POPULARITY comes and goes but Sue Pieters-Hawke says public affection for her mother is something that transcends politics.
The daughter of arguably Australia’s most-loved first lady — Hazel Hawke — yesterday spoke about her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease to a capacity crowd at Warrnambool’s Proudfoots Boathouse.
Dozens of people lined up afterwards to purchase a signed copy of her book Hazel: My Mother’s Story, many sharing their own stories about dementia and its impact on families.
“The great thing is that people are talking about Alzheimer’s far more than they were five, 10 years ago,” Ms Pieters-Hawke said.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions but Hazel’s story has really brought it out into the public sphere and we’re now engaging in discussion like this.
“Families who have a relative with Alzheimer’s don’t feel like they’re alone like they used to.”
Bob and Hazel Hawke moved into The Lodge more than three decades ago, following the ALP’s thumping victory at the 1983 general election.
The late Mrs Hawke was in the spotlight from the early 1970s, when her husband served as ACTU president. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a decade ago, dying of complications from the disease earlier this year.
Ms Pieters-Hawke witnessed first-hand the ups and downs of political life, from heated debate over economic reform to the moments of national celebration and triumph.
“The Bicentennial celebrations on Sydney Harbour (in 1988) is something I’d never forget,” the 56-year-old said.
“We were all congregated at Kirribilli House and watched the tall ships re-enact the colonial days. It was just spectacular.”
With a new first family now adjusting to the spotlight, Ms Pieters-Hawke encouraged the three daughters of Prime Minister Tony Abbott to make the most of their roles.
“When dad came to power in 1983, everything changed,” the author said.
“People find their own way, so I wouldn’t offer any specific advice, but obviously there are advantages and disadvantages.
“It’s an incredible privilege to lead Australia, as dad always says.
“Being so close to the action was a fascinating time.”