Robert Gordon Menzies 1894-1978

Written by Frederick White.


Robert Gordon Menzies was born on 20 December 1894 in the country town of Jeparit in the State of Victoria, Australia.

By the brilliance of his intellect he won the scholarships that enabled him to qualify with distinction as a barrister, and to be called to the Victorian Bar. He abandoned the successful professional practice of the law to devote the greater part of his life to a political career, first in his own State, but later in the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. He first became Prime Minister in 1939, four months before Australia joined Britain by declaring war with Germany. Then followed eight years in opposition until Menzies, now leading a new Liberal Party-Country Party coalition, achieved a resounding victory in the election of December 1949. He became Prime Minister and held the leadership of his Party in Parliament for the next sixteen years. Menzies dominated the political scene in Australia in those years. Much has been and will no doubt be written of the major political events and controversies of this period of recovery from the war. The judgement of political and economic analysts will vary widely, but there can be no doubt about Menzies's contribution to education and to science. For 16 years he personally guided the policy of his government to transform the status and magnitude of education throughout Australia, and greatly to enhance the resources devoted to the arts, the humanities and to science. This was indeed a period of intellectual renewal and progress never equalled in Australia's history.

Menzies made a second great contribution to the cultural life of Australia. When he began to attend the Commonwealth Parliament in 1934, only desultory progress had been made in the execution of the plans of the American architect, Walter Burley Griffin, for the building of the national capital of Canberra. Menzies's increasing involvement in the political affairs of the nation inevitably convinced him that 'the new Federal Government and Parliament must be established in an area and city acquired and established for federal purposes'. In the years of his greatest power he created and supported a determined policy that changed tardiness to accelerated action.

These two outstanding achievements will be the main subjects of this memoir.

Youth and early professional life

His father, James Menzies, was the son of Scottish crofters who had migrated to Australia in the mid-1850s in the wake of the Victorian gold rush. Through his mother Kate, née Sampson, he inherited a link with Cornwall; his grandfather, John Sampson, was a miner from Penzance who came to Ballarat in Victoria to seek his fortune on the gold-fields. Menzies's father was born in Ballarat in August 1862. He went early to work to help support his widowed mother and her family. He became a coach painter and, in the early days of the newly invented H.V. Mackay 'Sunshine' Harvester, is known to have painted the first of these machines made in Ballarat.

The small settlement of Jeparit in the Mallee District of Victoria began about 1870 on the fringe of the developing wheat land, and it was here that James Menzies moved with his wife and their three children to manage a general store recently purchased by his brother-in-law. The railway had not reached this hot dusty village of about 30 buildings and 200 people when the Menzies family arrived late in 1893. In those pioneering days the district was not prosperous, and James Menzies had a serious struggle to support his family.

Robert Gordon, the fourth child, was born on 20 December 1894 not long after the family arrived at Jeparit, and his brother Stanley, the fifth child was born there later. James and Kate Menzies had little money, but they had all that respect for education and learning so typical of Scots of humble origin of their times. They were determined that their children should achieve the best education of which each was capable. The young Robert Gordon Menzies began his education at the one-teacher, one-room school, where elementary education was provided free by the State. What the school taught him was supplemented by the habit the parents had of reading to their family. Menzies himself recalls 'Henry Drummond for evangelical theology; Jerome K. Jerome for humour; the Scottish Chiefs for historical fervour'. He also made good use of the library of the Mechanics Institute, an institution for adult education introduced into Victorian towns from England and Scotland. The only way a clever boy or girl could break out of a rural village through educational achievement was by winning one of the few scholarships awarded by the State, and this became the ambition of the young Menzies. His first scholarship enabled him to attend Grenville College in Ballarat without paying fees. He went to live at his parents' expense with his grandmother in that town. He next won a scholarship which took him to the much larger school, Wesley College in Melbourne, an independent school that the Wesleyan Methodist Church had founded in the nineteenth century in Victoria.

By this time, l909, his parents had left Jeparit, and moved their home to Melbourne. Robert Gordon Menzies was therefore able to live at home during the whole of the period of his attendance at Wesley College and later at Melbourne University (1). He graduated in 1916 from the University of Melbourne with first class honours in law; he was awarded the Dwight Prize in Constitutional History (1914), the Sir John Madden Exhibition, the Jessie Leggatt Scholarship (1915), the Bowen Essay Prize and the Supreme Court Prize (1917) (2). In 1920 he married Pattie Maie (later Dame Pattie), daughter of the late Senator J.W. Leckie; they had two sons and one daughter.

Menzies was admitted to the Victorian Bar and the High Court of Australia in 1918 and appointed King's Counsel in 1929. After some years of practice as a barrister Menzies entered the Upper House of the Victorian Parliament in 1928 as a Nationalist. In 1929 he resigned from the Upper House and won the seat for Nunawading in the Victorian Legislative Assembly. In 1932 he was Attorney-General, Minister for Railways and Deputy Premier.

When Sir John Latham, after a distinguished political career, was appointed Chief Justice of the High Court in 1934, Menzies stood for and won Latham's vacant and safe seat of Kooyong in the Commonwealth House of Representatives. He held this seat until he retired in 1966. He joined Joseph Lyons who, as Prime Minister, led a United Australia Party government from January 1932 until October 1934, and then a United Australia Party-Country Party coalition until November 1938. Menzies was Attorney-General and Minister for Industry from October 1934 until November 1938. Lyons won the next election but with a much reduced majority. During the next few months dramatic changes occurred. Lyons was unwilling to concede the leadership to Menzies; the latter on 14 March 1939 resigned from his ministerial posts and from the deputy leadership of his party. Lyons died suddenly at Easter 1939; Earle Page led the government for nineteen days and then resigned. Menzies became Prime Minister on 26 April 1939 only four months before the outbreak of the war with Germany. He announced Australia's determination to support Britain by a declaration of war at 9.15pm on 3 September 1939.

His efforts to organise the country for war were frustrated by a lack of confidence in his leadership by his own colleagues. The Labor Party refused his offer to form a national coalition government. When he found in Cabinet that 'There was a strong view that, having regard to our precarious Parliamentary position, my unpopularity with the leading newspapers was a threat to the survival of the Government' he resigned as Prime Minister in August 1941 to allow Arthur Fadden, the leader of the Country Party, to become Prime Minister. Arthur Fadden's government lasted only until 7 October 1941 when he handed in his commission to the Governor-General. John Curtin, assured of the support of the two independent members Arthur Coles and Alexander Wilson, took over the leadership of the Labor Party Government.

In the years that followed, Menzies, with the cooperation of many supporters, succeeded in welding together the political groups throughout the country that held views allied to those of the old United Australia Party. This new grouping under the banner of a Liberal Party of Australia, and supported by the Country Party, fought and won the elections of December 1949. Thus Menzies became Prime Minister for the second time on 19 December 1949; he remained as the leader of his government until he retired, politically undefeated, from politics on 26 January 1966, aged 71 years.

The Commonwealth and State Governments

In the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century the governments of the six States into which the nation was divided founded the institutions which they considered essential for the education of the people and for assisting in the technology necessary for the economic development then important. The purpose of many of these institutions was also to sustain British culture in so far as a government considered it had a responsibility so to do. Each university, founded by an Act of Parliament, was open to all students who could meet the academic standards of matriculation and could afford the fees. Free primary and secondary education was provided by a State Education Department supplemented by schools founded by the churches or by private groups. The State Governments also founded technical schools and agricultural colleges for the special forms of instruction of artisans and farmers. No child in Australia was in theory denied the opportunity of the education that might embrace the highest levels of learning and the professions, but in practice many were no doubt so denied by the financial limitations of their parents or by the remoteness of their homes from the schools and colleges that would have provided for them.

In the closing years of the nineteenth century the people of Australia accepted by referendum a written Constitution for the new Commonwealth of Australia. The Bill giving legal authenticity to the creation of the Commonwealth passed both Houses of the Parliament of Westminster and received the royal assent in July 1900; Queen Victoria signed the proclamation establishing the Commonwealth with effect from 1 January 1901. In discussions of the political activities of the Commonwealth Government in relation to the State Governments, frequent reference is made to the terms of this Constitution; the State Governments retained their sovereign powers inherited originally from the Parliament in Westminster, but agreed to refer certain powers, such for example as the power to legislate in matters of defence, external affairs, navigation, quarantine, immigration, postal and telecommunication services to the Commonwealth Parliament. Other legislative powers of the Commonwealth are difficult to interpret; many Acts of the Parliament have been held by the High Court to be unconstitutional. Frequent attempts by the Commonwealth to achieve greater powers by referendum have been defeated.

The Commonwealth has no legislative power in regard to education except in the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. In the great reforms Menzies brought about he relied on Section 96 of the Constitution which states in part 'the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit'. The exercise of this power calls for political judgement to ensure acceptance by the States of the decisions of the Commonwealth.

