6. Empire Men
Robert Gordon Menzies was Prime Minister of Australia for all of my childhood and youth. A pompous man with a powerful yen to rise above his humble origins, he dreamed only of England, the mother country and how perhaps if he served the interests of the Queen and Westminster adequately, he might be the first Australian admitted to the House of Lords. In truth, he was so chronic an Anglophile that he often seemed to be leader of the wrong country.
But he wasn’t. In fact he was the most perfect man for the job. Three generations of Australians fought and died under the Union Jack, and in the official histories of both world wars, actions carried out by Australian soldiers were usually described as British Forces, or if concessions to the colonies was appropriate, British Dominion troops. When Australians referred to home, they meant England. Australia rode on the sheep’s back entirely because England had knitting mills.
When the new Queen of England honoured Australia with a visit, there was no better man to grovel before her than Menzies, and in doing so he expressed what was in our hearts. They gave us flags to wave as we school children lined the streets to watch her go by in euphoria, and we stood, awed by the occasion, embarrassed by our tawdry clothes and swarms of flies.