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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 782


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: 05/08/1963

Release Type: Interview

Transcript ID: 782

63/ 085
ON 5TH AUGUT, 1963
MR. BANKS: How do you do ladies and gentlemen. On your behalf,
I would like to extend a cordial welcome home to the
Right Honourable the Prine Minister of Australia,
Sir Robert Menzies. How do you do, Sir Robert?
MINISTER: Thank you,
QUESTIONER: I would like to suggest at the very outset of this
programme that we at least keep on the subject of
Robert Gordon Menzies as a person instead of Sir
Robert Menzies, Prime Minister, Could we do that?
P. M. Well, it is not a matter on which I am particularly
QO Sir Robert$ talking of names, have you ever had any
nicknames conferred upon you?
P. M. Oh, one or two.
Q. I remember one unsavoury one,.. but in your earlier days.
PM. In my earlier I remember at the old
Grenville College at Ballarat I acquired the nickname
of " Judkins" because I was even then, as a small boy,
given to making speeches in a shelter shed or somewhere,
There was then a famous social reformer
called Judkins, you know. So I became Juddy to my
particular generation at that time. Once when I got
into a cricket team by accident and caught somebody
in slips by accident and the scorer called out,
" Name of the fieldsman, please" the answer was
" Judkins" and that's how it went down.
Q. And how old were you then when you made that first
public speech in the shelter shed?
P. MO Oh, about thirteen or fourteen. I got over it later on.
Q* What, speechmaking?
P. M, Yes. It only came back on to me again years afterwards.
Q. Do you find it difficult making speeches, preparing
speeches or thinking off the cuff?
P. M. Oh, it's not so difficult thinking about it, but it's
a nerve-racking business because every speech is
another task. People think one has no nerves about
speech-aking. I'm as nervous as a cat before I have
to make an important speech. I get over it. First
hint of opposition and I cheer up.
Q, Of course, people viewing Channel 9 network throughout
Australia will be wondering how you feel about televiskn
PM. I detest it.
Q. Yes I thought you did. How do you keep so amazingly
fit? You used to hike, didn't you?

P. MO Yes, a lot, but I do very little of it now. I think
the reason for my tolerable state of health is that I
selected my parents well, There is no better reason
than that,
Q* We have a picture of Canberra here. You used to be
seen walking around the streets of Canberra quite a
deal even at night. You seem to have given that away
P. M. Well when I first went to Canberra, the population was
6,006 odd and you could walk around the whole place in
two hours, Now it is 70,000 and so it has got beyond
my scope.
Q. And do you fLind people asking you how to get from A to
B and C to D and so on?
POM. Oh, Itve had a bit of fun on thiat in the old days, yes.
Q. I suppose you gave it away partially because of this
re co gnit ion?
PM. Oh, no. When I used to walk in and out of town from
Kew and came out in the dusk as the hotels came out, I
had some very amusing conversations. In fact, I was
wearing a black homburg hat for some reason or other and
I was addressed as " Your Reverence" three times coming
through Victoria Street. A novel experience for me,
Q9 Sir Robert, what is a normal day for you in Canberra?
What time do you rise, for instance?
P. M, Oh, I rise as late as I conveniently can,-I read the
newspapers when I am in bed. I make my first appointment
at about 10 o'clock in the office and I get home, as a
rule, somewhere between 11 o'clock and midnight.
Q9 Do you work when you get home?
P. M, No.
Q. Do you read?
P. M. I read.
Q. And what do you read?
P. M. Oh, a mixture. All the way from detective stories to
the last historical study written by somebody or other,
I do a lot of reading* I read a lot of poetry, Keeps
the m ind in order,
QO Have you any fLavourite poets?
P. M, You mean Australian poets?
Q 4 Yes.
POM, Yes, well, I think my favourite poets are Juditht Wright
and Douglas Stewart and Kenneth Slessor,
QO What about CJ. Dennis? / 3