Financial assistance for the State universities

Before World War II there were six universities in Australia and two university colleges. The oldest, the University of Sydney, was founded in 1850 followed by Melbourne in 1853, and the remainder followed as the State Governments saw fit to create universities in each of the capital cities in Australia. Each university was created by a statute of the relevant State Legislature while those founded last century were granted a Royal Charter or Royal Letters Patent. Canberra University College was founded in the very early days of the National Capital and was at that time a small institution preparing students for degrees given by the University of Melbourne. The State universities were financed by State grants, by private endowments or grants, and by fees paid by the students. They all offered courses to matriculated students in the humanities, the arts and the sciences; most provided professional courses in law, medicine and engineering; the Universities of Sydney and Melbourne had courses in agricultural and veterinary science.

Great changes occurred in the universities after the outbreak of the war in Europe in 1939 and particularly with the Japanese invasion of the Far East when the direct threat to Australia began to be apparent. Many young men and women who might otherwise have attended the universities enlisted in the fighting services; many members of the staff of the universities either did so also or, if more senior, undertook activities to assist the Government in its war-time efforts. As the war drew to an end the Labor Government saw the need to cope with the human and economic problems associated with converting the country to a peace-time society, and for the first time began extensively to become involved in education. In particular, the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme was introduced with the general purpose to provide training or re-training opportunities for those members of the forces whose education had been interrupted by enlistment, and for those who, for a variety of reasons, could also benefit. For some years this scheme injected considerable sums of money into the university budgets.

In 1946 the Labor Government founded the Australian National University in Canberra. In 1949 the New South Wales Government created the University of Technology as the apex, as it were, of the extensive system of technical education institutions of the State Government; this was later renamed the University of New South Wales when its Act was amended in 1958 to allow the teaching of medicine and arts. This broadly was the university situation when Menzies became Prime Minister of the Commonwealth for the second time in December 1949.

Menzies's interest in education at all levels, but particularly at the university level, had been apparent long before he became Prime Minister. His own life and experience had induced this interest. He must early in his career have realized the importance to Australia and to the world of some way of allowing the worthy and intellectual young persons more frequently to achieve the opportunity for higher learning, and for the qualifications for professional life. His personal interests were in the classics and humanities rather than in science and technology, although, as his experience as a politician grew, he came to appreciate the influence of these on national and international affairs. The speech he made in 1939 at the annual commencement of the Canberra University College entitled The place of a university in the modern community reveals the depth of his knowledge of university affairs and his clearly formulated views on the role of the university in society (3). He was very proud too of having, while Attorney-General in the Victorian Government, introduced the Bill that created the first full-time Vice-Chancellor of his old University of Melbourne.

It was in 1945 in the House of Representatives in Canberra when, as the Leader of the Opposition, he expressed his conception of the part that the Commonwealth Government should and ultimately did, play in the university affairs of the nation. On that occasion he advocated a revised and extended educational system; the need for attention to be directed to secondary, rural, technical and university training; the need for special adult education and the problems of the qualifications, status and remuneration of teachers. He said that these reforms 'may involve substantial Commonwealth financial aid' and advocated the setting up of a qualified commission to advise (4). This speech was well received by the House and particularly by the Honourable J.J. Dedman, Minister for Post-War Reconstruction, who was responsible on behalf of the Labor Government for the assistance afforded to the universities in the interests of post-war reconstruction.

It was some years however before Menzies was in the position to influence affairs. He was well aware of the difficulties, indeed the crisis, of the Australian universities when he returned to power in 1949. Costs were rising, student numbers being financed by the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme were falling as ex-service men and women graduated, and thus the universities were losing the benefits of the grants made by the Commonwealth on their behalf. By law the universities were unable to refuse entry to qualified young persons, and could not introduce quotas to limit entry to the different faculties. The salaries of the staff of the university were low compared with comparable qualified persons in the community. In particular the level of research in the universities was extremely low owing mainly to the lack of adequate funds to finance research students, research assistants and the purchase of equipment. Three months after his election success in December 1949, Menzies set up the Commonwealth Committee on the Needs of Universities. This was under the Chairmanship of Professor R.C. Mills, a distinguished economist who was at that time Director of the Commonwealth Office of Education (5). Menzies asked for and obtained an interim report, and by December 1951 he had passed legislation permitting the Commonwealth to provide money in proportion to that provided by the State Governments. This was the first of a series of the State Grants (Universities) Acts made possible under Section 96 of the Constitution. This was a satisfactory beginning, but Menzies himself considered the sums paltry compared with those given later to support the universities, and for tertiary education in other forms. The sum of $2.252 million was provided in 1951 and this increased to $4.512 million in 1957; half was provided by the Commonwealth and half by the State Governments.

In the years between 1951 and 1957 when Menzies was again prepared to act, the States had found it impossible to provide adequate finance for the growing demand for tertiary and technical education and even for education at the secondary level. Inevitably in this situation, agitation grew up in all directions. In 1952 the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee published a pamphlet titled A crisis in the finances and development of the Australian universities, appealing for public attention (6). The Australian National Research Council, the predecessor of the Australian Academy of Science, organized a symposium in Canberra in 1954 under the chairmanship of the highly respected Chief Justice of the Commonwealth, Sir Owen Dixon, at which the plight of the universities was discussed. The president of the Australian National Research Council, the distinguished anthropologist, Professor A.P. Elkin, wrote to the Prime Minister outlining the plight of the universities and sending the text of a resolution passed at the symposium. However, perhaps the most telling of the appeals came from the late Ian Clunies Ross, at that time Chairman of the CSIRO. Clunies Ross was a graduate of the University of Sydney and well known in academic and scientific society for his liberal views and for the quality of his public statements. His oration, delivered on the occasion of the Centenary of the University of Sydney on 26 August 1952, was entitled The responsibility of science and the university in the modern world. After an inspiring analysis of the role of the university and of science both in Australia and abroad he ended with a discussion of the serious problems of the Australian universities and said:

I would emphasise that action must be taken now. We have not yet experienced the full effects of the scientific age, the age of specialization; indeed it may be said we have scarcely felt its impact if we consider what it will involve ten or twenty years hence. We are living on borrowed capital which is rapidly running out, the capital of an older generation, educated in the tradition of a broader and more liberal scholarship which still exerts a marked influence on the thoughts and attitudes of our day (7).

Clunies Ross did not rely on this address alone to stimulate action by the Government. He sent a copy of his address to the Chief Justice, Sir Owen Dixon, whom he knew had been the mentor of the Prime Minister at the Bar. He wrote to Mr R.G. Casey, the Minister in Charge of the CSIRO, to whom he was, as Chairman, formally responsible. He wrote to his close friend Dick Boyer, Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, to Mr A.M. Campbell, Editor-in-Chief of the Age in Melbourne, to Sir Warwick Fairfax, Governing Director of the Sydney Morning Herald, and in each case emphasized the importance of his message (8).

In his address he had said that he was fully aware of the constitutional difficulties which, on purely legal grounds, appear to absolve the Commonwealth of responsibility for participation in general university matters. He went on to say that 'good sense and the overriding importance of the issues found a way round these difficulties and can do so again'. He said 'there could be no more auspicious way in which to mark the centenary of the oldest Australian university than by the setting up by the Commonwealth of a commission of the highest prestige and authority to examine and define the functions, responsibilities and needs of the universities'. in January 1953, Clunies Ross sent a copy of this address to the Prime Minister saying that he would be most grateful if the Prime Minister could find the time to read it. He said also 'there do seem to be, however, so many university issues which will come before your Government in the near future, that I ventured to press the recommendation contained in my oration for setting up of a commission of the greatest prestige and authority to redefine not only the material things but the true purpose and function of the universities'.

Professor Mills had been appointed as Chairman of the Committee of Inquiry into the Universities in 1950 and reported in 1951. However, no action was taken by the Menzies Government, except to continue to pay the grants proposed by Mills, until Menzies appointed the Murray Committee in 1957 (9).

That Menzies did not take action in this period may be attributed to his reluctance to become still further involved with commitments to the State Governments on behalf of the universities. Although Mills had been successful in making recommendations that were acceptable to the universities and to the State Governments, it is nevertheless true that some Vice-Chancellors were very reluctant to accept the idea of a Commonwealth Committee supervising their development, and apprehensive at an intrusion into their autonomy. State Governments have always resented dictation from the Commonwealth, and it is indeed interesting in the years that followed how fully they accepted the Australian Universities Commission as their guide to university development. Menzies might well have been deterred by the financial problems of the early days of his Ministry. When he took office in 1949 the financial state of the economy was uncertain. The price of wool rose to exceptionally high levels in 1950 as a result of American purchases for uniforms of soldiers in the Korean war. The great increase in export income was followed by rapidly rising domestic prices and grave inflation of the currency. The severe increases in taxation introduced in the budget of 1952 were certainly not popular. Menzies won the 1954 elections with a much reduced majority. By 1955 the economy had begun to improve. Almost complete import restrictions and high investment, both from local and overseas sources, induced industrial growth; there was virtually no unemployment in spite of an increasing intake of migrants. The situation in the universities was also changing. Between 1947 and 1955 student numbers at the universities remained nearly constant at about 30 000; although there was a continuing rise in the enrolment of new students between the ages of 17 and 22, the number of returned men and women assisted by the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme was decreasing. After 1955 a sharp and continual rise in enrolment began; by 1963 the student numbers had more than doubled to 69 000.

