The memory of a handshake

Updated: Jun 21, 2019

When I was four years old or thereabouts, I went to the 1984 Royal Melbourne Show. I didn't get showbags or any of that jazz, but I had the time of my life. The true star of Knight Rider was on show all the way from the United States: not David Hasselhoff, but the KITT car. I was allowed scamper around it with other kids and eventually to event sit in it. I was mesmerised by the dials, the voice of the car, the lights, and the small snippets of the program on the small nearby television. I had never watched Knight Rider, but now I knew I had to see it. I just didn't know how to watch it, being too shy to ask. It continued to occupy my thoughts as my mother led me away. As we sped away, I was still caught up in the spectacle of the AI car, but a crowd of people just ahead caught my attention. I snapped into fresh stimulation mode. I left my mum talking to a guide, poked through, and found myself in front of a man in a suit. The man made a beeline toward me. He stood like a pillar in front of me, his hair gleaming grey in the sun, and his skin tanned and wrinkly. He grinned and leaned down to the ground in a big navy suit that seemed to drape from his body. He was blocking my sun, and he stuck his hand out towards me. I stuck mine out, dazed by the sun behind him, and he shook my hand with a real force that reverberated through my arm. I could see people in the crowd grinning behind him. He grinned, patting me on head with his other hand as he left go, and then stood up. A few men in suits behind him started to move in, and then they all passed and the grinning man disappeared back into the crowd. When I got back to my mum, who had been observing the scene, her face was beaming. I knew at that point that something special had just happened, something that impressed adults almost as much as the KITT car impressed me. "Mum, who was that man?", I asked. "That", she said, "was Prime Minister Bob Hawke."

And she laughed, embracing me. "Oh," I said, shrugging in her arms, distinctly unimpressed. All the way back to the train station, my mother was chuckling, even as KITT became a distant memory. All I was thinking on the ride home was that I should have known there was something special about this man in a suit who shook my hand.

Vale Bob Hawke.

Bob Hawke was the Prime Minister and Leader of the Labor Party from 1983 to 1991. He died on the 16 May 2019, and was remembered as Australia's most popular and cherished leaders.

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