PRUE GOWARD’S GREAT PIECE ON ROS DILLON

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Poor, poor Ros Dillon. Her life has become a tragedy born of her father’s greatness. She is not alone. She is not the only damaged and lost child to have haunted the path of the very successful.

I was a young ABC journalist when I first encountered the Hawke family in Canberra. Bob Hawke, then prime minister, objected to my interviewing and undeniably ours was a combative relationship. The prime minister’s tears at his 1984 press conference, confessing to his daughter’s heroin addiction, I now appreciate were more real than we could ever have imagined.

Great people have great focus, usually on themselves, as they must to fulfil their destiny. The lives of those around them, including those of their children, may be expected to give way to the demands of this destiny. Promises to attend school celebrations or birthday parties are not kept; precious family moments are frequently derailed by the urgency of some professional crisis. The extraordinary dazzle of light emanating from the star parent may only seldom be bestowed upon the child, who instead watches from the shadows as the star shines its light on others instead.

Great people can have great appetites. Hawke’s infidelities were legendary, so many in fact I have met former lovers who discovered he had forgotten them entirely. While that was to change in his marriage to Blanche, in the Melbourne world his exploits with beer and blondes were well known and undoubtedly Hazel, his first wife and woman of great charm, suffered enormously.

Male and female ABC radio reporters in Hawke’s ACTU days submitted to interviewing him in his Boulevard Hotel room while he was naked (so I was warned when I worked for radio) yet his extraordinary charisma meant it was tolerated in a way it would not be in any other. His alcoholic all-night binges, Hazel’s compensatory heavy drinking and what must have been regular dramas and fights at home – that is when Bob was at home – would not have been without effect on any child.

Rosslyn Dillon’s life, by her own admission, is a poor and broken one. Now she has made allegations, in her challenge to her father’s will, that she was raped and sexually assaulted by Victorian Labor politician Bill Landeryou while she worked in his office in 1982 – but that Hawke told her not to report it to police because he was challenging for the federal Labor leadership.

It is disingenuous to dismiss her claims as outrageous because his other children have not made them. Vulnerabilities differ. Suffice it to say that whether Landeryou did know, in that instinctive way predators know, how vulnerable Rosslyn was, or whether he was confident her father’s ambition would protect him from accountability, Rosslyn believes she has never recovered from those events.

It is unfair to suggest this young woman need not have been raped three times and could instead have walked away at the first encounter. Or that she must have made it up, or consented at the time and regretted it later. How often have we railed against defence counsel in sexual assault cases for exactly those lines of argument?

Ros was already a broken girl and fear of being sacked by a Victorian government minister, of her father’s rejection or of damaging his great ascendancy would have been reasons enough for a loving daughter to tolerate three assaults before she escaped.

If Ros’ recollection is correct, her father favouring his ambitions over her protection would be despicable but, I counsel, not unheard of. By his daughter’s account, Hawke acknowledged her distress, believed her and told her directly why she was not to pursue it. Other men have been known to reject their daughters’ claims altogether and instead accuse them of immoral wickedness for making up lies about their mate.

Children live or die at the mercy of their parents; so Rosslyn Dillon has lived. We need to put her suffering above politics. Bob Hawke’s legacy to Australia is a great one, of which his family and party can be justly proud; there is no need to deny he was also far from perfect or that his family paid a price. No need to favour legacy over a truth only his daughter could know. This is real life; there can be both.

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