P. M, Oh, yes. Oh, well. I was thinking in a different
order, C. J. Dennis, oh yes. It was only the other
day when I went abroad that I took a copy of " The
Sentimental Bloke" with me to give to a friend in
New York.
Q. Do you have time for music?
P. M. You mean as a performer? Noe
Q, Not as a performer but as a listener.
P. M. Very little, but I am very fond of orchestral music.
Chamber music is a little beyond me. I am not musically
educated enough, but I like an orchestra.
Q. Playing what type of music? Opera? Symphony?
P. M" Symphony. Yes.
Q. Sir Robert, do you share Dame Pattie's passion for
camellia s?
P. M, No I like the look of them very much but as she would
tell you if she were here, I am not to be trusted to
distinguish one flower from another. I am pretty
good on roses. I can tell a violet when I see it,
I think I can tell a geranium but sometimes I am wrong,
but really I am not in any sense an expert. When I open
a flower show as I have occasionally, it is a case of
the blind leading the seeing so far as I am concerned,
My wife's a good gardener. She knows all about them.
Q. Do you have any favourite flowers at all? Which would
you prefer in the way of flowers?
P. M. I share her admiration for camellias I assure you.
I think they have beauty and distinchion.
Q6 Looking back on your life, we have two pictures we would
like you to see. One was taken at the age of
POMI Good Heavensl I wasn't bad-looking then.
Q& You've always been very distinguished-looking, Sir
Robert. The other one at 41, You might have noticed
that in each one you are wearing a single-breasted suit.
PIM. I can't tell from here.
QO Well you are. You can take my word for it.
P. M. Well, you must put that down to the eccentricities of
QO Is this the answer?
POM. D Yes.
Q. But you have been under fire, haven't you., for a
considerable time about your clothing. Only this week
there was a poem written by somebody dedicated to you
about your clothing.
P. M. I thought it was very good.
Q* So did I. I liked the last line particularly. Who does
buy your clothing? Do you always buy it yourself?

P. M. Yes.
P. M. Yes.
Q. That tie wasn't bought, of course?
P. M, Ye s.
Q* It's a club tie, isn't it?
P. M. Ye s.
Q Most of your ties are club ties?
P. M. 1 W1
ell, a lot of them. That happens to be an M. C. C, tie
London, of which I am a life member, but when you want
a tie, you don't just go along to the Secretary and
say, " Give me one." You go into Jermyn Street into the
appropriate shop and you buy it.
QO Your son, Ken,' was telling me that you have a talent for
picking clothing for other people and I notice that his
inflexion was rather interesting. He said, for instance,
for his children, you can go into a London store and with
great certainty pick the right colours and the right
size for his little children 12,000 miles away.
PIM. Well, I think I am not bad at it, you know. I have had
some success with it. But it is even more difficult to
buy a frock for your wife or for your daughter, and on
that I think' I have had a lot of successi strangely
Q. You stayed at Chequers for a weekend, didntt you on
this last trip?
Pam* Yes.
QO I wonder We have a picture of Chequers we would
like you to see you don't need to see it, of course,
to remember what it was like but what is the history
of this building? Did Mr. Harold Macmillan tell you
anything about it or did you know in advance?
Pam*. Oh, I've known a good deal about Chequers for a long
time because the first time I visited Chequers was in
the Prime Ministership of Ramnsay MacDonald and that is
going back a fair way. It is a very early 17th
century house around 1600 you can say and at one
stage it was in the possession of the Cromwell familyt
and up in the big gallery at the back of the house, the
long gallery, they have some very interesting Cromwell
souvenirs, including the original of the famous letter
he wrote do you remember, saying, " The Lord made them
like stutble to our swords." 1 It's there, under a velvet
Q. I suppose there are some rather wonderful paintings in
there, too.
P. M. Oh, yes.

