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Bob Hawke: Demons and Destiny, Troy Bramston, Penguin Viking, Melbourne, 2022

I bought Troy Bramston’s “Definitive Biography” of Bob Hawke the day it arrived in the bookshops; not so much from interest in Hawke himself – I wanted to see whether a friend of mine got a mention.

I go straight to the index, and there she is: Richards, Beverley 107/affair with Hawke 107.

Well, that seemed promising, as I knew that Hawke had spent a good part of his life trying to forget her.

Page 107 though is not good news. Beverley is painted as a silly girl: neurotic even – definitely unworthy. I don’t blame Troy Bramston for the portrait though. Note 45 tells us that this version of events comes from the Blanche d’Alpuget Papers. Well, there you go.

One of her transgressions from good girly behaviour: Beverley “phoned him at home”. Shock. Horror. When did women earn the right to ring up blokes they are sleeping with?

Beverley had asked Hawke for his phone number and he refused. As far as Bob was concerned, he would turn up at her flat in Crimea St, East St Kilda, drunk or sober, whenever he felt like it. But definitely no telephoning.

Beverley, though, had other ideas. She took a male friend to act as lookout and drove down to Sandringham where Hawke and family lived.

They waited in the car until Hazel drove out for shopping or whatever. Beverley walked to the Hawke front door. Her accomplice was to watch in case Hazel – or anyone – came back.

She picked up the key from under the mat where Hazel had left it. Beverley unlocked the door, and went inside to the telephone on the hall table.

In those days, the handset had the resident phone number inscribed on the dial. Beverley read it, memorised it, went out the door, put the key back under the mat and drove home.

Later, when she guessed Bob would be there, she rang. He was furious, “How did you get this number?”

I don’t think Hawke himself ever found out, so maybe this titbit is missing from the Blanche d’Alpuget Papers.

As to how Hawke met Beverley: she was working as a dancer at Channel Seven, Melbourne. In the early days of TV in Australia, the metropolitan channels (not yet networks) employed dancers and singers for their variety and entertainment shows. Beverley sought help from her union over a pay dispute. Bob was then the ACTU advocate, and already a public figure. Nation, a political weekly had named him “Mr Inflation”.

Hawke helped Beverley with her case, and they began their affair.

Beverley won for her colleagues. But she lost her job. No channel would employ her. The sacrifice was completely in character for Beverley. She had a keen sense of social justice – an old-fashioned Australian drive for fair play.

Like many other Australian women, Beverley was perfectly confident of her place in the world, and her rights and the rights of others: men or women. Maybe a bit like Hannah Arendt who on encountering feminists towards the end of her life seemed not to grasp what the fuss was about. Women like Beverley and Hannah already knew they were equal.

Beverley had been a member of the Borovansky Ballet, the precursor of the Australian Ballet. As did many Australians of her generation, she moved to London in the 1950s. England was a fairly austere place in those days, too slow at recovering from the war, and the economic as well as physical damage that had inflicted. Beverley had a successful time in London, appearing in West End musicals and ballet.

To the end of her life, she was a respected member of the ballet world. Her last role was in the revolutionary Graeme Murphy version of “Nutcracker” for the Australian Ballet in 1992.

And how did I meet Beverley? I have forgotten. We must have met through mutual friends in the ballet world. She was older than me, and I was always grateful for her friendship.

And that’s how I first heard much about Bob Hawke. Sometimes, when I turned up at her flat in Crimea Street, she would tell me, “You have just missed Bob.”

Beverley helped me to get backstage work in Melbourne; she knew I wanted to travel, and she told me that if I joined the stage employees union here, I would be able to join the UK equivalent. That enabled me to work for five years in London, on the stage with best-in-the-world opera, ballet, and straight theatre.

The Blanche d’Alpuget Papers’ verdict on Beverley is, as I wrote earlier, not kind – not at all feminist either.

My own observation over the years that I knew Beverley is that she genuinely loved Hawke. Even when she was slinging off at him, it was with a tone of irony rather than bitterness. “He says he likes classical music. When I ask him what is his favourite, he tells me, ‘Beethoven’s Fifth.’ Oh, pleeeease.”

“Bob reckons he wants to be Prime Minister.”

Or, years later, when Bob has actually become Prime Minister, “Mary Duchesne [who knew Hawke through Beverley] told me Bob was meeting a line of dancers after an Australian Ballet performance. When he spotted Mary a bit further along the line, he turned away, made his excuses and hurried off.”

I probably might have left out of this piece Beverley’s news that Bob wasn’t much good in bed. But at least one other woman is quoted in the book as saying the same thing.

Beverley kept a file of news clippings about Bob at least until Labor won the 1983 election and Hawke the Prime Ministership. Despite his careless treatment of her, there was always something that drew Beverley to him, and that she never got over. She always had a soft spot for Bob.

My thoughts about the Blanche d’Alpuget Papers’ portrait of Beverley should not be taken as disrespect for the entirety of the book. For what my opinion is worth, the Troy Bramston biography is a mighty achievement. It clearly is the outcome of a colossal amount of research and work, and will always provide an unequalled picture of a period and its protagonists.