When it comes to establishing trust and rapport with an audience of 25 million, eye contact can be the difference between whether the population submits to you or turns to other non-government heads of state, like Ian Huey Hewitson or the Bi-Lo docket. The eyes have a captivating power. If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then the eyebrows are the eyebrow-shaped decor that perch above these transcendent windows, like taxidermy or birthday bunting with glitter.
Australia’s Prime Ministers have always been assembled to the strictest of codes, resulting in a fairly easy-to-follow pattern. Male. White. Male. White. Lost at sea. Male. White. Male. White. With such predictability, it can be hard to distinguish the Anthonys from the Tonys, the Roberts from the Bobs. But that’s only if you aren’t paying attention. As we know, the eyebrows are the very things that drape over the windows to the soul and can thus tell you almost everything you need to know about a ruler.
So, which Prime Ministers had eyebrows to ensnare a nation? Put it down to Australia’s geographical isolation or smaller presence on the international stage, but generally speaking, the country’s leaders have not subscribed to evolving aesthetic trends. As such, their brows will need to be evaluated against other markers. Do they excite? Do they entice? Do they make me want to kill something?
A note before we proceed. I don’t wish to spoil the custard before it has creamed, but it has been brought to my attention that the highest-ranking brows on this list belong to leaders who held office for the longest. Is it confirmation bias or is it yet another case of “the lesser the brows, the lesser the term” that Australia’s shortest-serving Prime Minister, Frank Forde — his reign ended before your first Year 9 romance did, oh yes it did — had mere wisps above the eyes?
5. Gough Whitlam
In primary school, my understanding of Gough Whitlam went as far as grasping that he said something pretty huge about the queen. He either hated her or loved her — I could never be sure. I don’t doubt that my schooling provided me with the political know-how I needed at this pivotal stage of youth, but I’m certain they never showed me a picture of him. Because if they had, there’s no way I would have succumbed to the death grip of female grooming at the age of 11 and allowed mum to tweeze my brows so hard she ripped off a tab of eyelid skin.
If I had been exposed to this wonderfully haunting portrait of Whitlam — that is inexplicably reminiscent of German expressionism — I would have erred on the side of unfettered, natural hair growth. In this painting, Whitlam’s hooded brows give off an owl-like quality. And every time I look at it, the owl is hooting me home, keeping me safe.
4. Julia Gillard
Julia Gillard’s three-year term was a ride. The former lawyer was subjected to the force of a population that still didn’t seem to be fully sold on the idea of women (or any other marginalised gender). The hostility Gillard received from angry men, confused boys, and the usual pick-me crowd typically took the form of cruel comments about her physical appearance. Where other world leaders were free to peacefully indulge in extramarital affairs and war crimes, Gillard was likened to a “quail” on a menu at a Liberal party dinner and constantly pulled apart by cartoonists who lampooned everything from her earlobes to her hair colour.
Fortunately, I am here to make all of that trauma go away. Every last scrap of vitriol. Let it be heard: Gillard, the 27th Prime Minister of the nation that invented the sporf (the combined spoon, knife, and fork), had eyebrows which were elegantly groomed and exquisitely colour-matched to her hair.
Gillard’s brows were both 10 years too late and 12 years too early. But what is style if not cyclical? Along with Fendi baguettes, bitchy little sunglasses, and low-rise denim, the skinny brow is snaking into 2022 like the level one snake on Nokia’s Snake, striking fear into the hearts of anyone who has recently redeemed a Groupon for microblading. Rather than having the slim brows with the unchanging width we saw in the 1990s, Gillard sported thin, tapered brows that exemplified more of the arch shape that defined the next generation of brows, except hers was without the fullness and castor-oil architected bushyness to follow.
3. Robert Menzies
Ever heard someone cry: “Menzies, be damned”? Well, there’s a good chance they weren’t commenting on pelvic pain, but the agony that comes with not having the dichromatic set-up of dark brows and light hair. Robert Menzies‘ brows walked so that Cara Delevingne’s could soar. While Menzies’ official portrait lacks the German expressionism of Whitlam’s, his eyebrows come alive with movement, gravitas, and hints of a flipped Nike swoosh.
2. John Howard
John Howard had a storybook set of brows, in that these were the hungriest caterpillars you ever did see. In 1996, he negotiated nationwide gun control laws, but years on, he is remembered for an even more unflinching stance: not consenting to a brow trim. In doing so, Howard joined the likes of Barbara Streisand (nose), Kirsten Dunst (teeth), and the man on the Quaker Oats box (everything), an absolute body-pos community of innovators who resisted societal pressures to eradicate their most beautiful features.
1. Bob Hawke
Bob Hawke had no shortage of horn-inducing qualities: a progressive stance on asylum-seekers, the ability to convincingly down a pint, and eyebrows that set the pace for Instagram-face. Before Bella or Kylie, people presented manila folders containing clippings of Hawke in his prime (between the ages of 57-89) to brow-lift specialists.
Unlike other Australian leaders with eyebrows that did the talking, Hawke was unique: his brows were not the only physical characteristic anchoring his face in place and keeping millions of viewers hooked during press conferences. These two ticks—that spoke of a wry alertness—doubled as arrows that suggested “my hair is up here”, redirecting one’s gaze to silver silk that rippled from the creases of well-earned laugh lines.
Serena Coady is a Malaysian-Australian writer based in London. Find her on Twitter (@serenacoady), if it pleases you.