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Menzies, Frank Gladstone (1892–1978)

by Laurence W. Maher

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Frank Gladstone Menzies (1892-1978), lawyer and public servant, was born on 3 January 1892 at Ballarat, Victoria, second of five children of Australian-born parents James Menzies, a coach-painter who became a storekeeper, and his wife Kate, née Sampson. (Sir) Robert Menzies was his younger brother; (Sir) Douglas Menzies was their cousin. Educated at state schools at Jeparit and Ballarat, and at Grenville College, Ballarat, Frank moved to Melbourne where he was appointed a clerk (on probation) in the Victorian Department of Lands and Survey on 5 August 1909. From 1910 he attended evening classes in arts and law at the University of Melbourne (LL.B., 1920). In the following year he transferred to the Victorian Law Department as clerk of Petty Sessions and on 1 January 1913 to the Crown Solicitor's Office. Menzies enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 20 October 1915 and was commissioned in January 1916. Embarking for Egypt in March, he was sent to the Western Front and joined the 24th Battalion in August. He performed regimental and staff duties, rose to captain in December 1917 and was gassed on 2 March 1918. His appointment terminated in Melbourne on 22 May 1919. He resumed work in the Crown Solicitor's Office, completed his degree, and was admitted as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria on 3 May 1920.

The Menzies family was proud of its Scottish heritage. In Melbourne in 1909 Frank had professed his faith in the Presbyterian Church. On 22 June 1922 at the Presbyterian Church, Kew, he married Ruby Avery Friend, a 31-year-old nurse. Their eldest son Neville was tragically drowned at Mentone in 1929; their twin sons were born the same year. In the early 1920s Menzies conducted prosecutions in courts of Petty Sessions, acted as a legal-assistant before boards of inquiry and royal commissions, and began to acquire those professional skills that made him a talented lawyer and public service adviser. On 9 April 1926 he was gazetted crown solicitor.

Quick in understanding and responding to problems, Menzies was noted for the confidence with which he gave professional opinions, whether solicited or unsolicited. Sometimes, however, he returned requests from departments for his views with a handwritten note saying that the subject raised no legal issue and should be dealt with as an administrative matter. Responsible for conducting criminal prosecutions and for advising government departments and instrumentalities, he superintended a wide range of litigation in the Supreme Court and the High Court of Australia, including Victoria's representation in the Uniform Tax case (1942).

Menzies' political sympathies were conservative, but he served his political masters in a non-partisan manner and preserved the independence of the office of crown solicitor. In 1920 he had unsuccessfully stood for Nationalist pre-selection for the Legislative Assembly seat of Toorak. Upright and honest, he amassed vast experience and coped well with the problems that came with the State's eleven changes of government between 1943 and 1955. In the leading constitutional case, McDonald v. Cain (1953), he instructed (Sir) Henry Winneke, Q.C., who successfully opposed the Country Party's application to the Supreme Court for an injunction to restrain the presentation of the Cain government's electoral reform bill for royal assent. Menzies supported Winneke's appointment in 1950 as senior counsel to the Victorian attorney-general and in 1951 to the new position of solicitor-general as a full-time, non-political statutory officer.

Appointed C.B.E. in 1951, Menzies retired as crown solicitor in December 1954. Thereafter, he worked for the welfare of war veterans and for community organizations. He was associated with the financier Staniforth Ricketson and became a director of several public companies. An accomplished tenor, he sang with the Royal Victorian Liedertafel for twenty years. In 1955 he was nominated by the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland to the three-member commission established to advise on the siting of the colony's capital. In 1959 he accepted an appointment by the British government to the advisory commission, chaired by Viscount Monckton, which reviewed the constitution of Rhodesia and Nyasaland; its report helped to enable Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland to emerge in 1964 as the independent states of Zambia and Malawi. Survived by his wife and twin sons, Menzies died on 31 August 1978 at his Balwyn home and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $160,332. The La Trobe Library holds his reminiscences.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Coleman, Above Renown (Melb, 1988)
  • A. W. Martin, Robert Menzies, vol 1 (Melb, 1993)
  • Commonwealth Law Reports, 65, 1941-42, p 375
  • Victorian Law Reports, 1953, p 411
  • Age (Melbourne), 3 Nov 1955, 12-13 Jan 1956, 6 Dec 1975, 25 Mar, 2 Sept 1978
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Dec 1959
  • Sir Robert Menzies papers MS4936 (National Library of Australia)
  • F. McNicoll, taped interview with F. G. Menzies (no date, National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Laurence W. Maher, 'Menzies, Frank Gladstone (1892–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/menzies-frank-gladstone-11110/text19781, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 October 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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