Bob Hawke, Prime Minister from 1983-91, was comprehensively outed this year for his lechery and shady financial deals by the Australian’s Troy Bramston. He calls his book, with no false modesty, Bob Hawke, Demons and Destiny. The Definitive Biography. Yes, given his prodigious research, it must be close to that.
I went to his excellent lunch talk in Melbourne the other day, which inspired me to plough through the book’s 720 pages. The tome created a flurry of media interest about Hawke’s avid sex life. But after recycling some lurid lines, the media caravan trundled on. They ignored the financial stuff which warrants a separate Quadrant article.
The media is basically leftist and Hawke was always one of their own. Even his ministerial colleagues used to describe the journos’ coverage of Hawke as “nauseating” (p707). Compare the Hawke treatment with the media hounding of the innocent Cardinal Pell , the never-charged Attorney-General Christian Porter and his femme-embattled co-conservative Alan Tudge. Rather than lunging for the jugular, the press pack gave Hawke nothing but love-bites.
I’ll try here for a more comprehensive account of Bramston’s material (Trigger warning: adults only). This isn’t really appropriation since he, too, made good use of published accounts. The book’s bulk is from his comprehensive interviewing of Hawke and ALP insiders, along with masses of archival material locally and abroad. A key passage reads,
He was a terrible drunk and could get verbally abusive when inebriated. He was also a serial adulterer. Some women threw themselves at him, mesmerised by his charisma and power, and others he flatly propositioned. When scorned, he would lash out and often humiliate them (28).
The ugliest scene in the book involves a Christmas drinks party at lawyers Holding Redlich. Labor’s John Button recalled,
‘There was a woman serving drinks and Hawke turned on her and snapped, and said: “Get off my back. Don’t hang around me. Look, I’m not interested in you. I fucked you last year at this event and I’m not doing it again.”’
Button had never seen a woman so humiliated (271).
Journalist Gay Davidson went into his hotel room to interview him during Labor’s unforgettable Terrigal conference in 1975. He stripped and lay naked and inviting on the double bed.
When she refused, he insisted she at least take her shoes off and sit on the edge of the bed. She did. But when it became evident that she would not be taking her clothes off and getting into bed with him, he became angry. ‘God, you’ve got ugly feet, Davidson,’ he said (271).
Given Hawke’s sex appeal for countless women, did he deliver the goods? Not with distinction, according to Jim Cairns’ secretary, Glenda Bowden, who at 23 at Terrigal, submitted to the 45-year-old’s “voracious sexual appetite”. Her verdict: he was “an average lover” (219).
See also Bob Hawke and His Sugar Daddies
Hawke liked to flaunt what he clearly believed was his above-average equipment. Union and party colleagues visiting his Sandringham home would find him naked in the pool. He’d climb out to greet them sans towel. In hotels he’d open his door to waiters, colleagues and journos similarly unclad, “with his penis dangling between his spindly legs.” (259)
Political rival and later Governor-General Bill Hayden wrote in his auto-biography:
I suspected he harboured visions of himself as a Greek god, I saw only an extroverted quinquagenarian flasher. While his important appendage was dingling and dangling as he moved, I kept a straight face, trying to ignore the entertaining idiocy of the act, and talked about my recent trip; he meanwhile settled back, indolently, on a long sofa to listen. As I talked, I couldn’t help thinking how far from impressive were the dimensions of the apparatus which he displayed with such evident pride and satisfaction and him supposed to be such a lady-killer” (605).
At a parliamentary function after Hayden’s book, Hawke punched the surprised Hayden in the stomach, saying, ‘What you wrote about me coming out of the bathroom at the conference in Hobart was dreadful, cheap and nasty. If you say that again you will be hearing from my lawyer.’ Hayden was perplexed. ‘I didn’t know that the size of his dick was that important to him,’ he reflected. ‘In my old job [as copper], I would have nabbed him for flashing.’ … I had not realised that in writing those words I had, metaphorically, hit Hawke where it hurts.’ (606)
Bramston also recounts how Hawke was bedding a young woman in his Canberra Rex hotel room when a bunch of reporters arrived downstairs asking for him. “Send them up,” he told the manager. Half-dressed, Hawke showed them in while the woman slid down the bed and pulled the sheet over her head. ‘Righto, you blokes,’ he instructed the photographers. ‘Head shots only. You know the rules.’ This happened regularly (259).
Media-consuming punters might wonder whether the press of that era, and now, spoke truth to power or just sucked up to power.
Hawke’s loyal wife Hazel copped it.
