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Enid Lyons: Leading Lady to a Nation

Anne Henderson

This is the story of an extraordinary woman – mother of twelve, Prime Minister’s wife, first woman member of the House of Representatives and the first woman in a Federal Cabinet, radio broadcaster, newspaper columnist, author of three books -  Enid Lyons was for many years the best known woman in Australia.

'Australia’s House of Representatives and Senate now includes many women MPs on both sides. Even so, it is still a media highlight whenever a female ‘first’ comes into vision. In 2007, it was Julia Gillard as Australia’s first deputy prime minister, and in 2008 it is Quentin Bryce as Australia's first female governor-general.

Every word spoken, every action taken, every move is recorded. So it was with heart-stopping interest that Australians waited to hear or read the maiden speech of their first female MP in the House of Representatives, made on 29 September 1943. Although she admitted later to not having eaten before her delivery and being extremely nervous (‘my lips were stiff when I started but all the men were wishing me well’), Enid did not disappoint. Her speech was eloquent, richly written, and delivered in Enid’s long-practised and well-trained lilting voice. It surprised then and still remains one of the classic speeches in Australian political life.'

Enid Lyons regarded herself as “feminist” but was also conservative. She was a pacifist and a Fabian underneath her conservative outlook on families and moral life. Enid could be strong on principle but also surprisingly tolerant. She had views on mothering that were ahead of their time.

The story of Joe and Enid Lyons is full of dramatic extremes without being risqué. Anne Henderson has also uncovered new information which indicates a family secret. There will be controversy over this – and much interest.

What the reviewers are saying:

Roy Williams, The Australian:
Joseph (Joe) Lyons, prime minister of Australia from 1932 to 1939, is one of our least known former leaders. He won three federal elections decisively and was immensely popular with the public. But there is little serious scholarship devoted to him, and even less to his vibrant and extraordinary wife.

‘Enid Lyons is the subject of Anne Henderson's captivating new biography. Enid lived from 1897 to 1981 and her story is a 20th-century Australian epic. Told by Henderson in tandem with Joe's story, it stirs and fascinates on four levels: romance, family saga, sociopolitical history, and case study of profound religious faith. Henderson argues convincingly that Joe and Enid were, and remain, "Australia's outstanding political couple".’ 

Michelle Grattan, The Age:
‘Joe and Enid Lyons were ahead of their times as an Australian political power couple. Henderson’s portrait is sympathetic without being cloying, with the most interesting section the Lodge days.’

Stephen Wilkes, The Canberra Times:
‘This book unavoidably approximates a dual biography of a couple whose public lives were seamlessly intertwined. Rather remarkably, it downgrades the role of its principal subject without detracting from her reputation. Its admirably hard-headed tone contributes to the small revival in the repuation of Joe as a prime minister whose reassuring steadiness suited the slow recovery from the depths of Depression. The result is a fine study of the best sort of partnership, a truly equal one.’

Wayne Crawford, The Mercury:
‘'In Enid Lyons: Leading Lady to a Nation', author Anne Henderson has introduced Dame Enid Lyons to a new generation of Australians, most of whom would be unfamilair with her remarkable life.’


Anne Henderson has been Deputy Director of The Sydney Institute and editor of The Sydney Papers since 1989. She is the author of From All Corners: Six Migrant Stories (Allen & Unwin, 1993), Educating Johannah: A Year in Year 12 (Allen & Unwin, 1995), Mary MacKillop’s Sisters: A Life Unveiled (HarperCollins, 1997), Getting Even: Women MPs on Life, Power and Politics (HarperCollins 1999), The Killing of Sister Irene McCormack (HarperCollins 2002) and An Angel in The Court – The Life of Major Joyce Harmer (HarperCollins 2005).

Among her essays of note are “Dad’s Wake” in Fathers: In Writing (Tuart Press, 1997) and the biographical chapter on Prime Minister Joe Lyons for Australian Prime Ministers edited by Michelle Grattan (New Holland 2000) and the UK’s New Dictionary of National Biography (OUP). She was a contributing editor with Ross Fitzgerald of Partners (HarperCollins, 1999) and will be a contributor in the forthcoming Growing Old Disgacefully – eds, Ross Fitzgerald & Lyndal Moore (ABC Books 2008).

ISBN: 978-0-9802924-9-7  | RRP  $29.95 |


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