In 1988, a group of joint venture partners announced their intention to mine Coronation Hill, a sacred site known to indigenous Australians as Guratba, within Kakadu National Park.
The miners had been given the impression from the federal government that their proposal would go ahead and they had warned that any decision to the contrary would create a "sovereign risk" problem for Australia.
"I had absolutely no doubt I was right on this issue," Hawke told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
"When a prime minister has that conviction I think you have a responsibility to carry it through."
But the decision cost him peer popularity. Six months after making the call on Coronation Hill, Hawke was beaten in a partyroom ballot for the Labor leadership by Paul Keating.
On Wednesday Hawke sat in the House of Representatives as the federal government introduced a bill to finish the work he started on protecting Kakadu.
Environment Minister Tony Burke said the bill would repeal a law that could have led to uranium mining in Koongarra, an area of land excluded from Kakadu's original boundaries in 1979.
Kakadu was a "matter of great pride" for Hawke, who had credentials on the environment as a prime minister after going to the 1983 election promising to stop the Franklin River Dam from being built.
But debate on Coronation Hill turned bitter in cabinet, as Hawke was massively outnumbered by his senior ministers.
Hawke said he became annoyed by some of the "silly things" his ministers were saying about the spiritual beliefs of indigenous Australians.
"I just blew up and said bugger me, you have no difficulty embracing the concept of the holy trinity, the virgin birth, you take that in your stride," he said.
"But someone else has a different belief and you're a sceptic."
As internal feuds raged, Hawke was also facing opposition from his political opponents and the mining industry.
But eventually, he said he prevailed over the "uncivilised and thoughtless position" of his opponents.
"I didn't have the numbers but I had the authority, so we got the right decision," he said.
"We did our part."