Lady Sonia McMahon was prime ministerial wife for less than two years, in 1971–72. She was, however, a ‘political wife’ for seventeen years – from her marriage to William McMahon in 1965 until his retirement from politics in 1982. The McMahons’ youngest child was born in 1971, during McMahon’s term in office and Lady Sonia McMahon became the third prime ministerial wife with a newborn baby – Margaret Fisher was the first in 1912 and Enid Lyons the second in 1933. The McMahon family spent periods in residence at The Lodge when the duties of her role required Lady Sonia McMahon to be in Canberra, but the family continued to live in the Sydney suburb of Bellevue Hill. Described as ‘the Prime Minister’s anchor’ because she ‘understood politics’, Lady Sonia McMahon kept close watch on political advantage and problems. An occupational therapist and well-known figure in Sydney social circles when she married William McMahon in 1965, Lady Sonia McMahon retained her interest in social and charity work after he resigned from parliament in 1982. She is a board member or patron of a range of Australian charities and foundations, including the National Brain Foundation, the Sydney Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation, the Microsearch Foundation and Australia’s Sudden Infant Death Syndrome association.
I didn’t notice the constant pressure of the press always being around until I was no longer the wife of the Prime Minister. Then it was gone overnight and I realised what I had been dealing with. I could breathe again. – Sonia McMahon The position of Prime Minister’s wife inevitably brings with it media attention and scrutiny. Since 1901 all the wives have had to deal with the press, albeit in varying degrees, and each has found it at times a blessing and a curse. For the first half of the 20th century the media respected their privacy but from the 1960s onwards it has become increasingly responsible for the way Prime Ministers’ wives are viewed by the public. The media can be friend or foe depending on what image they wish to portray. The women too have learned to harness the media for their own advantage and to promote their own causes. Both parties play a delicate balancing act which raises the question: just how far is the Prime Minister’s wife a political figure?
Sonia and Bill McMahon face the media at their Bellevue Hill home. Image
courtesy of Lady Sonia McMahon.
Original cover from Woman’s Day, May 17, 1976. Courtesy of Tamie Fraser.
Sorry, I don't found video, but I have...
Peta Donald: Fun is how another former Prime Minister's wife Sonia McMahon still thinks of the dress she wore to dinner at the White House, split to the thigh. One headline read "Sonia's split dress shocks the socialites". (To Sonia McMahon) Do you mind being remembered for that dress?
Lady Sonia: Well there are worse things I could be remembered for, I guess and maybe there are better things, but no, it's okay. We used to go to continuous dinners and have to wear long dresses and I got so sick of all those ordinary sort of dresses that I thought, oh, I can't stand it anymore!" And so this was a light relief. TONY EASTLEY: Sonia McMahon, wife of former Prime Minister, Sir William McMahon, speaking to Peta Donald in Canberra last night.
'That Dress’ worn by Lady Sonia McMahon to the White House, November 1971. Courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum.
‘It was a very heavy dress, warm to wear. It was lined, and what everyone thinks is me underneath is not me at all. It was a pantyhose sort of fabric, flesh coloured of course. I never thought it would cause the sensation that it did.’
Lady Sonia McMahon
created by me