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Lorna Hazel Craig (1914–2013)

by John Farquharson

Hazel Craig, n.d.

Hazel Craig, n.d.

Hazel Craig, who served five Australian prime ministers, was one of those old-style Public Service secretaries who worked until the job was done and were ''on call'' at any hour or day of the week.

She spent 42 years in the Commonwealth Public Service, 25 of them as private secretary to Sir Robert Menzies. Before that, she worked, in chronological order, for prime ministers Joe Lyons, Menzies, Arthur Fadden, John Curtin, Ben Chifley, and finally Menzies again. She was also the only private secretary in the Commonwealth Public Service to be honoured by the Queen with awards on three occasions.

A colleague, Don Rodgers, press secretary to both Curtin and Chifley, once said of Craig, ''She was the perfect public servant. She served the Labor Party with the same loyalty and dedication as the Liberals.'' People on both sides of politics certainly recognised her as a remarkable woman and respected her discretion and competence. Vibrant, yet unobtrusive and down-to-earth, she related easily to people, whether those she worked for, or others with whom her work brought her into contact. To colleagues and others who had dealings with her in the course of their duties, she was ''an oasis of calm in the daily panic'' and always ready to be helpful.

Lorna Hazel Craig was born in Sydney on June 9, 1914, the daughter of a carpenter and joiner from Bankstown. She went to Bankstown Primary, then St George High School. She wanted to be a teacher but, with the Depression beginning to grip, could not get a scholarship so instead went to business college and sat the Commonwealth Public Service entrance exam.

She joined the Public Service in 1934 and her secretarial proficiency became the passport that took her from Bankstown to the royal houses of Britain, the White House and to the heart of the Australian Establishment. Menzies used to say she was as well known at Buckingham Palace, and in London and Washington, as he was.

On reaching Canberra in 1934, Craig was assigned to the typing pool in the then fledgling Prime Minister's Department. Within three years she was appointed to Lyons' office as a junior typist. This brought her into the prime ministerial circle, where she remained until her retirement in 1976. She stayed on with Menzies when he succeeded Lyons in 1939 and then with Fadden when he became prime minister for six weeks in 1941.

Until 1949, Craig worked for Curtin and Chifley, with an interregnum of seven days, when Frank Forde was prime minister between Curtin's death and Chifley winning leadership of the Parliamentary Labor Party. Then it was back to Menzies' staff. She became private secretary to Menzies in 1951 on the retirement of another redoubtable secretary, Eileen Lenihan, on health grounds.

Craig really became Menzies' ''right hand'', which, she used to say, sometimes meant working up to 24 hours a day, and always being available to rush to the office at a moment's notice. It also meant spending much of her life with notebook poised in conference rooms and in airports, and transcribing her notes by pounding a manual typewriter. Her working days as a secretary were all before electric typewriters or tape recorders came into general use and before the introduction of computerised offices.

She remained with Menzies throughout the remainder of his political career and then for another 10 years after he retired from politics in 1966. To her, Menzies soon became ''The Boss''. She ranked him as ''the greatest of all'' the prime ministers she worked for over the years. She respected Curtin, regarding him as ''warm and compassionate'', but a ''lonely and sad man, with deep feelings''. She ''admired Chifley tremendously because of his integrity and calibre''.

When Craig decided to take retirement at 62, she had mixed feelings, recognising that she could be so much help to ''The Boss'' at a time when he was not as mobile as he had been. But she decided to go, as she was ''looking forward to doing what I want when I want to''. By then, she considered that she had seen ''the best years of Australian politics'' and while ''still interested in today's politics'', she did not ''really want to be part of them''.

Among other things, she did not think there was the same integrity. ''In my day, members used to have a really good old ding-dong argument on the floor of the House and be friends outside, even though their principles were different. Now I feel that many MPs lack principle.''

Over the years, mutual confidence and trust, as well as a strong loyalty marked her relationship with Menzies. She went on all his overseas trips, not as an automatic perquisite of her job, but because of the esteem in which she was held. The late Sir John Bunting, secretary of the Prime Minister's Department for many of the Menzies years, put it on record that on official journeys abroad, Menzies had Craig take charge of whatever money was advanced to him for expenses and for all practical purposes to administer it. She, in turn, recalled that Menzies, ''treated government money as he treated his own. In our trips we never stayed an extra day anywhere to rest.''

Despite the close working relationship between secretary and prime minister, Craig once came close to being sacked when she was the cause of some sensational headlines just before the Queen's coronation in 1953. The trouble arose over the rehearsal. For the coronation, the prime ministers were to wear full morning dress and the rehearsal card stipulated this, but Craig did not put it on Menzies' engagement list.

When Menzies turned up, he was the only prime minister not in full morning dress. He had donned a short black jacket. Menzies was so furious, he walked out of the rehearsal and this made the headlines in the next day's papers.

However, there was no sacking and the incident was soon forgotten. When the time of her retirement came around, Menzies turned on a surprise party. He had told Craig he would be in to have a drink with her on her last working day. When he turned up, so did about 50 other people, many from the top echelons of government, the Public Service and business.

Craig never regretted not marrying. She said she could have, but felt she would be happier as she was. After retiring, she made her home in Canberra, firstly in the suburb of Reid and later at Curtin.

Her life is probably best summed up by what Sir Robert and Dame Pattie Menzies had engraved on a silver tray, which they presented to her at her retirement party - ''A splendid secretary and faithful friend.''

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Citation details

John Farquharson, 'Craig, Lorna Hazel (1914–2013)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 April 2024.

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