The public was outraged in 1991 when it emerged that the beloved, larrikin prime minster was leaving his wife of 38 years to marry a beautiful, blonde writer 14 years his junior, just four years after he had left office.
The pair, it transpired, had been meeting for clandestine trysts for almost two decades.
It triggered a media storm, with the press camping outside Ms d’Alpuget home, chasing her down the street and publishing cartoons. But after the revelations about Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce’s affair with staffer Vikki Campion superseded hers in infamy, the author told news.com.au it could have been far worse.
“It would be a lot more brutal now,” she told news.com.au last year. “It’s one of the reasons democracy is going down the gurgler everywhere. It’s because good, strong people aren’t going into politics because of social media — they don’t want to get themselves and their families put through it.
“(These days) everybody’s got a camera in their pocket. Politicians are now walking on eggshells the whole time … there is a great puritanism that’s fallen upon us.”
Last night, Mr Hawke died peacefully at home, aged 89, and Ms d’Alpuget released a statement. “Today we lost Bob Hawke, a great Australian — many would say the greatest Australian of the post-war era … Bob was dearly loved by his family, and so many friends and colleagues. We will miss him.”
Mr Hawke was first married in 1956 to Hazel Masterson, who he met while he at university in Perth, and the couple had four children together — Sue, Stephen, Rosslyn and Robert Jr, who died in childhood.
Mrs Hawke was the steadfast wife who stood by her husband as he led the Australian Council of Trade Unions in the 1970s, entered Parliament and served as Prime Minister from 1983 to 1991. But the much-admired Labor leader had a long-held secret.
In April 1970, the then-ACTU president met Ms d’Alpuget at a party in Jakarta — a moment that would change their lives forever. She was living in Indonesia with her new husband, diplomat Tony Pratt, who she was “very keen on”, she told Mamamia’s No Filter podcast last year.
Six years on, with her marriage “going down the drain”, Ms d’Alpuget interviewed Mr Hawke for a biography on arbitrator Sir Richard Kirby. “The click was different,” she said — and at the time, “affairs were par for the course”.
The pair embarked on an affair that would last 25 years, throughout Mr Hawke’s Prime Ministership. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, things “were a lot wilder than they are now,” she said.
But there was more. “I’ve been in love with Bob since 1976,” she told news.com.au. “I fell in love with his character. He was a man of absolutely good character, as far as I was concerned. He was clever and genuinely charismatic. He’s a man of enormous compassion, and I saw all of those things.”
She had been going through a storeroom filled with old photographs, and could immediately tell the difference between the ones taken while she was with Bob, and the ones that predated their relationship. “For many years, I just didn’t look happy,” she said. “But the times when I was with him? I was a happy woman.
“These last 25 years have been the happiest of my life.”
In the late 1970s, Ms d’Alpuget went through a period of intense despair and contemplated suicide — and even stabbing her lover — when Mr Hawke tried to refocus on his marriage as he worked towards becoming prime minister.
“I went through that dark night of the soul when we broke up,” she told The Weekend Australian Magazine in 2017. “And I came out the other side. I got over it. And then I really flung myself into writing, which is one of the great curative and healing processes.”
In 1978, after a vivid dream, the 49-year-old ACTU president asked the 34-year-old journalist to marry him in a Canberra hotel room. But a year later, as his campaign for a federal seat developed, he changed his mind. “‘Divorce could cost Labor three per cent,’ he had fretted several times, back when this was an issue for us,” she wrote in her 2008 book On Lust and Longing. “As it turned out, he made the right decision: for himself, for me, for his family, for mine, for his party — and, as became obvious, for the nation.”
Despite being “deeply attracted to each other” “madly in love”, the pair resigned themselves to a sporadic love affair to the sake of the Labor MP’s wife and the country, while Ms d’Alpuget worked on a biography.
She said the book “helped to persuade those who mattered to make him the leader of his party, from which point electoral success was assured”, and her research helped him stop his problem drinking.
Their relationship was an open secret, but neither she nor Mrs Hawke could tear themselves away from the charismatic leader. “Each of us asked the other to leave,” Ms d’Alpuget said. “Neither of us did.”
He went on to the highest approval rating of any Australian PM in history: 75 per cent in November 1984. It is a level of popularity that is a far-off dream for current Labor leader and Australia’s possible next prime minister, Bill Shorten, who also left his ex-wife for a new bride after entering political life.
The longest-serving Labor prime minister finally divorced his wife in 1995, four years after he was replaced by his deputy Paul Keating, following a freak accident that made him realise how much he needed to make his mistress his spouse.
Ms d’Alpuget was in a sea plane in far-north Queensland writing an article on the Great Barrier Reef when it crashed and the six passengers had to swim out of the window. As fuel poured out of the aircraft, a yachtsman picked them up in a dinghy and ferried them to Hamilton Island.
“The one phone call I made was to ‘Go Between’, the man who was (her and Mr Hawke’s) secret contact,” she told Mamamia. “But he was a drama queen and he rang up Bob and said, ‘Bob, Blanche has been in a plane crash,’ and he paused. Bob said in that moment he felt himself die.
“And then the man added, ‘But she’s all right’. But it was just that instant; he knew then that, had I died, his life wouldn’t have been worth living.”
At 64, the former Prime Minister announced his separation from his wife publicly declared his love Ms d’Alpuget. Within two years, his divorce was finalised, and eight months later, he and Ms d’Alpuget married in Sydney.
“It took an enormous amount of courage on Bob’s part,” she told The Australian. “It took much more courage on his part than on mine. Because I was a single woman, divorced. But he was married. The whole country expected him to behave in this way and was unaware of what his true feelings were and so were bound to be shocked, angered and amazed when they discovered them.”
Mr Hawke’s children were furious, and shunned their father’s new wife. But the relationship endured, and they are now close.
Mrs Hawke died in 2013 from dementia-related complications, aged 83. Mr Hawke visited her before she died and formally apologised for the toll his affair had taken on the family after her death.
“I remember Hazel with deep affection and gratitude,” he said in a statement. “She was more than a wife and mother, being father as well during my frequent absences as I pursued an industrial then political career.”
In 2015, when the Labor leader nearly died of a stomach bug he picked up from the Middle East, and Ms d’Alpuget was by his side in the Sydney hospital. It was then that she picked out the place where they would one day lie together in a cemetery.
“The graves are side-by-side,” she said. “We chose a spot where the public can come. It’ll be nice. It’s in a rose garden and there’s a seat there so if a member of the public wants to come and have a sit, they can.”