Records of Hazel Hawke. Transcript of National Press Club speech by Mrs Hazel Hawke, and related papers, 1984. JCPML00350/2.
PROGRAM: NATIONAL PRESS CLUB LUNCHEON
DATE: 26 JANUARY 1984
TOPIC: MRS HAZEL HAWKE - SPEECH
MRS HAWKE: Thank you Ken and thank you everybody. When the invitation to speak here came to me, I was very surprised indeed. Amazed in fact. And when I was reminded of this commitment whilst on holidays, there was a slightly sinking feeling, wondering what I'd let myself in for. I'm beginning to realise that right now. I began to write just off the top of my head and when I looked back on my notes and sloppy writings, they were headed Nat Press Club and it looked like Not Press Club and of course you know what I thought of - Not the Nine o'clock News, and already I regretted that I'm not that entertaining. However, thank you for the honour.
Your invitation told me that this would be a more relaxed version than the usual Press Club luncheons, good I thought, having seen some of the upmarket performances here from time to time. You asked me to speak of some of my interests and to respond to questions so that's what I'll attempt to do.
Before I talk of my interests, perhaps a little background of my own experience will put them into context. Often over the years whilst attending functions and meeting people for the first time, I would be asked, and do you work. My reaction in early days was to feel inadequate. The idea of women in careers, doing interesting things made me feel a little defensive about being - just a housewife. It didn't last long. Once I got over my knee jerk reaction to having to declare myself and once I thought more about what I was achieving in my own way. Home making and child raising is a most creative, satisfying job, requiring many skills, much decision making, commitment, self discipline and challenge. If a woman, or a man, can choose that career, it can be one of the best, if one has an openness to learn from new situations as they arise and if one expands to meet the possibilities that the job offers. Gardening and music and cooking, tennis, handwork, handyman and financial management skills are some that I've used in that period of my work. And some of those are still very much essential to my feeling good. I still seek them out, but I must say it's more difficult to find the time for them in this very different job. For life at the top as they say, has required many adjustments in our personal lives.
In one of those psychological tests which ask one to call up words first coming to mind, I would say in respect of the last year, speedy, exciting, adjustment, interesting, different, new, learning and lost. This last - lost - may sound contrary, but I suppose that when we go on to do different things, usually some existing thing is foregone in the change. Bob and I miss frequent easy access and availability to friends and by friends because we've moved and because more of our lives is in a sense not our own and I feel as if I was suddenly transplanted from a life which was ticking over very nicely as it was. Our lives have become more complicated in some respects, even every day things like logistics and clothes. For instance most of my wardrobe was geared to housework and gardening and welfare work. It's a little different now.
The first three months gave me the feeling of having been thrown in at the deep end. But I gratefully acknowledge that the good will and assistance of many people have made the job so far a very enjoyable experience.
Being a wife for 28 years and a mother for 27 I have the experience common to many women, perhaps most women, of attempting to define myself and my self esteem as well as that which comes in being someone's wife and someone's mother. To observe what is happening to oneself as the everyday responsibilities seem to take over is the first step I think, then to learn from other women. We have a lot to offer to each other and a lot to learn from each other out of our separate and common experience. A sisterhood or boilerhood is very important to me. The dialogue between women is a rich field, but change does not come without a lot of reading, listening, risk-taking and hard work. And that process should continue with a positive frame of mind, to open ended growth. What one can tackle or adapt to which before may have seemed beyond the realm of possibility, or just different. It's important for men and women to explore new possibilities when the first head on challenge of career and family raising loses its intensity. A crucial area I think in which we sell ourselves short, if we resignedly accept ageing as a severe limitation on our bodies and vigor. We can do a great deal to renew and to redirect our energy and effectiveness if we invest a little time and intelligence. I find Yoga of great benefit in this respect, I've been doing it quite enthusiastically for two or three years now and it makes one think about a lot of possibilities.
