A Projector for a Prime Minister
Every prime minister has had some personality trait or interest for which they are known, outside their political life. From Tony Abbott’s fitness to Julia Gillard’s support for the Western Bulldogs, from Gough Whitlam’s classical Greek and Italian to Paul Keating’s antique clocks, there’s almost always some quirk or hobby of prime ministers that sticks in the public memory and consciousness.
For Robert Menzies, that hobby was filmmaking. Menzies was passionate about film, cinematography and home movies, and he documented many important events with his own cameras. Some of these films survive in the collection of the National Film and Sound Archive.
This projector was presented to Prime Minister Robert Menzies on 29 July 1954. The plaque on the projector indicates it was presented by Sixteen Millimetre Australia, a distribution company for film equipment, for use by all prime ministers at the Lodge.
There couldn’t have been a more appropriate gift for a cinephile like Menzies.
The prime minister frequently showed his home movies to family, friends and colleagues using the projector in The Lodge and later his Melbourne home after his retirement. Menzies’ daughter, Heather Henderson, recalls operating the projector, feeding the film through and watching Menzies narrate his home movies to the audience. One contemporary newspaper article says that on at least one occasion Menzies invited the cabinet to watch his film. When the boss wants to show you his home movies, you turn up, especially when he’s the prime minister!
The projector is remarkably intact considering its age, and when the museum took it into the collection it included original instruction manuals, a speaker unit, a very heavy power transformer, spare globes, and much more. It has been well cared-for and maintained, and according to the donor still works, although we certainly have no intention of testing that assertion. We want to preserve it for as long as we can!
The gift of this projector created a minor controversy. In the Senate on 10 August 1954, Senator Bill Ashley (ALP, NSW) asked Senator Neil O'Sullivan, Leader of the Government in the Senate, as to whether or not Menzies had received the projector and why. Ashley inferred the company was attempting to influence government communications policy as they were, like other film companies, opposed to the introduction of television in Australia. Senator O'Sullivan replied that the projector had been given to The Lodge and not to the prime minister personally.
The projector is planned for display in the museum in early 2017. An object so deeply connected with the personality and private life of such an important figure has great resonance for us, and we hope to be able to share it with the world. Once the projector is on display, we hope many people get to see it – the photographs simply don’t do it justice! Speaking personally I’m very excited, because the projector has become one of my favourite objects and I can’t wait for it to have its time in the sun.