A Smile for My Parents – Heather Henderson

A Smile for My Parents – Heather Henderson


One of my school friends, Ellie, is the great-granddaughter of Sir Robert Menzies, so I have always had a bit of an interest in his life and career – we all like to have a famous connection! And so I was definitely excited to pick up this book by her grandmother, Sir Robert’s daughter.

I expected it to read like a biography, but it was more just a stream of consciousness and memories. Mrs Henderson’s aim was to portray a human side to Pig Iron Bob and she could achieve that far better through varied glimpses into his private life than from a strict biographical timeline. 

It is a very personal book – the reader is invited into Mrs Henderson’s memories and made to feel as if they belong. The anecdotes, memories and personal letters are private and make the reader feel privy to a secret. The charming life of Sir Robert and Dame Pattie Menzies is told in the frankest and most humorous terms, ensuring that anyone who picks this up sees a side of the couple worlds apart from the history books.

References to other people from the era were not explained to the full – slightly troublesome for me, having never taken a keen interest in the politics of any period! However, it was enough to know how certain important persons had thought of Menzies, without knowing exactly who was being referenced.

I also had problems with the grammar and certain spellings and was therefore very pleased to read this in the acknowledgements:

The task [of editing] has been made more difficult for all of us by our differing approaches
to words and punctuation, no doubt explained by the great difference in our ages, and the
usages we have learnt and grown up with.

It felt slightly better to know that the editors had shared my concerns!

As an historical text, it is fascinating to read about stories from The Lodge and see the differences between then and now. Can we imagine our current Prime Minister’s daughters ironing their houseguests’ shirts, as Dame Pattie does in one of these great anecdotes?

For anyone even slightly interested in Australian politics or even just famous historical figures, I strongly recommend reading this one. It is a beautiful look at a family’s inner workings and it is nice to know that anyone can find common ground with the man known as one of Australia’s greatest men.


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