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Joseph Lyons’ Love Letters
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 5min 2sec
Tags - Australian History, Prime Ministers, biography, family life, feminism, gender, icons, identity, image and reality, language, leadership, media, politics, representations, women, see all tags
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Joseph Lyons’ Love Letters 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.
5.1 explains social, political and cultural developments and events and evaluates their impact on Australian life
5.2 assesses the impact of international events and relationships on Australia’s history
5.4 sequences major historical events to show an understanding of continuity, change and causation
5.5 identifies, comprehends and evaluates historical sources
5.6 uses sources appropriately in an historical inquiry
5.7 explains different contexts, perspectives and interpretations of the past.
Joseph Lyons was elected to the Commonwealth Parliament in 1929 as the Australian Labor Party member for a seat in Tasmania. Two years later he was Prime Minister, representing the United Australia Party, having left the ALP in protest against that party’s Depression economic policies.
The Depression meant a huge increase in unemployment. The major parties disagreed over what they should do. The Labor Government wanted to increase government spending to stimulate economic activity and create jobs. Where would the money come from to do this? From delaying or reducing the payment of debts to British investors and banks. To Lyons, this was irresponsible. He wanted Australia to cut its spending, not increase it, and to pay back debts, not defer them. He split from his party and became leader of the new United Australia Party, and was elected in 1931.
Lyons was a trusted figure. He and his adored wife and confidante, Enid, presented a genuine picture of domestic harmony and security to the Australian public despite the many separations they endured as he commuted from the family home in Tasmania to the Australian capital. They had 12 children together. Politics rarely produces impassioned romantics, which is just what makes the hundreds of letters Joseph Lyons wrote to Enid as fascinating as they are unexpected. He died in office and Enid went on to become the first female member of the Federal House of Representatives and the first woman in Federal Cabinet.
Joseph Lyons (1879 -1939) was Prime Minister of Australia from January 1932 to April 1939. Joseph Lyons’ love letters are held at the National Library of Australia in Canberra
1. Interrogating objects
History sometimes involves the study of artifacts — often in a museum, as part of a site study. Objects and artifacts 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. Prime Minister’ wives
The object tells us about Joseph Lyons, but it also tells us something about Enid Lyons, and her importance in her husband’s life.
How important are Prime Ministers’ wives? Do they provide essential personal support? Do they sometimes provide political support as well?
You can research this through the National Archives of Australia website where a section about each Prime Minister looks specifically at his wife.
Enid Lyons is the most significant of these wives politically, because of the independent political career she had when her husband died. Research her political career as well as her role as a Prime Minister’s wife.
Go to the Australian Dictionary of Biography
For more photographs, cartoons and other historical images of this Prime Minister go to the National Library of Australia website and search using the Prime Minister’s name.