Former Labor ministers Gareth Evans and Graham Richardson spoke lovingly and amusingly of their late leader, Bob Hawke, on Thursday as they launched Hawkie!, an exhibition of cartoons and artworks of Australia's 23rd prime minister, at the Hotel Kurrajong in Barton.
Mr Evans, 75, the former foreign affairs minister, said the measure of the man was that Mr Hawke was "caricatured mercilessly, yes, ridiculed, no" by the nation's cartoonists during his prime ministership from 1983 to 1991.
"There was that genuine respect and justly so for the very good reason that Bob Hawke really was as good as it gets as an Australian prime minister and, I suspect, a prime minister of just about anywhere else in the world," Mr Evans said.
Mr Richardson, 70, on a walking frame and robust in mind if not body, said it was almost as if Mr Hawke had been "born to be drawn".
"You loved that face because it could always draw a crowd and it could always be drawn to draw a crowd," he said.
"I think Bob Hawke because of that face went further than probably some thought he'd go."
The exhibition of 75 cartoons and artworks by 40 cartoonists is on display in a corridor of the historic Hotel Kurrajong in honour of Mr Hawke who died aged 89 on May 16.
It has been organised by the Australian Cartoonists' Association whose members recently voted Bob Hawke as their favourite prime minister to draw, followed by Tony Abbott and, equal third, Julia Gillard and John Howard.
The idea for the exhibition came from cartoonist Mark Tippett who saw his peers post their images of Hawke on social media as a mark of respect in the wake of his death.
"I sat there and I just scrolled through all these images and I thought, 'There's an exhibition her'," he said.
Mr Richardson said it must have been a lot of fun for the nation's cartoonists to chronicle the career of Mr Hawke, who he described as a "remarkable human being".
"Being with Hawkie was very special," Mr Richardson said.
"I met him when I was 22. I was his driver. And I thought it was just fantastic to be able to sit there with the great man and insist that he put a seatbelt on when he didn't want to. That was Hawke.
"And he treated me at the age of 22 the way he treated everyone, really, really well. I was never made to feel inferior. I was always included, whether it was a boardroom lunch or a big function, he always made sure l was looked after.
"I think Bob Hawke was not just a great prime minister, I think he was a great man. And I think Australia is by far the better for Bob Hawke being around. And those of you who are cartoonists are far the better for Bob Hawke being around.
"He presented you with a willing target, someone who wanted to be hit, someone who loved to see himself, whether it was in fun or in truth."
Mr Richardson also thanked the nation's cartoonists.
"Because without you, without that chronicling of his career through humour and through irony, I doubt very much if the legend would be as big as it is."
Mr Evans, 75, held several portfolios under Mr Hawke including attorney-general's, transport, communications, resources and foreign affairs.
"I think what made Bob such a cartoonist's delight is that everything about him was so relentlessly, abundantly physical," he said.
"He had those distinctive features, obviously the silver bodgie mane of hair and all the patting and stroking that went with it. He had that very distinctive set of gestures, again, the ear tug that Max Gillies made so famous. And he had distinctive facial expressions I think for every passing emotion and there were plenty of those", from "cocky exuberance" to "snarling invective" to "tearful sentimentality".
He was also a man of action which fueled the image.
"What Bob loved most of all was sport, sex, yarning over a beer, having a punt and making a buck, all of which create upteen visual opportunities," Mr Evans said
Yet, a tongue-in-cheek Mr Evans was not sure if cartoonists ever truly captured "just how physical Bob really was".
"In particular, the massive affection he had for his own body," he said.
Mr Evans also remembered often playing golf on cold winter mornings in Canberra with Mr Hawke, as did Mr Richardson ("He was a shocker").
"[It] was to learn very quickly that the basic laws of arithmetic were something on which Bob had a fundamentally different view," Mr Evans said.
"But if Bob wasn't perfect, gee, he was good. Gee, he was good."
Mr Evans said, more seriously, he believed Mr Hawke was so loved because he could genuinely connect to all kinds of people and he had a "remarkable hold not only over his party but his country".
"He had that extraordinary capacity to craft and articulate a grand narrative. Something that's really been missing from Australian contemporary politics," Mr Evans said.
And Mr Hawke led the government in a "genuinely collegiate manner".
"His cabinets really did operate on the basis of argument rather than authority," Mr Evans said.
"There were practically no captain's picks, none that he got away with after the first couple of tries in those first early months. Everything was contestable, everything was contested."
- Hawkie! the exhibition is on at the Hotel Kurrajong in Barton until Saturday, December 14.