Reporting by Helen Hatam, Erin Christie, Blake Mannes, Naomi Ferreira and Eilish Beahan-Goff
Thousands of members of the public and a host of dignitaries from across Australian society gathered to farewell former prime minister Bob Hawke, at a state memorial service today.
The service at the Sydney Opera House included tributes from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, former prime minister Paul Keating, his widow Blanche d’Alpuget and Hawke’s eldest daughter Sue Pieters-Hawke.
Hawke, one of the longest-serving PMs, led the nation from 1983 to 1991 and is regarded as among the most influential figures in Australian political history.
About 2,000 people filled the Concert Hall of the Opera House, with other members of the public watching the ceremony outside, live-streamed onto the side of the building.
The first speaker, Morrison. praised his predecessor’s record.
“On behalf of Australia, I extend to his [Hawke’s] widow Blanche and his family our deepest sympathies as a nation. As well as our thanks for sharing him with our country and caring for him until the very end,” he said.
“We also remember the legacy of the late Hazel Hawke and we thank all of Bob’s family for the sacrifices they made as Bob pursued his public service in service to us all. Bob, your record is honoured, your legacy is secure and your country will be forever grateful. May he rest in peace.”
Former Labor leader Kim Beazley then told a story of being on a Navy ship with Hawke when the furniture started rolling around the room during a cabinet meeting.
“It (the table) pinned the prime minister to the bulkhead, then it retreated and then it came back harder as momentum gathered. ‘F*** this,’ he said repeatedly as he fought the beast and continued the meeting. Afterwards, pretty cross, he said to me, ‘You know, the cabinet is the heart of our Government, we cannot have the cabinet table running away and killing a couple of us on the way through.'”
Of the thousands who came out to farewell the great man, some travelling long distances to be there, many were happy to stop and share their reasons for attending, and what Hawke meant to them.
Sydneysider April Pressler described Hawke as “an old friend”, explaining: “I used to be based in Canberra; I was in Foreign Affairs, so I’ve known him for a very long time.”
Her friend, Imogen Wareing, also works in politics, and ran for the Labor Party in the seat of Willoughby in 2003.
“He [Hawke] gave so much time to my campaign,” she recalled. “He opened it, he did a street walk through Chatswood where we couldn’t move because of all of the people who came out of the shops and wanted to touch him – they mobbed him!” she said.
“He didn’t need to do that – I was never going to win.”
Asked why they thought so many adored Hawke, April explained it was his demeanour.
“He was the same with everybody. With the Queen of England, somebody he met on the street, he was exactly the same with everyone. He was so warm and genuine, always.”
Patrick Conaghan, a retired geologist, particularly remembered Hawke’s regard for the environment.
“He was a champion for the environment… I wrote to him to congratulate him on an environmental decision he made to stop a proposed mining development up in North Queensland, and he wrote back right away.
“Bob was a very important person in Australian history, and I don’t think we’re going to see the likes of him again. We’ve only had a very few great prime Ministers and he was one.”
Another attendee, Yvette Andrews, stated that she “was inspired by his stand against racism and his ability to reform the Labor movement”.
“I think he was an interesting character that you don’t have these days in politics, and I think he engaged people and made them feel really excited about the country,” she said.
Her friend, Andrea, added that it was “his ability to unite everybody in the country, to actually lead and say what he stood for”.
“It really was about a contest of ideas, and I think we’re missing that today,” she added.