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Robert Gordon Menzies was Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister. He held the office twice, from 1939 to 1941 and from 1949 to 1966. Altogether he was Prime Minister for over 18 years – still the record term for an Australian Prime Minister.
Born into humble circumstances, Menzies obtained a first-class secondary and university education by winning a series of scholarships. He established himself as one of Australia’s leading constitutional lawyers, then entered the Victorian parliament in 1928. He won a seat in the federal parliament in 1934 and served as Attorney-General and Minister for Industry in the United Australia Party government of Joseph Lyons.
Menzies was Prime Minister when World War II began in 1939. In 1941 he lost the confidence of members of Cabinet and his party and was forced to resign. As an Opposition backbencher during the war years, he helped create the Liberal Party and became Leader of the Opposition in 1946. At the 1949 federal election, he defeated Ben Chifley’s Labor Party and once again became Australia’s Prime Minister.
Menzies’ second period as Prime Minister laid the foundations for 22 consecutive years in government for the Liberal–Country Party Coalition.
Menzies was often characterised as an extreme monarchist and ‘British to his bootstraps’ (which he was), but as Prime Minister he upgraded Australia’s strong defence alliance with the United States. During his second period in office the ANZUS and SEATO treaties were signed, Australian troops were sent to support US-led forces in Korea, and Australia made its first commitment of combat forces to Vietnam.
Menzies retired as Prime Minister and from parliament in 1966. Knighted in 1963, he was further honoured in 1965 by being appointed Constable of Dover Castle and Warden of the Cinque Ports.
Robert Gordon Menzies died on 15 May 1978.