Q. You are interested in art, aren't you?
P. M. Yes, I am,
Q. In fact haven't you, in your private collection at the
Lodge, a picture by Sir Winston Churchill?
P. M. Yes, well to be precise, we have two. One belongs to
me. It took me eight years to get it. And one belongs
to my wife. She got it without asking for it. That's the
difference between feminine persuasion and masculine.
Q@ What's the subject of the one given to you?
PoM. Oft It's painted in the South of France around Cap
d'ntibes or round there. A fishing boat tied up, a
lighthouse in the background, It's been on exhibition
in Australia, Quite gay colours.
QO Sir Winston had time for hobbies, I think he laid a few
bricks in his time.
P. M. Oh yes, there are two or three cottages at Chertwell
built by him. At least he did the brickwork. Some brick
walls he did, He became a member of the BricklayersT
Union and, of course, as a painter, well, he began have
you read his little book about thaZ?
Q. No,
P. M. He began comparatively late in life, He had been a
prominent politician and he was out of office. Sir John
Lavery the President at that time of the Academy said,
" Why dontt you take up painting for a hobby?" As Winston
had said to me, " I'd never been in a gallery, I wasn't
interested in pictures," but he took it up as a hobby, and
he has turned out to be an extraordinarily good painter
and gets great pleasure out of doing it.
Q6 You've never taken on painting as a hobby?
P. M. No nt since I was a very small boy in the country doing
litle watercolour things at the top of the prize homework
book, you know. That kind of thing.
Q, Of course, your friends who know you well qould probably
say you have laid one or two bricks.
P. M* Dropped them, you mean?
Q9 Well, it's the same thing.
P. M. Oh, no. " Laid" is too polite. " Dropped" is the word,
Q. In this Chequers that we were looking at a moment
Incidentally, can you recall any brick that you did drop
that you have laughed about since? Or worried about since?
P. M, Oh, I'm not a great worrier.
Q0 Aren't you? You don't worry at all?
P. Me Very little, a as e / 6

Q9 Thatprobably accounts for your fitness. But in this
collection at Chequers, was there any painting of unusual
interest that impressed you?
P. M. Yes, there is a very large canvas of the Lion and the
Mouse and the Rat, you know. All of heroic proportions,
and here is the lion struggling with the cords. Winston
looked at this for a long time and then finally decided
that there was no sign of a mouse, so he got a stepladder
and painted one in,
Q0 And is it there to this day?
P. M. It is there to this day.
Q. This is hanging in the main gallery of Chequers?
P. M. Yes, in the main central hall,
Q. Was Mr. Macmillan depressed when you were there?
P. M. I think he was and I don't wonder with all this Profumo
business going on. Some of the most hysterical comments
were being made even by normally dull and respectable
newspapers, and he was worried, of course, because he,
himself is a man of the highest integrity, not to be
associated with any dirty business like this other
business, and so he was undoubtedly worried, When be
spoke in the House I was there and I heard him. He was
obviously a little depressed by what had gone on, but
the next weekend at Chequers, talking up in the gallery,
he was in the top of his form. I've never know~ n him
better more vivid, cheerful, full of wit, full of
historical allusionas because he's a very good historian,
And therefore I saw two men one in the House looking
pretty sad, as I think I would have myself and the other
one out of it, bright, frightfully well-informed, all the
qualities that we know Harold Macmillan to possess.
Q. Do you think that this, nevertheless, could have an
untoward effect on his political career, without being
political here because I don't want to talk politics, on
the party itself?
P. M. Well, frankly, I don't think that the effect of this
business will be permanent. In fact, I was quite sure
that so extravagant wore some of the remarks made that
there would be a reaction in Harold Macmillan's favour
and I think there was in a personal sense. But the
Government itself had apparently been losing ground,
politically, before this Profumo affair ever occurred,
I don't think that in the wash-up, as we would say, the
Profumo case will have any permanent result, though
perhaps it might have caused delay in the recovery of their
stocks that the Government might have been hoping for.
But I am an outsider, I don't know.
Q. Yes, I was just asking for a personal opinion there, Sir
Robert. When you were in London, you spoke, I believe,
with Mr. Selwyn Lloyd about the possibility of the
formation of some economic or trade agreement among
Commonwealth nations which hant come out in the press
so far as I can see in the news. Is there anything you
can say about it?

