When Robert Menzies began his 15-minute radio broadcast on Sydney radio station 2UE at 9.15pm on May 22, 1942, and spoke of “the forgotten people”, he would not have expected it to become a creed to guide the conservative cause for generations.
Next month, the Menzies Research Centre will host a dinner at Old Parliament House to mark the 75th anniversary.
Actor Peter Cousens will re-enact the speech live from the dinner on the Macquarie Radio Network. No recording of the original speech survives.
Special guests at the dinner include former prime minister John Howard, radio broadcaster Alan Jones and Heather Henderson, Menzies’ daughter.
Ms Henderson selected Cousens to re-enact her father’s famous broadcast at the dinner.
Beginning in November 1941, Menzies delivered from the Sydney studio a weekly radio address that was relayed to affiliate stations in Victoria and Queensland, on such diverse topics as the war effort, the economy, women, unionism, censorship and parliamentary democracy.
He was then an opposition backbench MP in the political wilderness, having served as prime minister between 1939 and 1941. John Curtin led a popular minority Labor government during World War II, yet Menzies warned of the dangers of socialism and centrally planned economies.
The 15-minute broadcasts, which Menzies prepared in advance, would shape the political values of the Liberal Party, formed in 1944. In his May 22 broadcast in 1942, Menzies spoke of “the forgotten people”, a concept that would become a guiding star for conservatives in the post-war era.
He argued that “the forgotten people” did not have wealth or the protection of unions and were motivated by moral values such as aspiration, hard work and self-reliance. They were “lifters” not “leaners”, and he defined them as “salary earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, farmers and so on”.
He said they represented “in the political and economic sense the middle class” who were “unorganised and unselfconscious” and had been taken for granted by the major parties. They prized family, home and community, and were “the backbone of the nation”.
A booklet of the broadcasts published in 1943 will be reissued by the Menzies Research Centre and Connor Court Publishing.