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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, British Empire, family life, icons, identity, national identity, politics, Prime Ministers, representations of war, war, World War 2, 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


Principal focus: Through the study of Robert Gordon Menzies, students gain an
understanding of the role of this personality in a period of national or international history.

Students learn about:

  1. Historical context
    – Australia’s relations with Great Britain in the twentieth century
    – fear of communism and the Cold War
  2. Background
    – family background and education
    – influence of university education and the law
  3. Rise to prominence
    – Member of Victorian and Federal Parliaments
    – role as Federal Attorney-General
    – Prime Minister 1939–1941: failed wartime leader
    – Opposition leader and the birth of the Liberal Party
  4. Significance and evaluation
    – election victory in 1949
    – 1950s: decade of stability and prosperity?
    – continuing electoral success
    – the Queen’s man
    – evaluation: for example great leader, political opportunist?
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


During his visit to war-torn London in 1941 Menzies saw at first hand the reality of the war for the British people. Did this determine his attitudes and his policies towards the war? Did it influence them strongly? Or was it not a significant factor in what he believed and what he did?

To explore this you need to research to establish:

  1. Menzies’ attitudes towards the war and Australia’s role in it before his trip, and his political situation within his own party at the time
  2. His attitude to his visit to the Australian troops at Singapore and in the Middle East
  3. His response to experiencing the bombing of London
  4. His role in the British War Cabinet
  5. The policies about the use of Australian troops that he put to Churchill (such as the use of Australian troops in the Greece/Crete campaigns)

Having gathered this information, you can decide what Menzies’ main motivation was in pursuing the policies he advocated: was he motivated by the benefit his policies would have for Australia, or was he driven by other motivations such as his concern for the Empire, or for Britain, or perhaps there was some other reason (such as self-interest). Discuss the conclusions you have drawn from your research in class.

Further Resources


Go to National Archives of Australia – Australian Prime Ministers

Go to the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Go to the Menzies virtual museum