Expressions of regard as PM goes on stage with predecessor Bob

THE Woodford Folk Festival on Queensland's Sunshine Coast has long been known as an eclectic blend of acts from blues, to funk, to jazz, comedy and street theatre. And now of politics.

On Sunday, Julia Gillard, returning from her Christmas break, became the first prime minister in office to attend the festival, but she declined an invitation to sing.

Ms Gillard was invited by former prime minister Bob Hawke, a five-time attendee who was introduced to Woodford by his wife, Blanche.

Mr Hawke said the rough ride Ms Gillard had had since becoming prime minister was unparalleled in Australian political history.

''There's absolutely no question anybody has faced such difficulty as my dear friend Julia has,'' he said.

He said there was no doubt she had had a tougher time because she was a woman and he had never been criticised for his fashion choices.

Called on by an audience member to sing, Ms Gillard refused politely: ''We are a Welsh family, so we should be able to sing. But the Gillards are the only non-singing Welsh people on the planet. So no, I won't be singing a song.''

But she did say that implementing the national disability insurance scheme and continuing education reforms were her New Year's resolutions.

Ms Gillard and Mr Hawke were not the only politicians to grace the festival. Earlier, Liberals Malcolm Turnbull and Wyatt Roy had had their turn.

Headline musician John Butler, who warmed up the crowd before Ms Gillard's appearance, welcomed politicians to Woodford. ''Politics today is lacking vision,'' he said backstage.

Rumours of the Prime Minister's visit began on Boxing Day. An advance security crew was spotted the day before her arrival.

By the time she took to the stage with Mr Hawke for a 40-minute Q&A, the crowd had filled the marquee, the grass hill and spilt onto the streets.

What followed was in effect a Hawke-Gillard ''love in'', dotted with the occasional activist heckler demanding answers on asylum seekers and coal seam gas mining.

Ms Gillard spoke of climate change and the need to accept big problems and not pretend they would go away. The crowd cheered when reference was made to her misogynist speech in Parliament. She referred to a ''contest of ideas'' for next year.

Woodford is traditionally a minority voting audience, led by environmentalists and activists who mingle with those who relish live music in a bush setting.

With NATALIE BOCHENSKI

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop