About the Robert Menzies Collection
The Robert Menzies Collection comprises around 3800 books (as well as photograph albums, notebooks, periodicals, maps and ephemera) from the personal library of Sir Robert Gordon Menzies, twice Prime Minister of Australia (from 1939 to 1941 and again 1949 to 1966).
The collection is both a personal library and a working one: it includes gifts from family members and friends as well as material relating to Menzies’ career from barrister to Prime Minister. It spans his life from schooldays to retirement. In this sense, it is a ‘living library’; a reflection of a life.
Menzies first approached the University of Melbourne as a possible home for his personal library in 1976 when he wrote to the Vice-Chancellor David Derham to ask if the University would consider accepting the collection. Menzies’ wish was that his books would be kept in one room in the Baillieu Library and be made available as a ‘reference library’.
The collection was transferred to the University in early 1980, a couple of years after Menzies’ death in 1978. Not all of his books came to the University. In the mid-1970s, Menzies donated about fifty books to the Melbourne Cricket Club Library. Other books – again mainly cricket books – were given to family members. A small number (around thirty) made their way into his personal papers, now held at the National Library of Australia (NLA, MSS 4936, series 27, box 453). Some books that Menzies purchased from the Hill of Content bookshop in Melbourne in the early 1920s have not been located. These include his copies of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and an edition of The Strange Case of Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The collection also includes material that belonged to Menzies' family and friends. There is the copy of J.S. MacDonald’s The Art of F. McCubbin (1916) that Menzies, then a young barrister, gave to his father James Menzies as a birthday present in 1919. There are books that were presented to his wife, Pattie Menzies. Other books had once belonged to Oxen Dixon, Lionel Lindsay and Rex Nan Kivell.
The formal acceptance of the collection took place on 25 September 1980. Menzies’ widow Dame Pattie presented the collection to guests who included the Chancellor R.D. ‘Pansy’ Wright, Sir Ninian Stephen, Alfred Stirling and Hubert Opperman. Vice-Chancellor David Derham also spoke:
The library is a very personal one. It says much of Sir Robert’s public life, both in this country and in the world of international affairs… The marks of that service over more than 40 years can be seen in books of this library.
He went on to describe the library as ‘a reader’s library, not a collector’s collection’.
The collection was accompanied by a typed list of the collection (subsequently found to be incomplete) probably compiled by Menzies’ secretary Hazel Craig. Copies of the list are held in both the records of the University of Melbourne and Menzies’ personal papers at the National Library of Australia (which also holds a set of index cards on which the typed list appears to have been based). The list is divided roughly into subject areas (such as literature, art, Australian history, law, religion) and records (although imperfectly) the title and author of each book; its year of publication and whether it was ‘presented’ by an organisation or ‘autographed’. It also records where each book was kept: Menzies’ office, his study at home or his bedroom.
This list was a key source document for this website, but the list of books on this site expands on the typed list to include every book in the collection.
Accessing the collection
The Robert Menzies Collection is managed by Special Collections, part of the University of Melbourne Library. It is not an open access collection. For more information see http://www.lib.unimelb.edu.au/sg/help/collection/baillspcmenz.html.
References and further reading
Attwood, Alan. 'Menzies between the covers', The Age, 22 July 1982, 9.
'Books gift by Menzies', Sydney Morning Herald, 2 March 1976, 5.
'Menzies' gift to university', The Age, 2 March 1976, 2.
‘Robert Menzies Collection’, University of Melbourne Gazette, vol. 36, no. 4 (December 1980): 12.
‘The Robert Menzies Collection Presented to University.’ Staff News, vol. 8, no. 8 (October 1980): 140.
Stone, Caitlin and Jim Berryman. The Robert Menzies Collection. University of Melbourne Collections 12 (June 2013): 45-50.