I grew up in a family which extended to many aunts and uncles and cousins and neighbourhood friends, relatively small city, sunny Perth. The sun shone, the beaches were marvellous and the bush was great, but now for most Australians and for me, it's life in the city in a world much changed by technology, travel, mobility of labour etc. It's much speedier for most. Many of us feel that we have consciously to build into our lives the things that keep us sane and healthy and which give us personal satisfaction. And it's interesting to explore the variety of means which are available by which we may improve and maintain physical health, mental and emotional health, or just a feeling of general well-being. Making sure that there's time for family and good friends, sport and music is basic for me. But also I've gleaned from Oriental cultures the use of Yoga as I've said, meditation, acupuncture, Shai Tsu massage. And I also learn with interest from the Aboriginal culture, of attitudes and behaviour which I think are very wise. For instance their non-confronting way of discussing which is very different from our preference for eyeball to eyeball discussion - much more confronting, and I think their way allows a lot more space and in many situations makes for better communication. And also in their, I like the way they learn by observation and absorption and find it very effective, perhaps much more effective than the linear learning which we usually emphasise. We for instance, I think rote learning might not so much used now, but perhaps in some degree. A lot of cramming for short term memory to achieve particular levels at a particular time and it was brought to my attention by a radio talk I heard about controlled psychological tests on learning groups of children in observation. And in the early recall period, the white children scored much higher than the Aboriginal children, but when the time was extended there was a much better understanding and recall and that was their different approach to the tests that they were given. I found that interesting. So that there are a lot of things that we can learn from other cultures.
By the time we married, Bob and I had been companions for some years, but after the first heady days of making house and family, it was clear that I was giving virtually all of my energy to home and children, whilst he was forging his career with a total commitment. It hasn't changed. The majority of our time was spent on different tracks with different people and with the constraints of money and life in the big city, it was not easy. He missed much of home and much of the children and I began to feel left behind in some respects. But I find from my dialogue with other women that this isn't unusual at all. In fact it's quite common. I had become low on confidence in competitive work situations because I'd not had a paid job since my first baby - it was about 21 years. But I wanted a vehicle for meeting people other than those I met through my husband, my children and my immediate interests. I also wanted to contribute but to be honest, I acknowledge that that is closely related to self esteem. I made no explicit decision to do welfare work. From a shy beginning in volunteer work in the Action and Resource Centre, a project of the Brotherhood of St. Laurence in Melbourne where I worked for three years part time, I progressed to a full time salaried job as personal assistant and secretary to an Associate Director of the Brotherhood of St. Laurence. She was also head of the Social Issues and Research Department which was a very interesting place to be and opened new vistas, areas of experience, networks of people to me and some very good friendships.
After two years there, the natural progression seemed to be to a two year full-time course, a Welfare Studies Diploma. The course was my first tertiary education and I loved every bit of it. Again a new experience with yet a different group of people and a good learning period for me. I had thought that at 50 years of age I was slightly crazy to take on two years full time, certainly four years to do a social work degree seemed at some moments to be beyond me. It seemed crazy because it was so different for me. I had little idea of what it entailed and I didn't know how I'd cope with it along with everything else that was. But after two years I wished that I had tackled them because I enjoyed it so much, but as it turned out I'm very fortunate to have fitted in the two years - I just made it. Actually I have another 38 day placement outstanding, but as one of my friends remarked - you've been placed alright.
It felt strange, especially the first week in the new environment at Caulfield Institute and I felt very inhibited in some situations and of course that business of getting assignments done and essays and exams - horror, there's that cramming. There's something quite scary at first about committing oneself to paper for the perusal and judgment of others, but later on you wonder what you were worried about. The mystique evaporates rather.
Welfare is often perceived grudgingly, even angrily as a burdensome bill for taxpayers, paying benefits to people who can't look after themselves. I think this ignores the rehabilitative, research, innovative and supportive aspects of welfare. I hear criticism of wastage, money being spent on the non-needy, that welfare workers have too many meetings, they'd be hard pressed to beat politicians though wouldn't they. That they're not hard headed enough and that there's a lack of coordinated, rationalised services. You'd find that welfare workers largely acknowledge these criticisms, but in the nature of work so intimately involving the human factor and the multitudinal problems which disadvantaged people have, I believe we need to accept this in some degree.
