"A group of Monash University students approached me in 1978 to chair a Trust that would arrange an annual lecture in honour of Sir Robert Menzies. Michael Kroger, a leading Liberal activist, was one of the students in this group. I was a member of the Education Faculty at the University's then only campus, Clayton. They were difficult times at Monash University. Of all Australian universities Monash University bore the major brunt of the unrest that swept through universities of the western world at that time - unrest occasioned by external events such as the war in Vietnam, as well as that prompted by mounting dissatisfaction with the traditional structure of universities. To many of us, there were major faults on the side of the universities, notably the slowness of groups within the university, at Monash in those days notably the professors, to respond to a genuine desire for more student participation in the life and decision making of the university. This was in a new university, prepared to go in new directions and headed at that time by a great Vice-Chancellor, Louis Matheson, who was a man responsive to student ideas.

"The ferment and radicalism of the 1970s was, for those of us who went through it a disturbing experience. Traditional ways of behaving and operating were challenged, and a difficult atmosphere prevailed. Monash was the place where we saw the most radical and violent student activism in Australia.

"In this setting, for a group of students to hold different views was courageous, and their courage was frequently tested. They wanted to have heard a different view, and in doing so make a positive contribution to university life.

"The fact that one of Monash's main buildings was named after Menzies was testimony to the considerable contribution Menzies made to university education in Australia, and to the expansion of tertiary education in Australia, and even more reason why students wanted to pay a special tribute to a great Australian Prime Minister.

"Because of the radical nature of student politics and in particular the nature of the Student Union at Monash, the students seeking to establish the lecture wanted to protect the lecture from constitutional take-over by distancing it from any student club. Accordingly a separate trust was established under trust deed, and while a role was given to the Monash University Liberal Club, the constitution provided that the majority of trustees were not club delegates. To balance student enthusiasm, some more senior people , who were known to be sympathetic to the Liberal cause, including Stan Guilfoyle and myself, were invited to be members along with some state and federal members of parliament. Notably we had the Hon Andrew Peacock, Sir Billy Snedden, and the Hon Geoff Coleman. As an independent trust, it also had no official relationship with the Liberal Party _ although the philosophy has been unashamedly Liberal.

"Having been set up during the lifetime of Sir Robert Menzies, the Sir Robert Menzies Lecture is not as such a memorial lecture. The founding students met with him, and he gave permission for his name to be used. Universities were dear to his heart, and the thought of young students wanting to honour him in this way appealed to him.

"One reason for the survival of the lecture and its continued success was the support of Dame Pattie Menzies and the Menzies family. Dame Pattie attended most of the lectures in her lifetime, and her willingness to attend and lend endorsement meant much to students and trustees. Other members of the family have continued the tradition and daughter Heather, Mrs. Peter Henderson, is currently Patron as well as Trustee. The lecture has also profited from the continued support of Malcolm Fraser. As Prime Minister, he delivered the inaugural lecture in 1978. This was a memorable event, not least because of the hundreds of hostile demonstrators who tried to block his entry to a packed Blackwood Hall.

"The choice of a lecturer each year has been determined by the trustees, giving consideration to the views of the current Monash University Liberal Club. Every Australian who has been invited to deliver the lecture has accepted. The only refusals have come from Americans, usually citing problems of schedule or cancelled visits. The trustees have long wished for an eminent American and will continue to pursue this goal.

"No topic has ever been suggested to a lecturer, and indeed the topic has usually not been announced in advance. For some lecturers the topic has been predictable, but there have been many exceptions. We had not expected Sir Garfield Barwick to pick the topic he did, nor did we predict Sir Zelman Cowen's. It is clear that the lectures vary considerably and we freely admit that the quality of content is uneven. Often political reasons have determined what could be said or not said.

"Because many of the lecturers have been political figures, it has been important to allow last minute changes of topic or substance to accord with current events. This has led in some cases, to dramatic faxing of amended drafts minutes before the lecture was due to be delivered.

"In the crucial matter of finance, the Monash University Liberal Club helped initially, as did some individuals and some Liberal branches. Help from these sources has been modest being barely sufficient to meet the costs of hiring the theatre and printing the text. The financial situation improved, when in 1981, thanks to the good offices of Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, agreed to give the lecture while visiting Melbourne for CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting). Mrs. Thatcher was very much in the public eye at the time, and while vast numbers were anxious to hear her, there were many within the University_among them some administrators and left-wing student groups_who were vocal and active in their opposition. To meet the demand, we hired the largest venue in the university, the Robert Blackwood Hall. This was not accomplished without difficulty and required the intervention of Mr Fraser. For the first time, we charged a modest fee for tickets($5). The hall was filled, with a waiting list as well. The funds collected not only covered the costs but also provided a useful nest egg to help finance the lecture for many years to come. Funds have been supplemented since then by donations and contributions from "Friends of the Trust".

