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CAS Hawker Scholarship presentation, Adelaide: speech.

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Speaking Notes - The Hon David Hawker MP

CAS Hawker Scholarship Presentation, Adelaide - 27 April 2005

I would like to start by thanking the Trustees for the opportunity to take part in today’s ceremony.

The C.A.S. Hawker Scholarship is the most financially generous privately funded scholarship available to year twelve, undergraduate and post-graduate students in Australia.

It perpetuates the memory of scholar, soldier, pastoralist and statesman Charles Allan Seymour Hawker, and commemorates the achievements of one of Australia’s most respected pastoral pioneers.

Charles Hawker is a legend. In the annals of Australia’s political history and perhaps also our family folklore, Charles Hawker is personified as a principled man of outstanding character and integrity.

His life story is an inspiration that the Trustees of this Scholarship fervently hope will encourage others to achieve similar greatness in their own life endeavours.

A cousin of my father, Charles Hawker was born on 16th May 1894 at Bungaree near Clare in South Australia. He was educated at Geelong Church of England Grammar School and Trinity College, Cambridge.

Geelong Grammar records him as an outstanding scholar who regularly won prizes in divinity, history, maths and languages. He also distinguished himself in swimming and athletics. He rowed twice in the senior eight and in his last year became a school prefect, librarian, editor of the school magazine, corporal in the cadet corps, serving member on several school committees and an active participant in school camps.

In 1913 Charles Hawker headed off to Trinity College in the UK, where he continued both his strong academic path and also continued to be an active participant in extra curricular activities.

It was while he was at Trinity that war was declared against Germany. Charles Hawker joined the 6th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry and headed off to the Western Front to fight for his country and its allies.

Having distinguished himself in every pursuit he had taken up to date, it was perhaps not surprising that Charles Hawker showed himself to be an outstanding leader on the battlefield who gained and retained the support of both his men and his superiors, and was considered his Colonel’s best platoon leader.

It was at the battle of Loos that Charles Hawker was first wounded. Subsequently expatriated to London, he spent several months convalescing in hospital where he earned himself the nickname ‘Hook’ following the removal of his left eye.

During this time he returned to Cambridge and undertook further military training, which he passed with distinction. He continually implored and petitioned to be allowed to return to the front, and although he was wounded and had only limited vision, the War Office eventually relented and gave in to his persistence sending him back to the Western Front in 1917 as Captain of the 1st Battalion.

However at the battle of Ypres (pr. eepra) he was again severely wounded by a shrapnel bullet which injured his spine and paralysed him from the waist down.

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As he had tackled everything else previously, so to did he take to his rehabilitation with unfaltering courage; refusing to accept that he would never walk again. Charles Hawker won the admiration of his doctors and their medical team for his persistence in numerous attempts to regain mobility. It took him several years of perseverance, but eventually he would walk with his legs in braces and with the aid of strong sticks.

Charles Hawker returned to Trinity and in spite of all handicaps passed his historical tripos (pr. try-pos) with top honours. He was given a great ovation by his peers when admitted to his degree.

In 1920 he returned to Australia where he took to the land and distinguished himself by winning the respect of his neighbours for his friendliness, more than for his good deeds which were plentiful. One such example saw him share his own scant water supply with his neighbour whose paddocks were dry. When the neighbour asked ‘but what if this finishes your water?’ Charles Hawker replied ‘then we’ll both be out together’.

The generosity of the man continued in his public service. He was Vice President of the RSL, President of the Liberal Federation and in 1927 stepped up as the candidate for the federal seat of Wakefield with a reputation of being a man who kept his word. In a year that saw a national landslide to Labor, Charles Hawker was the only new Liberal member elected.

As in every previous pursuit, Charles Hawker went on to gain the admiration of his Parliamentary colleagues on all sides of politics for his intellect, loyalty, integrity and generosity. He entered the Cabinet at the age of 38, much younger than his colleagues who had an average age of 55, as the first ever Minister for Commerce.

Interestingly, Charles Hawker was following his grandfather’s steps into Parliament - the Hon George Charles Hawker. George Hawker was a leading member of the South Australian Parliament in the 19th century. He was my great grandfather (and the great grandfather to the Hawker trustees here today). George Hawker was also Speaker of the House in the South Australian Parliament - a role I am honoured to be able to follow in Federal Parliament.

A man of great conviction, Charles Hawker believed that parliamentarians should share more deeply in the sacrifices that others, including pensioners, were being called on to make during the Great Depression where nearly thirty per cent of the workforce was unemployed. At the 1931 election he had promised to support a reduction in MPs salaries to 1920 levels from 800 pounds down to 600 pounds.

