Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Some little-known gems about Australia’s Prime Ministers

To kick off the start of the election year we have an updated edition of Mungo MacCallum’s The Good, the Bad and the Unlikely: Australia’s Prime Ministers.
Here are some things you might not have known about our esteemed leaders.

Malcolm Fraser appeared in 1986 in the foyer of a somewhat sleazy Memphis hotel in search of his trousers, which stripped away much of his former gravitas.

Alfred Deakin was a passionate spiritualist, publishing The New Pilgrim’s Progress in 1877, which he said had been dictated to him by the spirit of John Bunyan himself. As a politician, he claimed to be receiving instruction from the ghosts of Sophocles, John Knox, Lord Macaulay, Edmund Burke, John Stuart Mill and (rather out of place in such exalted company) a former Victorian chief secretary named Richard Heales.

Chris Watson led the first national Labor government in the entire world.

Joe Lyons was the first prime minister to die in office.

Earle Page died before the votes could be counted in the election where he lost his seat after 42 years.

Billy McMahon was known as “Billy the Leak” for his habit of passing secrets onto his media contacts, particularly Frank Packer’s press.

Bob Hawke’s greatest achievement as an Oxford Rhodes Scholar was drinking a yard of beer in eleven seconds, a record that still stands.

Paul Keating once managed a rock group called The Ramrods, whom, he later boasted, he took from nowhere to total obscurity.

Frank Forde was Australia’s shortest-serving prime minister, spending just eight days in office.

Ben Chifley refused to purchase or wear a dinner suit, even to meet King George VI on an official visit to London. He also refused to move into the Lodge, electing to remain at the more humble Hotel Kurrajong.

Harold Holt’s disappearance while swimming has given rise to silly stories that he was picked up by a Chinese submarine and cruel ones that he was suicidal as a result of his inability to handle his job, but the truth is almost certainly simpler: he was showing off in front of his girlfriend.

Black Jack McEwen lived in a shanty after his service in World War I on a diet of wild rabbits. With a dictionary as his only reading material, he developed an extensive vocabulary, which he later used to constantly surprise his urban parliamentary colleagues.

John Gorton shared a schoolboy dormitory with Errol Flynn and was famous for flaunting his affairs – the most notable of which was his lengthy visit to the dressing room of nightclub singer Liza Minnelli. He co-sponsored a successful motion for the legalisation of homosexuality and campaigned for the legal use of both marijuana and heroin.

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