How do you measure a giant? Bob Hawke was not towering physically, but somehow he seemed bigger than all of us.
He was Australia amplified.
But he almost wasn’t part of our lives at all.
Bob’s journey towards the light began in a moment of darkness, a blackout that turned a motorbike ride into a brush with death.
Granted what he saw as a second chance, the young Bob vowed his life wasn’t going to be wasted: he was going to use his talents to the full and never stop.
“To the full” was the Hawke way, not least in his heart. He loved Australians, and they loved him right back. It was a national romance.
He loved us together because he understood our greatest strengths flow from unity. He reached out, he listened, he learned, he encouraged, and he dared.
He knew Australia was great, but it was a greatness he wanted to build on and to protect from those who tried to divide us.
If ever there was a man who could appeal to our better angels, it was Bob.
“Do you know why I have credibility?” he once asked. “Because I don’t exude morality.”
Yet when he was up against those forces of division his moral compass did not waver. Beneath that cloud of hair, the sunshine would give way to lightning and thunder.
But the sunshine always returned. And his positivity changed the nation for the better.
His Government advanced economic reform, entrenched social reform and gender equality and stands unchallenged as the greatest ever protector of our natural environment.
Bob, as we know, was no shrinking violet.
After a conversation with Margaret Thatcher in 1983 he reported to the media she thought they would both be around a while in their respective positions.
“She’s certainly right in one respect,” he modestly observed.
With four consecutive election victories Bob taught Labor through action, not just words, what it takes to truly transform our nation.
He understood the essential ingredient for achieving visionary reform – bringing the people with you.
If Bob had any inhibitions before that fateful crash, they didn’t survive.
Nor did any sense of limitation.
Bob was Labor to the core of his being, but his heart was too big to be contained by party lines.
Just because you didn’t vote for Bob didn’t mean you were beyond his love. At once our leader and cheerleader, he governed for all Australians.
Even after the Lodge, he energetically continued to live life to the full.
So while we join Blanche and Bob’s family in mourning him, we give thanks for him, and in our sadness, we remember his wisdom to a young girl who’d chosen the Prime Minister as the person with whom to share her grief over the death of her grandmother.
Bob wrote, “I think you should try not to think about dying but think about all the nice things around you that make life so precious to us all”.
Farewell, Robert James Lee Hawke.
You go with the nation’s gratitude.
You go with the nation’s respect.
You go with the nation’s love.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.
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