Robert Menzies Biography

Sir Robert Gordon Menzies (20 December 1894 – 15 May 1978) was an Australian politician and the 12th Prime Minister of Australia. Serving a collective total of over 18 years, he was Australia's longest-serving Prime Minister.

Robert Gordon Menzies was born to James Menzies and Kate Menzies (née Sampson) in Jeparit, a town in the Wimmera region of northwestern Victoria, on 20 December 1894. His father James was a storekeeper, the son of Scottish crofters who had immigrated to Australia in the mid-1850s in the wake of the Victorian gold rush. His maternal grandfather, John Sampson, was a Cornish miner from Penzance who also came to seek his fortune on the goldfields, in Ballarat. Menzies was proud of his mother's origin. Cornish author A.L. Rowse wrote, 'When Menzies visited us he told me that he was a Cornish Sampson on his mother's side.' His father and one of his uncles had been members of the Victorian Parliament, while another uncle had represented Wimmera in the House of Representatives. He was proud of his Highland ancestry – his enduring nickname, Ming, came from the Scots – and his own preferred – pronunciation of Menzies. His middle name, Gordon, was given to him in honour and memory of Charles George Gordon, a British army officer killed in Khartoum in 1885.

Menzies' formal education began at a one-room school, then later at private schools in Ballarat and Melbourne (Wesley College) and studied law at the University of Melbourne, graduating in 1916.

When World War I began, Menzies was 19 years old and held a commission in the university's militia unit. He resigned his commission at the very time others of his age and class clamoured to be allowed to enlist. It was later stated that, since the family had made enough of a sacrifice to the war with the enlistment of two of three eligible brothers, Menzies should stay to finish his studies. Menzies himself never explained the reason why he chose not to enlist. Subsequently he was prominent in undergraduate activities and won academic prizes and declared himself to be a patriotic supporter of the war and conscription. Menzies was admitted to the Victorian Bar and to the High Court of Australia in 1918 and soon became one of Melbourne's leading lawyers after establishing his own practice. In 1920 he married Pattie Leckie, the daughter of federal Nationalist, and later Liberal, MP, John Leckie.

Menzies' first term as Prime Minister commenced in 1939, after the death in office of the United Australia Party leader Joseph Lyons and a short-term interim premiership by Sir Earle Page. His party narrowly won the 1940 election, which produced a hung parliament, with the support of independent MPs in the House. A year later, his government was brought down by those same MPs crossing the floor. He spent eight years in opposition, during which he founded the Liberal Party of Australia. He again became Prime Minister at the 1949 election, and he then dominated Australian politics until his retirement in 1966.

Menzies was renowned as a brilliant speaker, both on the floor of Parliament and on the hustings; his speech "The Forgotten People" is an example of his oratorical skills. Throughout his life and career, Menzies held strong beliefs in the Monarchy and in traditional ties with Britain. In 1963 Menzies was invested as the only Australian Knight of the Order of the Thistle. Menzies is regarded highly in Prime Ministerial opinion polls and is very highly regarded in Australian society for his tenures as Prime Minister.