David Day

Paul Keating has an enduring allure. He has been out of politics since 1996, yet in the past year or so we have seen the ABC screen an unprecedented series of four one-hour interviews with him by an unusually respectful Kerry O’Brien; a book of his sayings still sells well, his speeches and pronouncements receive wide publicity, and now historian David Day has giv ...

Gough Whitlam was fond of replying to requests for interviews from historians by saying that all the answers could be found in the archives. ‘Go to the documents, comrade’, was his refrain. However, official documents rarely tell the whole story, particularly those from the modern era, whose authors are conscious that their words could so easily be exposed to pu ...

Menzies at War by Anne Henderson

by
August 2014, no. 363

Prime ministers seem to value longevity, whether it is Bob Hawke relishing the fact that he served longer than John Curtin and Ben Chifley combined, or John Howard relishing that he served longer than Hawke. But no prime minister is likely to serve as long as Robert Menzies’ sixteen years as prime minister from 1949 to 1966. His record is even more impressive when ...

War is one of the great paradoxes of Australia. Why should a people occupying a continent so far from the world’s trouble spots have spent so much of their history dying in often distant wars? It is one of the questions that drew me to the study of Australian history. I am little the wiser after reading this collection of Australian war writing. This is partly bec ...

This book is long overdue. It is eighty years since affable Joseph Lyons, often depicted by cartoonists as a koala, was elected as Australia’s tenth prime minister. He would be re-elected twice before dying in office in April 1939. During his seven years as prime minister, Lyons had to grapple with the Depression ...

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As a middling country far from the centre of major world events, Australia has usually bobbed about in the wake of greater Pacific powers. After being a dependency of Britain for nearly two centuries, the country was accustomed to having its fate decided by distant power brokers. Yet Australian leaders occasionally attempted to strike out on their own in pursuit of what they saw as distinctively Australian interests. Alfred Deakin did it in 1908 when he ignored the usual diplomatic niceties of consulting the British Foreign Office before inviting the American fleet to visit Australia; Billy Hughes did it with his grandstanding at the Versailles peace conference of 1919; and Robert Menzies and John Curtin did it during the desperate days of mid-1941, when they tried to keep Japan out of the war, as British Empire forces struggled to maintain their tenuous hold on the Mediterranean.

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Robert Menzies cast such a large shadow that the contribution of his immediate successors has tended to be belittled, if not forgotten altogether. Each of the three is remembered mostly for things unconnected with their prime ministerships: Harold Holt for the manner of his death; John Gorton for his drinking ...

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Joseph Benedict Chifley enjoys a special place in the Australian pantheon – an icon of decencies almost extinct. Born in 1885, Chifley was raised in Bathurst, where he joined the NSW Railways in 1903. One of the youngest-ever first-class locomotive drivers at the age of twenty seven, Chifley was among those who struck for six weeks in 1917 against new management practices in the railways. They lost. He was demoted to fireman, and his union, the Federated Engine-drivers and Firemen’s Association of Australasia, deregistered. He was soon restored to engineman.

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