The urgings of the Vice-Chancellors, of Clunies Ross, aided by Sir Owen Dixon, and by the Australian National Research Council, and later by the new Academy of Science may have served to keep the plight of the universities in the mind of the Prime Minister. But then, as now, there is not much political capital to be gained by this form of expenditure. It seems highly likely, from what is known of the long term Prime Minister's interests, that he moved as quickly as he could after 1956, when the financial situation of the country seemed to permit it.

The Murray Committee

In 1956 Menzies decided to act on university affairs. On an official visit to England, he sought the permission of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Harold Macmillan, to have Sir Keith Murray (now Lord Murray) as chairman of a new committee to investigate the state of the Australian universities. Sir Keith Murray was Chairman of the British University Grants Committee, a man experienced in university affairs and familiar with the long history of the support given to British universities through his committee. Menzies was aiming high and very much in conformity with a suggestion made to him by Ian Clunies Ross and other prominent Australians. As members of this committee he invited Sir Ian Clunies Ross (Chairman of the CSIRO), Sir Charles Morris (the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds), Mr A.J. Reid (the Chancellor of the University of Western Australia, a former head of the State Treasury and member of the Commonwealth Grants Commission), and Mr J.C. Richards (an Assistant General Manager of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company). The Committee on Australian Universities, as it was called, was appointed in December 1956 and reported soon afterwards in September 1957. This was very much in conformity with the Prime Minister's wishes, for he now had a sense of urgency in tackling the problem of the universities. In his letter of invitation to the members, he said that the Committee was invited to indicate ways in which the universities might be organized so as to ensure that their long term pattern of development was in the best interests of the nation; in particular to investigate the role of the university in the Australian community; the extension and coordination of university facilities; technological education at the university level; the financial needs of universities over the period and appropriate means of providing for these needs. Clunies Ross and Reid were both very familiar with the Australian university scene; Murray and Morris were experienced in the problems of university finance and academic management. Menzies was thus able to say to the Parliament: 'We are grateful to the Committee for its remarkable speed, thoroughness and grasp of the matters involved in their task.'

The Committee found a sorry scene. They said in their report: 'We had hoped to find the universities adequately staffed and equipped to discharge their existing responsibilities to the student body and to the nation; but this is unfortunately far from the case.' They went on: 'The paramount difficulty facing the universities is the pressure of student numbers, particularly in the first year.' They noted the disturbing aspect of the high failure rate; the general weakness of honours work, postgraduate training and research work, and the lack of accommodation in classrooms, laboratories and libraries. There was almost complete absence of common rooms and student unions, sports facilities, residential colleges and hostels. When they came to make their recommendations, they saw the situation as so serious, that, in addition to the general increases in grants they recommended, they asked for what came to be described as an emergency grant for three years.

The Prime Minister's reaction to this report was immediate and excellent (10). By 28 November 1957 he was able to make a statement in the House of Representatives giving his views and those of his Government as to what should be done in the future. He first enunciated his attitude to the relationship between the Commonwealth and the States in the matter of education. He said:

It is of course true that under the Australian Constitutional division of powers between the Commonwealth and State, education is in the State field and later we are not promoting any idea that this legislative power over education should, by a Constitutional amendment be transferred to the Commonwealth. The idea of uniformity can be carried too far. In both primary and secondary education each State, with highly varying conditions of climate and occupational opportunities, is in the best position to judge for itself its own most suitable educational curriculum and organisation.

The philosophical attitude of the Prime Minister in relation to the task that now faced him of persuading his Government, the Parliament and the people that the Commonwealth should make substantial and increasing grants to the universities is clear from the remarks he made in this speech to the House:

Since this report and the decisions of the Commonwealth Government mark, as I hope and believe, the beginning of a new and brighter chapter in the history of the Australian universities; and as our acceptance of much greater financial responsibility should, if it is not to lend itself to loose generalization, be clearly related to its own special circumstances, I will take a little time to summarise the particular elements which justify, and seem to us to require, special Commonwealth action.

The whole feature of university education is that, upon the basis of a general mental training achieved by the primary and secondary systems, it provides for those willing and able to undergo it, special and higher training. Such training leads to the acquisition of recognised degrees, the attainment of high professional qualifications, the entrance to higher research, particularly but not exclusively in science and technology, and the securing of those immeasurable and civilised benefits which flow, or should flow, from the study of or association with the students of humane letters...The university must not be narrow or unduly specialist in its outlook. It must teach and encourage the free search for the truth. The search must increasingly extend to, but is not to be confined to, the physical resources of the world or of space. The scientist is of great and growing importance, and what we propose to do will, I believe, enable many more scientists to be trained in proper circumstances and with improved tuition, buildings and equipment.

Having referred specifically to some of the more important statements by the committee, particularly their estimate that university undergraduate numbers would rise from 36 000 to 70 000 by 1965, and to the unfortunate high failure rate, he then announced the decisions of his Government relating to the recommendations made by the committee. While accepting in principle that there should be a permanent body to advise the Commonwealth Government on matters of university education, he rejected the inclusion of the word 'Grants' in its title, believing that in the Australian context it might indicate a limitation of its function too narrow for his liking. In his speech he used the term 'Australian Universities Committee', but when the time came to form this body the Government adopted the name Australian Universities Commission. He accepted the recommendation that the grant made by the Commonwealth for the years 1958, 1959 and 1960 should be raised to a total of $17.0 million compared with $12.0 million granted in the previous three years. The agreed basis was that every Commonwealth dollar was to be matched by three dollars from State funds plus fees. He also accepted the proposal that the Commonwealth alone should provide an unmatched emergency grant of $9.0 million for these years. He recognized the need to increase university salaries and agreed to provide, on the part of the Commonwealth, $375 000 p.a. for this purpose. He concluded his remarks as follows:

It is, I think, a happy thing that we should have had the opportunity of reviving our conception of the universities and their work by the presentation and discussion of this brilliant and provocative report.

The Australian Universities Commission

In May 1959, only five months after the Prime Minister had stated the Government's decisions, the Australian Universities Commission Act was passed by Parliament. Sir Leslie Martin, FRS, Emeritus Professor of the University of Melbourne, was appointed Chairman (11). Its principal task was to advise the Minister on the financial assistance to be given to the universities, both Commonwealth and State, and the conditions upon which any financial assistance should be granted. These specific functions were qualified by the direction that 'the Commission shall perform its functions with a view to promoting the balanced development of universities so that their resources can be used to the greatest possible advantage to Australia'. Further, the Commission was required to consult with universities and with States in all matters with which it was concerned. Fruitful accord with State governments led to their acceptance to provide $1.85 for every $1.00 from the Commonwealth, and a one-to-one ratio for capital expenditure. This was a remarkable achievement in Commonwealth-State relations.

By the time Menzies retired from Parliament in 1966 the Australian Universities Commission had been very active and its recommendations were, almost without exception, approved by the Commonwealth Government. As a result, a great revolution in university life in Australia occurred. Large sums of money began to be available to the universities. In the 1961-63 triennium, the States Grants Acts provided that the State universities receive from State and Commonwealth Government sources about $149.5 million for operating expenses and in the 1967-69 triennium $335 million. In addition, in the first of those triennia they received $70 million for capital expenditure which rose to $104 million in the latter triennium. For the Australian National University, operating expenditure rose from $19 million to $58 million while capital expenditure rose from $8.5 million to $ 12 million (12). These expenditures reached even higher levels in the years after Menzies retired. Student numbers were also increasing; the total of students at all Australian universities in 1963 was 69 000, but by 1969 it had risen to 108 000.

While these figures are impressive, it is the change in the university scene – new buildings, new libraries, new laboratories, larger sites and new universities – that must be reviewed to gain an impression of the impact of this expenditure. The Commonwealth Government and the States agreed that the universities had to be brought up to modern standards, and that the growing demand for university education had to be met.

In Sydney, the University had been built on a site of 52 hectares, selected in 1850, conveniently near the centre of the city. The State Government arranged for the University to acquire an additional area of 18 hectares of adjacent city land on which to erect new buildings principally for the Faculties of Engineering and Architecture. The construction of the new Fisher Library, the Edgeworth David Building for geology, the Carslaw Building for mathematics has, with other changes, transformed this old University to one with modern facilities. The University of Melbourne is conveniently situated near the city centre, and adjacent to its residential colleges, the Royal Melbourne Hospital and other related institutions. The University has, on the limited area of this site, succeeded, by using attractive multi-storey structures, in providing modern facilities for teaching and research for its seven faculties. Worthy of note are the new medical centre, the Howard Florey Laboratories for medical research and the Baillieu Library. The Raymond Priestley Building houses the University's administration. The Universities of Adelaide and Western Australia have each met the challenge of change on the sites selected at their foundation. When Colonel Light, in the mid-nineteenth century, planned the city of Adelaide, he placed the University, the residence of the State Governor and other civic buildings between North Terrace, one of the boundaries of the inner city, and the River Torrens. The traditional design of red brick buildings of this University has been retained for most of the new buildings, but, once again, multi-storey structures have provided a solution. The physics laboratory is named after W.H. Bragg, FRS, who went to his first university post in Adelaide in 1886.

