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Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, Robert Gordon Menzies (1894-1978), was in kinship care as a child.

Robert Menzies was born in the small country town of Jeparit in Victoria. He was the fourth of five children born to Kate Sampson and James Menzies, a storekeeper. James was a lay preacher in the local Nonconformist church and from 1911 to 1920 was active in Victorian state politics, holding the seat of Lowan in the Victorian Legislative Assembly.

Kate and James had little in the way of formal education but wanted more for their children. Therefore, they sent their four eldest children to school in Ballarat, approximately 266 km south-east of Jeparit. The children attended the state school in Humffray Street while living with their paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Menzies.

Bob did best, topping the State scholarship examination in 1907, and studying in consequence for two years at Grenville College, a Ballarat private school. It opened the way to another scholarship, which Menzies took at Wesley College, Melbourne. Success there won him an exhibition to the University of Melbourne… A brilliant undergraduate career followed, with a galaxy of prizes (Martin).

Menzies completed his law degree and was admitted to the Bar in 1918. Two years later he won a landmark case in the High Court of Australia, a win which elevated his status.

Robert Menzies soon became involved in Victorian state politics, becoming a member of the Legislative Council for East Yarra in 1928. He moved to federal politics in 1934, winning the Federal seat of Kooyong for the United Australia Party.

On 26 April 1939 Robert Menzies became prime minister of Australia for the first time. He served until 1941.

In 1944, Menzies helped found the Liberal Party of Australia and was the first leader of the party.

Menzies began his second term as prime minister on 19 December 1949, remaining in office for 16 years.

The period of Menzies’ dominance was…marked by extraordinary economic growth. This ‘long boom’ was experienced in most advanced economies, but the Menzies governments’ stability, their declared policies of ‘development’ and their continuance of the ambitious immigration programme initiated by Labor were factors in a transformation of Australian material life, as indicated by markers as various as growth in population and home ownership, the ubiquity of whitegoods, and a great jump in motor-vehicle ownership (Martin).

Robert Menzies was knighted in 1978. His portrait is held in the National Portrait Gallery and the Art Gallery of NSW.


Martin, A.W. “Menzies, Sir Robert Gordon (Bob) (1894-1978).” Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 15 (2000).

“Prime Ministers of Australia. Robert Menzies.” National Museum Australia. 

Image available here.