• WORDS Melinda Murray

The Loss of a Great Man


In a social media feed full of selfies and photos of peoples’ food, the 16th of May was different. As the news filtered through of the passing of Bob Hawke, my news feed was filled with photos and stories of a great man. A man who changed things in this country for the better.

One of my earliest memories is my mum taking me to vote in the 1983 elections. In the months prior, I had helped make signs for Franklin Dam and Anti-Nuclear protests and scored a button (which I still have somewhere in a box) that said:, ‘I trusted my government, and now I glow in the dark!’

Throughout most of my formative years, Bob was running the country. I have vivid memories of being awake in the earlier hours to watch Australia win the America’s Cup and Bob’s memorable moment fronting the news cameras in his black and white jacket. I remember my mum and her friends talking about the thousands of protesters who were murdered in Tiananmen Square and how our Prime Minister had fought back the tears while fronting the news cameras and granting Chinese students studying in Australia humanitarian visas. Imagine being able to save 20,000 lives just because you decided it was the right thing to do.

Years later, I settled in Newcastle and was running my own PR firm and a friend, Frank Barrett called me about the idea of looking after the media for The Jack Newton Celebrity Classic. A charity golf event which has now been running for over 40 years and my first thought was that I didn’t know the first thing about golf, but everyone spoke so highly of Jack and Jackie Newton, that the idea was too appealing to turn down.

Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke was the patron of the event. I have been lucky enough over my career to work with some big name, international artists and I pride myself on not fawning and remaining professional, but I must admit, the first time Jackie introduced me to Bob Hawke, it took me well longer than it should have to catch my breath and speak a complete sentence.

For the past nine years, I have been part of the event and looked forward to the years that Bob would attend. You always knew he would tell a great joke that you could share with your family over Christmas lunch and at the sponsor's dinner he always did a rousing rendition of Waltzing Matilda. All four verses.

The thing I came to look forward to the most was watching the deep and decades-long friendship between Bob and the entire Newton family. The former PM often told this story in his speech. “The reason I attend this event as often as I can is because of the deep admiration I have for Jack and Jackie Newton and the charity work they do. I had only been PM for a couple of months when Jack had his accident, and I made a point of going to the hospital. They said to me, Prime Minister; he may not survive. He has two things going for him. He is incredibly strong, and he has Jackie” There are defining factors that I see as the best of the Australian character.... guts, determination and decency and no one embodies those things more than Jack Newton.”

I cried quietly in the dark the first time I heard that speech. Anyone who knows them, knows how true that description is of the entire Newton family. Strong, principled, humble, gracious, kind and working every day to make their part of the world a better place. That should be the goal in life, to leave the world a better place than it was before you arrived. Bob has certainly done that. I hope his passing is a reminder that we all need to do the same. He will be greatly missed.

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