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Joseph Lyons’ Love Letters

Video clip synopsis – Politics rarely produces impassioned romantics, which makes the hundreds of letters Joseph Lyons wrote to his adored wife and confidante, Enid, as fascinating as they are unexpected
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 5min 2sec
Tags - Australian History, biography, conscription, gender, icons, identity, leadership, national identity, Prime Ministers, representations, war, see all tags


Joseph Lyons’ Love Letters

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About the Video Clip


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.

Curriculum Focus


In this English unit students will learn:

  • about the use of letters in the relationship between Joseph and Enid Lyons
  • to consider the role of language in establishing and maintaining relationships, and to reflect on the influence technology is having
  • to interpret, analyse and evaluate the use of linguistic, visual, audio and gestural resources in relating events from Australian history
  • to produce texts such as short stories, scripts, letters to the editor and feature articles.

Outcomes from this digital resource

Viewing and creating texts on Joseph Lyons’ Love Letters, students will have the opportunity to explicitly develop and demonstrate their knowledge and abilities in terms of:

Affective objectives

  • enjoying: experiencing and expressing thoughts and emotional reactions
  • engaging: participating effectively in activities that involve connecting with people, feelings, places, ideas, issues and events
  • relating: respecting and valuing cultural similarities and differences
  • appreciating: valuing the world(s) in which they live in order to understand better the world of others
  • playing: experimenting with the flexible nature of language, exploring its possibilities, and creating desired effects

Knowledge and control of texts in their contexts

  • making meaning in texts, taking account of how language and meaning are shaped by cultural purposes, genres and register variables
  • selecting, synthesising, analysing, infering from, and evaluating subject matter and substantiating with evidence as required
  • using modes and mediums, combining where necessary, to interpret and produce texts.

Knowledge and control of textual features

  • making decisions about the appropriateness and effectiveness of the staging of texts and the sequencing and organization of subject matter
  • considering and selecting vocabulary, including figurative language
  • experimenting with visual, auditory and digital features, using them in combination as appropriate in written, spoken/signed and multimodal texts to make meaning
  • making use of a range of spoken/signed and non-verbal features

Knowledge and application of the constructedness of texts

  • making use of their knowledge that discourses shape and are shaped by language choices
  • exploring ways that cultural assumptions, values, beliefs and attitudes underpin texts
  • choosing ways to represent concepts, and the relationships and identities of individuals, groups, times and places

This is an extract only. Teachers and students should consult Queensland Curriculum: Learning, Teaching and Assessment for updated curriculum information

Background Information


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

Classroom Activities

  1. Discussing the clip
    1. Who is Joseph Lyons? How is he significant in Australian history?
    2. Compare the way this film introduces the topic with the introductory sequence in Edmund Barton and the Velvet Soap Advertisement. How do these position the reader differently towards their subject?
    3. When the letters are revealed in the National Library, what is Warren Brown’s attitude towards them? How is this constructed through language and images?
    4. Brown says that Lyons’s story is not what we’d expect of ‘a hard-nosed politician’. What is the attitude of the public that Brown is assuming here? What binary associated with Lyons does this film set up?
    5. As Brown narrates the story, what images of Lyons and his wife Enid are displayed? How does this influence the viewer’s interpretation – in other words, how does it frame the viewer’s reading position?
    6. How is a positive, even sympathetic attitude towards Joseph Lyons established?
    7. Who gets to tell Lyons’ story? Is there another story to tell?
    8. What role does music play in this film?
    9. How is this film structured for maximum emotional impact?
    10. Pause the film and analyse the visual features employed in Brown’s cartoon of Joseph and Enid Lyons. How are viewers invited to think about them as the film finishes?
  2. Doing
    1. This is a story that would lend itself to turning into a feature film or short story. Consider what aspects of Lyons’ life you will emphasise and then produce a full story outline for a film script or storyboard. Alternatively, write a poem or song that memorializes their story.
    2. Write a modern love story based on the story of Joseph and Enid Lyons. Instead of love letters, however, the protagonists should use email, text messaging and MySpace.
    3. Analyse and evaluate the way that a current politician (or other public figure, e.g. athlete, singer, actor) is represented in the media. Write a letter to the editor or feature article commenting on that representation.
    4. Based on the public figure studied above, either research or invent another side to that person’s life to position readers differently.

Further Resources


Go to National Archives of Australia – Australian Prime Ministers

Go to the Australian Dictionary of Biography