The pressure of student numbers has not been quite so great in Western Australia as in the eastern States. The University has been able to accommodate the necessary additions within the admirable site in the suburb of Nedlands along a reach of the Swan River. The beauty of this University has not been seriously affected by the addition of major new buildings. The Universities of Queensland and Tasmania had to meet the challenge of modernity by major moves to new sites. The Queensland Government had, before World War II, agreed to move the University from quite inadequate buildings in the city of Brisbane to an excellent site in the suburb of St Lucia in a bend of the Brisbane River. The main building and the buildings for chemistry, physics, geology and biological sciences were erected at that time in monumental stone. The traditional architecture was not used in building the extensive additions for the University's twelve faculties. The University of Tasmania, the smallest of the original six universities, began in humble circumstances in Hobart. The new university buildings of modern architectural design, are grouped on a hill-site at Sandy Bay, a Hobart suburb a few kilometres down the Derwent River.

In 1949 the Government of New South Wales decided to meet the growing demand for university education by founding the University of Technology, planned, initially, to provide professional training and research in the technologies and applied science. This plan was liberalized in 1958; the curriculum was extended to include arts and medicine, and the name changed to the University of New South Wales. The site of 38 hectares, in the inner Sydney suburb of Kensington, is crowded, but adequate modern facilities are provided. The University has named the library the Robert Menzies Building. On the coast of New South Wales, both north and south of Sydney, are the cities of the major coal producing areas of the State with associated iron and steel and heavy engineering production. The University of New South Wales acted as a foster parent to the University of Newcastle, which became independent in 1964, and to the University of Wollongong, independent in 1975. The University of Sydney had, from 1938, fostered the growth of the University of New England, which now dates its independence from 1954. This attractive university, situated in the city of Armidale 400 kilometres north of Sydney in elevated pastoral country, teaches not only arts, education, economics and science but specializes in rural science and university teaching by correspondence. By the 1960s it was evident that the potential demand could not be met without another university in the Sydney area. Macquarie University was founded in 1964; it is located on a site of 135 hectares about 18 kilometres north-west of the centre of Sydney. Named after Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1822, this was one of the first universities to adopt the name of a prominent man as its title. It is now well developed; it had over 8000 students by 1975.

The location of the two new universities for Melbourne took account of the rapid expansion of the domestic, commercial and industrial areas to the north and east of the city and down the Mornington Peninsula between Port Phillip and Western Port Bays. Monash University was founded in 1958 and located about 18 kilometres to the south-east of the city. It is named after General Sir John Monash, an engineer, and distinguished leader in World War I, who developed the large brown coal resources in the State of Victoria. The large multi-storey Robert Menzies School of the Humanities is a conspicuous feature on the landscape. Named after the first Governor of Victoria, La Trobe University, founded in 1964, is about 12.5 kilometres to the northeast of the city. In 1975 these two universities had a total of nearly 20 000 students, 5000 more than Melbourne University.

The name of Matthew Flinders, the navigator of the nineteenth century who charted the coasts of Australia, has been adopted by the second university in South Australia. Beginning as a foster child of the University of Adelaide, the Flinders University of South Australia is situated on an attractive hillside site at Bedford Park about 11 kilometres from Adelaide. It became independent when opened on 21 May 1966 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. Following a recent tendency in university organization it had, in 1966, created the Schools of Language and Literature and Social Sciences, Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences. The University of Queensland, in 1961, began to develop a university college about 1000 kilometres to the north of Brisbane, in the tropical coastal city of Townsville. In 1970 it became the James Cook University of North Queensland. In addition to the customary faculties this University has special interests in tropical veterinary science and marine biology. The architects have designed attractive buildings well suited to the tropical climate with heavy summer rainfall. The fifth report of the Australian Universities Commission (1972) states that two new universities will be established, the Griffith University in Brisbane, and the Murdoch University in Perth. Deakin University in Geelong, Victoria, has since been added to bring to nineteen the total of the universities of Australia.

A visit to any Australian university today will reveal a scene incomparably different to that when the Murray Committee made its inspection. Students are now well provided with union buildings and dining facilities; while few universities have room for playing fields on campus, much money has been expended on facilities for sport and recreation. Libraries have been greatly increased; between 1961 and 1970 there was a 99% increase in the number of volumes held by the universities and a 223% increase in library staff. Computers are now commonly used for undergraduate teaching, for higher degree work and research, and computer facilities are as much a normal university facility as the library. Once only one veterinary faculty provided for Australia and New Zealand; now there are four, with James Cook University, in addition, specializing in tropical veterinary science. The expansion of medical teaching in nine universities has been very costly. There is a marked interest today in studies of the cultures and languages of Asia and the Pacific as alternatives to those of Europe and the classics. Earth sciences, behavioural sciences and environmental studies represent changes in academic interest not, of course, confined to Australia.

Menzies, with the help of the Murray Committee and the Universities Commission, initiated a policy of generous university growth; when he retired this forward movement continued but, with the many detailed changes in policy, the story, thereafter, inevitably loses its simplicity. In his memoirs The measure of the years (13)

Menzies reveals his personal, and indeed emotional, interest in these events. When preparing to present the Murray report to Parliament, he told his Cabinet that he would like to sit morning, afternoon and evening. He then says: 'The Cabinet, knowing it was an outstanding event in my life, humoured me, and I am still grateful to them.' In the House he referred to 'the novel and sometimes revolutionary features of this historic document'. He reports himself as saying, in presenting the report: 'Mr Speaker, if I may confess it, this is a rather special night in my political career.'

Research in the universities

Although the professors and lecturers of the six Australian universities of the first three decades of this century had inherited the tradition of original research as an essential complement to teaching, the relative poverty of the universities, the apathy of the governing bodies and the remoteness of Australia from the great centres of progress in science in the old world severely handicapped progress. Nevertheless, the teaching of science was in most faculties at a high level, and there were some centres of exceptional merit. The 1851 Exhibition Science Scholarships offered one of the few opportunities for travel and study abroad; scholars such as T.H. Laby, FRS, returned to found distinguished research schools (14). Edgeworth David, FRS, had unique opportunities for original geological research on the continent of Australia, and with Douglas Mawson, FRS, explored the Antarctic Continent. In the ranks of the Fellowship of the Royal Society and the Australian Academy of Science are the names of many of those who kept the achievement of original investigation alive.

When World War II began many university staff members sacrificed their personal research ambitions to take part in the national war effort. They experienced the exciting stimulus that almost unlimited money gave to many applied projects such as radar, optical munitions, camouflage, food science and the many aspects of chemistry and metallurgy of war materials. University scientists were not content to return to quite inadequate buildings and facilities, the lack of funds for research assistance and equipment, at a time when student numbers were increasing.

Some attempts had been made in the pre-war years to assist with Commonwealth funds, then a most unusual approach, thought by most Commonwealth politicians to be prohibited by the Constitution. Professor J.P.V. Madsen (later Sir John Madsen), the first Professor of Electrical Engineering in Sydney, avoided this problem by inducing the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (the CSIR) and the Australian Post Office to provide funds which, when distributed by the Radio Research Board, became the means of building up a fine record of ionospheric physics in several universities (15). An approach to the Treasurer of the Commonwealth, R.G. Casey (later Lord Casey) in 1936 resulted in the sum of $60 000 being made available to the CSIR for the support of university research. Casey considered that the Constitutional limitation required him to insist that grants be made only to university projects of direct relevance to the CSIR's programme. That the CSIR should tell the universities what research to do was anathema to Sir David Rivett, FRS, the Chief Executive Officer of the CSIR; this was in fact avoided by what can only now be described as skilful maladministration, made all the easier by the casual university administrative methods of those days. The Vice-Chancellors agreed to a proportional allocation to each university and undertook to account for its use to the Commonwealth (16).

After the war a variety of different ways were tried to satisfy the problems of university research finance. The need for trained postgraduate research scientists, both for Government agencies and for industry, and later as university teachers, was now becoming a pressing issue. The amounts of money available were gradually increased, but not to the degree satisfactory to the universities. The demands for modern research equipment were steadily increasing, while, with larger enrolments of higher degree postgraduate students, the universities found it difficult to finance the appointment of well qualified supervisors and technicians. The Commonwealth Committee on the Needs of the Universities, i.e. the Mills Committee, in 1950 recommended to Menzies that the Commonwealth make no special grants for research and that each university finance its research effort out of the total income from the State and Commonwealth grants, both to be increased, and from fees. This became the basis of university finance until 1957, when Menzies began to give effect to the recommendations of the Murray Committee.

By 1961 the universities were receiving money for research from a variety of sources. The Atomic Energy Commission, the CSIRO and the National Health and Medical Research Council were each making grants to universities for specific projects. Various agricultural producing industries – wool, wheat and dairy industry – were providing funds, subsidized by the Commonwealth, to support research by the universities and the CSIRO The Commonwealth Bank, through its Rural Credits Development Fund, was helping also. In the United States at this time very large sums of money from the Defence vote were being spent on front line science, and some Australian university people were recipients of grants for special projects. A total of about $4 million from external sources was spent in 1961. About 84% of this was for biological and physical sciences, 10% for technology, while some 6% only was spent on the social sciences and humanities. In the same year the universities expended approximately $10 million on research from their recurrent income; about $8 million went to the natural sciences, $580 000 to technology and engineering, and under $1.4 million to social sciences and the humanities.

