FORMER Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, by many accounts, loved a drink and still does.

During the latest Ashes series, the veteran pollie was clocked skolling a beer at the SCG at breakneck pace - a legendary party trick that he picked up in his Oxford University days.

One of his political contemporaries, Graham Richardson, told that absolutely nobody could keep pace with Mr Hawke, who drank everybody he knew "under the table" in his heyday.

But despite this reputation, Mr Hawke, now 88, reportedly gave up the grog altogether when he was in office and didn't start again until 1993 - two years after he was defeated in a leadership challenge and stepped aside as Prime Minister in 1991.

"He gave up drinking in 1980 when he went into parliament and when he was Prime Minister he was drinking non-alcoholic wines and all that sort of thing, but as soon as he left office, we went back on the grog," Mr Richardson said.

Mr Hawke was a legendary drinker in his union days. Source: News Corp Australia.
Mr Hawke was a legendary drinker in his union days. Source: News Corp Australia.

"He could have never become Prime Minister if he carried on drinking the way he was."

Before taking office, Mr Richardson said Mr Hawke was "drinking all the time", in a way that would "kill any modern-day politician's career". But, at the time, Mr Richardson said his reputation as a "larrikin" helped working class Aussie voters relate to a politician in a way they had never done before.

A new ABC documentary, Hawke: The Larrikin and The Leader, which airs this weekend, shows how the Labor powerhouse's reputation began in his university days when he set a "world record" by skolling two and a half pints of beer in 11 seconds.

"It was very hard to keep up with him because he could do something the rest of us couldn't. He could just open his throat up," Mr Richardson said. "His body is a bit different to yours and mine. He had that extra drinking ability that the rest of us don't have."

Bill Kelty, a former ACTU secretary, backed this up, telling ABC: "Bob was the world's number one drinker. He could drink and drink."

Mr Kelty said this reputation also helped Mr Hawke solidify his position among union officials before he took office.

"The union officials could really drink too, but Bob could outdrink them all," said Mr Kelty in the documentary.

He added that Mr Hawke would often be in the pub by 11.30am and he would remain there for the rest of the day - sometimes drinking up to 20 beers a day.

"But it was not just a drinking hole, but a political decision-making hole," he added. "And he'd be there until 11pm. But, then he'd be the first at the ACTU meeting the next morning as if he hadn't had a drop to drink."

"But he didn't need to spend all day in the pub," said Mr Richardson. "He'd get rotten pretty quickly and there were plenty of times I had to carry him to bed. So, he had to give it up and he that's what he did."

Mr Kelty told ABC he drove the former PM home one night after a drinking session and his late wife Hazel wasn't happy because the Mr Hawke had won a "Father of the Year" community award.

"She said:' I don't know who the judges are, but they must be on opium'," said Mr Kelty said.

However, Mr Richardson told that Bob was so driven that it was easy to knock the grog on the head immediately.

"He always knew that he wanted to be Prime Minister," he said. "So when he stopped, he didn't have a drop for something like 11 years."

Mr Richardson said Mr Hawke got away with his antics because of the simplicity of the time.

"There was no internet and nobody taking picture or recording," he said. "But, today if you did anything it would be all over social media in a flash. You could slur your words and fall all over the place and nobody would know about it.

In the documentary, Mr Hawke said: "I knew I had to change and the major change, of course, was giving up the grog. I was not prepared to offer myself for leadership in a state where I could disgrace my country."

However, Mr Richardson believes the squeaky clean image of modern-day politicians in Australia has had a negative effect on politics.

Graham Richardson said Mr Hawke represented a golden age of Australian politics. Source: Ryan Osland/The Australian.
Graham Richardson said Mr Hawke represented a golden age of Australian politics. Source: Ryan Osland/The Australian.

"These days everybody is so scared of making mistakes," he said. "The Hawke era was a great era. The standard was just much higher."

The documentary also follows Mr Hawke's journey from the election night in 1983, when Malcolm Fraser hoped to catch the opposition off-guard.

However, Mr Hawke had been a familiar face on Aussie TV for decades as a the kingpin of the union movement.

He had studied law and then economics at Oxford University, setting him apart from his union peers - the majority of whom had no tertiary education.

The documentary shows how he used this experience to fight for workers' wages back in Australia - which at the time played out like a courtroom drama.

Blanche d'Alpuget, Mr Hawke's biographer who he married in 1995, told the ABC Mr Hawke was a force to be reckoned with.

"He was terribly aggressive with the judges," she said in the documentary. "They were shocked by his behaviour."

And it worked. In Mr Hawke's first pay case, he won worker's their biggest pay rise in six years.

"I established an enormous reputation immediately and I was a national figure from then on," Mr Hawke told the documentary makers.

The first part of the documentary, which airs tonight (Sunday) on ABC, highlights how Mr Hawke made a name for himself and won the country's top job.

Mr Richardson said we may never see a politician like Mr Hawke again.

"For Australian men, he was very much what they wanted to be and all the women wanted to go to bed with him," he said. "He had it all going for him."


Hawke: The Larrikin and The Leader airs Sunday, 7:40pm on ABC/iview. The second part will be broadcast next weekend at the same time.

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