Nation to celebrate Bob Hawke in Sydney

A service for beloved former PM Bob Hawke will be held on the Sydney Opera House steps on Friday.
A service for beloved former PM Bob Hawke will be held on the Sydney Opera House steps on Friday.

Australians will come together on the steps of the Sydney Opera House to honour political giant and "larrikin" former prime minister Bob Hawke.

The state memorial service for Mr Hawke, who died peacefully at his Sydney home on May 16, aged 89, will be broadcast from 11.30am on Friday.

Mr Hawke launched a number of his campaigns at the Sydney Opera House, including his successful 1983 election bid.

Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese, who will be among a long list of dignitaries to speak at the memorial, said it will be a tremendous honour to address the service for Australia's "greatest prime minister ever".

"He taught Labor that you need to bring people with us on change," he told Nine's Today program on Friday.

"He transformed the economy, he transformed social policy through the creation of Medicare. There is no question he is Australia's greatest ever environmental protector."

Craig Emerson, a former advisor to Mr Hawke and close friend, will be the MC at the memorial, for which free tickets were snapped up within 25 minutes.

Dr Emerson said the former PM loved Australians and "they loved him".

"He was a consensus politician - a big word for saying he wanted to bring Australians together not set Australians against Australians," he told ABC TV on Friday.

The ex-Labor minister said the service will be one of celebration and not commiseration or sadness.

"If there are tears, it will be tears of joy. It's a joyous occasion," Dr Emerson said.

"That's how Bob wanted it. He said he had so much joy and love in his life, I think he would want us to experience that joy and that love today."

Mr Hawke made the Guinness Book of Records for downing a yard glass while a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, and in his later years indulged fans at the cricket by knocking back drinks.

But he gave up the drink in politics and proudly boasted he "didn't touch a drop" while in parliament.

The former ACTU leader rose through union and Labor ranks and won the party four elections, with his late first wife Hazel by his side.

But in 1991 his treasurer Paul Keating replaced him as leader, his marriage hit the rocks, and eventually he and Hazel divorced. He married his biographer Blanche d'Alpuget in 1995.

Mr Hawke was farewelled at a private family funeral but the public remembrance will see more tributes from his loved ones and major political figures.

Former South Australian premier and Labor national president Mike Rann celebrated Mr Hawke and his lifetime of achievements in a letter last week.

"If there is a heaven I'd like to think that they've now got a larrikin up there, still carousing, chatting up the angels, or puffing on a giant cigar, a beer in hand while reading the form guide ... still campaigning, still winning and still getting things done," Mr Rann wrote.

Australian Associated Press