The Australian Universities Commission in reporting to Menzies in 1963 stated: 'The Commission believes that national needs demand the allocation of special grants to universities to meet the rising costs of postgraduate training and also to support senior staff in their task of planning and supervising this training.'

This marked the beginning of special arrangements to support university research. In the House on 24 March 1965 Menzies said (17):

Honourable Members will recall that the second report of the Universities Commission recommended that during the calendar years 1964,1965 and 1966 the total of $10 million should be provided for the universities to support research activities at the postgraduate level. Of the $10 million half was to be provided by the Commonwealth and half by the States. The Commission had not, at the time of the report, reached a stage where it felt it could make recommendations for the distribution of these funds among universities and therefore confined its recommendation in the first instance to the distribution of $2 million in the year 1964.

When introducing the Universities (Financial Assistance) Bill in October 1963, I accepted the recommendation for this initial distribution and said that I hoped the Government would shortly take an opportunity to look at the whole question of Commonwealth involvement in research in Australia. This we have now done. The universities were told, last year, that a further $2 million, or our share of it, would be available in the universities during 1965 for the same purposes as in 1964, and I now announce that our share of another $2 million will be available in 1966, on the same basis as to distribution. After that date, we feel, the Commission should include provision for this form of research grant, bound up as it is with postgraduate teaching, in the general recommendations which it makes for capital and recurrent grants to the universities.

Of the $10 million recommended for research activities in the 1964-66 triennium, this would still leave undistributed $2 million of Commonwealth funds and a matching amount from the States.

We believe that this sum should be available for particular selected research projects to be carried out by individuals or research teams. We therefore propose to make $2 million available for such particular research projects, and to set up an advisory committee to which we shall refer requests for assistance from such individuals or research teams. We will look to this committee for advice as to the allocations, within the limits of the money available, for such proposals. The committee will receive proposals, in the main, from research workers in universities, although applications from persons working outside universities will not be debarred unless such persons are working for Government authorities. Commonwealth money from this fund will be available on the advice of the committee, subject in each case involving a university, to a matching grant from the State in which the research is to be carried out. As I have said, these research grants are not intended for use exclusively in scientific disciplines, nor need the total amount be spent in the 1964/66 triennium.

The advisory committee promised by Menzies was appointed in 1965 as the Australian Research Grants Committee; its first chairman was Sir Rutherford Robertson, FRS. In 1965 it allocated $3.985 million (8% to projects in the humanities and social sciences; 29% in physical sciences; 20% in chemical sciences; 31% in biological sciences – including agricultural, medical and veterinary sciences; 12% in engineering and applied sciences). The total amount allocated was just under $4 million in 1966, the year Menzies retired, but increased gradually to $5.255 million in 1972. Sir Rutherford Robertson, FRS, has made the following comment (18):

When Sir Robert Menzies announced the Australian Research Grants scheme on 24 March, 1965, his Government was meeting the long-felt need for stimulation of high level research in Australia. The detailed arrangements were made by Senator Gorton, the Minister assisting the Prime Minister in matters relating to education and science, and I was entrusted with the task of forming the Australian Research Grants Committee to recommend the projects which should be supported by the grant. For the first time in Australia research workers had the opportunity to obtain finance not merely from the meagre research money available in their universities or research institutions or from that applied to the practical problems of a particular industry. The result was that research in Australian universities, starved for too long, began to flourish and in the first four years of the Committee's existence some 2300 reports on work which it had supported were published.

The terms of reference of the Australian Research Grants Committee contained the key phrase "it will base its recommendations on its own assessment of the relative merits of individual proposals". The Committee sought written assessments by leading workers in the same line of research as the applicant and always sought excellence by supporting the most outstanding and the most promising investigators. The result is that Sir Robert's far-sighted scheme has been a lasting success, ensuring not only good research but also provision of opportunities which have aided recruitment of outstanding workers in Australian universities.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) (19)

Menzies was Prime Minister during the period of the greatest expansion of the activities and facilities the CSIRO had ever experienced. He became Prime Minister only a few months after the passing of the Act which changed the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) into the CSIRO and which gave greater managerial responsibility to the governing body, the Executive of three full time scientists and two part time members. The Science and Industry Research Act was formally within the portfolio of the Prime Minister but, in line with current practice, Mr R.G. Casey, Minister for External Affairs, acted as Minister-in-Charge. Although Casey was a vigorous advocate of all the CSIRO activities, it was the Cabinet and thus the Prime Minister who had to approve and provide finance.

The budget of the CSIRO rose from $4.0 million in 1948-49 to nearly $41.0 million in 1965-66 in years of low inflation. Many new activities were begun and older programmes took on a new and expanded form. Studies of Australia's coal resources were started for the first time. Research on the nature of keratin, the structure of the wool fibre and its processing soon began to provide the International Wool Secretariat with the data to fight the technical battle with the synthetics. Studies of the healthy sheep and its management were aimed at higher and more efficient wool production. New ideas on suitable beef producing cattle and pasture plants suitable for the tropical north resulted from greatly increased programmes. The unexpected myxomatosis epizootic virtually rid the country of the rabbit plague, and provided unique opportunities for studies of a wild virus disease under field conditions and animal behaviour studies of the rabbit. Quite new ideas, for example on the absolute determination of the ohm, emerged from the National Standards Laboratory. The early post-war researches of J.L. Pawsey, F. R. S., and his colleagues reached a high peak of encouragement when Menzies's Cabinet approved the expenditure of half the cost of the giant radio-telescope inaugurated by the Governor-General, Lord De L'Isle, at Parkes, NSW, in August 1961. Menzies approved Casey's initiative to have the government provide the whole of the $500 000 for the phytotron in Canberra; Menzies opened this facility in August 1962. These were the days of high hopes and aspirations, when the attitude, certainly approved by Menzies and Casey, was that new knowledge from front line research would transform the economic and cultural life of Australia. That the scientists of the CSIRO were in the forefront of scientific endeavour is testified by elections to the Fellowship of the Academy and Royal Society and by the frequent awards of honours from learned societies and universities.

In 1956 the Science and Industry Research Act provided that two part time members of the Executive of the CSIRO were to be chosen for their abilities and knowledge of national affairs. One of these, Mr A.B. Richie, a grazier from the Western District of Victoria, retired from the post in May of that year and the question of his replacement arose. The Minister-in-Charge, R.G. Casey, suggested that we ask the Prime Minister to appoint Mr Arthur Coles then living in retirement in Melbourne. This was an interesting and somewhat surprising suggestion in view of the past association between Coles and the Prime Minister. Arthur Coles had as a young man fought at Gallipoli and in France in World War I and afterwards joined with his brother and uncle in the business enterprise that grew to be one of Australia's largest chain stores of G.J. Coles and Co. Ltd. After two years as Lord Mayor of Melbourne he won the seat of Henty in Victoria as an Independent and entered the House of Representatives in Canberra. With an allegiance to Menzies's United Australia Party he, and another independent, held the balance of power for the government. Gravely disturbed at the treatment of Menzies by his colleagues he withdrew his support from the United Australia Party and voted with the opposition to defeat the Fadden government that, for a short time, followed that of Menzies. Coles, an experienced business executive, made a major contribution to the war effort as Chairman of the Rationing Commission. He was also Chairman of the War Damage Commission which compensated civilian citizens in Australia and Papua New Guinea for loss by enemy action. As its Chairman he brought great success to the National Airlines Commission, a Labor government enterprise, which still runs Trans-Australia Airlines.

Arthur Coles (now Sir Arthur) was appointed to the CSIRO Executive, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, by the Governor-General in Council on 26 March 1956. He quickly became an effective colleague; because of his quiet friendly personality and his genuine enthusiasm for the purpose and activities of the CSIRO his advice and help were eagerly sought by all ranks. Menzies in appointing Coles made an important contribution to the success of the CSIRO of that period. The appointment was continued in 1960 when the size of the Executive was increased; Coles retired on 25 March 1965 after serving for nearly nine years.

Menzies stimulated great interest among scientists by appointing R.G. Casey to the Executive of the CSIRO in 1960. This followed immediately on Casey's retirement from politics after serving for ten years as Minister-in-Charge of the CSIRO and as Minister for External Affairs. Biographies of both men will certainly reveal the complexity of the personal relationships between them. Judged from the viewpoint of a scientist and former Chairman of the CSIRO, my impression is that Menzies recognized Casey's interest in and concern for science and his special abilities of leadership in national and international affairs. When Sir Ian Clunies Ross died in July 1959 and my other Executive colleague, Dr Stewart Bastow, went down with his first heart attack shortly afterwards, I was convinced that there were too few full time members of the Executive to maintain the momentum of a large and rapidly growing organization. The Minister-in-Charge, R.G. Casey, agreed with my recommendation that the number of members should be increased by an alteration in the Act (20).