Not to undertake the processes of consultation and discussion which are seen by some to be an indulgence, may miss establishing the real needs and therefore what sort of resources will be most effective. It may disallow proper research and evaluation programmes, assume misguided judgments about the deserving and the undeserving and inhibit community or consumer consultations and participation. This last, participation, is of great importance I feel. From the process of rehabilitation or learning to cope with and improve one's position of disadvantage, whether it's physical or psychological or material, one must feel a participant and not that it is being done to one or for one by others. This gives a positive feeling of some power and control in ones own life.
It interested me that at the Action and Resource Centre, run by and for multi-disadvantaged, low income families, the members themselves developed goals which they called the four powers. They wanted to work towards power over resources, information, relationships and decision-making and then they did in fact proceed to pursue those goals. This process is slower, more costly and more difficult, much more difficult, than bandaid welfare and it's not tolerated by some welfare critics. In that project the main disadvantage was poverty which carried with it inadequacies in health, education, motivation, nutrition etc. That's just one area poverty, where bandaid welfare entrenches the condition whereas growing confidence with participation and responsibility for oneself can create realistic change in the quality of life and therefore in the longer term, decrease the demands on welfare and the need for disadvantaged people to feel dependent upon it. I can only say that I learned a great deal there about charity in the traditionally accepted use of the term, not always being a solution. Those other arms of welfare work are, in my view, necessary and valuable.
Women. The condition and circumstances of women in our society is an area I have watched, not without some self interest. First I acknowledge that most women have available to them, the supreme joy and responsibility of child bearing and raising, an experience of which I believe men, if they understood it, may well feel envious. Having said that I think most would agree that women are societally disadvantaged. The four powers I mentioned earlier in relationship, resources, information and decision-making, are crucial for positive and creative living and as a group women have in varying degrees been excluded. That our societal pattern has embraced the colonisation of women concept - divide and rule, has historical explanations, but it's a long slow haul until we can regard all of our society as people without so often dividing by gender and applying different rules and attitudes to each. I am indebted to one of your ex co-workers Anne Summers. In her book 'Damned Whores and God's Police' which I read several years ago, she explained how it happened and how it worked, just in a way that hit the spot for me at the time. It's deplorable when a lack of choice and therefore the satisfaction of some control and relevance in one's life, pertains for women and man as to the roles or patterns they must live, dictated by their gender,
Roles for women are usually centred around the biological factor. In so called primitive cultures, there were and are, physical and cultural ways of family planning. In industrial society, before mechanical and chemical controls, women had little choice but to bear babies. Hence perhaps the expression that one 'falls pregnant' or has 'fallen in'. Negative terms. Perhaps there's still some reaction to that, being trapped into what free will and practical considerations do not endorse.
I welcome the Sex Discrimination Bill as a step towards the protection of rights and choices for women. It will help women press through the barriers of discrimination. I think it's necessary because the women who are affected most by societies constraints are often the women who aren't confident enough to articulate that and therefore, to find out how they go about doing anything about it. It is usually those behind the eight ball who cannot demand and don't get much of a hearing. They're often fearful of some sort of societal judgement on them because it's really not on to object to your role as a wife and mother.
Women who have had more opportunity to develop their own strengths and talents, or who are quite content and well looked after in their traditional role, don't always understand that many women aren't content and aren't well looked after in their traditional role and I think that's unfortunate. A lot of attitudinal constraints have become entrenched in our law and our system over the years, and it's necessary to put the brakes on, and legislation is one way, as a constant reminder to people in our society who would perhaps thoughtlessly, not necessarily viciously, discriminate against women. The law can remind us that in job situations or personal relationships, credit or medical situations, women's rights and needs aren't really being acknowledged - fully acknowledged anyway. But in the longer term hopefully, change would mean that such legislation would no longer be necessary. Also divisions between women would disappear as all are free to make their choices and decisions according to their own beliefs. Of course there's much more progress since grandma's day, it seems to me though that real flexibility and choice will only come when the whole of society is comfortable with the attitudinal change which is necessary, and until that occurs, some battles are won and some are lost, but the war continues.
However, I can't stress enough that an important ingredient in the hope for change is that women must accept that with more equality they must take more responsibility for themselves, not copping out with the dumb blonde, or the dependent or hard done by little woman syndromes.
