Sir Robert Menzies was Australia's longest serving Prime Minister. He also founded the Liberal Party of Australia.
Sir Robert Menzies was the longest serving Prime Minister of Australia. He served as Prime Minister for two periods: 1939 to 1941 and 1949 to 1966.
Bob Menzies, as he was familiarly known, was born in the small country town of Jeparit in Victoria in 1894. He did well in school, learned to read quickly, and was a lover of books from an early age.
At the age of 12, Menzies went to live with his grandmother at Ballarat and attended the Humffray Street State School. His teachers soon saw ability in him and pushed him hard at his studies. He topped the state in the Victorian scholarship examination while a year younger than average, which enabled him to attend Grenville College Ballarat for two years without the payment of fees. Menzies later went to Melbourne University where he studied law and won many prizes. He graduated with first class honors in 1916, became a barrister in 1918, and married in 1920.
Bob's father, Jim Menzies, served as a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly, the Lower House of Victorian Parliament. Bob Menzies was elected to the Legislative Council, the Upper House of Victorian Parliament, in 1928. From 1932 to 1934, Menzies served as Attorney General, Minister of Railways, and Deputy Premier of Victoria.
In 1934, Robert Menzies was elected to federal Parliament in Canberra as the member for Kooyong. He served as Attorney General and Deputy Leader in the United Australia Party (UAP) government of Joseph Lyons until March 14, 1939, when he resigned his positions because the government refused to proceed with a national insurance scheme that he had supported strongly.
Twenty-four days after Menzies resigned, Joseph Lyons, the Prime Minister, died in Sydney. Menzies became prime Minister for the first time on April 26, 1939, at the age of 44.
With the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the Menzies government was faced with the difficult task of organizing Australia's defenses. During the next two years, Menzies and his government came under severe criticism from many quarters for not doing enough to prepare Australia for war. Dissatisfaction within his own party eventually brought about Menzies' resignation in 1941. He was replaced by Arthur Fadder, who lasted only 40 days before his government was defeated on the floor of the House, which allowed the Labor Party, under John Curtin, to form government.
Menzies led the opposition parties in federal Parliament from 1943 to 1949. In 1944, at meetings in Canberra and Albury, he was one of the principal organizers who brought about the Liberal Party of Australia. Menzies lost the election of 1946 but won the next seven, in 1949, 1951, 1954, 1955, 1958, 1961, and 1963.
Many important events happened in Australia during Menzies' second period as Prime Minister. In 1951, he passed a bill banning the Communist Party, which was overruled by the High Court as being unconstitutional. Menzies then held a referendum on the issue, which was also defeated.
Australia sent troops to Korea to support the United Nations forces and in 1962, sent a team of military advisers to South Vietnam. As the Vietnam war expanded, Australia's involvement grew.
The Menzies government maintained and expanded politics that the previous Labour government had set, increasing Australia's population from 8 million to 11.5 million.
In 1963 the Queen of England made Robert Menzies a Knight of the Order of the Thistle, the second highest order the Queen can bestow. In 1965, he was made lord warden of the Cinque Ports, succeeding Sir Winston Churchill. Menzies retired from federal Parliament in 1966 after serving as member for Kooyong for 32 years.
Sir Robert Menzies died on May 15, 1978.