When I saw Menzies to seek his agreement to this change, he told me that Casey (now aged nearly 70 years) wished to retire from Parliament, and asked my view of appointing him a part time member of the new Executive. I warmly welcomed this; Casey had shown keen interest and support of the CSIRO during his ten years as Minister-in-Charge; part time members were almost honorary as they were given only a very small emolument; there was likely to be only favourable political reaction. Casey was appointed in March 1960 and served for five years. Menzies then recommended him for a life peerage and, on his advice, Her Majesty The Queen appointed him Governor-General of the Commonwealth.

The Australian Academy of Science (21)

In 1952 the Fellows of the Royal Society resident in Australia, together with other senior scientists, decided that it would be of benefit to the future of Australian science for there to be an Academy of the highest prestige modelled on the Royal Society of London. The proposal was welcomed by Lord Adrian, and the Royal Society undertook to support an application for a Royal Charter. The proposal was discussed informally with the Prime Minister; Sir Robert Menzies welcomed the concept of the Fellows of the Royal Society as an initial nucleus, together with from ten to twenty other scientists of undoubted eminence in their fields. He undertook on behalf of his government to assist in the presentation of a petition to the Privy Council, and to have the Charter prepared in time for it to be presented to the officers of the new Academy during the visit of Her Majesty to Australia. The President, Professor M.L.E. Oliphant, FRS, received the Letters Patent from the Queen at Government House, Canberra on 16 February 1954. Menzies laid the foundation stone of the Academy building in Canberra in January 1958. The Commonwealth Government has, since Menzies began, supported the Academy with an annual grant to enable Australian participation in the activities of the International Scientific Unions, and also to aid its general activities in the interests of Australian science.

The Australian National University

When Menzies became Prime Minister in 1949 the Labor Government had already taken the initiative permitted by the Constitution to found a University within the Australian Capital Territory. Accepting the advice of a distinguished group of Australian academics and public servants, the Prime Minister J.B. Chifley and his Minister for Post-War Reconstruction J.J. Dedman introduced a Bill into the Parliament in Canberra to found a research university distinctly different in academic structure from the Universities in the States. The Australian National University Act 1946-47, assented on 1 August 1946, defined the functions of the University to include the provision of facilities for postgraduate research and study, the education of those persons, suitably qualified, who elected to avail themselves of the opportunities thus provided, and to confer degrees and diplomas. The University was given power to found Research Schools; the Act established the initial structure by providing for Research Schools of Physical Sciences, Social Sciences and Pacific Studies, and a Research School 'in relation to medical science'. The latter, the John Curtin School of Medical Research, gave expression to the interest of the war-time Prime Minister John Curtin who hoped to see the setting up of a national institution devoted to medical research. The Act also stated that 'the University may provide for the incorporation in the University of the Canberra University College', the undergraduate teaching college preparing students for degrees awarded by Melbourne University. The Council appointed the distinguished Australian, Viscount Bruce of Melbourne, FRS, as the Chancellor of the University and Professor R.C. Mills as its Deputy Chairman. Emeritus Professor Sir Douglas Copland was the first Vice-Chancellor.

The University was from the beginning determined to take advantage of the authority of its Act to place great emphasis on research. The first report of the Interim Council stated the principles which were agreed to be of first importance; the establishment of the four research schools, with the duties of the staff being the advancement of knowledge through research, and the training of research workers. But equal emphasis was given to the statement that there should be no undergraduate teaching and no postgraduate vocational training in the Research Schools. The question of incorporation of the Canberra University College was 'deferred' (22). This must undoubtedly be judged as the right decision at that time; until later events intervened, the University had nearly ten years to perfect the planning of research of the highest international quality. Distinguished scholars were appointed to be the Deans or Directors of the Research Schools. The generous conditions of service and the excellent facilities created attracted research leaders of outstanding merit to this new enterprise. The University began just before a period of exceptional prosperity in Australia; its income, wholly from the Commonwealth budget, it received in grants through the Prime Minister's Department. Menzies thus had ample opportunity to follow the progress of this academically outstanding child of the Federal Government.

The Murray report brought into sharp focus the future planning of university education in the Capital Territory; the Commonwealth was the responsible government and the solution was for Menzies alone to decide. Canberra University College was still, in 1957, housed in temporary buildings but its council and staff wished for a permanent site with adequate buildings and facilities. The staff was highly qualified and enthusiastic, well able to teach more students at the undergraduate and graduate level. It wished to include science in its curriculum and to award its own degrees. The Australian National University had, in its submission to the Murray Committee, emphasized its unique research role, and its wish to 'help to stimulate the work of the State universities by introducing into them fresh points of view, very often before they have been presented to a wider world audience' (23).

The submission included the statement: 'In the event, however, the University has not awarded undergraduate degrees; it has decided after prolonged discussions against the incorporation of the College...' Although the whole of the financial support of the research schools had to be found from his budget Menzies treated the ANU no less generously than the State universities. Acting on the Murray Committee's recommendation, he provided a grant of $8.792 million for the years 1958, 1959 and 1960 compared with $5.608 million for the previous three years. He gave Canberra University College the same 10% increase as the State universities received.

Menzies clearly could not accept the decision of the ANU Council not to incorporate the College. In his public statement in December 1959 (24) he said that Cabinet had devoted much time to the question as to whether the College should be given full and independent status, or should be 'organically associated with the Australian National University'. His decision was firm – 'We have decided in favour of association'. The reasons he gave must be regarded as sensible. Canberra at the time had a population of 50 000 and it would have been difficult to justify the creation of two separate universities. Secondly, if the College was to become a separate university and was not to be a second-rate university, it would have to provide for postgraduate studies with expensive facilities for research. He showed his appreciation of the position in the ANU and his own clarification of his opposing view in the following way: 'We are aware of a view current in the ANU that that body should, to achieve its true position in Australian university life, be related and have duties to all Australian universities and not just to one.' He did not think amalgamation would prevent the achievement of this aspiration. He concluded:

We feel that if the University is to achieve its greatest results, not only in the granting of degrees but in the stimulation of the mind, there will be enormous advantage for students with a bent towards research to have the great advantage of contact with men of great eminence in their own field.

An amendment to the Act created in 1960 an Australian National University consisting of an Institute of Advanced Studies (the research schools) and a School of General Studies (taking in the College). Both are governed by a single Council with one Vice-Chancellor and a central administration. The new buildings for the Faculties of Arts, Science and Economics were built on the opposite side of the campus from the original Research Schools. The planned separation of the two parts of the University is no longer followed; the newer Research Schools of Biological Science and of Chemistry have chosen to build near the complementary Departments of the Faculty of Science.

The output of meritorious research from both parts of the university testifies to the success of Menzies's policy. On 11 May 1961 the University invited Menzies to lay the foundation stone of the R.G. Menzies Building of the University Library; this building was opened by Her Majesty The Queen. On 13 May 1966 the University conferred on Menzies the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

The Anglo-Australian Telescope (25)

The large radio-telescope at Parkes built for the CSIRO gave radio-astronomy a new impetus; interest in optical astronomy was likewise stimulated because of the interest in the optical examination of stellar objects, either discovered or examined at radio wavelengths. On 5 April 1965 Sir John Cockcroft, FRS, Chancellor of the ANU, opened the new Siding Spring Observatory for the telescopes of the University; the original Mt Stromlo Observatory was of declining usefulness owing to the city lights of the rapidly growing Canberra. Australian astronomers were interested in the building of a large telescope in Australia to facilitate joint optical and radio observing, and because a large part of the southern sky contained important stellar objects not visible to northern hemisphere telescopes. British astronomers also had these interests and thus discussions began on the possibility of a joint Anglo-Australian venture.

It was not easy even in that era of comparative affluence to induce governments to provide large sums for exotic scientific projects. Much credit must go to Professor Bart Bok, then Director of the Mt Stromlo Observatory, whose enthusiastic public advocacy undoubtedly commanded the interest of members of Parliament and certainly that of the Prime Minister. Discussions between the Royal Society and the Australian Academy resulted in submissions to the British and Australian Governments advocating the building of a 150 inch telescope for the joint equal use of astronomers from both countries. Menzies had retired by the time the negotiations were concluded and it was his protege, Senator J.G. Gorton, Minister for Education and Science, who announced on 30 April 1967 that both Governments had agreed. The sequel is now history. The telescope was built and erected on Siding Spring Mountain in NSW and opened by H.R.H. Prince Charles on 16 October 1974. It is an optical telescope of exceptional quality, now in constant use by Australian and British astronomers.

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust (26)

The aim of the Churchill Trust is 'to give opportunity, by provision of financial support, to enable Australians from all walks of life to undertake overseas study, or an investigative project, of a kind that is not available in Australia'. Menzies, with his life-long attachment to education and learning at all levels of achievement, must have been attracted to the aim of this Trust. He joined a group led by Lord Baillieu to establish the Churchill Trust to honour the memory of his friend, Britain's wartime leader and Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. The group led by Menzies had remarkable success in raising £2 122 654 from the people of Australia within four days of Sir Winston's death in 1965. Sir Robert became the Trust's first National President, and held this position for ten years. In the first twelve years 752 Fellowships were awarded in 54 different categories including awards to persons interested in the land, in art and music, in education, in trades, in the care of the deaf and mentally retarded, in mining and geology, in transport and in medicine. This remarkable tribute to Churchill is indeed worthy of the trust's first National President.

