Robert J Hawke, Australia's 23rd and still most popular prime minister, is still making public appearances, commenting politically and skolling beers at the cricket to the cheers of countrymen young and old.
On Wednesdays this past year the longest serving Labor prime minister - he won four elections between 1983 and 1991 and maintained a 75% approval rating with the Australian people - has welcomed writer Derek Rielly into his home for animated conversation and indecently fine cigars. On a sun-soaked balcony the irreverent young writer and the charismatic old master talk life, death, love, sex, religion, politics, sport, fatherhood, marriage and everything in between. The result is an extraordinary and unique portrait of a remarkable Australian eloquently, emotionally and humorously reflecting on his past, present and future as never before.
Interspersing these chats with Hawke are Rielly's interviews with Bob's contemporaries - former nemesis John Howard, Labor allies Gareth Evans and Kim Beazley, lover and wife Blanche D'Alpuget, good mates John Singleton and Col Cunningham, diplomat Richard Woolcott and economist Ross Garnaut and more - all painting Hawke's enigma from the outside and paying tribute to a man who strode the world stage with aplomb and won the hearts of millions in Australia and worldwide.
Review by Ben Hunter
Bob Hawke is one of the most popular leaders Australians have ever had. Today however, Hawke the statesman and Hawke the husband seem to have been eclipsed by Hawke the caricature – a beer-swilling, womanising gambler who won the nation through macho charm. It’s been hard to ascertain who the real man is. And now, with the longest serving Labor PM in history and his contemporaries heading into advanced age, the question of legacy has risen to the fore with an old rivalry between Hawke and his counterpart-turned-successor Paul Keating dominating the discussion. It’s a very interesting time for a new Hawke book to go to press.
As a reader I generally detest political biography and memoir, but Wednesdays with Bob has struck a chord with me. The book is the brainchild of Derek Rielly, the Perth-born blackjack dealer turned sports journalist turned author. His pitch was to rock up at Hawke’s house, feed Bob cigars, and conduct a series of candid interviews with the ex-PM and those around him about his legacy and the state of international politics, Labor, and his personal life today. And that’s exactly what the publisher has had him do.
The resulting book is fresh, irreverent and at times very profound. Hawke exercises his famous charm and frank speech in respect to his leadership, our nation, Trump, love and infidelity, alcoholism, and his 1991 downfall, all the while choking down tobacco smoke and urinating publicly on the balcony of his North Shore residence. It’s like nothing else I’ve read on Australian politics and will make an excellent contribution to our modern history. Whether you hate him or love him, Wednesdays with Bob will take you to the heart of an Australian icon.