On Thursday, January 20, 1965, Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia, issued a press release, drafted in his own hand in lead pencil on quarto paper.
"I have given careful thought to my future in the light of what seems best for the government and the country ... I have decided to resign from the prime ministership forthwith."
A notable premiership thus came to an end. He had been prime minister for over 18 years, more than twice as long as any of his predecessors. Of his successors, John Howard alone has held the post for more than a decade.
He had been at the centre of Australian national politics for three and a half decades, half the history of the Commonwealth up to that time.
Even before entering the House of Representatives he was instrumental in luring Joseph Lyons from the Labor Party, thus precipitating collapse of the Scullin government in 1931.
He had held ministerial office in the Commonwealth longer than virtually anyone else. His colleagues George Pearce and John McEwen were among the few who approached his record in longevity.
Only two predecessors as prime minister left office of their own volition, Sir Edmund Barton, on appointment to the High Court, and Andrew Fisher, high commissioner in London.
Internationally, in war and peace, he had dealt with four United States presidents and nine British prime ministers.
"It would be idle for me to pretend that all these years and tasks have not affected me. There is an accumulating wear and tear," he wrote. "In short, I am tired; my pace has slowed down; I could not properly continue in office for much longer.'
Menzies had been contemplating retirement for more than five years. But the government's uncertain electoral situation in the run up to the 1961 election, and the precarious result, led him to defer any decision.
As 1965 drew to a close, there was a growing view that his departure was not far off. Purchase of a home in Melbourne in mid-1965 was a plain indication.
At a dinner marking the 21st anniversary of the Liberal Party in November 1965, Peter Howson, minister for air, noted in his diary: "A very nostalgic speech by the PM made me feel that he will very soon be thinking of retiring".
Attention was turning to who would be deputy leader of the party, it being assumed that the Treasurer, Harold Holt, would succeed to the prime ministership.
A clear sign that Menzies was intending retirement was an elegiac valedictory speech when the House rose for the Christmas recess in December 1965.
The opposition leader, Arthur Calwell, had an intuition that it was "a sad and glorious occasion" of which he was proud to be part.
In the first days of 1966, newspapers were firmly of the opinion that Menzies' retirement was imminent. A meeting of the government parties was called for January 20.
There was plenty of work right to the end. The final months of 1965 had seen enactment of inaugural trade practices legislation, landmark legislation concerning the waterfront, and tabling of two important public reports, Vernon on the economy and Martin on advanced education. Internationally, turbulence in Indonesia and Singapore's withdrawal from Malaysia demanded attention.
Southern Rhodesia's unilateral declaration of independence added to his discomforts with the modern Commonwealth.
On January 3, 1966, the cabinet considered the matter of Australia's attendance at a specially convened Prime Ministers' Conference in Lagos; Australia confined itself, controversially, to sending an observer.
The cabinet had another meeting on Wednesday, January 19. Allen Fairhall, minister for supply, said 'Cabinet was just like any other day.'
It ended, according to one report, with Holt, "his head slumped on his chest in despair" and labour minister William McMahon very glum.
But, before ministers left, Menzies spoke: "Well, gentlemen, this is the last time I shall be with you."
The next day the joint parties met at 11am. Menzies announced his retirement. The deputy prime minister, John McEwen, newly knighted South Australian backbencher Keith Wilson, senator Dame Annabelle Rankin and Mac Holten (Country Party) all spoke.
The Country Party withdrew; Holt was elected leader of the Liberal Party unopposed.
McMahon narrowly beat external affairs minister Paul Hasluck for the deputy leadership; Howson thought it unlikely that McMahon "got any votes from the cabinet" and took the view he was "unlikely to be the successor"!
A proposal for an elected ministry was talked out.
At 5pm, Menzies went to Yarralumla with his resignation for the governor-general, Lord Casey. "I got an acceptance and a cigar," he told well-wishers. Afterwards he had drinks at the Liberal Party headquarters, R.G. Menzies House.
At 8pm, in another first for a departing prime minister, he gave a nationally televised press conference in the Dining Room of what is now Old Parliament House, an initiative of Tony Eggleton, the doyen of prime ministerial press secretaries. It was a characteristic mixture of wit, wisdom and self-deprecating humour.
In a tour d'horizon of his prime ministership, he highlighted various achievements including the Coalition, ANZUS, the growing importance of south-east Asia, higher education and Canberra, "my pride and joy".
At the end, Press Gallery veteran, Alan Reid, observed that it was "unique when a man steps down from a position of supreme authority, after 16 years, of his own volition".
"I would like to wish you and Dame Pattie a long, prosperous and happy retirement and may your memoirs, when you produce them, be as controversial and, I hope, successful as your own long and successful career."
Amid applause, Menzies thanked the assembled company and returned to the Lodge for a farewell party.
Australia was not the only major country in the Commonwealth to get a new prime minister in January 1966.
On January 11, the Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri, died. His successor, chosen on January 14 and taking office 10 days later, was Mrs Indira Gandhi, daughter of India's first prime minister, Nehru.
And, a few days after the Commonwealth prime ministers had left Lagos, the prime minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, was murdered in a coup which left Nigeria in the hands of military government.
J.R. Nethercote is adjunct professor, Canberra Campus, Australian Catholic University. and editor of Menzies – The Shaping of Modern Australia, to be published in March.