A hush fell over Corrimal Court shopping centre before cries of "Hawkey's here" led to thunderous applause, with shoppers and workers dropping everything to try and shake Bob Hawke's hand.
It was September 2004, and the nation's former Prime Minister was in town to support Sharon Bird's, ultimately successful, campaign to win the seat of Cunningham.
"A Hawke will always support a Bird," he joked to Ms Bird, who said it wasn't the first, or last, time he'd give generously of his time to support her - and other causes in the Illawarra.
"It was like nothing you'd ever seen before - people coming from all over the shopping centre to shake his hand and thank him for what he'd done," she said.
Wollongong MP Paul Scully - Ms Bird's campaign manager at the time - said even decades after Mr Hawke had left office, the affection and respect for him that day was "palpable".
"Sharon's campaign office was in Corrimal and we crossed the road to the, then, Corrimal Court, but before we got there Bob stuck his head in the door of the pub and yelled out 'Don't you blokes ever work around here?'," Mr Scully recalled.
"A roar went up around the bar and there were 15 or more offers to buy him a schooner. He had a mouthful of one - and I thought he might stop and settle in for the day - but then he was on his way to the shopping centre.
"Everything just stopped when he got there - workers literally left their cash registers at Woolies and shoppers left their groceries just to try and shake his hand."
The scene was the same on another occasion, in 2013, when Mr Hawke was the guest speaker at the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Thirroul branch of the Labor party.
"You could hear a pin drop when he walked into the Bulli Workers Club, and then a huge cheer, it was just incredible," Mr Scully remembered.
It wasn't just his affable nature that connected him to the Australian people. Ms Bird said the 'legend of the Labor party' and his government had an influence well beyond their years in power.
From launching Medicare and introducing universal superannuation through to leading the international push to reject mining in Antarctica and end apartheid in South Africa, his contributions would not be forgotten.
In the Illawarra too, he made his mark - developing the 1984 Steel Plan which helped saved Port Kembla Steelworks and moving Commonwealth offices such as the Naval Hydrographic Office to the region.
"He challenged Australians to look to the future," Ms Bird said. "His government modernised the nation, transformed our economy and made us internationally competitive."
Labor's state and federal MPs, including Whitlam MP Stephen Jones, Keira MP Ryan Park and Shellharbour MP Anna Watson released a joint statement on Friday paying tribute to Mr Hawke.
"Before, during and after his prime ministership Bob was a regular visitor to the Illawarra," they said. "The region held a special significance for him and the Illawarra had a special place for him."
The MPs said they were "deeply saddened" by his passing.
"His consensus-style of leadership is a reminder to all of us in public life that no reform, no matter how necessary, can be achieved without being upfront about the issue and convincing people that it is needed.
"He will be missed but his contribution to all parts of Australian life will not be forgotten.
"On behalf of those from the Illawarra who served with him, who supported him, who admired him and who met him, thank you for your extraordinary efforts Bob."