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Video clip synopsis – Robert Menzies’ lifelong passion for home movies resulted in a surprisingly personal record of the war years, including footage of a young Princess Elizabeth.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 5min 19sec
Tags - Australian History, civics and citizenship, icons, identity, image and reality, media and society, media influence, Prime Ministers, representations of war, Vietnam War, war, see all tags


Robert Menzies’ Camera

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About the Video Clip


Robert Menzies’ Camera is an episode from the series The Prime Ministers’ National Treasures, produced in 2007.

The Prime Ministers’ National Treasures
Award winning cartoonist and yarn spinner, Warren Brown, reveals the emotional lives of Australian Prime Ministers through 10 objects they used every day or even adored – from Robert Menzies’ home movie camera, to Joseph Lyons’ love letters, Harold Holt’s briefcase and Ben Chifley’s pipe. These treasures reveal the nation’s leaders, as you have never seen them before.

The Prime Ministers’ National Treasures is a Film Australia National Interest Program produced in association with Old Parliament House and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Curriculum Focus


Key history outcomes:

  • Citizenship: Preparing young Australians to be active and informed citizens
  • Identity: The diverse and multiple identities of a multicultural nation
  • Perspectives: The continent, the region and the world
  • Thinking and Linking: Connecting the past, present and future
  • Historical literacy: Essential and specific skills

This is an extract only. Go to The National Curriculum Statements for English
Teachers and students should consult their State’s curriculum and learning programs.

Background Information


When Britain declared war on Germany in 1939 Prime Minister Robert Menzies declared Australia was also at war.

In 1941 he flew to Britain (the first Australian Prime Minister to fly overseas rather than go by ship). On route he visited Australian troops in Singapore, and realised how vulnerable Singapore was to attack. In Britain he asked Prime Minister Churchill to increase Singapore’s defences, but without success. Menzies also reluctantly committed Australian troops to what became a disastrous campaign in Greece.

Menzies also saw the devastation of the German bombing campaign on London and other major cities. He took his wind-up film camera everywhere he went, and his very personal record of the visit includes strikingly informal footage of a young Princess Elizabeth.

On his return to Australia in 1941 he lost the confidence of members of Cabinet and his party who believed he was an electoral liability and he 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.

Robert Menzies (1894 -1978) was Prime Minister of Australia twice; from April 1939 to August 1941 and December 1949 to January 1966. Robert Menzies’ camera is held at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Classroom Activities


1. Interrogating objects

History sometimes involves the study of artefacts — often in a museum, as part of a site study. Objects and artefacts can tell you about a person or a time — but only if you can ‘interrogate’ them to find out what their story is.

Here are questions that you can use on museum objects, such as this one about the Prime Minister, to help reveal the meaning and significance of objects.

  • Describe the object. (Size, shape, materials, function etc.)
  • What does it show? — People? Symbols? Words? If so, who or what are they?
  • What is its context? (Time, place, social group etc.)
  • Who produced it?
  • For what possible purpose/s?
  • Who was it meant for? (Just one person, or a whole audience?)
  • What might it tell us about attitudes and values — that is, those things that people believe are the right way to behave?
  • What does it tell us about how people behaved at the time?

Now write a summary sentence beginning:

‘This object helps me understand or realise that . . . ‘

2.The power of images

The segment on Prime Minister Menzies and his camera is about the power and significance of key images in history.

Here is an activity to test the power and significance of three key images in the Vietnam War. They are images that people who lived during the war will almost all remember; but they are also images that are less straightforward than they at first seem.

Gather the images — but for some you will need several versions. Gather them in this order.

  1. The burning of a monk
    1. Image 1A
    2. Image 1B
  2. A girl injured by napalm
    1. Image 2A
    2. Image 2B
    3. Image 2C
  3. The execution of a VC suspect
    1. Image 3A
  1. Print the images on individual pages so that you can show them to people separately.
  2. Show Image 1A to people. Ask for their comment on it.
  3. Show Image 2A to people. Ask for their comment.
  4. Show Image 3A to people. Ask for their comment.
  5. Now show image 1B. Point out the presence of the monk in the background, with a camera, showing that he knew the monk was going to set fire to himself as a political act. Ask if this extra element makes any difference to the person’s perception of the image.
  6. Now show image 2B and 2C, each of which increasingly shows other activities going on at the same time. Ask if these extra elements make any difference to the person’s perception of the image.
  7. Now explain to the person that there is a background story to 3A. The VC suspect being shot had just been captured at a local police station. The man shooting had a son-in-law who was an officer at that station. The son-in-law, his wife (the shooter’s daughter) and the officer’s children (the shooter’s grandchildren) had all been executed there by strangling. The shooter had just returned from identifying their bodies when the suspect was brought to him. Does this make any difference to their reaction to the image?
  8. Discuss what this tells us about the use of images in history.

Further Resources


Go to National Archives of Australia – Australian Prime Ministers

Go to the Australian Dictionary of Biography