Aboriginal women I mention as a separate group because their culture is different from our own. My closer interest in the history of Australian Aborigines arose from the time my teenage kids were reading books like 'Bury my heart at Wounded Knee' and we talked about the similarities of Australian Aborigines and American Indians. As I got to know people concerned in and working in the area, and had more contacts myself, my concern developed. The strength and self esteem for Aboriginal women comes from their innate qualities of course, but also in large degree from their own law. Aboriginal women have specific authority and responsibility in the law which has evolved in their culture and which has worked well for them and their community. It's tragic to see the ramifications of the overlay of our white law. This includes of course the way we have legislated one of the most significant elements in their lives, the land in which they live, away from their use and therefore threatened their material survival and their spiritual fulfillment.
But for community tragedy I would have gone in October last year to Alice Springs, with a group of women to see the Aboriginal women of the Aranda community and I hope that that will still happen. It's at the invitation of the women themselves with the full support of the men in the community and on the initiative of the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. It's an attempt for us to grasp a realistic and sensitive understanding of how white law impinges on Aboriginal law in that situation. In this case the white law is proposed to create an artificial lake on an Aboriginal women's sacred site. We will talk with the women and witness some of their ceremonies related to sacred sites and their law. And perhaps we'll come to appreciate that strength of character and competence can come from a lifestyle which doesn't operate on our terms, but can exist alongside us. I hope very much that by 1988 when we celebrate the 200th anniversary of white occupancy of Australia, we relative newcomers will have developed a greater understanding of the historical process which has interfered with a viable, strong culture and therefore have a more sensitive and informed set of attitudes instead of knee jerk emotional reaction to a dilemma in the too hard basket.
When I say more informed, it comes from my own experience of slowly becoming aware of the horrors and injustices inflicted upon Aborigines through reading oral histories of remembered pain, television documentaries, for instance, 'Women of the Sun', and films, there's a splendid film 'Lousy Little Sixpence' - a tragic documentary of how Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their families and put into service for a lousy little sixpence. In fact I'd be prepared to recommend that as required reading, viewing I'm sorry, it's a film. It certainly is different information to that which I got through history lessons in my schooldays. We need not feel guilt for what was done by others in their ignorance and greed, but we can be vigorous in correcting a monstrous imbalance in rights and resources.
In respect of the three groups I've mentioned, welfare consumers, women and Aboriginal women, I have no doubts about our responsibilities. The quality of our whole society is enhanced if all of its parts are healthy and viable, so we could even choose to look at it in terms of self-interest that we work towards and contribute to, a better life for everyone.
Politics. I'm not an elected political representative and I do not - publicly anyway - get into discussion of Government policy and performance. I do not accept in my role being a conduit to the Prime Minister, as much of the voluminous mail to me assumes. That would be improper. There is a political process which provides access through the ballot box, the elected Members and the personnel of various departments. And if I and he had a special little conspiracy of influence, it would negate that principle. And anyway, it's wrong for anyone to assume that we have leisurely meals and long talks together. People say, just tell him at breakfast time - I mean how many newspapers are there to read at breakfast time. And we haven't the time to follow up personally on such requests. It's all I can do to claim the time and he to give it, to attend to family and personal matters, as the workload is formidable.
I respond to such requests for influence as I would in welfare or as a normal citizen, by referring them to those who I think are best positioned and equipped to deal with them. I am a very interested politics watcher and I very much appreciate the privileged position I'm in now to do this. My understanding of how things work and the constraints on and the possibilities in the governmental process, has grown considerably since I've been here. Whatever one's position may be, I believe we ignore politics and our political responsibility, at our peril. For it affects all in most aspects of our lives.
In case anyone thinks this job for me is all playing ladies, I'd like to disillusion them. It began immediately we were in, with devaluation, the Royal visit, the Chinese Premier's visit, the Summit Conference, the overseas visit, then another overseas tour, the budget and of course Parliamentary sittings, the South Pacific Forum meeting in Canberra and innumerable functions and meetings. You can see that some of these don't involve me at the hard political level, but they do mean a lot of briefings, protocol, organisation and entertainment responsibilities.
Even at Kirribilli House, the official residence in Sydney which we appreciate very much as peaceful, restful and very beautiful, the office and facilities are upstairs, there's a constant traffic of staff, press and meetings and the phones are buzzing - it all keeps happening in a relentless way.