"The media's treatment of the lecture has been interesting. Their attendance has been assured if a demonstration or protest is threatened, but even then mainly by the camera crews. Reporters would rarely stay for the lecture itself after receiving a copy of the text. Unquestionably, the Thatcher and Muldoon lectures attracted the most press attention, as there were demonstrations accompanied by arrests. In neither of these cases was the lecturer deterred. They appeared instead to welcome the challenge. In this connection , it must be emphasized that at no stage has the Trust sought to provoke protest or demonstration. In the best tradition of a university, the Trust feels that the views of its lecturers should be heard and made available to as wide an audience as possible. In ensuring the success of this policy, the Trust pays tribute to the splendid co-operation of the Victoria Police in ensuring the safety of lecturers and audience. Since 1985 there has not been a problem with demonstrations or interruptions.

"When the idea of publishing the complete lectures was suggested, it was felt that they would be enhanced by inviting lecturers to reflect back on their lecture, and in addition inviting a commentator to provide an independent comment on the lecture and its context. In a different time and context lectures can read very differently. Three lecturers have died: Sir Robert Muldoon, Sir Paul Hasluck and Sir Garfield Barwick. Some others did not feel the need to make any additional comment; as one pointed out, the lectures are written and delivered for a special occasion and that is it! So there are no comments from the The Lady Thatcher LG OM FRS, or Professor Geoffrey Blainey AO We have not sought comments from more recent lecturers, (Sir Zelman Cowen Dr Allan Martin, the Hon John Howard, the Hon Peter Costello, and Mr Don Argus.) The first lecture in 1978 was introduced by Sir James Killen - so rather than reprint that introduction, we have asked Sir James to comment on Dr Allan Martin's paper_given Sir James oratorical skills we felt it appropriate. In some cases we have two commentators_there is no significance in this other than we felt there were two ideal people for such a commentary. We have selected commentators sympathetic to the lecturers to help place the lectures in context. Our thanks to the commentators for their participation.

"In our lectures we have not sought to extol the virtues of Sir Robert Menzies, although in 1994 we felt it appropriate in the centenary year of the anniversary of his birth to have a lecture on Menzies the person. To this end his biographer Dr Allan Martin spoke-but such was the vast material he had on Menzies he wisely confined his lecture to Sir Robert's speech making-taking a phrase Menzies himself had used as a title "Speech is of Time". Volume 1 of his superb biography of Menzies had just appeared, and Volume 2 is expected during 1999. Dr Martin finished his lecture by playing to the audience a tape of an address Menzies gave to Sydney University students-and the speech with its repartee and handling of interjectors was a joy to listen to. I hope that Allan Martin's books are read for people to better appreciate not only our longest serving Australian Prime Minister and founder of the Liberal Party but a person who dominated the political scene in his years of office.

"However, a brief comment on Menzies is appropriate, and there is none better than the remarks made by Sir Paul Hasluck on 24 February 1989 when he proposed the toast to Dame Pattie Menzies on her 90th Birthday. He said:
"Although this occasion is one in honour of Dame Pattie, I think it is quite appropriate to say something about the statesman whom she supported. Historians have yet to record the full service Menzies gave to Australia. In his first term as Prime Minister he laid the foundation of the Australian war effort. Of his other troubles at that time my verdict is that he was girded to strive against Titans and was defeated by mice in the pantry. Dame Pattie will remember those difficult days more vividly than any of us. She will remember too the fightback, the return to office and the labours of the next seventeen years of post-war recovery and growth.

" The Menzies post-war years stand as a great period in Australian history. Australia had stability. Australia had a sound base for re-organisation. There was regularity, high standards and the utmost probity in all aspects of government. Australia stood with dignity and growing respect in a reconstructed world. Our economy was managed with care. To use a phrase of the period, we walked the knife-edge of inflation without losing balance. We kept a high level of employment. We guarded the overseas balances. Great care was taken over all appointments to public office and scrupulous control of government expenditures. In Menzies' years in Australia tradition was respected and progress was soundly based."

"My thanks to all the lecturers who have been so willing to assist by preparing a lecture. The quality of these lectures has ensured the high standing the lecture has in public life. The last two lectures have been televised nationally by the ABC and we are grateful to the ABC for their co-operation. The lectures are frequently referred to in speeches or in publications, and often back lectures are requested. Many are now out of print. We hope that the publication of all the lectures to date, with the additional reflections and comments, will make a further contribution to the aims of the lecture of better informing public life in Australia."

Alan Gregory (Extract from the "Editor's Introduction" to "The Menzies Lectures 1978-1998")

Top of Page
MENZIES LECTURE TRUST
GPO Box 1101J, Melbourne, Victoria, 3001 AUSTRALIA
Email at info@menzieslecture.org
or use our contact form

Web site design, construction and hosting by Netstar Marketing
email us: design@netstar.com.au
All material on this site copyright and protected 2001