I can’t say that I have ever been brought to tears by the death of a political figure. When the news broke this week that Bob Hawke had died, that statement still stood, however as I then went on to read his obituaries, and learned more about this great Aussie larrikin / man of the people / longest serving Labour Prime Minister, as I learned more about what he fought for and his life’s achievements, I’ll admit that I did shed a tear for his loss.
To adapt a Doctor Who terminology, being a child of the late 70’s, Bob Hawke was “my” Prime Minister - the first Prime Minister that I was consciously aware of, who I used to see on the telly on a regular basis, and talked about at home and school. He was there for my formative years, though in my household his name would not likely have been mentioned favourably - my father, the son of a farmer, was a member of the local Country Liberal Party.
Hawke’s standout political policy, as is being remembered now and long known to most Australians, was Medicare. As I have just read - before Medicare, a trip to the hospital was the leading cause of bankruptcy in this country - much as is still the case in today’s America. So Bob, I raise a glass to you for this long lasting and socially changing policy, because I cannot imagine Australia being the country it is today without our universal health system.
I can still remember the day, the moment in time, of learning that Paul Keating had ousted Hawke from the top job - a sense of shock that someone apparently so close to him could wield that knife to the back. (Yes - we later learned of Bob’s reneged deal to pass the crown to Keating - but it was still a monumental moment for this 14 year old; little could I have imagined the state of affairs to follow a decade+ later!) Although I enjoyed Keating’s political antics, he was no man of the people, no Bob Hawke.
Probably the hardest thing to read in Bob’s obits was the full extent of his relationship with his second wife. His “Camilla”. The knowledge that he was astute enough not to divorce his first wife to be with the woman he loved due to the damage it could inflict upon his chances in politics… yet how hollow that must have made his personal life - for such a long time. I’m not judging the man on this - we all have to live with the choices we make, and none of us are perfect.
I never studied politics in school; I’m no rogue scholar in policies domestic or otherwise, and I’m sure there were bad calls amongst the good, but to me Bob remains and will always be one of Australia’s best.
Rest in Peace, you Silver Bodgie.