The devoted couple.
The devoted couple.

Bob Hawke’s affairs of the heart

THE phone call was devastating - former prime minister Bob Hawke would later recall it made him feel as though he had died.

"Blanche has been in a plane crash," said the "social secretary" who had arranged their trysts.

The seven-seater plane his lover Blanche d'Alpuget was in on assignment for The New York Times had crashed into the Pacific off northern Queensland.

Bob Hawke with his second wife Blanche d'Alpuget.
Bob Hawke with his second wife Blanche d'Alpuget.

For a bleak, heart-lurching moment he was lost.

"But she's all right," the go-between said.

"Devastating," Mr Hawke later told biographer Derek Reilly. "But he really was a drama queen. Not telling me straight out."

During his interviews with Reilly for his book Wednesdays With Bob, the beloved former Labor prime minister said his dream of happiness was "being with Blanche."

"It's impossible to describe the sublime happiness that I experience in our relationship," he said.

It was a relationship that alienated many of his supporters who had taken his wife Hazel to their hearts as the nation­'s first lady.

 

Bob Hawke with his future wife Hazel Masterson in 1951.
Bob Hawke with his future wife Hazel Masterson in 1951.

Hazel had stood by him from the start. As Hazel Masterton­ she fell pregnant to her university student fiance Bob Hawke. She had an abortion because Mr Hawke could only take up his Rhodes scholarship if he was unmarried.

She was with him through thick and thin, through boozy escapades, womanising, the loss of their fourth child just a few days after birth, and almost nine years in The Lodge.

They had three children and Hazel was looking forward to a long retirement together.

Her memoir closed just as Mr Hawke resigned from parliament in 1991.

"We two sexagenarians have gathered just a touch of moss, but not nearly enough to stop us rolling busily, contentedly­, on - with each other, our children and theirs - in our little bit of magic," wrote Hazel.

But she did not allow for her husband's great love - Blanche d'Alpuget.

 

Hazel Hawke with daughter Sue Pieters-Hawke (right) granddaughter Sophie Pieters-Hawke.
Hazel Hawke with daughter Sue Pieters-Hawke (right) granddaughter Sophie Pieters-Hawke.

Mr Hawke and Ms d'Alpuget had met by chance in Jakarta in 1970 when Mr Hawke had stopped at the home of a friend on his way to Geneva.

They were sitting on the veranda when "this vision in white walked around the corner­. She wore a white dress and was beautifully tanned". Mr Hawke was smitten.

At the time Blanche, a former tabloid journalist, was married to Tony Pratt and they were considered the golden couple among expats.

Six years later Mr Hawke and Ms d'Alpuget met again and the attraction was still as strong.

 

After a love affair spanning decades, Bob Hawke and Blanche d’Alpuget finally married in 1995.
After a love affair spanning decades, Bob Hawke and Blanche d’Alpuget finally married in 1995.

"With mutual, wordless consent it was agreed we would become lovers as soon as possible - which happened to be in a different city, the following­ night," she wrote.

"He was charming, funny and straightforward … what he loved was sex. He was a busy man; I was a playmate. That suited me - I wanted a playmate too."

It was only later that it dawned on her that Mr Hawke had a few playmates.

"Slowly, dreadfully, I came to realise … that his love life was a kind of freewheeling, decentralised harem, with four or five favourites­ and a shoe-sale queue of one-night stands."

 

Bob and Blanche d'Alpuget backstage at Woodfordia festival in December. Picture: Megan Slade/AAP
Bob and Blanche d'Alpuget backstage at Woodfordia festival in December. Picture: Megan Slade/AAP

Asked by TV interviewer Michael Parkinson if claims he "performs like a playboy" were true, Mr Hawke replied: "I have my moments".

The audience burst into applause. Australians loved him.

Ms d'Alpuget's big rival was a Swiss lover nicknamed Paradiso. Mr Hawke told Ms d'Alpuget he had a dream they were both on a roulette wheel and the ball landed on her. Ms d'Alpuget was the one.

Mr Hawke asked her to marry him in November 1978. A year later, as he entered the fray for a federal seat, he cancelled. "Divorce could cost Labor 3 per cent," he explained.

Ms d'Alpuget, also Mr Hawke's biographer, later concluded that was the right decision for his family, her family, the party "and, as became obvious, for the nation".

 

Prime Minister Bob Hawke with wife Hazel after his re-election in 1984. Picture: Brisbane Sun
Prime Minister Bob Hawke with wife Hazel after his re-election in 1984. Picture: Brisbane Sun


Mr Hawke called her again in 1988 and suggested they meet - no easy feat for the then-Prime Minister.

Ms d'Alpuget wrote: "We met in a confidant's house in Sydney, both very nervous - but then we rushed into each other's arms, laughing. We laughed at ourselves, and with delight and with relief that we still loved each other."

Their meetings relied on imaginative solutions, including "a red wig, a Stetson, the kindness of friends." Mr Hawke said: "It was just marvellous to be with her again."

They finally married in 1995 - with Mr Hawke's daughters wearing black in silent­ protest. That hostility mellowed as Mr Hawke and Ms d'Alpuget's obvious love endured.

Mr Hawke remained unrepentant.

He told Kerry O'Brien on the ABC's 7.30 Report that "love is not something you can control".

"My love for Blanche has been the greatest thing in my life and I don't apologise for it."



Lost landscape artist life's work on display

premium_icon Lost landscape artist life's work on display

The exhibition includes more than 60 paintings

New scheme will help young people into housing market

premium_icon New scheme will help young people into housing market

The scheme will be introduced next year