Canberra – The National Capital

Before Menzies retired in January 1966 he witnessed in the National Capital the remarkable transformation and growth which he personally inspired and which his government financed. The greater part of the change occurred after his government had formed the National Capital Development Commission 'to undertake and carry out the planning, development and construction of the City of Canberra as the National Capital of the Commonwealth'. Sir John Overall, the first Commissioner, appointed on 1 March 1958, acknowledges the contribution that Menzies made in the following personal communication (27):

R.G. Menzies was the first Prime Minister to see the desirability of making it possible for Canberra to be developed from a town of less than 10 000 public servants, to the status of a National Capital of world class. Undoubtedly he was much influenced in the mid-1950s by several factors. He was very familiar with the world scene and was conscious of the importance of the new, developing Capitals, particularly Washington – he had faith in Australians to undertake the specialist task; he had a firm grip on his Cabinet and, because of his popularity in the Australian electorate, he had reason to see himself as Prime Minister for many years to come. Furthermore, unlike most of his Parliamentary colleagues he liked Canberra as a place to live in. He made his home there for nearly 20 years until his retirement in 1966. He liked the environment, the political atmosphere, the rubbing of minds with the Diplomatic Corps and international visitors, and enjoyed the young city as a cosmopolitan meeting place. Menzies was acutely conscious of the need to weld the six Australian States into the Federal System and realised in this the value of a National Capital of quality, as a proper symbol of national aspirations and national unity. A long depression and two world wars had meant that few incentives or priorities had been given to establishing the new capital. By the mid-1950s, Canberra was very small, perhaps of some 30 000 people. It was a place of very few facilities and consisted of two straggling towns, divided by a flood plain and with no permanent national buildings of any kind. The Parliament House was an interim one and had been erected as a matter of expediency some 30 years previously when the Federal Parliament was moved from Melbourne to the new bush capital. Canberra had little appeal for the Parliamentarians, who in those years reluctantly travelled from far away places and stayed only when Parliament was in session. For them, Canberra consisted of the hotels they stayed in, Parliament House and the airport.

By the mid-1950s, Menzies also knew little about the infant capital. However, at this time, his daughter Heather was about to marry a young Australian diplomat and was seeking a house in Canberra. The Prime Minister accordingly took time to look around the areas where people lived and was critical of what he saw. He leaned heavily on the Ministers responsible for this situation and it is worth noting that two Ministers lost their Ministerial appointments over a three year period. The question then was whether Canberra was to remain a national capital in name only or whether it should be developed. Under the influence of Menzies, a Parliamentary Committee of Enquiry was set up to examine the situation and report. It reported in favour of planned development. Subsequently then, in 1958, the National Capital Development Commission was established as a Statutory Authority with the straight-forward charter 'to design, develop and construct Canberra as the National Capital of Australia'. R.G. Menzies' important role in all this is illustrated by the fact that he was the politician responsible for the setting up of the Parliamentary Committee in the first place; for the establishment of the National Capital Development Commission and the appointment of the first Commissioner, who was also to serve as Chairman of the National Capital Planning Committee, an advisory panel of leading professional advisors. From 1958 on, Menzies displayed a continuing and lively interest in the development of the Capital until his retirement eight years later.

Sir John Overall continues:

The Commission never sought his approval but valued his opinions and made certain he was informed before action proceeded. He occasionally showed displeasure in what had been done. He was a traditionalist in design and did not like developments which departed from British monumentality in architectural forms. Notwithstanding this, he respected those who stuck to their guns as the Commission found it necessary to do on a number of occasions. As a result it was at cross purposes with the Prime Minister from time to time. Shortly after its establishment in 1958, the National Capital Development Commission made it clear to the Government that it considered its task to be fourfold:

  1. To complete the establishment of Canberra as the Seat of Government – by providing the facilities necessary for the smooth functioningof the Parliamentary body.
  2. To further the development of Canberra as the Administrative Centre – by seeing to a smooth conclusion the Defence transfers already approved, and by providing the necessary physical facilities to permit the early completion of the Commonwealth Public Service personnel transfers from Melbourne.
  3. To give Canberra an atmosphere and individuality worthy of the National Capital – by provision of monumental buildings and suitable special features.
  4. To further the growth of the National Capital as a place in which to live in comfort and dignity.
  5. The government supported these aims, and actions proceeded in the next decade to put them into effect. Undoubtedly it was fortunate for the N.C.D.C. that Menzies, as he had foreseen, remained Prime Minister during most of that period, by which time the nation itself had come to accept and take pride in the development of its Capital.

Sir John concludes:

Menzies enjoyed public functions, particularly those associated with opening new buildings, and launching new enterprises such as his inauguration of the centrally situated Lake Burley Griffin in 1963. He expected results of quality and if he thought well of what had been done both he and Dame Pattie Menzies could be counted on to officiate with style. He appreciated the opportunity to make the dramatic flourish and to speak in the presence of distinguished audiences. The National Capital Development Commission was in a position to provide many such opportunities. Menzies delighted in these, undoubtedly believing and taking pride in the fact that a worthwhile national endeavour was well underway through the action and initiative which he had envisaged.

The population of Canberra in 1957 was 40,000; it was estimated to rise to 110,000 by 1975; the suburbs adjacent to the north and south banks of the Molonglo River contained the whole city. No final decision had been taken to build the lake in the Molonglo Valley. The American War Memorial stood alone on Russell Hill with no major roads in the vicinity. Only the arcades of the Civic shopping centre and the small centres in Manuka and Kingston, built many years before, catered to the needs of the people. This scene was transformed by 1965 (28). The region of Civic Centre now had a large shopping complex called the Mall, the Law Courts, the head office of the Reserve Bank and the first of the multi-storey office buildings forming Hobart Place. The attractive Canberra Theatre complex with two theatres was opened on 24 June 1965. The year before, on 17 October 1964, Menzies had the honour of commemorating the completion of Lake Burley Griffin named after the original designer of Canberra. The Commonwealth Avenue Bridge and traffic interchange spanned the Lake between the Parliamentary Triangle and Civic Centre. Kings Avenue Bridge formed the other arm of Burley Griffin's design; it crosses the Lake to the new headquarters of the Department of Defence opened by H.R.H. Princess Marina on 28 September 1964. The ceremonial Anzac Parade stretching from the Lake shore towards the War Memorial Museum was completed in 1964 in time for the pageantry which marked the fiftieth anniversary of Anzac Day. Many buildings had been added to the Australian National University and to the Canberra Technical College, and several schools had been built. Construction of the monumental building to house the National Library had begun with a target date for completion in December 1967. The new southern suburbs in the Woden Valley west of Red Hill were being designed and built. The Mint, the first major official building in that area, was opened by H.R.H. The Duke of Edinburgh on 20 February 1965. Lake Burley Griffin, crossed by two handsome bridges, wiped out the unattractive valley separating the two halves of the city and brought cohesion to the whole design. The impetus Menzies gave continued for many years after he retired. With a population now of about 200 000, with the growth of the Woden Valley suburbs and the extensive construction of the Belconnen suburbs to the north, Canberra has achieved Menzies's desire for a garden city, excellent to live in, and a city admirably designed for government, education and recreation.

Sir John Overall is right in asserting:

The Nation today has come to take pride and pleasure in Canberra as a modern city of grace and quality. It is visited by millions of Australians every year and the nature of what they see and enjoy in its monumentality, as well as its urban facilities and the integrated system of new towns, is a reflection of the farsightedness of Robert Gordon Menzies and his interest and enthusiasm in clearing the way and making it possible for Australia's young bush capital to be planned, developed and constructed to the status of a National Capital in the world scene.

About 1960 I, as Chairman of the CSIRO, was beginning to find great difficulty in keeping the necessary contact with the Minister-in-Charge while our head office was still in Melbourne in the same building that the original Executive Committee of the CSIR had acquired in 1926. I felt sure that my Executive colleagues and I would, by moving to Canberra, have more opportunity to know personally and maintain contact with the members of the Government, and the senior members of the Public Service who influenced our affairs through their responsibilities for finance and the administration of government policy. I faced two difficulties; to convince some of my colleagues of the wisdom of moving our headquarters to Canberra, and to overcome the delay in making the move if the CSIRO had to fall into line according to the programme of transfers of Departments of State to the Capital.

When about 1963 I could not attend the Prime Minister's annual Christmas party, he kindly invited me to his office, where I found only Senator Gorton and the Prime Minister. I seized this informal occasion to ask his opinion of moving our headquarters to Canberra. His response was immediate and enthusiastic; he gave me convincing reasons in favour of moving. I went back to Melbourne, told my colleagues I was moving, and before long took up residence in Canberra in a very temporary office for the Chairman. I traded on the Prime Minister's support to argue the CSIRO into a favourable priority for a move of our Melbourne staff, and managed in the end to achieve this mainly through the goodwill towards the CSIRO of those senior officers who controlled such things. The new Head Office for the CSIRO built in the suburb of Campbell was occupied in January 1971.


