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Ming Vase (Sir Robert Menzies)
, c. 1970

by Les Tanner and Gus McLaren (producer)

glazed ceramic

Rt Hon. Sir Robert Gordon Menzies AK KT CH PC QC (1894–1978) was prime minister of Australia for a record total of nineteen years: from 1939 to 1941 and 1949 to 1966. Born in Jeparit, Victoria, Menzies attended school in Ballarat and studied at Melbourne University, where he gained a reputation as a brilliant speaker. Following early success at the Bar and in state politics, he entered Federal parliament in 1934. He became prime minister in 1939 as leader of the United Australia Party, but bitter divisions led to his resignation and the disintegration of the UAP. From the back benches, Menzies founded the Liberal Party, which he led from 1944 to 1966. As prime minister through a period of remarkable national prosperity, Menzies cultivated the USA as a ‘powerful friend’, furthering the two nations’ economic and military ties. A staunch monarchist, he was invested as a Knight of the Thistle and succeeded Winston Churchill as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports from 1965 to 1978. Menzies’s nickname, Ming, originated in the Scottish pronunciation of his name, Ming-ees, which Menzies preferred to the usual pronunciation, possibly because it was the way the Queen said his name. The nickname took on a new dimension when a newspaper columnist extended it to ‘Ming the Merciless’ after the Emperor in the Flash Gordon comic strip. ‘Fling out Ming’ subsequently became an election slogan, but Menzies was to retire, not to be voted out of office.

Les Tanner (1927-2001) and Gus McLaren (1923-2008) met after the war in occupied Japan, where they both drew cartoons for the British Commonwealth Occupation newspaper. After returning to Australia they both worked for a number of newspapers around the country, their careers coinciding for a time at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. McLaren, a cartoonist, ceramicist and film animator, made the mould for this vessel from models made by Tanner.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2004
Accession number: 2004.176