'He loved Australians and they loved him back': Bob Hawke farewelled in Sydney

Australians have come together on the steps of the Sydney Opera House to honour political giant and "larrikin" former prime minister Bob Hawke.

The state memorial service for Mr Hawke, who died peacefully at his Sydney home on May 16, aged 89, attracted thousands of well-wishers.

Mr Hawke launched a number of his campaigns at the Sydney Opera House, including his successful 1983 election bid.

Thousands gathered outside the Opera House for the memorial. Source: Unions NSW
The memorial booklet for the service. Source: Unions NSW

Hundreds began to line the steps of the Opera House hours before the ceremony to watch the memorial unfold on a giant screen opposite while politicians, family, friends, and selected others arrived for the emotional occasion inside the iconic building.

Once the ceremony began, Labor leader Anthony Albanese took to the stage after Prime Minister Scott Morrison and offered a powerful, moving tribute.

“How do you measure a giant?” Mr Albanese said.

Mr Albanese's words were particularly powerful. Source: ABC
Bob Hawke mourners outside the Opera House.Source: AAP

“Bob Hawke was not towering physically but somehow he seemed bigger than all of us.”

“He loved Australians and they loved him back. It was indeed a national romance.

“He loved us together because we understood that our greatest strengths flow from unity. He reached out, he listened, he learned, he encouraged and he dared, dared us to be a better nation.”

His successor as prime minister and long-time Labor colleague, Paul Keating, highlighted the success they experienced together at the helm of the party.

“I think I can say the template which we and our remarkable cabinet colleagues set into place in those 13 years has provided the foundations for Australia's burgeoning growth and wealth in a fundamental sense, ever since really,” he told guests.

Thousands watched the service unfold on big screens. Source: AAP

Simply ‘my old man’

His family offered an intimate reflection in the moments before the service.

Mr Hawke's wife Blanche d'Alpuget, children and grandchildren were among the first to arrive for the political giant's state memorial service on Friday.

While so many have very public memories of Mr Hawke, his son Stephen said he was simply "my dad".

The Prime Minister opened the tributes. Source: AAP
Malcolm Turnbull arriving at the service. Source: AAP

"It's really not much more complicated than that - he was my old man," he told the ABC before the service.

"He wasn't the perfect father but he was very much a loving father and was loved in return by all of us."

Free tickets to the service were snapped up within 25 minutes.

Many eyes were on former Prime Minister Tony Abbott who was among guests seen arriving following his controversial tribute to Mr Hawke days before the federal election.

Former Labor leader Bill Shorten, who vowed to win May’s election for Mr Hawke, was also seen arriving among the crowds as was prime minister Scott Morrison.

Former prime ministers John Howard, Malcolm Turnbull and Paul Keating also joined them inside the Concert Hall, alongside Mr Albanese, the Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and a throng of other dignitaries and well-known Australians.

As the ceremony began, guests rose for an emotional Advance Australia Fair.

Former prime minister Julia Gillard, unable to attend the service due to commitments in Stockholm, paid her respects via video link as well as sharing an emotional tweet of the pair’s last meeting.

Bob Hawke in Melbourne in 1990. Source: Getty
Mr Hawke in his latter years. Source: AAP

“A million words could be written and a million more spoken about Bob Hawke, such is the breadth of his achievement,” she said.

“But for me, the essence of the Bob I knew is caught by one word - inspiration.”

‘Greatest prime minister ever’

Among the long list of speakers at the service were Ms d'Alpuget, his daughter, Sue Pieters-Hawke and his granddaughter Sophie Taylor-Price.

His daughter said she’d “always be proud of what dad did” for providing “hope and belief” to Australians.

Ms Pieters-Hawke recalled memories of family life as a child.

“Back in the day there were weekend mornings with just Steve, Ros and I, the dog and the cat, all sprawled with Mum and Dad on their bed, reading newspapers, playing boardgames, telling stories, and listening and chattering away,” she said, offering an insight into Mr Hawke’s humble life.

His wife fittingly wrapped up the tributes, saying Australians should now shift from mourning to celebrating her husband’s life.

“We smile again, we glow with pride for the presence among us for almost 90 years of a great human being,” she said.

The memorial concluded with a rendition of Men at Work’s Down under performed on the didgeridoo, accompanied by the orchestra.

Blanche d'Alpuget and Mr Hawke's granddaughter Sophie Taylor-Price speak during the State Memorial service. Source: AAP
A flyer at a memorial ceremony immediately after his death last month. Source: AAP

Mr Albanese said prior to the ceremony it would be a tremendous honour to address the service for Australia's "greatest prime minister ever".

"He taught Labor that you need to bring people with us on change," he told Nine's Today program on Friday.

"He transformed the economy, he transformed social policy through the creation of Medicare. There is no question he is Australia's greatest ever environmental protector."

Craig Emerson, a former advisor to Mr Hawke and close friend, the MC paid his respects ahead of the memorial.

Bob Hawke's face on the large screen outside the steps of the Opera House. Source: Getty

Dr Emerson said the former PM loved Australians and "they loved him".

"He was a consensus politician - a big word for saying he wanted to bring Australians together not set Australians against Australians," he told ABC TV on Friday.

The ex-Labor minister said the service will be one of celebration and not commiseration or sadness.

"If there are tears, it will be tears of joy. It's a joyous occasion," Dr Emerson said.

"That's how Bob wanted it. He said he had so much joy and love in his life, I think he would want us to experience that joy and that love today."

Larrikin reputation

Mr Hawke made the Guinness Book of Records for downing a yard glass while a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and in his later years indulged fans at the cricket by knocking back drinks.

But he gave up the drink in politics and proudly boasted he "didn't touch a drop" while in parliament.

Bob Hawke, then aged 87, seeing off a beer at the Sydney Ashes Test in 2018. Source: Getty

The former ACTU leader rose through union and Labor ranks and won the party four elections, with his late first wife Hazel by his side.

But in 1991 his treasurer Paul Keating replaced him as leader, his marriage hit the rocks, and eventually he and Hazel divorced. He married his biographer Blanche d'Alpuget in 1995.

Mr Hawke was farewelled at a private family funeral but the public remembrance will see more tributes from his loved ones and major political figures.

Former South Australian premier and Labor national president Mike Rann celebrated Mr Hawke and his lifetime of achievements in a letter last week.

"If there is a heaven I'd like to think that they've now got a larrikin up there, still carousing, chatting up the angels, or puffing on a giant cigar, a beer in hand while reading the form guide ... still campaigning, still winning and still getting things done," Mr Rann wrote.

With AAP

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