The revolution in university growth and the encouragement given to scientific research did not cease when Menzies retired. He had already enlisted the enthusiastic help of Senator John Gorton, who acted first as Minister assisting the Prime Minister in matters of Education and Science and later as the first Minister for Education and Science. The wide ranging and detailed examination of the Committee on the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia under the chairmanship of Sir Leslie Martin, FRS, provided Menzies and later Gorton not only with data but with inspired suggestions for future progress. Although Menzies gave initial approval to its first report the many changes to the structure of tertiary educational institutions throughout the country occurred after he retired. This enterprise deserves the highest commendation of all Australians who are convinced of the need for an effective, wise and well financed policy to foster science and learning (29). It does not denigrate Menzies's outstanding abilities to say that he had little personal knowledge of science. But he certainly had a deep understanding 'that civilisation in the true sense requires a close and growing attention, not only to science in all its branches, but also to those studies of the mind and spirit of man, of history and literature and mental and moral philosophy, of human relations in society and industry, of international understanding, the relative neglect of which has left a gruesome mark on this century'. It is significant that he chose a physicist as Chairman of the Australian Universities Commission and as leader of the major enquiry into tertiary education.

He regarded the invitation to deliver the Jefferson Memorial Speech in 1963 at the University of Virginia as 'a tremendous honour'. He returned to Virginia in 1966, after his retirement, to give seven lectures with the general title 'Central power in the Australian Commonwealth' (30). He discussed in detail, and from personal experience at the Bar and in State and Federal politics, the growth in power of the Commonwealth in finance, external affairs, defence and banking. He was personally familiar with how these changes had occurred, mainly through tactics that avoided inducing the voters of Australia to approve of them by the complex formal processes laid down in the Constitution itself.

Menzies spent many years in Canberra; but his life and interests were essentially those of Melbourne where he grew up, was educated and embarked on his legal and political life. On his retirement he became the thirteenth Chancellor of his old University of Melbourne, and remained the head of the University from March 1967 until March 1972. Much earlier in 1942, he had received the first honorary degree of Doctor of Laws of Melbourne University. His responsibility for the revival and growth of university life in Australia was widely acknowledged by the award of honorary degrees in the Universities of Queensland, Adelaide, Tasmania, New South Wales, and the Australian National University and by thirteen universities in Canada, the U.S.A. and Britain, including Oxford and Cambridge. He was Honorary Master of the Bench of Gray's Inn. Many learned institutions, including the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal Australian College of Physicians, elected him to Honorary Fellowships. His admiration for British institutions and his belief in the significance of the British Commonwealth of Nations is well known. He admired the Royal Family and was stimulated by visits of Her Majesty The Queen to Australia. He commemorated her Majesty's visit in 1963 by the creation of the Queen Elizabeth II scholarships for mutual exchange of young British and Australian scientists. The ceremonial of the Constable of Dover Castle and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports appealed to his sense of drama, as indeed did the wearing of academic robes at University functions.

Apart from walking, he claimed no personal participation in any sport; indeed he compared himself to Shakespeare's Falstaff pleading guilty to overweight which limited physical participation. But he had an ardent devotion to two sports, the game of Australian Rules football and cricket, the game so zealously adopted by the countries of what Menzies would have called the British Commonwealth of Nations. Australian Rules is a uniquely Australian development of Rugby dating from the 1850s. The Victorian Football League competitions attract thousands of spectators and dominate conversation and news during the winter season. Menzies showed his affection for the game by his keen following of the Carlton Club for which he had the number one membership badge. His greater devotion was to first class cricket. He said: 'It is occasionally left to people like me to carry with them through life a love and growing understanding of the great game – a feeling in the heart and mind and eye which neither time nor chance can utterly destroy'. He devotes several chapters in his memoirs to cricket for he knew personally most of the outstanding players (31). He was a Trustee of the Melbourne Cricket Ground, a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club and in 1962 President of the Lords Taverners. In 1951 he induced the Chairman of the Board of Cricket Control to allow him to arrange a one day festival match for the West Indian Team then visiting Australia. This was played in Canberra against a team he personally selected. This Prime Minister's XI one day match against the visitors became a feature of the tour of a Test team in Australia. The present Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. Malcolm Fraser, and the Australian Cricket Board have agreed that there will be a Sir Robert Menzies memorial match, played on the Melbourne ground, during every future English tour of Australia. Because of the shortage of time to make these arrangements for the summer of 1978-79 the match between Victoria and England, played on 10 Novembers 1978, was called the 'Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Match'.

He was a delightful companion on those, all too few, occasions when we in the CSIRO were privileged to entertain him. At the opening of a building for us he interested as well as amused his audience; knowing our interest in agricultural science he would refer to his life in the Mallee where he learned the problems of the farmer and his reluctance to change.

Robert Gordon Menzies died in Melbourne on 15 May 1978 aged 84 years.

The Sydney Bulletin, the traditional commentator on political events, referred to his death, under the caption 'The long innings is over', as 'the most revered figure in Australian politics' (32).


  • 1929: King’s Counsel
  • 1937: Privy Councillor
  • 1950: Chief Commander, Legion of Merit (USA)
  • 1951: Companion of Honour
  • 1958: Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science
  • 1963: Knight of the Order of the Thistle
  • 1965: Fellow of the Royal Society of London
  • 1965: Constable of Dover Castle, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
  • 1973: Order of the Rising Sun, First Class (Japan)
  • 1976: Knight of the Order of Australia

About this memoir

This memoir was published in Historical Records of Australian Science, vol.5, no.1, 1980. Reprinted with permission of the Council of the Royal Society from Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, vol.25, 1979. It was written by Sir Frederick White, KBE, FRS, (1905-1994), Chairman, CSIRO 1959-1970. Elected to the Academy in 1960 and served on Council from 1974-1977 (Vice-President 1976-77).


  • (1) Sir Robert Menzies, Afternoon light, Cassell Australia Ltd, Melbourne, 1967; Kevin Perkins, The last of the Queen's men, Rigby, 1968.
  • (2) The Registrar, University of Melbourne, personal communication.
  • (3) R.G. Menzies, The place of the university in the modern community, Melbourne University Press, 1939.
  • (4) Parliamentary debates, House of Representatives, vol. 184, pp. 4612-4619, 26 July 1945.
  • (5) Interim Report, Commonwealth Committee on the Needs of Universities, in typescript, 1952.
  • (6) The Australian Vice-Chancellor's Committee, Crisis in the finances and development of Australian universities, Melbourne University Press, 1952.
  • (7) Ian Clunies Ross, The responsibility of science and the university in the modern world, An oration delivered on the occasion of the centenary of the University of Sydney, 26 August 1952.
  • (8) The CSIRO files.
  • (9) Report of the Committee on Australian Universities, September 1957 (the Murray Committee).
  • (10) Parliamentary debates, House of Representatives, vol.17, pp.2694-2702, 28 November 1957.
  • (11) Australian Universities Commission Act, 1959 (no. 30). The members of the first Commission were Sir Leslie Martin, FRS, FAA, Professor N.S. Bayliss, FAA, Professor A.D.Trendall, Dr. J. Vernon, Sir Kenneth Wills, Secretary David Dexter.
  • (12)Reports of the Australian Universities Commission, First Report 1960, Second Report 1963, Third Report 1966, Fourth Report 1969 and Fifth Report 1972.
  • (13) Sir Robert Menzies, The measure of the years, Cassell Australia Ltd, Melbourne, 1970.
  • (14) I.W. Wark, 1851 Science research scholarship – Awards to Australians. Records of the Australian Academy of Science, vol.3, no.3/4, 1977.
  • (15) F.W.G. White & L.G.H. Huxley, Radio research in Australia 1927-1939. Records of the Australian Academy of Science, vol.3, no.1, 1975.
  • (16) The CSIRO files.
  • (17) Parliamentary debates, House of Representatives, vol.45, pp.267-274, 24 March 1965.
  • (18) Sir Rutherford Robertson, FRS, personal communication.
  • (19) F.W.G. White, A Personal Account of the Historical Development of the CSIRO, Nature, Lond., vol.261, 14 June 1976.
  • (20) F.W.G. White, Casey of Berwick and Westminster, Baron, Records of the Australian Academy of Science, vol.3, no.3/4, 1977.
  • (21) Australian Academy of Science files.
  • (22) Australian National University, Report of the Interim Council for the period 1 August 1946 to 31 December 1949.
  • (23) Memorandum from the Australian National University, submitted to the Committee on Australian Universities, The place of the Australian National University in the Australian University system, June 1957.
  • (24) Sir Robert Menzies, University development in Canberra, public statement, PM no.50/1959, 17 December 1959.
  • (25) Australian Academy of Science files.
  • (26) The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, Thirteenth annual report, 1977.
  • (27) Sir John Overall, CBE, MC, personal communication (now in the National Library, Canberra).
  • (28) National Capital Development Commision, Eighth annual report, July 1954 to June 1956.
  • (29) Report of the Committee on the Future of Tertiary Education in Australia, vols.1 & 2, 1964, vol.3, 1965.
  • (30) Sir Robert Menzies, Central power in the Australian Commonwealth, Cassell, London, 1967.
  • (31) Sir Robert Menzies, Afternoon light, Cassell Australia Ltd, Melbourne, 1967.
  • (32) The Bulletin, 30 May 1978.

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