Bob Hawke was the prime minister of Australia from 1983 to 1991. He was, as Australians say, a bloody legend. Wiry and craggy with thick, wavy grey hair, he spoke with a broad Australian accent, he wept in public (twice), admitted being unfaithful to his first wife, and drank. Indeed, while a Rhodes Scholar at University College, Oxford, he had achieved the world record by downing a yard glass of beer in 11 seconds.
Bob Hawke was a little distillation of everything appealing about Australians: open, energetic, optimistic and capable of working on weighty matters without being pompous or pious.
While Mr Hawke was in office, I was being taught philosophy by Australians at Auckland University. They approached the subject with the same robust spirit, captured perfectly in Monty Python's 1970 Bruce's philosophy sketch.
For those readers unfamiliar with the sketch, it concerns a staff meeting at the philosophy department of the University of Woolloomooloo. The purpose of the meeting is to welcome a new lecturer, Michael Baldwin from Pommyland (who, to avoid confusion, agrees to be called Bruce, that being the name of all the other lecturers).
After cracking open some "tubes" (cans of beer), new Bruce is read the departmental rules: "Rule 1: No pooftahs; Rule 2: No member of the faculty is to maltreat the Aboes in any way whatsoever, if there is anyone watching; Rule 3: No pooftahs; Rule 4: I don't want to catch anyone not drinking in their room after lights out; Rule 5: No pooftahs; Rule 6: There is no rule 6; Rule 7: No pooftahs."
This objection to pooftahs was indeed characteristic of Australians, even clever ones, such as my philosophy lecturers. It was not an objection to homosexuals but to people who were soft, pretentious or otherwise precious. (Growing up in New Zealand, I cheerfully called people poofs for about ten years before realising that it had been derogatory slang for homosexuals.)