Birth of Sir Robert Menzies – Australia’s longest serving (and conservative) PM
On 20 December 1894, Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, was born in Jeparit, near Nhill in western Victoria (on the Wimmera River mouth to Lake Hindmarsh).
Interestingly, Menzies was the first Australian PM with two Australian-born parents. In fact, his grandparents on both sides had been drawn to Australia by the Victorian gold rush.
Menzies remains our longest serving PM – his second stint was over 16 years as leader of the Liberal Party from late 1949 to early 1966, leading a very successful conservative Coalition Government over that time. His first stint as PM was for two years and four months, mainly in the early WWII years as leader of the original United Australia Party (UAP, not the pale yellow 2018 imitation). The original UAP was the precursor to the Liberal Party, which Menzies founded in the late WWII years as an amalgam of the UAP and 13 other non-Labor parties to better represent the “Forgotten People” of Australia – see further details below.
At almost 18 and a half years in total, Menzies’ reign as Australian PM is almost seven years longer than our second-longest serving PM, John Howard – our last conservative Liberal PM (11 years and 9 months).
The Liberal-Menzies era of government was noted for (among other things) its:
- unabashed cultural war on Marxist infiltration into our society and institutions in the early Cold War-post World War II era,
- nation-building projects like the Snowy Mountains (Hydro) Scheme, establishment of the ANZUS Treaty and our security alliance with the US,
- freedom for and sanctity of the individual, governing for ordinary non-elite citizens (the then Forgotten People),
- strong economic growth and development of Australia, low unemployment and inflation, rapidly rising incomes and prosperity and responsible budgets ... .
Celebrate the birth, life and extraordinary political service to Australia of Sir Robert Menzies by:
- (if you are in Western Victoria) visitinghis memorials at his birth place of Jeparit (or his other monuments/memorials in Canberra or Melbourne)
- viewing these brief documentaries on Menzies
- perusing this Quadrant article on Menzies and why he still matters
- researching further the life of Menzies and his governments, and/or
- sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, conservatives, classical liberals, regular Aussies and those that want some dignity, wisdom and common sense back in our body politic.
Further details on Sir Robert Menzies – especially his pre- and post-Liberal Government years (as opposed to his Liberal Government years)
Menzies studied law at Melbourne University, graduating with a Masters of Law in 1918 – the year he also was admitted to the Victorian Bar and the High Court of Australia. In 1929, he was appointed a King’s Counsel (having established his own practice and demonstrating skilled advocacy in several high profile cases, particularly around constitutional law, his expertise).
After six years as a member of the Victorian Legislative Council, Menzies resigned to contest the Federal seat of Kooyong in the following month’s September 1934 Federal election for the UAP – an amalgam of non-Labor parties that formed in 1931 but was later transformed, with other amalgamations, by Menzies into the Liberal Party (founded in October 1944).
Menzies easily won the blue-ribbon UAP seat and the incumbent UAP government (led by then PM Joseph Lyons) was returned, albeit with a 5% swing against it and eight fewer seats (for a majority of 5 in the then-74 seat House). PM Lyons immediately appointed Menzies as his Attorney-General and Minister for Industry.
Menzies got the name “Pig Iron Bob” from his industrial battle in late 1938 with waterside workers (or “wharfies”) who refused to load scrap iron onto ships bound for imperial Japan. But within months (late-April 1939) incumbent PM, Joseph Lyons, died in office (the first of three to do so), triggering a leadership ballot with four contenders which Menzies won, becoming Australia’s UAP PM.
Menzies’ first stint as PM lasted a little over two years – most of it during WWII, which included his Declaration of War broadcast on 3 September 1939 – before his party (lacking a majority and unity) and Labor (playing hard-ball in opposition) made his position untenable. He resigned as PM but stayed on as UAP leader. The new Coalition leader, Arthur Fadden, of the Country Party (junior member of the Coalition’s then joint party-room) became PM but lost on the House floor a confidence motion and with it government 40 days later to John Curtin’s Labor.
Menzies resigned as UAP leader when the joint party-room again chose Fadden as Coalition opposition leader. The UAP elected almost 80 year old political-itinerant Billy Hughes as its “new” leader.
In May 1942, Menzies delivered his landmark “Forgotten People” speech (one of several during that year), a key excerpt being:
“I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs, or in the officialdom of the organised masses. It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race. The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health of society as a whole.”
New Labor PM Curtin made sport of Hughes and Fadden and smashed the UAP-Country Party Coalition at the August 1943 Federal election. Whilst returning to UAP leader, Menzies saw the writing on the wall that the UAP was finished, had moved away from its base and wasn’t connecting anymore with voters.
- There are some clear and serious UAP parallels with the Liberal Party of today in that the “Forgotten People” Menzies referred to are again no longer being heard or represented on their uniform aversion to high and disruptive immigration, multiculturalism, costly unreliable energy, climate change alarmism, extreme environmentalism, PC identity politics, speech regulation and endless insider “Canberra-bubble” politics and discourse.
As leader of the UAP in its death throes, Menzies called a conference of anti-Labor parties in Canberra in October 1944 where the UAP and 13 other minor parties present agreed to merge as one new non-Labor party, birthing the Liberal Party of Australia.
With a significant pivot to his Forgotten People, Menzies’ new party made decent ground (swing of 4% and 7 extra seats) at the September 1946 Federal election against replacement Labor PM, Ben Chifley (after the death of PM John Curtin in office – second of three – from heart disease in mid-1945) and won government in a landslide at the December 1949 Federal election (swing of 5% and 22 extra seats for a 13 seat majority).
From there, Menzies led a very successful Liberal-Coalition government for the next 16 years until retiring as PM on his own terms (the last PM to do so) and handing the reigns over to his groomed and anointed successor, Harold Holt.
A year after his retirement from politics, Menzies became chancellor of the University of Melbourne (his alma mater) for five years before a second stroke effectively ended his tenure. During the Ashes Centenary Test in the Long Room of the MCG, a wheelchair-bound Menzies proudly accepted his knighthood of the Order of Australia (AK) from Queen Elizabeth II.
Fourteen months later (in May 1978), Menzies suffered a heart attack and died while reading in his Malvern home’s study. One of the largest state funerals ever held in Australia occurred four days later for Menzies in Melbourne with over one hundred thousand people lining the streets and a 19-gun salute.
Even Menzies’ detractors commemorated his passing with a poster saying, “Pig Iron Bob / Dead at last” – with all the maturity, dignity and class of Leftists still on display to this day.
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