OBITUARY: Dame Pattie Menzies

The death of Pattie Menzies, widow of the late Sir Robert Menzies, Australia's longest-serving prime minister, at the age of 96, symbolised the passing of the old Australia, with its conservative, Presbyterian values and its loyalty to Britain and the monarch.

Pattie Menzies, who outlived her husband by 17 years, confided recently that she had lived too long, and no longer had any friends left; but perhaps she might have added that she felt like a stranger in today's multicultural Australia, which is heading towards becoming a republic in 2001.

Menzies was revered as a national institution, and seen as the matriarch of Australia's Liberal Party, the conservative party founded by her husband in 1944. She was cast in the role of guardian of her husband's memory, and therefore the party's soul, which is inextricably linked to the golden years from 1949 to 1966, when Sir Robert presided over an affluent, booming Australia.

Since 1983 Labor has taken Australia further and further away from Robert Menzies's vision. His wife Pattie, a small, dignified woman, belonged to the era when the function of politicians' wives was to support their husbands, and keep quiet. But she felt bound to speak out two years ago when the Labor Prime Minister, Paul Keating, questioned her husband's reputation as Australia's greatest political leader and accused Sir Robert of various failings, including "supercilious Anglophilia".

The 94 year-old Dame Pattie responded by describing Keating as "a disgrace" and "a monster". "He has spoiled my faith in everything we had in the past and I'm sick and tired of it," she said. The response did not surprise those who knew her: though slightly built, she had a handshake which left people wringing their fingers.

She was born in the last year of the last century when many Australians saw themselves as both Australian and British. Till her death she saw no reason to break the links with the British monarchy.

She was also shaped by traditional views of the role of women. She saw her job as supporting her husband, unobtrusively, and bringing up her three children.

She and the young Robert Menzies had first exchanged glances in church in Melbourne, when she was still at school, and he was beginning his legal career. They met later at a party, and married in 1920, when she was 21 and he was 25,

She had grown up in the Victorian country town of Alexandra. She always retained the country values of down-to-earth honesty, naturalness, hard work, and concern for neighbours.

Sir Robert benefited from her shrewd judgement of human nature, and some judicious advice. The late Sir John Bunting, who was Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department during the Menzies era, described Dame Pattie as "an occasional and, if moved, sharp debunker, and helpful therefore to her husband politically". When she wasn't supporting her husband she was doing good works in the community, and in 1954 she was created a Dame Grand Cross of the British Empire.

Pattie Menzies became a national institution and Paul Keating, burying past antipathy, described her as "a very great Australian" who had served as "a model and an inspiration to her countrymen and women". The federal president of the Liberal Party, Toxy Staley, said she "embodied the virtues and values of the best of the Australian way of life".

In praising her, both recognised that her death marked the end of an era in Australia.

Pattie Maie Leckie: born 2 May 1899; GBE 1954; married 1920 Robert Menzies (Kt 1963, died 1978; one son, one daughter, and one son deceased); died Canberra 30 August 1995.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?