About Robert Menzies
- Born: 20 December 1894
- Died: 15 May 1978
- Partner: Pattie Maie Menzies
- Political party:
- Nationalist Party
- United Australia Party (as PM)
- Liberal Party of Australia (as PM)
- Image: NAA: A1200, L14335
Robert Gordon Menzies was Australia’s 12th and longest-serving Prime Minister. He held the office twice, from 1939 to 1941 and from 1949 to 1966. Altogether he was Prime Minister for over 18 years – still the record term for an Australian prime minister.
Born into humble circumstances, Menzies obtained a first-class secondary and university education by winning a series of scholarships. He established himself as one of Australia’s leading constitutional lawyers, then entered the Victorian parliament in 1928. He won a seat in the federal parliament in 1934 and served as Attorney-General and Minister for Industry in the United Australia Party government of Joseph Lyons.
Menzies became Prime Minister in April 1939 after Joseph Lyons' death. He held office through the early years of World War II until 1941 when he lost the confidence of members of his party and was forced to resign. As an Opposition backbencher during the war years, he helped create the Liberal Party of Australia in 1944 and became Leader of the Opposition in 1946. At the 1949 federal election, he defeated Ben Chifley’s Labor Party and once again became Australia’s Prime Minister.
Menzies’ second period as Prime Minister laid the foundations for 22 consecutive years in government for the Liberal–Country Party Coalition.
Menzies was often characterised as an extreme monarchist and ‘British to his bootstraps’ (which he was), but as Prime Minister he also upgraded Australia’s strong defence alliance with the United States. During his second period in office the ANZUS and SEATO treaties were signed, Australian troops were sent to support US-led forces in Korea, and Australia made its first commitment of combat forces to Vietnam.
Menzies retired as Prime Minister and from parliament in 1966. Knighted in 1963, he was further honoured in 1965 by being appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Warden of the Cinque Ports.
Robert Gordon Menzies died on 15 May 1978.
Did you know?
- was Australia’s longest serving prime minister – his two periods in office totalled 18 years 5 months and 10 days
- completed the plan of Canberra, including the construction of Lake Burley Griffin
- was nicknamed ‘Pig-iron Bob’ in 1939 after he resisted the waterside workers’ ban on exporting scrap iron to Japan
- in 1941 became the first Australian prime minister to fly overseas, when he left Australia for England in a QANTAS Empire flying boat
- started the ‘Prime Minister’s 11’ cricket matches
- was one of three former prime ministers awarded Japan’s Order of the Rising Sun, First Class (the others were Edmund Barton and John McEwen)
- was the only Australian appointed to the Order of the Thistle, an honour gifted by the reigning monarch
- married Pattie Menzies, one of only three Australians to be made a Dame Grand Cross of the British Empire (the first was Florence Reid in 1917, the second was Mary Hughes in 1922)