Political differences put aside for tribute

Australian political heavyweights gathered in Sydney to pay tribute to Lionel Bowen, a ''unique and remarkable'' former deputy leader of the Labor Party.

Hundreds of mourners filled St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney yesterday for a state funeral led by Archbishop George Cardinal Pell, 10 days after Mr Bowen's death at age 89.

Former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd took a pew behind his Liberal predecessor John Howard, while Immigration Minister Chris Bowen sat next to state Liberal MP Pru Goward. Mr Howard's predecessor as prime minister, Paul Keating, was nearby.

Long-serving former prime minister Bob Hawke described his deputy as a man who commanded respect across ALP factions and political parties.

''From his own intrinsic talents and characteristics emerged this remarkable man who now together we remember and we honour,'' he said in the eulogy.

''I believe fewer words are ill-used in the English than the word 'unique'. But I have no hesitation in applying the word unique to Lionel Bowen.''


Mr Bowen served as Mr Hawke's deputy from 1983 to 1990, distinguishing himself as a quintessential parliamentarian who represented his constituents with passion.

It was just one post in a 42-year career of public service, in which Mr Bowen held positions in all three levels of government.

Mr Hawke said Mr Bowen's life was defined by his country, his family and his faith, and his wife Claire was ''his constant immovable pillar of support''.

''To you, Claire, and to the family, we thank you and we offer our sincere condolences and we thank you for sharing this warm, wise, decent, generous, humble … this unique man with us.''

ABC presenter Kerry O'Brien told mourners he had caught up with his friend not long before his death and his spirit remained strong even though Alzheimer's disease had infected his mind.

''The essence of Lionel Bowen was undefeated,'' he said, describing Mr Bowen as an ambitious politician who rose up the ranks despite being born into disadvantage.

''Lionel Frost Bowen was born into poverty,'' he told the crowd, ''living nearly all his formative years in a series of inner-Sydney tenements.

''Raised by his mother alone, who often literally worked day and night as a cleaner to support them through the depression years.''

Mr Bowen's son, Peter, said his father would have been surprised and honoured by the state funeral.

''Dad would have been humbled by, and proud of, the attention,'' he said.

Peter Bowen was one of six pall bearers who carried his father's coffin from the cathedral. AAP