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Sir Robert Menzies

Quick Facts

  • Name: Robert Gordon Menzies
  • Born: Jeparit, Victoria, 20 December 1894
  • Died: 1978
  • Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister (United Australian Party and Liberal Party) 1939 to 1941 and 1949 to 1966
  • Founded the Liberal Party
  • Called 'Ming' and 'Pig Iron Bob'
  • One of 12 pallbearers at the funeral of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill
  • Loved watching cricket
  • Famous for saying of Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Australia in 1963, 'I did but see her passing by and yet l love her till I die'.

Biography

Robert Menzies was born in Jeparit, in country Victoria, in a room behind his father's grocery store. His father became a member of the Victorian Parliament and his uncle a member of the House of Representatives. Menzies won scholarships to Wesley College and the University of Melbourne, where he completed a law degree. He gave up law to pursue a political career, and became Australia’s longest serving prime minister, holding office for 18 years, from 1939–1941 and 1949–1966.

In 1928 Menzies was elected to the Victorian parliament. In 1934 he moved to federal politics, winning the seat of Kooyong for the United Australia Party (UAP). In 1939 he became Prime Minister. Less then six months later World War II broke out. As an inexperienced leader Menzies struggled to manage the UAP, which was divided over its war policies. In 1941 Menzies resigned and was replaced as prime minister by Arthur Fadden, leader of the Country Party. The Australian Labor Party (ALP) under John Curtin’s leadership easily won the 1941 election, and it was eight years before Menzies would once again have an opportunity to lead the nation.

Besides the length of his prime ministership, Menzies’ most enduring contribution to Australian politics was his work to establish a viable, cohesive political force to counter the influence of the Labor Party, efforts which came to fruition in the founding of the Liberal Party at its inaugural conference in Albury in 1944, with Menzies as its leader. In 1949, the Liberal Party, in coalition with the Country Party, won a resounding election victory, which began a period of Coalition Government that would last for 23 years. 

Menzies’ period as prime minister paralleled unprecedented international events, such as the Cold War and a prolonged economic boom, both of which had implications for his governments. In response to the Cold War atmosphere of the early 1950s, believing communism was a serious threat, Menzies tried, unsuccessfully, to have the Australian Communist Party banned through a referendum. The issue of communism, however, was to prove a much more difficult problem for his Labor Party opponents, a factor which contributed to his electoral success.   

Australia’s exports were vital to European post-war reconstruction, and, beginning in the 1950s, Australia experienced an economic boom driven largely by overseas demand for Australian exports, such as wool. This economic boom led to labour shortages, which, in turn, saw the introduction of mass migration programs from Europe, an initiative started under the Chifley Labor Government and continued by Menzies. 

Culturally, during the Menzies era, Australia maintained a close affection for Britain and the monarchy, even though the importance of this relationship was less significant than its developing relationship with the United States. The US's interest in Australia’s region of the world was welcomed, demonstrated by Menzies support of United States' interventions in South-east Asia.  In 1964, the Menzies Government re-introduced military conscription and, in 1965, Australian troops, including conscripts, were sent to Vietnam to support the United States' effort to stop the spread of communism. This effort failed, at the cost of many lives.

An initiative which Menzies, himself, would come to regard as a significant part of his legacy, was the establishment of eight new universities during his time as prime minister. He was the recipient of honorary degrees from over 20 universities. 

Menzies was a dominant figure in Australian politics. He revived conservative politics by forming the Liberal Party which, since 1949, has being in government, federally, for over 41 years. Menzies retired in 1966 and returned to Melbourne, where he died in 1978 aged 84.

Media

Books

  • Menzies, RG, The Forgotten People, Angus & Robertson.
  • Menzies, RG, Speech Is of Time, Cassell.
  • Menzies, RG, Central Power in the Australian Commonwealth, Cassell.
  • Menzies RG, 1967, Afternoon Light, Cassell.
  • Menzies RG, 1970, The Measure of the Years, Cassell.
  • Martin, A 1993,  Robert Menzies: A Life, two volumes, Melbourne University Press.
  • Brett, J 1992, Robert Menzies' Forgotten People, Macmillan.
  • Henderson, G 1994, Menzies' Child: The Liberal Party of Australia 1944–, Allen & Unwin.
  • Jaensch, D 1994, The Liberals, Allen & Unwin.
  • Nethercote, J (ed) 2001, Liberalism and the Australian Federation, Federation Press.
  • Simms, MA 1982, Liberal Nation: The Liberal Party and Australian Politics, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney.
  • Graeme Starr 1980, The Liberal Party of Australia: A Documentary History, Drummond/Heinemann

Video Links

Menzies in His Time (Documentary) – Menzies Foundation 

Links