… they were not as intimate as they once were. The ‘sexual pleasure’ they found in each other began to change, and they could not sustain the ‘playmates’ relationship they had enjoyed over the previous decade. Hazel knew that Bob was having affairs. When he was drunk, he would ‘descend into a vitriolic form of verbal abuse’. It was appalling behaviour, often witnessed by others, yet Hazel remained devoted to Bob – and she did not fundamentally doubt his love for her (130).
His humiliations of Hazel were off the scale. In October 1967, in their eleventh year of marriage, Hawke told columnist Elaine McFarling what kind of women he liked.
‘When I first meet a woman, I notice her eyes and hair,’ he said. ‘Then, I would say, her legs. Which is why, I suppose, I do not like those stockings and flat-heeled shoes. They do nothing for the woman with either good or bad legs.’ His preference was for women with good legs and wearing miniskirts. ‘I have no preference for blondes, brunettes or redheads – my tastes are very catholic – and I think a woman should use wigs or tint her hair if it helps her appearance.’
Hazel, at home with three children, would have read all this in The Herald (151-2). His message for the women of Australia was: ‘Tell them I’m glad they’re as pretty as they are, and I hope they stay that way’ (182).
A few of Hawke’s scorned women hit back. One was ballet dancer Beverley Richards after her years-long and quite public relationship. Declining to go quietly, she sat in the front row of his election meetings to upset him and threw things at the windows of the ACTU offices, shouting for him to come out. She blockaded Lygon Street with her car and phoned him at home. Hazel eventually confronted Beverley about this on and off-again affair. “It put an enormous strain on their relationship,” Bramston writes (153).
TNT tycoon Sir Peter Abeles in the 1970s “provided Hawke with financial support, paid his bills, bailed him out of gambling debts, and supplied him with cars, drinks and women.” Hawke and Abeles had some sort of a deal where Abeles found jobs in TNT for several Hawke discards (289).
Bramston says the media covered for Hawke at the ACTU even while he was having casual sex with random and targeted women throughout the week – there was no shortage because women in every city and state besieged him for sex – including “sex workers, procured by political, union or business figures” (198).
TV researcher Gillian Appleton, 32, on the Mike Walsh Show became one of Hawke’s lovers in 1974, with trysts at hotels and apartments. After sex, she and Hawke, 44, would talk politics and, somewhat surprisingly, sing old hymns together. He liked to amble about naked and caress his hair with a comb. Appleton felt no jealousy for his other women. She recalled him on the phone to Hazel, ‘I fucking already told you, I’m not going to make it home for the weekend – got it?’ Appleton left Hawke for her future husband Jim McClelland (198-99).
His secretary and personal assistant from 1973, Jean Sinclair, was his loyal worker and secret lover at the ACTU and in his Prime Ministerial office.
Hawke gave his PM’s security men the right to look in on him in rooms. Par for the Hawke course was in 1978 when he propositioned a woman at a restaurant and her boyfriend took offence, only to be flattened by an AWU official (264). The Victorian Father’s Day Council in 1971 awarded Hawke the ludicrous title of ‘Father of the Year’. His entire circle was dumbstruck. Hawke inveigled Ralph Willis into coming home with him that evening to shield him from some of Hazel’s wrath (200).
Blanche D’Alpuget did a two-part interview for The Age in 1986, writing as both journalist and secret lover that Hawke had more-or-less lost his mojo. “It was seized upon by Keating to argue that Hawke should hand over the prime ministership,” Bramston writes (519). Hey media, Hawke’s private life was not so “private”.
His womanising could be too much even for his federal executive. In the late 1970s he was to join them on a boat trip to the Reef in North Queensland, hosted by Jack Egerton. Hawke arrived with a bikini-clad woman on each arm. Concerned for Hazel, they told him to get rid of the pair (270).
Typical of reporters’ kid-gloves treatment was their failure to report his appalling joke at a Labor fund-raiser in 1981 at the Southern Cross Hotel, involving a lottery’s second prize being a fruit cake baked by Indian PM Indira Gandhi, and first prize being “F— Mrs Gandhi.” Bramston said there was a huge audience at the function but no press mention of the “joke” for many weeks, even though the tape-recording circulated among journos. Hayden’s press secretary, Alan Ramsey, finally leaked it to the Sun’s Niki Savva – and even then the Sun editors censored the punch-line (304). Can you imagine the press turning such a blind eye if a conservative politician said as much.
Hawke’s ministerial colleagues also thought the carefully crafted, overly positive portrayal of Hawke’s life in articles, books and television programs – which would continue until his death – was becoming nauseating (707).
Bramston says Hawke demanded the highest standards of public accountability from his ministers, but never questioned their personal morality. There was no double standard. He was determined to act on anything that risked the integrity of his government, such as sacking Mick Young for not declaring a Paddington Bear.
