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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, icons, identity, language, Prime Ministers, representations, representations of 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


A student:
5.2 assesses the impact of international events and relationships on Australia’s history
5.3 explains the changing rights and freedoms of Aboriginal peoples and other groups in Australia
5.4 sequences major historical events to show an understanding of continuity, change and causation
5.5 identifies, comprehends and evaluates historical sources
5.7 explains different contexts, perspectives and interpretations of the past.

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

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


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 . . . ‘

Further Resources


Go to National Archives of Australia – Australian Prime Ministers

Go to the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Go to The Menzies virtual museum