IT was a few days after Christmas that a badly ailing Bob Hawke said he was confident that Labor would win the forthcoming election, but that he doubted he would be around to witness it.
On Thursday evening, Australia learned that Mr Hawke's sad premonition had come true, and that Labor's longest-serving prime minister had died peacefully that day at his Sydney home, aged 89.
As Helen Cummings, daughter of another Labor legend, former Newcastle lord mayor Joy Cummings, said yesterday: "His timing was impeccable, as always."
Ms Cummings was one of a number of Hunter figures the Newcastle Herald spoke with yesterday to hear their recollections of Mr Hawke's times in the region.
Former Labor federal MPs and brothers, Peter and Allan Morris, told of Mr Hawke's visit to Newcastle on the day of the 1989 earthquake.
Both men said the Hawke government's $100-million steel plan helped stabilise and improve the outlook for steel cities such as Newcastle.
They said Mr Hawke's deep links with the trade union movement - he had been a high-profile ACTU president before entering parliament - meant he had a "soft spot" for the then-heavily unionised Hunter.
More recently, Mr Hawke has been a regular visitor to the Hunter Valley in his role as patron of golfer Jack Newton's annual fundraising tournament, the Jack Newton Celebrity Classic, otherwise known as The Jack.
Mr Newton, who famously lost his right arm and an eye in 1983 when he walked into the spinning propeller of a light aircraft at Sydney airport, said yesterday that he had been introduced to Mr Hawke by a friend in the years before the Labor larrikin had made himself give up drinking as a precursor to entering federal parliament.
They had "a few beers" the first time they met at a mutual friend's house, and "numerous beers" the first time they met at Mr Hawke's place.
"I found him exactly how you would expect to find him," Mr Newton said.
"At that stage he was a bit of a piss-head and he was a bit hot with the sheilas. On the other hand, he was that guy of significant knowledge, the Rhodes Scholar, the Oxford sporting blue.
"He had all these characters inside him. It just depended on which one he brought out."
Mr Newton said Mr Hawke visited him a couple of times in hospital after his horrific accident. The friendship was further cemented when Mr Hawke accepted his invitation to be chairman of his junior golf foundation, and a little later to be patron of the Jack Newton Celebrity Classic - which has raised more than $6.3 million for junior golf since it began in 1986.
"He played in it a lot of years and it became a tradition, he'd get up and sing Waltzing Matilda," Mr Newton said. "The last time was two years ago, December 2017."
Peter Morris, who entered parliament in 1972 - the year Gough Whitlam ended 23 years of Liberal rule - held various ministerial posts under Mr Hawke for all but the last year of his prime ministership, which ran from March 1983 to July 1991.
Mr Morris, who was the member for Shortland at the time, said Mr Hawke showed the progress that could be made in industrial relations when management and the union movement worked together.
"You have the best of both sides working together across the economy rather than the long period of open warfare that had been the case before 1983 between the trade union movement and the Liberal government under Malcolm Fraser," Mr Morris said.
"The theme was bringing the skills together. Confrontation was replaced by co-operation and in 1983 there was reconstruction, reuniting the nation."
Mr Morris said Mr Hawke had "a soft spot for Newcastle".
"I put it down to his involvement with the trade union movement elsewhere, linked to Newcastle's earlier reputation as the strike capital of Australia, which was being transformed, under the site agreements begun by Peter Barrack at Newcastle Trades Hall Council, that got jobs done on budget and on time with no disputes.
"That model transformed industrial relations across Australia."
One crucial visit Mr Hawke made to Newcastle came on earthquake day, December 28, 1989.
As former Newcastle MP Allan Morris recalled it yesterday, Mr Hawke was on holidays, playing golf in Sydney, while the acting PM, Lionel Bowen, had been in Kempsey in the wake of a bus crash six days earlier, which had killed 35 people.
Within hours, the two, along with Mr Hawke's first wife, Hazel, had landed at Williamtown, which was then an RAAF base only, and not a commercial airport. They were then helicoptered to Fletcher Park in Newcastle East, before being taken to the worst hit sites including Beaumont Street, Hamilton, and Newcastle Workers Club (now Wests Newcastle) in King Street.
"Hawkie had a really good understanding of it straight away, and we decided to form the lord mayor's appeal, putting in $250,000 that night, and more later," Mr Morris said, referring to a fund that gave loans and grants to earthquake victims.
"It meant we never had to explain anything to him when lobbying. When he came back a few months later he was mobbed in the streets. We were just mobbed."
That day, February 12, 1990, Mr Hawke told ABC 1233 announcer Mickey de Stoop of what he saw in the hours after the quake: "It was frightening. The thing that struck me about it too, Mickey, was how capricious it was.
"You'd see a building devastated then apparently next to it relatively unscathed. There was no pattern about it at all. But overall the impression was certainly one of devastation.
"I felt so, well just so terribly sad for the people who had suffered. The second impression of course was about the spirit of Newcastle. Quite magnificent the way people rallied around and worked and tried to help those who'd been, who'd either lost their loved ones or suffered damage. It was magnificent."
Allan Morris also sees a lot of parallels between today's election and the 1983 poll that brought the Hawke government to power.
"You've got a union guy in Bill Shorten against a conservative PM in Scott Morrison who is using the same line, attacking him by saying you can't trust him," Mr Morris said.
He said the Fraser government had run out of fresh ideas at the time, and Labor had a full suite of policies ready to go, and a front bench that was extremely strong.
"There's never been a ministry as good as it," Mr Morris said.
Helen Cummings, whose mother, Joy Cummings, was Labor lord mayor of Newcastle for nine years until she was forced to retire after a stroke in 1984, was another who said Mr Hawke had "a soft spot for Newcastle".
"It was a time when Newcastle needed beautification and you needed local, state and federal funds to do it," Ms Cummings said, referring to the conversion of the old harbourside railway yards into the foreshore park that the city loves today.
"Mum was lord mayor, Neville Wran was the Labor premier of NSW and Bob was prime minister."
Joy Cummings joined the ALP in 1938 at the age of 15 and she and her husband, Ray, were staunch and very active party members.
"Mum had a good personal rapport with Bob because of their love of conservation." Ms Cummings said,
"He and mum were on the same page, too, with racism and bigotry. And because Bob knew mum had a lovely singing voice, he would put his arm around her, and they would sing."
Acknowledging Mr Hawke's reputation as a womaniser, Ms Cummings said: "He loved women, and women loved him. He was a flirt, and it allowed you to flirt back."
In more recent years, Mr Hawke has made visits to Newcastle to support political candidates - including Greg Combet, who like Mr Hawke was a leading figure in the ACTU before entering parliament.
He was on hand in 1997 to launch a book by mining union stalwart Jim Comerford, as our photograph of the two of them embracing shows.
He was also at Singleton Rugby Club in 2008, downing schooners and generally living up to his reputation as "Old Silver".