Friday, 24 May 2013

Our news was interrupted last night

to announce the death of Hazel Hawke. If you are outside Australia you may not know her. She was once the wife of Bob Hawke, a Prime Minister of Australia.
I do not like Bob Hawke. I did like Hazel Hawke. She stuck by him despite the fact that he was a heavy drinker and a "womaniser". He eventually divorced her and, the following year, married his biographer. 
But, while he was Prime Minister, Bob had Hazel by his side. She was a good partner. She supported him. She supported the office of Prime Minister. She was involved. She was "hands on" and did things. 
There have been other Prime Minister's wives like that - in Australia Margaret Whitlam, Tammie Fraser and, in her own quiet way, Jeanette Howard all supported their partners and used the office to support other things as well. They could also keep their husbands in check! 
I can remember standing in the dining room of my university hall of residence in Canberra one vacation time. Most of the students had gone home and the place was full of actors and writers - yhere was a big Playwright's Conference taking place. Margaret Whitlam was staying in the residence and Gough Whitlam (by then retired) had come in for a meal as well. 
Suddenly, above the chatter, we heard "Absolute nonsense Gough! Absolute nonsense." Margaret was telling him she did not agree with something. Later that day she introduced me to him so I could talk to him about my hopes for International Literacy Year. "And listen carefully to what she has to say..." You could almost see him snap to attention - and yes, he listened.
I have known many people who need the support of their partners in order to do their job. It is something that is not often recognised. I can remember someone I once knew whose husband thought he had been "called" into the Church of England ministry. Someone else said to me with a smile, "I can't see her on the Mother's Union and cucumber sandwich circuit." Neither could I. She was, quite simply, unsuited to the role. He was not accepted for training and I suspect that she was one of the reasons.
The partners of diplomats get interviewed before they are given a posting. They are expected to play a role too - hostess, host, committee person etc. 
Such expectations appear everywhere. My mother was always one of the teachers in rural schools but she was also the headmaster's wife - and expected to act accordingly. It was the same for many other women and, sometimes, men. 
It is a role still given insufficient attention and consideration in respect of the personal commitment involved. It is a role that can continue even after the death of the partner. The person remains someone else's partner and there is a belief they can still be called on. 
Sadly, Hazel Hawke had Alzheimer's. In the end she was unable to do anything, even for herself. But perhaps some good can come even of that if it raises awareness of the condition. Like the woman in Woolwich who faced up to the young man who had just killed in cold blood she faced death head on. Both of them, in different ways, showed extraordinary courage. I am not brave. All I can do is admire them for it.


Judy Edmonds said...

I remain full of admiration for Hazel Hawke, for everything she did and everything she stood for.

Anonymous said...

Some jobs still require a partner ... but with so many double income families there are less partners available for those sort of jobs.