Menzies and Curtin contemporary perspectives: Peter Edwards

Robert Menzies and John Curtin gained very different reputations from their service as wartime Prime Ministers. After the war Menzies was seen by many as a failed leader – a brash, young conservative whose loyalties and political ambitions lay in Britain rather than Australia, and who was ejected from his position by his own side of politics. John Curtin, by contrast, was seen as a true national leader, who had forged a close relationship with the United States when the British Empire’s strategies were failing, who had retained the support of his party under extraordinary pressures, and whose death on the eve of victory was greatly mourned.

Nevertheless, they had more in common than these reputations suggest. Both men argued strongly with British leaders over the Empire’s strategic plans and military operations. Both men looked to the United States for as much support as was possible in the circumstances. Both leaders had more difficulty in dealing with their own side of politics than with the Opposition side. It was Menzies who broke with imperial tradition by sending the first Australian envoys to foreign capitals, instead of relying solely on the British diplomatic service. It was Curtin who became the only Australian Prime Minister to appoint a royal duke as Governor-General.

Professor Peter Edwards
Visiting Professor of the University of New South Wales
Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra
Appointed JCPML Visiting Scholar in 2001


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