The Hawke Legacy

The Hawke Legacy

Robert James Lee (Bob) Hawke was born on 9 December 1929, on the eve of the Great Depression, at Bordertown. His Methodist grandparents had migrated from Cornwall to Kapunda. His father Clem became Secretary of the Australian Labour Party Branch and was later ordained as a Congregational minister. Soon after he married country school teacher Edith Emily Lee (Ellie) in 1920. Their first child, John Neil, was born in 1921 at Houghton in the Adelaide Hills. The young Hawke family now moved to New Zealand but after a few years returned to South Australia again to settle at Renmark.

When Clem Hawke was posted to Bordertown he was in charge of the largest parish in the district. Being well liked the parishioners had soon bought a car for him to do the rounds. After 6 years they were on the move again. This time to Maitland but Neil stayed in Adelaide at King’s College boarding school.

Bob Hawke, who was now of school age was enrolled at the Maitland school where he regularly was top of the class, regardless of his many fights and being bashed up in the process. At Maitland Ellie joined the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and enrolled Bob in its children’s branch, the Band of Hope.

1939 proved to be a traumatic year for the Hawke family. On 18 February Ellie’s mother died. At the funeral it was noticed that Neil looked not well at all. When taken to the doctor he was diagnosed with meningitis. He died in Adelaide on 27 February and was buried at the Mitcham Cemetery.

Some months later the family moved to Leederville in Western Australia where Clem took up his new ministry. Two years later he enlisted as a chaplain in the AIF. While still at school, and with his father often away, Bob came under the influence of his father’s brother Albert.

Albert Hawke had been elected to the South Australian Parliament but soon moved to Western Australia where he was also elected to that parliament in 1933. He became Deputy Premier and was Premier of Western Australia from 1953 until 1959. Bob eventually matriculated from Perth Modern School in 1946.

After finishing high school he enrolled at the University of Western Australia to study Law. He also joined the Labor Club, Cricket Club and the Student Christian Movement. More importantly he met Hazel Masterson and they were engaged in 1949. At 21 he graduated with a second class honours degree in Law and started a second degree in Art, majoring in Economics.

In 1951 Bob was elected President of the Guild of Undergraduates. The next year he won a University speed drinking competition and a few years later, while at Oxford, was entered in the Guinness Book of Records for drinking 2 ˝ pints of beer in 12 seconds.

Bob Hawke’s big chance came in 1952 when he won the Rhodes scholarship, having failed to do so the year before. In November he visited India to attend a world conference on Christian Youth. What he saw and experienced there shocked him to the core. The wealth and poverty he found unbelievable. On his return he and Hazel travelled to Adelaide to report on his visit at a Congregational conference. It turned out to be Bob’s last day as a Christian and first day as a political agitator.

In August 1953 Bob left for Oxford to take up his scholarship, still engaged to Hazel. In December 1955 he completed his studies gaining a Bachelor of Letters. After returning to Australia he had a long talk with his uncle Albert about getting into parliament and starting a political career. Very little came of it at that time as in 1956 he started work for his PhD, to write a doctorial thesis on the basic wage, at the Australian National University in Canberra.

His stay at Canberra was very short though. When Albert Monk, President of the ACTU offered him a full time job as researcher and advocate for the ACTU, Bob decided that was a much better proposition. Not only was it a 'hands on job' but it also brought in money, something he was very short off.

On 3 March 1956 he finally was able to marry Hazel at Trinity Church Perth. Their first child, Susan Edith, was born in January 1957 followed by a son, Stephen in February 1959 and another daughter, Rosslyn in 1960. Bob now started a very busy life trying to be a husband and father, part-time lecturing, attending meetings of the Arbitration Commission and different unions, dinners at ACTU meetings and research jobs for the ACTU.

In 1960 he successfully handled the South Australian basic wage case when employers tried to reduce it on the argument that the cost of living was lower in South Australia than in the rest of Australia. During the next few years Hawke was involved with many disputes and was able to settle most of them. By the end of 1963 he was ready to become a politician and was selected for the seat of Corio, held by Hubert Opperman.

Being unsuccessful he went back to the Arbitration Court and secured a Ł1 increase in the basic wage for all Australian workers. Although Hawke had worked for years as an advocate for individual unions, the ACTU, ILO and many other causes, he was not always successful. It did not stop him from trying even harder and being determined to become President of the ACTU.

This he achieved in 1969, even after having just lost a very important wage case in PNG and later another case in Australia. On his first visit to Israel Hawke left a prayer in the Wall which read ‘May Labor win the 1972 election’. When it did on 2 December 1972, with the help of Hawke, he became President of the ALP six months later.

When on 11 November 1975 Sir John Kerr sacked Whitlam, Hawke did everything in his power to prevent a national strike and riots. The next few years were difficult for Hawke but they did result in him being made a Companion of Australia in January 1979 and finally entering parliament on 18 October 1980. In February 1983 he became Leader of the Opposition, replacing Bill Hayden. On 5 March 1983 he became Prime Minister. He led his party to a further three electoral victories in 1984, 1987 and 1990 and becoming the longest serving ALP Prime Minister.

The rest is History....or is it? There is no doubt that Bob Hawke was a popular and effective Prime Minister whose economic and social reforms are acknowledged to have shaped modern Australia. He is still an active participant in national and international affairs and his speeches on a range of issues continue to attract public interest and comment.

In The Hawke Legacy the contributors offer a timely consideration of the legacy of the Hawke era on economic, education, environmental, health and social and cultural policy and practice. The book covers several issues which have previously received very little attention. Among them Education, which saw massive changes, Environmental issues, best known among them his courageous leadership during the struggle to save the Franklin River in Tasmania. The book challenges the Rudd government to take up 'unfinished business' from the Hawke era and includes interviews with Bob Hawke in which he reflects on his time as PM.

Its 21 authors have tried to reconstruct what the Hawke government attempted and achieved during its nine years in office. The editors have organised the articles around four main areas for which the Hawke era was renowned. They are Consensus and governance; Equity, education and inclusion; Health, housing and the environment and The economy, work and industrial relations.

The book, edited by Gerry Bloustien, Barbara Comber and Alison Mackinnon
@ $29.95 is available from
Wakefield Press
Telephone 08 83524455


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