A speechwriter’s guide to eulogising Bob Hawke

Bob Hawke - Image credit: ABC

We asked Dr Lucinda Holdforth, one of Australia’s leading speechwriters and author of Leading Lines, to analyse the way Australians farewelled the former PM. She sees speeches as much more than a string of words nervously addressed to a disengaged crowd, but rather as important communicative devices. In her book on the subject, Lucinda reminds us that democracies rise and fall on the quality of the debates we conduct and the subsequent decisions we make.

The Bob Hawke Memorial reminds us just how potent ceremonial speeches can be. I was lucky to be sitting in a box inside the Opera House Concert Hall last Friday, adjacent to the choir, hovering over the stage, and looking out across the heavy-weight audience.

You could feel it: for most of the people in that room, Bob Hawke not only represented the best of Australia, but also the best of them. Their career highlights. The accomplishments of which they were most proud. Because of Hawke, they had changed our country for the better. As the speeches rolled out, some of the toughest men and women in Australia wept with grateful pride.

New Labor Leader Anthony Albanese said ruefully it was hard to find words to sum up the giant that was Bob Hawke. The quiet genius of the order of service was that he didn’t have to. With eight speakers each offering their own small piece of the mosaic, the portrait of Bob Hawke that emerged was the triumphant sum of their recollections.

But it must be said. This was an intensely political event and, as a speech-writer, I noticed how deftly various speakers worked their remarks to advance their agendas. Take Prime Minister Scott Morrison. His Bob Hawke was neither an intellectual nor a policy innovator. Hawkey was the people’s Prime Minister, the good bloke at home on factory floors, shopping malls, sporting fields; the Prime Minister with whom Australians had ‘a great romance’. Coming off his own one-man love-bombing of Australia during the election campaign, it seemed that Scott Morrison wanted to define future Prime Ministerial achievement in terms of … personability.

Albo had a different goal. He decided to define himself as Labor’s tough new political pragmatist. This was, of course, in contrast to his predecessor Bill Shorten who lost an election to which he bravely bought an ambitious Labor reform agenda in the best Hawke tradition. While Albo was certainly ready to acknowledge that policy ambition defined the Hawke era, he was especially keen to note the political acumen that dictated the pace of change: ‘With four consecutive election victories Bob taught Labor through action, not just words, what it takes to truly transform our nation. He understood the essential ingredient for achieving visionary reform – bringing the people with you.’ Over these coming years, if Albo disappoints you with his backdowns and compromises, he wants you to know this will be no walk-back from the true Labor path, but rather his own brand of Hawkean political pragmatism at work.

The most honest political gesture of the day came from Bob Hawke’s grand-daughter Sophie Taylor-Price, who used the occasion to declare herself his political heir, a new generation Hawke advocate committed to dealing with climate change.

Ceremonial events are always emotional occasions. To me the most poignant speeches were the ones where the speakers spoke to comfort themselves. Kim Beazley said that while his friend and mentor believed in ‘the brotherhood of man’ he chose to believe that Hawke was now ‘in the arms of a loving God.’ Paul Keating wanted us to know that the two had reconciled at Bob’s initiative, and that Bob had expressly asked him to speak that day. It felt like Hawke’s benediction, his posthumous blessing upon his great partner and bitter rival. And then there was the magnificent Blanche d’Alpuget, who arrived like a glamorous French widow in black, but farewelled the audience caped in crushed pink velvet, telling herself as much as us that now we had grieved fully for ‘a great human being’ … it was time to move on.

Lead image credit: ABC


Leading Lines by Lucinda Holdforth (cover)

Leading Lines

by Lucinda Holdforth

For those who aim to be leaders, mastering the power of speechmaking -the art and craft of persuasion – is more important than ever. If you want to be heard, it’s not enough to have something to say: you must know how to say it.

In government, business or civil society, a leader’s speech sets the tone: the wrong words can destroy a company, damage a reputation, or even start a war. But the right speech can build prosperity, drive peaceful solutions and bring people together.

This book meets the difficulties of modern speechmaking head-on, taking us through the process of formulating ideas, finding the best ways to express them, and delivering an accomplished address.

Using examples from history, literature and her 25- year career as a speechwriter, Lucinda Holdforth writes a compelling analysis of celebratory, rallying and explanatory speeches. She reminds us that democracies rise and fall on the quality of the debates we conduct and the subsequent decisions we make.

This is not only a practical manual for crafting a powerful speech, it’s a cracking read.

Posted on June 21, 2019 by

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"A speechwriter’s guide to eulogising Bob Hawke"

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