A triumphant documentary on former PM Bob Hawke is a window to a forgotten past

Neil McMahon – Sydney Morning Herald 5 Feb 2018

Bob Hawke’s nine years in The Lodge is just a small part of the colourful story told in Hawke: The Larrikin and The Leader.

Given the state of our political scene – a national disillusionment illustrated by the tally of PMs (seven!) over the last 11 years – the nostalgia of brighter and bolder times would seem to be at a premium. To that end, the ABC brings us Hawke: The Larrikin and The Leader – a two-part warts-and-all documentary that explores the life and legend of a leader who managed nearly nine years in The Lodge all on his own.

If you’re too young to remember the rise and fall of Hawke, some of it will be a revelation (and given current events, may make you slide into a mild depression). If you’re old enough to have lived through it, there are some things you might have forgotten.

1. Hawke became a famous agnostic, but his mum believed he was a modern messiah.

As related by wife Blanche: “Being a very religious woman she’d open the Bible daily and it kept on falling open to Isaiah. ‘For unto us a child is born. Unto us a son is given. And the government shall be upon his shoulder’.”

Hawke: “She had this feeling I was probably destined to do something fairly profound.”

And on his father, a minister: “My father said to me as a very young bloke, ‘If you believe in the fatherhood of God you must necessarily believe in the brotherhood of man’. I based my life on it.”

2. Hawke’s coming of age in the public eye was a fortunate 50 years before the #MeToo movement

Labor’s Graham Richardson recalls of Hawke’s wild years on the turps: “A Bob Hawke today behaving in the same manner would never become prime minister. He did some appalling things. Shocking. Just plain bloody shocking.”

And yet, women loved him, as Hawke government minister Susan Ryan recalls: “Australian women liked him very much. I remember Mick Young saying one day … ‘Oh jeez, the sheilas. You couldn’t get rid of them. They were just hanging round him. Young ones, old ones, fat ones, skinny ones, they just wouldn’t let him alone’.”

Richo: “There’s no question the more outrageous he was, the more women liked him.”

3. The famous booze hound and widely assumed philanderer was named Father of the Year.

Hawke, from the archives: “It’s an honour. The one who should really have the title is my wife, she has to be father as well as mother most of the time.”

Former union leader Bill Kelty: “How could Bob be Father of the Year? He spends more time in the pub than he does at home.”

Kelty recalls dropping Hawke home one night and Hazel observing: “I don’t know who the judges are, Bob, giving you Father of the Year. They must be on opium.”

4. Hawke confessed all his sins in a pre-Lodge biography. Well, almost all of them.

Susan Ryan on the author (and Hawke’s second wife): “Blanche [d’Apulget] did not leave out the less attractive aspects of Bob’s character. In fact, she described them in great detail.”

Narrator Richard Roxburgh: “The biography was tell-all in every way but one: it failed to disclose his affair with the author.”

5. After Gough Whitlam’s dismissal in 1975, Hawke secretly plotted his own rise to power. He and Whitlam had long been engaged in a fierce contest of egos.

Hawke: “The conflicts with Gough and the size of our egos … it’s not for me to argue about the latter point. I certainly couldn’t deny that we were both pretty well served in that regard.”

Kelty: “He said, ‘Bill, what’s going to happen is this. Fraser will win the election. They’re going to be in power for six years … so what I’m going to do is rebuild a sense of confidence and be a man of consensus. And I will be the prime minister in six or seven years’.”

6. He had a massive ego … but as PM, he accommodated all the massive egos around him.

Susan Ryan, the first women to serve in a Labor cabinet: “The fact that he had the confidence in us and allowed us to go and do our work meant that we rose to the occasion.”

James Button, writer and son of Hawke minister John Button: “Bob is narcissistic but a lot of narcissists in politics cannot share their power, they’re threatened by other people having the limelight. We’re seeing that with Trump today. It’s the paradox of Bob … that while having that absolute self-love he was secure in himself.”

7. He brought budgie smugglers to The Lodge long before Tony Abbott. Along with a half-to-completely naked work ethic.

Richardson: “If he was prime minister and he was in the shower, he’d just call you round. You took the good with the bad.”

Adviser Bog Hogg: “Whenever he lounged on the lilo out in The Lodge on a hot Canberra day in his bathers, showing off his marvellous physique, he’d be reading a cabinet submission. He was assiduous. The scene outside the swimming pool at The Lodge was one that sticks in the memory. Covered in oil, brown and showing his manhood as much as he could with a pair of budgie thingamajigs on … put Tony Abbott to shame.”

8. He can’t sing.

The present-day Hawke endeavours to sing Solidarity Forever for the cameras. With limited success. “Ah, f— it up again, let’s start again.”

9. The celebrated political genius made one of the great misjudgments when he went to the polls in 1984 … and had a shock swing against him.

Richardson: “We told him not to do the seven weeks [campaign] … it’s just 20 more days when something can go wrong. And it did.”

Hawke, on the campaign when he copped a cricket ball in the eye and tearfully confronted his daughter’s heroin addiction: “Those two things combined. I just couldn’t perform. It’s impossible to describe just how down I was.”

10. As in the tearful aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre, he wears his heart on his sleeve.

“I’ve never really been embarrassed by it. It just is in my make-up that tears do come to me somewhat more readily than they do to a lot of other people. That was me. It was part of the warts and all picture. I was heartbroken for China and for the Chinese people. When I came off, this bureaucrat said … ‘Prime Minister, you can’t do that’. I said, ‘I’ve done it. That’s the way it’s going to be’.”

WHAT Hawke, The Larrikin and the Leader

WHEN ABC, Sunday, 7.40pm