joke with Bob and his wife
Of course I knew of Bob before
then -- who didn't? I was well
aware of the charismatic union
leader, the surprise entrant
into the political scene, the
campaigner extraordinaire and
of course the very popular prime
Who could forget his more
iconic moments -- celebrations
when Australia II won the
America's Cup in 1983 and Bob's
famous words after that win:
"Any boss who sacks a worker for
not turning up today is a bum".
Who could forget his tears at the
horror of Tiananmen Square
as the tanks rolled in, and his
generous, heartfelt offer to allow
Chinese students to remain in
The public Bob Hawke was well
known to us all, right down to the
embarrassing TV moment when
two bath-robed figures spoke of
their love -- at the time, a little
too much information for the
squeamish Australian public.
Now that Hawke is about to
turn 80 we might ponder why
he still holds a special place in
Australian culture and as "the
silver bodgie" in Australian
The Hawke I have come to
know gave his name to a research
institute of which I was founda-
tion director. That institute grew
from a prime ministerial library
(a collection of personal papers
and artefacts -- including, yes, a
replica of Bob's famous Panther
motorbike which, when he was
just 18, was almost the death of
him) and later developed a wide
and influential public program.
Thus, in a manner akin to the
US presidential libraries (but
lacking their massive funding),
Hawke has attained an immortal-
ity through the institutions
which bear his name. He is a keen
supporter of them, a constant
visitor and an active participant,
and it is in this context that I
have come to know more about
him -- a little beyond the public
He has led the way into new
territory here, as the only previ-
ous prime ministerial centre
established in Australia is the
John Curtin Prime Ministerial
Centre in Perth, established long
after the death of its famous
namesake. Perhaps it is a sign
of our maturity as a nation
that there are now several such
centres, symbols of our determi-
nation to keep our history as a
nation to the fore.
Hawke has not retired from
public life but works constantly
both publicly and behind the
scenes to foster issues he deems
important. Our relationship with
China looms large and Bob and
Blanche are frequent visitors to
China, fostering a wide range
of enterprises. Many would not
know that he has been interested
in Asian students from as long
ago as the period of the White
Many recent commentators
have noted the importance of the
Hawke-Keating economic policy
in smoothing our ride through
the global financial rollercoaster.
This is what is most remembered.
But there is much more to the
Hawke legacy. Key legislation
on the environment (remember
the Franklin River, stopping
the Wesley Vale pulp mill?),
on health (Medicare), the
Sex Discrimination Act and
affirmative action all moved us
towards a more just society. Much
of this was achieved through
Hawke's skills at negotiation
and his talent in forging strong
connections to achieve consensus
among groups with differing
His charm and impact on
people remains undiminished.
I have seen him at prestigious
events shaking the hands of
ushers, waiters, the generally
unnoticed, and they all love him.
Over the last few years he
has played a leading part in
several deliberative polls on key
national issues -- the republic,
reconciliation, the relationship
between Muslim and non-Muslim
Australians -- and his passionate
involvement always results in
devoted admirers queuing up
with their cameras.
When his voice rings out at
the Adelaide Town Hall to thank
the speaker at the annual Hawke
Lecture, you can hear a pin drop.
The voice is clear, the message
strong, the passion still alive and
the applause is usually thunder-
Happy 80th birthday Bob -- I'm
glad I've had a small window into
your long career.
■ Alison Mackinnon, Emeritus
Professor, Hawke Research
Institute, University of South
With Gerry Bloustien and
Barbara Comber, Alison
Mackinnon edited The Hawke
Legacy, to be released this week by
A birthday reflection
Bob and Hazel Hawke leave the Sydney Opera House after giving a speech during the 1983 election campaign.
Right: Bob Hawke campaigns for a Labor candidate in 2007.
He still holds a special place in Australian
culture and as 'the silver bodgie' in Australian
Photo: Paul Mathews
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