P. M. Well~ Selwyn came around to see me. He's an old friend
of mine. Hets been very troubled by some of the implications
for the Commonwealth of the Common Market moves and
he had been very impressed by the fact that although
there is an export council operating into America and I
think some form of export council operating into Europe,
there is no body, no export council which is concerned
with improving Commonwealth trade and he told me that this
was the general idea in his mind and did I like it and I
said, " lYes I did", that I would be prepared to encourage
him al~ ong that line. It has to happen in Great Britain,
of course, but the idea of consciously promoting Commonwealth
trade is, of course, a very good one,
Q. Now, we are going to take you up to Edinburgh because
this has been a very rewarding yo~ ar and to my mind, Sir
Robert, there are two highlights from the Australians'
point of view first the admission of you to the Order
of the Thistle and the wonderful honour conferred on you
by the United States of America in inviting you to give
the Jefferson Oration. But can we go to Edinburgh and
see you in the monitor, now Sir Robert? This is how you
were arrayed for the big occasion.
P. M. Gives me a rather sinister appearance, don't you think?
Q. It looks as though you could have been a real Scot. How
did you feel on this occasion? Do you remember the thoughts
that went through your mind? You look pretty grim there.
P. M. Well, you know, I realised for once in my life what it's
like to be somebody who is being looked at on some
ceremonial occasion. ' We don't go in for it much here.
And you go along you are really a mass of self-consciousness.
If you look around and you smile at your friends,
you appear to be smirking you know, taking it all very
lightly. If you go along, looking as no doubt I did , very
grim, people say, " Whatts wrong with the poor fellow?"
It is very difficult but of course, it was an exciting
event, no doubt about that.
Q. Where did you stay in Edinburgh?
P. M* At Holyrood House. The Queen was good enough to invite
my wife and my oldest son and myself to stay there
Q. That was very good.
P. M, Yes, particularly for my son who had the op ) ortunity that
otherwise he wouldn't have had of having quite long
conversations with The Queen and with Prince Philip.
Q. He said you were dressed well in advance of the actual
occasion and that you resembled a man padded up, who had
been padded up, for some considerable time to go out to
the batting crease.
P. M. That describes it perfectly, I sympathised with, you
knowr Bill Lawry and people like that. There I was
sitting in the pavilion calling the " pavilion" Holyrood
House, you see all dressed up and nowhere to go,
waiting, wondering whether I would fluff my lines. I
suppose you never have that feeling. e a 9 e 9 / 8

= 8
Not muchi Sir Robert you went from Holyrood House
then to Signet House. That's alongside the Cathedral
isn't it?
PIM. Yes, Signet Library is across from the front of St. Giles.
You robe there, or you are robed. It's a very complicated
business and each Knight of the Thistle has a man who
robes him and ties all the bows in the right places.
All that kind of thing.
Q, You are trying to make that robe a double-breaster.
P. M* And then you march into the Cathedral where they had
a full house, A lot of school-children singing hymns
as we went into the Chapel of the Thistle which is up
in the far corner, and allowed into the Chapel are The
Queen, of course, the Prince, the Knights of the Thistle,
the Lord Lyon King at Arms who is the great man on these
matters in Scotland, the Green Stick as they ca] 4 himhe's
a very distinguished man the Lean and the.
Minister of St. G. Lles. And when we had gone in there,
the doors were s hut behind us with a clang and the
curtains drawn. Very exclusive, you see. I thought
it was tremendously exclusive until I found out afterwards
that all the proceedings had been broadcast
through the Cathedral. But anyhow, it was a great day,
a great event.
Q. May I ask what was your reaction when you realised that
Hor Majesty The Queen was going to confer this great
honour upon you?
P. M* Well, I don't mind telling you that I didn't know whether
I was coming or going. This was in Canberra. This was
the last thing that I had had in my mind and I probably
wasn't frightfully coherent about it. I know that when
I left her, I struck her Private Secretary in the
corridor and he said to me, it being a suitable time of
day, " Would you like a drink?" I said, " Not only would
I like one, my boy, I need one." That perhaps describes
Q. Did you tell Tho Queen that?
P. M* Oh, yes.
Q4 Did you find her well?
P. M. Very well, I think she is in the top of her form and
that's a great deal.
Q. Well then, you went across the Atlantic and you met
President Kennedy. I think we have a picture of the
President, I felt, looking at the movies that I have
seen on that you were very impressed with this
young President of the United States of America.
P. M. Yes, I am. I know a lot of staunch Republicans in New
York because we do financial business with them, and
therefore I see something of them, but I never make any
secret to them of the fact that I admire President
1Lennedy very much. He's made mistakes, no doubt but he
has learned from them and each time I encounter him, I
find him more and more forthcoming, more and more mature,
clear-minded, not afraid to say what he thinks. I think
this is a very good man. I dont want to appear 0006 001-9

