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Sue Pieters-Hawke on her mum and “the day Blanche slapped me”

Sue Pieters-Hawke on her mum and "the day Blanche slapped me"

Bob and Hazel Hawke’s daughter Sue tells why her mum was never a “doormat”, and reveals what really happened between her and her stepmother during that ugly public incident last year.

When a disagreement aired between Sue Pieters-Hawke and her stepmother, former Prime Minister Bob Hawke’s second wife Blanche d’Alpuget, last year, no-one imagined it would end in violence at Brisbane Airport. With the incident reported to the Federal Police, it hit national headlines. However, neither woman has ever spoken about the spat, which took place in the exclusive Chairman’s Lounge in June – until now.

“I approached her to say a friendly hello, but she slapped me hard three or four times, and yes, I was shaken,” admits Sue. “I never touched her. There was no catfight. There were no lasting injuries.”The two women have not spoken since the ugly incident, although Sue – who next week releases her own biography of her mother, Hazel – has spoken to her famous father Bob. She hopes the rift will be healed, despite some “difficult” revelations about Bob in Hazel: My Mother’s Story. “If Dad chooses to read it, I hope he might think it tough but fair,” Sue says.

“If you read the book, you will see the positives about Dad, and I don’t apologise for also portraying things that were difficult, because they were part of Mum’s journey. You can’t explain Mum if you don’t have them there as well as the great things.” Blanche’s fury was sparked by an article Sue wrote in Melbourne’s The Age newspaper in July, 2010, to correct a perception that her much-loved mum was a “dowdy doormat” who only stayed with unfaithful Bob in order to become First Lady. With Hazel, 82, now suffering advanced dementia, Sue felt compelled to publicly defend her mother and put right some misconceptions arising from publicity for Blanche’s revised biography, Hawke: The Prime Minister, and for a telemovie about him, which premiered at the same time on Channel Ten.

“I hadn’t read Blanche’s book and I was in no way criticising the book, then or now, but clearly myself and many other people thought that there was a very incorrect portrayal of Mum in the media at that time,” says Sue. “Dad let me know that Blanche was very upset and saw it as an attack on her integrity as a writer. I reiterated that had not been, and is not, my intention. She’s a very good writer. We simply had a difference of opinion about some things. I was sorry if she took it that way and felt personally hurt. She didn’t want to speak to me, but I talked to Dad.” Sue thought she would let the dust settle before attempting to make peace with Blanche, never imagining that their disagreement over “alternative views” of Hazel would result in violence.

Read more about Sue’s story and more on her mum’s life in this week’s Woman’s Day on sale October 17, 2011.

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