National

Bob Hawke’s life celebrated in Sydney

By AAP Newswire

Bob Hawke's wife, Blanche d'Alpuget, says it's time to "smile again" after weeks of grieving, as thousands honoured the former prime minister at the Sydney Opera House.

Ms d'Alpuget on Friday delivered the final tribute at a joyous state memorial service for Mr Hawke which was replete with laughs and musical salutes.

The 89-year-old ex-Labor prime minister died peacefully at his Sydney home on May 16.

"This memorial service marks the transition from the grief of loss to the celebration of a life triumphantly well lived," Mr Hawke's widow told the applauding crowd.

"With today's transformative service, we smile again, we glow with pride for the presence among us for almost 90 years of a great human being."

Ms d'Alpuget was surrounded by Mr Hawke's children and grandchildren, complemented by a throng of dignitaries and the public.

Five former prime ministers -- Paul Keating, John Howard, Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull -- joined current PM Scott Morrison and federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese, alongside Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove and a swag of other well-known Australians.

Craig Emerson, Mr Hawke's former "economic, environmental and horse racing adviser" and close friend was MC at the service opened by indigenous federal Labor MP Linda Burney with a traditional welcome to country.

It was with laughter and tales of determination and cheek that the "larrikin" former PM was remembered.

Footage of Mr Hawke downing a beer, wearing his iconic America's Cup jacket, and meeting Nelson Mandela were met with applause from those inside the Concert Hall.

Mr Morrison was first to speak following the national anthem, saying Mr Hawke loved Australia and Australians loved him "deeply" in return.

"Australians, all let us rejoice for the life of Robert James Lee Hawke," the prime minister told the crowd.

"We thank Bob Hawke for loving Australia and loving Australians with every fibre of his being."

It was the recollections of Labor heavy hitters including Mr Albanese and Mr Hawke's former defence minister Kim Beazley which most hit the mark, however.

Mr Hawke was "Australia amplified", Mr Albanese said.

"He loved us together because he understood our greatest strengths flow from unity. He reached out, he listened, he learned, he encouraged and he dared."

Mr Beazley declared: "He believed he would live in the hearts or at least the minds of those who knew him."

Former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty remembered Mr Hawke as "tenacious, tough, irreverent and persuasive" -- a leader who timed adjournments to coincide with horse races.

The former PM was loving, kind and charismatic but "boy could he be frightening", Mr Kelty said, acknowledging while he did a "power of good for this country" he was "no saint".

Mr Hawke's daughter, Sue Pieters-Hawke, said her father was such a powerful presence in her family's life that she couldn't fully comprehend he was gone.

But she takes comfort in the fact he was "ready to go" and died peacefully in the arms of Ms d'Alpuget.

"I treasure our conversations, the gentle smiles, the grip of his hand, his pleasure in family and in simple things like cauliflower cheese."

Mr Keating, who served as Mr Hawke's treasurer before displacing him as leader in 1991, hailed the pair's eight-and-a-half year partnership in government but also their enduring friendship.

"Much of the very late focus on my relationship with Bob was on the termination of cooperation between us," Mr Keating said.

"Any cursory observation of those events generally fails to comprehend the very high level of friendship and cooperation between us for those eight-and-a-half years. It lasted right to the end."

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra played several musical tributes including the chorus of George Frideric Handel's Messiah and Men at Work's Down Under.

A private family funeral for Mr Hawke was held soon after his death.