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The Death of Sir Robert Menzies

Sir Robert Menzies, Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, died on May 15, 1978, at the age of 83.

Menzies served two non-consecutive terms as Prime Minister, for a total of 18 years, 5 months and 12 days.


Of Scottish ancestry, Menzies was born in the Victorian Wimmera town of Jeparit on December 20, 1894. He studied at Wesley College and the University of Melbourne. He graduated in law and joined the Victorian bar in 1918.

Menzies was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council province of East Yarra in 1928, as a member of the Nationalist Party. In 1929, he transferred to the Legislative Assembly as the member for Nunawading. He was Deputy Premier from May 1932 until July 1934.

Menzies transferred to the Federal Parliament at the 1934 election, winning the Melbourne electorate of Kooyong for the United Australia Party. He held Kooyong through 12 elections until he retired from parliament on February 16, 1966.

He served as Attorney-General in the Lyons government and became prime minister on April 26, 1939, following the death of Lyons. Following ructions in the UAP, Menzies resigned on August 26, 1941.

Menzies founded the Liberal Party, following the collapse of the UAP, in 1944. As Opposition Leader, he lost the 1946 election but returned as prime minister at the December 1949 election. Through 7 elections, he remained prime minister until he voluntarily retired on January 26, 1966. His second term as prime minister lasted for an unprecedented 16 years, 1 month, 7 days.

All of the recordings below were taken from radio and television broadcasts on the day Menzies died at his home in Haverbrack Ave, Malvern.

  • May 15, 1978: This segment of the ABC’s PM program is one of the first broadcasts of the news of Menzies’s death. It includes an interview with Sir William McMahon.
  • May 15, 1978: An unidentified radio station broadcast this announcement.
  • May 15, 1978: The 6.30pm Channel 7 news in Melbourne.
  • May 15, 1978: The 7.00pm ABC televisions news.
  • May 15, 1978: This Day Tonight, 7.30pm, ABC television covered the death of Menzies with file footage and interviews with Sir William McMahon and Frank Crean.
  • May 15, 1978: ABC television ran this tribute to Menzies on the evening of his death. This recording is incomplete. (25 mins)
  • May 15, 1978: Channel 7 ran this hour-long tribute to Menzies.
  • May 15, 1978: The former Labor leader, Arthur Calwell, spoke generously of Menzies at the time of his retirement in January 1966.
  • May 15, 1978: Sir Robert Menzies tells a story of a conversation he had with Sir Winston Churchill about history’s judgement.
  • May 15, 1978: An undated recording of Menzies dealing with hecklers at a public meeting.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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