My fondest memory working for Bob Hawke

Laughter, lots of laughter – from the belly. That’s my fondest memory of working (and playing) in Bob Hawke’s office. Bob took his job seriously but not himself. He had enough confidence in his own abilities to seek the advice of others in forming and testing his views. Many of my colleagues from his office who have rung or texted me to express their condolences to Blanche, Bob’s family and me have included the word ‘fun’ in their messages. 

At times, Bob’s approach to seeking input from his advisers on a policy matter was disconcerting. As his economic and environmental adviser, I was called in to discuss with his foreign policy experts and defence minister Kim Beazley how Australia should respond to a coup that had just occurred in Fiji. When grappling with economic policy matters I was just as surprised when staff who had no economic training were welcomed into a group discussion.

Not once did Bob scoff at a view expressed by an adviser in a group meeting. He sought a variety of input from advisers whose judgement he trusted. 

At one brief gathering I learned a lesson I have put to good use for the rest of my life. Bob’s foreign policy adviser, John Bowan, was also his chief sports adviser. The Prime Minister’s Cricket XI was to play the West Indies at Canberra’s Manuka Oval. Having acted as selector-in-chief, John walked into Bob’s office two hours before the scheduled start of play, terribly worried that the gathering storm clouds could cause the match to be abandoned. Bob and I were discussing an environmental matter at the time.

John voiced his concern about the darkening sky. Bob replied: “Okay mate, but we can’t do anything about the weather. So let’s just work on the things we can influence.” 

Bob’s temperament enabled him to sleep well, even when under intense pressure. He taught me how to take catnaps – so much so that we moved a bed into a storage room in the prime minister’s media office secured by a thick steel door. 

When we were travelling, Bob would grab 15 minutes of ‘kip’ in his Comcar between engagements during electorate visits, just to sharpen up before meeting the next group of constituents. 

On the VIP aircraft taking us to our next electorate, Bob would read his briefs then ask for his copy of The Sportsman that I had been expected to procure for him. I was expected to have ‘marked up’ those horses competing in the race events around Australia that were from the stables of friendly trainers. Bob would do his own form analysis and next morning we would ring the trainers for their opinions of their chances. And the punters said Bob was just lucky at picking winners. 

As economic adviser I was trained in probability theory. Bob taught me applied probability theory – the rules of when to draw another card and when to sit in the card game of blackjack. 

It was my responsibility on overseas trips to persuade gullible journalists to the front of the VIP aircraft on the pretext of an exclusive interview with the Prime Minister of Australia, only to be roped into a game of blackjack. They weren’t allowed to leave until they had lost. Their credit, however, was good, and it was my responsibility to collect their debts following our return to Australia.

In the prime minister’s office, principal private secretary, Sandy Hollway, founded the Glee Club. For a modest monthly contribution, staff could celebrate the week’s end on Friday afternoons with Sandy’s cocktails, even then generating sufficient profit to finance the end-of-year staff party.

All the fun was made possible by the work ethic of the prime minister and his staff, but most of all by the sense of common purpose created by Bob – to fashion a better country, giving opportunity to the underprivileged who, without government support, would be destined to struggle. 

Bob Hawke told me he had lived a full life, full of love, and had achieved everything he could. He was ready to go, but we will miss him terribly. The Glee Club will never be the same.