When leaders were icons – why I’ll miss Bob Hawke

When leaders were icons – why I’ll miss Bob Hawke

By Cassandra Charlesworth

The day Australia II won the America’s Cup, my parents wheeled the big old colour TV into their bedroom and woke us to join them watching the race.

I don’t remember the yachts particularly well, I certainly don’t recall the winged keel that caused such controversy but I do remember a delighted Prime Minister enthusiastically telling the nation: “Any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum”.

In fact, like most of my generation, Bob Hawke shapes much of the memories of my childhood. He was the authoritative face that loomed large on a grainy 1980s TV screen with that voice, that hair and that occasional flash of temper.

He was larger than life, a larrikin, a calculating politician and a lad in an era long before the polish of polls and popularity.

It’s not about politics

As we prepare to mark Bob Hawke’s passing with a State Memorial Service today, a lot of column space will be dedicated to his policy and his persona.

But this isn’t a post about politics and whether Hawke was right or wrong. Instead, I’d argue Bob Hawke captured the imagination as a nostalgic reflection into the colour-drained era of 80s Australia where opportunity seemed to be ours for the taking.

In retrospect, it was a time marked by radical thinking and a radical commitment to getting the job done.

It was a period of major change for Australia, encapsulating financial deregulation, social welfare, education reform and an emerging national identity overseen by a leader with purpose who had the vision and grit to bring a nation along for the ride.

Popularity, despite flaws

At his prime, Bob Hawke enjoyed popularity unsurpassed by any leader. In 1984 he attained an approval rating of 75 per cent. That was unprecedented in the years prior and has never been repeated since.

He was the nation’s longest serving Labor Prime Minister. He was the son of a preacher, a disciplined individual and, as those who know him hasten to add, he was fair, unprejudiced, yet flawed. His reputation for beer-drinking prowess was legendary, his penchant for pretty women well-known.

Bob Hawke was iconic

Granted, I might be gazing through the muted goggles of ‘80s nostalgia and the memory of a seven-year-old girl, but the Hawke years felt exciting.

Change was possible, Australia was evolving. We could “rejoice” for we were “young and free”.  

At the helm was a leader who was brash and smart. He was bold, unflinching and raw. He was downright outrageous in his Australia jacket telling a nation to take the day off.

As I quietly reflected that I was sad at Hawke’s passing on May 16, it was because there aren’t many of his ilk.

With the exception perhaps of John Howard, there are few recent politicians who elicit such esteem and conjure such collective memories. So, I can’t help feeling I shall miss Bob Hawke.

Not because I voted for him, not because I knew him, but because having iconic leaders like Hawke allowed a nation to feel courage, excitement and opportunity, with a brighter future ahead.

Image via Business Insider

Cassandra Charlesworth

Cassandra Charlesworth is a features writer with 20 years’ journalism experience. She loves a good old-fashioned story and getting to the heart of a great yarn. She’s also a mum to three children who have encouraged her to hone some secret skills. Nimbly navigating Lego pieces left on her lounge room floor and creating stylish Barbie attire from all manner of household objects are just a couple of credentials she’s recently added to her resume.

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