In which I meet Hawkey

(This was first published in The Mercury in August 1994. The photo shows us celebrating the day after the 1983 election that brought in the Hawke/Keating government. L-R, standing: Eve Buckley, Fletcher Waters, Nina Buckley (Nina Mizzi), Mirren Waters, Lawrence Buckley, Peter Buckley. I am seated, in the pink dress, next to Alicia Waters )

When I was a young lass and had a crush on Paul McCartney, I used to fantasise about meeting him unexpectedly someday, and sweeping him off his feet, so to speak, with my verve, beauty, intelligence and so on.  This would be the start of a blissful union of two kindred souls that would endure forever and make me the envy of all my friends.

I had some difficulty finding an appropriate circumstance in which I, a pre-adolescent Melbourne schoolgirl, could end up at close quarters with an international celebrity, but it didn’t seem beyond the bounds of possibility that I might find myself seated next to him on a plane, say.  Admittedly my parents never travelled first class, but the airline might make a mistake with seat allocation and just might have to put me in the only vacant seat left – the one up the front next to Paul, mightn’t they?

Or perhaps my parents might decide to take us to Sydney for a holiday at a time coinciding with a Beatles’ visit (I couldn’t see myself getting in to the Southern Cross in Melbourne) and we’d be in the same hotel, and I might accidentally blunder into the wrong suite, whereupon the Beatles, instantly taken with my youthful charm, intelligence, etc. would insist on sitting me down for a long and meaningful discussion about life, love, truth, beauty and all that stuff.  All would fall in love with me, but on the object of my desire alone would I bestow my favour.

Which in those days would have taken the form of the kind of lips-only, no tongue-contact kisses I knew from James Bond movies.  For I was innocent then of the baser realities of rock star life.  Of booze- and drug-fuelled orgies I knew not.  In my fantasy the pure and deathless amour that would spring up between myself and Mr McCartney would stop well short of doing It, whatever It was.  I didn’t know a lot about It, but I knew It had to await marriage.  And so would Paul, I felt sure.

Well, to paraphrase the old song, I was so much younger then, I’m older than that now; and wiser, and kinda glad I didn’t end up bashing a tambourine and going ‘woo woo’ in the background in Wings.  But whereas the perspective of age has brought on a certain healthy cynicism about wealth and power, I’ve never quite lost that childlike hankering to sparkle and shine in the presence of the high, the mighty, the rich and the powerful.

And nor have most other people, or so I gathered from a recent visit to Canberra in which I actually got to meet Prime Minister Keating.  Himself.  In the flesh.  You know, people often assume that if you work in the media you meet such exalted beings regularly.  Not so, unless you’re John Laws or Alan Jones or a member of the PM’s own travelling circus, the Canberra Press Gallery.

But what was I doing in Canberra?  I hear you cry.  I, who have publicly whinged in this very column of never having figured out the knack of securing frequent travel at other people’s expense.  Suffice it to say at this stage that I had volunteered for a Very Good Cause and for my virtue was rewarded a weekend freebie in the national capital.

So. The score so far for me is as follows:  Three opposition leaders, two Prime Ministers.  The former seem easier to meet, I suppose for the obvious reason that they have more time on their hands and have to get out and sell their message more.  I interviewed John Hewson once face-to-face, likewise Alexander Downer, although he wasn’t the leader at the time so perhaps I shouldn’t count him, but I will anyway.

I got to shake hands with John Howard once before his Lazarus-like rise. He was in a Darwin sporting-goods shop visiting the owner, a keen Coalition supporter; I was a browsing customer. That was the only time I’ve met a politician as a regular citizen rather than as a media person.

Bob Hawke was my first Prime Minister. It was at a Labor Party do, but I was there in a capacity for which I believe the correct terminology is “hanger-on”.  A more exalted media colleague had wangled me an invite, and there was I happily ensconced at the media table alongside such luminaries as Michelle Grattan and Laurie Oakes, when all of a sudden my friend interrupted himself in mid-sentence to announce “Prime Minister, I’d like you to meet a friend of mine, Annie Warburton.”

I turned around to find myself dazzled by what seemed like a thousand suns but was in fact a TV crew in action, and there, looming down at me with outstretched hand, silhouetted against the light, silver hair aglow, was Hawkey.  “Prime Minister,” I gasped, “I’m absolutely – flabbergasted to meet you!”

My old chum Bella not visibly flabbergasted to meet Bob and Blanche.

“Flabbergasted”!!  Can you believe it?  What he said in return I don’t remember – probably nothing at all.  Like the Queen, Prime Ministers have a short attention span and a lot of flesh to press and he was gone in an instant.  I wouldn’t have remembered what I said except that my sophisticated colleague just about ruptured himself laughing over it and dined out on it for years afterward, the sod.

I resolved never to allow a repeat of such a debacle.  So when just weeks ago it began to seem not only likely but probable that I would be introduced to Paul Keating in the precincts of the Australian War Memorial, no less, on the occasion of the commemoration of a major milestone in the nation’s military history, was I spending the time in quiet contemplation and rehearsal of some pithy observation about the significance of the occasion?

No.  I was busily feeding my face on sandwiches, this being the only available relief for the symptoms of the horrible lurgy that had kept me awake all night and caused me to miss the hotel brekkie. 

Events moved swiftly thereafter:  one of the nation’s most senior military officers grabbed me by the elbow to steer me in the direction of El Supremo; I flailed around looking for a way to rid myself of the half-eaten sandwich I held; the gallant military gent graciously volunteered to mind the unprepossessing morsel while I had my date with destiny and took it from me.

Just at that moment members of a rival push desirous of having their moment in the spotlight invaded our Personal Space and formed a phalanx around the PM; the gallant gent retreated, still holding the loathsome food object, into the nearest huddle;  I was sort of counter-spun outwards by the momentum of the Push to stand momentarily alone, the very picture of what body language not to speak in a public place, in the midst of the slowly-revolving, shuffling circles of people all jockeying for position around me.

But the gallant gent soon demonstrated that you don’t achieve high military office by being a wimp.  Resolutely, and to the accompaniment of much encouraging signalling on my part, he dumped my erstwhile brunch and strode manfully through the milling throng, grabbed my elbow once more and thrust me into The Presence.

But what should I say?? Happily, a detail from the morning news had lodged in my mind to the effect that The Leader had a lurgy. “How’s your flu?” I ventured, as the August One and I clasped hands.  “Oh, not too bad, I’ve sort of……..”

And that, alas, was it, I’m afraid.  He was off, ensnared by some new suitor from the clamorous mob.   What was it Andy Warhol said about everyone having their inevitable fifteen minutes of fame?  More like 15 seconds, I reckon.

(May 2019. FYI, the military gentleman was Sir Peter Gration, former Chief of Army and Australian Defence Force Chief. The Cause? On the basis of a column I wrote for the Hobart Mercury I was recruited to serve on a national committee seeking ways to raise money for the Australian War Memorial.)

(And my friend Noelle McKeough – ‘Bella’ to her close friends – got to meet Bob & Blanche when she organised a seminar at Trinity College in Melbourne. It was for the Australia-Israel Association and he was guest speaker.)