Image: opening of the Australian Studies Centre, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother and The Rt Hon Bob Hawke, 7 June 1983, National Archives of Australia
The life of Bob Hawke was honoured at King’s College London on 16 May 2019 by Rene Kulitja, traditional owner for Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, Ngangkari (traditional healer), and acclaimed artist.
Kulitja was at King’s with Pantjiti Imatjala Lewis to discuss the work of the Ngangkari. Before the opening discussion, Rene spoke of her sadness at hearing the news of Hawke’s death that day, and of her thoughts for his family.
This was a powerful moment of remembrance – spoken in Pitjantjatjara – for an audience looking out over central London from Bush House. This audience included Poche Indigenous Leadership Fellows visiting King’s from the University of Melbourne’s Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, Melbourne alumni, King’s College London staff and students, and other members of the Menzies Australia Institute’s community.
The day before, the twelve Poche Fellows, health leaders from Indigenous communities throughout Australia, were welcomed to the Atlantic Institute at Rhodes House in Oxford, and had seen there a portrait of Hawke – Australia’s most famous Rhodes Scholar. Even in his absence the man had a way of making his presence felt.
Hawke was Prime Minister for just three months and two days when, on 7 June 1983, he presided over the opening of the Australian Studies Centre at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. His speech acknowledged that the Centre was a gift of the "continuing government of the Commonwealth of Australia", initially conceived and developed by the government of his predecessor, the late Hon. Mr Malcolm Fraser AC CH GCL (May 1930 – 20 March 2015). But Hawke also used the occasion to highlight new directions for Australia.
I found that the perception of Australia as an independent nation with its own aspirations, with its own identity, its separate patterns of historical and political development, its own social and cultural values, and its need for a specifically Australian foreign and defence policy, not much further advanced’ from when another Australian arrived in Oxbridge, William Wentworth, well over a century before.– Bob Hawke, touching on his arrival at Oxford in 1953
"The University of London", Hawke went on, by way of contrast, had "always been progressive in outlook", and now its Australian Studies Centre "will help provide a new understanding of Australia in Britain, particularly among young people, and help to make the people of Britain better aware of the tremendous changes which have occurred in Australia, especially under the impact of the post-War immigration program, and the recognition of Australians that they belong forever to the South-East Asian region."
In this context, the Australian government’s support for establishing an Australian Studies Centre in London expressed both national confidence and renewed commitment to maintaining the breadth and depth of ties between Australia and Britain.
Despite his undoubted magnetism, Hawke was not the centre of attention at the opening: that position fell to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. The rapport is evident in the photographs between the new Prime Minister and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
In rounding off the event, Hawke declared that, in Sir Robert Menzies’ footsteps, he was off "to the cricket at the Oval". Today it seems as good a metaphor as any.
All at the Menzies Australia Institute, King’s College London, pay tribute to a great Australian who was with us from the beginning: The Hon. Mr. Robert Hawke AC GCL (9 December 1929 – 16 May 2019).
Dr Ian Henderson
Menzies Australia Institute