WITH all those men in dark suits it looked a little like a funeral, but the crowd at Pei Modern, the newish eatery at the foot of the Sofitel on Collins Street, had come to praise Steve Bracks, not to bury him.
It was standing room only for the launch of the former Victorian premier's political memoir-cum-autobiography, but was it him they had come to see or the man launching the book, the fabled Silver Bodgie?
Certainly, the curious passers-by who stopped to peer through the windows appeared to draw blanks when contemplating the many Labor greats, past and present, gathered in the room - among them former premiers Joan Kirner and John Brumby, former deputies John Thwaites and Rob Hulls, the towering Justin Madden, the hirsute Senator Kim Carr and the man considered most likely, Bill Shorten. But when Bob Hawke took to the lectern it was smiles of recognition all round.
''This book reflects the author,'' said Labor's longest-serving prime minister. ''It's solid, it's straightforward, it's well presented, without frills or pretensions.''
As endorsements go, it was starting to sound a little like Steve Martin's line on Moby-Dick - ''a big, dumb, fat book'' - but the master conciliator saved it at the last. ''It's a good read, a good book, about a good bloke.''
Though the hair continues to demand a leading film role of its own, Hawke was looking and sounding all of his 82 years as he delivered a meandering sermon on the Labor values that underpinned Bracks' government. But when he alighted on the topic closest to his heart - Bob Hawke - he sprang to life. ''I came to Victoria in 1958 from the docility and gentility of politics at Oxford University and the ANU,'' he said while reflecting on the factional battles any leader of the ALP must inevitably deal with. ''What bloody mayhem it was. I fairly early on received a black eye from a fellow who was carrying his convictions to an extreme, I thought.''
The true believers lapped it up.
Bracks writes in his book that he modelled his government on Hawke's. ''But there was one obvious respect in which he didn't,'' Hawke noted with a self-deprecating chuckle, ''and that was in terms of his departure.''
The putative author (the book is co-written with News Ltd journalist Ellen Whinnett) offered a corrective to the version of history that labelled him ''the accidental premier''.
The Labor split of 1955 was a distorting event, he said, that created the false impression that Victoria was a Liberal state; since ending its 27 years in opposition in 1982, Labor had been in power in Victoria 70 per cent of the time. As the party rebuilds nationally, he added, Victoria will be the platform from which it does so.
''I think Labor will endure,'' Bracks said. ''It will come back strongly and robustly. I believe the values that we hold are the values which resonate around this country.''
If it sounded like a campaign launch, it had one powerful backer in publisher Louise Adler.
''All I could think of when you were speaking,'' she said as she wrapped things up, ''was not volume two, you'll be relieved to know, but the Bracks for Canberra campaign.''
Did someone say funeral? Resurrection, more like.