But Hawke did turn a blind eye to his own personal indiscretions, which risked the moral integrity of his government. ‘Anything that had a whiff of overt lack of integrity, mates were disposable,’ Evans said. ‘But getting pissed and gambling, and fucking other women, was not something that troubled him.’ It is a damning judgement (522).
After retirement, Hawke discovered he could parlay his former status into million-dollar consulting deals with un-named Chinese sources. Bramston writes, “When Hawke travelled overseas to China, he was offered the company of other women and usually indulged” (703).
Bramston chronicles Hawke’s long on-and-off relationship with biographer Blanche D’Alpuget . It began in 1970 at the home of an Australian diplomat in Jakarta. D’Alpuget was at a lunch there with her husband, Tony Pratt, both embassy staffers. Hawke, then 40, sat with white-linen-clad D’Alpuget, 26, on a swing seat on the balcony. They played table tennis at the embassy till late that night. A year later they met in Jakarta again, this time at a party at the Pratts’ residence, with Hawke’s daughter, Susan, included.
There was a lot of drinking, music and discussion. There was an argument about the Vietnam War. Then, in a loud voice, in front of about twenty people, Hawke looked at Blanche and said: ‘I want to fuck you.’ Susan was almost certainly within earshot. Tony was seated next to Blanche. She recalled being ‘shocked and taken aback’ by the comment and, given the awkwardness of the situation, everybody ‘pretended nothing had happened, and the conversation went on’.
D’Alpuget says that as a “playmate”, she joined what was “a kind of freewheeling, decentralised harem, with four or five favourites and a show-sale queue of one-night stands, she recognised” (276).
She later saw no conflict between her roles as a Hawke lover and biographer. It did get icky when in 1980, at Hawke’s instigation, she had to interview Hazel about Hawke’s domestic life. All three were aware of D’Alpuget’s roles and Hazel even knew that Bob contemplated leaving her for Blanche. ‘It wasn’t easy for either of us,’ D’Alpuget recalled. Bramston writes, “Hazel’s choice was to ‘either cooperate or be a bitch with the biographer” (280).
The biography outcome was a sanitised version of Hawke’s sex life, written as Hawke wanted it. It named no partners and no-one spoke about it on the record. In it she claimed, improbably, that “Hawke was, in his way, ‘a faithful man, devoted to Hazel’” (282).
Gareth Evans, one of Hawke’s closest supporters in government, called D’Alpuget’s book ‘a work of second-rate hagiography’ (707).
D’Alpuget, who divorced her previous husband in 1988, had an on-again/off-again affair with the Prime Minister. At one stage that year, she arrived at a mutual friend’s love-nest disguised in a red wig and Stetson hat. Hawke denied to Hazel the on-going infidelity. As PM he maintained his harem while D’Alpuget had two other boyfriends (520).
Press secretary Grant Nihill often helped ‘facilitate’ Hawke’s secret rendezvous. ‘[He was] genuinely in love with Hazel and genuinely in love with Blanche,’ Nihill said. Hawke would tell Nihill that he was seeing Blanche, often in Sydney, and asked him to come along. ‘Bob and I were close,’ Nihill said. ‘Someone always had to be with him, and that someone was me in those final years’ (520).
Retired and married to D’Alpuget, Hawke continued his infidelities, including with local women while on China trips, despite vowing “he had honoured his oath of exclusive devotion”. Bramston says D’Alpuget left her husband Hawke at least once temporarily over his drinking and jealousies (703).
I know of at least two Bob Hawke statues, in Ballarat and his birthplace Bordertown. Personally, I like them. I beg Julia Baird of the ABC, “Please don’t tear them down” even though toppling statues thrills her heart.
Tony Thomas’ essay collection “Foot Soldier in the Culture Wars” ($29.95) is available from publisher ConnorCourt. A new title, “Anthem of the Unwoke —Yep! the other lot’s gone bonkers”, is in production
 “The code among journalists was that the private lives of politicians were strictly off limits. Such things were not reported unless they impacted on their public duties” (516)
 A dispatch from the United Kingdom’s high commissioner in Canberra reported ‘misgivings about his suitability to be prime minister’. He noted Hawke’s ‘heavy drinking’, his ‘violent’ outbursts, his ‘ludicrous advances to unreceptive ladies’, and his general loutish behaviour (444).
 Bramston notes in passing that Paul Keating’s schmoozing of the press gallery pack earned him “broadly favourable press coverage and commentary from leading journalists” (503). Say again about ‘speaking truth to power’.