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Exhibition honours a leader who shaped the nation – Bob Hawke

By Michèle Nardelli

Bob Hawke was the only Australian prime minister to have been born in South Australia. Photo: Randy Larcombe Bob Hawke was the only Australian prime minister to have been born in South Australia. Photo: Randy Larcombe.

UniSA is commemorating the life and work of former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke through an exhibition at the University’s Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre.

Bob Hawke, who died on 16 May aged 89, was the only Australian prime minister to have been born in South Australia.

Weekend Australian press clippingWeekend Australian 25 May 2019

The exhibition, Advancing Australia Fair: Bob Hawke and his Government 1983-1991, is showing in the Kerry Packer Civic Gallery, together with materials and memorabilia relating to Hawke’s life and career.

The exhibition highlights the paradigm shift in Australian values, policies, and international relations pursued by the Hawke government. From educational access, Aboriginal advancement, anti-sex discrimination and Medicare, to the saving of the Franklin River and Kakadu, lifting the trade barriers and the vital strengthening of Australia’s relationship with China.

During the 2005 Hawke Lecture on creating a sustainable Australia.During the 2005 Hawke Lecture on creating a sustainable Australia.

Vice Chancellor Professor David Lloyd says Bob Hawke’s contribution to Australia, not only in advancing the conditions of working people, but in developing the economy so that Australia could become a more powerful player globally and especially in the Asia Pacific region, has been nation-building. 

“Bob had a formidable intellect but that was framed by a genuine connection with and understanding of everyday people and the practicalities and challenges in their lives,” Prof Lloyd says. 

“His career in the trade union movement, as a member of parliament and as Australia’s longest serving Labor prime minister, and someone who led the transformation of the economy and industrial relations, was only one part of this remarkable man’s story. 

“Beyond politics he has been a vital and active campaigner for education, for peace and interfaith dialogue and for Australia and its people. 

Bob Hawke led the funding drive for the Hawke Building at UniSA.Bob Hawke led the funding drive for the Hawke Building at UniSA.

“Well into his 80s he was tireless in his commitment to the Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre and its program of free public events that encourages new thinking about civil societies and gives everyone access to some of today’s greatest thinkers and leaders of social reform. 

“At the same time, he was still travelling the globe to advance Australia’s trade and diplomatic links and strengthen international friendships. 

Bob Hawke with Professor Fiona Stanley AC, who delivered the 2008 Hawke Lecture, The greatest injustice: why we have failed to improve the health of Aboriginal people.Bob Hawke with Professor Fiona Stanley AC, who delivered the 2008 Hawke Lecture, The greatest injustice: why we have failed to improve the health of Aboriginal people.

“At UniSA we will remember his generosity, his dedication to The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, and his efforts to support research into interfaith and intercultural understanding. 

“We will also remember his warmth, his incisive intellect, his wit and humour and his enduring capacity to bring people along, to help them think in new ways and to build understanding. 

“We are so proud that just over 21 years ago Bob Hawke agreed to the foundation of The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre and we believe through both its public program and the repository of vital historical documents held in its library, we can carry on his legacy. 

“His unstinting support for UniSA, under the leadership of three vice chancellors – professors Denise Bradley and Peter Høj and myself – has been significant to the growth, development and international presence of the University. 

“He was an extraordinary man and he will be missed by the University of South Australia community and the nation.” 

Political biographer and senior writer for The Australian, Troy Bramston, says Hawke was “the brightest star in the political galaxy – the most popular prime minister Australia’s every had, he won four elections, and he left a very big economic, social and environmental legacy”.

Bramston, who presented A Journey Through The Archive - The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Library as part of the SA History Festival in late May, says the collection offers a window into the past.

“The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Library is truly one of the great prime ministerial collections we have in this country,” he says. “Adelaide’s very lucky to have it.

“Bob Hawke had a magical political touch … he said he loved the Australian people and the Australian people loved him back. I think that’s the basis of his political success over a long period of time – that he did have that relationship.”

A memorial book is available in the Kerry Packer Civic Gallery for people to record a personal tribute to Hawke. A copy will be sent to Hawke’s family as a token of esteem from the Hawke Centre, and from all those who have recorded their tributes.

The exhibition Advancing Australia Fair: Bob Hawke and his Government 1983 – 1991, including photographs from the Hawke Library archives, is currently open.  

Prof Lloyd writes about Hawke in this month’s Vice Chancellor’s column.