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Where is Australia’s first prime minister?
Thirty years after Edmund Barton’s death, few people knew where he was buried.
Early in May 1951 a man who lived next door to Sydney’s South Head cemetery sent a telegram congratulating Robert Menzies on his election win, and suggesting that as ‘Jubilee Prime Minister’ he arrange to honour the founding prime minister.
Arrangements – including locating the gravesite – were quickly made. On 9 May 1951, 50 years after the opening of the first Commonwealth parliament, WM Hughes (the only member of that parliament still living) laid a wreath on the grave of Edmund and Jane Barton.
Eighteen months after this ceremony, the ‘last living thread’ with the founding of the nation was severed when Hughes died, at the age of 90.
Three prime ministers have died in office. Earle Page was sworn in the same day Joseph Lyons died in 1939, and Frank Forde was sworn in the day John Curtin died in 1945. But in 1967, when Harold Holt disappeared on 17 December while swimming at Cheviot Beach in Victoria, a new Prime Minister could not be sworn in until the Governor-General deemed Holt to have died, two days later.