The day I taught Bob Hawke how to use the internet

Before journalism, Mumbrella news editor Paul Wallbank worked in IT. Here, he recounts his encounter of two decades ago with former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who passed away yesterday

“Love, can you show Bob how to use the internet?”

In my days of running a computer repair business, I’d had many odd requests but this one was unusually intimidating. While I’d been helping Blanche D’Alpuget with her tech travails for a year or so, I’d only had glimpses of Bob Hawke at their sprawling home overlooking Sydney’s Middle Harbour.

Gingerly, I followed Blanche around to the great man’s study on the opposite wing of the house where I was introduced to Bob. “G’day mate. Can you show how this internet thing works?”

Funnily, I’d actually met Bob Hawke in the 1970s when he accidentally stepped on my mum’s foot while the family was shopping for furniture at the Bourke’s ACTU store in downtown Melbourne.  My dad managed to wrangle a $50 gift voucher out of the ACTU in compensation, something he took as a substantial victory over what he saw as the devilish, communist inspired union movement.

As Bob tapped his fingers impatiently as the dial-modem connected, I surveyed his spectacular collection of memorabilia that ranged from pictures of him with various world leaders through to international awards. It didn’t help my nerves.

Thankfully, the modem connected first time and I fired up Netscape to show him the wonders of the World Wide Web.

As I relaxed, I went into my Internet for Newbies mode, concentrating on the important and worthy sites I thought he’d be interested in – the New York Times, the World Bank, the South China Morning Post and the local news sites.

After a few minutes of politely listening. He finally revealed what he really wanted to see online.

“Mate, all of that’s great. But can you get me onto the TAB.”

We’re all going to miss Bob.


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