News May 17, 2019

How Australian music immortalised Labor legend Bob Hawke in song

How Australian music immortalised Labor legend Bob Hawke in song

Bob Hawke cast such a huge shadow over Australia’s social and political landscape that it was inevitable that he was immortalised in music.

He was so larrikin and so Australian that it was inevitable he would be an inspiration.

So much so that on May 19, 1990, rock weekly Juke put him on the cover of its anniversary edition.

The best known Hawke-inspired song was ‘Treaty’ by Yothu Yindi, written by the band with Midnight Oil and Paul Kelly about the failure of his government to honour its promise to Indigenous Australians.

Yothu Yindi’s leader Dr M Yunupingu said: “This song was written after Bob Hawke, in his famous response to the Barunga Statement (1988), said there would be a Treaty between Indigenous Australians and the Australian government by 1990.

“The intention of this song was to raise public awareness about this so that the government would be encouraged hold to his promise.

“The song became a number-one hit, the first ever to be sung in a Yolu language, and caught the public’s imagination.”

Redgum’s ‘The Drover’s Dog’ got its title from Bill Hayden’s statement that even “a drover’s dog” could lead the Labor Party to victory in 1983, so Bob Hawke definitely could.

However, the first instance of a Hawke song was in 1975 when he was president of the ACTU.

‘The Bob Hawke Drinking Song’ was recorded by comedians Paul Jennings with Maree Anne Koomen.

Jennings didn’t write the song himself, it was penned by Harvey Bean and John Gianatti, the latter Koomen’s husband.

According to Jennings, “At the time, Bob was something of a folk hero to the Aussie battler (as the song says…’…the wonder of the Downunder-dog…’).

“The track got airplay around the country, and managed to chart in Brisbane (# 16), Sydney (# 31), Adelaide (# 34) and Perth (# 16).”

In June 1980, when Hawke made his bid to become prime minister, Sydney songwriter Pat Alexander who was working in the ABC-TV mail room recorded a novelty song ‘The Bob Hawke Song’.

ABC News filmed him singing the song in the mail room and Alexander pressed two hundred 7″ vinyl records.

Alas, Sydney radio thought the b-side was better: and played that instead.

That song had been written when Alexander was working in insurance, and trying to sell a life policy to a factory owner called Duncan Urquhart by taking him to the pub.

The song was called ‘(I Love to Have a Beer with) Duncan’ and later became a #1 for Slim Dusty.

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