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My memories of Bob Hawke, the sports fanatic

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Expert
16th May, 2019
9

It’s no coincidence the three longest-serving Prime Ministers – Sir Robert Menzies, Bob Hawke, and John Howard – were all passionate sports lovers.

Sir Robert was at the helm for 18 years and 163 days, with his love of cricket well documented, having kick-started the annual Prime Minster’s XI game at Manuka Oval in 1951 against the touring team, and having a black and white action photograph of a classic Keith Miller cover drive always in a prominent position on his desk.

John Howard is the second longest serving PM at 11 years and 267 days, with cricket and rugby league his main sports, but he had a remarkable knowledge, and understanding, of all sports.

As did Bob Hawke, the third longest-serving Prime Minister for eight years and 284 days, who died yesterday, aged 89.

The charismatic Hawke loved his cricket and golf, and would have been glued to his television set this morning watching the opening round of the PGA Championship at Bethpage, the second major of the year.

Having been privileged to know and interview him many times over the years, the first was in the 70s when he and his then wife Hazel hosted both teams, and the media, on the Sunday rest day of the MCG Test at their two-story home at Sandringham.

The never-ending smorgasbord was inviting with lots of laughter, and plenty of beers – it was the highlight of every summer – they were the perfect hosts.

The second time was also in the 70s when Bob and I played in Tony Greig’s XI in an annual charity day, at Drummoyne Oval.

We lost early wickets, but Bob and I managed to stay until lunch. After the usual soggy tomato sandwiches, we headed out to resume the battle against the likes of Jeff Thomson, Max Walker and Gary Gilmour.

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At the gate, Bob said look at the scoreboard, pointing to Lord Hawke as the batsmen at the base of the centre panel.

“We would make a great political team with a name like that,” was the ACTU boss’ comment.

He went on to become Prime Minister, and I’m still sports-writing, but it sounded like a great idea at the time.

We ended up making a 70-run stand, and the way Bob faced up to the quality Test bowlers was very impressive.

In two other forays into the sporting scene, Bob was bounced in a politicians-media clash that sent his glasses flying in the pre-helmet era.

And at White City, in another charity day partnering Evonne Cawley, Bob went wandering along the net without looking behind him when a perfectly-timed Evonne forehand whacked him at the back of his head, and felled him.

Evonne was devastated, but Bob got up with no histrionics, and complimented his partner on her powerful stroke.

But his classic quote was after Australia won the Americas Cup, ending 132 years of American domination.

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“Any boss who sacks anyone for not turning up today is a bum,” said the PM wearing the most outrageous sports coat of all time.

But my longest association with Bob Hawke was over my planned professional rugby.

At his request, we had half-a-dozen breakfast meetings at the Boulevarde Hotel at Kings Cross where he made it crystal clear he intended to stop me taking the tournament to South Africa, even though the Republic wasn’t going to compete.

“They are still under the Gleneagles Agreement, banning them from any international sport,” he pointed out.

Had Foxtel been available, the pro rugby concept would have taken off as free-to-air stations were too afraid to take it on.

So there was no confrontation between us, but right through the discussions over bacon and eggs, Bob Hawke was a conversationalist, never threatening – always looking at me eye to eye.

That was the perfect example why he was so popular as a skilled communicator to anyone he was speaking to – one of the very best.

The nation lost a great Australian yesterday, Robert James Lee Hawke will be sorely missed.

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