Bob Hawke: father who liked a flirt and a flutter

As president of the ACTU, Bob Hawke, was named Victoria's father of the year, 1971. Pictured with his children Susan, Stephen and Rosslyn.

As president of the ACTU, Bob Hawke, was named Victoria’s father of the year, 1971. Pictured with his children Susan, Stephen and Rosslyn. Credit:Fairfax Media

Hawke’s three children, Susan, Stephen and Rosslyn were raised at this Melbourne suburban home, largely by his wife Hazel, whom he’d met at university and married in 1956. A fourth child Robert had died in infancy in 1963, the grief from which caused him to «drink himself to oblivion» his second wife Blanche D’Alpuget wrote in her 1982 biography of her future husband. It was almost 20 years before he could visit the grave wrote D’Alpuget, and when he did his wife Hazel had to take him to hospital before he arrived as he was suffering from alcohol poisoning.

«Although he saw less of his children than most fathers…from the late 1970s there had been a civil war between him and his two elder offspring over uranium mining,» D’Alpuget, who had begun an affair with him in the late 1970s, wrote in her 2010 reworked biography, Hawke the prime minister.

Hawke’s other private pain around his daughter Rosslyn’s heroin addiction was detailed in the book, which outlines the Hawkes’ more liberal (small l) approach to their children smoking cannabis, with Hazel «encouraging them to be more open than secretive about it.»

However, only a few close to Hawke, including his secretary since 1973 Jean Sinclair knew about this. Rosslyn was living overseas when her father won the 1983 prime ministership, but on her return was partying with artist Brett Whiteley and his wife Wendy, and using heroin. This spilled into the public domain in 1984, when Hawke acknowledged Rosslyn’s addiction and wept for his daughter, who had left home and school at 15.

Rosslyn’s son David Dillon, who was virtually raised in the Lodge recalled the moving deathbed reunion of his grandparents in a 2014 Australian Story. His grandfather travelled from his north shore home to Hazel’s dementia-specific home in Hammondville, in south-western Sydney, to hold her hand and serenade her with her favourite song Danny Boy.

«There was a deep love there … my parents’ had been a real love story,» said Ms Pieters Hawke, who cared for mother following her Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis through to her death in 2013.

Although Hazel Hawke had thrown a party with a group of female friends in 1995 when Hawke married his long-term lover D’Alpuget, there was a rapprochement in his final years between Hawke’s children and his second wife.

«I just think my dad was lucky enough to have a second great love story with my step-mum, Blanche, who I can’t thank enough for her love and care for Bob in this last period of time, in his frailty… Things move on, which is indeed one of the values that both my parents modelled for me,» Ms Pieters Hawke said.

Son Stephen is now an author living in Western Australia where he has spent many decades working with Aboriginal communities.

Ms D’Alpuget’s moving tribute to her husband this week, ending with the «golden bowl is broken» is not just an invocation from the First Testament’s Book of Ecclesiastes. It is the same phrase used by Hawke’s beloved Congregationalist father Clem, in the 1939 death notice in the Adelaide Advertiser for Hawke’s older brother Neil, who died of meningitis at 19, when Hawke, then known as «Bobbie» was only 10.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke, with his wife Hazel, and grandchildren Sophie, 5, and Ben, 14 months, at Kirribilli House, Sydney, in 1990.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke, with his wife Hazel, and grandchildren Sophie, 5, and Ben, 14 months, at Kirribilli House, Sydney, in 1990. Credit:Rick Stevens

Ms Buttrose credits Hawke, who in 1985 launched her autobiography, First Edition, and in 1989 her magazine Ita, for Australia’s successful response to HIV/AIDS in the 1980s.

«Australia was very fortunate to have such a progressive PM and one without any prejudice towards gay people. He was such an outstanding leader when it came to helping aspiring businesswomen. I shall always be grateful to him for his helping hand for which he asked nothing in return,» Ms Buttrose told The Sun-Herald.

Performer Patricia Amphlett, first met Hawke as teen singer «Little Pattie» when he was a researcher at the Australian Council of Trade Unions. He became a mentor to her who nurtured her involvement with her trade union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, where she served as National President.

«I quickly realised it was never going to be fashionable to say you were a trade unionist, but Bob encouraged me to hold my head high…he always said your union involvement is noble,» Ms Amphlett said.

Hawke, who was renowned for enjoying «a flirt as much as a flutter» paid tribute to Amphlett in a 2016 Australian Story, in an interview conducted by ABC reporter Philippa McDonald.

«I’d spent the previous couple of weeks covering the proposed ban on greyhound racing often in torrential rain especially at Dapto. He pressed my hand and said with a laugh ‘you and I have something in common — the Dapto dogs’,» Ms McDonald said this week.

Helen Pitt is a journalist at the The Sydney Morning Herald.

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