However in 1932, under increasing pressure, the Government introduced a bill that would nominally reduce parliamentarian’s salaries from 800 to 750 pounds per annum. Before the House was a proposed amendment to that bill to reduce salaries significantly further, to 600 pounds. This latter amount was consistent with the figure that Charles Hawker had pledged to his electors, so he faced a great dilemma: he could vote with his colleagues and maintain stability in the government or he could vote with his conscience and retain the faith of his electors.

Perhaps not surprisingly he took the courage of his conviction, resigned from the ministry and crossed the floor to vote with the opposition. He once remarked that this was the hardest walk of his life, but nevertheless he took the walk that very few men have ever dared tread.

His resignation from Cabinet caused consternation on both sides of the House and throughout Australia, but his action won him enviable respect across the nation.

A newspaper scribe of the time remarked: ‘Mr Hawker has long been known as a capable and brilliant administrator. We know him as something better today - as a man in whom the whole nation can put its trust.’

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Sadly Charles Hawker was killed in the Kyeema plane disaster in 1938 and Australia lost a great statesman and potential prime minister.

Distinguished historian and social scientist Sir Keith Hancock declared Charles Hawker ‘the best that an Australian can do and be.’

Harold Holt said that Charles Hawker was the most inspiring man he had ever known, and often when needing to make a hard decision he would ask himself: ‘what would Charles Hawker decide?’

The generosity of Charles Hawker continues today. During his lifetime he had been active in the establishment of St Mark's College and the University of Adelaide. Today, buildings at St Mark's and the Waite Institute in Adelaide, a library at Geelong Grammar School and a room at Burgmann College in Canberra all perpetuate his memory, as does the prestigious Scholarship that was established by Charles Hawker’s late sister Lilias Needham after her death.

Valued at more than $60,000 over 4 years, the Charles Hawker Scholarship is the most financially generous privately funded scholarship available to year twelve, undergraduate and post-graduate students in Australia.

The Scholarship aims to encourage others to follow Charles Hawker’s example of help and service to his country and his fellow men and women. Post graduate Hawker Scholars are offered the opportunity to follow in Charles Hawker’s footsteps by enrolling at Trinity College in Cambridge.

Since 1991, the Trustees have awarded more than two million dollars to fifty young Australians, including a number from regional Australia.

As recipients of the Scholarship, the trustees have satisfied themselves that these five outstanding men and women are academically capable students of principle and character, who are committed to participating in and improving Australia’s future.

These five will join a select group of 50 Australians, many from rural and regional Australia, who have previously been awarded what has come to be regarded as Australia’s Rhodes scholarship.

To be successful with the Scholarship, they have satisfied the Trustees they have the potential to follow in the footsteps of this great man.

The legacy of Charles Hawker has taught us that nothing in the world is worth so much, will last so long and serve it possessor so well, as good character. I would like to congratulate the five of you on your achievements to date; not just in your academic pursuits but also in your personal pursuits, as these are all qualities that define good character.

Again it is my fervent hope that the story of Charles Hawker, coupled with the generous Scholarship, will lead to more Australians achieving similar levels of greatness in their chosen fields, equalled with the best the world has to offer.

My other hope is that public life will beckon for some of you. Already we have one federal parliamentarian, Michael Johnson, a former recipient of the Charles Hawker Scholarship who has subsequently gone on to take an active leadership role in the Australian Parliament. Australia needs more young people who are prepared to step forward and guide their country in the coming years and each and every one of you has this potential.

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The challenges of public service are demanding, and the rewards not immediate, but the satisfaction of making new opportunities in some way, for some people, some where, some time, can overcome the many frustrations along the path. Democracy is the cornerstone of our society and it will only remain firm while we actively nourish it.

I would like to congratulate the Scholarship Trustees, not just for their work in selecting such worthy recipients, but also in their efforts to keep the achievements of Charles Hawker at the forefront of the Australian conscience. As Calvin Coolidge once said: ‘A great life never dies. Great deeds are imperishable; great names immortal.’

I will shortly hand to each Scholarship recipient their certificate together with a book on the life of Charles Hawker. For others who would like to know more about this great man, or the scholarship named in his memory, I would encourage you to visit the Hawker Scholarship web site at

Charles Hawker once summed up his personal philosophy thus: ‘if you really want something and it’s good and worth having, you can get it without having to hurt anybody to achieve it.’

I hope that the life of this great soldier, pastoralist and statesman may inspire you to success, not just in your academic pursuits, but in all aspects of your life. For it is not enough to set goals; you must be willing to reach for them, with every ounce of moral, emotional, mental and spiritual fibre that you can muster.

Thank you.