When Hawke Died, So Did a Part of Me

Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger meets with Prime Minister Hawke of Australia in the Anzus Corridor in the Pentagon.

We were watching Masterchef when the news broke. The text across the bottom of the screen announcing, Breaking News Bob Hawke dies.

With my 10 year old son next to me I cried. I was in shock, a part of my childhood had just passed away. 

I was so glad my son was with me because he immediately asked who’s Bob Hawke. It gave me such joy to recall the Prime Minister from my childhood. I told him about Medicare, floating the Australian dollar, the America’s Cup, ending apartheid, opening Australia’s doors to Chinese students after Tiananmen Square but most of all a leader who had no problem with shedding a tear in front of us.

He was a leader who had great intellect but was so personable to everyone.

My sadness grew as I realised my son is the same age as I was when all this happened and he can’t recall having a leader like this.

Lenore Taylor in the Guardian beautifully articulated it for me.

“Everyone has memories like these snippets but I don’t think it is just the recollections of Hawke’s achievements or his “knockabout character” or his specific successes and failures that is driving this wave of nostalgia and grief.

We’re mourning the kind of considered, determined, purposeful political change that Bob Hawke and Paul Keating drove – a time when politicians advanced big political ideas and argued their merits, over months, or years, and were given the space to make the argument, even if opinion polls dipped for a while. Even Labor’s political opponents pay tribute to that.”

When I shared this sentiment with my son, his response was “yeah, all I’ve got are the Liberals”.

Again my heart broke a little. Not because at such a young age his perception of politics is red, blue or green but that his dissolution with politics can only see the party and not the leader.

No matter the party they all have visionaries, reformers and even progressives. Yet through his young eyes leaders of Australia are cyclical – and not by election cycles. They speak in media grabs and slogans. They don’t offer hope nor do they offer him a future.

The optimism I felt with a Hawke-Keating government is not a whimsical childhood memory. It was a time when your leader came with ideas and the time to articulate them. When you looked at the micro and macro and were not afraid of either.

I want to hold on to that optimism, but this time for my son. A hope that it is still possible to have a leader who has a vision and the ability to articulate it in more than a sound bite.