If my arithmetic is correct, there are people in this country who were born the year of the Dismissal -- and therefore turning 32 this year -- and have never voted in a Federal election that John Howard didn't win. Not many, mind. But a few.
This would be even more mind-boggling if not for the history of the Menzies stranglehold (1949-1966, after a false start in 1939-41), and there are also many people in the country who lived through that. As a nation we're imprinted with a cultural memory of having the same person in charge for decades at a time, and with the idea of its normalcy.
So I was astonished when Wilson Tuckey, a man considerably older than me though not noted for his capactity to think logically, put a mischievous burr under his leader's already unsteady saddle yesterday by suggesting that it wasn't too late to change the leadership and citing the example of Bob Hawke, shoehorned into the Federal Labor leadership a matter of weeks before the 1983 election and surfing into office on the wave the drover's dog could have ridden.
When I heard the announcement that Bill Hayden had been dumped as leader and Hawke wheeled in to replace him, I was sitting in a basement kitchen of a London hotel, eating my breakfast egg and listening to their radio. Very little Australian news was thought of sufficient note to get a guernsey on the English news, but this was headline stuff.
And it wasn't because it was about a political switch somewhere in the wretched colonies; it was because it was about Hawke. The Poms had probably never heard of Bill Hayden, but they knew all about Bob Hawke. And as soon as I heard it I knew that Labor would slide effortlessly into government, which, a month later when I was back home in Melbourne, they duly did.
I think a lot of people have forgotten, if they ever knew in the first place, what Bob Hawke in his heyday (and personally I place his heyday before his Prime Ministership) was actually like. He was nothing like the media contruct of his later career, the Silver Budgie*, sliming up to sportspeople, wearing horrid jackets, engaging in mortal combat with PJ Keating and publicly abandoning his valiant Aussie wife for the glamourous, sexy and gorgeously named Blanche d'Alpuget.
Before reinventing himself in the sort-of-statesman mould, he was a wiry black-haired hard-faced heavy-drinking ratbag with an Oxford degree, a short fuse, and a mind like a steel trap. He had long experience in politics if not in parliament itself, and an extraordinary gift of achieving -- in all kinds of situations -- the sort of genuine consensus that stuck, rather than simply papering over the cracks. By the time he became Prime Minister he had been generally regarded as the most popular man in the country for nearly a decade.
And he was indeed staggeringly popular, in a way that contemporary Australians probably find hard to imagine or remember. Parachuting him into the leadership was the obvious thing to do. The hole -- the great gaping abyss -- in Wilson Tuckey's suggestion, at least once he started to draw parallels with the Hayden/Hawke situation, was the notion that the Libs have anyone even remotely comparable to Bob Hawke as he was in 1983.
*UPDATE, 4.20 PM: Fiasco da Gama points out (see Comments) that Hawke was in fact a Bodgie not a Budgie. I can only plead error by association, as my dad has always called him the Silver Budgie, wilfully getting it wrong partly as a play on his name, partly as a Kylie joke, partly as an allusion to the fact that Hawke did in fact remind him of a budgie, and partly because my father has been an anti-Union man all his life but actually admired Hawke very much, a contradiction he resented and for which he chose to blame Hawke.