Remembering the Menzies we forgot (a review of The Forgotten Menzies)

Robert Menzies is, of course, far from forgotten. Despite his death in 1978 he remains a live presence in Australian politics. The Liberal Party he helped found lauds and fights over his legacy. Even Labor politicians invoke Menzies.

Stephen Chavura and Greg Melleuish’s book title, The Forgotten Menzies, nicely plays on the name of Menzies’ famous ‘forgotten people’ radio talk while alluding to one of their own key points. Australia’s longest-serving prime minister’s political achievements are well-remembered, but his worldview has faded from memory. It no longer aligns neatly with contemporary beliefs, complicating attempts to enlist him in current political debates.

Menzies was, as we all are, a person of his time. He was born in 1894 in Jeparit, a Victorian country town. His family were shopkeepers and evangelical Presbyterians. Chavura and Melleuish describe this as a world of ‘cultural puritanism’, in which independence, sturdiness, freedom, Godliness, duty and domesticity where all important values.

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