Blanche d’Alpuget weighs in on the Barnaby-Vikki affair
IF ANYONE can relate to being hounded by the press, it's Blanche d'Alpuget.
The 74-year-old's relationship with former prime minister Bob Hawke started out as a well-kept secret, but later became the most talked-about love affair in Australian political history.
At least, until a heavily-pregnant Vikki Campion ended up on the front page of the Daily Telegraph earlier this year.
Ms Campion's relationship with former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce sparked much debate about politicians' right to privacy, and the point at which their private affairs merge with the public interest.
News.com.au visited Ms d'Alpuget at her Northbridge family home along with former Labor senator Sam Dastyari, who was promoting her new book on his weekly Kyle and Jackie O segment. During our visit, the award-winning author shared her thoughts on the Nationals leader's very public downfall.
Seated around her loungeroom, Ms d'Alpuget said things would have been much worse had her affair with Mr Hawke taken place today.
"It would be a lot more brutal now," she said. "It's one of the reasons democracy is going down the gurgler everywhere. It's because good, strong people aren't going into politics because of social media - they don't want to get themselves and their families put through it. It's terrible for our democracy."
According to the On Lust & Longing author, back in the 1960s and 1970s things "were a lot wilder than they are now".
"(These days) everybody's got a camera in their pocket," she said. "Politicians are now walking on eggshells the whole time ... there is a great puritanism that's fallen upon us."
Despite this, she dismissed any suggestion that the media was respectful of her relationship with Mr Hawke after his divorce.
"They were frightful!" she exclaimed. "They were terrible! They sat outside my front door, they took photos of us in the street. I was chased in cars, I had cartoons written about me ... but that was the news media.
"There's a real difference now because of social media, and I feel very lucky that I predated that. If social media had been around then, it would have been absolutely ghastly."
Bob and Blanche first met in 1970 in Jakarta, and again six years later when she interviewed him for a biography she was writing on Sir Richard Kirby.
While married to their respective partners, they began a long and sporadic love affair which spanned almost two decades before Mr Hawke eventually divorced his long-suffering wife Hazel in 1995.
Despite their affair sparking a national scandal, the pair married shortly after his divorce, and turned the media's coverage on its head by showcasing a genuine, positive love story.
But there are important distinctions to be made between Ms d'Alpuget's relationship with Mr Hawke and the one between Mr Joyce and Ms Campion.
The former Nationals leader was accused of hypocrisies while his affair was taking place, which to many critics were more significant and newsworthy than the relationship itself.
He created a number of well-paid jobs for his girlfriend at the taxpayers' expense, after lampooning so-called welfare cheats.
They stayed rent-free in his millionaire businessman friend's Armidale townhouse - a $14,000 gift - while Mr Joyce had previously dismissed property market concerns and told millennials to move out to the country if they wanted to own a home.
He voted against same-sex marriage in apparent defence of traditional family values, while he had an affair with a staffer.
After Mr Hawke and Ms d'Alpuget wed, they showcased their relationship as a great love story; a sentiment that remains strong and irrefutably genuine to this day. By contrast, Mr Joyce suggested at one stage he may not be the biological father of Ms Campion's child (a suggestion he has since retracted).
When the story first broke, with a front-page photo of a pregnant Ms Campion, Blanche wasn't nearly as shocked as the average Daily Telegraph reader. Stories of extramarital affairs across parliament have always run rampant, she said, adding she had heard rumours involving almost every prime minister dating back to World War II (we won't name names).
On the recent bonk ban, which Malcolm Turnbull issued after the scandal broke, the On Lust & Longing author said: "The act of banning it only makes it naughtier."
Twenty-two years into a marriage filled with public scrutiny, the two couldn't be happier together.
Asked to pinpoint the moment she realised she was in love with Bob, Blanche responded without missing a beat.
"I've been in love with Bob since 1976," she said matter-of-factly. "I fell in love with his character. He was a man of absolutely good character, as far as I was concerned. He was clever and genuinely charismatic. He's a man of enormous compassion, and I saw all of those things."
Just recently, she was going through a storeroom filled with old photographs. She said she can immediately tell the difference between the ones that were taken while she was with Bob, and the ones that predated their relationship.
"For many years, I just didn't look happy," she said. "But the times when I was with him? I was a happy woman.
"These last 25 years have been the happiest of my life."