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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 1094


Photo of Menzies, Robert

Menzies, Robert

Period of Service: 19/12/1949 to 26/01/1966

More information about Menzies, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 11/04/1965

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 1094

Speech bZ the Prime Minipter, the Rt. Hogkbet enz es
Sir, Mrs, Bennett and Ladies and Gentlemen,
Itts a great, though I fear an undeserved, honour
for me to be allowed to speak to you today about one of the very
greatest men of our time. The Chairman has said kind things
about me. He might have multiplied them four times and still
have understated the case for Sir John Monash.
It was my good fortune to know Sir John Monash in
the last period of' his life. Itts quite simple for me to say
to you that he has various memorials., He has an assured place
in military history$ a place founded not only on his brilliant
understanding of the art and science of war, but also on his
unsurpassed capacity for communicating his ideas; in other
words, his advocacy in the greatest sense. That is one secure
place, an overwhelmixrVsecure place that he has in our history.
In the second place, he has a secure position in
the industrial development of this State. His work for the
Electricity Commission, his utter command of it, his lively
capacity for telling politicians where they got off and where
they got on, this contributed so much to the ultimate development
of the KLectricity Commission, now spreading or spread
all over the State of Victoria, that I am perfectly certain
that in that field alone he would never be forgotten.
He had, and has, a secure place in the educational
history of Australia. I remember years ago there was an appeal
being made on behalf of the University of Melbourne, my own
old university, and I was there not, I am happy to tell you,
as a speaker but as a highly interested listener and Sir
John Monash made the principal speech. WVhen he had finished
I turned to my neighbour, whoever it wasand said, " You know,
whatever else in his favour may be said about John Monash, he
is the finest advocate I ever listened to." 1 T hiLs wa s a
tremendous attribute of his. Tremendously involved as I have
briefly indicated in his own magnificent achievements in war, he
was a great advocate. He was a great advocate who knew how to
think who worked out his thoughts and who could then present
them to other people with such compulsion, such persuasion
that they began to wonder why they hadn't thought of it
themselves. He was I venture to say a s one not without some
experience in the field of advocacy, the greatest advocate
I ever listened to,
And on top of that, his name has been honoured in the
creation of the university which bears his name tand therefore
he has a secure place in educational history. Itwas a most
brilliant stroket if I may say so, Chancellor, when this
university was named after him because for a century or two
centuries or three centuries to come, young men and women will
be found to say$ " W1hy was this university named after this
man?" and they will then learn something about him, and in
that sense his great soaring spirit, his superb qualities will
be memorialised for centuries to come. / 2

And in the fourth place I hope I will be
allowed to mention this. He has this splendid memorial in
bronze, one of our treasures, a constant reminder in this
area which is, in itself full of history of the man who
made more history than most of us will ever be privileged to
make, And so, Sir, he has the enduring respect and
gratitude of all who lived in his time and of all who will read
of him with intelligence and understanding.
I said something just now about his quality of
advocacy. I got to know him a little in that capacity. It
may not be known to many of you but at one stage in his life,
he being the most versatile of people, he was a patent
attorney. I have always thought this was something of a
sideline because he was above all things, a most distinguished
engineer. But in a number of cases in the patent side of the
law, he was called as an expert witness. Now, we had a very
great judicial laiwyer in Victoria in my earlier days, the late
Sir Leo Cussen, perhaps the greatest judicial lawyer we ever
had on our own Supreme Court, and it was well reported that
Cussen had more than once said this was one of' the legends
at the Bar in my time that any solicitor who failed to
retain John Monash as an expert in any patent matter was prima
facie guilty of negligence. Now this was not a rash statement
made by a rash man but a very wise statement made by a very
wise man. I tell It to you because it serves to recall to me,
and I hope will recall to you, the astonishing versatility of
this great man, his immense virtuosity in whatever he touched
and that utter integrity of mind and force of personality which
conveyed with everything he said the stamp of truth and of
conviction. I had another experience I hope you will allow
me to recall it, I was, as you have been reminded, for a little
time in the Legislative Council, a happy state of affairs from
which I have long since escaped. And while I was there, I
was the junior honorary Minister in the McPherson Government,
and next to me was the other honorary Minister, the late Ted
Morley whom some of you knew who was Member for Barwon.
Well, up came a proposal from the Electricity
Commission from Sir John himself about some extension about
some trifling expenditure of Li1M. or something of that kind
which was in those days quite a lot of money, and we rejected
it. It was knocked out by the Cabinet, and the word went outyou
know how things do get out the word went out and it came
down to the S. E. C. and Sir John put his hat on, came up to the
top of Spring Street, arrived at the outer doors of the Cabinet
Room and if I kniow anything about him, demanded admittance.
Anyhow, the word came in that Sir John was outside,
The Premier, that most delightful and amiable of
men, Sir William McPherson said, " Oh, yes. Bring him in", and
he came in and we all stool up instinctively. Wte all stood
up. Ile were in the presence of a man we knew was a greater man
than we would ever be, and we stood up and he was given a seat
at the table. Other people responsible for branches of the
civil service of this State usually sat in the second row and
spoke when they were spoken to but, no Sir John was strong
on this matter. He was given a seat at the table. He looked
round towards the Premier and said, " Jell, Mr. Premier, I gather
that the Cabinet has rejected my proposal." " Well, yes, I
a* e. / 3

