It was April 1970 when Blanche d’Alpuget first met Bob Hawke. They were at a party in Jakarta, where the writer was living with her husband, Antony Pratt. As she sat on a swinging chair, answering the then-ACTU president’s questions about the city, she felt a connection between them. It wasn’t a spark, exactly; more of a click.
“I hadn’t been long married and I was very keen on my husband,” the 74-year-old told Mia Freedman on Mamamia’s No Filter podcast in 2018. “I didn’t know who the hell [Hawke] was; I thought his name was Robin.”
With one meeting six years later that changed. D’Alpuget was interviewing Hawke for a biography on arbitrator Sir Richard Kirby. By then her marriage was “going down the drain”, and when she again came face to face with the father of four, “the click was different”, the chemistry strong.
It was an encounter that would plunge the couple on a now infamous love affair. One that endured for 25 years; before and beyond Hawke’s 13-year Prime Ministership, in spite of their other liaisons, and through the dying days of their respective marriages.
“It was the ’70s, and I was a feminist, I was in the women’s movement. We didn’t believe in monogamy, we believed in liberty, equality and sorority and supporting other women, and affairs were par for the course. They were part of that life,” she said. “But one tried to be discreet and not hurt anybody.”
Though “madly in love”, the pair remained just lovers for more than two decades in the interests of Hawke’s marriage to Hazel Masterson, his career and, as d’Alpuget later noted, “the nation”. Ultimately, the Labor leader’s decision to divorce his wife of 38 years came down to one moment – a pause.
“I was in a sea plane up in far-north Queensland, I was doing a story for The New York Times on the Great Barrier Reef, and the sea plane crashed into the sea,” d’Alpuget told Freedman.
“We had to swim out the window. There were six passengers and the pilot, and we were very lucky to be alive because we all grabbed on to the wings, as [aviation fuel] was pouring out of them and covering us.”
A nearby yachtsman came to their rescue, plucking the seven from the polluted water into his dinghy before the plane sank. Safely onshore at Hamilton Island, the passengers were given one phone call each.
“The one phone call I made was to ‘Go Between’, the man who was [Bob’s and my] secret contact. But he was a drama queen and he rang up Bob and said, ‘Bob, Blanche has been in a plane crash,’ and he paused. Bob said in that moment he felt himself die.
“And then the man added, ‘But she’s alright’. But it was just that instant; he knew then that, had I died, his life wouldn’t have been worth living.”
Within two years Hawke’s divorce was finalised. And eight months later, he and d’Alpuget married in Sydney.
“The suggestion that I’d broken up [the Hawkes’] marriage was horrendous,” d’Alpuget told No Filter. “I hadn’t – it had been broken for a very long while, and we’d been in love for a very long while.”
For the writer, love was – and is – everything.
“I really truly believe,” she said, “that life’s greatest reward and highest ideal is love.”
On Thursday May 16, 2019, Bob passed away in his Sydney home at age 89.
“Today we lost Bob Hawke, a great Australian – many would say the greatest Australian of the post-war era,” Blanche said in a statement.