On the first overseas tour for instance, in eighteen days we visited seven countries with eight ceremonial welcomes and farewells, stayed in eight hotels, attended lots of functions, Bob made eleven formal speeches, he took part in fifty meetings with politicians, businessmen, heads of state and advisers. He gave seventeen press conferences and ten individual interviews. We clocked up sixty hours of flying time and shook, it seems about 50,000 official hands. Overseas much of my programme is with Bob but at times I'm doing different things. I may visit institutions or projects of interest, one learns quite a lot from these visits actually and often there's quite a nice opportunity for exchange. We may have something to offer or something to learn.
If time permits I like to see a show or an art gallery or two. Sometimes while Bob is in meetings with heads of state or heads of government, I meet with their spouses. For instance on the first trip I talked with Madame Suharto, Mrs Reagan and Madame Mitterrand. I found these meetings of personal value and they are an opportunity to learn about how these women cope with the demands upon them and what interests they are able to pursue. With Madame Mitterrand I shared the effect of our public lives on the private lives of our children, for instance one of her two grown sons is a working journalist for whom his profession became very difficult in France with his father the President, so now he works in Africa.
The Airforce plane we travelled on was fitted with table and chairs, working area and another flying office section where there were typewriters and photocopy and the whole performance - it all goes on, the work just goes on and on. Journeys of this kind undertaken on behalf of Australia are not mere junkets, not for the Ministers, the officials, the staff or the journalists, deadlines come up at all sorts of odd times when the clocks say different things around the world. In fact the workload is really doubled, but it has to be remembered that the work of Government at home must go on. There was no time when Bob or Paul Keating who travelled with us much of the time, were out of communication with Australia and what their colleagues were doing at home. It.. well some. It was during this trip that my friendship with Anita Keating, who some of you may have noticed is here today, she's come as my best friend - friendship developed there and it gave Bob cause to remark that the Hawke/Keating access which so many of you like to write about extends to spouses.
Even at a distance of ten thousand miles the travellers are met with messages galore, the inevitable box of files to deal with, material to be read and decisions to be made. Before I leave the subject of international travel, I'd just like to make the point particularly on this day, that one of the great benefits of visiting other countries is the heightened appreciation it gives one of Australia and our way of life. Wherever we travelled the security arrangements were so much more stringent than we're used to and the open relaxed society that we take for granted seems all the more valuable. And also there's just that buzz of flying into Australia and seeing the Harbour or the lush fields after rain or even the bizarre patterns on the deserts - it's just a quite emotional moment I think to be home in Oz.
Today we celebrate the coming of non-Aborigines to Australia - invaders I suppose is the stringent word. However we are here and we're lucky to be here. When one looks at the news coverage we daily consume, brought to us by people in your profession, the unlucky aspects we sometimes complain about, fade by comparison with the conditions of many peoples around the world. Today all of us whether we're descendents of the original inhabitants of this country or the Anglo Saxon immigrants, or the more recent arrivals, can take great pleasure in being Australian. This country is growing up in the eyes of the world and contributing very creditably in many fields.
In the areas of music, art and films, we're no longer the distant antipodes from whence our talented people must go abroad to train and to gain acknowledgement. For instance Men at Work group made good here, then they were great ambassadors overseas and our films are achieving in the box offices and critics columns around the world.
The possibilities in the financial world are exciting as our horizons are widened and our ability recognised. Our sporting ability and involvement shows up well, but I think my husband has dealt with that. I won't try and upstage him.
Australian scientists have made many significant discoveries, but I hear we've let ourselves down a little in seizing all the opportunities that those scientific breakthroughs may have presented. I do know that Barry Jones, the Minister has got a few plans to remedy that.
And Australia is party to the dialogue between nations. This last is most desirable as the world becomes smaller by communications and travel. Now we work towards bringing tourists here instead of most travel being outward - us going to see the world. We're part of that world, with a great deal to offer. Patriotism, a feeling of belonging in one's country is fine, but we're also citizens of the world with all the advantages and responsibilities that that brings.
I'd like to thank the Australia Day Council and the National Press Club for asking me here today. Thank you.