think that's right) Sir Johia." He said, "' 4ellp that can only
be because they have failed utterly to understand it. I will
now explain it." He sat there with that rock-like look, and
he explained it and one by one, we shrivelled in our places;
one by one, we ? Xcame convinced, or at any rate, felt that we
were convinced of the error of our ways, and for half an hour
he went on. He explained this thing step by step by step atid
we were left silent. It is quite true that my friend and
colleague, Ted Morley started impulsively to put a question
and said, in his exciiement, " Now look, John," and 1 ickedly-
I have always been a trifle impudent said, " No, come Ted,
come come, V~ hy dont you call him Jack?" And that settled it.
There was no more, not another word came out. And so Sir
John said, looking at the Premier " Wtell, Sir, I take it that
your decision is reversed and thaZ I now have approval for
my proposal and so that there will be no delay, I have brought
with me the Order-in-Council that will be necessary for this
purpose. He pulled it out of his breast pocket, passed it
around, it was signed and he went out.
Now I know that there are mixed feelings about
political people who are supposed to have all sorts of almost
endemic disqualifications but that is the only time in my
l. ife when I knew a man come in from outside into a Cabinet
and utterly reverse a decision which, at the time he arrived,
had been unanimous, I mention that because I thin. k that this
is something that must have characterised him all his life.
He didntt arrive at conclusions hastily, He
burned the midnight oil. He was reputed to live with a
dictaphone alongside his bed so that if he woke up during
the night, he could dictate a few notes of one kind or another.
He was never guilty of coming to any task inadequately prepared,
This characterised him, I am sure, in every aspect of his
l~ ife, but above all things having done that, he had the force
of character, the utter integrity, the persuasiveness of
language, the clarity of vision which enabled him to take
all the Ideas that he had and put them clearly into the minds
of other people. if you look back over the whole of his
life, I am sure you will agree with me that this remarkable
gift was not his greatest gift but it was a gift ix-rithout which
his even greater gifts might not have found their full effect.
And so Sir, I am most honoured to be here. It
is a wonderful priN4lege for me who happens to be, and who has
been for some time, the Head of the Government of the Commonwealth
of Australia to be able to come here and say a few simple
but honest words about a man who is beyond question one of the
very great men in my life and in yours. It is a great privilege
for us in this city to have had this man among us. It is a great
privilege for this State to have contributed to the life of
Australia and to the life of the world the services of so
notable a man. Sir, I thank you indeed for the opportunity of
speaking today. I would hesitate to describe what I have said
to you as an oration. On the contrary, what I have set out to do
is to convey to you with perfect simplicity and sincerity my
deep feelings about this great and famous man.

Transcript 1094