A LABOR life member who served Bendigo during the Hawke era says his visits to the region were incredible.
"He was like a rock star in those days, there's no doubt about that," Fabian Reid says.
Mr Reid was the then-federal member for Bendigo's chief of staff and had a front row seat to the prime minister's many visits to the electorate.
He remembered Hawke, who died on Thursday aged 89, as a man who did not just visit for photo ops.
"He was just a fantastic listener. He didn't just have all these lines in his head that he wanted to get out, he actually listened and responded to what people were saying," Mr Reid said.
"People were so energised by it, that here was the prime minister of the country and he heard what they said."
Hawke's visits drew packed crowds from the Maldon Town Hall to the Capital Theatre, former Bendigo member John Brumby said.
He even spoke to crowds from a rickety, old primary school students' desk in Hargreaves Mall.
That was days after he took Labor's leadership in 1983, in the stinking heat of March.
"His plane broke down coming out of Melbourne and he had to return, so he was two-and-a-half hours late," Mr Brumby said.
"So here we were in the Mall, in the days before mobile phones, and there are all these messages coming back and forth that he is going to be an hour late, then two.
"Finally, he arrives and there were still close to 500 people who had waited just to meet Bob."
It was not the only time a campaign visit did not quite work out as planned. A few years later a tram carrying Hawke and Brumby broke down on the way to a photo op.
"I remember saying we should just get off, we only had a few hundred metres to go, but his media people said 'we are not getting off'," Mr Brumby said.
That idea did not stop the media catching on.
"Sure enough, the TV story that night was how the tram broke down in Bendigo," Mr Brumby
Even during the tough times, like farm crisis of the late 1980s, Hawke took the time to meet with people.
"Farmers were going out of business left, right and centre. I flew down with him from Canberra and there must have been 2000 farmers from all across Victoria," he said.
"They were in big queues, they had placards saying things like 'what about a fair go, Bob'. He wanted to speak with all of them, and he was so good with listening to them."
Both Hawke and Brumby were elected to parliament on the same day.
Mr Brumby was only 30-years-old, and there were many lessons to learn, including about making hard decisions.
In 1984 and '85 the government brought in asset tests in a bid to stop people who they felt did not need pensions.
"My electorate had more people affected by asset tests than anywhere else in Australia," Mr Brumby said.
"But we thought it was the right policy, and a fair one. So we stuck with it."
That was not the only lesson Mr Brumby learnt from Hawke.
"I was so lucky to serve in a federal parliament with Hawke and (then-treasurer Paul) Keating. They were both masters in question time and they shaped modern Australia," Mr Brumby said.
"So I learnt from them. I learnt about listening to people (from Hawke), about taking everyone's views into account and the importance of consensus.
Mr Brumby, who would go on to become Victoria's treasurer and then premier, also learnt that you could not have good education or health policies without a strong economy.
The prime minister was constantly in touch with the parliamentarians he led, driving them to shape the best policy they could, Mr Reid said.
"It was not like it was just Hawke running the show. He was the spokesperson, there was certainly no doubt about that, but he engaged with them all (the parliamentarians)."
That leadership drove government members to come up with ideas, but also to back them up with numbers.
"If you wanted to do something in your electorate you had to make sure you had it all documented, that it was logical and it was going to make some difference," Mr Reid said.
"It could not just be some flashy new coat of paint. That's a discipline and a skill, to not just make decisions on a whim.
"It was an exciting time to be involved because you knew the policy was anchored in very good logic and data. So you really had something to sell."
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Hawke's leadership undoubtedly helped Brumby's work on education reform, Mr Reid said.
"John (Brumby) was very involved in education and in those days the retention rates for kids finishing school in the country area was abysmal. It's still not as good as it is the city even now," he said.
Mr Reid said an enormous amount of work went into drawing information together to sell the case that something needed to be done about schooling.
"I heard one of Hawke's former press people say last night that he (Hawke) often said his greatest achievement was increasing retention rates in schools, because that's where you can really change equality," he said.
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