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Hazel Hawke written out in biased history

By Patricia Edgar - posted Monday, 26 July 2010

The dramatised documentary Hawke screened on Sunday, July 18, depicts a downtrodden, frumpish, glum-faced Hazel Hawke drifting about in dressing-gown and slacks, playing a peripheral role in her husband’s ascension to the role of Prime Minister of Australia.

History is a fertile field for half truths, innuendo and the suppression of facts. Women have been written out of history for centuries and Hazel joins a long line of outstanding women who have not been fairly recognised by their partners and in this case, a second wife who wants to claim her place as the great love of a great man who did much for his country.

Blanche D’Alpuget says she believes people will remember the Bob and Blanche story for their great love. She seems to identify with famous lovers like Napoleon and Josephine, Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, or perhaps it is Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler.


Sue Pieters-Hawke, the daughter, in her dignified response to her step-mother’s account of history (The Age, July 17) takes exception to the fundamental misrepresentations in the characterisation of her mother and her parents’ marriage. “If my mother could speak for herself …” We know Hazel cannot do this and it's highly possible she would not participate in this public circus if she could.

Dramatised television documentary presents a convincing picture of the way things were. But this “documentary”, based on two biographies of Hawke by D’Alpuget dismisses her predecessor with a few kind words, but mainly as a politically ambitious partner in a failed marriage who clung on for her place in the sun. This is fiction and fantasy for those who knew Hazel.

Bill Hayden said that the drover's dog could have led the Labor Party to victory in 1983. Bob Hawke was worried about the number of votes he would lose as a divorced man so he implored Hazel to stay with him. It was the right call.

It did not take long for Hazel to develop a following of her own which in subsequent elections became a major reason voters supported Hawke. Hazel’s speech to the Canberra Press Gallery in January 1984 established her as an unassuming, disarmingly honest, sincere and intelligent human being - an ordinary woman, one we could all identify with and admire for the way she handled herself. The feeling was strong among women that if Hazel stayed with Bob he couldn’t be as bad as reports suggested.

In an interview on Sunday following the telemovie, Bob struggled to remember what Hazel's interests were as the Prime Minister's wife. He came up with “education” but he could not remember any details.

Children, their welfare and the arts were Hazel’s priorities. (Hazel was an accomplished pianist). Among other organisations, The Brotherhood of St Laurence, Austcare, the Australian Youth Orchestra, the NSW Heritage Council, World Wide Fund for Nature and the Australian Children’s Television Foundation (ACTF) had Hazel’s support. This meant she worked for them; she was not just a figurehead.


I was two years into my appointment as Founding Director of the ACTF when Hazel agreed to join the Board in December 1983; she remained a member for 18 years and over that time we shared a lot of history.

It was my privilege and good fortune to work alongside and get to know Hazel through those years. She used her public profile selflessly and strategically to promote the causes she chose, including children's television. She opened our events and launched our series. She introduced our programs whenever she travelled in an official capacity, taking videos as gifts to the King and Queen of Jordan, to Nancy Reagan as First Lady, to Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

Hazel set up a critically important meeting and came with me to see Michael Duffy when he was Minister for Communications in the Hawke government. Duffy respected Hazel. He was under siege at a time when there was serious conflict between the commercial television stations and the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal. Fifteen commercial licensees were challenging the validity of the Children's Program Standards in the High Court which handed down a decision stating the standards were invalid.

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This is an edited version of an article first published in the National Times on July 21, 2010.

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About the Author

Patricia Edgar is an author, television producer and educator. She was the founding director of the Australian Children's Television Foundation. She is also the author of In Praise of Ageing and an Ambassador for the National Ageing Research Institute.

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All articles by Patricia Edgar

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