They said he was a larrikin – loved a drink, relished a fight, was as tough as they come. And in Australian politics, we know they breed them tougher than anywhere else.
For a few brief hours last year, I was lucky enough to share the company of Bob Hawke at his home while celebrating a friend’s engagement party.
We were all gathered outside on the balcony. Hawkie was seated near the drinks table. Unsure of how to approach the great man regularly described as Australia’s best PM, I went with my gut and grabbed a tinnie – a Hawkie brand beer, of course – and asked if I could down a cold one with him.
He looked up at me with those sparkling blue eyes and smiled cheekily: “Don’t tell Blanche”.
And so I cracked two cold ones and handed one to Hawkie who gestured ‘cheers’ and slowly sipped the brew, his chugging days long gone.
“Thank you,” I told him. “I think you’re just magnificent”.
He smiled and motioned to the two toddlers running amok on the balcony. “Aren’t they lovely,” he said, looking tenderly at them.
I went on to tell him that I too had a toddler. “She’s a handful,” we both laughed.
Hawkie went on to quiz me about my daughter; How old was she? Did I have a picture? The most memorable part of our conversation was Hawkie’s genuine interest. He wasn’t asking because he had to, he was asking because he wanted to.
He was as charismatic and as warm as you’d imagine and then so much more, generating an openness to engage and learn about anyone and everyone who came into his orbit.
At that moment, a photographer walked by and snapped what has now become one of my favourite photos – Hawkie looking regally to the sky and me, squatting awkwardly beside him and grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Later that day, when a singer serenaded the newly engaged couple with “Fools Rush In”, Hawkie stood beside his beloved Blanche, holding her hand and leaning in to whisper into her ear. Their devotion to each other was obvious.
As everyone later piled back onto the balcony, I watched as Blanche prepared a plate with a mixture of food choices for Hawkie – she knew exactly what he wanted in that sixth sense that only those with a deep bond possess.
As the sun began to set, Hawkie, showed that his lust for life was as rich as ever, as he led the party in a rendition of the union anthem, before shuffling off to bed.
I’m no pundit but I have been lucky enough to meet a number of political heavyweights in my news career. None have displayed the engaging gravitas of Hawkie. Truth be told, they don’t even come close. We were privileged to have him.
– Tash Lee