For most Australian Prime Ministers, there is a photo or two that captures the essence of their character and the spirit of the times. Some readily come to mind, such as Ben Chifley at the launch of the first Holden car in 1948.
The well-known photos of Bob Menzies at the microphone during a campaign rally in the 1950s portray both control and confidence.
A picture of Harold Holt relaxing in swimming trunks on the beach at Portsea with friends encapsulates the popular record of the man, and his demise.
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It is often said the Labor Party glorifies its history, even its notable failures – and that is the only explanation that can be given for the glorification of the Whitlam Government, given it was tossed out in the biggest landslide in Australian history after only three years.
But one important anniversary in Australian politics has gone largely unnoticed. Last week was the 60th anniversary of the Robert Menzies-led Liberal Party defeating Ben Chifley’s Labor Government in 1949.
The victory of the newly formed Liberal Party over the Chifley Labor Government led to 21 years of Liberal Coalition government. And it is no overstatement to claim that this was the single most important election in Australia during the twentieth century.
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An old newspaper can work like a telescope into the past, the details sharp but the whole picture a little shaky and blurred, and the newspaper on my wall is like that. It’s the front of the Melbourne Argus for Sunday, September the third, 1939, and it contains only one story, told in a series of blaring headlines.
BRITAIN AT WAR
DECLARED AT 8.20 P.M.
‘OUR CONSCIENCE CLEAR’ – MR CHAMBERLAIN
A DECLARATION THAT A STATE OF WAR EXISTED BETWEEN BRITAIN AND GERMANY WAS MADE BY THE PRIME MINISTER, MR CHAMBERLAIN, TO THE NATION FROM NO. 10 DOWNING STREET TO-NIGHT.
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