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John McEwen was Prime Minister from 19 December 1967 to 10 January 1968, when he stood down for new Liberal Party leader John Gorton. Parliament was in recess for this period and the chief concern for McEwen and his ministry was the arrangement of the memorial service for Harold Holt.

John McEwen at his swearing-in, 1967

The Governor-General Lord Casey (right) congratulates Prime Minister John McEwen at his swearing-in on 19 December 1967.

NAA: A1200, L68092

As well as welcoming the official guests to Canberra and Melbourne for the service, government ministers held meetings with heads of government, including US President Lyndon Johnson and British Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

Although Gorton initially retained the McEwen ministry, the change for McEwen himself was rapid. The leadership ballot on 9 January was over by 2.30pm and Gorton went to McEwen’s office. McEwen offered congratulations and his readiness to step down as he had promised. He asked Gorton, ‘When would you like me to do that, John?’ Gorton answered, ‘Say, half past two?’.

John McEwen and Governor-General Lord Casey, 1967

Prime Minister John McEwen and Governor-General Lord Casey (front row, centre) with the McEwen ministry at Government House, after the swearing-in on 19 December 1967.

NAA: A1200, L68104

McEwen and Gorton returned to Government House three weeks after McEwen had been sworn in. He resigned, and John Gorton became Australia’s nineteenth Prime Minister.

Sources

Golding, Peter, ‘Sir John McEwen’ in Michelle Grattan (ed.), Australian Prime Ministers, New Holland, Sydney, 2000.

Hughes, Colin A, Australian Prime Ministers 1901–1972, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1976.

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