P. M. patronising about it, He's immeasurably more
( Contd,) significant than any of us, but he is, I think, a
man of' character clear-mrincednoss, conviction sounds.
like an alliteration doesntt it but all those things
are true about him.
Q. Do you think in view of the " winds of change" as Mr.
Macmillan would say, that our destiny maybe is more
with America than the Old Country?
P N. 1 I don't think that's the choice. I can't, myself,
imagine any state of affairs that would produce a
separation botween Australia and the United Kingdom.
Oh no. The blood is too strong for that and feelings
anJ history are too deep for that1 but I am quite
certain that as time goess on, we will become more and
more associated with the United States in matters of
security, in matters of putting out assistance of
various kinds to Asian countries, playing our own
destiny in this part of the world. We will have a
great deal moro and more to do with the United States
but it will be an alliance of friends, not one of those
instinctive, intimate associations that we have with
the Old Country. The two things are not mutually
exclusivee A lot of people seem to make the mistake
of thinking that they are. You can't get on to terms
with the U~ nited States without turning your back on
the Mother Country, they say. Well this is all wrong.
Q, I like to think of the Motherland as the Motherland
and America as a Brotherland,.....
P. M, That's right.
Q. Now, you went to Monticello. This is a tremendous
honour and I am quite sure you felt that way about it
when you gave this oration. Did you keep strictly to
the script which you had prepared in the way of a
speech for this oration?
PGM0 No, I've been struggling for years, Norman, to confine
these special lectures, or whatever they call them,
to about one a year because although I am supposed to
get up and talk out of the top of my head1 I find that
I have to start preparing one of these about three
months ahead and putting in a few hours every now and
then at a weekend in research, in looking up this and
that and in making a few notes, and in the result I
produced this Jefferson Oration as they call it, though
I hate the word. And then when the morning came at
Monticello lovely morning standing on the steps
of Monticello itself and looking at a battery of
Q6 This is the old Jefferson house?
PM. would interlard my written words by a few
asides you see? Itts an extraordinary thing how
if you look around am audience in broad daylight and
you see half a dozen people you know, they provoke
some observation in your mind and you practically say
something to them immediately between two carefullyprepared
sentences. It brightens it up. I find it
is much better to have an audience laugh occasionally
than sleep all the time. 000 0 .0/ 10

Q You were very impressed, weren't you, with the University
at Charlottesville?
P. M. Tremendously, It is a lovely piece of Palladian architecture
designed, all the old parts, by Jefferson himself.
He was a very remarkable man, Terrific fellow. Architect,
farmer lawyer a very good lawyer a great statesman,
twice hecretary of State under George W~ ashington and Vice-
President, then twice President of the United Statos.
He was a phenomenal man. A bit of an inventor in htig own
way. In fact, I quoted that day something that might
interest you and those who are listening to us. President
Kennedy gave a dinner at the Wdhite House to all the Nobel
Prizewinners and a lot of other high-powered people
great scientists, great humanists a variety of people
in the White House, And he began his speech of wel. come to
them by saying, " Well, gentlemen, I venture to beljeve that
this is the greatest assem~ blage of talent, of human talent
brought together in this room since Thomas Jefferson dined
Q, Fantastic,
PM. That was a marvellous thing to say. When I had refreshed
my mind about Jefferson about his work I knew a-good
deal but I had to improve on that knowledge I came to
the conclusion that President Kennedy was probably right.
Q. I an sure you did. Sir Robert, it has been wonder fully
kind of you to give us this strictly informal interview
or ya5? n about your recent experiences. I have deliberately
kept off politics and I an sure that met with your approval.
P. M. Well, as a matter of fact, Norman, you see you and I
happen to be old friends. I hope that will do you no harm.
Itts a long time now since you first interviewed me on a
radio station do you remember?
Q. I certainly do. It was actually in Trades Hall,
P. m. Thatts right. Right up in the Trades Hall, but a long time
before the fire.
Q. Well, thank you very much indeed. Ladies and gentlemen
it has been our great privilege and pleasure to talk with
the Right Honourable the Prime Minister, Sir Robert
Menzies, I very nearly said " Mr. Menzies" by force
of habit,

Transcript 782